• 23 Jan - 29 Jan, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

When I was twelve years old, I told Myron Lasko that I wanted to be him.

"Maybe when you're older, kiddo," he said, and he ruffled my hair and smiled at the nearest camera. Signed the cast on my arm, signed somebody's chest, and took selfies with anyone who asked. And disappeared into a limo with a groupie. Another two of him had already gone, right after the concert, he didn't leave multiples behind for autographs. But on stage he harmonised with his own melody line, danced under the whirling lights in perfect step. Matching himself breath for breath and pivot for pivot so perfectly it would have been impossible for a team to achieve by practice, by anything other than being all three of him himself.

There were more by the time I was out of college, six sometimes appearing together, rumours of a seventh. Interchangeable; if one was offstage it wasn't because he couldn't sing out of that mouth, it was insurance, competing obligations, something like that. Six or seven or eight of him. A lot of people wanted to be Myron Lasko. He looked young as ever. Masks didn't age, and there was no reason you couldn't wear a mask of yourself, if you had the money to make them at all. All of him looked twenty-five and fit and beaming and glamorous.

I had an English degree and couldn't bear to move back in with my parents and was sick of eating ramen and I wanted to be Myron Lasko.

On his website's contact page was an email for "Mask Inquiries".

I wrote in.

When I was twelve years old, I said I wanted to be you, and you said maybe when I was older. I'm 22.

Filled in the physical address slot with my sister's place in case my landlady's patience ran out. Gave my real name because anonymity is for people you don't want to pull over your head like a paper bag.

Zapped a bowl of ramen and listened to all of his Bridges album and half of Arching Skies.

His assistant replied. I guess even if there's seven or eight of you there's some things you want to delegate. There was a form eight pages long asking all sorts of questions. How was I insured for this and that, did I have debt, did I have competing obligations besides being Myron Lasko all day every day, my health history, pets etc.

I filled it out over the course of four days, not because I was dragging my heels or had to re-home a cat but because the forms are excruciating. Sent it back.

Waited a few hours, checking my email over and over, and then got a list of possible appointment times. I was supposed to block out a

whole day.

I didn't really have any demands on my time. A few standing weekly invitations, karaoke with people I barely knew from college and board games with different people I barely knew from college, things like that, nothing I couldn't unremarkably skip.

I blocked out the offered Monday, slept badly all weekend, showed up in my interview clothes that my mother had bought me as a graduation present. They fit on me but I didn't fit in them; I wanted to scratch myself or adjust the collar every now and then.

Assistant met me in a little office in an anonymous skyscraper. I'd seen pictures of Lasko's houses and apparently I wasn't welcome in them till I was him. Or maybe the assistant wasn't.

"I'm Briony," she told me. "Have a seat, help yourself to the caramels. How much do you already know about masking?"

"...what everyone knows,

I guess," I said.

"You don't have to interview well in a conventional sense to wear a mask," Briony said, "please don't worry about describing it badly, just tell me what you actually know. Everyone doesn't actually know much."

"They're magic. You put one on and you're somebody else."

"I need to make sure you actually know what you're getting into. Legal reasons."

"If I'm wearing a mask of Myron then I'll look like him and feel like him. We'll both be able to do stuff but part of the deal is that he does most of the stuff, since I'm not on a mask-release prison program or something. If I take it off I'm back to being just me like I am now."

Briony nodded. "That's the gist. Mr. Lasko is a very busy man. He currently has an undisclosed number of mask contracts active, not less than five."

"Six. During the East Coast tour."

"Not less than five. A self-mask does not count," said Briony.

"Oh." I took a caramel.

"He can coordinate all of his bodies at once with full-person amounts of attention, not only when they're doing approximately the same thing like performing. At any given time one may be writing music, another having lunch with friends, another recording, another practicing an instrument, another asleep, another visiting his family, another updating his schedule with me. He tends to expand his to-do list to match whenever he gets a new mask. You should not expect a lot of time in control of the body."

"I don't need much. I'm--"

I stopped before I said "boring", shrugged instead.

She nodded. "You can negotiate the exact details, but don't anticipate that you'll wind up with extra beyond what we put in the contract. Other than that, you'll be a passenger. You will look like Mr. Lasko, and you will not be permitted to do arbitrary things with his likeness in public, not even fidget or slouch, although you will probably find sitting up straight and still more comfortable in his form. Taking off the mask for good represents a considerable loss. They can only be keyed to a wearer once."

"I didn't know that part."

"Most of what you've heard is probably about the experimental prison program, yes? They de-emphasise expense to the taxpayers; if they make it sound like the masks are reusable..."

I nodded.

"You can take it off and put it back on," she says, "if you want to add in some clause for time spent wholly as yourself, for instance with family. Once a month for a day is boilerplate."

