The aperture leading to Central Support irised open with a beep and a hiss. As I stepped through, I gestured down the length of the tunnel with a paw. “By default, the gravity in this area would be turned off, as well as outside,” I explained to my team. “Ideally, what I would like to see is an accurate rendering of centripetal force pulling people against the walls.” I turned to one of my coworkers. “Hideaki? How hard would it be to get a proper curve from the center at zero out to one gee at the main ring?”
Hideaki, a tall grey wolf that peered out at the world through half-lidded violet eyes, considered the question with his head bowed, tapping one claw against the dome of his bubble helmet. His tail wagged slowly, then tightened reflexively against his back as he shook his head. “We could do it, probably, but expanding the ring would then mean a longer station or slowing the rotation, which would affect other areas.”
I thought his response, holding one paw near the wall. The magnetic pads under my fingertips pulled them towards the metal. Hideaki had come to the design team from Customer Relations, which meant his primary concern was less about can and more about should. “We don’t really have people measuring the sizes of the prefectures, do we?”
He nodded in response, smiling more with his muzzle than his tail. “Irokai Geographic Society. They tried to create a definitive map of the area and determine the scale of the world. It was in response to their efforts that we put in the random-paths borders on the defined spaces.” He gestured back to the iris. “They will know if we change the rotational speed, meaning our sizes at least in some aspect will be fixed. If we have a ring, they will know its circumference.”
I frowned. The idea of somebody deliberately trying to map Irokai, forcing structure onto something so malleable, seemed like smugly telling a child how a stage magician did his tricks. Still, if it was a concern, we could accommodate. “So, working design. Let’s call our main ring a flat five kilometers in circumference, set our rotation speed to make the floor of that level just under one gee, and then make the story that resources are limited in space. That will drive up demand without really limiting our building capacity. We will also want a residential ring or a hotel at whatever distance amounts for half-gravity.”
Hideaki nodded in response. “That sounds reasonable. We can also work on the design of the station to maximize our ring count.”
I grinned at that, tailtip flicking in amusement. “Thanks for volunteering. Anyone want to design the outside of the station?” About half the team’s paws immediately went into the air, so I tapped my wrist. “I’ll schedule a meeting by the end of the week to assign that group; accept the invitation if you’re interested. We need to balance realism and ease of development against our expected visitor load, and apparently their preconceptions, too. More on that later, though.” I pulled up my hardline and checked the clock: almost eighteen. “Okay, that was everything I had to offer, and remember this is all preliminary design work, so anything you think you can improve, go ahead and make suggestions. Thanks, all, for coming.”
I gestured back towards the iris, which opened not to a maintenance tube but instead to the conference room I’d reserved that morning. I held back, waiting for everyone to shuffle out, then shut the portal. I glanced at my account, watching the numbers slowly ticking down. I didn’t have quite as much in it as I would have liked, but I really didn’t feel like walking home. I flicked through menus with my eyes, hooking up the portal to my front door, then acknowledged the charge for linking a development system to production. My account dropped as soon as I did so, but the iris dutifully opened to reveal Mitsuko’s and my front hall.
The front door closed behind me as though I had just stepped through it. I reflexively wiped my paws on the bristle-brush by the door, then shrugged myself out of the uchuufuku, letting the silvery weave slide to the floor. “Mits?” I called as I knelt, scooping up the puddle of cloth. The smoky-sweet scent of burning wax caught my nose as I stood.
“Hai!” she sang back from further within, her voice slightly muffled. “In here!”
I grinned and slung the garment over one arm, then walked nude to the bedroom. I nudged aside the sliding door with my free paw, the paper whispering quietly in its wooden frame, then drew in a sharp breath at what lay beyond. Violet forget-me-nots and cactus blossoms lay scattered about the room, with candles interspersed among them, their flickering flames filling the air with their scent. In the center of this, Mitsuko lay stretched out across the futon, a silk camisole of creamy jade clinging to her fur that didn’t quite reach the top of the matching panties that hugged her hips. Around her neck was a choker of forest green, with matching ribbons tied about her wrists and ankles. Braided strands encircled her tail, at the tip of which jangled a small silver bell.
