"We’ve talked about this before. Do you know how much that surgery hurts even with the medical advances we have today? And years of hormone therapy, physical rehab, psychological counseling – do you even have the slightest idea of how much suffering you are asking me to go through just so you can lay down next to a sack of decaying skin that has a penis?"

"That’s your body!"

"That… thing is a body. It’s not my body. THIS is my body." Far-El pointed at his naked form. He had chosen a good physique, not crazy rock hard muscle monster like Johnny’s; more lean but still cut.

"This is bits and bytes. This is a fantasy."

"This fantasy as you call it is how I choose to live my life. I’ve transcended that dying sack of proteins and amino acids. I don’t have to age. I don’t have to get fat. I don’t have to eat, I don’t have to sleep, I don’t get sweaty, I don’t stink, I don’t get dirty, I don’t get any of those things unless I CHOOSE to."

Johnny’s eyes should have had tears, the emotions in his mind clearly displayed on his avatar but he had not allowed those tears to form. "But it isn’t REAL!" he shouted almost as if in pain. "Everything you feel is a hallucination. It’s created by your mind and these computers. Anyone could come in one day and change it, hack your little world and turn it into a nightmare. Or someone could turn it off, turn it all off, unplug you from this great big machine and then where are you? You’re in your own body again. That’s a life. This isn’t a life."

"What is it you want from me? You want me to leave the City behind? They need me! I’m their leader."

"Yes, you’re the great big shot leader of a silicon teacup. What an accomplishment."

"You act like building and maintaining that city is nothing."

"I’m not saying it’s not hard. I know it’s hard. I see what it does to you. I’ve seen what being in here does to your body!"

Far-El recoiled as if he’d been struck. "You what?" Johnny spent most of his time in the body he loved so much. He and the rest of the Starlets did the tasks in the physical world that the City required. They physically intimidated the City’s enemies and they stood watch over the crèche farms where the City’s inhabitants lay in the soup. They did whatever jobs needed a body. One of the things Far-El had always made sure to tell Johnny not to do was look in Melissa’s crèche. He had done it early in their relationship and Far-El had let him have it, as it had caused her to jack out during a tense negotiation. They had agreed he wouldn’t look in on her ever unless she asked. "You looked at my body? When?"

"You were sleeping last week. I could hear you snoring through the mask and I wanted to make sure you didn’t have a leak in the air supply." Shame shimmered on his face and he stared down at his feet.

"I told you NEVER to look in there. Ever."

"I was trying to make sure you were still alive!"

"What does it matter?" She said it but she didn’t exactly believe what she said. Death frightened her as much as anyone but the inevitability of physical death had been something she had reconciled a long time ago. Her real fear wasn’t that she would die. In fact, she hoped that dying while jacked in would somehow save her consciousness in an immortal virtual form, a kind of GlobalNet ghost that never had to worry about the periodic jack outs she had to perform. To her knowledge, no such technology to preserve an entire human consciousness existed. Anyone who knew anything about the GlobalNet had heard breathless rumors about such technology for years, even though there had never being single shred of evidence that such a technology was anything more than theoretical.