It was probably the middle of the night, July thought, as she did her best to dampen the beeping noise by covering her head with her pillow. While there was really no way to be sure (it was HQ, after all), she had been asleep, Library was still asleep (how the hell her partner was still asleep was a serious question until July noticed the earplug in Library's right ear, nearly covered by a lock of blonde hair), and even the console had seemed to have gone into standby, all things that to July indicated that it was nighttime, and thus sleep time. Sleep time did not mean that it was time for the damn console to go off.
Eventually she gave up and sat up on her mattress. Looking at the console's screen, she got a minor surprise: it wasn't a mission, it was a summons for her, to the Nursery. After a quiet "Buwah?", a short search for her glasses and somewhat clean clothes, and finally shoes, she left; dressed, cranky, armed with her sledgehammer, and ready to find out why she had been called for.
After however long it took to find the Nursery, upon entering it she saw a strange sight she wasn't quite awake enough to deal with yet: a Nursery Worker (who July was slightly pleased to see looked more frazzled than she felt), a little nondescript boy, and—the one that made her blink to make sure she wasn't hallucinating because of funny cafeteria food—a sunflower in an impeccably pressed suit.
"Ah, sir, SO—buwah?" July threw off an awkward salute in confusion. "Uh, I'm Agent July Flame?" She turned to the Nursery Worker and then back to the Sunflower; July had no idea who she should be talking to. "I was called down from my RC about something?"
The Flower only barely nodded in indication that it had noticed her arrival. Agent Flame. Now that you are here, hopefully this can be cleared up.
"Yes," the Nursery Worker said tiredly. "Our records show you're Jason's legal guardian. Everyone here needs to have a little talk about the way he's been behaving."
July looked at the little boy; it was indeed Jason Allen, one of the children that she and Library had taken out of a 1984 Suefic in March. Her brain went over what had been said again. "Wait, wha?"
"According to the papers your partner signed, you're his legal guardian."
She wasn't awake enough to deal with this. "Could there be a mistake or something?" she asked weakly. "I'm seventeen; is that even legal?"
"Legal wouldn't have let it pass if it wasn't allowed, Agent Flame."
"I want to know where it's legal for someone else to sign that sort of thing when I didn't—"
There was a tugging on her pant leg. She looked down at Jason, who asked, "Are you my mum?"
"Um, uh, let's settle with big sister for now, yeah?"
July decided it was time to try and get a hold of the situation. "All right, um, so what is it that he's been doing?"
"He's been sneaking into the SO's office. Jason blends in with everything so well, and by the time anyone remembers him, he's left. This was the third time in the past week."
Fourth, the Sunflower corrected.
July stared at the SO, the Nursery Worker, and then the small child that was she was now apparently in charge of. "Buwah? What? Sneaking in? What?" There was nothing expressing that it was really a cruel joke at the Floater's expense.
Yes, sneaking in. There was an impatient tone to the Sunflower's words.
Jason spoke up. "For stories."
That was just a bit too much. Far more than a bit. She looked at the Nursery Worker once more. July's voice cracked as she spoke. "Why would he go ask the SO for stories?"
"We sometimes tell the kids stories about old mission reports." The woman had the decency to look embarrassed.
"Old mission reports?"
"Like Jay and Acacia's," Jason said brightly. "I like the ones where they feed the Sue to the Balrog!"
"Uh, that's nice, but why would you ask the Sunflower?"
"Cos Miss Ramsey said that the best way to ask about something is to ask people that know the answer best," the boy said matter-of-factly. "And Miss Ramsey said that the Sunflower Official is in charge of the Department of Mary Sues, so he'd know more stories best, right?" It was admirably twisted logic in the fine tradition of the PPC, though it forgot the part about ignoring the Flowers unless it was to complain or ask for a raise.
The Nursery Worker flushed. "I meant that if you asked a question, you were supposed to ask one of us. I didn't mean for you to take it that literally."
While knowing why he keeps seeking me out is fascinating, could something be done about this now?
July couldn't tell whether the Sunflower was being sarcastic or not. Not enough sleep to figure out sarcasm, particularly of the psychic sort. "Um, er." She paused in thought and stared at the ceiling for a moment before starting again. "Jason?"
"No more going and asking the SO for stories."
The boy nodded. "Okay, I won't ask anymore."
"Uh, will that do?"
For now. Agent Flame, Agent Ramsey, if he comes into my office again, one of you will come get him. I do not have the time to deal with small children.
Both July and Miss Ramsey nodded. The Flower made its way to the door, but before the SO left he twisted towards them once more and focused on July. And Agent Flame?
Your shirt is inside out.
She looked down at her shirt. "... Thank you, sir."
The Sunflower left.
A short while later, Miss Ramsey led Jason away and returned alone, carrying a clipboard stuffed with paperwork. "Now, Agent Flame—"
"Could you call me July, please?" She eyed the clipboard nervously.
"Of course. Now, July, while you're here, I was wondering if we could talk about Jason and his appearance."
The woman attempted to hand her the clipboard. There was a short, awkward moment which ended with July very reluctantly taking the clipboard after it had been shoved at her several times. To July, it seemed depressingly thick with paperwork.
"What's this?" she asked warily, glancing at the top sheet.
"He's been doing well in the Nursery. Small children do have personalities, despite what some psychologists have suggested. While he and his sister did come to us fairly descriptionless, they have a far easier time gaining their own character traits than adults or even teenagers. With a good deal of work, they can also gain some physical traits as well, though they'll never be as fully shown as other recruited characters who were described more."
"And that means I need the insane amount of paperwork because...?"
"Because while Sally does not have a legal guardian, Jason does, and that is you. We need your permission before he can undergo this beyond just being in the Nursery. More of an appearance beyond the usual pallor nondescribed characters have would make it easier to find him."
"So, if you could do this now?"
July wasn't able to say no. The woman looked as tired as July felt, and there was also the fact that Miss Ramsey looked ready to skewer her with the pen she had just proffered if she did say no.
Nearly two hours, thirty pages of paper, and three ballpoint pens later, July slunk into the RC and flopped against her mattress without even a sigh.
And then the console began to beep. [B—]
July flung herself off the bed, grabbed her sledgehammer, and approached the console very quickly. "You are going to stop beeping, right now," she said. Her voice had a dangerous tone to it.
[—e?] The console's beep softened quickly.
"All the way."
"Yes." She slid the hammer's head up and down against one of the metal removable panels of the console. "And you're not going to beep. Not until I get enough sleep. And get a shower. And breakfast. And maybe some quiet time. Understand?" Her voice cracked.
"And if you don't, I'll turn you into so much freaking scrap so small, you won't even be able to be used for CAD repair. Not even enough wiring left over to do that funny trick with a potato and a lightbulb, even. And before that, I'll find a way to install every damned trojan, virus, and worm known in the multiverse on you. Your OS—whatever the hell it is—will have more holes in it than an unpatched and unbeta'd version of Windows ME. Am I clear?"
"Good to know we have this understanding, console. Now, I'm gonna go sleep. And if you make another sound until then, no godly force anywhere will be able to stop me."
The console did not beep.
July flung herself against the mattress once more, and slept.