A few flower petals clung to her top and her fur, as she stretched and sat upright, they fluttered to the mattress beside her. “Tell me,” she murmured, her emerald eyes shimmering in the firelight, “how may I be of service to you this evening?”
I stood, transfixed, my next words stuck in my throat, a familiar tension stirring in my crotch. “Mits…” was all I could manage as I walked over to the bed, the spacesuit falling, forgotten, to the floor.
Mitsuko slid from the edge of the mattress as I approached, kneeling beside the bed, her arms outstretched to me. Her pads slid across my thighs as she embraced me, her muzzle directly in front of my crotch. Wordlessly, she opened her lips in a smile, then extended her tongue and caressed my sheath. Her eyes closed in an expression of bliss as she drew out my cock, urging back the covering skin with her muzzle.
I tensed, my tail flicking behind me as I gazed down at my lover, caressing the backs of her ears with my fingerpads. “You… don’t—”
She drew back, looking up at me with the same smile as before, and lay a finger across her lips with a wink. Then she cupped one paw against my scrotum, carefully tugging back the sheath from the shaft, rapidly stiffening within. Once fully free of its protective cover, she leaned forward again to place a gentle kiss at its tip, then slid her lips down its length, taking me into her muzzle.
As her muzzle engulfed me, a shudder ran through me. I threw back my head, eyes shut tight, muzzle agape. My fingers stroked the back of her head, tracing through the short fur there, thumbclaws running along the edges of her ears. I panted in time with her strokes, out as she slid backwards, until my lungs burned and her muzzle just brushed the end of my cock, then in quickly as she dove down again, her lips touching my sheath and my cock slipping into her throat.
Even as Mitsuko went down on me, her attention seemingly focused on making my knees shake and my body tremble, her delicate fingers were busy elsewhere. One paw tenderly rolled the delicate orbs within my scrotum while a claw tickled along the sensitive skin behind it. The other she held against my rump, one finger teasing around the base of my tail, making it shudder along with the rest of me.
“Mits, I—” I half-moaned, helplessly rocking my hips in time with Mitsuko’s ministrations. “I can’t—” It felt like lightning running up my spine, from crotch to the back of my head and then scattering just behind my eyes. She did something, pressing with a finger in a place I didn’t know existed, and my chest froze in mid-gasp.
Time halted for a moment, my whole body burning with need, and then Mitsuko withdrew her paw from between my legs, clutching at my rump as she hungrily drove herself down onto my shaft. She moaned against my cock as I plunged it between her lips, fucking her muzzle urgently, my legs trembling with need. Then, in the space between one heartbeat and the next, I came, crying her name as I shot my load between her lips.
Mitsuko’s claws dug into my rump as I climaxed, holding herself against me, not a drop escaping her muzzle. Only after the aftershocks subsided did she help me turn, then let me collapse back against the bed, sending up a cloud of flower petals as the mattress shifted. She met my pleasure-sodden groan with a giggle, sliding up onto the futon beside me. “Oh, hai,” she said quietly, resting a paw on my stomach. “I could help you with that.”
“Oh, Mits,” I groaned, turning my head just enough to look into her emerald eyes, meeting her smile with a weak grin. “That was incredible.”
Mitsuko giggled again, resting her head on my shoulder, ruffling the fur of my stomach with her paw. “If you have found my assistance valuable, perhaps you would be so kind as to fill out a visitor survey?” Her green eyes twinkled, her tail arcing behind her in amusement. “Tadashiissei prides itself on exceeding expectations.”
At that, I rolled up onto my side, unable to keep the frustration out of my voice. “Sure, which is why we have to restrict the station to one commercial ring and a space hotel.”
