Beautiful World 14: Escape

The clock on the wall inside the lobby of Tadashiissei’s Murasaki Prefecture office said twenty-one, but the light outside suggested early afternoon, the sun still bobbing just above the horizon as if trapped in a loop. At least the sky is blue again, I reassured myself. It had been blood-red earlier in the day, a dark crimson that oozed ominously around the clouds. The developers had reverted that quickly enough, but the memory of it still sent a ripple of tension down my arms. I balled my paws into fists, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Now to wait for the stars.

When I opened them again, the sun was no closer to setting then before, but a fresh crop of user reports had blossomed across the map of the prefecture. Fingers tapping rapidly over the glass surface, I pulled some of them towards me, opened them all and scanned through their descriptions. Some included snapshots: a rain of winged toasters, a person’s face reduced to an iconic yellow disk, a flame hanging in midair; those fell quickly into clusters of similar conditions. The ones reporting only in text took longer, scanning for keywords to add them to the growing collections. A few drifted back to the map, but the rest eventually sorted into five larger collections, each of which I tagged for the development team.

The crisis of the moment resolved, I opened my personal archive of all the security reports I had filed relating to Irokai no Minshukakumei. None of the present attacks shared any immediate similarities with past intrusions; in the past, they—whoever they were—had been more than willing to claim credit for their work, attaching their name and slogans to all of their assaults. None of the latest attacks, though, showed any sign of ownership. And yet, I kept seeing signs of common identity among them. The floating flames, for instance, reminded me of a past display of fiery kanji in a bonfire on Kigiku Island. Staring at the two images in their respective reports, it almost seemed that I could spot the places where the two used the same randomizing functions.

I copied the filed reports to my archive, then waved away the windows with a sweep of claws and shut my eyes. Feel, and accept the feelings, but do not succumb to them, I reminded myself. I felt anger, and fear. For months, if not years, I had reported threats to Irokai’s security; Tadashiissei had done nothing. I had pointed out correlations between past assaults, suggesting a large and organized effort; Tadashiissei had done nothing. I had all but begged my superiors to open further investigations, to find the people who were breaking my world and to stop them; Tadashiissei had done nothing.

Now, I was reduced to sifting for patterns in apparent chaos, making connections where none existed, and hoping that Tadashiissei would do something. I was angry, and I was scared.

A touch on my shoulder brought me out of my reflections. “Giri?”

I opened my eyes, looking over my shoulder to Koneko’s face; her wide blue eyes were squinted in concern, her ears and whiskers held back; in her other paw, she held a mug of hot tea, steam rising from its mouth. “You’ve been here over fourteen hours. You need a break.”

I put a paw over hers and shook my head, looking back to the map. “I am taking breaks as time permits. I took a walk—”

“Five hours ago,” she interrupted, thrusting the mug at me. “Orders from management. You’re off-duty for six hours, minimum. Get a meal and a nap.”

I held my gaze level as I took the tea from her, then rose from my chair. “Very well,” I said after several seconds. I took an obligatory sip from the mug, then passed it back to Koneko with a minimal bow. “I will return in four hours, then. Thank you for the tea.” Koneko returned the bow, her expression carefully neutral, then motioned me away from the table, sliding into the seat I had just vacated. As soon as she was comfortable, a fresh array of lights blossomed over the map, and her fingers began tapping across its surface, sorting through customer complaints.

I watched her work for a few seconds more, then turned and walked out of the front of the building. The skies were still a rich afternoon blue, streaked with pink and gold. Someone had put a human infant’s face on the sun, constantly changing expressions. I watched it laugh silently for several seconds, then suddenly begin crying for no reason. The rapid change of expression sent the fur of my tail into a bristle, and I turned my gaze away, focusing on the sidewalk in front of me as I walked the short distance back to my apartment. The building, a glass-and-steel high-rise, looked thankfully free of infection, though I didn’t take the time to validate the entire system. I did, however, test that the front door would let me back onto the street and that the elevators had the same number of buttons as when I left.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I was even more tired than Koneko had suggested. Leaving the recovery efforts up to my superiors, though, seemed unthinkable. After all the times I had warned about this very danger and had my reports quietly ignored, the exhaustion was just one more thing to tolerate in the line of duty. Still, I was relieved for the order, despite the irritation at being interrupted. It meant that, at least for a few hours, the failure to protect Irokai no longer weighed on my shoulders. You have done what you can, and you continue to do so, I reminded myself. If Irokai falls, it will be because they failed to listen, not because you failed to warn them. It was a small comfort; the thought of my home disappearing was no more pleasant now than it was when it had occurred to me before.

