American Science Fiction Speculative

            A head-on collision right here in the Colony.

            Eric could tell by her cracked mask that the woman in the Bentley was a Performer. He couldn’t see the driver of the pick-up truck, probably a rube. No one seemed to be seriously hurt but as a Performer and a witness he knew he would be interviewed for the Feed. First he had to get home as quickly as possible. He began to run but not too fast. It would not do to run full speed and get sweaty and out of breath.

            He had been at a mock-up of family/sports restaurant chain advertising on the Feed. It was a mock-up because Performers in the Colony don’t actually patronise restaurants like that. He thought it would be fun to wear his Madcap Ricky mask. Ricky was a Character from a scripted job that Eric liked enough to keep for impros. Ricky had been the funniest Character in a comedy program about four pals who get into hilarious situations due to carelessness and delusional overconfidence. The Madcap mask showed Ricky at the peak of manic carefree joy. That was not the right look for an accident witness, especially if one of the victims might be famous.

          He ran along the broad, clean sidewalks past the new cookie-cutter mansions with their perfectly kept up lawns. The Colony was one of the most expensive, most planned, and most gated of all expensive, planned, gated communities with a large staff of rubes to keep everything looking perfect. Eric was so intent at getting home that he nearly got tangled up in the four leashes being held by a dog walker coming the other way. Eric thought he recognised his neighbor’s miniature poodle, then saw the walker (a rube, of course) give him a surprised stare. It must have seemed incongruous to see a man whose face looked like he was about to burst into a belly laugh running like he desperately needed to get somewhere. The walker didn’t say anything; rubes who work in the Colony know it’s best not to make unsolicited comments to Performers.

          He bounded up the steps to his mansion, unlocked the front door, and ran to his persona closet. He used the retinal scan to unlock the closet. Don’t think because it is called a closet that it is a small room. It is a large room filled with hundreds (thousands?) of masks. It is called a closet because it is the only private place in Eric’s life. In the Cosmopoly privacy is considered a superstition from the unenlightened past. Anybody in the world can find anything they want about any one they want at any time. As a Performer Eric’s livelihood depended on the greatest number spending the most time finding out about him. In addition to the content Eric knowingly uploaded to the Feed, there were innumerable nanocams, bugs, and drones controlled by various entities also uploading to the Feed. Anyone so naive to believe that basic decency would limit the intrusions should be reminded that the Darkfeed has several forums doing a brisk trade in snippets of Performers using the toilet. 

       Performers were the true elite in the Cosmopoly. They were a minority (between six and eleven percent worldwide in the latest estimates Eric had seen) but their influence was pervasive. The Audience (rubes in Performer argot) watched and listened to them to know what to wear, what to buy, what to think, how to vote. When a Performer ran for office against rubes the Performer nearly always won. Nearly every rube aspired to be a Performer; even the most successful rube had only the same amount of wealth as the least successful Performers. Talented or fortunate rubes did become Performers but it was a very long shot. Eric’s parents had been Performers, so he was born to be one.   

        The mask wearing had started as a health measure during the Era of the Rolling Pandemics. After the viruses had been eliminated or burned themselves out the rubes removed their masks but the Performers decided to keep theirs. Eric had started wearing masks since he was three. No one but his doctor has seen his naked face since he was a young child. While he has had many lovers, both Performer and rube, he does not remember ever kissing anyone. 

         As per the Audience Agreement: “No one either actually or by technological proxy shall intrude on a Performer’s persona closet without explicit permission for each separate incidence... Performer’s are expected to enter their persona closets no more than ten times a day spending no more than ten minutes each instance and only use that time to change masks. 

This rule is a guideline that is not meant to create hardship for Performers. Circumstances may warrant exemptions but persistent violations that seem intent on limiting Audience access to a Performer will incur sanctions.” The only other person that entered Eric’s closet was George, his trusted tech, who entered once a day to sweep for cams or bugs and do maintenance. Even he did not enter at will. Eric used his own retinal scan and then waited nearby for George to leave the closet.

         Eric took off his Madcap Ricky mask and put it in its proper place. He sprayed some facial cleanser on his hands and rubbed it into his face. Because he always wore a mask while showering, sleeping, or making love, the few minutes between masks was the only time that he had to wash his face. The ten/ten rule meant that a Performer should have a firm idea what mask he or she was wearing next before entering the closet and that the closet was completely memnomically organised for quick retrieval. Eric was an old pro who’d been doing this for over twenty years. He hardly ever needed the full ten minutes. His masks were arranged by character. Some characters had only one mask but his most worn characters had dozens of masks to match their various ages and moods. Some masks were sent to him to do scripted jobs but most of his masks were his own for impros. He had tried writing his own scripts but the results were amateurish but he was great at impros. He just had to put a mask on to know what the character would say or do in any situation. He was going to wear his most used character, the Eric, a twenty-five year old white American that worked as a Performer. The Performer’s Guild Convention stipulated that “special permission must be granted in order for a Performer to portray an existing ethnicity other than his or her registered ethnicity.” They were more flexible about gender, nationality, religion and other groupings. In addition to Eric and Ricky, he had Erika, a flirty young woman, Ken, a gay man, Basil, an idealistic altruist, Rex, a psychopath, and many others. 

          Most of his impro masks were inflexible maskerial that covered his face and attached with a strap behind his head. Others were flexible that fitted over the head and would move somewhat with the wearer’s movements. Still others were inflexible helmet like affairs. Mask manufacturers were constantly improving the masks to make them lightweight, durable, and comfortable to wear. Masks that changed expression were becoming available. Eric considered this new-fangled nonsense. To him the whole point of a mask was that it never changed. He was that character in that mood until he changed his mask.

         There was a mirror in the closet but Eric never glanced at it. He knew what the masks looked like and he considered being interested in his naked face vaguely disgusting. 

         Some less experienced Performers were going on the Feed without masks. They called it “showing my real self.” “Real self,” the phrase caused Eric to sneer. To him the idea of a real self was more fantastic than the monsters he sometimes played for scripted jobs. He was what his mask showed he was and talk of anything else was just drivel. 

      He put on his Shocked Concern Eric mask and left his closet to get back to the accident site for his interview.

December 06, 2021 02:11

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Graham Kinross
22:56 Apr 03, 2022

I like this idea. Now I’m imagining actors that wear masks to improve their expressive range. Then if they won an award people would argue if it should go to them or the manufacturer of the masks. Shocked Concern Erik Mask sounds like a bestseller at joke shops. We’re almost at the point where flexible screens would make this possible. Also, the title Shocked Concern Erik Mask would have been good for this.


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Francis Daisy
12:04 Jan 14, 2022

Interesting and spooky story. It kind of gave me shivers! One note: you have random quotation marks in paragraphs 8 and 9. Do you want to take those out, or close them up? And, later, is it impro or improv? Or are they the same thing? You don't have any recent postings, I hope you are still writing!


John Walsh
20:31 Jan 14, 2022

Oops on the quotes: they should be closed. Yes, impros are similar to improvs but I coined impros to reflect the more extreme conditions of my future world.


Francis Daisy
02:40 Jan 17, 2022

Ahh! Got it! Thanks for the insight! :) Can you tell I'm more a creature of the past than a future person?


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