Colossal buildings rose up on either side of the narrow street, their old, worn faces and rusted metal frames standing guard over the littered and sludge covered passage. The rough surface of the road harkened back to a time when vehicles traveled by wheel, before hover freights and transport pods carried people high off the surface. Now the only traffic it saw was the plodding footsteps of those who were unfortunate enough to trudge upon it. Solia happened to be one of those unfortunate souls.She hadn’t intended to wind up in Underton, and wasn’t really sure how she’d managed to wander here. Unable to resist the lure of the unusual, Solia had traveled to the edge shops that bordered Underton and Glassow in hopes of finding a treasure. The edge shops were where select dissolutes attempted to remedy themselves and reintegrate into the palatial society. The shops contained all manner of unusual items and Solia often spent hours perusing the shelves.

During this trip she spotted a bright red door and glass bay window painted roughly with the words Breathtaking Wares and Intriguing Trinkets. The gold paint reflected the light from nearby shops, glinting and beckoning her. The store was no longer truly in an edge shop, but a curtain of Underton. Once her eyes landed upon the items housed in the store she hadn’t cared. Relics from a bygone era crowded every shelf, an old lightbulb lamp in the shape of a monkey, each arm holding up one bulb, a small key used in the ignition of a combustion engine, a music box that emitted a faint song when the little ratchet lever was turned.

The woman noticed her interest and told her of a shop nearby that specialized in music boxes. Nearby had passed several blocks ago and Solia was deep in Underton. Her fear was increasing with each turn she made. This was no place for a young palatial woman, and it was getting late. Those towering buildings and the thick cloud of smog masked the night sky, but a quick glance at her com pad told her it was nearing ten in the evening.

Impulsively turning down a side street in an effort to avoid the gruff looking man ahead, Solia found herself face to face with two young dissolutes. Their clothes fit loosely, like a coat hung on a hook, their frail bodies hidden in the billows. Startling, it took Solia a second to realize that she’d stumbled upon two lovers, mid embrace. The woman looked to her, and eyes the color of cornflowers in late July collided with hers, holding Solia transfixed. Shadows shifted as the woman partially pulled out of her paramours arms, revealing a breathtaking face that looked carved of porcelain.

“Lost?” A rough voice asked, pulling her out of her reverie.

The deep tenor of the voice sent Solia’s heart skittering and reminded her of her place. Solia blushed deeply and shook her head, unable to make her voice work. Sidestepping, she nearly ran past them, her footsteps falling in rapid succession until she came to and rounded the next corner and leaned against a dirty, concrete wall. Shakily, she looked about her and her stomach sunk. A vast maze of streets stretched out before her, dimly lit and sullied. Vagrants and dissolutes wandered in a half-hazard manner, occasionally casting eyes in her direction, their heated gazes holding animosity.

Sighing, Solia turned and retraced her footsteps, finding the paramours in mid kiss. She could feel the heat creeping up her neck and across her cheeks as she studied the ground and waited for them to finish.

“You again?” The rough voice inquired, drawing Solia’s eyes to a handsome face.

“Be gentle, Coren, can’t you see she’s scared,” the woman admonished, giving the man a playful shove. “What is it you need?”

“I,” Solia paused, ashamed of the tremor that she heard in her own throat. “I am afraid I’m hopelessly lost.”

“That can be said of all your type,” the man growled.

“Coren! You will have to ignore him, he means no harm. Where is it you are trying to go?”

Solia lost herself in those cornflower eyes once more, wishing she had half the strength that she saw in them. “I was trying to find a shop that a merchant in the edge was telling me about, but I think at this point I just need to find home.”

“I can guide you back to Glassow, if that is what you wish,” the woman offered. Her lover growled an objection behind her but she ignored it.

“Yes, thank you. That would be…”

Solia’s response was cut off by the man as he stiffened and said, “The police.”

The woman’s eyes widened and she grabbed Solia by the arm, escorting her to a pile of dilapidated boxes nearby. “You must hide.”

“I don’t understand. Can’t the police officer help me to find my way home?”

“No, nothing good can come of this. Please,” She insisted as she shoved Solia down, onto the hard asphalt.

Something in the woman’s eyes convinced her to comply and she huddled, watching through a break in one of the boxes as a man strode purposefully toward the paramours, his lips flattened into a grim line.

“Chips,” the man commanded, holding up a scanner and studying them with dark eyes.

His gaze lingered on the woman, no doubt taking in the lines of her face and the wide expanse of her lips. A small chirp issued from the device he held as he ran it over the insides of their wrists, his eyes never leaving the woman.

“You may leave,” the officer ordered, dismissing the man with a flick of one hand as he snagged the woman with the other, pulling her roughly against him.

Something coiled heavily in Solia’s stomach as she watched the officer run his hands over the woman, finding her soft curves and testing the weight of her breasts in his hand. Solia realized what the woman must have intuited when she’d urged Solia to hide, that her presence would only make things worse, though she didn’t understand why that would be. Instead of voicing an objection on behalf of the woman to the violation, Solia kept her mouth shut and swallowed her protests with the bile that rose, burning at the back of her throat.

Coran did not remain silent however. Anger burned in the man as he looked from the police officer to his lover, his eyes softening on her in fear and love before the rage returned and he shoved at the officer.

“No, you leave her alone,” Coran demanded.

“Coran, don’t,” The woman objected, panic evident in the high pitch of her voice.

