The box wasn’t very big, or really even that interesting. It was opaque acrylic, black under the lighting, slightly rough in the way of all fab-on-demand goods, with a glowing white seam around the middle. Abstract designs covered it, like they’d been etched into the plastic with a hot needle after its printing. A few deep gouges leaked light out of them as well, luminous specks that did more to obscure than illuminate the overall design. What really caught the eye was the length of glittery ribbon encircling it, tied on top in a sloppy bow. A tag tucked under the knot said only, For the most curious, in spidery, cramped cursive.
More notable than the box was the deer in the tightly-buttoned overcoat in the seat opposite mine. They’d been sitting in the sound-dampened business booth when I arrived, elbows on the table, muzzle balanced on lightly folded hooves. The door had opened and closed without them so much as twitching an ear. Nothing I’d said or done since I’d arrived had seemed to register. Even scraping the metal legs of the stool against the cheap laminate flooring and dropping heavily onto it hadn’t gotten more than the barest head-bob in response. Their eyes — poorly passing for organic, with bright blue irises set in grey — remained open, unblinking, fixed on the void some place just over my shoulder.
I adjusted my glasses on the bridge of my muzzle, then unspooled a length of thin optical cable. One end snapped audibly into the metal frames, the other more quickly clicking home into the port behind my ear. As soon as the connection completed, the lenses lit up in holographic display. Visible in the datasphere, wireless transmissions flashed rapidly between the deer and… somewhere else. I could see the massive volume of data moving, practically choking their personal broadcast port, but the contents were opaque, wrapped in at least one layer of encryption. They weren’t just lost in thought; they were communing.
Several seconds passed among us, before I finally interrupted. “You invited me, Kerry. I’m here.”
At the mention of the deer’s name, the datastream recoiled, disappearing from view. As if freed from a spell, Kerry startled, shaking their head and rubbing at one eye with the heel of a hoof. They motioned towards the box on the table, as if its presence explained everything. Their eyes followed my paws precisely as I retrieved a pair of gloves from the pocket of my hoodie, then picked up the box. The rest of them, though, remained eerily still as I held it up to my glasses. My scans were as unhelpful as I’d expected them to be; whatever it was, it had electronics in it, but that could have been the lighting or something more important. There was nothing stuck to the outside, no residue or chemical contamination I could detect. It didn’t fail a known-contraband check, but nothing made-to-order would. It could’ve been printed ex nihilo at any custom-build kiosk in the area. It wasn’t the box itself that was special; it was all about the contents, tied up with that tantalizing tag.
I set it and its contents back down, then carefully tugged off the gloves, inverting them before dropping them into a baggie. Finally, Kerry reacted, drawing a chuckle out of the deer, their eyes flashing briefly to anime half-circles. “Why don’t you trust your own sensors now, Helen?” Their words came out in measured dactyls, rolling in time to the pulse of the music not quite muffled by the insulation.
I pulled back my hood, then folded my now-bare paws on the table in front of me; the LED lighting in the room made the edges of the glasses glow. “You said you wanted to meet, then wouldn’t tell me where. You gave me the name of a bar whose second-most-popular review is a one-star rant about filthy bathrooms and the coming digital apocalypse. I couldn’t find an address for this place anywhere; the customer forum threads all had it deleted, though I found plenty of replies to dead post links saying thanks. Even the official corporate registry for this place just points to a PO box across town. Somebody’s putting a lot of effort into making sure this place is hard to find.”
Kerry’s gaze drifted down from my eyes to my paws and then back again. Their smirk softened to a smile, and they blinked, the lights in their eyes going out briefly, coming back as azure disks. The glow cast the rest of their expression into shadow. “You seemed to find it successfully. I would consider that bragging rights.”
“You said you had code up for offer. That made the effort—” I stopped and leaned back in my seat; gazing too deeply into their eyes always felt… infectious. I focused on the wall past their shoulder and the crisscrossing graffiti behind them while I spoke, consciously keeping my rhythms irregular. “You had code you wanted to share. I’m willing to put in a fair bit of work for that. One of those reviews mentioned spiral themes near the airport. That and the logo on the bar let Neil do a geotagged image search.”