At that, Mits’ eyes instantly softened, the intensely pleased grin fading back to a gentle smile. “Hideaki, again?”
I sighed; she got it in one. “I shouldn’t be pissed; he’s doing his job, and he’s good at it. It’s just… he’s not an artist. His background’s in Hospitality, which means he’s worried more about what people think of the art than the art itself.” I held out a paw. “I know, I know; so are you. But… you’ve got vision, Mits.” I smiled when I said it, reaching out to cup her cheek.
She put her paw over mine, fingers curling around it. “You flatter me, John,” she said quietly. “But I do not think it is his past career that bothers you, is it?”
I hesitated, then shook my head. “It’s… Irokai Geographic Society?” I tried really hard to keep my tone even, but I could see in Mitsuko’s wince that I’d let my irritation show. “Sorry. It’s… we’ve got an infinite amount of room to build, subject to memory availability and rendering power, and we’re worrying about whether the trees on Kigiku are in the same place every day? What kind of person looks at a place like this and worries that the roads aren’t straight?”
Mitsuko was quiet for a few seconds, her expression suddenly unreadable. When she did finally speak, she sounded hesitant… almost nervous. “Perhaps it is the same kind of person who expects to pay for basic services such as food and happiness?”
That thought made me grimace, tail kinking against my back. “I don’t even want to go down that road; I’m sorry, Mits.” I stroked my claws over her cheek and down her neck. “I should not bring work home with me, and being mad at Hideaki is definitely work. He means well; I just get mad at the pedantry sometimes. He will come around eventually; we just have to get out of final design with something he can approve. After that, the rest of the team can make adjustments based on artistic license and company revenue potentials. That will mollify him, even if it gives the Geographic Society mange.”
That made Mitsuko laugh, which made me smile, the first really comfortable smile I’d had since lunchtime. I gave her a quick hug, nuzzling into her neck, then pulled back. “Let’s go out for dinner. I’m sure there’s a café somewhere in Beni we haven’t seen yet.”
“Oh, hai,” Mitsuko agreed, rolling onto her back. “My coworker Momoko mentioned a taverna that I think you might like. She said their dolmades were quite good.”
“Sounds good.” I nodded, then pulled myself out of bed. A quick series of eye-flicks through the hardline and I had my wardrobe open and ready. I stood in front of the mirror, scrolling through options. “Blue polo or green?”
“Blue, I think,” she said as she rose, her lingerie morphing into a gauzy sky-blue blouse and a medium grey skirt. “And your slacks.”
“Works for me,” I replied. A few quick filters and crops later, I had the exact shade of her blouse applied to my shirt. I considered, then darkened the whole outfit a few shades, leaving the pants just barely above charcoal. I nodded my approval, then spread my arms as everything whirled into place. I turned, trying to look at the back of my pants in the mirror, tail curling behind me. “Are you sure they fit these right? These always feel loose.”
Mitsuko laughed and walked over, putting her paws on my waist. “That is because you never wore tailored clothing before. You expect looking nice to be uncomfortable.” She lifted onto her toes and kissed the back of my neck, running one paw over the back of my shirt, tugging lightly at the hem. “Being attractive should always be this easy, ne?”
The only way I could respond to her lighthearted giggle was with a happy sigh. I turned and took her paws in mine. “Let’s walk. It’s a beautiful evening and I’m not in any hurry.”
She nodded her approval, giving my paws a squeeze with her own. “I agree.” She nudged aside the sliding rice-paper door, and we stepped outside. The sky overhead was a brilliant blue, with long streaks of pink and gold stretching out across it as the sun slipped below the horizon. The walk to the tram station was a good chance to stretch out my legs and just enjoy the company of the woman I loved, and by the time we had arrived at the underground terminal in Beni Prefecture, I was really looking forward to a good dinner and the conversation that inevitably came with it.
