a planet which has been conquered by numerous alien and artificial intelligences, all of which have learned to disguise themselves as humans.
For most people life is reduced to the barest biological essentials.
Occasionally two human beings meet and recognize each other and remove the mask.
When they do most adopt a mask of a famous culture hero if they can get one. The hero wants to be brave because of vengeance and goes off in search of a mask of Bold Jose.
He finds the mask. He puts it on and performs daring feats. The night before the fight he worries that he is still afraid and does not deserve to wear it.
His friend tells him it doesn’t matter if he has fear in his mind. He has the mask of Bold Jose and he is Bold Jose.
He loses the mask and returns to the state of a fearful worm.
The mask comes to him on a dream and tells him to dream the mask.
He fights his greatest battle in a dream. He dreams he tears the masks off the enemy and they are masses of worms.
He washes his face in the mirror and wakes up by the side of the road.
He gets a lift from a farmer with a pick-up truck and heads for the fields, in search of work.
Later in the library he learns that the tale of vengeance thAt motivated him to pursue revenge (the aliens forced his mother to prostitute herself to save her baby’s life then killed it anyway, tricking her into eating it in a stew) is the same memory everyone has who wears the mask of Bold Jose, and was almost certainly a false memory created by the same AI that built the mask.
The alien ships Mass on the horizon. Each generation is bigger and more deadly. He realizes the aliens will keep becoming more powerful because they will always fear that they could gain a greater advantage by becoming more powerful still. The danger will be ever-increasing but never actual. The fleet will never attack.
He walks out of the house in pursuit of someone to share the knowledge with. He meets the last animal, the last lady and the last pope.
The last animal says: I will be your pet. We will slow time to a crawl so we can always be playing.
The last lady says:if you win my heart I might be your bride.
the last pope says: if she does, I will crown you King
the last lady says: oh!
They keep walking and by nightfall they have circumnavigated the globe a dozen times.