2019.03.25 "That's not how it works."

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"That's not how it works."

I'm squinting, even more than usual, struggling to understand. My huge, fuzzy Orbodun partner persist with the questioning. I can hear his fear underneath his impatience, and it echoes my own. "What? So you're saying that you don't have to know the plan in order to follow instructions?"

The medically incapacitated Takolee is only capable of conversing via direct contact with his internal comms, which might be what makes his texted responses come across as, shall we say, snippy?. "No, you towering mound of unreasoning fluff. IT knows what I'm going to do better than I do, that's the whole point. IT never gives me good instructions. Nev-ver. IT gives me cryptic suggestions, and I always end up doing exactly what IT wants. Every uncle-zarking time. There is no double-crossing. There is no second-guessing. Just the implacable hand of fate moving people like game pieces."

"So, lots of mathematician stages?" I hear my partner state the obvious, but it doesn't fit the gravitas of the Takolee's desperation.

"Zarking NO. You think mathematician, and you think probabilities and really good guesses. I've done jobs to fuck with scary mathematicians, and while they tend to not make mistakes they are still limited by reality - you can get at them by sneaking in the really improbable cracks. This is more than that. IT isn't making shrewd calculations, IT just zarking knows."

Having this conversation purely in text means that I'm much easier to understand, even as it mutes the Takolees ability to emote. "Just knowing stuff... that sounds like a mentalist."

Itty bitty black eyes roll in my partners fuzzy face. "Missionaries are still robots, right? They don't get access to mentally-based abilities."

An awkward thought saunters into my few-track mind. "It could totally have arranged broad access to a powerful mentalist, though. Mix that in with a handful of stages of mathematician, and the big bastards going to - pardon me if I don't get the quote totally right - just zarking know a lot of stuff."

The long sigh that flows out of the Orbodun's nostrils is a ripe mix of appreciation and fear. For my own part, I deliberately verify my connection with my mini-missionary weapons to reassure myself that the monster isn't near. I have no idea of what to do now.

The Orbodun is laughing? I crane my head around to take a better look, to see how badly he's cracked. He's reaching up with a massive paw to wipe a mirthful tear from one side of his scarred muzzle.

"What's going on?" Oh, right - the Takolee can't actually hear anything.

My partner shifts his own guarded position to reach over and make his own direct connection with the limp Takolee in my satchel. "Sorry, I was overcome with the beauty of it all."

The Orbodun really has cracked, because that makes no sense at all. I feel an awkward lump in my heart as I contemplate putting him out of his misery.

He must have sensed something, because he catches my eye with his own gaze, and shakes his head meaningfully. He's got a look of pity about him. Is he pitying me, or the Takolee... or all of us?

"So, basically, this means that your master sent you specifically to get caught by us. Intentionally, so that you could say this to us." He's looking at me pretty deliberately. He's saying something more to me than just these words to the Takolee.

"Yeah, I get that IT basically sent me to die. I never thought the day would come, because I'm so useful, but I have never doubted for a moment that if I were to die it would be ITs will."

"Ha. No." A beatific smile creases the Orbodun's muzzle. "It sent you as a messenger."

Oh. Fuck.

"What message? That you're just as zarked as I am? Great. Glad to be of service."

"Pissy, aren't we? We're going to let you go now."

We are? Dammit, I'm having a hard time swallowing this idea. I do a new sweep of the park to catalogue all potential observers and rank them threat-wise. It's a long list of small numbers.

"You're going to do what now?" While the Takolee is incredulous, the Orbodun pings me to do the thing. So I extract the Takolee-damping dart after giving the RELEASE command.

The Takolee is out of the satchel so fast I have difficulty moving my various pointy bits out of its way so that it doesn't hurt itself (any further). Then it's behind a tree and lost to sensors in the blink of an eye.

In the subsequent stillness after that flurried moment, the Orbodun and I gaze worriedly at each other. Probably for totally different reasons.

Yep.

"So, where to first?"

I bring a talon to gingerly scratch at an itch on my snout. "Well, I suppose it makes the most sense to finish off the shift of your weapon configuration with that annoyingly capable technician."

While the Orbodun is nodding, the Takolee reappears from behind a totally different tree. "Wait. So not only did you let me go, and you're not trying to chase me, you're actually going to wander directly into the place you were sure was a trap? I am clearly missing something."

With a cock of my ear and and a sideways glance, I regard the Takolee. "You still smell terrified. Maybe we're misleading you with casual banter while we actually plan on tracking you by scent. Again." The Orbodun expresses his frustration with me by coving his face with a giant shaggy paw.

The Takolee is quite discomfited. That's a word, right? He's agitated - even for a Takolee. "No, you immense talking sphincter, I'm worried because I'm missing something - and I Don't Miss Things."

While I'm trying to formulate a joke about that being the Orbodun's line - him being a sniper and all - he goes and intercedes. "Well, really, you explained it perfectly well. This super-powerful missionary we're in the orbit of, there's nothing we can do to out-maneuver it. Regardless of whether it's math or magic, it will always be a step ahead of us. And I think it's pretty clear that we can't fight it head-on, considering that lesser missionaries easily kicked our asses. So it gave our Massetin friend here very few options."

I snort at that. Not entirely intentionally; the frustration is still bitter in the back of my throat.

"What options? I told you that you're zarked."

The Orbodun gives a patient chuckle. "True, you did say that. But why? Does this extremely powerful missionary have a habit of toying with people? Unlikely; that's a sign of insecurity, and that doesn't fit. Does it?"

The Takolee is uncharacteristically still. "No. Now that you mention it, it really doesn't. Now I'm even more confused."

"Oh?"

"Well, because it must be trying to warn you to go away - right? But it doesn't do that; it just makes people go away before they even know they're at risk. I was so freaked out by feeling like I had screwed up..."

"Right, you must have gone a long time without getting tripped up, it would throw anybody off. But no, it's not a warning. I mean, it could be if we wanted it to be, and we probably wouldn't be worth chasing - but we'd never really know and it would suck. No, there's another side to the message you present."

"You both are zarking annoying. Just say something straight, damn it."

I grimace and say it. "It's a job offer."