"I think it's disgusting."
Tequila Sunrise (her mother had heard of children named 'Chardonnay' and just gone with the flow) turned in perhaps-unreasonable surprise to see CAL-9000 standing by the door. "What, sir?" she asked the senior agent of DoDAEG respectfully. Respect was always best with Cal if you wanted to avoid a tongue-lashing.
"All these visitors," Cal snapped. "What do they think this is, some kind of nightclub?"
"I think they're here to pay their respects to the dead, sir," Tequila offered. Cal shook his silver head firmly.
"It's not reasonable," he said. "If it goes on they'll start to forget what we're even here for."
"Actually, they already call us-" Tequila began, trying to interject a note of levity. Cal cut her off with an electronic snort.
"Oh, I've heard. Them with their 'Shrinekeepers' and 'Pyros' and 'Slashers' and 'Spies'. Disgusting. Remember, Tequila, we are Agents of the Department of Dead Author Electricity Generation - no other title will do."
Tequila nodded. Actually, she quite liked being a Shrinie - it was good for a couple of drinks down at Rudi's (particularly if she promised to look the other way for someone's visit), and beat the old nickname of 'Jennie' (from Generation, as she recalled explaining to one skeptical Nurse). But disagreeing with Cal was a surefire route to cleaning duties. "Shall I message the Slaver Sunflower with a protest?" she asked meekly.
Cal sighed. "No, they'd just go topside and cause another canon-concentration crash," he said. "Just keep things tidy - and no organic junk in there!" This time Tequila's nod was emphatic. The Assassin who'd felt the need to bring all his kills in to place before Lewis Carroll's generator had caused no end of trouble - she had no desire to repeat the experience. Cal nodded brusquely and then left as silently as he had come - as silently as he always did. Tequila turned and headed into the Generator Rooms.
Walking through the Rooms always relaxed Tequila. It wasn't that they were quiet; there was a constant background whirr of gently-spinning authors, interrupted regularly by a harsh mechanical screech that meant someone had fallen behind on lubricating the bearings. But this was her natural environment, now, one she was attuned to. It was the rest of the world - the silent places - that made her twitchy. It always felt as if the whole universe was holding its breath, preparing for some horrible disaster to strike.
Tequila wandered along her inspection route, oiling the generators where it seemed appropriate, listening with half an ear for the next overspin. Along the way, she glanced over the items left by visiting agents - offerings, she thought of them as - and moved some of the more intrusive ones out of the way. Someone had left a Bag of Holding at Gary Gygax's feet - a nice thought, but last time a later visitor had fallen in, and it had taken a six-month expedition inside to rescue her. Better to move the thing out of the way.
A distant screeching had Tequila hurrying over to the Fantasy Wing. Following the sounds, she discovered that for once it wasn't one of the Big Names going into overspin, but Lloyd Alexander. "I didn't think anyone knew who you were," she commented to the rapidly-spinning author of The Chronicles of Prydain. "I guess we all get our fifteen minutes of fame."
Rounding a corner on her way back to the Hall of Shared Verses and her inspection route, Tequila found what she'd known all along she would: a figure kneeling at the foot of one of the generators. It was dressed in a dark cloak, hood raised; she could make out nothing else. As she drew near, it looked up and lowered the hood.
"I'm sorry if I startled you," said the black-haired elf thus revealed. "I only just heard... we don't get the news very fast out in the Multiverse."
Tequila hadn't been watching her path, so she had to check the plaque to identify the author inside the generator. "Anne McCaffrey," she read. "One of your favourites?"
"You could say that." The elf raised a hand to stroke what Tequila had assumed to be a bronze collar. The collar raised a draconic head and peered at her suspiciously. "Hush, Ilwion - there's no need to fuss. Is there?"
"I'm not going to kick you out, if that's what you mean," Tequila assured him. "My boss would prefer it if I did, of course, but he's not the boss of me. Except literally."
The elf grinned a disturbingly infectious grin, and Tequila found herself smiling back. "I like you," the elf admitted, lifting his other hand to brush a stray strand of hair away from his face. Tequila noticed with a start that there wasn't actually a hand there - just a stump. "You're the good sort of crazy."
"Thanks," Tequila said in her driest tone. Her brow furrowed, and she glanced at the generator again. "Hang on, I remember setting this one up. McCaffrey died two years ago - it was the talk of HQ for a few days. How have you only just heard?"
The elf's smile didn't fade, exactly, but it changed subtly into something sad, almost wistful. "We left the PPC seven years ago," he explained. "We live out in an unpublished 'verse now - we don't exactly get the Multiverse Monitor delivered." He snorted. "Not that they'd tell us anything useful..."
"Well, the new one would." Tequila shook her head. "Listen, I have to get back to work - the Crime Gallery is next on my list, and Intel called to say there's a minor flurry of Christie fics right now. Please leave the place tidy, okay?"
"It's all right, I'll go now." The elf reached out his remaining hand and touched the plaque. "Thank you, Dragonlady," he murmured. "And... farewell."