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# Skinless

*Someone once said to him:*

*"Cyborgs never did anyone wrong. Human just like you and I, all that matters is the brain, no?"*

*Psh. Rye scoffed.*

Once in the past, Rye was abandoned to the slums without peer or parent. Such was the fate of children when they reach the age of thirteen. When the other boys parted ways and left Rye alone, a scarred man in a suit approached him.

All things considered, why the stranger came for him could have been much worse: death or exploitation. The black market broker came to him with a job offer: delivery in and around the slums. Basic income, an outlier from the universal strangling poverty, healed the wounds of abandonment.

With an eager face wiped dry of tears, Rye, still thirteen years at the time, ran on foot with a satchel from the main sector of the slums to the eastern district. At normal hours, even the adults didn't walk there alone, but in the early morning at 5:30 AM--- except for the rubble, grime, and bare wires of crumbling infrastructure--- the streets were clear. Treading the edge of danger and later earning his wage became a routine that fulfilled his sense of adventure.

At the residential block, dim lights flickered. Rye ran to apartment in the complex where his delivery was addressed to. He rang the door bell and waited for it to be answered. The footsteps behind the door drew close, and the door opened.

"Delivery!" Rye said as he turned from his bag and to the one who answered the door. "For Mr. Gle---"

The man answering had no face. Looking down upon the boy, two eyeballs socketed in a bare metallic skull. Visible red veins accompanied the fleshy sides of white spheres. A broad toothy grin lacked lips.

Rye screamed. He sprinted back down the halls. In turn, footsteps that weren't his slammed upon the ground. The lights above flickered. Behind him, the faceless man disappeared and approached,

Stumbling in terror, Rye threw the parcel down the hall before getting back up. He ran and didn't dare to look back.

The faceless man picked up his package from the floor.

5:15 AM

Glen soaked a towel under a sink, wrung out the excess water, and walked out of the bathroom.

"Fucker," he said under his breath. "Son of a bitch."

He crashed on his bed and covered his face with a damp towel.

A bar fight from the other day gone wrong, he and his friends ended up in a free-for-all street brawl. The fuckers from the west picked a fight, and general half-brained violence erupted. The majority of the participants didn't recognize who was from where, and the last thing Glen expected was someone to throw acid.

He took a direct hit to the face. He lost his original skin a long time back as well as his original skull. To the credit of prosthetics, the synthetic skin that coated his current face guarded his still-organic eyes. Nonetheless, acid rendered his entire face model unusable.

"Ugh," he groaned as he pressed the towel against his face.

Lacking eyelids and being inable to blink left him largely inable to do much. To soothe his burning nerves, Glen reached for the nightstand and finished the anodyne he poured himself earlier.

The doorbell rang.

Glen shot up and eagerly went for the door. The towel slipped off his face and fell to the floor.

When he answered the door, he looked down to the delivery boy with the package.

"Shit," he thought to himself. "Is it the ale or does this kid have black hair?"

"Delivery! For Mr. Gle---" the boy said before looking back and growing a disturbed stare.

*Fuck... the towel. Shit. Shit. Just don't---*

The boy shrieked and ran away.

"Hey! Kid! Come on! That's my stuff!" Glen ran after.

The boy stumbled and hastily threw the parcel before running away. Picking up what the boy left behind, Glen opened the packaging, saw his face model and a round container of unoxidized synthetic skin.

"About time this came in," Glen said.

---

"Congratulations," the older man in a business suit said. The black market broker's voice was as barren as its always been. "It's your paycheck."

When he handed Rye the envelope, the child's eyes widened. Certainly, it was more than most would hope to see by the month's end. More than enough for basic expenses in the slums.

He lit his cigarette and left with a passing comment, "Just don't tell anyone you have it."

Rye was too young to have his ambitions crushed or to forget his desires--- things that otherwise had to be shared with others, or that the caregivers had to decline because of the price. Rye had the paycheck all to himself and no obligation to share with the peers that had rejected him.

Out the window, the glimmering line at the horizon's edge was Cassini, the city of lights. What better place to spend the end of the day there?

The thinnest border divided the slums and city. For the citizens, the significance could not be understated. Those of the slums didn't know or didn't care. The slums' true name was Sito, an autonomous sector. Foremothers and forefathers of the past would've fiercely argued it was a new nation, but their modern descendants could hardly tell if it wasn't a dejected district of Cassini.

It didn't take much to enter Cassini from Sito. No walls or guards, only wide space between. The distinction was only digital. With his best clothes on, without tattered edges and holes, Rye walked through the border and approached the faint edges of colored lights upon the grey pavement.

From trash littered alleys to clean streets, from worn concrete to pristine metal, from the stench of smoke to clean air, Cassini presented a new category of living standards. Each city light was a jewel as though the buildings themselves were the tiara upon the terrain.

From the shadows, Rye watched the streets. Hand-in-hand, adult accompanied child. A spotless car drove by, showcasing Rye's lonely reflection. He bit his lip and looked the other way.

The nearby window of a store conveyed electronics and price tags. Such purposeful devices could be used for anything, games for children, office work, and creative pursuits. The bright screens showcased fluid motion, crisp edges, and vivid colors. Alas, past the charm and down to the number, the price had to be considered: more than what he had.

Rye sighed. For now.

He walked the empty route towards the inner city. Between the gaps in the buildings, he could see the average pedestrian's wear became further ornate. Street cameras became more abundant, and the police regularly patrolled the route's end. Knowing what the best for him, he'd have to head back.

"A nice place," Rye said as he looked up to the tall buildings and the stream of air traffic. City lights blotted the night sky blank of stars.

"Some day, I'll get to live here." Not a wish, but a promise to himself.

A colossal tower in the far distance hid behind the shady clouds.

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