Flicking awake in a panic, Paul opens his eyes only to squeeze them back shut at once.
Insufferable brightness. He must be falling into that bloody sun. Horror. Despair. Terminal. Final. Overwhelming.
Five thumping heartbeats later, there’s still not much happening.
Paul’s body also feels much better than an ongoing sun dive would suggest.
He should be hot. He’s cold instead, and getting colder. He’s far from comfortable, sore all over, but not dying, yet.
The discrepancy calls for a reappraisal of his overall status.
A sun dive is improbable, and not just because of the lack of heat.
He’s definitely neither wearing a spacesuit nor strapped into a pilot seat.
He’s flat on his back. His arms and hands are exposed by the light Liverpool t-shirt he recalls selecting for this hot day. His skin touches what feels like tiles, cold and hard.
No one tiles the floor or a spacecraft. This would be bad taste, esthetically speaking. And the weight would impede lift-off.
Paul has never been the good-at-physics kind of guy, no engineering degree for him. None needed, to know how incompatible tiles are, with spaceships. Paul got himself a bad back when he redid his bathroom, just from trying to carry up two packs of tiles at once. He feels the pain of any rocket confronted with a tiled spacecraft.
The more Paul thinks about his circumstances, the stronger his urge to repeat the eyes experiment.
Laying flat on cold tiles, with both the back and the inside of his head throbbing, that’s no way to spend the day. If he keeps not dying, he’ll have to take action. Why not right away, as in now?
Exerting maximum courage, Paul manages a quick blink. And another one.
No fatal consequences, yet. Much less brightness than on his first attempt, too. He might survive opening his eyes for good.
This is no sun!
What looked like a super nova at his first, tentative glance turns out to be his kitchen lamp.
A stylish formation of bloody LEDs nearly tricked him into a scare. Never will he tell anyone, about this embarrassment of the decade.
Still not daring to sit up, gravity feels unstable in a most unpleasant, wobbly way, Paul wonders how he got into his current position.
It’s not like him at all, to lay down on his kitchen floor.
There’s a couch in the adjacent living room. Too short to properly lay down, but much more comfy than the tiles.
There’s also his bed, in the bedroom a few steps down the corridor. It’s an unmade mess and the smell of the sheets serves as his daily reminder to make more money, to be able to afford a housekeeper. But it’s still a pretty viable bed.
In its presence, no one as sane and clever as himself selects the kitchen floor for a lay down.
Paul can’t have reached his current position on purpose. There must have been an accident.
An accident, in his kitchen?! Doesn’t make sense.
Paul doesn’t perform any hazardous activities in his kitchen.
A phone, a toaster and a microwave, to reheat whatever non toast food gets delivered, that’s all the kitchen appliances he ever needed. Impossible to get hurt by means of a phone, toaster or microwave.
There’s also the fridge, of course, with a content that could be considered dangerous.
Keeling over when drunk, that’s known to happen to people.
But Paul’s own beer tolerance is quite high, thanks to as much practice as he can afford. And currently, there isn’t even any beer left in this fridge. He blew all his spare money, and some, on that bloody…
The game. The bloody game!
Now that he thinks of it, he recalls what he had been doing.
How the parcel got delivered. How he tore open the wrap at once, in the corridor. How he took the carton and a bulky leaflet to the waste paper bin in the kitchen. How he felt sorry for the forest that had to die because marktroids insist on throwing printed stuff at customers who can perfectly well read all there is to read online.
Paul recalls how he put on his new neckfence, right here, in the kitchen, next to the waste paper bin. How he adjusted the device tightly, because that’s how Carl said one should. Otherwise, whatever waves the thing generates don’t hit the core of the brain at the right angle and most of the effect is lost.
There was no need for a mirror to adjust the neckfence. The simple moves were impossible to get wrong and Garrian preferred to not see himself dressed up like some medieval damsel with a high collar.
The disc with with the battery and whatever tech makes the gadget tick went to the back, to sit on the little bony hump at the base of the neck. Once it touched base, the fence unfolded all by itself and Garrian was dressed up for his first go.
Next, he activated the app on his phone. He selected ‘max tight / pro level’ and felt the squeeze. Breathing was still possible, but not too deeply, just as Carl had described it.
Paul recalls all this very clearly now. And how he selected Star Warrior VII. And how he activated the neckfence mode, to resume the game at the level he had reached in conventional mode earlier today.
Next, he went blank. Why the hell?
Should a bloody game have achieved what half a crate of beers routinely fails to accomplish? Strong him, felled by an app?! Paul refuses to accept this hypothesis.
There were rumors online, of course, the standard fake news, about dangers supposedly associated with neckfences. He treated the virtual gossip as usual. Never did any innovation fail to find its technophobe. There’s always someone howling ‘mortal danger’, especially around anything fun. Best to ignore and proceed.
Harmed by a neckfence sounds like the kind of accident happening to some hopeless wimp. Very much unlike Paul.
But here he lays, without any other explanation at hand.
Not for much longer. He has to take action and will.
With his grip on up, down, left and right partly restored, Paul dares sit up. Feels wrong. Sitting on a kitchen floor shouldn’t trigger sensations more commonly associated with a rollercoaster ride. Not good, not good at all.
The waste paper bin is just within reach, without him standing up. That latter aspect is important, because anything beyond sitting feels like too much of a challenge at this very early stage of recovery.
Paul decides to reach for the leaflet, just to confirm it doesn’t contain any relevant information.
Whoever designed this leaflet should switch professions. Pirate themed design went out of fashion when Paul was in preschool. Right next to the black and white pirate flag it says
WARNING – MUST READ BEFORE FIRST USE
Paul clicks open the neck fence and takes off the device, just in case.
This does him far more good than expected. The tiled floor stops vibrating, in a most pleasant way. His eyesight also improves back to normal, allowing him to easily read the finer print:
Congratulations, your neckfence interface will greatly boost your gaming pleasure! Your body will have to adjust to the new experience, though. Please make sure to lay down for your first session and start at ‘min tight / beginner level’.
No need for Paul to read on. The corporate bastards behind this perfidious invention tried to kill him!
This calls for revenge.
Paul dials up his insurance agent, to have him confirm his legal cost policy covers this obvious case of serious bodily harm. Next, he’ll get himself a lawyer. They’ll meet at the hospital, where he will get his multiple injuries documented.
The mother of all damage suits is in the making, and Paul’s fortune. He can already see himself posting the add for a housekeeper he will finally be able to afford. But first, he’ll preorder Star Warrior VIII.