Skinned

In this perfectly spun dystopian satire, Rich Larson takes aim at fashion, cultural appropriation, and modern incarceration—and I’ve already said too much. Enjoy. -the ed


As the limo pulled through a swarm of paparazzi and minidrones, Millicia could feel the nervousness clotting in her borrowed throat. Fortunately she didn’t need to speak aloud to chat her handler — the surgeons had installed her usual molar mic.

I’m spinning out, she told him. What if they hate it? What if they fucking hate it, Ki?

Take a floaty, Milli, the response came. You’ll be fine. It’s going to be absolutely nova and everyone is going to fucking love it. We know this.

Millicia swallowed two floaties — her tolerance was higher now that she had more body mass — and sat back. She waited for the benzodiazepine blanket to smother her borrowed brain cells. She breathed in. Out.

When she checked her reflection in the limo’s smart glass window, it was with a cool detachment. The face was harshly beautiful, hollow-cheeked, sharp angles, a half-circle scar under one eye that made Millicia think of a squid’s sucker. The makeup artists had epilated, touched up the skin here and there, injected the lips and slicked them in a gloss that shimmered like broken glass, but they’d left the crude tattoos visible. That was essential.

The limo slid to a halt and its fibrous doors peeled apart, giving the crowd their first glimpse of Millicia’s look for the evening. She slid out of her seat, lithe and leonine, the gyros in her Louis Vuitton shoes helping to stabilize her unfamiliar limbs, and looked out into a sea of retroflash cameras, eyecams, minidrones, all of them recording her entrance.

She watched surprise ripple through the crowd. They recognized the holographic signature wired into her dress, they knew they were seeing Millicia Fenn-Rideau step out of her limousine, but this was not the body they’d expected. Not even close. Fashion reporters descended in a pack and the nimblest slapped her with a digital two-minute interview contract.

Millicia shuttled it over to Ki, who approved it, and opened her borrowed mouth to reveal jagged unwhitened teeth.

“Millicia, Bade Owalu for Glo,” the reporter said in a single slab of air. “Is that really you in there, girl?”

“It’s so me in here,” Millicia said, reading the line off Ki’s retinal prompt. The baritone voice still startled her.

“Thing! You look absolutely fucking fabulous. Who are you wearing tonight, Millicia? Glo Needs to Know.”

“Just a little something from the Registry,” Millicia beamed. “When I saw the mugshot, I just had to have these cheekbones, you know? And the tats are so ‘thentic.”

“Is there a way for me to agree more?” the reporter gasped. “I can’t. I can’t agree more. Thing! I see so many droids and creative custom clones out tonight, but most people would never touch the Registry. I mean, you’re wearing a criminal, right? This is a criminal?”

“He’s absolutely a criminal,” Millicia read from the prompt. “Vawn Winters was sentenced to digital storage after being found guilty of assault and battery on October 30 2043.” She twisted her new features into a look of disgust. “He attacked a young woman outside a dopamine bar and left her lying on the sidewalk with a broken jaw and collarbone.”

“Appalling! Glo volt, is that not absolutely appalling?” The reporter was practically vibrating with excitement. “But you’ve obviously made some modifications for tonight, right?”

“My surgeons did a really wonderful job prepping,” Millicia agreed. “They managed to dystrophy a lot of the muscle mass so I’d be able to fit in this lovely Huynh.” She plucked at the flowing fabric of her dress. “They had to file off some ribs, too.”

Through the frost-cave effect of the floaty, she could feel her own excitement building. The crowd was getting thicker, more and more eyes drawn to the interview, dozens here, thousands streaming. They absolutely loved it. They absolutely loved her.

She veered off the prompt. “I don’t know how happy Vawn will be with that when he gets rebodied, but fuck him, right? And after they let him out, I guarantee he’ll be watching deadstreams of this for the rest of his life.”

The reporter gaped. “Millicia, you are so thing. You are, like. Oh, my god. Is she not, Glo volt? Is she not? Thank you so much, so much, have a gorgeous night, Millicia…”

And the next fashion reporter darted in. Millicia started the cycle again, same smile, same answers. She didn’t need the floaties at all. She was riding high on her own serotonin, oozing charm and wit, more and more at ease moving her lanky body along the endless red carpet. The crowd clung to her as she went, her thicket of admirers pushed slowly along like peristalsis.

At one point she realized she was holding up the Zilonis twins, who looked immaculate in organic vines and polished animal skull head-pieces but had been decisively outshone for the night. She gave them an apologetic smirk as she reached out for Ki, who’d fallen silent.

They’re loving it. It’s nova. So nova. You were so right, Ki.

No response. She posed for more snaps, twisting at precise angles as the follow cam made its orbit around her.

Milli, Millicia, my little water-bear, I am so proud of you and you need to get the hell out of there, Ki said.

Her smile faltered. What?

Okay. Okay, okay, okay. A legal AI churned up the case about four minutes ago and found a human error in evidence. Vawn Winters was just cleared.

Panic reached razor-tipped tendrils through Millicia’s chemical shield. He’s still guilty, though?

No. No. They cinched the wrong man for it. He’s innocent. The perpetrator is already in Registry for robbing someone a week later.

But, like, he’s guilty of something else, maybe? Millicia demanded. I mean, anything ?

Ki was silent for a very long second. I’ve got someone coming to whisk you out. Take another floaty in the meanwhile. It’s going to be okay, Milli. Small shitstorm, over in a week or two. We know this.

Millicia looked up and saw a serious-looking figure in all black worming her way through the crowd, Ki’s holo signature ribboning over their head. “So nice talking to you,” she told the latest reporter. “Have a gorgeous night.”

She extricated herself as quickly as she could, watching the expressions around her change as the narrative warped and mutated in realtime, preparing to devour her. She fixed her smile in place and followed the handler to the waiting car, wondering how things had gone so fucking wrong.

All she’d wanted was to wear something original for once.