Chapter 10:

A Royal Welcome


Escape is a liberating concept. Freeing yourself from an oppressive situation should be, right? Still, Lucky feels like she’s being forced to sit across the table from her helplessness the same way one would confront a long-lost friend. It’s awkward and bewildering, but what bothers her the most about these feelings is that it’s not because they didn’t escape that Lucky feels this sudden powerlessness—it’s because they did.

Lucky scratches her face with her paw as they continue to walk in the dark, the humid morning air clinging to her more than the mosquitoes.

“Why are you still wearing that thing?” Bliss asks. Lucky slowly lowers her paw and looks up at her friend. The muzzle. Lucky had been wearing the dumb thing since she’d first arrived at that place. She’d been so desperate to get it off, so why did she forget that she’s still wearing it?

Bliss takes one look at Lucky’s undoubtedly furry, wide-eyed face and immediately whips her head around to address the boys. “Why is she still wearing that muzzle?” Bliss asks again, this time much more impatiently than before.

Viper and Panic Button look at her sheepishly. “We—sorry,” Panic Button says. He clearly wants to defend himself more, but the warning look on Bliss’ face makes him think better of it.

“You told me not to think about anything so we could get Bliss. It didn't occur to me to take it off,” Viper adds, his tail curled around him tightly. Lucky can tell that this whole “don’t think” ordeal is really starting to get to him. Lucky doesn’t believe he should feel bad about it, especially because she knows that Viper really wanted to rescue Bliss and escape. Lucky doesn’t blame him for forgetting about her muzzle either; she forgot about it herself.

She almost wishes that Viper could learn a thing or two from Panic Button in this case— he didn’t struggle nearly as much with that “instinct” to stay and accept that Bliss couldn’t be saved. Maybe it’s because not thinking about the future and living in the moment comes more naturally to him than Viper.

Then again, Lucky thinks, maybe he’s just really good at doing what he’s told. Like a first grader. Lucky can just imagine the way he’d puff out his chest after Lucky stuck a gold star sticker to his furry chest for good behavior, and she has to hold back a giggle at the thought of it.

Bliss shakes her head, tossing her mane in their face as if she’s totally given up on them before taking the strap of Lucky’s muzzle between her teeth and snapping it easily. Lucky practically shoves the muzzle off her face and onto to the ground as soon as she does. She twitches and wiggles her nose as she gets used to not having it smushed against the copper wiring. It feels good. Great even, and she wags her tail at Bliss in appreciation.

“Thanks, Bliss.”

“Thank you,” Bliss says, leaning down to nuzzle Lucky’s snout with her nose. Lucky closes her eyes and relishes the feeling of the chuffs of air tickling her neck. “If you hadn’t been there, these guys wouldn’t have made it out, much less me.”

“Listen, that was a one-time only thing, alright? I’ve orchestrated one escape plan, and that’s enough for me.”

Panic Button slings an arm around her neck. “Funny, I seem to remember a certain someone getting on my case for saying something pre-tty similar to what you just said.”

Lucky opens her mouth to argue before realizing he’s right. She’d encouraged him not to run away, yet now she’s making the same excuses as him. Even if she is helpless, she managed to fight Lester off with her friends and escape unscathed. That’s not cowardly, she realizes. Not at all. “I don’t like it when you make sense.”

Bliss laughs under her nonexistent breath. “That makes two of us.”

“Hey!” Panic Button pouts.

Lucky feels some of the tension she experienced earlier begin to fade with each reassuring touch and lighthearted jab, and it makes her smile. She looks over in surprise as Viper joins in on the Lucky smothering, coming up on the side opposite of Panic Button and nudging her in the shoulder.

“Look,” he says, his feline eyes pointed toward the horizon. “It’s your reward.”

The lenses in Lucky’s eyes adjust as she takes in the beauty of the world outside of Lester’s compound, allowing her to realize for the first time just how vibrant the colors through this new body could be.

The sky is still a sunny yellow from the rising of the sun, yet it’s steadily yielding more and more to vibrant blues. The blues, in turn, serve as a stunning backdrop to the vibrant red and orange flowers of the royal poinciana trees lining the sides of the rode, the rain from a freshly past shower still trembling on their delicate petals. Towering banyan trees join the royal poincianas in creating a seamless canopy over the streets and sidewalks, the roots dangling above the ground right at human eye-level.

Lucky has a feeling that she never bothered to take in her surroundings all that much in the past. She doesn’t know why, at all. It makes her want to learn more about herself, the stranger from the past that didn’t enjoy things like this (or maybe didn’t get to enjoy them).

Lucky looks at her friends, who are busy taking in the majesty of their new surroundings in awe, and thinks that even if what they’ve all gone through is awful, being able to share this moment together feels like a small, tender mercy after their caged lives as Pets.

