Xun stepped out into the cool night air and rested an arm on the rail of his tiny apartment’s balcony. He didn’t really understand the need for such a space, though he was aware that a few considered regular exposure to the outdoors a necessary part of their lives. He looked across the river that divided his complex from the hazed skyline of a brightly-lit mega-city. How could something so vast be… inexplicably drab?

He reached into the pocket of his pants and withdrew an electronic vaporizer and a vial of finely shredded plant material. He pulled back a slot in the blue-gray cylinder, poured some in, and glided his finger across a smooth switch on the side. He brought the vaporizer to his mouth and drew in a few breaths.

It had a mildly sweet, earthy taste, though it was hardly anything special.

Xun held the vaporizer up to eye level and studied it for a moment. At least the glowing end of this style was slightly more interesting than the more frequently marketed “hazard free” models.

He raised his other arm for a moment and without hesitation pressed the fiery end of the device into the palm of his hand, holding it there for three or four seconds. He winced, but didn’t make a sound, and looked down at the charred circular mark below his fingers.

“I don’t get it,” he muttered into the wind.