"Hello, hello! You've reached the Repetitive Department of Repetition, and the Repetitive Department of Repetition you've reached is the Repetitive Department of Repetition. You're speaking and speaking to Agent Aella, that's Agent Aella, of the Repetitive Department of Repetition, and I am here, right here, and absolutely ready to be ready to take your call, that's your call. How may I help or otherwise help you?" Aella was poised, her pen held tightly in her right hand – an agent of the RDR had to write three times as fast as anyone else, to get the required triplicate recording.

 

Excellent work, the Cilantro's voice declared. You've come a long way in the past year, Aella.

 

"Well – thank you, ma'am," Aella said, dropping back into her normal patterns of speech. "It's been a tough learning process, but I think it's finally coming together – and coming together, and coming together."

 

There was a long pause before the Cilantro spoke again. Was that intended to be a joke?

 

"Er… yes, ma'am. Sorry."

 

Good. The Flower sounded almost weary. I'd hate to think you'd gone the way of the DRD's Agent Rosalind.

 

"Not a chance," Aella assured her superior, making a mental note to ask around later and find out what that was all about. "Just a joke, I promise."

 

Good, the Cilantro said again. Now, to business: there is a new recruit on his way to your RC.

 

Aella blinked. "But you said I'd be all alone," she reminded the Flower. "You said it was too hard to find someone who wouldn't attract the attention of the Cosmic Irony Division, and that after what happened to my predecessors-"

 

Yes, well. The Cilantro sounded almost embarrassed. After this recruit was… er, hired, it was decided that there was no place for him other than the RDR.

 

"Well, I'll do my best to train him," Aella assured her superior. "I assume he just needs the same basic introduction I got?"

 

Er, yes, the Cilantro said. Good luck. And – sorry.

 

Aella's eyebrows shot up as the line went dead. She couldn't really have heard a Flower apologise, could she? That would be – well, not entirely unheard of, but pretty close to it. How bad could this new recruit be?

 

There was a knock at the door. And then another. And another. A steady string of carefully-spaced thumps reverberated through the wooden door and echoed around the room. Aella stared for a few moments, then shrugged, stood, and pulled the door wide.

 

The… thing on the other side froze, one metallic hand still raised for the next knock. Its glass eyes whirred softly, focussing on Aella, and then its lips split in a startlingly gentle smile.

 

"Hello," it said in a perfectly normal, human voice. "Hello. Hello. Hello…"

 

Aella stared as the thing continued to chant. She tried to find an appropriate place to cut in, but eventually gave up and just talked over it. "Um, are you my new partner?"

 

The thing fell silent, tilting its head, and then nodded. "Yes, I am. Yes. Yes. Yes…"

 

"-are you broken?" Aella cut in. "Or… injured, or something?"

 

"Huh? No. No. No. No…"

 

Aella took a deep breath. "All right, shall we start over? My name's Aella, and, uh, I'm human. How about you?"

 

The thing's smile widened. "Orinoco. I'm a cyborg. A cyborg called Orinoco. Orinoco the cyborg. Orinoco, who-"

 

"Ah!" Aella nodded. "Well, that explains why you're… uh, why half of you is… uh, why you're made of… uh, shall we get on with the training?"

 

"Sounds good," Orinoco agreed. "Sounds good. Sounds good…"

 

Running Orinoco through the basics of Repetitive Department of Repetition procedure was more difficult than Aella had expected. It was surprisingly hard to tune out his constant, well, repetition of whatever he'd last said, and more than once she found herself snapping at him.

 

Still, eventually she got through the material. "It's not that hard a job," she finished, "but it can get a bit tedious at times. Still, you seem like you can handle the repetition part…"

 

"I hope so," Orinoco said, "I do hope so. Yes, I hope so, I do hope so…"

 

[BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!]

 

"And here's your chance to practice," Aella beamed. "Push the button, take the call, and let's see how you do."

 

"Okay, okay," Orinoco agreed, and continued to repeat the word as he walked across to the Response Centre's second desk. He sat down carefully on the seat, shuffled slightly to get comfortable, and leant forward to press the big red button.

 

"Hello," he said in a friendly tone. "You're through to Orinoco of the Repetitive Department of Repetition. How can I help you?"

 

Aella stared at the back of his head for a moment, then lunged past him to slap the red button again and end the call. "No!" she exclaimed. "Just… no. I thought you understood what we did here! I mean, how did you even manage to mess up that badly?"

 

Orinoco turned in his seat and looked up at her. "Sorry," he said, with a shrug. "I'm sorry. Sorry. Sorry…"