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The Thick of UNIT

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The rest of March and most of the month of April in the Stewart-Tucker Household was the definition of insanity. With the moving up of Gordon and Kanda’s wedding, they needed to act quickly in order to bring everything together with relative ease. It meant that, as there were no remaining venues for the new date—along with the fact the couple in question’s garden was entirely too small—that Kate’s back garden was once again turned into Nuptial Ground Zero in little under a month.

“David, I need you to go inside the house and get the box in the basement with the chair ribbons; it seems like we missed it when we got everything else, so you might need to look for a bit,” Kate ordered gently. Sam’s son nodded and scampered off, the ten-year-old obediently listening to “Auntie Kate” as she helped lead the team who was putting together the outdoors component of the ceremony that morning.

“This is going to drive me fucking insane,” Jamie complained. “You people need to stop hosting weddings in your back garden the afternoon after a fucking all-day thunderstorm.”

“We can’t control the weather, you piece of shit,” Malcolm said, rolling his eyes. He was on a chair inside the gazebo, stapling some tulle and imitation satin to the inside of the structure. “Now less sass and more draping.” He gestured to the folded piles of fabric waiting to go up. “G’me some more before I put some staples in your face.”

“Aren’t you a cheery shite for someone who isn’t even the father of the groom, but merely the man married to the groom’s mam,” Jamie grumbled. “Dunno how the feck you roped me into this, but I could be terrorizing all of Wishaw right now with nothing more than a Silurian and a laser pen.”

“Yeah, and we have to get this place in order before Jonathan gets here, ‘cause he’ll have Gordon and his mates and then the clock’ll really start fucking ticking.”

“I’d rather they be here and I can take Wean Duty from Euan—lad needs to know his Uncle Jamie is here for him.” Jamie passed Malcolm another twist of the fake-satin-and-tulle and held it together as the other man stapled it up in decorative bunches.

“That.”

“Eh?”

Conall was how I roped you into this—Conall and Kanda both, yeh big fuckin’ softie. Both of ‘em got eyes you can’t refuse.”

Unable to refute that, Jamie stayed quiet as he and Malcolm finished stapling the rest of the fabric, making it so that the gazebo would be draped in red and gold for the ceremony and throughout the night. They were done just as Lawan and Somchai came from the house.

“We are almost done with the inside preparations for now,” Somchai announced. “Do you and Kate need help out here?”

“I think we almost got it under control,” Malcolm nodded. “Hey, listen, now that your sister’s not listening in, what in the hell should I do to make it up to her for cooking and baking the past two days in my kitchen?”

“She was the one who wanted to make the desserts; you must simply eat them,” Somchai replied. “There shall be enough for all eight of us.”

“I’m gonna go see if there’s any mistakes that need culling,” Jamie announced. “Least I can do is make sure those don’t get out into the world and embarrass us in front of everyone.” He slipped by and scurried off, leaving Malcolm by himself with his nearly-in-laws.

Fucking prat,” Malcolm grumbled under his breath

“What was that?” Lawan asked.

“Nothing,” he replied. An ugly silence settled over them—for having known the Kengs for over two decades, he knew there was little he could say that would not irritate one while still getting a response out of the stoic other. “So… how is the family that couldn’t make it? I saw Mali earlier and she said your mams weren’t coming after all.”

“Our mothers are too frail for the amount of travel necessary,” Somchai confirmed. “Yours is still hardy, and does not need to come far.”

“Compared to yours? Not the least. Does Pla have them? I notice she’s not here either.”

“My sister does, yes,” Lawan said. “I notice yours is very absent.”

“She can do whatever she wants; I’m not here to tell her what the fuck to do and not do,” Malcolm shrugged. It was true that Kanda and Gordon both had wanted Marcia to be there, but at the same time, she was in the middle of a previously-scheduled blitz of meetings, attempting to get a factory upgrade for her company approved by regulators.

“At least Pla is minding our elders; I would hate to see what excuse Marcia uses to miss her own daughter’s wedding.”

Lawan,” Somchai warned gently. “Mai pen rai.” He smiled and she pouted before sulking off, not wanting to continue.