I dropped heavily into the futon in my living room, covering my eyes with my paws. Such thoughts would get me nowhere. I felt mounting annoyance and aggravation, but I had no means to deal with either. For now, all I could do was as had been suggested: eat, sleep, and hopefully awaken to a steadily shrinking queue of complaints and questions. I summoned up my administrative window, and a few quick glances later, I had a hot meal on the way. While the menu was open, I glanced at my standing account, the numbers hovering in the bottom-right corner of my interface, and smiled wryly at the note hovering in its place: All residence fees have been temporarily suspended while we resolve these ongoing technical difficulties.

That resolved, there seemed to be little to do but wait. I had no interest on watching more reports of the disasters, and I was too tired to focus on other entertainment. Dinner arrived soon enough, and I quickly tucked into fried vegetables and shrimp over noodles with thick broth; the food was a welcome distraction from the rapidly compounding absurdities, and once I was done, the exhaustion I had been staving off hit me at full force. I stretched out on the futon, not even bothering to return to my bedroom. “Lights, off; windows, close.” I told the room, shrouding the apartment in darkness.

The harsh buzz in my ear snapped me to a rough approximation of awareness, enough to realize that I had an urgent personal request. After a few seconds of my head ringing, I opened the hardline and glanced through to receive the message from… Briar? How may I help you, Briar-san?

Giri, it’s Briar. The words came through in spurts, chunks of text followed by stretches of silence. We need your help. Bad.

I counted off three seconds, letting the last of the ringing fade. I have another two hours of on mandatory downtime, Briar-san; I am afraid there is little I can do at the moment.

FutureShock hit, Giri, came the hasty response. Some kind of lockout, can’t leave. Got two uploads and a dozen analogs, some kind of deep object hack. Need your help.

Usagi-san, I appreciate your situation, but there is little I can do at present. I responded. I can provide you a list of contacts who have agreed to help me.

Her next message was almost instant. Please, Giri. Most here don’t trust Tadashiissei. Some think this is a company plot as it is. I don’t know who else I can call. A moment later, she sent a second reply: Please don’t make me beg.

I sighed, rubbing at my eyes. I wanted to insist she find a replacement, but really, could I in clear conscience ask that of her? I didn’t trust most of my superiors to have the best interests of Irokai and its inhabitants in mind; what assurance could I offer someone who knew less about the situation than I did? I rose from the couch and stretched, trying to awaken the rest of the way before I left the apartment. I will be there as soon as I can be. Please do what you can to prevent panic. With that, I took a moment to adjust my coat and left for the tram station.

Finding the afflicted area Briar had described was easy enough; a few minutes’ walk from the terminal, I caught wind of something that smelled distinctly of dust and mold. Following the scent another block, I found a patch of some kind of abnormal discoloration on the wall of a café, spreading slowly over the surface. As I watched, the rust-colored brickwork turned a mottled yellow with streaks of darker green. The while area then began to distend irregularly, taking on a slick, swollen sheen. Once it had bulged out like a pustule, a small cluster of filaments shot up from the building, arcing in semi-random curves back towards the surface. Where they fell more than a few feet, they withered and vanished; where they came into contact with regular brick, they spread their symptoms, fresh buboes bulging upwards from the surface.

I opened my hardline and scanned the spreading infection; it looked like someone had gone past virus and directly on to digital fungus; the whole city block appeared to be infected. There was no lockout; the door to the club that Briar had mentioned simply didn’t exist any more, nor did most of the buildings. The tendrils moved slowly, likely to ensure that no people were accidentally hit, but anything infected became defined as a host, losing all properties outside of spreading the disease, and the more hosts, the faster the infection could spread.

