1845 words (7 minute read)


I laid on top of my bed and stared at the ceiling. Knowing full well that I needed to get moving if I was going to have plenty of time in the green space at the train station.

I could almost feel the leaves of the plants in the station’s garden. The thought of cold water from the drinking fountain was what made me finally get up.

I didn’t like having to go into the office because that meant that I had to take a shower. This was one of the most uncomfortable aspects of having to go in. It was important to be clean. It was important to smell good, especially at work. You never knew when you might meet a prospect.

Waterless shower units were the way of life, regardless of if I liked them or not. And I, for one, did not. I sighed, walking out of my bedroom. I crossed the main room and entered the bathroom door near the front entrance.

I contemplated the shower unit. It was on the same wall with my cleaning closet. They looked nearly identical. They did nearly the same thing, cleaning a human the way it dry-cleaned my clothes. The chemicals were supposed to be formulated for people’s skin, but I still ended up with a rash every time I got out.

Without thinking, I reached up and began scratching my neck.

Not today. I thought, walking out of the bathroom and into the kitchen.

Those propagation idiots would just have to deal.

With the institution of waterless processes came the rise in dermatitis. My grandma had said that there was a time when you could just turn on water and stand under it, for as long as you wanted, no timers, no rationing, and no one had a problem with it. I could never tell if she was making that up. It was too insane to be true. She had insisted, though, said that she had even done it.

“No way.” I had said to her.

“Way.” She would counter. I would think about this.

“Then what did it feel like?” I asked, daring her to give me the details.

“Like the best thing ever,” she would say, denying me them.

“Gram. Come on. I can’t believe you without details.”

“You wouldn’t believe me anyway. It would be like explaining sight to a blind person.”

“Ok… how about I will believe you if you can give it a try.”

She would try, but she was right… I was blind.

I had heard that some people in the sub-bubs took water baths. I didn’t know if it was true or not. You know how people can exaggerate the truth when they are talking about the uber-wealthy. Those sub-bubs were more efficient with their condensation and they had fewer people to ration, so it had the ring of truth.

I sometimes used my drinking water. Dipped a bit of cloth into it, and rubbed down my arms and face. That was what I did today. It’s only supposed to be used for drinking and cooking, but such a small amount couldn’t possibly hurt.

I suppose a shower didn’t take long and wasn’t a total inconvenience. It was really the itching I was trying to avoid for the next two days. I could get by with the waterless sanitizer, at home, by myself. But, when I had to meet with people, a shower was just the way to go. I had tried every prescription and non-prescription lotion and cream. They didn’t do much. The best thing seemed to be the medicated bandages. They contained a time release anti-itch medicine and were sort of a life saver for the worst patches. Mine was always on my neck… and I would itch it until it was raw.

“You are really lucky that it isn’t on your face,” my mother used to remind me every time she saw me.

Every time I got self-conscious about the rash on my neck, I remembered this girl who used to work for my office. She was nice enough. She had a scaly rash that seemed concentrated around her eyes. It was so distracting to talk with her; she looked like some kind of zombie. No patch could cover that. I’m not really sure what could’ve fixed that. Since only infertile women worked, it all added up to a pretty sad life.

One fiscal quarter she was at the meeting, the next she wasn’t.

I stood at my screen, applying sunscreen and contemplating the video feed outside my apartment building. Then I reviewed the weather Doppler for the rest of the day. It looked like it would be pretty clear.

There was always a good amount of humidity in the air, which would eventually turn into rain. Today the dew point wasn’t predicted to get over forty percent. This meant it most likely wouldn’t storm. But, I would be ready for a pop-up storm, just in case. My bag had enough to cover me overnight. My plants could take a couple of days without light if the power went out. I just didn’t want it to rain. The rain was always welcome for collection purposes, but little else. Too bad it wasn’t fit to drink in the form it fell in. But, when the water man came he would haul it away so that it could be processed.

I thought about the things I needed to do before I stepped outside. I gave a sigh, pressing my finger to my eyebrow. Running it alongside my face to my temple where it stopped after a few circular motions.

