Far-El felt Johnny fidgeting in his arms. The younger man’s body couldn’t sit still even pressed against his own, constantly agitating towards some kind of motion that would take him out of the bed, away from his lover’s embrace. When they’d first met, Far-El had found this a cute, almost endearing affectation. Johnny Cloud, stoic muscle-bound leader of the Hollywood Starlets, feared across the Los Angeles LGL gang scene, the man who could stand watch over the crèche-encased bodies of the Bottle City Boys for days on end, couldn’t lie still in a post-coital embrace for more than twenty minutes without pacing around their virtual love nest. The cuteness had slowly drifted away like the tide, slowly transforming into ripples of mild irritation before becoming the constant waves of the contempt of familiarity and finally oceans of doubts about the strength of their relationship. Far-El couldn’t help but thinking the blame lay in him rather than with Johnny’s restless nature and unease with non-physical liaisons.

“Go ahead,” Far-El finally said, releasing his grip on the younger man.

“What do you mean?” Johnny asked as if he didn’t understand.

“You know what I mean. You’re about to explode. Go ahead and get up before you pop.” Far-El lay back on the bed with his hands clasped behind his head. He couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at the eagerness with which Johnny leapt from the bed. The bodyguard started doing naked tae kwon do, kicking first at an imaginary opponent’s shins, then knees and on up until finishing with a roundhouse to the imaginary jaw. “Let me call up something for you to beat on,” Far-El said peevishly, a menu popping up at his fingertips with a thought.

“I don’t need a fake target,” Johnny said.

“Oh? You feel the need to bash something in the real?”

“Maybe.”

Far-El could feel a distance greater than necessary between the two. In the flesh, Johnny’s legendary stoicism gave many people the assumption that he had been struck mute. Most didn’t know that when he got engaged in a seriously heavy intellectual discussion, nobody could shut him up. These talks usually happened with the man-mountain they called The Prophet, a former bodyguard who had joined the New Black Panthers when they’d moved into the Gangland. With Far-El though, Johnny had proved just as loquacious. The physical, mute Johnny had crept into their liaisons more and more lately in disturbing fashion.

So much about their relationship didn’t fit even though they’d officially been an item since before the Los Angeles riots almost three years ago. Johnny had been the leader of a predominantly white gang called the Hollywood Starlets from East Hollywood. Even then he’d been more intelligent than anyone would have expected from a gangbanger, even one from the more posh parts of town. They had officially met when the Starlets had hired the Bottle City Boys to hack a local ATM firm’s network, grabbing a schedule for replenishment of the company’s cash machines. The heist had been the biggest score in the Starlets’ history and their criminal relationship had flourished since then. When the riots turned the city of Los Angeles into a burning cauldron of violence and unleashed resentments, the Bottle City Boys had helped coordinate the Starlets ground game, routing them around police presence they couldn’t overcome to strike where the police and corporate forces were the weakest.

Far-El had set up their first date as a romantic cruise through a GlobalNet virtual world that took them to other planets and ended in a bed overlooking a waterfall under the watchful eyes of three moons. Their chemistry had been immediate and powerful. They had talked for hours nonstop before ending up in bed, and then for hours afterwards. Johnny had hopped out of bed almost as quickly then. He had made the excuse that he really didn’t feel completely comfortable outside of his physical body.

Unlike Far-El, Johnny’s GlobalNet avatar all too often looked strikingly similar to his physical body. In those early days, Johnny had not been taking mental nanotech stimulants called the Benders. Though they increased his brain’s processing power immensely, they added bulk and mass to his body like most other steroids. His avatar had a body-builder’s physique while maintaining his facial features. Johnny had always been very fit, but the Benders soon made his physical body match the muscle-bound ideal he adopted in the GlobalNet.


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.