I think it was in a compilation, likely within the last 10 years or so.

  • The narrator is a scout who has returned to Earth, wearing all sorts of protective gear.
  • He (?) lands and hides in the bushes and sees not a wasteland but a nice, thriving society.
  • A person approaches, he passes out (or is tased for his protection).
  • He wakes up in bed, scared, confused.
  • The person explains he isn't the first scout.
  • We learn that when the rich left the Earth, the people left behind figured out how to rebuild.
  • He is conflicted, because if he goes back, he will receive some sort of status. But through his talking, he realizes that he's been duped his whole life.
  • I want to say that the status the scout gets would be having a physical body. In the craft where the people who left are, only the elite get to have a body. I'm a bit blurry on that, though.
  • Hi, welcome to the site. You didn't state it outright here, but reading between the lines, was there some apocalyptic event or environmental decline that caused the rich to want to leave the planet? Oct 4 at 14:29
  • It seemed like environmental catastrophe was inevitable so the rich people fled, seeingly abandoning those without resources to die. Only they just bound together and fixed the problems.
    – ann
    Oct 4 at 15:13
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    If and when an answer is posted, we'd also be grateful if you'd mark it as accepted by clicking on the check mark near the top-left corner of the answer. Note that if you post the answer yourself, you'll need to wait until the question is 48 hours old before the site will let you mark it as accepted. If someone else posts the correct answer, you can mark it as accepted whenever you like. Oct 4 at 15:29

1 Answer 1


Figured it out; it's Emergency Skin (2019) by N. K. Jemisin.

From Wikipedia:

The unnamed protagonist lives on an exoplanet colony that was founded when the collapse of life on Earth (called Tellus in the story) was deemed inevitable. He, like all other lower-class people in the colony, has a synthetic body rather than skin, which is reserved for the colony's "Founders" and other elite. Aided by a collective AI implanted in his brain, he is sent on a mission to Tellus to retrieve cell cultures that the Founders need to continue synthesizing skin. However, when he arrives there, he discovers that it is not the lifeless husk he was led to believe, and that he is far from the first of his kind to come there on a cell culture mission. Instead of returning to his ship with the cells, he activates his "emergency skin," a layer of nanites that form synthetic skin, and stays on Earth to learn more. An old man brings him to a museum and shows him what happened after the Founders left the planet to form their colony: everyone left on Earth abandoned country borders and individual property, pooling all their resources and working together to prevent the planet's destruction. The protagonist realizes that the Founders deliberately kept this information from everyone else on the colony so that they could continue to hoard resources as the elite, and that they kill everyone who returns from missions to Earth so that they cannot tell anyone the truth. The story ends with him disabling the collective AI in his brain and resolving to return to his colony to start a revolution against the Founders.

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    Thanks for the interesting lead! As the question-asker, you can accept the answer -- even if it's your own, ha. Oct 4 at 22:39
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    Irrelevantly, the title brought to mind “A Day in the Skin” (1984) by Tanith Lee, in which brains-in-vats take turns going into the physical world in the few available bodies. It was written for an anthology, Habitats, which is otherwise about space colonies and such. Oct 6 at 2:38

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