Mention of the wolf brought Kerry’s bemused smile down to a flat, expressionless line. “You always were a resourceful one,” they offered, picking at a non-existent speck of lint from the cuff of their coat.
The deer’s visible dissatisfaction brought a smile to my muzzle. “I thought you’d appreciate knowing ey was involved. Anyway, pretty soon ey had lat-long for the front-door. That easily became an address, which ey was willing to share with me, in exchange for a favor.” She slid the claws of one paw out and clacked them against the scuffed metal table. “I took the liberty of posting it around, along with some scripts to see how long they stay up and who takes them down.”
That seemed to brighten Kerry’s mood again. “That I would love to hear you expound upon, after we finish our business.” They took the box from the table, turning it slowly in their thick fingers. “I have a bargain if you’re on the market.” The light emanating from the seam around its middle seemed to flicker in time to their words as well. “My associates know how to hide what they want to keep hidden; the trouble you had with the Anchorhead’s address should back up that claim.”
I scowled and clacked my clawtips against the table. “Was that with whom you were talking when I sat down?”
Kerry set down the box again, a few millimeters closer to my side of the table. “That would be one way of looking at things. I suppose you could say they’re employers of sorts, but regardless they fabbed up the box and its contents, and also they’ve taken an interest in you.”
That gave me pause. “I’m not sure I like the idea of mysterious ‘employers’ taking an interest, regardless of whether or not they’re benevo—” My voice trailed off into a deep growl as I realized I’d slid back into the deer’s dactyls again. The pattern of Kerry’s words was like an itch; it settled too easily into the brain and demanded to be scratched. I left thin furrows in the cheap plastic, clawing at the table in frustration.
“Don’t hurt the furniture, Helen; it drives up the price at the door,” The deer said with a smile, the digital displays of their eyes briefly flashing to starbursts before resuming their original faux-organic look. “I’ll make you a trade that I think you’ll enjoy: the box in exchange for a bit of a show.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What… kind… of show, exactly, are we talking about?”
“I think you understand more than enough,” Kerry murmured, their voice almost lost beneath the beat pulsing through the insulated door of the booth. The deer stood, holding out a paw. As soon as my fingers touched theirs, they tugged, pulling me off of the stool, then put their other hoof on my shoulder to steady me. They stepped back, eyes flickering in amethyst scanlines as they visibly studied my hoodie and skirt, glasses and boots. “You hide a natural beauty, my dear,” the deer crooned, their words rolling alongside the muffled beat just outside. “I don’t see why you insist on pretending you don’t.”
“I’d rather people see me than my body,” I answered after a few moments. Kerry’s gaze belied a hunger that even the dispassion in their artificial eyes couldn’t mask, a look that I hadn’t seen in the deer before. Their lips were parted, breathing shallowly. Their hooves tapped the ground as they shifted their weight. They ground their fingers against the frogs of their palms, softly scraping against the thick skin. I glanced at them through my glasses, calling up the datastream; rivers of information streamed off of them, disappearing into the grid just like when she first arrived. “I share my body with those who I want to let see it. I don’t include your employers in that.”
Kerry held up a hoof, palm out, and shook their head rapidly. “I wouldn’t dream of coercing you, Helen. I’m only here to present you their offer. They find themselves taken with you and are hoping that you might indulge their request for some video. I know your tastes and would gladly submit to your fantasy. You can be certain that nobody else will discover the footage.” They paused and lifted the box, turning it so the tag and its inscription were clearly visible. “The Anchorhead address was more than a test; they wanted to see how persistent you’d be. They weren’t so sure that you’d put all the pieces together but I had full confidence you would succeed.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “Flattery’s lovely but hardly the reason you wanted me here. A pass I can manage but this isn’t how you convince me to sleep with you.”