Studying the vector, I had to admit it was an elegant disruption: simple, thorough, and fast. Unfortunately, it had also spread further than I could repair on my own. This is Giri of Tadashiissei Security, I broadcast to the prefecture. Is there anyone within Development or Hospitality currently available that can assist with resolution of an attack? I have two residents and several tourists trapped within a building; their only exit has vanished and tensions are rising. I waited several seconds for a reply, then repeated myself, but still no response came. I closed the menu, then took a deep breath and let it pass slowly, trying to release the sudden burst of anger I felt.

Four or five seconds later, I opened my menu again, reaching out to Briar. Usagi-san, I cannot get to the door; one of the attacks has blocked access. This will take me a few minutes to resolve; are you and the others safe?

For now, came the quick reply. The entry’s covered in some kind of web and spreading into the interior. Slow, but we don’t have a lot of space left. It got Wyth’s cloak and Babel’s suit when they tried to analyze it, but nobody’s hurt.

I wanted to ask who Wyth and Babel were, and why they would stand so close to an obvious source of danger, but those questions could wait until afterwards. Stay away from it for now. Do you or anyone there have local administration access over your present area?

Briar hesitated several seconds before responding. I do, yes. What do you need?

I considered, then shook my head. Everything. Please grant me read access so that I can try to get you out as quickly as possible.

Giri, there’s a lot here. This place is pretty custom.

Please, Briar-san. You asked for my help; I am attempting to comply. I am in Security, not Development; I can only access what I can see. You must trust me on this.

It took almost a minute, but the next message I received from Briar contained the header record for something defined as FutureShock, and I quickly opened and began parsing the code. My eyes widened at some of the contents; they had to have deliberately broken the rendering engine in dozens of places: wall objects with references to non-existent textures, symbol primitives invoked directly, disjoint spaces connected solely by teleportation, rooms in which every wall had been defined as “ground” to disable gravity. The entire area appeared to be either the worst programming attempt I had ever seen, or one thoroughly premeditated violation of Irokai’s building code. I fought down the urge to simply let the virus wipe out the club and have them rebuild it according to the guidelines; the time for recriminations would be after the patrons inside were safe.

Something flickered out of the corner of my eye, and I turned, then dropped just in time for one of the viral tendrils to launch itself overhead. The reek of mold filled my nostrils in its wake, and I skittered on all fours out from under the tentacle as it arced to the ground. Suddenly this had become much more difficult; standing in one place while I focused would be impossible with that thing looking for new targets. I couldn’t teleport them out directly, nor could I edit any of the privately-owned areas around, but I could define a new door in an uninfected area that led to the interior of the club, then allow Briar to connect back to it from the inside. It was an unpleasant hack, but it would resolve the problem in the immediate, assuming I could concentrate long enough to make the changes. Give me a few minutes, usagi-san, I sent to Briar as I stood and started walking. You should receive a link request presently. Please accept and build a reverse link.

Got it, thanks, will be waiting, she replied. As soon as I received her message, I closed down the communications window and willed the katana into place at my hip. Finding an unowned area of Beni proved difficult; the zone was a popular destination and many people had staked out claims to buildings, even if they had done nothing more than add construction signs and donation request links to the doors. However, surprisingly close to the prefecture’s Transit Center, I managed to find a tenement whose owner had improperly secured it; its front door was closed, but it had not been made private. Closing my eyes, I paced in a circle in front of the facility and ran through forms in my mind, then nodded to myself and stopped.

With a forward step, I drew the sword, opening the development menu. As the tip of my blade swung in a wide arc, I hashed and scanned the building’s construction list. With a decisive thrust to my rear, I deallocated the previous owner, then claimed it for myself as I brought the katana back to my chest. Another loud pop behind me made me turn, and I had to remind myself to step aside to dodge the oncoming tendril. I made a quick downward slice and cut the old link between portal and building, then stabbed outward in front of me as I sent a fresh request to Briar. I held the point of my katana perfectly still as I waited for Briar’s reply, then returned to a ready pose as I acknowledged it. Lastly, as I slid the sword back into its saya, I closed the access menu and stepped up to the tenement.