The skies in Beni were perpetually overcast, but today the usual mist had strengthened to an actual shower, one that left puddles along the uneven sidewalks. We dashed from awning to awning, winding through curving streets lined with storefronts and tenements. A pair of wolves leading a small pack of cubs behind them peered in through windows. One of Mitsuko’s coworkers, a mouse in a white blouse and black skirt with a rainbow scarf around her neck, led a small group of obvious tourists through the streets, gesturing to various landmarks while they snapped photos and gawked, muttering cheerfully about the rain.
Fat raindrops spattered off of broad canvas umbrellas set up over wooden tables in front of the Greek café, and we both sighed in relief as we ducked underneath one, taking a seat out of the rain. Almost as soon as we sat, a wolf in a black button-down shirt and slacks approached us. “Hello and welcome! Have you two been here before?” When we both shook our head, his smile broadened and then sent an offer for a local link to their menu. “Well, welcome to Timeus. My name is Rich, I’ll be at your service today. We try to serve things in the traditional style, which means a lot of smaller dishes so you can try different things….” While he continued with his patter, I accepted his request, then started scrutinizing the code. It was a clever system, a manifested object that sent a request to their central system for the daily specials, accessible from anywhere in Irokai. I made a note to dig more deeply into it to see how they had set up their security.
The chatter stopped, and I realized that I’d been asked a question. Ducking my head, tail curling behind me, I took a guess. “Uh… tall glass of water and… what’s retsina?”
The waiter grinned. “So, retsina’s a traditional Greek wine that’s sealed in flasks with pine resin while it ages, so the alcohol takes on a really distinct flavor and aroma. Some say it’s an acquired… hey, that’s funny.” He blinked, then held out his arm, pads upturned. “It’s stopped raining.”
At that, Mitsuko and I looked at each other in confusion, then back to the road. Sure enough, the puddles on the ground no longer rippled with raindrops, and even the ever-present mist seemed to be clearing up. Then I looked up to the sky, and a sinking feeling spread through my gut as I watched the clouds drift apart. The sky lit up in an unnaturally vibrant blue, and the opening passages of Grieg’s Spring from Peer Gynt began to play from nowehere. Then, for the first time since its inception, the sun began to shine over Beni Prefecture.
Mitsuko’s paw found mine and squeezed it. “Something is very wrong.”
The moment after she said that, my hardline snapped on, followed moments later by a priority summons: All Hospitality, Development, and Security staff please prepare for relocation to the nearest Tadashiissei office. This is an emergency. The signature on the summons came from Rei Sasaki, one of the security division chiefs.
I squeezed Mitsuko’s paw in return, then looked at the waiter. “I think dinner will have to wait.” Then I accepted the summons, and the world dissolved around me.
The walls of the Tadashiissei’s Beni Prefecture headquarters were an uncomfortable brownish-grey that wanted to be a taupe but just ended up looking dirty, and the carpet was an industrial-pile mocha that tried very hard to match, but failed. Outside of that, though, the interior of the facility was as modern as the one in Murasaki. A massive black glass-top table dominated the middle of the main room, with low-backed aluminum-piping chairs haphazardly placed around it. Over the table’s surface, a scale map of Beni Prefecture hovered. Clusters of red and yellow dots flashed all over its surface, spots where people had called security about a problem. As I watched, more lights blossomed over the table. One of the younger staffers leaned against the long edge of the table, tapping the points as they flared to life, scanning the windows that opened in front of him, and then closing some of them immediately, consolidating others and flagging them with kanji that lit up on the map. I leaned in and squinted at them: daiji. Serious.