“Holy shit—how the fuck you do that?” Malcolm marveled.

“The one thing I regret about the move to the United Kingdom is that my wife has grown quick to anger, with it becoming worse the longer she lives here,” Somchai explained solemnly. “Our people love having fun, and Lawan was no exception when we were younger. Sometimes she needs reminding, especially since this day is supposed to be a happy one.”

“Wish I knew her before that,” Malcolm admitted. In his pocket, his mobile buzzed ominously. He took it out and glanced at the caller ID: Bismuth.

“Is everything thing alright, Malcolm?”

“It’s Gordon’s boss—let me field this real quick so he doesn’t have to,” he said. Somchai nodded and walked away, allowing Malcolm some privacy while he accepted the call. For extra precaution, however, Malcolm went inside, dodging guests as he searched for refuge. “What the actual fuck, you magenta conehead? You know what day this is.”

Life doesn’t remain neat and tidy simply because we ask it to cooperate for one day,” Bismuth replied. Malcolm knew she was already irritated with the state of things at-large because there had been no way for her to attend her right-hand’s wedding and still allow others from the department to do the same; her leadership position was working against her in such regard, and she was—if anything—a leader. “The Xervellian wants to have a chat with you.”

“What does the Xervellian want with me?” he wondered, bringing his voice down low so that no one would have a chance of hearing. He stepped into the office and closed the door for good measure. “I’ve talked to it all of twice.”

It had made a request and I am delivering the message, because I’m concerned that it would emit a psychic blast and melt everyone’s brains, as it reminded us it was capable of doing such a thing.”

“I can’t just bunk off now,” he scowled into the mobile. “Weddings are kind of a big fucking deal in Human cultures and I don’t want to miss this one.” He paused, allowing Bismuth time to process his words. “Listen: I’ve known Kanda since she was five and Gordon’s my wife’s son. I have to be here.”

Still doesn’t change the fact it was you they requested,” she replied. Malcolm ran a hand through his hair and exhaled heavily. “Don’t ask me why—like I said, I’m just passing along the message.”

“If my wife finds out I was working the day her son got married, she’d fucking murder me, and then you’d owe Mainframe UK a new PR-Communications Head.”

Promote MacDonald.”

“Can’t—he’d be just as dead ‘cause he’s coming with me as cover. Give us ten.”

Malcolm ended the call and hissed—just his fucking luck. On the very day he was about to exact revenge and become in-laws with Lawan against her will, their Mystery Mainframe Guest decided to threaten murder while asking for him. He rummaged around in a drawer for something, went out of the office, and found Kate; she was still engrossed in setup, thank fuck. Leaning in, he kissed her on the cheek.

“Borrowing Jamie as I duck out for a tic; be back in two smacks of a Victorian wench.”

“I don’t want to know how that is relevant to anything, but I’ll hold you to it,” she replied. Wee David then ran up to them, holding out a box full of ribbons. “Good; now put one on each chair like this…”

Pretending not to rush, Malcolm walked back over towards the house—any bit of hurry or panic and he’d be caught. He poked his head in the kitchen door and saw Jamie shoving misshapen biscuits inside his gob while a couple pint-sized relations of Kanda’s cheered. “James, get over here.”

“Teh ffck yeh wan?” he replied, mouth full of the treat.

“Gotta run an errand; let’s go.”

Jamie chewed quickly and swallowed enough cookie mush so he could talk. “Go make sure your auntie has as many cookies as she wants, okay?” The small children scurried off, allowing Jamie to make a quick exit out the door. He finished off the remainder of what was in his mouth and let out a small belch. “Fuck; Erica can bake almost as good as Mam.”

“Save some room for later,” Malcolm frowned. He slipped off the property and began to walk down the street, heading towards a wooded area. As they walked, he raised his voice slightly. “Just a quick walk and I can stop feeling like my head’s spinning harder than a fucking top.”

“…what…?” Jamie wondered. Malcolm looked at him and he instantly understood—play along.

“It’s a fucking nightmare with everyone running about,” Malcolm griped. “Can’t get a fucking think in without bumping into someone.”