I walked back to the bathroom. Standing in front of the full-length mirror I pulled my skinny hair into a small bun, low at the base of my skull. Once secured with a few pins, I made sure to loosen enough hair to cover the tops of my ears to help shield the UV.

“A little bit of hair will save those ears.” My mom would always tell me. Cutting out melanoma was no big deal, but government insurance wouldn’t spring for plastic surgery.

I took off my pajamas and left them in a pile in front of the mirror. Opening the cleaning closet, I held my breath so as to not get a face full of the smell. I shook the pants, shirt, and jacket out before putting them on.

I stepped out into the hall and pulled on my boots. Clasping them at the shin, I reached for my scarf and mouth cover. I walked into the kitchen, trying to remember where I had put my sunglasses. They were next to the pill case. I touched it but then remembered on an examination day I didn’t need to take it.


My sunglasses were over by my living wall. I double checked the grow lights and hydration panel while I was there. I picked up my bag from off the kitchen island and slung it over my shoulder, digging in the bag for my gloves. I patted my chest and side pockets, looking for my inhaler. Finding it, I walked to the door, putting on my sunglasses.

I took the stairs up one floor to ground level. The dark solar glass slid open as I approached the door.

I took it real slow. Thin air made going for a walk arduous. Smog and UV made it nearly impossible. Thankfully, it wasn’t all that far to the train station.

The air quality was bad. Our spindly vegetation couldn’t quite produce enough oxygen. All the pollutants irritated respiration and everyone had asthma. The city was working on it. They always were. I kept my breaths to little sips of air. I could feel my neck beginning to itch. I clenched my teeth a little, crunching as I walked.

I just needed to stay calm and focused. Being outside always made me anxious. If I could sprint, I would’ve felt better, but I couldn’t. And, I didn’t need to; there hadn’t been a Canner incident over on this side of town in nearly six months.

Small sips, walk slowly, the train station is close.

My neighborhood, like most, was scraggly and desolate. Puny, sporadic bushes dotted the yards. Nearly all the buildings were apartments, you could tell by the cement single story structure. Every now and then you would see a freestanding house. All the windows were broken out; whole sides were hanging on by just one nail. It was definitely tired, which in turn made everything else look pitiful.

We had about four old houses in this neighborhood. They were abandoned. You had to be careful around them, rouge or pledging Canners loved those abandoned places nestled within cities. Conveniently located near people that they could kidnap; secluded enough where they could eat them without being bothered.

In the wealthier parts of town, all abandoned buildings had been bulldozed and there was a street cam on every corner. As you got further out, you would find a handful of neighborhoods where houses hadn’t yet been destroyed. The street cams also thinned. Of course, there was some community initiative that had been tabled due to lack of funds. The scheduled date for these demolitions was always “to be announced”. Even further out, well, one just didn’t go that far out.

I started to cough, forcing me to stop. I looked to my left and right. I turned to check behind me, being aware. I looked to be alone. I did my best to stay calm. If I didn’t, the coughing would worsen, forcing me to pull out my inhaler, which would cause my face to burn. The last thing I wanted was a lurking Canner to see an opportunity. I stared at the ground until the coughing subsided.

Good. Very good. Now, just continue to be aware of your surroundings.

I started walking again.

“Time,” I said, out loud.

“Eight Thirty AM,” my phab responded from inside my pocket.

While it felt like forever, the coughing hadn’t taken as much time as I had thought.

It was overcast, like every day. Greenhouse gasses lent to the constant mugginess of the atmosphere, which was hard for the respiratory impaired. The air had a full feeling to it. With very few sunny days, it was counterintuitive to think that so much UV could pour in. But the depleted ozone was losing its protective qualities year after year. Humans just couldn’t handle those kinds of doses, even for incremental periods of time. And the protection we had to use was what caused vitamin D deficiencies. This only added to the malnutrition that plagued the population.

The train station came into view. I quickened my steps.

Next Chapter: //four_