At the head of the table, a broad-shouldered tiger in a black silk Mandarin top with off-center buttons and matching pants loomed over the map, sorting through collections of flagged reports. He looked up as we approached, nodded and held up one massive paw, the other shuffling a collection of flagged red dots hovering over Beni Prefecture. He flicked three of the set aside, then drew the rest together and circled them with a paw, and they fused into a single larger light. “Open bug report. Description begin: building with doors connected to the outside have all exits randomly assigned to other interior rooms, teleport disabled as per local secure facilities, security override disabled as per local administrator, local administrator access returns non-existent user, description end. Attachment begin, security parent report one-one-eight-one-one. Send. Confirm report number.” His claws tapped against the flickering dot, attaching the ticket to the security report, then fading from view.
Once finished, the paw aimed at us lowered, and he looked up from the map, bowing. “Dart-san, Ikanobari-san. Thank you for accepting the summons.”
Mitsuko stepped forward, a faint smile on her muzzle despite the nervous flicker of her ears and tail. “Do not be so formal, Rei-kun. It is good to know Tadashiissei has assigned its best to this situation. What is happening?”
For a moment, the tiger held curiously still, only his tail lashing behind him, but then he turned suddenly and gestured to the map. “Multiple large-scale disruptions. Visitors have reported everything from clothing and items randomly disappearing to unscheduled severe weather to the complete disappearance of geographic features. The Nanakousei building vanished approximately twenty minutes ago, starting from the ground floor upwards.”
My eyes went wide, and my fingers tensed against Mitsuko’s paw. “How?”
The tiger started to answer, but Mitsuko interrupted. “What of the occupants, Rei-kun? Are they all right?”
Rei looked back to the map. “The travelers who were within the building at the time were caught by the system integrity verification routines and extracted from Irokai. Some are experiencing transition shock and are being treated. They are also being given a refund for their most recent visit and credit towards a future trip.” He grimaced. “This will severely hurt Tadashiissei’s image.”
“I don’t give a damn about the company right now, Rei,” I replied, squinting. “You said ‘the travelers,’ not ‘everyone.’ What about the residents?”
Rei paused, then adjusted the spectacles sitting on the bridge of his muzzle. “Residents?”
I gestured back to Mitsuko with my free paw. “You know, the folks like Mits and I?”
The security chief paused, looking from me to Mitsuko and back. “Of the approximately four-hundred individuals present within Nanakousei at the time of its disappearance, all but two have been identified outside. The two missing are both permanent residents of Irokai; one is an emigrant, the other a native. Neither can presently be located.” His voice was eerily calm, which only made the fur on my tail bristle all the more. “Checking their user account records show that both were archived as of fourteen local time, suggesting a minimum of loss when we restore them from backup.”
“Backup?” My shout drew the entire room’s attention. Mitsuko’s grip tightened on my paw, but I ignored it. “You’re telling me two people may theoretically have just died and that’s all you can offer?”
Rei’s voice remained infuriatingly level. “John-kun, We are all doing everything we can to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. Right now an unknown number of hackers have managed to bypass all of our security and cause disruptions to Irokai’s codebase on a level that we are simply unprepared to handle. Multiple large-scale structures have had their internals scrambled, three buildings have reported inverse gravity, and at least one apartment complex has had all external exits rerouted. No-one knows how deeply these intrusions run, or who is actually responsible. Most of the external development staff is currently attempting to rewrite the entire world on a live system as quickly as possible in hopes that most of the attacks will simply fail once they are done, and the remainder are presently verifying the state of the backup system, which is presently offline to prevent further corruption. I understand how much worse this situation is for you than most, but at present my entire staff is dedicated to ensure the integrity of the area and identify additional attacks.”
He nodded in my direction. “Presently we are minimizing access to external communication to prevent wide-scale panic, and teleportation has been limited to recalls initiated by senior members of Security or Hospitality to prevent future accidents. but we can’t maintain that forever. I’ll ensure that you have a secured line to the outside so that you can coordinate with the rest of your team.” Then he turned to Mitsuko. “Hospitality has been authorized to take any necessary steps to ensure safety. I would ask that you coordinate with those still available to ensure that we escort as many travelers out of Irokai as quickly as possible. The fewer people we have to protect, the safer we can make the remainder.”