by P. R. O’Leary

On the ground floor, 192 stories down, Stig covered his head and face with the rainsuit hood and walked out into the street. The driving rain and heavy smog obscured his view, so the smell hit him first. He could never get used to it. Take every bad smell that comes out of a person’s body, multiply it by a billion, and sprinkle some landfills and industrial waste on top. That was the smell of the city. It was almost visible.

Even through the rain and smog and smell, Stig could see that the street was crowded with people, packed end-to-end as usual, bodies moving in every direction, pushing and jostling each other for space. Cars had long since become impractical, and the public Tubes were always out of commission, so they had no choice but to walk, especially in this area, characterized by people who had no other means besides their own two legs—and sometimes not even that.

Stig pushed through the crowd as the rain pounded the top of his head. There was no telling what anyone looked like below their rainsuits. People were making every effort to cover their skin, including him.

Most of Stig’s rainsuit had eroded down to the red warning layer, and in some places, the rain had eaten all the way through. His hands, arms, back, and face were covered in white scars where the water had seared his flesh. Stig couldn’t afford to patch the rainsuit anymore; good acid-blocking material was out of his price range. The adequate kind was, too.

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