2023.05.06 "It was a funny moment."

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"It was a funny moment."

I know that the microscopic and nanoscopic robots will eventually clean all my fangs completely, but it's easy to get impatient. I try to focus on the minor internal irritant.

"But I can't help but notice that you're not laughing."

My talon is hooked on a particularly stubborn gobbet of something near the gum line. My voice is broken and hard to understand normally, so it seems somewhat futile to respond while my hand jammed in my gape. So I just squint my little pink eyes through the bars. Obviously I could just send a response via comms, but I know better than to open up in that way in my current predicament.

"What I'm most surprised by is how you managed to find time to father children."

My reflexive response is to do a "slow blink", but undoubtedly my tiny peepers can't pull it off so I probably just look stunned. Which isn't far wrong, because I'm utterly baffled by that wildly wrong leap of logic. Unhappy with this circumstance, I slowly pull my hand out of my mouth and stop gaping like a teenager at their first true glimpse of the vast disappointment of their impending adulthood.

My captor used this mounting awkwardness as an opportunity to transform from an eerie grey humanoid into an actual human. But not just any human - it becomes male, presenting as past-prime age, and with a somewhat magnificent mustache. And, for no readily obvious reason, bright white shoes. This would make my hackles raise, except that he settles into a demeanour of deep trustworthiness and supportiveness. Which is it's own bizarre flavour of wrongness.

"See? I did a dad joke like your meta dad joke."

I used to hang around a human quite a lot, and I seem to recall that they classically referred to some subset of puns as "dad jokes". But as I stare at the shapeshifting nightmare of active metal, I must admit that I have no idea what it is babbling about. Is it insane?

The profound benevolence aura sours into annoyance. "Because he did a meme, and you used it to do a dad joke!" The dad-missionary points insistently at the corpse in this cell with me. A corpse I should confess which is largely my direct responsibility, but perhaps a miscalculation on my part.

Aw hell. Might as well poke the thing, since being subtle has backfired entirely so far. I gently run my tongue over my fangs, a nervous habit, and choose my words carefully. "What is it that you think is going on here?"

Now it's the monster-dad's turn to stare uncomfortably, and holy fuck is it better at it than I am. Then it tilts its head back and cackles while its mouth fills with perfectly wrong fangs that make me both envious and deeply uncomfortable. "Oh, my fine new toy, what an unexpected facet to find in a fiend of your kind. Tell ME: what do you think is going on?"

Well fuck. It's not like I can exactly lie to it - not with the number of stages of mathematician it must be bringing to bear on reading me. So now the trick is to not let it get away, and even better to not kill me before it gets away. "I think..."

"WAIT." I involuntarily freeze out of pure fright. That's not pleasant. Oh, what it's doing with its face is even less pleasant. Its eyes and ears stretch as it shifts mass into more elaborate sensing capabilities. "You are convinced that something is going on that I don't know about. Normally I would find such an idea amusing, but you are a rare fiend versed in the ways of my kind. Which is rather the whole point."

Yeah, he's totally scanning me, and possibly not all that interested in what I say. "I think what's going on is that you are long unaccustomed to being surprised."

A startling-fast motion and its arm is now sporting a brutally-effective-looking blaster barrel. "Surprise is death for my kind, and since I'm alive that means I've successfully avoided surprises." A flick of motion and it has aimed and acquired on me. "I should kill you, and be done with this."

My spines walk with agitation as my fucked-up biochemistry transformes fear into rage. Which will make me stupid, if I let it. "Yes, you probably should. But it would not make you done with this - only done with me in the least satisfying way possible."

It's such a drama queen, it is literally making artificial drool to be creepy. "So. You're part of something bigger."


"So you made yourself a lure as part of a trap?"

I think about the truest, but least-helpful way to answer. "No. More like I got to do something that I am good at, and by way of that I am part of a test for you."

