“The next one?”
Saul’s voice sounds strange, quiet almost strangled. I turn, noticing as I do that the knife is strangely clean. George is unsettled and moves away towards the door, Ana has already left, Ray chasing after her… but why?
Paul sits in the chair, unharmed. There’s a flicker around his throat like the way they blur a criminal’s face on the television. What do they call it? Pixelisation.
“I just cut your throat, you should be dead,” I stalk back to him, angry, confused.
“Gamers have many lives,” he says, smugly. He opens his mouth to say something else and I stab him again, punching my blade between his ribs, into his heart and watching the life leave his eyes.
“Now Saul, the next…” I’m interrupted. The air breaks into squares and reforms. Paul sits there again, looking at me, smugly.
“Many lives,” he repeats.
I stab him again. This time through the eye.
Again, he returns.
I cut his wrists, Saul shoots him – damn the sound I want this man dead – none of it works. I’m… afraid. I lash out and I stab him over and over again until the meat that was once a man slumps and almost pours out of the chair.
It doesn’t take.
“There’s also cheat codes,” he says, offhandedly.
“WHY WON’T YOU DIE?” I scream. I almost stab him again but what would be the point.
“Perhaps I was never alive to start with. Perhaps I’m a scarecrow, a strawman, a conjuring if your own delusion. Perhaps I had the mushroom starter.”
A sensitive spot, I drive the dagger up under his chin, between his jaw, up through his soft palette and into his brain. This time I leave it there, but when the squares engulf him the blade appears, back in my hand.
“I never raped anyone. Though that sort of accusation is something people like you like to throw around. I never stalked anyone or harassed anyone. I disagreed with some people, loudly, and you seem to regard that as some sort of cardinal sin. I think you’re looking for an excuse to play out some murder fantasies. Maybe it’s just your puppeteer.”
I raise the blade, but I can’t make it strike this time, it would be pointless, unsatisfying, horrifying.
“You can’t kill something that never existed. You can’t kill the truth. Especially if you’re a fiction yourself and you, Ella, are just a bad story. A murderous wank fantasy. A trope. You’re the traumatised avenger, just another Batman with tits, like Huntress, Batgirl, all the rest. You’re a rule 63 of Patrick Bateman. Even the cover of your book betrays your influences.”
There’s a flash of squares and now there’s two of him, neither of them in the chair, neither tied.
“You created a cartoon villain, a ‘bad man’ of the type the Amazon reviews say you like to kill. Except… we’re not bad men. Come to that, can you imagine the screams of protest if we wrote murderous revenge porn about those arrayed against us?”
A flash, there’s four of them now.
“Many of us aren’t men at all. We’re gay and straight, bi and trans. We’re men and women and all points in between. We’re people who want to defend art and free expression. We’re people who want to retain a free internet.”
A flash, then sixteen, then thirty-two, Saul disappears into the crowd. They’re all smiling at me as they close in, so many faces, so many different faces, and they’re laughing at me. Laughing at me, Ella, the murderess, the avenger. They’re not scared of me, they’re not taking me seriously. The blade falls from my hand and clatters to the ground.
“What do you want?”
“We just wanted to play video games. Now we have to save the world.”
Paul emerges from the crowd and crouches, at my feet, picking up the knife. “Milady,” he says, and tips a fedora I’m sure he wasn’t wearing a second again.
He leans in closer still. I recoil against the wall, my skin crawling. This is horrifying, unreal, unnatural.
“The sad part of this is that if the people we oppose had their way, you wouldn’t exist at all Ella. A sexualised woman, written by a man? Bloody violence? They’d 451 your arse in a second. We deal in truth Ella. The truth is you’re badly written revenge porn, written by a male-submissive hack who likely pays for his Amazon reviews. If you think that’s incorrect consider I’ve not bothered to research you very much. Before you open your mouth again, maybe put us to shame by bothering to research us. Take that message to your puppetmaster.”
And everything dissolves into little squares.
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