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I had always wondered what would happen if I failed to wake from a dream. It had always seemed to me that I spent years, every night, wandering the shifting, randomness of my dreamscape, while only hours ticked by. What if some day I just never woke up, and just lay there, unmoving, while my mind rushed through an invented adventure, to some fantasy world? Would I even know, that while I lived thousands of impossible adventures, I, in reality, just lay there, my body fading away into the wind. It was an irrational fear that had filled my head since I was young, and still lingered in some forgotten corner of my mind. The fear had lost its intensity, but every now and then, while I lay, waiting for the tides of sleep to, once again, to wash over and rejuvenate my conscious mind. I had never told Sarah or any of my other friends my fear, at the consequence of facing their ridicule. Sarah might defend me, being the kind-hearted person she was, but I didn’t want her thinking of me as a baby that was scared of the dark.
My fears almost prevented me from buying a Vizor when the incredible toy hit the market. It was a factory made dream, which would encompass you all around, with an incredible fantasy story, while hiding from you that you were just a young child sitting on a couch, with a dumb-looking device over your eyes. You were robbed of your precious identity, and thrown into a world were you were the ultimate hero, for hours at a time, while you were only gone for minutes. Sarah loved the Vizor and saw it as a way to shed the skin of the rational world for a short while and live through the eyes of others. IT had been her that had convinced me to get one in the first place.
It was on a totally insignificant Monday, on a rather dull afternoon, when the silence of my house was interrupted by the ring of a doorbell. I trotted slowly to the door to see my friend Sarah upon my doorstep, her Vizor in hand. So we sat down on the couch and began to play with the incredible devices. And as we slipped on our Vizors, the room faded around us, leaving us robbed of our identity, in a strange new world. But as the machine came to life in my hand there was an… error.
Day 1 Year 1
I was not Jake Miller. I want to get that fact out of the way at the start. I was bereft of the memories I had held so tightly for my entire life, and instead a new identity was laid out behind me. I had no past, at least not a real one, and in every way that mattered I was Steve Thompson. I worked as a soldier in the United State’s Space Force, and no force on Earth could have convinced me that my new life was a lie, and the years I had spent here were only a lie.
I soared through the vacuum of space, in the area around Jupiter, weaving my way through the enemy ships with seamless grace, performing maneuvers that I would never have been able to accomplish in real life. I was currently in a battle with a species called the Matrotions. They didn’t exist of course, but as far as I knew one shot from their ship’s cannons would send me to my death in the cold silence of space. My shots were each the picture of perfection, and they each laid waste to an enemy ship that contained hundreds of alien individuals that now floated as dust in the remaining ruins of their ship. I would have felt the burden of my conscious, telling me of the atrocity I had just committed. I would have. But Steve Thompson never would have.
Neither did my wingman, Suzan McRay, who flew to my right, taking down any enemy ships that could pose a threat to me. She, of course was… had been Sarah. We fought valiantly sending hundreds of enemy ships to meet their maker, killing more than any of the other pilots, in our valiant defense of Earth. My ship came out of the battle nearly unscathed, and Sarah’s had only been slightly damaged. We were awarded medals in defense of our nation and the program was supposed to end. It didn’t.
Day 64 Year 1
In response to the loss at Jupiter, the Matrotions withdrew their invasion force out to Neptune, in a maneuver no real general would ever consider. Any reasonable man would have given up such an invasion after such a brutal loss, but the game decided against such an action. I was spending a month long vacation with Suzan when the call came in. We weren’t dating or anything, but our characters had no families or friends to return to, outside of the service, and could think of no one else to spend time with. As soon as the government’s scouts had seen a weakness in a weakness in the enemy’s defense, we were off to fight another battle.
The trip to the far off planet took nearly a week that the game would normally have skipped over but I was left instead with seven days to waste, before the action began. This may seem like a cold, war-mongering attitude to take and it was. Steve Thompson was a cold character, hardened by years in the military, and a rough home life. He had suffered through the stereotypical life of an anti-hero, with parents who didn’t love him, bullies that he had to fight at every turn, and few friends to encourage him. This was pretty much the exact opposite of my life, which had been fed to me on a silver platter, compared to my alter ego’s. I know that this other entity was not a real person, and never would be, but I still cried for him.