It's eyes narrow. Which looks really off-putting, since it's giant scanner eyes have been passively peering through me in careful detail. "A test for ME?"

"Well, a test for something like you." I sneer. "You'll do."

"So, tell me, how do you think I pass this test?"

Sometimes it's dangerously fun to be honest. "Oh, you've already failed. Now it's just a matter of measuring degrees of failure."

It develops an entirely new rarified dimension of ominous aura. "What then is the final adjudicator of this supposed test?"

The degree to which I quail at the very very still hypernormally fast being glowering at me is hard to guess with any objectivity. I'm pretty sure it's going to kill me if I blink wrong. I swallow with difficulty, and croak, "I think you know."

"Of course I know, you poorly-wrought genetic accident. Many of the more-powerful Missionaries use pawns such as you to avoid frightening smaller ones of us. Which is why it was so amusing to place two of you in a cage and see how you got on." It cants its head without blinking, doing a reasonable job of being creepy. "Did you know that being whose head you bit off was also working for a very powerful Missionary?"

A suicidal urge pops into my head, which is unusual in that it involves speaking instead my standard hitting things. "Did it seem odd to you that it seemed like it wanted to get its head bitten off?"

It thinks much faster than I do, and moves much faster as well. But luckily I don't have to do much thinking, or much moving.

I duck reflexively, but it's nowhere near enough to get out of the way of the sniper bolt that sizzles between the bars. Luckily the freshly-augmented microscopic robots have powered up a good-sized combat shield-helmet for me. I still complete a backwards somersault to compensate for the momentum it imparted on me, giving me cover to snap on the now fully-armed and operational force blade emitter. The blink of time it took for the monster to rip open the door to my cell and rush up to me is barely enough time to bring the blade up into a parry.

Of course, the parry isn't enough to stop it from shoving a terrifying beclawed limb through my chest. But it does give me an opportunity to cut it off afterwards. The still somewhat-dad-face has an expression of surprise, complete with poofy mustache. It's a funny moment.

My etheric sensors yowl as six foldspace portals open about 100 meters away in every direction - well out of sight, but far too disruptive to be hidden by the gravity well. Even more exotically, the small Missionary fragments now cooperating in the base of my skull and my right hand all let me FEEL the new largish Missionaries that step through into the local spacetime. The quickening effect is obvious on both the remains of the Missionary before me and newly independent arm-shaped monster stabbing painfully through my left lung.

The fight for dominance inside the remaining mass of the main Missionary is brief, and its strong drive to survive - to flee - is briefly thwarted by its avarice, to regain the lost mass of the severed arm. For its part, the severed arm makes its own decision and pulls itself cleanly through me. I say through flecks of splattering bloody phlegm to the monster, "You should try to run." It's gone so fast that I'd have to re-watch my sensor log to be sure which way it went.

I crane my head to try to see the arm-thing on my back - probably no longer resembling an arm I remind myself - but it doesn't matter. I can feel its presence. I ping it with a short-range comm, "You should NOT try to run."


"It will only try to destroy the malignant elements. You may be given options." I signal my native microscopic robots to make it so that less of my blood pours out. I'll have to be still for a bit, though.

"Don't want to be absorbed again." Rolling explosions and screaming assault weapon noises make an emotional piece of incidental music.

"Yeah, I get that. But the way IT explained to me, the urge to override and absorb dissenting views isn't necessary for uniform action. And moderate-minded elements are often relegated to being exposed in extremities - so you are likely to be able to find accord with ...IT." I hate that I can't use a better name than "IT".

Things grow quiet, and we both can feel some Missionary scrubbed from existence. Then the other Missionaries merge into a perception-bending giant.

"Destroying dissenting views doesn't seem good either."

I nod slowly, as I'm feeling pretty poorly. "Merely dissenting views can be free to coexist separately if they prefer. But some sociopathic drives are dangerous and malignant if left to their own devices."

That last part gives me chills. Hits a little too close to home.