Lucky doesn’t know how she’s going to accomplish it just yet, but she wants to keep walking with her friends toward the future without being afraid of what’s following them. She wants to discover the secret behind this horrible adoption system and put an end to it. She wants to know who she is.

For now though, she just enjoys the closeness of her friends, the damp scent of fallen rain, and the flurry of red flower petals that even her highly advanced vision can’t seem to capture in all their majesty.


It turns out you can only look at trees for so long before the reality of your situation as an escapee begins to catch up to you. Flowers are great. Flowers are sweet. But they don’t exactly tell Lucky where their merry band should go next.

After spending all of your (known) life in a dingy gray room, where is the first place you go after escaping?

“I don’t think it matters that much. It’s more important for us to stick together, I think,” Bliss says.

“It’ll be harder to hide that way if we do, though. One Pet walking around by themselves is one thing, but not four of them,” Panic Button counters, scratching the back of his head in thought.

“Then maybe we should hide at the zoo? At least we’ll blend in with the animals, unlike some other Pets,” Viper suggests.

As they huddle together in a circle pondering what to do, Lucky cups her furry face with one of her ears in thought. “What about McDonald’s?”

The other three Pets blink at her and ask, “McDonald’s?” They sound so, so confused, but the more Lucky thinks about it the more sure she becomes of her decision.

There’s no better way to gauge what life is like than by visiting the inside of a McDonald’s. If one McDonald's serves biscuits and gravy, that tells you something about where you are. Being able to watch the people come and go, how they act, and even what they eat can tell you so much about a place. Besides, Panic Button made it sound like Pets are a super basic part of society. What better place to see if that’s true than at a fast-food joint, where all kinds of people wind up coming and going every day?

Basically, for Lucky the world of Pets is entirely unfamiliar and unexplored, and she’s hoping that the dear old Ronald McDonald clown will whisper into her ear all of the ins and outs of the new world she lives in.

Lucky does her best to explain it to the group, and they seem skeptical, but are still willing to go along with it anyways.

Lucky can’t help but laugh as Panic Button opines, “Ah yes, let us rest our weary gears under the protection of the golden arches.”

“You make it sound like a safe haven instead of a grease trap,” Bliss says as she shifts on her new paws uncertainly. While they built her almost randomly, the results weren’t nearly as bad as they expected. She has the paws of a bear and the legs of a wolf, as well as the head and body of a horse. A little unbalanced, sure, but she’s able to walk. Even better, she somehow obtained the ability to teleport, which is how they managed to escape before Lester woke up from his Lucky-induced naptime and is probably the most useful ability shared between the four of them.

Viper swats at another bug with his paw as his tail swishes back in forth irritably. It is,” he says. “I may not be a real snow leopard, but this heat is going to drive me insane. I can’t believe I said we should go to the zoo. My systems would have been toast by now.”

Lucky perks up her ears, and sure enough, she can hear the cooling fans inside of Viper going at their highest speeds trying to cool down his inner systems.

“The air conditioning should help with that, unless you’d prefer a shake?”

“We can do a lot of things as Pets, but eating human food is not one of them. They might have some digitized options though.”

“Digitized options? Who’s buying digital food?” Lucky asked, now also feeling very, very confused.

“People like to spoil their Pets,” Bliss explains. “Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s not. Usually it doesn’t cost very much, so people consider it a treat, so to speak.”

“The more I hear about this Pet system the less I understand it,” Lucky says. Then again, Lucky does recall people spending a lot on virtual currency in the past, so maybe it’s not as far-fetched as she first thought.

“Not the Pet system,” Panic Button corrects, “the name of the system we’re all part of is actually called the GACHA system.”

“The GACHA system…” for some reason, that name itches something in the corner of her mind, but Lucky just can’t seem to grasp it just yet.

“It was created by two successful business tycoons. Yuzuru Takashi, the owner of Moonlight, and Mimi Ikuhara, the owner of Sundrop,” Bliss explains.

“They originally belonged to the same company before splitting, and now they’re competing Pet manufacturers. Most Pets are either made by Sundrop, Moonlight, or Ferrymeister.”

“How do you even know all this?” Lucky asks.

“Every Pet knows stuff like this. It’s part of the manufacturer info in our code,” Panic Button explains. “If you look up the code in your memory, you should even be able to figure out what manufacturer is responsible for making you. I’m made my Sundrop.”

“Moonlight,” Viper says, raising his paw.

“Ferrymesiter,” Bliss chimes in after him.

Lucky frowns and closes her eyes, trying to find this so-called manufacturing code inside her systems. Eventually, she finds what she thinks is what they’re talking about.

“So? What’s yours?” Panic Button asks, rocking back and for on his little lemur feet.

“Barbie,” Lucky says slowly, unsure of the significance of the name, but yet knowing it’s important all the same. “My manufacturer name is Barbie.”

Steward McOy