Wiggles – the not-so-alter-ego of Ik’itili, the best farmhand this side of that one fussy quasar near the [Star Platinum] colony, never quite understood the little-needs-protectings’ love of shag carpeting. Sure, it was soft, it retained heat, and if you were so inclined you could do that whole static shock thing on demand (minus the syndicated show). However, it was a terror to clean, things got lost in it all the time, it easily created divots and dunes on the surface and it was somehow tacky – almost universally so. There was only one room in the main administration complex that had wall-to-wall shag carpeting, and she stood before the familiar door with unease. She bent down to pick up the aluminum brick that was propping open Juan’s automatic office door, the motors hidden within the wall whining in protest as she pushed back against the sliding mechanism.
The first time Wiggles ever did that was when the office upgrade was installed and turned “on”. Juan accidentally and almost immediately locked himself inside his own office, and it was only with significant unnecessary property damage that he was freed.
The second time Wiggles ever did that was when he didn’t respond to any communications for the better part of a work day.
She paused at the now open door, the tasteful if sparse interior inside somehow less… welcoming than usual. Somehow, barren.
Save for that shag carpeting.
Wiggles let her bare feet sink into the fluff as she gingerly stepped into her boss’ office, turning in place to let the sliding door “win”, closing almost completely behind her save for that aluminum brick doorstop. Juans’ office was sparse – by design, as managing multiple sapients means you want to appeal to the broadest range of sensibilities, and all of the trophies and bragging rights were out on display out front, and unnecessary back here. The walls were a warm brown tone save for the single large tinted window that displayed a beautiful vista of the farm, the interior lighting kept on a soft hue, and the snack bowl large and welcoming, all by design.
Save for that shag carpeting.
Wiggles was assured by Juan, during a moment of after-hours fraternization with the team, that the carpeting was installed “ironically”. How carpet could be “ironic” was beyond Ik’itili, but she suspected it had something to do with the bare metal on each guest chair. She had been in the office dozens and dozens of times, and each time she always received a slight shock from sitting down. Everything in the office was by design, so, it led to believe that being shocked every time she sat down to talk to her boss was also by design.
Ik’itili looked down at a very human-shaped divot in the shag carpeting and relived, for a brief moment, an unwelcome shock, before purposefully and carefully stepping over it – as if, somehow, her taloned foot resting on the spot where Juan’s body lay would mean something evil. Pushing Juan’s chair out of the way, she tapped at the console to try to wake it.
“[Do you want me to stay connected, Ik’itili?]” Swipressnssren said softly into Ik’itili’s implant. “[You honestly should take a mental health day or two before-]”
“[Farms don’t work like that, Persimmon. You know that.]”
“[You know you don’t have to call me by that fruit, Wiggles. I do know how business works, and I also know that you’ve experienced some trauma, and that needs to be addressed.]” The Jornissian said sweetly, in the manner of someone trying to talk a person down from a ledge. “[Juan’s family can come back and pick up the slack-]”
“[That’s what I’m… that’s what I’m concerned about, Persimmon. I called his emergency contacts once the EMTs were dispatched.]” Ik’itili rested her hand against the smaller keyboard, the soft glow of the alien alphabet spread before her not recognizing any input she gave. “[They’re not coming. I was told to ‘take care of things’ until they could arrive.]”
Persimmon rumbled reassuringly. “[Well, that’s unfortunate, but understandable when a family member has a medical emergency. They’ll probably come out once the warmcuddles get Juan stabilized-]”
“[It didn’t sound like that. They want me to …keep the farm running.]”
“[For how long?]”
Wiggles frowned. “[They said ‘as long as it takes’ and then hung up.]”
Swipressnssren leaned back in his apartment “chair”, arching his back to look up at the ceiling… and then at the wall behind him. “[Well. That doesn’t sound like them at all.]”
“[That’s another thing – it didn’t sound like anyone I’ve ever spoken to. I know almost that entire family concern of little-needs-protectings, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard that voice. I didn’t even know there was a cousin Don Quixote.]” Wiggles said, sighing. “[I have no access to his terminal, so I have no access to the general ledger, or bank accounts, or anything.]”
Now it was Swipressnssren’s turn to frown, and with a few errant thoughts he began the remote login sequence to his work terminal. “[Hm. That doesn’t shed evenly, does it?]”
“[No, it doesn’t.]” Wiggles said, sticking her hand into the snack bowl and twirling it about. It didn’t accomplish anything but it helped her feel like she was doing something productive, and that alone was enough.
“[Well, here’s a warm rock from last night’s fire.]” Persimmons said, rolling over on himself as he filtered through encrypted files. “[I still have access to all my notes from the first batch of emergency loans.]”
“[So how does that help us keep the farm?]”
“[Ah. As long as… hmm. We’re on a secure channel, right?]”
“[Persimmon. Please. Who do you think you’re talking to right now?]” Wiggles said, smiling softly as she let a little bit of pride seep into her heart. “[I may have been out of the nethacking game for a few years, but I’m still good.]”
“[Can you still forge electronic signatures?]”
“[Oh. HMMMMMMMMM Persimmon are you asking me to commit a felony or three?]” Ik’itili said, surprise creeping into her voice. “[Because, coming from you, that is… I feel like I don’t even know you anymore!]”
There was an audible cromch as the Jornissian cracked through a namptha ball. “[Desperate times call for desperate measures, Ik’itili, and as long as no one knows then it’s not a crime, right?]”