Kerry laughed at that, though their eyes remained fixed forward, the displays still scrolling vertical scan-lines. In my glasses, the datastream hovering over the deer’s head had let go, but a cloud of pending connections floated in the Anchorhead’s wireless. Something… was waiting for Kerry’s attention. “They think you’re interesting. I would agree, though I’d use stronger language like powerful, willful, or passionate. They hope to capture that, study it, figure out what makes you tick if they can.” They paused, and the box disappeared into Kerry’s longcoat. “Of course if you really don’t want to participate, I can just take the seed home with me.” They spun and retrieved a hat from the seat next to them. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
The sudden motion, the break in meter, the words they said, all hit with the force of a paw to the forehead. I popped the cable out from behind my ears and let it dangle from my glasses, bringing my focus wholly into this world. “Kerry, did you say ‘seed’?”
The deer nodded. I took a step forward and put a paw on Kerry’s forearm, dropping my voice to a bare whisper. “You… brought an AI seed… to Earth.” The deer nodded again, their eyes brightening, a smile cracking their carefully neutral expression. “And you’re… you’re willing to trade it… to me. For sex.”
Kerry looked down and shook their arm lightly. I jerked my paw back, chastened. “Oh! Sorry, I should’ve asked. I’m… I just…” I cut short my babbling, licked my lips, and smiled as I reconnected my glasses’ cable. “I’m interested.”
The deer brushed a hoof lightly down the arm of their coat. “Now that I have your attention, let’s finish the bargaining phase.” They touched the insulated partition and turned back to me. “Anchorhead’s privacy pods all have cams, and I’m sure you could get me a feed if you tried. Would you care for a cocktail while working?”
“Done and done,” I breathed. “Water would help me while I get a camera rerouted to you.” I dropped back on my stool and tapped on the frame of my glasses, pulling the grid into focus, and the rest of the world receded into the distance. Some part of me registered the sudden spike in volume as Kerry left the private booth, then the drop when the door closed behind them, but my attention was already on the vectorized representations of everything putting out or accepting a wireless signal. I shoved one paw back into the front pocket of my hoodie and grabbed the my miniature keyboard, while the other drummed casually on the tabletop. My tailtip bobbed and swayed as I got to work.
Anchorhead’s security was pretty good; none of the fast-and-dirty casual search tricks pulled up anything local hits. A system advertising itself as “pod rental” wouldn’t give me an access code without payment, and if Kerry’s “associates” were as good as the deer had implied, I didn’t want to disappoint them screwing up a simple hack. I clacked my claws irritably against the scuffed plastic, frantically typing with the other as I scanned the club’s datasphere. Feed, Kerry had said. Video meant a huge amount of data, even compressed, and it had to get stored somewhere. Finding the club’s local data share wasn’t hard, so the odds were good that the huge, constant inbound streams were all camera feeds. The ones from the secure network were probably closed-circuit video I didn’t want to touch. That meant the rest were probably tied to the pods Kerry had mentioned. A quick cross-check turned up heartbeat polling and some timers for when the reservations on the booths expired and the cameras turned themselves off. It took some convincing to trick a new reservation into the system through that back door, but when I went back to pod rental, this time it just told me I had another three minutes to wait, and half an hour to enjoy myself.
By the time the light in my glasses faded again, Kerry was back in the booth, holding out a plastic tumbler. I took it gratefully and gulped it down; the air in the club was hot and humid, even with the air movers near the ceiling. “Three minutes,” I gasped around a muzzleful of crushed ice.
The deer nodded. “Plenty of time.” They held out a hoof to me again, and this time they waited for me to stand on my own. Glitchpop flooded into the insulated booth when they pushed open the door. Circuit-bent sine waves and heavily textured noise — §ection Δelta, from the sounds of it — poured out from the speakers lining the walls, loud enough to make the metal railing throb in time to the backbeat. The meeting booth was one of a bank of similar private partitions, separated from the club space below by a metal railing. Dim red light filled the space, shot through with spotlights picking out individual dancers on the floor. A sign at the base of the stairs down from the concrete loft read Approved Business Only, next to an old card reader. A chain ran across the base of the stairs, guarded by a pair of big cats in white tank-tops and leather pants.
