The guard knocked on the open door of the prison cell, alerting the lone occupant of his presence. "Hey Tucker, you're wanted in the offices."
Malcolm Tucker snapped the library book he was reading shut and placed it on his bed as he sat up to pocket his spectacles. His cell was sparse—just a change of clothes and a couple books under his bed. He had no room for comforts here, he had decided, and it was for the better. The past two months of having no contact with the outside world, not to mention three required squares a day, had done wonders for him, making him the most relaxed he had been in years… no, decades. The perjury sentence (there were others he was serving, but he liked to take them on by one) was a blessing in disguise, making him understand why it was a thing for prisons to be hotbeds for religious conversion.
Silently, he followed the guard as they made their way through the corridors. At least the court had the decency to send him to a minimum-security prison, one full of debtors and white-collar crooks. It was a congenial atmosphere, if a prison could be called one, and it suited him, if he was completely honest.
A few minutes later and Malcolm was sitting in a plain room of concrete and steel. A table was situated in the middle, with two chairs facing one another and a lamp hanging from the ceiling—very Hollywood set if he said so himself. The mirror on the wall was a one-way, he knew; even an idiot without a functioning brain stem could have seen that. The guard left the room and suddenly he was alone.
Nearly half an hour passed with nothing happening. Finally a woman walked into the room, his age, blond hair to her shoulder, and in a well-tailored suit. She placed a manila folder on the table and sat down, folding her hands over it.
"Been enjoying yourself, Mister Tucker?" she asked, voice flat.
"Well, they haven't found me hanging by my trouser ties yet," he shrugged. A silence fell between them, the woman not moving a muscle. "Tough crowd."
"I'm not here to crack ill-suited jokes, Mister Tucker," she said. She opened the folder and began to flip through the papers—a dossier on him, complete with his prison mugshot and the photo that was his doom in the Inquiry. "A total of twenty-seven years spent working in politics, with the most recent twelve used to lurk in and around Whitehall. Only living family a mother, a sister, and a niece back in Glasgow, whom you only see on rare occasion; no personal life outside of them, so no partner or children; not even a pet. Seems like a fairly lonely life you lead."
"What do you care?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. Malcolm tensed up, straightening his back and shoulders. "No one fucking cares, not unless they think they've got something on me. Let me tell you, sweetheart: even in here I'm unfuckable."
"Good thing that was proven wrong at the Goolding Inquiry, or I'd have to worry about the social structure of the entire prison collapsing," the woman snarked. She plucked a paper from the dossier and read it aloud. "'Good with technology, easily adaptable, temper issues and prone to swearing'—they were right on that part—'good at intimidation tactics, and will work himself endlessly for a given cause.' That doesn't even start on the glowing recommendation we got from another one of our agents…"
"Agents…?" he growled. Malcolm leaned forward, brows furrowed and voice low and gravelly. "What game are you playing?"
"We've been monitoring your behavior for a long time now, Mister Tucker, much longer than you realize, and I think I can get you out of here before teatime."
"I'm serving multiple consecutive sentences; the only way I'll probably get out of here is either with a walker or in a bloody box."
"That's where you're wrong," the woman said. Putting down the paper, she picked up another and put it in front of Malcolm, along with a pen from her jacket pocket. "If you sign right there on the line, you will never have to worry about such things as prison terms and shivs and whatever cock-and-bull happens in these places. Sign, and you gain your freedom."
"…and what's the catch?" he asked, pulling his spectacles out of his shirt pocket and putting them on. He began to scan over the document and frowned. "I heard of you—you're that pet project of the PM's."
"We've been the pet project of the PM's since before there was a PM," she replied. "That's just a contract, nothing out of the ordinary. It merely states that you will serve out the remainder of your sentencing under our watchful eye, where you will lend your expertise for the good of Queen, Country, and Planet."
Malcolm pushed the paper back towards her. "I already gave my all for Queen and Country, and the only thing those two old bats have bothered to give back is free room and board for the rest of my miserable wank of a life. What makes you think adding 'Planet' to the list is incentive?"
"I was told that you went into politics because you thought you could make a difference that way," she said. "Brown-haired and bushy-eyed, you didn't realize that sort of life would only spit you out after taking you for everything you have and stand for and distorting it beyond recognition. Well, Mister Tucker, this is an opportunity for something better than that."