"That sounds fine."

"In addition to his public life Mr. Lasko maintains a private one. He prefers interchangeable bodies, they don't feel obviously different to him in any way while the masks are on and is unlikely to negotiate limited-use agreement with you except insofar as he will not take undue physical risk."

"...does that mean 'part of being him is sleeping with groupies' or..."

"If that is the limit of your imagination-" began Briony.

"My imagination? How's my imagination factor in?"

"What would you do with extra bodies?"


Briony nodded once, expression perfectly professional.

"...yeah that's cool with me," I said. I had not actually been having dreams about being in the middle of an orgy of multiple Myrons Lasko but I was sure going to start.

"Quite. This is the time to tell me if anything on the form was false or incomplete or complicated."

"I'm not totally sure about all the insurance information.

I couldn't find all my paperwork."

"I can look into that for you. Anything else?"

I shook my head.

"Have you read 'Decoy' or a similar memoir?"

"Is Decoy the one about the masker who was the President, I read the one by Tammy Wise's masker, uh..."

"'Star of the Show'," Briony supplied. "That will do. You believe you'll cope all right with the sensation?"

"I think so."

"Reservations," she prompted.

"Uh. I'm just generally apprehensive. How do people usually cope, are there usually problems?"

"There are not usually problems that lead people to default on their contracts. Adjustment periods vary."

"I wasn't really imagining it being so contractual."

"Masks are expensive. Mr. Lasko can afford them but must expect that they'll pay off in added time in his life. If you were hoping for an informal arrangement."

"No, this is fine," I said.

"Let's go over the standard contract together, then,

shall we?"

It was long. It was excruciating. There were so many paragraphs. Briony made me read them all from "...hereafter referred to as the Masker" down to the signature lines.

Though per 11.B Mr. Lasko will consistently use barrier methods and seek regular quality medical attention (see 66.M and 66.C respectively) the Masker will accept that there is non-zero risk of any transmitted infection accruing to the body and a non-zero risk of any disease in a partner. The Masker acknowledges that the genetic relationship is Mr. Lasko's alone and will seek no custodial rights, accordingly, the Masker will not use allotted time in control of the body while wearing the mask to use Mr. Lasko's likeness before witnesses present or remote in any way not concordant with Mr. Lasko's image and stated wishes, notwithstanding Mr. Lasko's technical ability to intervene.

Secondly, should it ever be the case that the sole remaining body of Mr. Lasko should be the Masker's, it is understood that the removal of the mask would present a hazard to Mr. Lasko's life and under clause 14 - The Masker is responsible for, in advance of masking or while on a hiatus (see 29), setting up service "Thespyan" or equivalent of Masker's choice for verifiable authorship of online writings. Mr. Lasko bears no responsibility for unverifiability of writings and is not obliged to disavow, repudiate, or make any statement whatever regarding any publication of the Masker.

"Your eyes are glazing over," Briony said.

"No shit," I mumbled. "Nobody actually reads contracts."

"Mr. Lasko's maskers do read them. And understand them. You can go home if you prefer."

"No, I..." The memory of my apartment seemed very grey and small. "No, I just need

a break."

"I can order us some lunch. Thai?"


She sent me a link to a menu and I picked a random curry and flopped on a couch in the corner of her office and stared at the ceiling till someone brought it up for us. I ate it without paying any attention

to it.

"You're not a picky eater, are you?" Briony asked.

"Does it matter? His tastebuds."

"That affects it if you think cilantro tastes like soap. If you don't like the texture of yogurt it's another matter."

"I'm not picky."


"Will you need time to set up Thespyan after we've finished going over the contract?"

"I've never actually heard of it before," I admitted.

"It's a face recognition and password app. You show it your face, and you answer a lot of numerical questions, and then after you type up a post on your blog or write an email or something like that, it'll ask you things like what's the number of rooms in the house you lived in age twelve minus the number of people named John you know times the number of second cousins you have? And you do that in your head, so Mr. Lasko doesn't see anything but the answer.

And it won't let you send the emails or post the essays unless you get it right, or unless you take the mask off and it recognises you."

"That's clever."

"You don't strictly have to have it but it's recommended. Mr. Lasko will not be spending time on disavowing having 'hacked' your account," said Briony.

"Why don't regular passwords work?"

"Even if he's letting you operate the hands and letting you look away from the keyboard - and that assumes you touch type - he can accumulate body memory. The answers to your arithmetic questions will be obfuscated to make it that much more inconvenient to perform algebra on them, however."

I nodded. "So am I in, or..."

"Mr. Lasko will want to talk to you briefly himself, but approximately, yes, unless you bail on the remainder of the contract review."