Start at the Start

He dropped his cigarette, stepped down with a toe and twisted it into the concrete.

He had hoped this might give the departure boards long enough to change, but there were still exactly the same by the time he gazed upwards again.

It was perhaps a bit much to hope for a sign at this point. Not a literal sign of where to go, mind – there were loads of those – just a sign to tell him why he should bother going to any of them.

That was the problem with interstellar travel nowadays; it was so easy. He could go anywhere, but the problem was that he didn’t really have anywhere to be.

A couple of sections on the board flickered underneath the gaudy advertising. A destination disappeared, replaced by a new one. He’d never heard of it. An announcement droned on about it. It was a person talking, but they must have been getting towards the end of the shift as their voice just sounded robotic. That, or they were too used to chatting to their AI all day.

This whole exercise was starting to get to him.

The idea was simple; get out and use his savings to go somewhere new. Try something different. Experience something completely out of the ordinary.

In short, live a little.

He always had plans, but that was part of the problem. Those plans would become the thing that took up all the time. He spent all his spare time planning instead of actually doing. Things were supposed to be different this time; no plan, just action.

His job had been winding down for weeks now. He was going to be replaced, like so many others in his position, with software. Nobody really wanted, or needed, a human accountant anymore. Still, the redundancy pay was rather good thanks to dedicating years of his life to the daily grind of a job he hated.

Redundancy had felt like something of a reward, and the whole experience finally gave him the push he needed to be bold. He could have got even more money if he had been recompensed for his remaining leave, but he took it, quit the office a couple of weeks ahead of time, packed a bag and walked to the spaceport.

That in itself took longer than he expected, but that was part of the adventure. Besides, it felt good to get some air into his lungs and stroll through a world that suddenly had become anything but routine. For the first time in a long while, it was full of possibilities.

The problem was the sheer size of the departures board when he had arrived.

He recognised a few places that he had toyed with visiting before, but never got around to. They could be good. But they’d be something of a known risk; he’d know roughly what to expect, and the whole point of this adventure was to push himself with the unexpected.

Other names on the lists struck him with a faint sense of dread – had he heard about such-and-such happening there? Wasn’t that place meant to be a dump? What if I got there and I hated it?

He resisted the urge to consult his Internet AI or nip into the nearby bookshop to see what the guidebooks said.

If he was this bad choosing somewhere to go for an adventure on a whim, what was he going to be like when it came to finding somewhere to stay when he was there? Or something to do? Or places to eat?

He had an entire universe of possibilities staring at him, and he didn’t know where to start. Money, for once, was no problem. Nobody was likely to miss him or wonder where he was. The flat was secure in the government building.

He just had to pick somewhere.

Maybe he should collar a stranger. Let another person decide where he went. Or would that be defeating the point?

A transport thundered by, swooping low over his head.

He briefly wondered where it was going.

Was the problem that his walk here had made him realised how much he actually liked this little part of the universe? His little part of the universe.

Why be anywhere else?

He looked over his shoulder as if to check.

It would be convenient if that was the case. He could save a lot of that money he’d just got.

But this was meant to be his time to go and do something crazy for a change.

He lit up another cigarette as a large group of chattering tourists swarmed past him and piled into a waiting coach. The hovering vehicle bobbed up and down a little as they clambered up the small steps.

See? People were excited to come here.

Maybe the journey here was the crazy thing. The thing that would live on in countless anecdotes. “Hey guys, remember when I wanted to go on an adventure, walked to the spaceport, and just came back? Wasn’t that daft?”

… Yeah, right… Who was going to be impressed by a story like that?

Another part of the problem was that he wanted, on some level, to see all of the places on the board. Every destination listed, from glittering coasts to frozen planets and industrial dumps.

He snorted as, seemingly out of nowhere, he remembered some advice his dad had given him when he was young. On seeing his young son – methodical and smart though he was – struggle with his homework, he’d said, “Don’t worry. Just start at the start.”

As he grew up, he realised his dad probably didn’t mean much by it. Chances were that his dad had said it because it sounded more wise and profound than it really was. A throwaway line, designed to temporarily comfort and encourage a stressed-out kid. Nothing more. If anything, in hindsight, it sounded more than a little stupid.

But still – it had helped him focus. He learned to start somewhere simple and small, and work through things carefully. After all, there was no point worrying about the bigger problem if you can’t even chalk up a couple of the more simple wins that might help you out later.

… His dad almost definitely didn’t mean it like that.

And yet something about those throwaway words had clearly stayed with him…

Start at the start.

The list of destinations was alphabetical.

He might not get around to them all, but he could certainly do his best.

He stamped out his cigarette, picked up his bag, and walked inside. For a brief moment, he wondered if his dad would have been proud or just think that he was being a bit of a wally.

Either way, at least he knew who to blame if the whole thing went wrong.



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