The Love Market: Chapter Three

I didn’t know much about what he meant by work then, and what I did know was hardly more than whispers and secretive glances. There were times I saw things on the screens that were similar to what I’ve come to understand to be this work. And when the visitors would come, and they would sit behind the two side glass, I knew one way I would be made to work. Peter had taught me about the glass when I started asking, and he told me about the tell. A soft green glow would be at the edges of the frame when I had visitors. I never met the visitors or saw them very well through the glass, but I remember their shapes and what the light meant when they came.”

Sex was not a complicated thing. Two people, or more, in love, hopefully, came together in private, but often public, and became directly intimate with one another. Piper wasn’t sure if that was how her parents had gone about it, but tracking her age against the release of headsets, she knew her parents hadn’t copulated in the manner she and Gregor did.

There was no obligation on her end to apply the visor, but from what she had been told about these new models, it made it clear she was intended to. She didn’t want the visuals pumped directly from the Love Market; however, the option was not possible once activated. This was, as advertised, the linking of a two-person experience directly with the Love Market and marketers there. If she didn’t boot up a performance, the computer would be forced to generate her movements for Gregor on the other end. Every touch was meant to match, synchronized, and tailored to the visuals. 

The selection on Gregor’s set was vast but not one to Piper’s liking, especially considering the nature of their contact. Piper might have felt at least somewhat more inclined to enjoy herself if she could have had any of those few rugged and hyper-masculine males like Lucius, Hercules, or Zanzibar. Instead. of the males, not biologically always but those listed as male, she could only find those men who had chosen to be feminized in ways to make them a shadow of masculinity. There were those women who had become male, and of those, there were few far enough along to give the impression she would have liked. Unable to find anything that she might desire, Piper honed in on one of the underdeveloped males whose face was nearly boyish and not simple that of a girl’s.

After a few seconds, the visuals initialized and booted into full virtual reality, but Piper was engaged physically just before the set could catch up. As badly as she wanted Gregor to be at ease and enjoy it all, Piper wanted the rawness of it, the genuine feeling of human connection not filtered through the Love Market’s fantasies. And though she could have closed her eyes tight, she could not ignore the speakers in her set. The noises of pleasure that could have been passed between the two were instead recreated with the voice of the boy. Piper recalled the model after a few seconds, Juno.

Everything about what was happening in the set from Piper’s end was artificial and divorced from her own desires. Juno cued and squeaked like a virgin girl at best and would have made Piper laugh if she weren’t focusing on anything but ignoring the virtual boy. His limbs were thin, nearly malnourished, save for the fact they all came together to look like that of a teen. Gregor’s body matched in places; she gripped his upper arms and found them as stringy as Juno’s. As she caressed his chest, she found the difference of extra tissue that only expanded as she touched his supple, soft stomach. It was not the thin, almost bony torso of the boy but not that of the obese, but a pot belly like a pig’s. Something about it didn’t displease Piper’s senses, and for a bit, she wished that Gregor had paid for a model better representing his own figure. But, again, how few that meant to choose from, and more importantly, what use would Gregor have for one of the few male marketers whose body type reflected a middle-aged man.

As with the rest of the engagement, Piper found herself wanting and needful to do what she desired without Gregor’s input. She had, after all, done the bulk of the work, and for that to change now was unlikely. Bending forward, she planted a passionate kiss on Gregor’s lips before pressing up both their visors, whispering his name as sweetly as her dry throat could manage. His response was sudden, immediate, and matching the fluid ejection between their legs.

Without a word or good cause, Gregor slid Piper off of him and slapped at his visor until it fell onto the pillow. Still, with ejaculate trailing, he removed himself from the bed and tore a stained gray towel from a pile of otherwise innocuous garbage. There was nothing to be said, even as he left the room. Piper knew she had overstepped certain boundaries, but it had felt right in that moment to let the illusions fall away and have each other for just a few seconds at the moment of climax.

Taking pains to move things with a gentle hand as though they were her own, Piper put up the borrowed headset. Using the white handkerchief with its faded blue sailboat pattern that she kept in her overalls, Piper wiped up the mess between her thighs. She’d like to have relished it, enjoyed the concession of fluids made by this on-again, off-again partner, but the moment was spoiled. Clean now, Piper slid on her overalls; her underwear had only been slid aside in the heat of the moment and donned her jacket, which had fallen away when they engaged. Yet, for a moment, she glanced at the blue glow from Gregor’s set and was made to wonder who she had been to him.

Cautiously listening for footfalls to approach, most of which would have been masked by the kitchen utilities at work, she took the set in her hands. Careful not to look too long, she pressed her face to the viewer and glanced around before finding the shapely, full-figured blonde from only an hour prior. Even without keeping the speakers aligned with her ears, Piper heard all she needed to know what Gregor had desired. The misfortune was, even if she were as beautiful as Heather, her voice as calming, smile half so welcoming, her body type would never be that, nor would a child, as impossible as that was for her to conceive, help that fact.

