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The Thousand Year Beach

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The Thousand Year Beach

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Author: Hirotaka Tobi
Publisher: Haikasoru, 2018
Original Japanese publication, 2002
Series: Angel of the Ruins: Book 1

1. The Thousand Year Beach

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Apocalyptic/Post-Apocalyptic
Artificial Intelligence
Virtual Reality
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In a posthuman virtual world sealed off from the ruins of Earth, the idyll is shattered by an arachnid invasion.

Designed in imitation of a harbor town in southern Europe, the Realm of Summer is just one of the zones within the virtual resort known as the Costa del Número. It has been more than a thousand years since human guests stopped coming to the Realm, leaving the AIs alone in their endless summer. But now all that has come to a sudden end, as an army of mysterious Spiders begin reducing the town to nothing. As night falls, the few remaining AIs prepare for their final, hopeless battle... War between the virtual and the real begins in book one of the Angel of the Ruins series.


Jules lay back against the rocks.

Jules was unable to get a certain thought out of his mind.

Could that old man be my papa?

When exactly had this idea taken up residence in his head?

He did not know.

I'm resident of this Realm, this virtual resort space, thought Jules. Just an NPC AI, built in from the beginning.

My thoughts, my memories, my body--all a precisely designed set of objects running on the Realm's system.

But Papa's different.

Papa's a guest.

An unidentifiable face in the crowd of thousands who lived in the real world but held memberships in the Costa del Número. Papa used his membership to come to my house, after choosing our Realm of Summer out of countless other Realms and reserving the open role of my papa.

The Realm had many open roles like this. As long as they weren't already in use, anyone with Costa del Número membership could fill them, regardless of sex or age.

And in that way, a new Papa sat at Jules's table every day.

His family shared a range of summer pleasures with "Papa."

But not that old man. So what's this mysterious kinship, almost like a bond of blood, that I feel around him?

"Here I go!" Julie called, breaking his reverie. She leapt off therocks and plunged into the water. Jules followed her in.

Under the surface, the rocks fell away in steps, like the inside of a funnel. Each level formed its own rocky shelf, and on each shelf was a thick bed of singing sand occupied by a host of Eyes--countless Eyes, lying quietly, passing the time.

Julie placed the Eye they had just found among their number. The newcomer was bathed in warm light from the surface. All the shelves got plenty of sun, thanks to the funnel-shaped arrangement. It helps them get big and strong, Julie said. Whether this was true or not, Jules wasn't sure.

Julie sank lower into the funnel, looking around at the shelves. Silently greeting all the Eyes, no doubt. Calling them by the names she had given them like pets. Good morning, Chilled Martini! Silk Hokusai, Cracked Mirror, nice day, isn't it? Some of the Eyes were dozing, but others were engaged in ultrafast internal calculation. How are you feeling today, Asterism, Handbell, Ear Whorl? As she addressed each Eye, she also checked for any there she hadn't seen before--newborns.

As she neared the bottom, Julie slowed her descent. She picked up a single Eye, then turned to Jules, smiling and giving him the thumbs-up. The Eye was a magnificent one, Jules saw as he drew closer. It was about the size of a chicken egg and looked like it would be heavy even underwater.

The milky white of the Eye was mixed with an intricate arrangement of other colors, something like an opal. When Julie raised it into the light from the surface, minuscule strands of white light rose from it like fur, making it look like a newborn mammal curled up asleep in her palm.

They returned with the Eye to the surface, where they lay on the sand gasping. The sun's rays had grown stronger, but the Singing Sands had not heated up. In fact, they were comfortably cool.

"It's really grown since the last time we saw it," Jules said, still lying on his back as he reached across to touch the Eye in Julie's hand.

Julie had lavished particular attention on Cottontail, as she called it. Its fur of white light rippled in the breeze. When Jules stroked its radiant fuzz with his finger, a pleasant Sound like shade from a tree came through his fingertip. A gentle coolness like the touch of a living thing.

"He's such a gentle, kind little guy," Julie said, smiling gently. "Let's give him a tickle." She scooped up a handful of sand and let it trickle down on the Eye. The Singing Sands were so fine that they formed a single white stream, almost like a liquid pouring from her hand. Cottontail's fuzz of light bristled as if it were a puppy startled by a splash of cold water. Then, also like a puppy, it shook itself to get the sand out of its fur. The radiance of the fur and the mineral glitter of the sands combined to create tiny rainbow rings that flew off it like bubbles in soda. Julie and Jules threw their heads back and laughed at Cottontail's surprise. Their laughter became a Sound that spread quietly across the pure, cool carpet of sand.

"You want a tickle, too, Jules?"

Julie put Cottontail on Jules's stomach and sprinkled sand on top. Jules was startled by the sensation of innumerable Sounds pinging over his skin. The thickness of the feeling of walking on the Sands was absent, and the lightness and immediacy of the sensation was heightened to a thrilling stimulation. Mixed in with this were the tiny animal-like Sounds that came from Cottontail, and the motion of its fur--and as the sand continued to pour down, the sensation was constantly renewed. Jules closed his eyes and let out a small cry.

Julie scooped up a double handful of sand and let it stream down on him from between her fingers.

The vivid stimulation arose on his stomach again, and this time he realized that what he felt was extremely close to sexual pleasure.

A shiver ran through him, head to toe.

Contained within the flow of sand was a sexual message from Julie. A whisper, not in her voice but in the hiss of the Sands.

Jules opened his eyes. Her fingers had turned translucent as the sand flowed between them, a glowing fluorescent lattice appearing where her skin had been. The same light could be seen on Jules's stomach. The identity boundaries of the two AI programs were flickering. The boundaries of an AI's identity were defined by its skin, which was a seamless metaphor of its periphery program. That wall against the outside world had been temporarily put in a permeable state by the Sands. Their internal perception was exposed, as were the subtler sensations and feelings deeper in. These were the true "insides" of an AI. External force could not usually render them visible. Flesh and blood would appear in their place, most likely, just like normal objects. But to the AIs of the Realm, those were nothing but ornamentation. Their true selves were these intricate tapestries of light that appeared only when their boundaries were permeated. As a result, Jules was gripped by fierce embarrassment, as if someone had stripped him naked and was examining his aroused sexual organs.

Julie was showering him with feeling through the medium of the Sand...

From between her fingers, the feeling poured directly down on him...

Unnamable feeling.

An invitation that was neither word nor gesture.

In the sense that it stimulated his external periphery, it was a caress; in attempting to open him up, it was a kiss.

Copyright © 2002 by Hirotaka Tobi


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