The posters all say, "Sooner or later, everyone comes to Londinium." They don't mention that Londinium is the only major refuelling and restocking port on the way out of the Tarantula Nebula. Maybe the poster designers were being kind - anyone reading them is here already.
I've been in Londinium for about two months, now. The cruiser was running low on fuel, and this was the only place that would have any - and that wouldn't check my ID. My picture has been posted all over the Dataday announcements (the ugly, shorn one they used when I re-enlisted), and I'm wanted by the authorities. By the cetaceans, although, I honestly don't think they'd do anything to me. Just lock me away, I expect, in a place a million times more comfortable than the cruiser pod, and a million times safer than the Hoop.
Sometimes, I don't know why I'm still running.
After Luiz's death, all sorts of things started coming out. I guess his people weren't as loyal as he thought. I can't really judge them for that. Wasn't I one of them, once? Anyway. A whole bunch of them started talking about it all - the rat war, the burning, even some pettier crimes, like the rerouting of aid funds to the army pay packets - all spread across the tables, watched by the cetaceans. Some others televised the entire thing.
My first pay packet took the food out of the mouths of dying children. Because the soldiers needed to get paid. Because the war was important.
Oh, Luiz. It makes me ashamed to be human.
I'm staying on my own in a little run-down hotel. Everything in Londinium is little and run-down. They don't let you play or have fun - there were a dozen little kids, all solemnly reciting their times tables, yesterday - and they're convinced that everyone is trying to overthrow the government. Which might be true, thinking on it.
They don't even allow guns here, so mine is locked away in the cruiser. It makes me feel very naked, to walk anyplace without it.
For such a broken little place, Londinium is really, really expensive. And I could only get a little of my money out before my account was frozen. Besides, who wants to hire mousy little Hasty James, when there are so many others looking for work?
In many ways, it's like being back on the Hoop. I half expect Rodice to come charging around the corner, some new guy in tow, and Toby laughing at her. He was amused by Rodice, I'm sure of it. He might have been gruff with her, but he played with her when she was young. And me, too, of course.
I'm finding it a lot easier to forgive people if I'm the one who killed them.
Sometimes, I think that makes me a monster.
I'm sorry I haven't written for a while. I know I said that I would try to write more often - I don't know why, but it seems important - but things have a habit of running away with me. This place eats your soul until you don't want to do anything. I've been on heavier, more depressing planets, so it can't be the gravity or the general gloom. It's something else. An emptiness, maybe. You look out at night from this hemisphere, and there are hardly any stars in the sky. We're at the end of this Nebula, and there is nothing but empty space out there for millions of miles.
It's difficult to remember that I want to go back out there.
Yesterday was two years to the day since Toy died. Not that it's been two years, of course. More like - seven? Eight? I forget. Back on Moab, I started keeping my own calendar of days. It was only little ticks on a bit of paper, and it got silly sometimes. I'd go out before breakfast and come back for dinner a week later. So is that one day? I just made it up, in the end.
So, by the reckoning of a bit of paper, it is two years to the day since my best friend, Toy, died.
Give or take a decade.
Today is Happy day on Londinium. A few times a year, the authorities hand out hallucinogens - happy pills - and let the entire populace drug themselves into forgetfulness. They sit around in groups, smiling and holding hands and not speaking. One group were nodding to themselves and to each other.
Give them a haircut and they could be Drummers.
I hate this place.
One of the local barons was looking for someone to do a bit of work. Easy, and well paid. And I'd done it before.
Really, I made it a lot easier for my target than a lot of others could have.
Some days, I look in the mirror and think, this is what I have done to myself.
Anyway. The money is enough to buy food and fuel. Three days, and I'm gone.
There is a group of people - refugees from Charon, the burned planet - who have taken out an advert in the Dataday. They're calling me a hero for what I did. How can I let them know that anybody could have done it?
I think … I think I might do almost anything to leave here. Even if there is nothing out there but darkness.
Below me, the pink and blue posters scatter in the blast, flapping across the concourse. Pictures of my shorn head compete with a long, unwinding slogan - Sooner or later, everyone comes to Londinium. The light rushes up to greet me, sunrise in my eyes. This is the only star I'm going to see for a long time, and stare right up into it, so I don't forget. There's a glimpse of something on the cockpit plexiglass - a red face, monstrous and scowling, with a series of scars running across it, only seen here, with the light in my eyes: Brinna, Rodice, Toy, Luiz...
I blink, and see the face again. It's me, of course, face turned up towards the light.
It's only me.