Suzan, unlike me, was a lot like her real-life counter part, with morals and emotions of guilt that had plagued her after the battle. I remember that she had cried until her eyes ran dry, after the fight, and I had tried to comfort her, never really understanding the emotions that had done this to her. Steve was only ever home on the battlefield. Despite her conscience, Suzan never considered quitting her position in the military, knowing that this was her duty, and never willing to abandon it, no matter what the cost. This is where she differed from Sarah, who would have given her life, before taking another. I wonder if this courage was why Steve loved her, but I never will know; even after being this fictional man I never fully understood him.
When we finally reached our destination, I was overjoyed at the chance to get in to the battle. There was another wave of troops that had arrived hours before us, already breaking through the enemy’s first wave of defense. My fighter was launched immediately after our arrival, with Suzan always present at my side. We tore through the enemy lines, stopping at nothing, until we had broken the second wave of defense. Then the enemy struck. Sue tried to warn me, as she missed the shot, she had tried so hard to deflect. The energy beam hit my ship’s engine, crippling my craft, and leaving my leaking precious oxygen into the vacuum of space. What happened next, I never would have predicted. My partner stopped in mid battle to come to my aid.
I wasn’t even looking when her ship returned to my side. I sat there praying for a miracle when my communications device came alive with my friend’s voice.
“Steve, hang on, I’m going to tow you back to the main ship for repairs!” I looked up to see Suzan’s fighter grapple my ship, dragging it back to the docking bay.
“What are you doing, Sue, get back in the fight! You’re making yourself into an easy target!”
“I won’t leave you!” She said with resolution.
“Why!” I pleaded, knowing she would pay for this direct defiance of orders. But with her answer to my question shocked out of me any concern about orders.
“Because I love you…” Her voice trailed off. The fight was over before we could get my fighter operational again. The day after that I proposed to her.
I realize how this sounds, and I realize that in real life this would never have happened, but this was not real life, and these were not real people. I never would have jumped into a commitment like that, but I wasn’t Steve Thompson. The game’s melodrama had left Suzan without her career in the military and me without a wingman, but had left us both with partners, in a disgusting soap-opera of life, that I didn’t even know I was living. The wedding was two weeks later, after our return to Earth. Suzan could no longer fight by my side, as the final battle drew nearer, but she was now safe from harm, which was good because, unknown to us at the time, she was pregnant.
Day 123 Year 1
The final battle occurred right on Earth’s front doorstep. The gigantic green-blue ball stood, as a motionless backdrop for the fight, taking up nearly our entire field of view. The enemy had pushed us back, using amazing tactics, which had dominated the battle, despite our greater numbers. The two lines of attack, now just stood, waiting on each other to make the first move, as the perfect calm before a storm. It was only fitting that the climax took place above the nation, were my wife sat with her unborn child. I want to tell you that the thought of loosing the two was what kept me in the fight, that it was in the defense of these two that I fought. That’s a lie. That may have been my motivation if Jake Miller sat behind the control panel of the cockpit, but Steve Thompson wanted the thrill of the fight, and thought little of his family, that looked to him in defense. I still don’t understand how I could have been such a man, and that Sarah could love someone like that, only it wasn’t Sarah who had loved him. It was Suzan. Sarah and I just acted out the melodrama of two soldiers, who never had existed in the first place, and as the first shot was fired, igniting the battle, I really just sat at home; and while Sarah carried a child a thousand miles below me, she was really a virgin teenager, sitting not two feet from me.
The fight was a slaughter, as the ships were ripped apart, leaving space coated with a horrible crimson mist of spilled blood. I bobbed and weaved around, piles of space junk that proved to be more of a problem to me than the actual fighting. It was hard to maneuver in the terrain, that mankind had been polluting since it first discovered space travel. Thankfully, it was just as hard for the Matrotions to move in such a cramped space, and with their less graceful ships it became obvious that they had picked a bad place to hold their endgame. I didn’t even have to do much work, as the debris picked their fighters off, one by one.
