Eight short speculative stories of gay men celebrating love and lust in worlds vastly different from our own. Contains the stories:
Escape: When a prison ship crash-lands, Delta-23 replicate Davin jumps at the chance to meet someone different. A prisoner onboard, Trace uses the crash as an opportunity to escape, but the last thing he expects is to meet a replicate eager to get up close and personal with a natural-born.
Navigator's Log: Tylar Daire is the navigator on a space mission whose focus is to discover a cure for a mysterious illness killing colonists on Terra. The crew consists of the captain, a soldier for protection, a scientist to study the virus, Tylar himself, and hot-shot ace pilot Rion Z'ev. From the moment Tylar and Rion meet, sparks fly.
Parking Lot Hero: It's the weekend of the Super Bowl. Vic is looking forward to a quiet Saturday with his lover, Matt. But when a trio of ruffians terrorize their landlady in the parking lot of the local grocery story, Vic finds the superhero in him called to action.
Star-Crossed: On the night of his graduation from the Betelgeuse Flight Academy, Reth finally managed to corner the flamboyant Xan Anders. But what he hoped would be a tender moment that might lead to something more was interrupted when Xan slipped away. Seven months later, Reth is surprised to find all the old feelings still remain when he runs into Xan again.
The Bard's Song: Taurin is the king's knight, but he has a weakness for song. When he hears of a new bard performing at Jeanty's Inn, he has to go see the half-elf flautist for himself. Quim's music is captivating, and Taurin returns to the Inn a second night. The knight's interest is evident to the bard, who invites Taurin to his room for a private performance.
The Fall: Gabe fell in love with Luce the moment they met. Unfortunately, love is a forbidden emotion among angels, and their sin costs one of them his wings.
VR Palace: 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?
World Enough and Time: The world is coming to an end. Allan is pretty sure that’s the only explanation for the rain of salt that’s been falling for days, killing people in the streets and bringing Armageddon on a bit sooner than everyone expected. Then he meets Ricky.
From VR Palace:
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.