“Let alone get in a decent fag,” Jamie added. He nodded at a neighbor riding by on a bicycle. “Thanks again for getting me where the wife can’t see; told her I was cutting back.”

“Jeanette’ll find out soon enough,” Malcolm snarked. The two then ducked into the wood and continued on, their conversation becoming more hushed. “Thanks, mate.”

“The fuck are we doing out here?” Jamie asked. “This looks like a hidey-hole for teens to fucking snog in.”

“I got a call from Bismuth,” Malcolm admitted.

“Bismuth? The one in Security?”

“Yeah—I gotta get down to work.”

“Then why the fuck are we out here?”

“Taking the short way around.” Malcolm stopped walking and took a small object from his pocket—a tube of lipstick.

“What are you doing?” Jamie wondered. He watched as Malcolm held the wee tube high above his head and pressed a button on the end, allowing it to emit a whirring noise and a greenish glow. “The fuck is that?”

“Kate’s sonic lipstick—we need a ride, and fast.”

“A ride…? From who?!”

It was then that the TARDIS began to screech, then appear, into view. Jamie cursed, having been briefed on precisely whose ship it was.

“Fuck’s sake, Malc; him?!”

“We don’t have a choice if we want to get there and back in a timely manner, for the Mainframe’s sake and ours,” he replied. The door opened and he braced himself—whenever he saw the not-quite-old police box, it was never fun.

Except, instead of the Doctor popping out, a woman with unruly blonde curls and a blaster on her hip met them on the threshold. The sight of her tugged at something in the back of Malcolm’s mind, though he let it go—now was the time for him to be on his guard.

“I take it you are the ones who sent the signal?” she asked. Neither Malcolm nor Jamie responded. “A bit too far from an experimental youth to be playing with Mummy’s lipstick, aren’t you?”

“…and you’re a bit too far from being the Doctor,” Malcolm sneered. “Is he in there?”

“No—he’s out right now and I’m keeping the ship busy while he’s gone,” the woman said. She leaned against the other door and gave the two men a look-over. “I might be able to help you.”

“Do you know what Mainframe UK is?” Malcolm asked. She probably did, but that didn’t mean she needed to know he was aware of that. There was a silence between them, as though she was considering what to say, thinking about how to play her hand.

“Of course—might’ve even been there once or twice. What do you want with UNIT?”

“I work there, and need to go there, and you’re going to take us.”

“It’s a TARDIS, not a taxi.”

“…and it’s an emergency,” he stated. “There’s a Xervellian in the mainframe that wants to have a chat and I don’t exactly want to keep it waiting.”

That piqued her interest. “A Xervellian? Where’d you scrounge up one of them with this era’s spaceflight capabilities?” A beat, and she understood. “A refugee? Even more interesting…”

“Are you going to help us or not?” Jamie cut in. The woman shifted her weight off the door and smirked devilishly.

“I might.”

“This sounds like it carries a condition,” Malcolm noted.

“Let me see the Xervellian,” she requested. “Xervel natives are highly psychic and empathetic, not to mention long-lived—the things I could potentially learn from one would be innumerable.”

“…and why do you want to learn something from a Xervellian?” Malcolm asked.

“I am a professor of archeology—there’s always something to learn out there,” she replied. “What do you say? It’s either that, or you try your little ride-hailing stunt again, and who knows what sort of mood the Doctor’ll be in when he discovers you were naughty and took something that doesn’t belong to you.”

Malcolm mused on that for a split second and relented. “Fine; you get five minutes, depending on what the Xervellian wants. You get access to nothing else, no one else, and no looking around in the name of curiosity or espionage or whatever the fuck you try to call it. After that, you bring us back here, thirty seconds from after we left.”

“Done.” The woman turned around and disappeared into the ship, her voice calling out from the inner workings. “Are you coming or not?”

“Yeah, we’re coming,” Malcolm replied. He and Jamie went into the TARDIS and the door closed behind them. The woman noted their lack of reactions to the interior as she piloted the ship.

“Not your first time?”

