Like many nights before, Jake cried. He coiled up in his linens, pulled his pillow tight against his chest and buried his face in the damp darkness. He lay still waiting until sleep was kind enough to wipe his world away. He knew what would happen tomorrow. It was the same everyday. A drunk would stubble out of bed and call himself his father, his king. The king would subject him to any torture that fit his fancy. A burn, a smack, a punch, a kick, a lashing, a shove; the future held so many possibilities. Jake's mother would watch, she always did. In fact, that's all she did. She would sneak glances while pacing, crying, and drinking, let's not forget the drinking. She would gulp glass after glass until Jakes screams faded and she felt better, then she would sleep.
Jake raised his head from his pillow and looked at all his pain soaked into its surface. He had to leave. Runaway, that's what he would do. Yeah, it could work. Jake rolled out of bed; eyes still red and bruises still tender. He fell to his knees and looked under the bed. He had a bag under there somewhere; from a vacation he took long before the world turned cold. Shuffling the bag across the floor he pulled it out. It was black and empty. Jake ran to his closet and grabbed everything he could. He tossed everything he could into the bag: some shirts and pants, a worn down first generation media player, a Cyberman calendar labeled 2043, a hat, a…
Down the hall Jake heard a door open. He froze and his eyes squeezed shut. A moment passed and his eyes opened again. In front of him he saw the Cyberman calendar. He had always been Jake's favorite hero even though he had never been allowed to watch his show or own his action figure. All he had was this old calendar. He picked it up and looked closely at the colors. It showed Cyberman flying through the air, bullets bouncing off him as he saved anyone who called for help. Jake heard footsteps. "Cyberman, I don't know if you can hear me but if you can, if you really can, save me. Please sa…"
"What the fuck are you doing up?" Jake didn't even turn before the first blow hit him. It felt like the heel of a boot smashed into the back of his head. Jake fell face first to the ground and tried to cry but he was out of tears. "You don't think I see what's going on, huh? I see the bag. You listening? I see the Goddamn bag. Where you going? Where you going, Jake? Answer me! Where you going?" He fell onto Jake and with each word his fist hit. Again and again and again he hit Jake, until Darkness finally rescued him.
Paramedics came in a storm of light and sirens. Questions were asked, orders were shouted and no one cried. Jake was loaded into the ambulance still clutching the calendar. The ambulance rushed through traffic to Neo Memorial Children's Hospital. Jake was rolled through the front doors and rushed to surgery. Jake only heard small bits of the experience that slipped through the darkness. " Vital… Rush… Crashing… Surgery… Calendar… Virtual…"
Then, he woke up. He was laying in a white bed, in a white room, covered in white bandages. Jake tried to sit up but felt groggy and dizzy. This must be the hospital room. The pewter rails on either side of the bed confirmed it. Jake's eyes focused and he almost gasped. The room was completely covered in flowers and "Get Well" cards. They lined the walls and filled all the tables. He looked up and what he saw only added to his amazement. The ceiling wasn't there, in it's place was a swirling galaxy spinning in darkness. Pinpoints of light circled other points of light around and around. He couldn't break his gaze; it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. It moved like a ribbon slowly twirling in the breeze. "Wow…" He whispered.
"Yes, isn't it amazing?" Jake jumped in fear, expecting to see his father. Instead, in the corner of the room surrounded on all sides by flowers, was Cyberman. "I've seen every one of those stars."
"Cyberman?" Jake's lip quivered and eyes puffed up. "You… you heard me?"
"Of course I heard you, Jacob. I'm here for you. How do you feel?" He moved closer, allowing Jake to get a better look at him. He was covered in his typical golden armor with a clear helmet over his head. A long red cape draped from his shoulders to the floor. He pulled a chair next to Jake's bed and sat down, brushing his cape aside.
"I feel okay." Jake gazed in an awestruck daze at his hero, his real hero.
"That's good. I'm glad to hear that."
"Are you… are you really here?"
Cyberman reached out and ruffled Jake's hair. "Yes I am, Jake."
For the first time in years Jake smiled. Not a nervous smile, or a forced smile, but a true, genuine, happy, loving smile. He almost leaped out of bed as he hugged him. "Tell me everything. Tell me about your adventures."
"As you wish. I once flew near Jupiter's third moon…" Cyberman told Jake all about his flights to Jupiter and it's moons. He spoke of evil aliens he had fought and beaten. Jake listened and absorbed it all. Together they laughed and smiled. When Jake was hungry Cyberman brought him food, Mac n' cheese and hotdogs and hamburgers, whatever he wanted. They drank milkshakes and soda. Cyberman let Jake use his wrist laser and wear his cape.
A day passed and then another and Jake loved every minute of it. Then on the forth day Cyberman came, but rather than sit in his usual seat he stood at the edge of the bed. "Jake, it's time to go."
"Go? You mean I get to come with you, up there?" Jake pointed up to his galaxy that spun above him.
"No. I mean it's time to leave the hospital. You're all better."
"What? No, I don't want to." Jake pulled his knees to his chest and gripped his sheets tight.
"Sorry, It's not up to me. System terminated."
"System?" Jake asked. Before he got an answer the room blurred and changed. The galaxy vanished, the flowers melted into the walls and Cyberman became an empty space in an empty room.
The door to the room slowly opened and a fat man with a white coat entered. "Hi, Jacob. How are you feeling?"
"What?" A horrible sensation built up in Jakes chest and he breathed quickly.
"Calm down, Jacob. I'm Dr. Thurman and I'm here to do a final check up."
"Where'd he go? What's happening?" The breathing slowly shifted to soft sobs.
"There was no one here. That was all part of our new D.R.E.A.M system, directly regulated experience association machine. It helps distract you from the pain and tolerate the healing process. Your parents agreed to let us use it on you." The doctor walked over to the bed and checked a computer monitor that Jake didn't remember ever being there. "Well everything looks good. You're parents should be here within the hour."
"No…" Jake swallowed back some tears. "Please…"
"It's okay, Jacob. You're much better, I promise. A nurse will be in to help you with the head set." Jake reached up a felt a spider web of cables wrapped around his head. It wasn't real. None of it was real. "In the mean time, here are some pills for any residual pain. Take one every six hours, no more then that or you'll get very sick. Okay?" The doctor put an orange pill bottle down on the table where flowers once were and walked out of the room.
Jake sat in the fetal position and rocked slowly. "No, no, no, I want to stay. I want to stay. I want to stay!" The door slammed shut and Jake was alone. "I don't want to go. Please. Please, don't make me. I want to stay." Tears poured down his cheeks and his voice cracked in desperation.
He buried is face in his bed and screamed into it. Back and forth he rocked as he tried to find a position in the bed that would comfort him in any way. Ten minutes passed, then twenty and on to thirty. They'd be back any minute and he'd go back to his life. Jake would do anything to stay away from that place, to see Cyberman again. Anything, even if that meant being sick forever.
Jake looked at the pill bottle. More than one would make him sick, that's what the doctor said. He snatched it and looked at it with his misty eyes. He wiped his runny nose and breathed easier. The pills. That was the answer. He attempted to pry the lid open with his fingers. Twisting, pulling, biting, hitting, nothing worked. Jake finally tried pushing it in. It twisted right off. He dumped a handful of them into his hand and cupped his hand over his mouth. He swallowed. "I'm still sick. I have to stay. I have to stay." He pulled his pillow tight against his chest and waited. He soon became tired and began to drift off to sleep. "Stay… I want to… Can I… Can I… Stay…"
As he eyelids shut completely a soft, familiar voice echoed, "Now you can stay, and we'll explore space, together, forever."