The closer of the two turned as we approached and stuck a card into the slot on the machine, putting a stop to its soft buzz. “Hopefully service was stellar, Mx. Huggins?” The rhythm made my teeth itch.
Kerry nodded as the other removed the chain. “Thank you for asking, Trace; everything went just as smoothly as possible. I think we’ve gotten a booth in the private wing.” They turned to me and smiled widely, their eyes flickering. “What did you tell me the code for it was, Helen?”
I stepped forward and Trace held up a tablet with a keypad on it. I punched in the series of digits the pod rental service had spat at me, then did my best to keep my tailtip from giving away my nerves while I waited to see if the hack worked. A second later, the access light on the tablet went green, and Trace’s partner nodded. “You’re in pod nine, halfway down the hall, upper bunk. Same code will open the main door and access hatch. Your reservation’s good for half an hour; the lights will flash at fifteen minutes, five, and two remaining. At time, the door opens and the lights come on full. Be dressed or the next guest gets to see what you’re doing.”
Kerry’s smile tightened at that. “I’ll keep the warning in mind, Alex, thank you.” Then they took my arm, leading me towards the private wing.
The dance floor was a crush of scales, fur, skin, and sweat, held together by music and a waist-high rail separating the dance space from the bar. We made our way past the bar, pausing so I could pick up a fresh bottle of water. “So… not a fan of Alex?”
“He doesn’t seem to be able to hear them,” Kerry responded as they walked, leaving implicit who they were. “I’d rather not have to think that he doesn’t respect them instead.” Past the bar were a pair of doors. The further one was labeled Authorized Personnel Only, in front of which sat a rat in a jacket and wrap-around glasses; a thin metal blade slid nervously in and out of the back of her wrist. She turned as we approached and popped her head once, making it clear she’d seen us but that we weren’t her business unless we made ourselves such.
The other said merely Private, along with a keypad. Kerry approached the second, then waved me up beside them. “Tell Trace the code, would you?” I nodded and punched in the code again. The LED on top went from red to green, and the lock clicked. The rat popped her head again as we entered, then flashed me a thumbs-up with her cybernetic paw. The soundproofing in the hall wasn’t quite as good as it was on the business booths upstairs; the music was audible through the concrete, but the high frequencies were muffled, so the air was filled with a low rumble and pulsing bass. Just inside the door sat a bank of ancient vending machines labeled Comfort; inside were sheets and pillowcases, condoms and packets of lube.
Number nine was a top bunk, halfway down the hall, up a short ladder to a fold-down door labeled MAX WT 210KG OVER SEE MGMT. The same code again popped the hatch, and the door dropped open. Inside, the light was dimmed to half-bright, with a cracked plastic panel indicating a few obvious presets: red, ultraviolet, and a few “natural lighting” settings. The floor was one solid block of foam, visibly sweat-stained but clean-smelling, with two pillow-shaped blocks at the far end. The wall had an antique computer built into it, with a flat-panel monitor and a wired keyboard, and a slot for trusting public hardware with personal data storage. Cameras in the each upper corner captured the space from all the important angles, giving people a chance to record their exploits and management an easy means of spying on their occupants, if they wanted. A digital display on the wall said 28:37, counting down the time left on the reservation.
The one above my left shoulder would record my orgasm.
Kerry joined me up the ladder a moment later, sheets in tow. “I wouldn’t want you to catch something,” they said with a smile as they passed me the covers. “Give me the pillows and soon we’ll be ready to start.”
I crawled into the booth and tossed back the hunks of foam, then spread out the sheets and started wrestling to get it in place while I was on top of it. I tapped my glasses, validating that the one camera was still under my control, then flipped and sat up, smoothing my denim skirt over my lap. “How do you want me to do this? The camera should be set to broadcast; just set the feed to your local storage and you’re good to go.”