As soon I approved the link, the door jerked open from within and a dozen… forms… spilled through it onto the street. Some I could charitably describe as heavily modified; others seemed to be complete rewrites, so thoroughly altered that I could make no guess even as to original species. The first to leave the door seemed like an ordinary raccoon, but rendered in high-gloss plastic and enamel. The second appeared to be little more than a wireframe model of a wolf, lacking any internal structure at all. The parade of bizarre figures continued, each more vivid than the last. The last to leave was the most shocking; it might have once been a rabbit, or perhaps might one day become one, but at the moment it looked mostly like a collection of brass gears and rods with colored tubes interwoven, inscribed all over with glowing runes and covered in places with black rubber sheeting and small patches of fake fur. After that one left, I shoved the door closed again, then looked over the group, breathing slowly to keep my emotions in check. I hastily scanned them each for any sign of the infection I had seen on the buildings elsewhere, but each of them came up clean.

The clockwork contraption turned—to look at me, I presumed, though I could only guess based on the position of its ear-supports—and then stepped closer. “Thanks,” it said in what might have been Briar’s voice from within a metal box. “We had some time to spare, but not much, and we were all getting escape pod fever down there.” It stood for several seconds, silent, then tilted its head to the side. “Giri?”

I shook my head, breaking my stare. “Yes, good,” I said hastily to fill the silence, then addressed the group at large, raising my voice. “You all appear uninfected. Please, for your own safety, I would consider exiting Beni Prefecture as quickly as possible; the infection—” Another wet rupture interrupted my speech, followed by somebody’s shriek. The summons was instinctive, as was the turn and throw, and then my katana hung in midair, halfway between a pink rubber mouse and the incoming tendril. As soon as they connected, the blade began to convert.

“As I was saying,” I continued as I began escorting the group towards the transit center, “the infection here is spreading too quickly for me to resolve. If you can leave Irokai for the time being, I suggest you do so. If you cannot, Tadashiissei has established a shelter in Murasaki Prefecture to provide temporary—” I caught myself suddenly, then opened my hardline and began poring over each of the figures in turn. All of them showed extensive edits, most of which had no attribution at all. Few of the modules carried approval from the company, though none of them seemed at first glance to violate the rules any worse than the club itself. For all that they were aesthetically disturbing, they were well within the terms of service.

I spun to face the mechanical rabbit. “Who among you made all of these changes?”

The clockwork creature’s brass antennae suddenly flattened against its head. “That’s…” It stopped, then looked to the rest of the group. “I did,” it said with a sigh.

I narrowed my eyes, then looked to the others. “Did any of you help?” They exchanged glances amongst themselves, then looked back to me, their eyes hard. I sighed, then held up my paws, pads out. “I understand.” I took a deep breath, then let it out suddenly. “Irokai is under attack,” I said bluntly, cutting through the delicate statements that Hospitality had been pedaling. “I believe that Tadashiissei is more intent on preserving its image than on protecting its creation. I am looking for volunteers willing to assist with reversion of past damage.” Most of the motley mob visibly changed from reserved to surprised and, at the last, perhaps even a little eager. “Are any of you interested?”

One paw, grey-furred and decorated with glowing tattoos, rose hesitantly, and I nodded to its owner. “What do you call yourself, koyōte-san?”

He looked first at me, then to Briar, then to one of the others. He stepped forward, his tail bristled behind him, and folded his arms across his chest. His eyes narrowed, and the light from the designs in his fur shifted to a warning amber and began to pulse. “It’s Sparks,” he proclaimed, and an electrical arc leapt down one arm as a demonstration.

I nodded, then opened my hardline. Without the sword, it took me more time to remember the locations of all of the menus, but eventually I found the one I needed and set his administration flag. I had to limit his scope to Beni Prefecture and scale down his access in other ways, but once I was done, I nodded to him. “You should now be able to make at least some local edits. “See if it worked, Sparks-san.”