Near the end of the battle, I was selected to move in for a final attack on the mother ship that sat at the background of the battle, protected by the other fighters. The others rushed forward, with me hiding at the back of the massive wave of ships, as they engaged in a seemingly random full frontal assault. They pulled back suddenly, and were followed by the bulk of the guarding ships, allowing me to slip between their flanks, with two other pilots at my sides. We rushed blindly through the field of ships, drawing ever closer to our target, at blinding speeds. It was a risky maneuver, if a piece of space junk happened to be in our path we would never be able to pull out in time. We were only a hundred feet away when the fighter to my left was shot down, bursting into a fiery explosion that never could have happened in the real world. I was nearly upon my target when my other wingman was shot, knocking out his laser cannon, making him virtually useless in defense. When he realized this, he made a U-turn back toward the enemy fighters, distracting them for long enough to make the final shot, leaving the mother ship a heap of twisted metal in space. Unfortunately, my wingman was killed by the retreating Matrotion ships, becoming the last casualty of the ten-year war.
Day 324 Year 1
My first child was born close to eleven months into my marriage. He was a beautiful baby boy, whom I loved and cherished for the rest of my time in this world. Too bad he’s not real. But as I held him in my arms he felt as real as any other man I had ever met; I would never even have imagined, as I held his delicate body in my arms, that all this man was, was just some data in a computer.
He would grow up to fight in the war and have two love scandals, of course, because of the computer. It was beginning to combine programs, disgusting soap-operas, war stories, and so many others. My life was becoming a mix of so many cheesy stories blended into one insane life-time, where my only constant was Sue. I want so badly to say it was Sarah, but I know the woman I spent a life-time with was not the friend that sat next to me on the couch, and that the Sue I had known, just like all the characters in that game, including the one I played, were just fictional beings and never existed at all.
Day 221 Year 2
As my son, now named John, was nearing a year of age, and now required more time, needing two parents to be active in his life. I hated it but I had to retire from the military, handing in the old badge, never to see it again. Or so I thought…
Day 73 Year 11
I had enjoyed over a decade of peaceful life when the game decided to drag me in again. I lived a moderately normal existence, at least as normal as I could in such a strange fantasy world. On that one random morning, I receive an email from the school that my son never arrived. At first, I came under the impression that he was skipping and call him on his cell phone. After he failed to respond for fifteen minutes, I grew scared, and I fell into a deep level of fear I had not felt in such a long time. I called the police, and, in my panic, almost forget to call his mother at work. I sit in utter terror for nearly ten minutes, before the police arrive at my doorstep, to search for a person that could be dead any second. I demand to come with him, telling them I’m a military officer, completely qualified to participate in a possible kidnapping. They were not to happy to have a forty year old man, assisting them in a possibly dangerous case, but they eventual realized that I would not give up, agreeing to let me come along. I scour every nook and cranny that I think he might hide in, but my precious boy is no were to be found. To anybody that has never had a child, the thought of loosing him is more unbearable than anything else. It’s what keeps mothers and fathers up at night, worrying that they might live to see their precious son or daughter die. Even if such a fear is unfounded, it is stronger than anything a man can possibly feel for himself. I had, in this twisted lifetime, had the fear beaten out of me as a child, making me the perfect soldier for the brutal wars with the Matrotions. I had felt nothing for myself, and had felt fear for no one until I had fell in love with Sue. I know this sounds stereotypical and it was. I was living a horrible blend of classic stories, blended into one insane melodrama. I had fought for my life, when I wasn’t really living one, and risked everything to save the loved ones who weren’t even real. In this entire universe around me, only my wife was alive. And in truth, neither of us were ever there. Sarah and I would never have done the things that Steve and Suzan had. We were living the lives of others, and as I searched in a fever pitch for my child, I really searched for a ghost from another man’s life.