The deer nodded and pressed one finger to their temple; in my glasses, I saw a connection snake out and ensnare the camera’s feed. A tug, and data started flowing towards them. On the monitor, I saw the back of my head; I was blocking the view. They tossed the pillows into the room, and I put them behind me. “Why don’t you try to get comfortable?” they asked as they climbed inside, pulling the door closed behind them. With the door latched, the sound levels dropped even further; their normal speaking voice was plainly audible. “Start by removing your clothes?”
I chuckled and pulled the hoodie up over my head; the shirt I had on underneath was covered in glyphs and vector lines. That I drew off more slowly, rolling it upward to reveal the bra beneath; it was more functional than aesthetic, simple red lycra. I had to sit up to reach the buttons on the tail-flap of my skirt, but once those were undone, wriggling out it and the biker shorts was easy, leaving just the panties I’d grabbed this morning, which happened to have little suns and coffee mugs on it.
Kerry’s smile shifted to a grin; they’d gotten out of their coat and button-down shirt, exposing a blue lace demi-bra framing small breasts. Their figure was a study in straight lines, more wiry than delicate, hidden musculature beneath the skin. In the dim light, their tan pelt looked almost brown, the white undercoat a darker grey. The black patches disappeared in shadow, and their face was almost wholly hidden by the glow of their eyes. “Such an alluring display.”
I play-swiped at the air. “I didn’t know I’d be fucking on camera when I got up in the morning. Oh!” I scrambled around and tapped on my glasses again. “That reminds me.” The datastream shifted into focus, and I pulled up the camera, siphoned off a feed for myself, then pressed up against the wall so Kerry’s face was visible. “For my records. You’re agreeing to exchange the code, the thing you mentioned back upstairs — ” it seemed unwise to mention evidence of an artificial intelligence seed algorithm directly “ — for access to the footage we’re about to generate.”
Kerry glanced to me, then looked directly into the camera, eyes fading to blue static, their expression bemused. “That was the deal and I’m following through.”
I nodded, then saved the clip and pulled my focus back to the moment. “Great.” I motioned towards the deer, whose fingers made quick work of the last few buttons. They rolled from knees to rump and back again, sliding gracefully out of their pants in the small space, exposing lace shorties that matched the bra, their small erection just visible through the fabric. I could think of all kinds of uses for that, but their… associates… wanted a show. “Didn’t you offer to help me with things?”
“Pass me a pillow then, Helen,” Kerry murmured. I did, then lay back and propped my head up against the other one as the deer propped themself up on the other. “May I relieve you of these?” Their fingers hovered over my hips, curling in towards the waist of my panties.
“If you would,” I nodded, lifting my rump so they could slide them off of me; I was already eager; despite the situation, Kerry’s performance of deference was enticing, their offer to “help” me even more so, and the view of their muzzle between my thighs… the thought of it was enough to make me shiver. I slid forward on the cheap foam mattress and kicked my panties to the far end of the coffin. Kerry’s hooves slid up over my hips, then back down my thighs, blunt fingertips pressed firmly enough not to tickle, not hard enough to distract from their warm breath inching closer to my nethers. “Getting it all?”
In response, Kerry’s tongue darted forward and lapped at my labia, gentle heat washing up my spine. “I can see everything,” they replied, barely a whisper in the enclosed space, before their lips touched mine in the most intimate kiss. I hissed my pleasure as their tongue slowly washed along my inner folds, exploring my depths. Warmth suffused me, every slow stroke of the deer’s tongue a new heatwave washing up inside me.
I tilted my head back and started stroking Kerry’s muzzle and forehead as they licked, tugging my bra up over my breasts with the other paw. Freed from the spandex, they felt warm and heavy in my paw. I rolled one nipple between thumb and forefinger, savoring the feel of my own flesh, imagining the deer’s lips there, too. I closed my eyes, letting the pressure inside me build. My chest grew tight, breath getting rough in my chest. The air in the enclosed space was getting warm, or maybe it was just the heat building under my fur.
