Interviewer: Tell us a little about where you grew up and your family.
Hap: In 1850, I was born in Horsemill Hollow, a coal mining town in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a beautiful patch of land nestled down a narrow crack between the mountains where the creek trickles through.
My father worked for the company in those mines. Coal companies those days owned everything, houses, grocery store, even doctors. Daddy never saw any money that wasn’t company script. His folks had been miners forever, so he expected me to follow in his footsteps. It took a cave in to give me courage enough to tell him I wasn’t going back, ever. Daddy and I barely made it out. I ain’t been back since. Tight spots give me the jitters to this day.
My mamma made sure I got as much schooling as a boy could in those days. She’d worry sick over my daddy and complain about how the company treated him; always when he weren’t around, of course.
Interviewer: And so you left home?
Hap: Well that cave in happened in ’59, mamma saw how it affected me, so she kept me around the house helping her with chores awhile before daddy started asking me to come back to the mines. Mamma and daddy fought over it a bit. He swore I was gonna grow up a coward if I didn’t get back in there. I showed him, I joined the army.
Interviewer: You were nine and in the army?
Hap: Hell no; my mamma kept me at books and chores until ’62. They fought a lot over everything in those days; me, the mines, and then the War Between the States. I started thinking I’d run away. I thought how much better life would be on my own.
Then the president issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It struck me that I ought to join the fight and find my freedom all in one. I was twelve, big for my age, told ‘em I was fourteen. I carried messages between units and carry litters to the field surgeons. Two years into it, I served as a scout and courier.
War wasn’t what I expected. Folks see parades with polished boots and shiny buttons. They read stories of brave souls fighting for honorable causes and such. That’s all true but it’s uglier up close, and hard on any man with a heart. I ran from home, hungry for a chance to prove my worth and earn a place among men. By war’s end I found myself man enough in the world’s eyes but still searching for a purpose.
Interviewer: And then you turned to journalism, how’d that come about?
Hap: Nothing’s that simple. I hired myself out as a scout after the army; it didn’t work out so good. I tried my hand at the fur trade, panning for gold; nothing stuck until I picked up a pencil. Folks back home had enjoyed some letters I’d written over the years, and I fell into an opportunity to report on some labor disputes in Pittsburgh. Seems most of Allen’s reporters got skittish around labor riots, guns, and Pinkertons. My army experience helped me get over those fears, that and a strong desire to see the truth and share it with the world.
Interviewer: Allen Brazleton? The newspaper’s owner? Sounds like you knew him personally.
Hap: We grew to be great friends as I broke some hard stories. Sometimes he’d invite me over for a smoke, a drink and a game of billiards.
Interviewer: I understood you didn’t drink.
Hap: I don’t smoke neither, but when Allen first offered me both, we weren’t yet friends and I wasn’t about to turn down his hospitality.
Interviewer: And Mr. Brazleton introduced you to Julian Turleau, the famous French author? And that’s how your place amongst the voyage’s crew began?
Hap: He introduced me alright, by way of kicking me out of town on a fool’s errand. He had no idea what those folks were up to.
Interviewer: And what precipitated this wild trip into space?
Hap: They invited us.
Interviewer: But scientists claim our nearest neighbor’s been devoid of any significant life for millennia.
Hap: Scientist once told us no one could survive speeds above thirty-five miles an hour. Science is like anything else; they make the best of what they’ve got. But what if I was to tell you these worlds, centuries dead, were merely victims of their inhabitants? The transcontinental railroad beat down mountains and crossed rivers it’d take nature ages to wear down.
Interviewer: Why tell us anything? Why now?
Hap: I worry about us making some of the same mistakes. Like tenants in a hotel, we’re just visiting. Some don’t see any reason to stop their troublemaking ways since they’ll check out before the mess gets addressed, and new arrivals don’t wanna clean what messes they didn’t make.
Interviewer: Why still keep so much of your secret still, after all these years?
Hap: They still watch us, wary of how far we’ll get before they get their own houses in order.