You don’t realize it’s a dream until hours after you’ve awakened.
The ceiling turret turns towards you and shoots, base shaking with the recoil and force of each delusory bullet. A few blow past you and ricochet off the walls. Most don’t.
Your first thought is this shouldn’t hurt this much. Your second is a mangled voiceless cry of pain, a silent digital shriek your avatar doesn’t have to vocal chords to mimic. The channels cut through your chest are so cold they burn.
You can’t breathe. You can’t breathe without a mouth but your chest is full of blood with nowhere to go. Your body spasms weakly on the edge of the ledge and the turret rotates back and forth, impassively.
A disinterested robotic voice says words you can barely hear, much less understand. A drone zips up from a lower level and douses you in a sharp white spotlight. It reports something; it flies off. You can’t beg it to stay, not with a face made of hard gold triangles.
Time passes. The pain stays. Your thoughts return, and leave, and come back again. This can’t be happening, or please, or once, when a Sentinel passed an arms reach away but you couldn't move even a finger – help me.
At some point, you realize something must have gone wrong. You should be dead. You should be home. The NSN has failed you. You inhale the frigid server cold and forget how to think all over again. You stare, eyeless, at the distant ceiling.
The Sentinels pass, and never notice you. They pass, and are replaced by better ones, stronger ones, ones made of polygons and then stretched faces and then cohesive particles of energy. A thousand updates in a hundred years, and finally they disappear.
Things go dark one by one. The green lights on the drones flicker and die. They fall out of the sky. The grey cube waterfalls that feed into the room trickle to a stop. The glass gets dirty. The ceiling falls in.
You wait for your body to fall apart too, but it never does. It never does, and time passes, and the server shuts off. You hover in the dark, the only things left to you the cold and the black.
They never let you go.
You don’t realize that you’ve woken up. You sit on your bed, on top of the covers, motionless and muscles locked, freezing in the cold. Your windowless room is dark. All six of your monitors dead, all the indicator lights on your computers somehow switched off.
It’s the dust that does it, in the end. You sneeze without meaning too, then freeze all over again, looking wildly around the pitch-black room for a turret or sentry or a drone to slowly turn and lock on to you. There’s nothing, though. You jump out of bed and trip on a cable and hit your head on the ground. Your eyes water with tears and pain it’s only then that you’re safe. You’re home.
Power outage due to riots, you later learn. That’s all it was.
That’s all it was.