It wasn’t, really, white noise.
White noise, as we humans know it, is usually something that’s supposed to blend into the background, much like an off-eggshell white paint, or a beige carpet. White noise machines create a gentle, blank roar that’s used in hospitals to let people rest, in libraries to keep things quiet over the murmuring of guests, and in bedrooms and hallways across human-occupied space to let us get a nap in-between shifts. It’s a great way to increase the baseline decibel volume that a human will outright ignore, and has been used to great effect throughout the galaxy in mostly-harmless pranks.
However, this wasn’t that.
Another core tenant of white-noisiness was the fact that it was not meant to convey information; the effect was lost if you were actively paying attention to the noise, or were trying to use it for information. This is why it was usually a static roar, a babbling brook, the sound of rain against windowpanes or the rustling of wind through leaves; the goal was always something non-specific and non-threatening. Roughly 50 separate newscasts playing at once was not what anyone would consider “white noise”, but it was for Sreshec, because she was finally, truly, and utterly done.
She was done with making things perfect. She was done trying to do what was best for the customer. She was done trying to appease her C-suite peers, she was done trying to figure out proper taste profiles, and she was done with warmcuddles. Her jaw clenched at the thought of those little bastards, existing, having demands and putting them into law – who do they think they are?!
Sreshec groaned as she splayed out over her model table, sliding her head over the edge in exhaustion to mimic an upside-down version of the scream. As she let the muscles in her everything relax, her view moved from dozens and dozens of moving screens to stacks and stacks of highlighted notes, paper, scrolls and printouts, the silent mountain a testament of her work, and it’s ultimate futility. To the right, the mountain of Food Safety Law; to the left, the hills of Fire-safety regulations. A distant plateau in the back could barely be seen, but Sreshec had heard tell of the famed Uluru – a natural formation of big data analytics, and in the far back of her hemisphere office, blocking out the very sun itself, the most intimidating peak of them all: Mt. Personal Safety Law & Regulations.
Everyone was wrong. The warmcuddles weren’t harmless; they were an active menace and had declared war against the galaxy! A war of red tape and bullshit!
Sreshec continued her revolution over the table, starting to coil face-down on the floor like warm soft serve. Eventually enough of her went over the table to slide off it completely, and the totally-an-adult Jornissian power-executive let out a little whine as the warm floor embraced her totally.
“<Why did I volunteer for this? Scratch that, why did I fight for this position? Ugh.>” Sreshec grumbled, unprofessionally rolling onto her back on the floor as she spoke over the murmuring din of the local and regional newscasters. Most planets followed pretty basic newscasting spheres of influence; local news, regional news, planetary, system, system-regional, and the amount of players shrunk the higher up in the ladder you climbed until there were only one or two that played at the top. It wasn’t maliciousness that culled competition, merely overhead, and that’s the problem that Sreshec was fundamentally facing. The goal of her past few months was to find a way to create a luxury experience with real warmcuddle ambiance; no one had been able to do so yet, and so there was no competition to copy – or buy. Therefore, she could either:
1) Build a luxury resort and restaurant complex – which was expensive enough already – but to the exacting and downright unreasonable demands of the Warmcuddle inspectors, thereby multiplying costs by a factor of 10 and putting the breakeven point sometime around the next galactic rotation.
2) Give up.
Sreshec stared up at the ceiling, the dozens of local newscasts taking pity on her as they looked down from above, eagerly reporting the good news of crop yields or rezoning ordinances. Sreshec let her brain empty for a bit, and thought hollow thoughts; the floor was a little cool, she should really move away from the utilitessian interior design – exposed radiation shields were homey but not pretty, once she finishes this job she should hit on that cute sous chef on level 3 to celebrate… he looks young, so it could be fun.
Sreshec chuckled. “<Maybe I should settle down then. I have enough money and this is a growing system. It wouldn’t be too hard to migrate and find someone… countryish. They wouldn’t care what I used to do and I wouldn’t tell them.>” She sighed, her gaze falling onto a random patch of newscasters, and it was then that Sreshec realized something incredibly obvious: There were a lot of warmcuddle-interest stories. Warmcuddles climbing trees! Warmcuddles getting stuck in trees. Warmcuddles climbing rocks! Warmcuddles getting stuck on rocks and having to be moth’d out. Warmcuddles climbing other citizens! Warmcuddles getting stuck in –
She raised her brow. “<Well that mayor’s career is over.>”
With idle interest she turned onto her side, tilting her head back to focus more on that core group of 8 screens, and just let the babble flow into her. Silver City board of blah de blah Mt. [Mothington], illegal to carve a giant moth, blah blah double illegal making a moth based religion. She cut the volume down on the other 56 screens with a yawn, and boosted the volume on the four she was focused on. These were secondary… tertiary cities and towns’ local news, and it was interesting to see how the warmcuddles had partially integrated into the surrounding area. New barrier erected in kindergardens to allow for earlier exposure and integration, a mixed-use park with a running track was going to open up soon, there was a domestic disturbance at some Dorarizin-founded university last night involving the entire Varsity Hunt team, 5 decoy erzets, the college lighthouse and at least one tamed moth.
Sreshec smacked her lips as she muted all other streams with a flick of her wrist, focusing solely on the most outrageous story. The warmcuddle caretaker of the semi-feral beast was giving his statement, the news crew somehow keeping a straight face as the warmcuddle brushed down the moth in question, who he had named “three piece”. This was apparently incredibly important, as the warmcuddle started to just chant the moth’s name as he brushed it. The camera cut to the station again, and with more context – and some really interesting camera footage, a story of two out-system DILFs coming down for a party night turned into, well.