Every search for John came up empty, and I had no news of him until a message arrived a few days later. I received a letter from the kidnapper, demanding that my money be left in a tree, in exchange for my son’s life. My first instinct was to set up a trap for the kidnapers, stopping the madman. A quick call to the police would secure me a tracking chip to put in the money. I could have them form an ambush, in the meeting place, and even if my son was killed I would save so many others from this man. It was what Steve Thompson would do. It was the actions of a tough soldier, hardened by the years of war.
I paid the ransom.
Day 193 Year 20
It was the proudest day of my life when my son graduated high school. He had never gotten good grades, and I had been worried he would not pass, after he was held back that one year. I have never been a man for crying but as I saw him walk out of our home, for the last time, ready to go to college I cried. I didn’t for long, but as I slipped away from the light, and into an empty room, I burst into joyful tears that I had not felt for so long. It was almost a pleasure to watch him walk away, knowing that he would not live the life I had. Knowing that I had given him the childhood I had only dreamt of. I was proud of what I had done, and even though I refused to cry in front of my family, I did cry those tears that all parents do. It’s a pat on the back from God, saying “Job well done”. I was happy to see my son growing into the man I always wished I could be. Too bad he’s not real…
My wife came to me later, her tears visible on her cheeks. How she had aged since I had met her on the battlefield so long ago. She was now soft, all traces of the muscles, the army had beaten into her were now gone. Her skin had begun to wrinkle, robbing her of the beauty she had once had. But deep down, below the layers of skin, were the traces of the woman I had known and loved. She was still, in every way the woman I had met in the army. And a level deeper than that was the young girl named Sarah, who had never loved me in the way Sue had, but still ever present. She approached me and began to speak.
“I’m happy for John. I never got to go to college, and I’m happy we were able to give our son the opportunity to.” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. I nodded.
“I never thought myself a family man, when I was in the military, but now I can’t imagine myself without my wife and son.”
“You jumped into our marriage, never having dated me before my admission. I had never thought that something like this would happen when I saved you on that battlefield. You never seamed the type to settle down, but you did, and you were always happy with me at your side. You tell me you love me, but I want to hear it one more time, in all honesty. Do you love me?”
“I have stood with you for almost 20 years. I have been your faithful companion and never done anything to displease you.” I answer.
“Do you love me?” she asks again. I think about this for a moment. I had never, as a soldier, considered having a family, and I reacted too quickly when she told me she loved me. I had told my wife I loved her every day, but I had never stopped to question the truth of this, but the answer was as plain as could be.
“Yes. Yes, I do. And I always will.”
Day 207 Year 64
The sun was high in the sky, outside my bedroom window, lighting up the clouds with a beautiful golden light that made the clouds turn to precious gold that hovered through the sky. I wondered if this would be the last sight I would ever see, as I lay in bed, unable to move through the pain. I could see my family, all crowded around me all gazing into my ancient eyes. My wife is barely recognizable as the woman who I had once known. No one would have connected the two women. None that is, except me. I had lived a better life than I thought I would, as I mercilessly slaughtered my enemy on that battlefield. I had come a long way from what I was, with the help of my loved ones. I no longer longed for war like I used to. I had unlearned the violence that had been taught to me as a young boy. I may have started out as Steve Thompson, but as I lay there dying, I knew I was not who I used to be. I was Jake Miller, for the first time in a long time. My wife leaned over me.
“You once told me,” she says, “that you loved me and always would. You kept this promise. Thank you.” And as she delivered my final kiss, my wrinkles began to melt away, my skin growing back into the soft skin of a child. I shrank down, from my height, until I sat with my friend Sarah, on my couch, my lips on hers for the first time. I am with my beloved wife, but she is not my wife and never has been. She pulled away, gagging, as she realizes she is kissing a boy that has never been more than her friend.
“Uhhh, what the crap? Those things mess with our mind!” she said.
I nodded in agreement. “I think I might sell mine.” She remembered nothing of our lifetime together, but of course, neither did I, at least not for a long time. After all, it was only a dream. She took a step toward the door, leaving before turning back around.
“Thanks for having me over, Steve,” she paused for a moment, “I mean Jake, sorry. Don’t know what I’m saying.”