Sparks’ ears flattened against his head briefly, but then after a few moments, he knelt and touched the ground, and a webwork of blue circuit traces branched out from the point of contact. His eyes went wide and the changes reverted instantly. His brow furrowed and he did it again, and the ground began to glow in a circle around his feet. He stood upright, grinning. “Wow. it… it worked. I don’t know what to say.”

At that, my tail flicked, the closest I would permit myself to a smile. “Please say that you will assist, Sparks-san. We cannot be everywhere; we need people we can trust.”

Sparks nodded at that, and I turned to the mechanical rabbit, doing the same for her. “Please validate?”

The rabbit knelt and traced some sort of symbol in the ground. In the wake of her motions, glittering silver lines poured into place, forming runes that began to radiate warmth. “Looks like it’s working. And of course I’ll help.”

I smiled. “Are there any others, Briar-san?”

Briar shook her head. “The last one was Jules, but he got banned.” She held up one brass arm, her paw outstretched to block any criticism. “Not for hacking. He… got in a fight with Legal over access charges. You can look that up.”

I shrugged. “If he is banned, he cannot be of help to us; that is beyond my ability to correct.” I turned back to the rest of the group. “There is much work to be done, but it has been a difficult day for us all. I would ask that you all meet me here tomorrow at—” Before I could finish my sentence, a thunderclap sounded behind me that sent the crowd scattering. I spun to face the target, one paw moving to the hilt of the sword that was not there, but rather than a fresh assault, I found myself staring into the eyes of my manager. The tiger scowled down the length of his blunt muzzle at me, his arms folded across his broad chest. His tail lashed behind him in visible displeasure.

“Where do I begin, Giri?” Rei Sasaki’s voice rolled its vowels like storms on the horizon. “I’ve been watching for several minutes, hoping that I was misinterpreting your actions, but it would seem I wasn’t.”

The few from the club who stayed began to grumble, but my attention was on my supervisor. My own eyes narrowed in response. “Perhaps if Tadashiissei were dedicating sufficient resources to resolve these incidents before they put our customers at risk, Sasaki-san—”

Sasaki cut me off with a wave of his paw. “Tadashiissei is doing what it can with the resources it has. The company does not have to justify its actions to you, only to its customers, and they, by and large, seem happy with how this unfortunate incident is being handled. You, however, have seen fit to violate a direct order to remain off-duty to rest, to alter private code without permission, to perform drastic edits to an environment without justification, and to grant tourists prefecture-wide administrative access without authorization.” He paused after each infraction in the litany of my misdeeds just long enough to let its gravity take hold. “What possible explanation could you have for acting in so reckless a fashion?”

I closed my eyes. Feel, and accept the feeling. I struggled to keep my tone as level as possible. “Perhaps, Sasaki-sensei, if Tadashiissei had taken a single one of my warnings about Minshukakumei no Irokai months ago when these sorts of attacks started, we might not have found ourselves in this position now.”

Sasaki’s eyes narrowed at that, and I couldn’t help but smile faintly in response. “Perhaps, Giri-san, if you had followed instructions I would not now be forced to take such drastic action.” His tailtip flicked, then held eerily still. “If I cannot trust you to fulfill the orders that you have been given, then I cannot trust you to be responsible with the authority you have enjoyed. Effective immediately, your position with Tadashiissei is hereby terminated, your security access revoked.” I felt a wave of nausea pass over me, followed by a chill that settled into my spine and refused to leave. “Any personal effects that have been left at one of our offices will be relocated to your apartment within twenty-four hours. Good evening.” Then, with a second flash of light, the tiger was gone.

“What a dick,” Briar said anticlimactically into the uncomfortable silence that followed. Then, more quietly, she added, “I’m sorry.” Mistaking my silence for refusal to answer, the clockwork rabbit stumbled onwards. “I shouldn’t have asked you to&#8212” My paw snapping up, pads towards her, stunned her into silence for a moment, but then she backed away. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, lowering her head.