“<Fines, most likely.>” Sreshec commented, interrupting the newscaster who so rudely continued to speak. “<They had warmcuddles vouching for them, so nothing’s going to stick.>”
Sreshec let the news babble over her, before they switched to commercial. With a commanded thought she muted everything, and found much to her curiosity that she couldn’t hold any other thoughts in her mind; the last story stuck with her.
= = = = = = = = = =
Ti’miquek paused for a moment after flipping the pancake, tilting his head to the side as the dense pound-cake dough slapping against his wok with enough force to dip it.
“[Ah.]” Ti’miquek said nonplussed as the sound abruptly stopped. Setting his wok back on the open flame he reached up, resetting a counter that he never thought he would create, nor use.
SHIFTS WITHOUT GUNFIRE: 0
HIGHEST SAFE SHIFTS: 1
“[One day we’ll break another digit.]” Ti’miquek said, nodding his head as a grumbling Anne-Marie stomped back into the kitchen. Ti’miquek flipped the pancake once more, uncorking a bottle of his homemade oyster sauce and applying it liberally to the pan as Anne Marie complained, making a loud ruckus as she moved back to the human-only section of the not-on-any-building-code employee’s lounge-and-cupboard. From a few stolen glances it seemed like the front of her suit had some pretty deep gouges in them… so a handsy patron who forgot their own strength. There was a slight ruckus outside his serving window, but Ti’miquek knew enough to leave well enough alone: the pay was great, the risk was unsustainable, and the jail time could only increase from here.
“[Dad you know that’s not going to happen.]” Tik’akri said, his daughter’s wry smile speaking a thousand words in an instant. “[I’d say we’re pretty good as an operation.]”
“[I am but the poor humble line chef.]” Ti’miquek said, plating the sizzling-hot “dessert” on a cast-iron tray. “[I have no idea what’s going on here, officer.]”
“[Dad.]” Tik’akri trilled, busying herself with a dozen little tasks. “[It’s fine. We do another few months of this and we’re set – all of us. No one’s seriously injured-]”
“[Yet.]” Ti’miquek flatly interrupted, alternating peaches and onions along the cake disk. “[I don’t think the money’s worth the risk.]”
Tik’akri sighed and turned around, resting the side of her hip against the kitchen sink. “[We have had some minor issues, but the liberal use of… protection has stopped anything from getting out of hand.]” Tik’akri said, counting off her fingers. “[Our marketing network is only getting better at vetting potential new customers, and with our password changes we won’t have un-vetted people coming in. The network effect will eventually spread enough that we’re an open secret, and by that time we’ve long since closed up shop and moved on. Even if we are caught – which we won’t be, by the way – the worst thing is that we’re shut down. Nobody’s going to turn on us, and if they do we can say we didn’t know human law and point out our record of safety to defer charges. We’re going to be fine, dad.]”
“That’s her, officer.” Anne Marie said in her deepest voice, cowboy walking out of the employee lounge with a new, mismatched suit top. “That’s the one what turned me into an outlaw.”
Immediately the tension was broken as the two Karnakians literally roared with laughter, Ti’miquek chuckling as he slid the plate through the serving window to someone outside. “[Well, thank you Anne Marie. I’m certain our magistrates will see to it justice is done.]”
“Nope.” Anne Marie said, scrambling onto Tik’akri’s back. “I’m a terminal case and can never go back.”
“[I’m sorry for ruining your future.]” Tik’akri said, tilting her head straight back to look upside-down at her new freeloader. “[You need a break?]”
“Nah. That was the only customer.” Anne Marie said, draping over her manager. “Brian welcomed them in as cunts, Jack was on overwatch and I was, well.”
“[Swiped?]” Ventured Ti’miquek, and was rewarded with a half-shrug.
“More like clotheslined.” Anne Marie said, pausing only for a moment as neither Karnakian responded. “Ah. Uh. So imagine me running into a branch or a pole at chest height-”
“[Oh!]” Ti’miquek and Tik’akri said, the two sharing looks. “[I’m so sorry – I was checking in on Brian so I didn’t see it happen-]”
“Tictac, Tomtom it’s fine.” Anne Marie said, waving her hand dismissively as she idly rifled through Tik’akri’s pockets just to be mischevious. “That’s what the suits are for.”
“[Yeah, but… two humans per table?]” Tik’akri said, changing the subject once she felt her friend was truly out of danger. “[I thought we were only managing one table a night as trials, not because that was our maximum capacity.]”
Anne Marie pulled out a previously-stashed choccy chip bag, rolling onto her back as she popped it open. “Y’all move to fast for us. That Jornissian client – the one that clotheslined me? He knocked the wind out of my lungs for a few seconds. Jack was watching from the bar with his BAR and stopped it from getting any worse.” She looked up, furrowing her brow at the dumbfounded response she received. “What? The system works.”
“[That’s… not the point.]” Ti’miquek sighed. “[Whatever, you’re all adults here. What’s the solution, “boss”?]”
Tomtom thought for a moment as Anne Marie got crumbs everywhere. “[If they developed the system, then we should let them scale it if it truly does work.]” Tik’akri said, shaking her head from side to side slowly in thought. “[Really, everything else is in place. Hey.]”
Tomtom looked Anne Marie dead in the eyes via the back of a particularly shiny ladle that was hanging up on the wall. “[Who do you know that wants to make a quick buck?]”
Anne Marie grinned wide, and pulled out her phone.