“Hardly,” Malcolm shrugged, hands in his pockets.

“Previously-warned,” Jamie added. He nodded as he glanced around, taking in his surroundings carefully. “Pretty sweet ride for something you just nicked.”

“You can’t steal what was already stolen,” the woman winked. Jamie shifted so that he was slightly behind Malcolm, using his friend as a shield, which made her laugh. “Here we are: right outside Mainframe UK.”

“Right outside? Why not in?” Jamie asked.

“Too many shields and too much interference,” Malcolm said before the woman could open her mouth. “Saint Alistair knew it’d be tougher for the Doctor to get in, yeah, but that meant it would also be tougher for people like him to get in as well. The place is nearly Time Toff-proof.”

“That’s one way to put it,” the woman nodded. “Let’s go—we don’t have any time to waste if you want to get back to… whatever it was you were doing.”

After navigating the crowded London street—because of course they still couldn’t be wholly next to the building—Malcolm and Jamie took the woman from the TARDIS into Mainframe UK through the main entrance, the one in the front-building where most of the visitors were processed. A flash of their badges and all three were allowed access into the compound. Bismuth met them in the atrium by accident, immediately taking note of the new person.

“Is she how you got here so fast?” Fajr asked, reading the situation.

“Spoilers,” the woman grinned. “Where is the Xervellian?”

“I promised her five minutes if she took us along on her TARDIS joyride,” Malcolm explained. “It was the Doctor’s TARDIS, and the fucking brakes didn’t whine even once—we can take the chance if it gets me here and back in time.”

“Then let’s go,” Bismuth nodded, taking careful note of the woman. The four went through the mainframe, heading towards the lab where the Xervellians were being housed. Dr. Shaw was there, outside the unit that housed the extraterrestrials, overseeing the molemen and scientists who were monitoring the devices that made certain their guests were still healthy and calm.

“Any update on how they’re doing, Beth?” Malcolm asked. Dr. Shaw looked at them, blinked, and scowled.

“Good, you’re here,” she breathed. “I’m ready to kick these things out of the mainframe.”

“What? They don’t want to talk to a dried up hag like you?” Jamie smirked. Dr. Shaw hit him with her clipboard. “I knew it.”

“Xervellians are notoriously picky in regards to with whom they openly communicate,” the woman from the TARDIS said. Dr. Shaw looked her over cautiously.

“…and who are you?”

“The Archaeologist,” the woman replied slyly. “I’m borrowing the TARDIS and gave these two a lift.”

“So then in this case, you’re merely the Getaway Driver.”

Stepping around the tension in the air as their visitor locked glares with their scientific advisor, Malcolm and Jamie got one of the support scientists to allow them access to the chamber holding the Xervellians in isolation. After a quick stop in the decontamination area, they stepped into the extraterrestrials’ living area. Toys from the child were scattered everywhere, while the child itself was curled up atop the bed sleeping peacefully. The adult Xervel, however, was still awake, seated at a nearby table.

<You were summoned,> it said, projecting the words into Malcolm’s brain.  <You came quickly.>

“I had to strike a bargain to do so, but yeah,” he frowned. “Now what do you need? I don’t have all day.”

<Make it leave,> the Xervellian requested. Malcolm shook his head.

“He’s my best mate; if you’re in my head only, then you should have no problem with Jamie being here. We can talk in front of him.”

<It is in the way.>

Malcolm groaned and turned towards Jamie. “Fuck off ‘til I say, yeah?”

“Don’t get your tunic in a twist,” Jamie snipped, giving the Xervellian a two fingered salute on the way out. Once they were alone, Malcolm glared at the extraterrestrial sourly.

“What’s the deal with requesting me?” he questioned. The Xervellian was silent. “Well? Why doesn’t anyone else make the fucking cut?”

<You are special. You are in power.>

“Plenty of others in this organization have power, or are special. I’m just a shoddy-arsed Human; we’re common as absolute fuck ‘round here.”

<You are not.>

“Not what? Shoddy-arsed? Human? Commonplace?”

<You are special. You are power.>

“You don’t make sense.”