I took another deep breath, holding it deep in my lungs, silently counting off seconds. Do not succumb to it. When the moment of anger subsided, I let go and lowered my paw. “What is done, is done. I acted as I believed right; I would do so again. That this is the result only proves my point.”

Briar was silent for several seconds, then muttered, “He’s still a dick.”

I opened my eyes and studied the mechanical rabbit for several seconds, tail flicking, but before I could respond, the sky above began to finally darken. I glanced towards the sun, watching it sink below the horizon, then turned my face to the heavens, watching for the eye of the Dragon to shine in the sky. Even as blue faded to indigo, though, Seiryū was nowhere to be seen, though there wasn’t a cloud in sight. I turned to the far horizon, hoping to catch sight of the Tiger, but Byakko, too, stayed invisible.

Then the sky faded past twilight to darkness, exposing the empty, starless heavens.

Something within me broke in that moment, something indistinct and tenuous that simply let go at the sight of the void overhead. Suddenly, it no longer mattered whether Tadashiissei survived, whether Irokai endured… or whether I did. All of my pain, all of my struggle, and yet even this one thing was beyond my power to protect. “The stars….” I had nothing left to say. There were no words for what I felt, staring at the expanse of pure black overhead. The lights had been taken from inside of me as surely as they had been taken from the sky.

“Giri?” Briar’s voice, subtly changed, rescued me from falling into space. I lowered my gaze from the empty sky and turned to face her, but everything I had meant to insist died on my lips. In the time I had stood stunned, the rest of the inhabitants of the FutureShock had dispersed, leaving Briar alone. However, instead of the half-finished automaton, she was again the rabbit I had first seen standing in the middle of the Sunny You. Her eartips were black, as was a small patch at the end of her muzzle, but aside from that, her fur was so white that it gleamed. On her shirt, a stylized metallic gold atom whirled slowly, while the patterns of her skirt rippled through muted matching greens. A pair of bracelets clattered quietly against each other on her wrists.

All around her, swirling in lazy orbits, a small cluster of stars twinkled. They winked and fluttered, dancing casually around her figure. She smiled, then caught one in her paw and held it out to me. “I can’t give you back what you’ve lost, but I can give you this. You did a good thing back there; you deserve recognition for that.”

I took the star from her, glancing at it briefly. “You did copy it, usagi-san.”

Briar shrugged, still smiling. “You going to turn me in?”

“No,” I admitted, closing my paw around the light, then held out the other to her. “I would rather ask you to join me.”

The rabbit entwined her fingers with mine, some of her starlets hovering around my arm in response. “I’d be glad to.”

Most of the trip to my apartment passed in relative silence. I was unsure of what to ask and half-afraid of the answers I might receive. I knew she had had a security record at one time. Someone she knew had been banned. The clockwork form, and in fact most of the other figures leaving the club, disturbed me. I wanted to know how, and what happened, and why. What would you do with the information, though? I asked myself as we exited the tram in Murasaki and I directed her towards my apartment building. What could you do? Would you call Security?

At that, I stopped myself at the door to the lobby, turning to face the rabbit. “My apologies, Briar-san; this has been a very—”

Her finger was across my muzzle in an instant. “You don’t need the honorifics, Giri.” She smiled, a tiny star floating in front of her eyes as she looked at me. “Just ‘Briar’ is fine. Or just usagi, I guess. We’re equals now, aren’t we?” Then, to emphasize the point, she withdrew her paw, opened the front door, and waved me inside.

“You are right… Briar,” I agreed, heading to the elevator. “This has not been an easy day for me.”

The rabbit giggled in response. “We were bodily assaulted by a macrovirus. I think everyone’s stressed.” She turned. “Listen, Giri, if you don’t want this—”

It was my turn to silence her again. “I want this, Briar.” I moved the paw in front of her to her cheek. “You have shown me multiple kindnesses, and for now, I would rather not be alone.”

She smiled. “I never sleep alone if I can help it.”

