Far-El’s physical body, on the other hand, told an entirely different story. For one thing, in what they still insultingly called “real life,” Far-El had the body of a woman named Melissa. Melissa had never been what anyone had called a catch. Always slightly overweight, she had been called “frumpy” by the nice people, and the not-so-nice girls in high school had given her the nickname “Lumberdyke” for her frame and her disdain of fashion. The purchase of a GlobalNet crèche by her mother for her sixteenth birthday had changed her entire life. Within a year, she had gotten her GED and dropped out of high school, spending increasing amounts of time “in the soup,” as they called being jacked into the GlobalNet through a crèche. They called it that because of the saline solution the user lay in, part of the total sensory deprivation that aided the perception of the virtual worlds of the GlobalNet. By the time she’d turned 20, she had been able to move into her own place, making her money with legitimate programming gigs supplemented by illicit funds gained from hacking. At the age of 22, she’d hooked up with a hacker “gang” known as the K@ndorians, so named because of their shared fascination with the city of exiled Kryptonians living in a miniaturized city trapped in a bottle located in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.

Far-El watched Johnny’s naked exercises for a few minutes trying very hard not to say anything, even though he wanted to very badly. He knew, just could feel it in his bones, any word would cause some kind of argument. So he sat in silence and watched as his own mind began to fidget. All relationships had silences but their silences had become increasingly uncomfortable. At first, Far-El had chalked it up to the stress of helping the Five Families set up the Gangland but even as the Families had settled in, the silences had only grown more awkward.

Johnny stopped his exercises. “Say what’s on your mind.”

“What? I wasn’t saying anything, just sitting here.”

“And your head was just about to explode. You have something to say, say it.”

“You never cuddle.”

“That isn’t cuddling. Cuddling happens because your body is drained after a good fuck. This body is never drained.”

“Is that why you’ve never wanted to cuddle?”

“I’d cuddle fine if I was tired which I never am when I’m in here. Virtual bodies don’t get tired, remember?”

“I can make you tired if you’d like.”

“Can you make a cuddling simulator?” Far-El could tell Johnny regretted the words as soon as he said them but he’d started down the path now. The set furrow of Johnny’s brow told the story. This argument was happening with or without Far-El’s input. “That’s a cheap shot.”

“I’d be just fine cuddling with you if I could feel your skin.”

“My skin is probably about the color and texture of undercooked chicken right about now. Not to mention it’s got the wrong naughty bits.”

“That’s fixable.”

And there it was. Not for the first time, Johnny had suggested Melissa become Mel. This had been a recurring bone of contention between them, one that unfortunately never got resolved. Far-El had known all along that Johnny felt no attraction toward females. Everyone in the Starlets, everyone in the Families knew that. Johnny had never been in the least bit secretive or ashamed about his sexuality. Even though she’d been derided as a lesbian in high school, Melissa had never been attracted to anything but men. And even before she’d adopted a masculine avatar, she had always been incredibly turned on by gay male sex. Her first sexual encounter online, she had masqueraded as a gay man. What few physical relationships she’d had had been with men but none of them had ever given her the satisfaction of those fantastic gender bending virtual liaisons.

And yet, she couldn’t bear the thought of changing her physical sex. She had no philosophical objections against body modifications either cosmetic or functional, had no hang ups about living as a man in a physical body. The procedures were expensive and painful and she had never felt that the pain would be worth it. Regardless of its sex, she simply didn’t want to live in a physical body.