Twenty-four, diamond, delta, V. That’s what it says on my ticket. I think I’m in the right place. The corridor is long, reaching far off into the distance. I can see the walls either side, just about. There are strips of orange lights running down the middle, which are dim even against the patches of night sky. The roof can’t be completely closed because of all the fumes — bursts of steam and who knows what other pollutants are everywhere. All of the corridors look the same, so it’s possible I’ve missed my turn. I look up to check the sign.
♦24: STANDING PARK
DELTA to PHI
Standing Park — that’s what the attendant said, if I remember correctly. It doesn’t live up to its name, that’s for sure. There are no fields of fragrant rose grass here, no elegant sunsets. Nothing like the sort of park you’d be used to.
I’m walking along the corridor. It’s quite warm and humid. I’m wearing an acrylic sweater and starting to regret it — the material isn’t breathable and I’m already quite sweaty. At the same time, gusts of cold air arrive out of nowhere and so I’m reluctant to take it off. My boots clank against the iron floor. I can smell all sorts of things — food mostly, probably a lot of noodles and the sorts of things you can make with just boiling water. I see one person using an iron to roast what looks like a steak. Of course, it’s probably not a steak — those are hard to come by here and I doubt many of the manual workers here can afford such a luxury.
A jet of steam propels past my face with a WHEESH. It doesn’t do much to cover the sounds of the people on the corridor. There’s a chorus of thousands of humming voices. The corridors repeat downwards for miles, and stretch even further lengthways. Then there’s the shuttle line — the small locomotives are old and powered by some sort of fuel, which means noisy engines. You can hear the floor below through the vents in the floors, and each corridor has hundreds more people on it.
There are all sorts of people here. Some human, many not. Some of them can’t be older than fifteen. Everyone’s here for different reasons, that’s for sure. The factories and mines probably account for almost half of this star system’s employment. It’s appealing for people who want to escape from somewhere, or perhaps someone. The producers here will take on anyone — some of the work can be dangerous, some of it monotonous. Much of it is lonely. The pay generally isn’t great, but it’s certainly not awful either. I’d imagine a lot of the people here wouldn’t be able to earn this much on any of the nearby planets — certainly not without an education. And an education isn’t easy to come by in this sort of system — the whole economy is built around manual work and so there’s not really much focus on good school programmes. It’s a shame that such old-fashioned ways still exist, but I guess it’s always the poorest places that seem to be left behind when the richer worlds progress.
There’s my new favourite smell again — citrus coffee. I haven’t seen anyone drinking it for ages, not since I visited the floating markets. I’m not even sure of the name of that planet, anymore. I’ve been out here so long that my memories have begun to blur into one. If not for my journal entries, I’d probably forget a lot of what I’d seen. That’s not surprising, mind. Given that the reason I’m even here is because of the injury, it would probably be silly to expect to remember everything. But that’s okay. I’ve made my peace with the fact I’ll never be able to remember things like I once could. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been taking so many pictures, and why I use an antiquated ‘video’ camera that I’ll be able to capture months’ worth of footage with.
A man with a long, grey beard is stirring a pot of dandelion soup. The soup smells cheap and weedy, like the freeze-dried type. The pot, however, is beautiful — it’s emerald green and made of smooth, glossy clay. I see a packet of hemp crackers by his feet. They look stale. I’ve never had much time for hemp crackers anyway, but the sight of them in this state makes me gag slightly. A young Houlcalain of around twenty-three is wrapped in a tattered sleeping back, tossing and turning amidst the constant noise. The next bay belongs to a young girl. I presume, from her overfilled rucksack, that she has likely run away from her parents’ home and come to the factories in search of reliable work. I hope she manages to save up enough to get out of here, mind. This is no place for a teenager, for sure. Not that it’s a great place to be for anyone, of course. Although I suppose there’s something quite liberating about the place. A person can arrive here to a stable job, liveable income (if you’re frugal) and a place to stay. You can be anyone in a place like this. Nobody’s even going to know your name if you don’t want them to. Every day, you pass someone that you’ll most likely never see again. I would imagine it’s quite freeing if you’re escaping something.
I finally come to a stop. My bay is very bare — just the same metal bed frame repeated fifty-or-so times along the corridor so far, as well as some secure storage. There’s a lamp, an old space heater, some sanitising gel and, strangely, a toothbrush. That’s not something I expected. I already have one, but it’ll be good to have a spare. I unroll my sleeping bag and place my belongings into the storage. I pull out my trusty metal water bottle. I swear by it because it keeps my drinks cold. Plus, it has an illustrated print of some of the flowers from the market planet, which brings me happy memories. I’m not so sure how many happy memories I’ll have of this place. Maybe it’s one I’ll quickly forget. There’s not a lot here that makes me feel positive. Still, it’s a place to stay. Hopefully the water fountain is nice and cold.
- This piece is a part of my fiction project, ‘Diary of a star-bound interrailer’. You can read the rest of it here.