<Neither do you. You are special. You are power. I talk to you because you are.>

“There’s plenty of other people here you can talk to, more special than me even, so I don’t know why you need me, especially when I have other things to do.”

<You do not know?>

He scoffed. “Know what?”

<Why it is you here.>

“Fucked if I do.”

The Xervellian glanced at its child, the smaller version of itself slumbering peacefully. <We require safety. We are not home, though wish to be.>

“I wanna be home myself, but some things can’t be helped.”

<It is a long way to your home. Is that why you are always cross?>

“My home isn’t as far as yours.” He noted that the extraterrestrial stayed silent as it stroked its child’s head. “What the fuck are you playing at?”

<How long shall it be until the ship has recovered?>

“At least a week, if those plans you gave my R&D people are anything to go by. Anything else?”

<Yes. Would you like for us to take you home?>

Malcolm blinked at that, not entirely certain about what to say. “Pardon?”

<We can take you home, if you wish.>

“I don’t need you to take me home, but thanks.” He shifted on the balls of his feet, unsure how to process the Xervellian’s words. Out of all the things it had said, that was one of the oddest, as well as what threw him the most. “That is kind of you.”

<Kindness is not often found in your lineage. Acknowledging its existence may itself be a feat.>

His brow furrowed.

“How do you know that?” He cautiously stepped closer. “What are you able to see that makes you say that?”

<I see what made you.>

“…what made me…?”

<I see what made you and the questions you have… the questions you suppress. The ship cannot take you home, though it can get close… close enough to acquire answers.>

“The only question I have is why me mam never got a trophy husband to be my stepdad; I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it won’t work on me. Do you have anything else you want to talk to me about?”

If the Xervellian could smile, Malcolm was sure it was doing so at that very moment.

<You were preparing for a celebration, we were told. What do you celebrate this day?>

“A wedding… a marriage… I don’t know if there’s something in your culture that is equivalent… a bonding…? Do you have those?”

<Inhabitants of this planet commemorate odd things,> the Xervellian stated. <We were told it was to celebrate a mating.>

“That’s not incorrect, but it’s not right either.”

<Then which is it?>

“I think we’d need you to sit an entire fucking course on Humans in order to get that even remotely understood,” he said. “Hey, listen: I’ve got someone else who wants to talk with you, and—”

<No visitors.>

“…but she wanted to see you and…”

<No visitors.>

“Then what am I?”

<Power.>

Not this fucking shit again.

“The woman outside this chamber is the reason I was even able to get here without taking an hour and a fucking half sitting in traffic and hitting the CCZ on a day I really did not want to have to deal with that,” he explained. “I promised her five minutes with you in exchange for getting me here quicker than should be fucking possible. Please talk to her.”

The Xervellian paused for a moment. <Send it in.>

“Thank you,” Malcolm said, tone still cold and curt. He turned around and went to leave, when he suddenly found himself frozen mid-step. As hard as he could, he could not get his legs to move, allowing the Xervellian to stand and walk up behind him, placing a six-fingered hand on his shoulder.

<You are more than you know, Child of Stardust. Do not squander that.>

Malcolm carefully shrugged himself away from the Xervellian and left the containment unit. He was shivering in… fuck, he wasn’t entirely sure if it was the fact he was creeped the fuck out or what it was; all he knew what that he didn’t like it. Tensions had not lessened when he came out of the decontamination chamber, with everything seemingly in a tense deadlock dominated by the woman from the TARDIS and Dr. Shaw.

“So? What’d Space Oddity want?” Jamie asked, desperate for something.

“To creep me the fuck out, it seems,” Malcolm replied. “It wanted to offer to take me home once its ship has recovered. What a weird fucking thing to say after taking me from my home.”

“Maybe it thinks your ancestral home,” the woman from the TARDIS suggested. He shrugged at that.

“I can go back to Scotland any ol’ time—what I need is to get back to help preparing for the wedding. Alright Curls; your turn, as promised.”

“Thank you,” she winked, immediately heading into the Xervellian’s chamber. Once the door was closed behind her, Dr. Shaw glared at Malcolm, very clearly irritated.

