"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.

"It matters because that’s your body. And it was horrible."

"I don’t want to know. I see it enough."

"No, you don’t. When was the last time you logged out and really looked in a mirror?"

"What are you saying, I’m ugly?"

"Ugly, pretty, beautiful, it wouldn’t matter if you were the perfect human specimen. You weigh like two pounds. Your arms are pipe cleaners. You could cut the hair on your legs with a lawnmower. Your skin is practically transparent."

"You want to continue insulting me?"

"How is that insulting you?" Johnny asked. "You said you don’t care about your physical body. If you don’t care, then you shouldn’t be insulted when I talk about how gross it’s become. It’s a wonder you can climb out of there on those legs."

"I said that’s enough!"

"No, it isn’t enough. How can you care so little about the condition of your body and yet have this huge objection to modifying it to be with the man you love?"

"Why can’t you spend more time in here with me? It’s a whole shitload easier than cutting off my tits and vat-growing a dick!"

"I don’t want easy! Do you think it’s easy lying to people about who I’m dating? Do you think it’s easy not thinking that you’re a woman when we’re having sex?"

"Why does the physical mean so much to you? I can be a man as much as I want!"

"That’s not a man! You aren’t a man! You have no idea what it’s like to be a man and you never could no matter what kind of software you run – not without feeling what your body feels like when it’s a man! Until you feel this dangling between your legs," he grabbed his penis to reinforce his point, "you won’t know what it is. Without testosterone in your blood, without stubble on your chin, you won’t be a man."

Johnny turned his back, hands on his hips. Far-El sat on the bed glaring at his back. "So that’s what you really feel? That I’m not really a man? And therefore you can’t be with me because of it?"

"I want children."

The words cut through Far-El’s chest like a knife made of ice. "What? Now?"

"Not now… but someday. Someday I want to give up all this stupid gangster shit and go live a quiet life in a nice house with my children and play dates and dinners at the table, and no goddamn GlobalNet crèche lying next to me in bed."

Far-El looked at his hands. They were trembling but the animations for such subtle emotional states weren’t quite right. They twitched as if missing frames of animation. To stop them, he put his hands together and closed his eyes. Menus immediately popped up on the black curtain of his virtual eyelids. He remembered when Melissa closed her eyes, floaters and twinkling lights shone on the inside of her eyelids but here there was only blackness and the intrusion of unwanted user interface. A highlighted option on the menu caught her attention, blinking as if to ask if she really wanted to select the option. Its label was "Tears." Underneath it lay the "Sleep" option, just above the "Log Out" button. She laughed to herself.

"Wouldn’t I be making that a bit difficult if I scooped out my uterus and replace it with a penis?"

Her laughter only made Johnny angrier. "Very funny. You know as I well as I that we could harvest your eggs and freeze them for later, then get a surrogate to carry them."

"We can have as many kids as we want in here," she said, the energy drained from her voice.

"Is that in the Suburbanite  Simulator?" Johnny quipped sarcastically. The anger seemed to have leeched out of his voice leaving only sadness. "You don’t want kids. You have a whole city full of children to look after."

Finality had settled into the room, into their voices. "So that’s it then? We’re done?" she asked, knowing the answer before the words ever reached her lips.

"Unless one of us chooses to change who we are like a snake shedding its skin, I don’t see how we continue."

"Are you leaving the Starlets?"

Johnny shook his head. "No, not… not right now. Someday, yes, provided I survive long enough. Someday I’m getting out of all this and I’m going to have the life I want."

"You deserve it. Everybody deserves to have the life they want. I have the life I want."

Johnny looked deep into Far-El’s eyes, his brows furrowed with real concern. "Do you? Is this really the life you want?"

"Other than you not being in it, yes."

His head fell, his chin resting on his chest. "Then make sure it’s the best life you can create," he said, "because you deserve that too." With that, he logged out, causing his avatar to blink out of existence.

The menu blinked in her vision again, summoned unconsciously by her emotional state. The "Tears" option blinked at her with infuriating insistence. She dismissed the option with a wave of her hand.