Genres: Bisexual, Gay, GLBT, Romance, Science Fiction, Transgender
Collections: Breaking Gender, Empassioned
Editor(s): James L. Wolf
Cover Designer(s): Siol na Tine
Cover Art Credits: Photo by Sergii Figurnyi at Dreamstime.com, art by Siol na Tine.
Production Editor(s): Erika L. Firanc
Proofreader(s): Jae Knight
Length: Novella (19,000 Words)
Publication Date: January 14, 2014
Serialization Date: June 10, 2017
Archive(d) on July 22, 2017
Tags: gaming, m/m, military, mmo, Novella, person(s) of color, scifi, virtual
Content Labels (What they are and why we use them)
The door slides open on its own when he approaches, which is standard in the real world but seems to indicate luxury inside the game. Jay steps through, blinking as his eyes adjust to the differing light: where outside the colors were fairly neutral, in here everything seems suffused with a rosy overlay. A few characters—players, probably; Jay doesn’t think there should be many NPCs inside a guild’s private space—lounge across low couches watching him. There’s a girl with gray skin and white markings, another with oversized breasts threatening to spill out of her tightly laced bodice, a half-naked red-headed boy with puppy ears and tail. In the center of the room, seated at a low table and smoking a long-stemmed pipe, is a large man in red-and-gold robes with a long braid of gunmetal gray hair.
“New blood, eh?” he says with an ogreish grin. “What can we do for you, kiddo?”
“I would like to join your guild,” Jay says.
The man raises an eyebrow and puffs on his pipe again. “You know what we do here?” he asks.
Jay nods. “I know Conrad,” he explains. “He told me about it.”
“Well.” The man climbs to his feet; he moves as if he remembers being powerful, but is carrying more weight now than he did in years past. Is that a simulation, or an echo of his real self showing through his character? It seems an odd thing to program, and Jay isn’t sure. “You think you got what it takes to join us, huh?”
The puppy boy makes an outraged noise. “What, are you serious?” he says. “Look at him, he’s boring!”
The man’s grin comes back. “Not everybody can handle your level of excitement, you know,” he says, without really looking at the puppy boy. “The most beautiful thing about desire is that it has room for everybody. Where one person sees plainness, another sees restrained beauty.”
“Tch, there he goes again,” says the gray-skinned girl.
“Don’t you mind these brats,” the man says to Jay. “My name is Masaru, and I run this humble pleasure temple.”
“Hah, don’t let Lady Kaede hear you taking all the credit,” the other girl says.
Masaru rolls his eyes. Jay keeps a carefully neutral face, but this is bizarre; it seems more like a comic program than like any actual hierarchy he’s ever seen. “All right, I run it with the lovely and talented—”
“And dangerous,” the puppy boy adds.
“—and merciful Lady Kaede,” Masaru says. He drapes an arm over Jay’s shoulders, and he’s moving slowly enough that Jay has time to remind himself not to flinch. “How about you?”
“I am called Jay, guildmaster.” He can feel the warmth of Masaru’s body through their clothes, the weight of Masaru’s arm pressing down across his shoulders. The sense of presence is more intense than he expected, more real than the streamlined physics and blunted sensations of in-game combat. The range of simulations made possible by the premium hardware continues to impress him.
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