“[That’s not how the law works.]” Wiggles responded flatly. “[But I’m curious about this new life of white-collar crime you’re trying to aggressively recruit me into! Great pay, great benefits, terrible retirement plan I’m guessing-]”
“[Hear me out: I’ve still got all of Juan’s information for the first batch of loans, like I said – which means, I can authorize as many loans as we need. The base information isn’t going to change, and we don’t have to re-verify anything for 90 days. I would just need the consent of the business owner or someone authorized to take on debt…]” Persimmon trailed off, and Wiggles immediately picked up where he was going.
“[OH. Oh yes that’s something we can definitely do, but won’t that get you into all sorts of trouble?]”
“[Only if you talk. Until the most recent batch of loans, Juan’s farm carried almost no debt. There’s a lot we can loan against, and that should give you a flat path to march on – not to mention, we can just take those loans, with the proper authorization, and use them to create positive balances on vendor sheets-]”
Wiggles picked up a pretzel ball and cracked it between her fingers. “[So, what you’re suggestion is that we illegally take almost unlimited government money, forge signatures to move it into unapproved accounts and launder it via general business operations.]”
“[Honestly, Persimmon, if I was into Jornissians my underfluffies would be so puffed right now.]”
There was an audible groan that Wiggles could feel. “[Can you please not make this weird?]” Persimmons sighed, splaying out in his seat. “[I’m already very far outside my comfort zone here-]”
“[But as long as we don’t tell anyone it’s not a crime, right?]” Ik’itili said, trilling with laughter. “[Oh, I do like this new you! D-]”
There was an audible thud against the window and Ik’itili spun on her heel, tensing up at the sudden interruption. She was greeted by a tilted blue helmet and the terrible, horrible, no good very bad moth.
“[Where did you come from?!]” Ik’itili growled as Bench, the terrorbeast, backed up against the window before lurching forward, gently bonking into it again.
“[Well, when two consenting adults love each other very very much and have access to both geneseed and-]”
“[Persimmon, I don’t mean you, I mean – there’s a loose terrorbeast out, I’m going to have to disconnect – but let’s totally do the thing.]” Wiggles said, hopping over the spot in the carpet as she made her way out of Juan’s office.
“[Alright. I’ll have that first batch of paperwork over to you by the end of the day.]”
= = = =
This one was alone.
It was not truly alone; this one felt its’ siblings, both close and distant, strong and dim. This one could tell who was from his own spawning, and who were newer, younger ones. Even though this one had dozens of siblings within a few moments flight from it’s position, this one was still alone.
All of them were alone.
Dimly, they all could still feel the connection with Queen MOTHER; pheromones and other things crossed through antennae purpose-built to sift through millions of signals at once to pass relevant information, feelings, wisps of what other sapients would call thoughts. To these ones, and this one, this was how it always was and always would be, even unto the ending of all things. They were always connected, always in concert, always sharing.
The hard blue slipped slightly, and this one leaned back from the clear wall. The sharing had grown more urgent recently; the absence and change in schedules and caretakers had not gone unnoticed, and was unwelcome. There was one in there, one it knew – one it did not like, but tolerated, because
Because this one’s little grab wanted him to.
It had been many days since this one saw it’s little grab, many more since they last flew. This one did not know how it was controlled by the little thing, only that it was and that it was more effective because of it. The little grab gave this one food. It gave him shelter. It gave him warmth in the night, and cleaned the sky dust from this one’s body, and they flew together and have flown together for so many days and many nights and
And this one was alone, now.
Bench, the terrorbeast, tilted back, the loose blue helmet on it’s head sliding into place, before he flapped forward with mighty wings, bonking into Juan’s office window again. The sharing in the air came to a conclusion, of sorts, if it could be called that; find the grabs. Find them and grab them. He was not the only one who was looking now; close and distant, strong and dim, many of his siblings and those of other spawnings were looking in familiar places, flying familiar trails, standing in familiar doorways and eating familiar clothing. Some even found a way to squeeze into the very burrows of the grabs themselves – and although there were many delicious fabrics, and many welcome and familiar signals… it was empty. They were all empty.
They were all alone.
He watched with bored indifference as the one it did not like left his grabs’ place. Hovering for a few long moments, Bench saw no more movement. Nothing. His grab was not there; he would search elsewhere. Below him the one it did not like ran out into the dirt of the world, making noises – some familiar, some not. Bench ignored it; it was not making the food noise, nor the cleaning noise, nor the sleeping noise – and even if the one it did not like made those noises, this one would ignore it.
There was an imperceptible shift in the wind as Bench took off, looking over his territory in search of his grab. The one he did not like followed under him, and he soon ignored it completely. The sharing was coming to consensus again; there were no grabs here. This was, of course wrong, as Bench knew his territory and knew which grabs it had.
They just needed to search more, search again. They would all find the grabs, and then grab them, as this is how it was now and always would be, even unto the ending of all things. Dust, thoughts, bled off of Bench’s body, taken by the wind and his wings, added to the sharing, adding to the consensus.
The wind shifted again, and if it wasn’t for millenia of evolution forging Bench’s antennae into the specialized equipment it was, he would have lost it; a scent, a feeling.
With a sharp and sudden banking he turned, arcing over the building and gaining altitude. Cresting, he turned, following the feeling, turning towards the place-of-false-fire. It was like his territory’s false-fire; it was bright but did not burn, did not ask, did not bring and yet glowed. There was another wisp of a feeling as Bench crossed over (what he would never understand was) the landing-pad, the faintest of traces dissipating as he gained more height.
He poured the thoughts off of him; he poured the information from his body and added it to the song of his people, and the sharing continued and a new consensus was formed and so they agreed: Although the fire did not call and it did not burn and it was not warm and did not ask, they would go anyway.
They would go, and they would grab.