Below the glittering lights of the looming arcologies, Cortland picked himself up off of the ground, brushing the tumbled-smooth plastic pebbles of the playground's ecosand from the places they'd wedged themselves in the creases and patches of his overcoat.
It had been another bad one. Pressing one finger to his left nostril, he blew the already-congealing blood out of the right and then repeated the process with the other side. He almost reconsidered wiping his hand off on his coat, but seeing the front already splattered crimson and rust, decided that it couldn't hurt. He knew his mother would wash it without commenting on the expense of the enzymatic soap necessary to remove the bloodstains from the cheap synthetic fabric.
Cortland was a genner, but however superior his DNA, no ten year old has a chance against the advantages gained by an extra six years of growth times ten bodies. Against one of the angry teens, he could have perhaps held his own. But, a gangbeating is a gangbeating, and he had learned that trying to fight back only made it worse. Best to cover your face with your hands the instant you hit the ground and hope they get bored faster than they did the last time.
They hated him, with a child's hate of otherness, for choices that had been made by people dead long before he'd even been born.
Wincing at the fresh bruises, he stumbled home and hoped the marks wouldn't fade as quickly as they inevitably did. As soon as the marks from the last beating had made their accelerated trip through the contusion rainbow, it would be time for another batch. "To remind you," they said each time, "Of what happens to monsters."
The only genner in his particular corner of the New Jersey Arcology Support Area public school system, he had been a target for as long as he could remember. His heritage had spelled itself in glittering neon letters early, as he had never been warned to fudge his test scores and let the other children win playground games most of the time. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, but his mother had never been able to afford the testing and analysis necessary to determine with which line he'd been "blessed". Those were her words of course, and not his, or indeed anybody else's he'd ever encountered.
The information she had managed to turn up on the 'net and by talking to the local clinic doctors suggested that his size, speed, and the particulars of his intelligence indicated that someone in the family tree had been grown for military applications.
The flipside, of course, of never having been properly tested was that he'd never drawn the attention of the long arms of the government interested in such things.
It was a long walk home through the Downers, the not quite forgotten sections of the Support Area which occupied the ring shaped depression long ago carved out as a foundation for the scaffolds used to build the arcology. Starting five kilometers from the base of the arcology, and stretching two and a half kilometers beyond that, it had once supported the massive scaffolds and their foundation, which had been deconstructed and incorporated into the framework of the arc as soon as it had been ready to support itself.
The shadow of the arcology and the soot from illegal trash fires kept the streets in the Downers in perpetual darkness. It was where the lowest castes lived, surreptitiously tapping electricity and grey water from the support area utilities that fed the glamorous towers of the arc.
The unwise didn't, but Cortland would make it through the sketchy underside of the arc just fine. It was obvious at a distance even in the perpetual twilight that he had nothing worth taking. This was, in fact, the primary reason he took the dangerous route home. Schoolyard bullies were brave enough within a few blocks of a security station, but knew well enough that the new clothes on their backs and the electronics in their pockets were worth a beatdown at best in the Downers, where a thriving black market traded in stolen consumer goods at prices negotiated in a system both decoupled and simultaneously dependent on the controlled economy of the Arcology Greater Economic Sector.
By the time Cortland climbed the last of the gradual hill that marked the transition out of the Downers, his nose had stopped hurting, and strength was returning to his limbs. At the top of the slope, he stopped to look back and got his first breath of fresh air since one shoe or another had filled his sinuses with blood.
No trash fires here, one of the few perks of living in the officially sanctioned Arcology Support zones. Electricity was free, piped in from the massive hydrogen recombination turbines of the arcology. Burn hydrogen to drive turbines and generators, then split the byproduct, water, back into hydrogen and oxygen with power from the fusion plant at the arc's heart. There were losses in the system, but it was robust and easier to manufacture turbine parts than it was to deal with the sustainability and complexity of solid state transmission systems.