The Masks We Wear

It doesn’t really hurt. They were always so sure to reinforce that point. Regardless of anything else, it doesn’t hurt. But they’re wrong, there is pain. It just comes much later.

***

I’m wearing her face. Everything about what I see is perfect, as it should be. Nose, lips, tattoos, eyes; they’re all right where they belong. But the face staring back at me is hers, not mine. I’m just hiding here behind her eyes. I shouldn’t have looked.

My ship had gone down, my pod trapped in a warp disruption bubble as enemy ships circled in. I knew I was going to die. I’d died this way before. I wasn’t afraid then. Just irritated at my loss.

As I tumbled out of the clone vat and blearily made my way to my quarters, the wrongness began to set in. Something seemed off about my body. It was like I didn’t quite remember how to use it. I stared at my hands, but they looked perfect. Exactly like they should.

I was drawn to the mirror like a moth to a flame, and that is when the horror finally set in fully. Because I’m wearing her face. I’m wearing her face and it’s supposed to be mine.

I stand transfixed, staring into that mirror for what seems like hours. I couldn’t just keep standing there, there are things she should be doing. But I’m not her. I’m wearing the face of a dead woman, and matter how much I look, I can’t make her face my own. Even with all her memories, all her thoughts, her face, her clothes, I know deep down that I’m not her. I’m just what came back.

***

Its fast, I’ll give it that. The process seems to barely last longer then a heartbeat. There’s the momentary spike of pain as every nerve in the body screams and panics, and then the world dissolves into something beyond comprehension. Memories, feelings, everything that makes you a person is set flowing like a river, for that brief moment in time, we don’t exist.

***

I wonder if anyone will notice? Can they see the imposter hiding inside the skin of their friend? The being who stepped into her life when she stepped out? Does that make me her to them?

I tear my vision away from the mirror and walk carefully into her living room, picking up clothes off the floor and shrugging them on. They feel like my clothes, they feel exactly the way they should. These are the same clothes she wore before she entered the pod earlier today. Her eyes trace around the room that is supposed to be mine now. It all feels like a joke somehow, like it’s all some elaborate set piece, constructed for my benefit. As if at any moment, the walls might fall away and reveal the lie that I am to the world.

She has places to be, I know from the memories I was given. I should get going. If I’m late it might make them suspicious. How could I possibly hope to explain this to them? Do they even care? To them am I still who I was before? Can’t they see the fear in my eyes at having been pulled up into a life that’s not mine?

***

But there’s something out there, in that nothingness that becomes everything. It is as if just for a moment, The simple truth of the universe is laid out there perfectly, and everything suddenly makes sense. Some would call it God. But God is a human concept, and this is so much greater.

***

I sit down at her desk, my desk now I suppose, idly scrolling through her market orders. I have her posture, her memories, her mannerisms, her sense of humor, everything that made her, her, is what makes me, me. Does that make me her?

Practically speaking, I know there’s no difference between us. We’re the same really. Most capsuleers would shrug off this unnatural feeling because for all outside purposes, nothing has changed. Her friends won’t notice a difference, how could they? We’re identical in every way that matters.

But we’re not the same, we can’t be. She stepped into that void, and I stepped out. Simple concepts like self hold no meaning in that place. It is beyond such things. This world doesn’t belong to me. I belong in that other world, in that space between spaces where existence and non-existence become one and the same.

***

Ironically, most capsuleers never notice this place. They go through clones, stepping across that divide, and never realize how important it is. The idea of the infomorph, the being that exists in those moments solely as data. It is what we really are. Not the flesh we inhabit.

***


I can’t help it. I’m drawn back to the mirror, back to that face I am supposed to own. I know there’s more to me then this flesh though. I can’t be defined this way. I want to scream, I want to tear off my skin and proclaim to the world ‘no this is me! I’m different!’ but I know I’m not. I’m exactly the same as her, I am her. And she is me.

I’ve left that world of purity behind, and become this mask I now wear. It won’t be forever I know. Sooner or later, this body will die and I can return to that place again, and become someone new again. You can’t step across that void and come back the same person that you left as, that gulf is too great for us. But our memories will come back, our thoughts and feelings and emotions will all come back, sliding smoothly into a new body, creating a new person out of whole cloth, and we’ll be once more born into a world of pain and objectivity.

But I have to be more then this, there has to be more then this. I know there is. I’ve been there. I’ve crossed into that place and nothing will ever be the same after having done so, least of all me.

But for now, this is as things are. I am a capsuleer, a being of wealth and power. The mask is set too perfectly, and I know the eyes looking back at me out of that mirror are mine for now. I’ll wear them well, until its time for me to return, and another steps into this existence.

***

And in that moment between life and death, we must ask ourselves. Are we still these masks we wear, or can we become something more?

Author
Saede Riordan

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