"…with a bunch of limp-dicked egghead scientists pushing pencils and testing theorem about microwaving water or whatever it is you tits do?"
"Not quite that, but I think you'll catch on pretty quickly." She pushed the contract back and straightened the contents of the manila folder. "Now if you excuse me, I don't have all day. Either you sign that and come with me, or you rot in your cell while creeping further and further into such a despair that, yes, they do find you hanging from your trouser ties in five years. Take your pick."
Looking at the paper, Malcolm considered his options. He could stay where he was, reading the entire prison library and avoiding all contact with anyone ever again. It was safe; no one wanted to bother him and there was no one around to bother him. The only things he would truly miss were milestones of his niece's, and considering how many he had missed already that was nothing new.
…or, he could leave.
Malcolm picked up the pen and signed the document on the blank line, right above where his name had been printed. He passed it all back across the table and saw the woman smile for the first time, even if it was a thin, polite one.
"Welcome aboard," she said, standing up and holding out her hand. "My name is Kate Stewart, head of UNIT." He shook her hand and stood, wondering what was to happen next. Kate spun on her very orange heel and began to walk towards the door, taking all the papers with her. "Are you coming, Mister Tucker?"
"Oh, uh, yeah," he replied, slightly confused. "They're going to let me out? Just like that?"
"It's all settled—we just have to get you in some normal-looking clothes again." She walked out into the corridor, not even checking to see that Malcolm was following. A young woman was standing right before a set of double-doors, glancing down at a mobile as she adjusted her scarf. "Did you complete the wipe?"
"Yes ma'am; in two hours, they won't even remember any of us were here," the young woman replied. She looked over at Malcolm and held out her hand cheerily. "Osgood; nice to meet you, Mister Tucker."
"Charmed," he deadpanned, walking right past her hand. "So when do we get to the part where I don't have to babysit a bunch of mewling infants as they shit their pants and fucking spit up all over the rug?"
"Patience, Mister Tucker, patience," Kate replied calmly. She led him to the room where his suit and other effects were waiting for him. He changed quickly, never having thought that wearing a tie could feel so good, and grabbed what few possessions he had brought with him in his pockets—his wallet, the case for his eyeglasses, his watch, and his old security clearance badge. Were there ever the chance for him to get out, he wanted to be reminded of what had gotten him into the mess to begin with. Malcolm exited the room and followed the women out of the prison, now sure that he felt the most relaxed in decades.
A driver ushered them into a car and began to maneuver his way back towards London. As soon as they entered city limits, Malcolm took his eyes off the passing scenery and glanced at his ride companions.
"So, tell me, what sort of dirty work do you need done that makes you bust a convicted felon like me out of jail for?" he asked, flashing his teeth.
"Our previous PR head has been proving to be less than stellar as of late," Kate explained. "Of course he was highly capable when he came on under Brigadier Bambera, but the times have changed and he has been unable to properly change with them." Osgood handed her another manila folder and she examined the contents as she continued to talk. "This does mean that we have been looking at not only your skills in media management and your connections, but your ability to adapt as well."
"That's some pretty big fucking talk for someone who still finds it necessary to horde tree carcasses like that," Malcolm chuckled, pointing at the papers. "I thought most of the government's gone paperless, or is at least on their way."
"Utilizing both low and high tech is going to be a daily part of your job for security reasons," Kate replied sharply. "If you don't like it, we can still turn around and take you back."
"Forgive me, madam, but I don't think you remember the one photo you had in my dossier—the lack of security that comes with hard copies cost me my career."
"If our parents' generation could do it, we can as well; only difference is we know how to program a mobile as a bonus." Kate's face remained straight as she passed the manila envelope across the back of the car to Malcolm. "You'll have a variety of assigned tasks, most of which concern public relations and media wrangling. Sometimes there are disciplinary measures involved, and sometimes you'll be told to do menial tasks. All of us complete menial tasks now and then, just to make sure there's no discontent amongst the ranks. Fortunately for you, I need you as one of the Constants."
"Constants are people we don't mind-wipe," Osgood explained. "The three of us are Constants, as well as a couple others. We're the top of the chain and we need to have knowledge of past days' events."