It was in a sort of daze she fled the flat into the cold of an evening pressing in before day had its final say. Gregor’s father had glared at her but in a father-like son manner. It began harshly, only for the gaze to soften into a look of passive vulnerability, impotence. Possibly the old man had seen in her whatever it was Gregor had not and maybe, being of an age with her father, would have wanted her without using a set, but Piper couldn’t care. Gregor’s own brother, never home and never of note in the man’s life, could have wanted her, and she would have ignored him regardless of his almost marketable looks.

Piper continued, trying to ignore the malignant knowledge that had taken refuge in her thoughts until she reached the corner of Pleasant and Fifty-fourth street. A little teahouse stood there, the MintTea, which had become the standard to neutralize those to stirred up by coffee. There was no reason for her to go inside, money was tight, and tea was a luxury Piper had trained herself to dislike. Yet, as the warmth between her thighs faded to a chill, she found there was need enough to enter, if only for a moment.

Touching the latch made Piper’s fingers feel like they would stay as a permanent fixture. She groaned, thinking of how she had left her gloves on Gregor’s bed. The feeling would come back with warmth, she knew, and so Piper eagerly yanked the door; however, it did not budge. She tried again, assuming the cold had sealed the door tighter than need be, but it did not even whisper of release. Removing her fingers, gently not to tear already chapped skin, she gazed into the one segment of window not boarded up.

Through the sparse crack in the coverage, Piper could see the light which had beckoned her was nothing more than a portable lantern on one counter. From what it illuminated, Piper saw that the cafe was no longer in service and instead had become a residence. Two children lay huddled on the floor around a space heater, while in the back, the shadows of two others could be seen. Not a single one looked happy, the fact brought home in earnest when the hooded one, likely the mother, vanished after a blow from the other shadow.

There was nothing for it, nothing Piper could do, and no authority to reach out to. Law enforcement had been reduced and reduced, their abilities shrunk, and eventually, they were no more. The civil servants left to sort it out would never touch domestic situations unless one or more of the residents had potential in the market. Piper had seen it firsthand. Instead of warmth, she found more of the cold world inside where the drifting, discolored flakes of snow should not have been able to reach. Without any cause to stay, Piper drifted onward toward home, which now felt miles away.

Across the avenue, the shadows grew heavy, and vague shapes of men around a makeshift fire told Piper all she would need to know. Instead of the direct route, she would have to take the major roads and hope if that were a gang or more than ravenous homeless, they would not give chase. She rounded the corner and hurried but not so much to alert a casual viewer. Piper had known enough, heard enough, that their type thrived on the thrill more than the function of their control chaos. Yet, as she lightly jogged up the avenue, Piper found herself on her backside with snow seeking exposed flesh as though magnetized.

The backdoor of the cafe had been flung wide, its arc racing across the sidewalk and stopping just inches behind where Piper had stood. And where her impact on the cold packed cement had been muffled, the second one was loud and clear. Rising to sit, holding back the trickle of warmth from her nose, Piper saw the burka and knew the mother had not fared well. She lay face down in the road, and where the man might have pursued and continued his assault, he instead chose to slam the door, the lock sounding in the quiet of encroaching night.

Calm as she was able, Piper searched up and down the street to see if any cars passed or if any bystanders took an interest. If any had, they thought better of it and left the situation to fester where it lay. It was a grim prospect to allow another individual to catch cold or possibly their death when she could help. Piper crawled to the woman and turned her over to see if she would leave her to fend for herself or if the woman was already past that point. Faint breath stirred in her, but more importantly, Piper could take in the face so hardly marred by bruising you would have thought she had never been struck.

It was horribly out of place and hardly the time, but Piper drew one rough finger against a face that could have been modeled from smooth, untarnished marble. She was no expert in bone structure, but the vulpine nature of this woman’s face was unmistakable. And were it not enough to be well blessed genetically, and with looks bolstered by a pleasant feel, this woman had Piper’s one weakness in women, a perfectly placed beauty mark on the right cheek. Her clothes left much to the imagination, and it was there that Piper assumed her faults and bruises must reside. However, even knowing the woman must surely be an unsightly thing beneath her clothes, Piper decided she couldn’t leave her there.

Years of working the industrial life hadn’t made Piper rich nor skilled, and nothing could be done to fix where her life was heading, but it gave her a considerable, though unladylike, strength. With ease, she put the rail-thin woman across her shoulders and carried on down the icy avenue with steps matching one who held a loose egg in one shoe and a hatchling in the other. Yet for all the exhaustion the task net her, Piper could concede she was not without her own gains. After all, her fingers were warm beneath the burka.

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