Brayden shut the door behind him, then leaned back against it. The treasured silence of his apartment washed over him. He stood there for a full minute, bringing oxygen into his lungs one deep inhale at a time. The shaking in his limbs eased enough that he could finally take those life-giving breaths.

Four consecutive meetings with the C-suite folks, followed by a New Hire presentation for ten fresh faces, and finally the call to his lawyer and accountant. His brain was still running on all cylinders, despite the forty-minute commute home.

After pushing off the door, Brayden shook out his limbs, kicked his dress shoes into the hall closet behind the door, and trudged down to his bedroom. A trail of clothes followed.

Tie yanked off and tossed over a shoulder.

Suit jacket shrugged off to fall where gravity willed.

Dress shirt yanked open, buttons flying all willy-nilly.

Dress pants ripped off like workout pants with the buttons up the side.

When he finally reached the bathroom, Brayden felt almost…normal again. He set the shower to scalding, the only temperature that should lawfully exist. It took thirty seconds to heat up, steam billowing up from the top of the shower cubicle and fogging the glass door.

Brayden’s pores opened, all manner of contagions drifting up toward the filtered ceiling. Once the room was sufficiently cloudy, he stepped into the shower, letting out a soft groan of pleasure. He turned his back to the biting sting of water, resting his arms against the wall and releasing one muscle at a time.

The layers peeled off one by one. The epidermis didn’t take long, had already started the process on his way into the bathroom. Thank goodness for robo-cleaners and disinfectant sprays. Because it was thicker and contained way too many pieces to count (not that Brayden had ever been interested in doing), his dermis fell in chunks.

It was kind of disgusting, this part. The disposal system under the shower drain kicked on, whirring at high speed to clear the way for the final stage. Brayden breathed through his mouth, rested more of his weight on his arms. He hated the final stage, didn’t understand how it wasn’t an instant death sentence for his people.

The subcutis inched off, the water turning a dark pink below him as blood vessels sheared off. Muscles and ligaments and all manner of organs exposed to the scalding water. Once the water ran clear, though, the showerhead turned off. Still breathing through his mouth, Brayden took the necessary five steps across the bathroom, entered the UV room, and stretched out on the cot in the center of the room.

Tomorrow will be another day of meetings and talks. But the fresh skin would hopefully help him keep a straighter face. Wasn’t his fault people said stupid shit all the time.

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