“I gave you an order, boy, and now I see that you are too stupid to follow it,” The officer bit out as he shoved the man from him, slamming him into the concrete wall behind him. “If you would like to remain, I will let you watch what I’m going to do to her. Is that what you want, to watch?”

Coran punched the officer, the knuckles of his fist smashing into the officer’s temples with more power than Solia would have thought the emaciated man contained. The officer stumbled backward, reeling from the blow, his eyes clouding for a moment before he drew his EMP and aimed at Coran.

“No,” the woman yelled, shoving at Coran.

Her cry was cut off abruptly as the EMP fired. Blood splashed across the light wall in a macabre painting and the woman crumpled only inches from where Solia crouched. Coran raced the officer, throwing his shoulder into him and knocking the EMP from the officer’s grip. The weapon clattered to the ground, out of reach and the officer turned on Coran, withdrawing a baton and striking the man across the shoulder with it. Grunting, Coran landed another punch, this time to the officer’s nose, breaking it so that blood spurted wildly from it.

The baton crashed down again, cracking into Coran’s skull and driving him to his knees. The officer struck him repeatedly, the hard metal of the baton smacking into flesh with a sickening thud as Coran covered his head in an attempt to protect himself.

“Stop,” Solia cried, springing up from behind the boxes. “You’ll kill him.”

The officer turned toward her, the thick, armor-like plating of his uniform brushing together is a sharp susurration that sent a trickle of fear down Solia’s spine. A dark brow rose over one dark eye as he appraised her, quickly deducing that she did not belong in Underton.

“That was rather the point.” His smooth voice rolled over her, sickening her, as he took another step toward her.

“Why?” She managed, her hands trembling as she took a shaky step backward, bumping into the cool wall, halting her retreat.

“Why not?” He asked with a shrug, using his baton to sweep aside the crumbling boxes, rather than walking around them.

He trapped her against the wall, resting a large palm against the concrete on either side of her head as he pressed into her. Solia glanced down, looking to Coran for help, but the broken man was oblivious to her distress. A wretched sound issued from him as he sat, cradling his departed lover in his lap, her blood soaking his already dirtied jacket.

“They are worthless,” His voice rumbled into her ear, his lips brushing against her as he spoke, “Mere fodder for my enjoyment. Toys. You are something different, though, aren’t you?”

Tipping her chin up with his thumb as the rest of his hand settled gently against her neck, he gazed down at her, a dark desire evident in his eyes. That thumb swept over her thick lower lip before the officer growled and captured her mouth in a rough kiss. His fingers dug into her cheeks, forcing her to open for him, his tongue sweeping over hers in a crude caress. Revulsion rolled through her and Solia went wild, fighting against him, her small fists striking pointlessly into the armor of his uniform. Pulling back, a wide smile pulling his face into a cruel visage, the officer allowed a deep chuckle to escape.

Solia seized the moment, throwing everything she had into her fist and aiming for the spot on his temple where Coran had struck him earlier. Pain ricocheted through her hand as her knuckles connected with the exact spot she’d hoped to hit, causing the officer to stumble backward in surprise. Growling, he tackled her, bringing her down hard on the rough asphalt. Hands pulled at her pants, loosening them as she tried to squirm out from under his heavy body, terror alight in her heart.

Something cracked next to her, sending bits of black rocking biting into her face. The officer cursed, rolling off of her and glancing around the alley for his weapon. Solia glanced up, meeting Coran’s eyes, seeing hatred in their depths.

“Run,” He growled.

It was all the encouragement Solia needed. The thundering of her heart drowned out all other noise as she ran. Turning wildly and racing in what she guessed was the overall direction toward Glassow, Solia couldn’t help the stream of tears that cut their way through the grime that had begun to accumulate on her face during her time in Underton.

A huddled shape sparked her memory, the worn and wrinkled face one she’d passed when she’d first entered the dark city and she turned, her legs burning with the effort to carry her to safety. Afraid to look over her shoulder and see who pursued her, Solia squeezed between two curtain shops and then raced through the edge, rushing past storefronts in the nearly deserted passageway. When she at last broke through the buildings and into Glassow proper, her lungs burned and pain crashed in her skull with a ferocity that nearly blinded her.

Still, she did not pause. Solia scrambled up the transport stairs, toward the deck, frantically flagging a nearby pod. The driver stopped, eyeing her with concern and suspicion. Not waiting for acknowledgement, Solia dropped into the pod, settling onto a seat and barked her address at him.

“Are you okay, Miss?” He asked as he accepted her scanner and deducted the correct exchange from her account.

“I got lost,” She whispered.

“Should I take you to the police? If you’ve been attacked,” He began, concern deepening his voice.

“No,” She cut him off. “I just want to go home. Please.”

The driver studied her for a moment, indecision warring in his eyes. “Very well,” he finally said, initiating the transport pod.

The world sped by, the clean lines and open skies feeling vulgar in contrast to Underton. The glass high rises gave way to low rises before spreading out into a plateau of closely clustered homes. Solia turned to watch the city dwindle behind her, appearing like a great white mountain. Some of the tension eased inside of her and she found herself trembling, the momentum of the events tumbling through her mind, the coppery scent of blood, the sound of the baton striking flesh, the feel of the officer’s hands biting into her skin.

The pod halted at the high deck of her house and Solia exited, looking out over the dark neighborhood. Normally, she enjoyed this view, the vantage point the deck offered, but tonight the houses looked empty, their dark windows reminding her of the officer’s eyes.