2947-02-19 - Tales from the Inbox: Hermit on Håkøya

Today's Tales from the Inbox represents the first story which I am ingesting from the new studio in the Håkøya star system. While I had several items in our usual inbox which would have been excellent stories, I had a chance encounter with Hussein Haberkorn on Argyris Spaceport.

His name may be known to portions of this audience, but I will save the others a datasphere search. Mr. Haberkorn was a senior and well-known Navy captain who was embroiled in scandal in 2936, who has always insisted that he was innocent of the wrongdoing which the Navy used to drum him out of the service. He is probably best known for being the central to the Strand Crisis of 2932, the closest the Confederated Worlds and Rahl Hegemony have come to war in our lifetimes. His downfall, according to the Navy version of events, was related to unauthorized and untoward contact with the Ironstar Corporation, a security firm with known ties to the Hegemon's intelligence services.

Mr. Haberkorn was forced into retirement and stripped of his accolades, and he largely fell out of the public eye; he apparently lived on Håkøya until this month, when persistent messengers from the Navy, likely looking to pull senior officers out of retirement to recover from the Great Purge, rendered his retirement home, in his words, "completely unsuitable."

I found Mr. Haberkorn to be gruff but personable, and though he refused to sit for an interview, he did tell me about his troubles with the Navy's insistent badgering, troubles which have persuaded him to relocate farther out into the Frontier. I sympathized with his irritation - Håkøya is a beautiful world any of us might dream of retiring to, and agreed to share his story.

Hussein led a simple life, and he liked it that way. He found Håkøya to be a pleasant planet, rugged and remote, and his little plot of land possessed of a mild equatorial climate, in which very little effort was required to grow an abundance of food. It was not the retirement Hussein had imagined as a young Navy officer, but he loved it all the same. Rather than managing the Navy’s thorniest problems, he needed only to maintain his extensive gardens.

Of course, even this responsibility had its complications. His least favorite of these was that the patch of ground-hugging tartberries in front of his hut appeared, from the air, to be an ideal landing pad. Only three days before the fragile plants were ready to be harvested, pressed, and fermented, Hussein emerged from his home just in time to watch a visiting lighter plop down in the middle of the plot.

Not realizing what she was doing, the pilot jumped down from the craft, crushing yet more plants under her smartly polished Navy boots. With a wave of greeting, the officer – her bearing could belong to no-one else – held up a bottle of strong but tasteless Core Worlds liquor.

Despite this infuriating intrusion, Hussein waved her inside and accepted the bottle. Swallowing his ire, he ushered the visitor into his hut. The walls, being little more than loose thatch of sticks, offered no protection from the elements, but the day’s elements were so wildly pleasant that it would have been sinful to protect oneself from them.

Hussein, taking out two carefully-carved wooden cups, poured out his carefully marshalled chillhusk nectar into both, then gestured to one of the two haphazard chairs.

Already sweating in her stifling smartfabric uniform, the visitor took one of the cups and drained it, not bothering to ask what was being offered. “Captain Haberkorn.” She finally spoke. “You’re a hard man to find, you know.”

“That is by design.” The woman was hardly young, but her impatient air made her seem younger, young enough almost to be Hussein’s granddaughter. He’d been in retirement for a decade, but unfortunately, that time had not allowed him to be forgotten, even though it had allowed his offenses against the service – offenses which ensured that it was a breach of formal protocol to address him as “captain” -  to vanish from the Navy’s memory. “I’m sorry, but whoever sent you, the answer is no.”

“You haven’t-”

“You are the fourth person to come here bearing the same query in as many months, miss.” Hussein sipped his chillhusk nectar as she processed this, which her superiors had obviously not bothered to explain beforehand. “If they wanted anything else of me, they should not have run me out of the fleet with a drumhead court-martial.”

“Captain, the security of-”

“There are ten million sapients in the service. My expertise was not critical ten years ago, and it is not critical now.” Hussein held the bottle of liquor up to the light, read the label, then handed it back. At least his betrayers had seen fit to send an expensive drink as a peace offering; the bottle likely cost nearly four hundred credits back in Centauri. “And when you get back, make sure that their next messenger is going to land on the marked landing pad up on the hilltop, rather than in the middle of my garden.”

Finishing off his drink, Hussein walked out of the hut, hearing his guest get up and follow behind him, stopping at the threshold to see that she had in fact planted her lighter on top of tilled and fertile ground. He ignored her, stalking off into the woods to gather sticks for the expansion of his hut he’d been planning for nearly a month. 

When he returned ten minutes later, messenger and lighter were gone, but the bottle of liquor remained. Set next to the bottle was a data-slate, its screen waking up as Hussein approached. Carefully avoiding the text on the screen, he carefully gathered up both objects and swiftly buried them behind the hut. Whatever scheme the Admiralty was brewing, he wouldn’t be dragged into it.