"…is mind-wiping a regular occurrence in this place?" Malcolm asked, raising his brows. "Sounds a bit too much like something a pisspot comic book villain would do if you ask me. I don't want to accidentally go back too far and start shitting my pants." He began to look through the folder contents—floor maps and lists of subordinate names. There was also a new security badge, which he clipped on over his old Whitehall one.
"For you? Only if you misbehave," Kate said, cracking the bare semblance of a grin. The car stopped and the three got out, the ladies leading Malcolm into a perfectly normal-looking building. It was plain sandstone, its most notable feature being there was nothing particularly beautiful or ugly about it; the man-behind-the-man's dream castle. They walked in, flashing their credentials to security before getting into a lift. Instead of pressing one of the floor buttons, Osgood swiped her keycard and a separate set of buttons slid out of the lift wall. She touched one and they plummeted with enough force for Malcolm to stagger slightly.
"Don't worry, you get used to it," Osgood said sympathetically. Eventually the lift stopped and the doors opened, allowing them exit.
"Welcome to UNIT, Mister Tucker," Kate said as she walked along at a brisk pace. Clearly she had brought him to the central hub, as the corridor opened up into a large, high-ceilinged hall where close to a hundred people were monitoring computer displays and even more were running about doing errands. "This is Mainframe UK, where we process all the local data for the North Atlantic and Western Europe."
Feeling very small and uncharacteristically speechless, Malcolm stared at the multitude of workers. "What sort of data?"
"Alien activity of the extraterrestrial kind," Kate replied. "Anything not of Earth or seemingly supernatural in origin we investigate and handle. You remember the cubes that fell from the sky a few years ago? The little black ones that tried to kill people?"
"Yeah, had one in my office; I was using it to teach this tit a lesson when the thing just fell like an old man," he said.
"That was the work of one of our top operatives—the deactivation, anyways." She kept on walking, with Osgood zooming off into the mess of people and leaving them alone. The two entered another lift, one that moved much slower than the first, and stepped out into a spacious office that overlooked the crowd below. "This is now where you work. As soon as we get hold of your personal belongings you can be escorted to your living quarters. I hope you find the place suitable."
Malcolm looked out the window down onto the dozens of people working below him. "So you're the Men in Black? Like X-Files and Star Trek rolled into one?" He had to strain to talk, too stunned to even swear. "I don't believe it."
"You have to, or we will make you," Kate reminded him. "Now come… I need to introduce you to your team before lunch."
A few more lifts and corridors later and Malcolm found himself staring at a group of six rather ragged-looking people, three men and three women. When he and Kate walked in they all stood at their desks and gave them their full attention.
"What is it, Director Stewart?" one of the women asked.
"You finally have your new boss," Kate replied. "I'd like you all to meet Malcolm Tucker, former Director of Communications for the PM. He starts immediately."
"With all due respect Director Stewart, but weren't you planning on hiring the new PR Head from within?" one of the men asked. He looked young, possibly the youngest one in the room. Kate calmly walked up to him, folding her hands behind her back.
"Are you questioning me, Shaw?"
"If you had been hoping that you were going to apply for the position, I hate to say that you wouldn't even have been in the running. Blood only gets you so far in here, after all." She leaned forward slightly, just enough to make the man half a head higher shrink back. "You do want to do well in here on your own merit, correct?"
"Then shut up and greet your new department head with a smile," she said. Kate turned around brusquely and made for the door. "I leave them to you, Mister Tucker."
Malcolm, however, couldn't help but watch her leave. It had been quiet and clean but it was still one of the most artful bollockings he had seen in a while. He turned towards his team, unable to help the half a grin making his face lopsided.
"Alright, you heard the lady: you're in Tuckertown now, my little fetus-children, and you take a listen here. I saw where they keep the tea on the way in. I'm going to go and make myself the first fucking decent cuppa I've had in months and when I come back, you all are going to give me the projects you're working on so I can review them."
"Don't you want us to introduce ourselves?" one of the other women asked.
"I'll decide who deserves names around here, sunshine," he replied. "Now a cuppa, then I start on correcting your fuck-ups, got it?" Malcolm backed away, hands jammed deep into his pockets, and turned to leave the room. The grin on his face grew a bit wider as he found the tiny kitchenette just down the hall and began to rifle through it for things to make tea.
Maybe, he might be able to enjoy it here.