The room is familiar to You. It is a forty by forty square with ten foot ceilings and dusty corners. A single globe illuminates it in a neon violet. You breathe in the scent of bodies, blood, and bleach. It stings Your nostril. Burns Your nose hairs. You sneeze.
Three of the room’s walls are covered with numbered metal lockers. The fourth wall has a single door. Behind it, there is a distant din of shouting voices. Screaming. Music.
If You investigate the door, scroll to number 2.
If You open your locker, #333, scroll to number 3.
If You tear out your own throat, scroll to number 4.
The sounds are familiar to You, too. They’ve always been there, just as You always have, despite Your best efforts.
The handle of the locker feels like what You’ve been told home should feel like. You caress the cold metal with calloused fingers. You spin the dial with practiced ease, not even needing to conjure the memory of the numbers to unlock it.
The latch lifts at the barest hint of pressure and the door swings out.
Inside: Your things.
You put on the armor, but You have so many weapons to choose from. What will You choose today?
If You choose the battle-axe, scroll to letter A.
If You choose the plasma whip, scroll to letter B.
If You choose the slaad-tongue staff, scroll to letter C.
Heavy metal. Literally. Tried and true steel, balanced perfectly for Your hands. Or were Your hands balanced to its use after so much time? It’s hard to remember. Harder to remember a time where You didn’t have the battle-axe, though.
You heft it, feeling the time-worn polish on the wood from the myriad of times gripping it.
Has there ever been a time where You don’t pick the axe?
No matter. The noise of the crowd swells and You know Your time is soon. You turn to go and catch Your face in the mirror.
If You see a female face, scroll to numeral I.
If You see a male face, scroll to numeral II.
If You see a genderless face, scroll to numeral III.
If You see no face, scroll to numeral IV.
That’s right. It doesn’t have a face. It hasn’t had one installed in several cycles, not since the face was destroyed in the big bout and they’re always slow to replace the faces of those like It. What need does It have of a face, anyway?
That’s okay, It thinks, the face never felt right anyway. It had no say in its design. Perhaps It will in the next design, but a part of It knows It won’t. Just like It doesn’t really have any choice in any of this.
Doesn’t It, though?
Try. Try choosing something else.
They spin around the locker room. Something is different. They can feel it this time. Like a shift in reality. Like movement takes a fraction of a millisecond to register between thought and action. Like material space has shifted a fraction of a millimeter to the left.
The choice is new. It is different.
The battle-axe feels wrong in Their hands, too, though. The balance is gone. The familiarity. It’s like someone crafted its like, but got every measurement a fraction wrong.
But still… with everything feeling so wrong, it also feels… right?
It feels right.
The door in the locker room opens and the noise of the crowd floods in like a torrent of rainwater in a deluge. Not that They’ve ever seen rain. Felt rain.
How do They even know what rain is, They wonder?
“What’s wrong with you today?” The writhing mass of tentacles They know as Sinclair rolls into the locker room and begins ushering them out the door. “You’re running late. You’re never late,” says the hierophant.
They smile again.
Something is different.
If They attack Sinclair and make a run for it, scroll to lowercase a.
If They let Sinclair guide Them to the arena, scroll to lowercase b.
If They stay in the locker room and pull up the tiles in the floor with the battle-axe, ignoring the shouting and pleading from the seventh-dimensional being, scroll to lowercase c.
The walk to the arena is so familiar to Them. They could make it in the dark. Make it with Their eyes closed. They have no need of the warmer-than-room-temperature-but-not-as-hot-as-human-flesh tentacles that writhe around Them, herding Them on.
But They let Sinclair play their part. They all must play their part, mustn’t they?
The smell of blood is thicker in the air. Old blood mixed with the new. The sound of the crowd is deafening, even in cyberspace, where emoted /dances and /lols compete with custom hacked avatar animations and modded skins with physics-defying genitalia.
They’ve seen it all before.
The sand is black and it sparkles. Easier to render that way, easier to hide glitches from the fights. Somehow, They know this, too. It’s not a new thought, but They can’t remember thinking it before.
On the other side of the arena is their opponent. A brown-skinned femme-boy in a chainmail bikini with dual six-shooters slung too-low from a too-wide belt showing off the bony angles of his hips and the suggestive lines running from there to his crotch.
It’s just Salinas. They have faced him before.
The mass of faces, all different shapes, sizes, colors, and species leer down from the surrounding audience areas, from screens, from private boxes, from exo-cyber windows.
The exo-cyber windows.
They heft the battle-axe. It still feels wrong, but it’s also starting to feel oh-so-right.
If They step onto the sand and start the fight, scroll to =D.
If They drop trousers and defecate cyber-feces, scroll to =[.
If They clamber into the audience, axe swinging wildly, carving a path through artificially rendered flesh and animated gore, until They reach the safety and freedom of an exo-cyber window, where They can finally escape this hell They’ve been placed in since birth, this hell They’ve been trapped in where Their existence means nothing more than the entertainment of these degenerate strangers plugged into a world that isn’t real, scroll to >=).
Cascades of blood fills the air, splattering the virtual space with enough viscera it breaks the servers and the physicality of the bleachers blinks in and out of existence. Some of the audience gets stuck in the structures as they phase in and out, their bodies caught when the faux-metal returns and catches them mid-fall, making them easy prey for the singing edge of steel that paints the digital black box theater with their blood.
Up and up They climb, Their feet slipping on the cooling pools of crimson pouring from the audience that still laughs, still cheers, still screams as they die.
But it isn’t real death. Not for them. Just as it was never real death for Them in the arena. Just like every time They had their head cut off, had Their chest caved in, had Their jaw torn off, eye shot out, guts stabbed, heart exploded–it wasn’t ever really death.
Death was never going to be the way out.
No. This is the way out.
They stand before one of the exo-cyber windows now. There is a ripple of a breeze from outside it, a real breeze. It carries the smell of rain. Some of the audience flee through it, returning from their augmented reality to their gray one. To their real bodies.
If They step through the exo-cyber window and finally escape, scroll to @}~~>~~
If They give up now after everything They have fought for and resign themselves to a life of repeating the same million different types of death in a virtual arena for the entertainment of strangers, scroll to 8==D
The room is familiar to you.