As soon as we entered the apartment, her fingers were at my shoulders, tugging the coat down my arms and tossing it over the back of my couch. The sweater followed quickly, and then her fingers were at the waist of my slacks, making short work of the zipper. “I want to see you,” I said softly as she knelt, sliding her arms around to unfasten the button holding the flap over my tail.

“You will,” Briar said, grinning up at me, still fully clothed. She tugged down my pants and underwear, letting out a giggle as she leaned forward to place her muzzle close to my groin and inhale deeply. “Nice,” she breathed, making me stir. Then, before I could respond, she rose from her crouch and stepped back, lifting her muzzle to the ceiling and closing her eyes. The lights dancing about her dimmed slightly, drawing in closer. The rabbit drew in a deep breath, and as she exhaled, her top and skirt dissolved into a myriad of whirling, multicolored wisps floating around her. She smiled, then stood next to me, her stars enveloping us both.

My paws found her hips as hers rested upon my shoulders, and then she was in my arms, her muzzle pressed to mine, her legs around my waist. She was surprisingly light as I pulled her to me, walking slowly to the bedroom. Her white fur was thick and so, so soft, and her scent rich and full in my nostrils. I set her down carefully on the edge of the bed, leaning forward to kiss her; her muzzle tasted faintly sweet, and she trilled quietly in the back of her throat as I lay down beside her. Her paws roamed over my chest as I slid an arm under her head, then drifted down to my sheath, tenderly stroking the short fur with her fingertips. It wasn’t long before she had me fully exposed and breathing hard, gazing deeply into her eyes. Even now, they glinted like copper.

Briar smiled in response and wrapped one leg around my waist, guiding me to the entrance to her tunnel, then pressed herself to me. I held one paw one her back to steady her, and placed the other on her hip for balanced. She hissed, arching her back as her heat engulfed me, sending a shiver down my spine as she embraced me fully. A slow moan escaped her muzzle as she sank herself to the root of my shaft. “Nice,” she breathed again, eyelids fluttering as she held herself around me. “Please.”

I nodded in response, then slowly pulled away, drawing in a shuddering breath as she clutched at me, then gently pushed myself back into her depths. She began to keen softly, moaning slightly with each stroke, while I held her to my chest, her breasts pressed against me. The stars that surrounded her pulsed in time with her breath, her heartbeat, flickering in response to her arousal. Her short tail flagged with each thrust, back arching as she met my motions with her own, rocking her hips, pulling herself against me.

I held the rabbit tightly, trying to take my time, to coax her slowly to release, but she was as skilled as she had suggested, and soon I was as eager as she, hips grinding rhythmically against her. With every thrust, I felt myself drawing closer, tensing, shaking. Her quiet moans were an aphrodisiac, the scent of her fur an inspiration. Stars swam in my vision, encircling us both. “Briar,” I whispered through clenched teeth, “I cannot… hold out….”

The rabbit’s only reply was a high-pitched whimper and a nod as she met each of my thrusts with one of her own. She relaxed herself as I drove myself into her, then tightened as I pulled away, milking me with expert control, and despite all my meditations and training, there was little I could do but give into her ecstasy. The longer I resisted, the more I shook with need, tension and need rising within. My sheath tightened against me, but I closed my eyes, determined to delay as long as I could. One more stroke, and another, and another, and—

With a grunt, I drove myself as deeply into her as I could, arms locked around Briar, her muzzle pressed into my shoulder as I came, pulsing within her warm, tight tunnel. My breath hung in my throat, body spasming, her sex fluttering against my cock, squeezing as much out of me as she could. For seconds, I lay rigid, buried hilt-deep within the rabbit, every muscle locked and twitching. Then, slowly, I sagged against the mattress, spent, and let out a groan of relief and release. “Oh, Briar… Briar….” My fingers slid gently over her back as I nuzzled into her neck. “Arigatō.

The rabbit moaned softly into my shoulder, muzzle pressed softly into my fur. “De nada,” she replied, her voice satirically formal. I blinked and pulled away, looking curiously at her, but her brass eyes glinted at me in humor as she snuggled against me. “Sorry, I had to. You don’t have to thank me, Giri. I wanted that.”

