It's a bit like an actor in a movie playing the part of an actor in a movie who's playing an actor...
It takes a lot of effort to keep track of all the layers, as described in this scene:
Shayla's eyes flew open. She took a few moments to still the pounding in her chest. The darkness of the room was broken by the softly luminous filigree of the wall clock hanging opposite the open windows. One of Brynwyn's possessions, and one of the few to show any touch of luxury or ornament. Shayla gazed at the glowing symbols woven into an intricate geometric background. At first, the alien words in provincial dialect failed to register, and she felt a wrenching disconnect from her surroundings, as if she were still struggling from a dream state.
Her mind scrabbled for a fingerhold on time and place, seeking stability in a sea of uncertainty.
Calm! Shayla ran through a quick litany she'd used for many years to anchor her self-identity while working under cover.
There was Shayla Carver, the bedrock, the core of her being, hidden under so many layers of subterfuge. She mentally reconstructed those layers, like applying theatrical makeup and costume.
Shayla the Firenzi assassin, a small cog in the machinery of one of humanity's most powerful families. Trained to work under cover. Trained to kill. Placed by the Firenzi Special Service into the ranks of one of their deadliest ideological foes as ...
Shark, the Insurrection agent, in turn posing as Brynwyn bin Covin, loyal Imperial servant.
Shark was assigned to worm her way close enough to the Emperor to kill him and turn the reins of power over to the Insurrection. Shayla the Firenzi was supposed to subvert that plan at the last minute and hand the Emperor over to her masters to force an abdication. And Shayla Carver? She had her own plans for revenge. The Emperor would die, but first he had to understand what was happening to him and everything he had built.
Her mental edifice whole once more, the symbols on the clock became familiar and meaningful.