“She’s next on the list of individuals I want out of this mainframe,” the scientific advisor said. “Her being here is trouble.”

“How would you know?”

“Kate needs to get better at briefing you about stuff that happens when you’re not around.”

“Technically, ma’am, it was from before Mister Tucker began working for UNIT…” one of the scientists offered. Dr. Shaw glared at him and he quieted immediately.

“New topic: you’ve been talking to the Xervellian, right?” Malcolm offered.

“Much as I can. Why?”

“Malc, you’re rattled,” Jamie noted. “What the fuck did that thing do to you in there?”

“It called me ‘Child of Stardust’ and referred to me as ‘power’,” Malcolm explained. “I was wondering if anyone else got touchy-feeling vibes from this thing or if it was just me.” He watched as Dr. Shaw and Jamie’s faces both crinkled in confusion.

“The fuck does that mean?”

“It could be an epithet of cultural significance on Xervel,” Dr. Shaw shrugged. “It’s not referred to a single rest of us as such, not even Kate, and she’s of a higher rank than you.”

Does it understand that, though?” Jamie wondered. “There are plenty of people who don’t understand what the fuck being rank-and-file means, nor are willing to listen and adhere to it.”

“The biggest question is, though, is why it fucking chose me, of everyone in the mainframe who it could speak with,” Malcolm wondered. “I don’t trust it, not for anything.”

“That is likely for the better,” Dr. Shaw said. It was then that the woman from the TARDIS stormed out of the containment unit, absolutely fuming. “That was a quick five minutes.”

She didn’t respond and kept on walking.

“Shit, gotta go! Catch you later, Liz!” Malcolm said as he and Jamie jogged lightly to catch up to the woman. The two men had to walk briskly to keep up with her, almost getting the door to the TARDIS slammed in their faces when they followed her into the ship.

“The fuck is up with you?!” Jamie snapped. The woman threw the TARDIS into gear and sulked against a railing. “You’re acting like one of my kids when they’ve been a prat and get called on it.”

“The Xervellian was less than helpful, to say the least,” she said. She then narrowed her eyes at Malcolm. “What did you say to it?”

“Nothing… at least nothing that should have made it not want to cooperate,” he fired back. “I don’t know what the fuck you were asking it; maybe that was the problem.”

The woman pushed a button on the console and the ship stopped.

“Leave.”

Malcolm and Jamie both stood there, nonplussed.

“I said: leave.”

“We just want to know what the fuck happened in there,” Jamie frowned. He grunted as the mobile in his pocket began to go off, a flood of texts and voicemails coming in at once. “The fuck…?”

“Mine’s doing it too,” Malcolm noticed. He pulled out his mobile and looked at the time the device had synced to…

S H I T

“You agreed thirty seconds!” he snapped.

“I didn’t even get three minutes.” The woman pulled the blaster from her holster and pointed it at her visitors. “Get off the ship and be glad that you’re not missing for the rest of the weekend.”

Not wanting to risk her ire even more, Malcolm and Jamie got off the TARDIS and didn’t even look back as they made their way out of the wood. Cars were now lined on the street as overflow parking and the sun was now beating down on them from the other side of the tree.

“We’re in so much fucking trouble,” Jamie grimaced. “That bint almost made us miss the wedding!”

“We’ll miss it entirely if we don’t spin it just right,” Malcolm said. They broke off at the gate, with the younger headed towards the back garden to be with the rest of the guests whilst the elder looked about in an effort to find his wife. He found Kate in the sitting room, amongst much of the rest of the wedding party. The moment she saw him, her eyes lit in anger.

“You better have an excellent excuse as to why you’re nearly late,” she hissed lowly. He kissed her, then smirked, trying to play it off.

“Not a fucking one… at least not one you want to hear.”

“Try me.”

He leaned in and made it look like he was kissing her behind the ear, whispering, “A time-and-space joyride so no one else has to.” Kate looked at him blankly, clearly not impressed.

“You’re going to debrief me tonight, after what you better hope is a seamless wedding and some really, really good make-up sex.” He grinned toothily in response.

“You’re on.”