“As did I, ” I sighed. “But still… I wish to. Thank you, Briar.” With a groan, I withdrew, rolling onto my back, feeling the tension of the last day, the last week, the last few months, starting to drain out of me.

Briar rolled up onto her side next to me and rested her head on my shoulder. “So, I have to ask… why the sword?” She grinned. “It’s so stereotypical.”

I turned to look at her, giving a faint shake of my head. “It is, yes, but… since you ask, I will tell you.” I leveled my gaze once more at the ceiling, letting out a long sigh. “Irokai has always fascinated me. I always wanted to know how it worked, why it worked. I knew, even from my kaishi—my… birthday, essentially—that this was a created place, a playground for others, but I saw no reason why that should stop me from wanting to understand it. ” I paused, then sighed. “They wanted me to be part of their security staff, but that was not my desire. So, I studied, earned a degree in software engineering, and applied repeatedly for a transfer to Development. Each time, it was politely suggested that my skills were of more use to them where I was. Never mind that I wished to do something different; they simply preferred letting those who could leave the world design it. When I learned—” I stopped that thought; it was unnecessary to delve into personal politics.

“Eventually, I decided that if what they wanted was a toy soldier, that would be what they would receive.” My muzzle twisted into a faint smirk as I continued. “I changed my name, took up battōjutsu, and practiced using it as a focus to improve my access times.” I rolled up onto my side, looking into Briar’s eyes. “We may be wholly digital, but I have no more awareness of my code than you do, and our models were based on human neural networks. My muscle memory is stronger than my base recall, but my recall tied to muscle memory is better than both. Simply put, I work better with it than without.” That made me frown. “This is no longer an issue.”

“Wow,” Briar whispered, her eyes wide in awe. She spread one paw over my chest, entwining her fingers into my fur. “What was your name before you changed it?”

I hesitated a moment, then shrugged. “Chō.” I considered. “I think… I may change it back.” Then I smiled, covering her paw with one of my own. “As for stereotypical, would you not say that oversexualized rabbits are just as bad? I recall an old saying involving breeding.”

At that, the rabbit laughed and pressed herself against me, sliding her fingers lower down over my stomach. “Yeah, well, where I’m from, foxes have the same reputation.”

As her fingerpads brushed over my waist, I lifted my voice slightly. “Lights, off. Clock… off.” Once the room had gone to darkness, I pulled Briar to my chest once more. “I cannot guarantee your safety if you stay, or mine. If I am gone by morning, though, I will have left happy.”

4 thoughts on “Beautiful World 14: Escape

  1. I have been reading all of this story over the last few days, and have been enjoying it very much! I like all your characters, they are very believable. Everybody is trying to do what they think is right and the result is a total train wreck. That way lies good stories.

    You do the science well, by pushing it into the background.

    If I had been in this world, I would be off in some smaller virtual reality. Low quality, small world, but FREE. (Donations accepted)

    1. Thank you very much for reading! I’m definitely glad you’ve been enjoying it. You’ve pretty much nailed the crux of the crisis, and from here, the dilemmas should unfold.

  2. I’m happy to see these two get together, but with the entire world basically in a state of acute slow dissolve into random nothingness, I can’t exactly be happy for them yet. If the Beautiful World fails, Giri literally has nowhere else to go.

    This is an affecting chapter on a number of levels. Watching the virus unfurl is effectively creepy, Giri’s programming kata is effectively awesome, and, well, y’know, sex. It seems like you succeeded with the vast majority of goals you wanted to hit.

    Giri’s supervisor is not only a cock, but an amazingly stupid cock as well. There’s no reason I can see why his entire interaction with Giri couldn’t have happened behind the scenes and/or much later, but he instead chose to go absolutely public and upbraid him RIGHT IN FRONT OF the citizens he effectively just pulled out of a burning building. For a company reportedly “concerned about preserving their image”, this seems at best short-sighted and at worst asinine to the point of suspiciousness.

    (Check the code typo in the word “caf&#eacute;”.)

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