Kerry’s tongue nestled deeper between my folds and my breath caught in my throat. Then their tonguetip brushed just below my clit, and a fresh wave of heat rolled up my spine. My whole body arched, back lifting off the mattress. I made some strangled sound, my paw clutching at my chest, kneading my breast eagerly. I spread my legs further, inviting the deer even deeper, and opened my eyes to watch them work. They’d slid one of their hooves between their legs and was slowly stroking themself through the lace. “Uh-uh,” I panted, pausing my movements, fighting to keep coherence. “No touching yourself.”
The deer’s tail flagged upwards, acknowledging my words, and they pulled away, leaving a kiss in their wake. “Why ever not, Helen?” They gazed up from between my thighs, eyes the barest blue pinpricks, warm and lazy smile spread across their lips.
“You wanted footage of me, correct? This is your chance to collect it.” I did my best to keep the rhythm going, but my head was swimming in that sea of warmth, my nethers getting cold without their hot breath against them. “You said you would focus on me so I’m telling you to—” My voice rose in a groan as I thrust my hips upward towards their muzzle, beginning for Kerry to continue, to service me, to show their employers everything and more.
Kerry licked their own lips, then mine once for good measure, making me groan again. “Now that you say something—” Their voice trailed off as their tongue resumed its intimate explorations, stoking my fires again. They brought their hoof up from between their own thighs and rubbed two fingers lightly against the opening of my heat, a wordless offer and an encouragement. I nodded once my acceptance, then lay back and hissed through clenched teeth as they pushed those two fingers all the way up inside of me.
From the way my nethers smoldered under Kerry’s touch, I thought I would catch fire when their hoof bumped against my thighs. Instead, it just made my skin all the hotter. I cradled my breasts and rolled my nipples under thumb and forefinger, grinding my hips up against their tongue and fingers. Every inch of me felt ready to burst into flame; they just needed that final spark. I yowled in frustration, aching with need. My nipples were starting to get sore from the attention, my muzzle desert-dry. “Please,” I whimpered into the superheated air of the oven that was our booth. “I need it.”
In response, Kerry’s tongue slide across my clit again, and my soul caught fire. The spark caught deep inside, rushing out along every sensation-soaked nerve, burning through my entirely body. I roared my release, drowning out the music, the rushing of blood in my ears, the tearing of cheap foam and thin cloth under frantic claws, the muffled pop-pop of camera flashes. Everything boiled away in an ecstatic blaze.
When the world came back into focus, Kerry’s eyes were shining, bright blue disks above a genuine smile. The deer pushed back and licked their lips. “That was a fun afternoon, and well worth the offer.” Their shaft strained against the lace of their shorties, but they ignored it, reaching back for their coat. After a moment’s fumbling, they turned and tossed the box in front of me into the pile of torn foam padding. “Inside, the payment as promised.”
I snagged the box and tugged off the ribbon, then popped open the cheap lid on its hinge. As soon as it opened, the light went out, exposing a few LEDs, a coin battery, and some cheap wiring with broken solder. Sitting in the middle, spot-epoxied to the bottom, was a simple data stick with a universal connector. Etched to the side was a series of symbols. I pried it loose and grabbed my hoodie; in the front pocket was not only my keyboard, but a burner machine. It had a forty-dollar single-board system, the barest-minimum operating system I could get it to load, and no wireless. It didn’t even have a real network port, just the optical lead for my glasses and the standard storage connector. Whatever was on this stick, it wasn’t going anywhere unless I let it.
As I unplugged my glasses from my temple, I wondered if maybe I should wait until I could test this in lab conditions at home, but that machine had access to my automation rigs. Every interface at my apartment did; I’d spent a lot of time setting it up that way. This was actually the safest way to test it, at least until I knew it was safe. I hooked up the lead to the burner, slotted the data stick, and waited. A moment later, my eyes were awash in data files, bundles, source trees, all neatly labeled: hardware, environment, reward. The virus scanner showed no results, no hidden timebombs. In the directory, labeled utility, however… there was only a single file. Text. I opened it, only to be rewarded with three simple words: Thaumiel says hello.
I jerked the cable out of the burner machine. “Kerry, you—” I turned to throw the remnants of the box at the AI puppet who’d just sold me out, but they were long gone. The door was down, letting all the heat out of the coffin.