In a future where pleasure is bought in virtual reality parlors, one man creates the perfect lover. Spun from binary code, everything he could want in a boy except real ... or is he?
Be forewarned: this story is different from what you're used to reading. It's in the second person POV, the present tense, and contains two nameless characters.
Welcome to a world where pleasure is bought and sold in virtual reality parlors. Where customers can fashion a computerized fantasy playmate who is always willing and caters to their every sexual desire. Where reality blurs between worlds, and the only thing you can believe in is love ...
This story appears in my print collection Other Worlds Than These.
He lies beside you. He's not modest and the sheets reveal more than they cover -- his bare skin is a faint blue in the moonlight that falls through the window, and shadows of rain streak across his body. He looks like a merman, his hair spread out like seaweed across his pillow, the bed sheets tangled around his legs like fins, his flesh the color of drowning. He should be asleep now, and you'll sit up and stare at him because you find him fascinating. You'll watch his eyelids flutter as he dreams and wonder how something you can taste and love and touch can be nothing more than binary numbers encoded on a metallic strip. You'll brush your fingertips over his face, his mouth, his crotch, and remind yourself that he's nothing more than data on a chit, that's it. Not alive, not real.
And then you'll wish he were alive, you'll wonder why the hell you can't have him in your real life and not this virtual world you've created, it's not fair, it's not, and you'll realize you have to go. You'll hate to leave, you always do, but you only paid for two hours and you don't want to get dumped out of the program before you've said goodbye. So you'll kiss him one last time, your lips lingering over his. You'll smooth the hair back from his brow, rest your cheek against his, listen to his soft breath and savor his heady scent and stare at him, at only him, so he's the last thing you feel or hear or smell of this world, the last thing you see before you abort. That's the way it always plays out.
Only this time he's not asleep.
He's staring at you with those wide eyes, his head on the pillow beside yours, one hand crammed beneath it and the other resting low on your stomach. "You should be asleep," you tell him, speaking softly. You lie beside him on your back and watch him from the corner of your eye -- he should fall asleep now.
Instead, he sniffles like he's still feeling the rain a bit and sighs, "I don't like it when you make me forget."
You don't know what to say. He should be asleep, dammit, why's he still awake? This is your world, your fantasy. If you want him sleeping, he nods off at the thought. He doesn't say things like I don't like and he doesn't stare at you as if he's waiting for an answer, as if he's expecting one -- he's nothing you don't want him to be.
Only he must think you don't know what he's talking about, because he rubs across your belly, just below the spot where you're ticklish, and explains, "When I don't know who you are. I don't like that …" He falls silent.
You turn to him and force a smile that doesn't quite make it to your eyes. "I'll keep that in mind," you say. And then, "You should be asleep."
It doesn't work -- he's still very much awake, still watching you with that sphinx-like gaze, still rubbing along your skin just above the hair that curls at your groin. "I don't want to sleep," he tells you, and that's something else he doesn't say, I don't want. He wants what you want, that's how it's supposed to go.
"What do you want to do then?" you ask him. The words have an odd weight to them that threatens to smother you. You've never asked him what he wanted before. You just assumed that all he wanted was you.
As if sensing your fear, he snuggles closer to you until his lips press against your cheek in a cool kiss. "You're always gone when I wake up," he whispers.
When I wake up. He doesn't 'wake up,' he can't -- he's asleep when you leave and then you take the chit out of the VR slot and he's deactivated, he doesn't 'wake up.' He's just there when you slip the chit into the slot again, like a computer game, he doesn't actually sleep, does he?
He snakes an arm around your waist, covers your leg with his, his knee heavy where it rests on your thigh. "Can I ask you something?"
No. You can't imagine what he's going to say. He's not supposed to say anything, he's supposed to go to sleep now and let you marvel at him, doesn't he know the script by now? Three nights a week, you can't even remember how many weeks it's been since that guy at the office first told you about the virtual reality joints downtown, and with your carefully worded questions you discovered you could create the man of your dreams, a fantasy made flesh, you could create this boy here beside you who has taken over your life and up until this moment it's been glorious. You don't need anyone else, you just want him, even when you're not plugged into the chit, and you don't know much about this whole VR stuff but you're fairly sure he's not supposed to do anything you don't want him to do, say things you don't want to hear, think things you don't put into his head.
"Can I?" he asks again.