The Mask is also about power. About lies and villainy. The short story can be interpreted as a scathing satire on a weak king, who holds onto his throne solely through trickery, enslavement, and delegated violence. A conspiracy is born among the courtiers. It is led by the political opponent of the king, the wise man Arrhodes. The king does not challenge the wise man, does not face the enemy face to face – he secretly creates a killer. It is Arrhodes who is to be killed by the main character. Not only is the king cunning; he is also deceitful and sophisticated. The end must not be quick. The killer is to seduce the victim first. To inflict suffering to him, to humiliate him, before she goes for the kill. To disarm, and then to hound him to death. The Girl-Machine does not know her destiny from the beginning. The more authentic her involvement and her feelings are, the more effective she is. She is not a killer for hire, she is a victim herself. She is constructed in such a way, equipped with such a set of features, given such form, so that she gravitates towards the good in her own judgement. She is fighting for love, for freedom, for truth. Even after she learns what she was created for. She loves first, then she wants to liberate herself, and in the end, she tucks her dying lover in, in that icy night. In fact, she is implementing a detailed plan, unable to see through it as she is.

A monastery plays an important part in this story. As he flees, Arrhodes finds refuge there. The killer can also count on the hep of the monks, even after she turns into the horrible form of the mechanical praying mantis. The monks do not get involved in the conflict, they do not judge by appearances, they listen to those in need. The confessor of the Girl-Machine does not judge her hastily. He has no ready-made moral scheme, he does not preach, but asks questions instead. He sees the germ of the good not in the values professed, not in the decisions made, nor in clear beliefs adopted – conversely, he sees it in uncertainty, The Praying Mantis is unable to answer the question what she will do when she finds Arrhodes. She does not promise that she will not kill him. She does not know that and she does not hide it, letting the monk see the human element hidden deeply within her. He understands that you cannot escape destiny, but what you can do is to give it different meanings, by questioning it. He does not try to stop the Praying Mantis in her chase. He prays for her, but he does not take on the role of a referee.

Such an image of clergy that questions the reality in a wise way, that is guided by compassion regardless of external attributes and various entanglements, in opposition to the contemptible rulers – might have been true, to some extent, when Lem wrote The Mask. That is not really the case today. The rules continue to be contemptible, yet the clergy have largely lost their noble doubts and humbleness. Nowadays, neither an opposition activist - a rebel, nor a person that is ambiguously normative and is searching for their identity will meet a warm welcome at the first monastery to come along, even if the main Superior himself were to actually so want.

To such rulers, governors, who – under the guise of fighting for noble values – are artificially fuelling misunderstandings and antagonisms and playing their own game to gain a lot of influence, and to such church that permits arrogance in the matters that are causing the greatest moral stir, related to harm and suffering, and permits a cynical love affair with depraved rulers – indeed, fuck off.

(transl. Magdalena Małek-Andrzejowska)

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