13.4.8 § 22 Employee Responsibilities For Mental and Sexual Health of Field Agents
It's not like his terms of employment weren't clear; but it's been understood that they rarely apply to the Q-branch employees. After all, the bulk of R&D had been deep under London even before MI-6 evacuated to the tunnels,
Boothroyd had even gone a step further to protect his 'crew' - breakfast and lunch, plus a light tea that could double as a midnight snack were done on a pot-luck basis for 40 in each of the 3 break areas. No-one from his department had to brave meeting an agent in the cafeteria. The gym, it was understood, was at-your-own-risk; as was the range, but the three aisles of the prototype test range off of central engineering were enough to keep the department's firearms certifications current.
The system kept them separate from 'six and it kept them safe. So when he took up the mantle of Q, he abused rank to reduce his rotation to providing tea 3x a month, allowed employee buy-in for those days lunch got left behind, and left well enough alone. Besides, Q was rather proud of his ability to produce 8 dozen vegan chocolate cupcakes in 40 minutes.
Five months into his tenure as Q, it became clear that physical isolation was not going to be enough going forward.
Or rather, an unfortunate convergence of post-Silva deep cover recalls and world events had landed an unprecedented number of agents in London. Bored agents. The current request program was piggybacked on some Microsoft monstrosity that was originally used for scheduling conference rooms. It was never designed for this load (never designed at all, if Q was feeling charitable) and developed queuing problems.
In short: 005 had claimed one of the new auditors for the three weeks before his window to infiltrate a key underground uranium supplier opened. Agent 83 had also put in a request for her through the field agent secretary pool, which they never should have authorized. The outcome was lucky. Agent 83 was only healing from a broken leg, shattered hand, and moderate internal bruising. The auditor quit; and denied his first choice, 005 dragged the offending secretary off to god knows where, reportedly by her hair, and M dumped the software on Q-branch.
The main rules were simple: 1) double-ohs get who they want, when they want them. 2) elite field agents - the double-oh training pool - can only be denied for certified cause. 3) All other field agents, along with a number of department heads, can put in a request for any time outside of work hours, which may be declined. 3a) requests not declined for certified cause can be overridden by the agent’s superior or quartermaster.
Given their reputation as virginal basement dwelling science nerds, no one had ever asked their personal quartermaster to override the system. Still, mused Q, specs were specs.
While he was at it there were other requests - continue to allow the secretarial pool, and by extension quartermasters, to enter requests for agents; automated tie-in to accounting for the overtime to cover missed shifts, and to medical for follow-up testing and counselling; facial recognition searches for when you didn't get a name, but did get a picture; searches by physical attributes, department, marital status, and a few things that Q was rather certain he didn't want to google. HR even wanted the percent of 'requests' accepted, to go into annual reviews. Oh, and it should be compatible with station software worldwide - this was going to be pushed to all of MI-6.
And it had to keep Q-branch safe.
Q could have rolled new software out as soon as the next central update went through, but that would have been suspicious. So he sat on it for an extra two days, until the Friday senior staff meeting, and was feeling rather proud of himself.
R had made up a rather smart presentation, and some of the best curried dahl he'd had in ages, and Q was feeling confident as he left behind his early lunch in the R&D tunnels for the sunlit conference rooms preferred by other departments.
He tried to hold onto that feeling when the paper agenda indicated he'd be presenting first. And again when they relocated from a boardroom to a lecture hall and hundreds of eyes bored into him. All of the department heads, more of the double-ohs than he'd ever seen in one place together, and enough agents and pretty young things to make him think they could all adjourn to secret-agent & femme fatale night at the nearest club were there.
There were - thank R - no technology hiccups as his presentation loaded on the 4 meter tall screen. He pulled on the headset; not as nice as Q-branch, but far better than when he'd done a stint in accounting during cross-training, and began.
"The new agent calendar event system; ACES for short, is accessed through your existing MI-6 profile page - no more sending notes to Patricia and her crew - although Q-branch will be releasing an app for use with secured MI6 smartphones and tablets by the end of the month."
There was clapping, and then a cheer, and then the whole audience was on their feet. Seriously? He'd banged it out over a bottle of Shiraz, with over 90% of the code pulled from the MI-6 internal GIT repository, and the rest typed on a bloody tablet. It was nothing like the systematic zombification of Russian weather satellites they'd achieved last week, and yet the crowd was giving him a bloody standing ovation. When the noise faded, finishing with a particularly lewd wolf-whistle, Q continued.
He outlined the how to access the system, use the history and search functions, accepted picture types for facial recognition, and glossed over the queuing workflow and systems integrations. He finished by announcing the system was up for use immediately, training sessions through HR would begin next week, and called for questions.
"How about a practical demonstration? You, me, 8:30 tonight?"
Oh gods. That was 007. Grounded thanks to a shockwave that had mangled his ears enough to throw off his balance, James Bond had all but taken up residence in the outer corridors of Q-branch. Q had been deliberately misunderstanding his "flirtations" for the last 9 days.
That was a direct request; there was no way to push it off this time. Bond was leaning forward from his front row seat, legs splayed wide, looking all the world like the cat who'd pinned a mouse. A very Q-like mouse. Shit.
He closed the presentation, and the default home screen filled the projection. How was he going to get through this with the man hovering over him and clicking in all the wrong places? What if his protections for Q-branch were too good and he didn't even show up as a potential partner...?
Wait - he THE quartermaster, he could bloody well requisition himself on 007's behalf. Logging in to his MI-6 profile, Q clicked the new ACES icon in the available application dock.
"Now, although I have requesting privilege as a branch head, you'll note that since this is for 007 I'm going to the 'my agents' section. If you can't, or don't want to, get in yourself, then your assigned secretary, superior, or quartermaster can book on your behalf from here."
As long as he kept talking his hands wouldn't shake. "You'll see your agents along the left," it was a beautiful display showing name, official position at MI-6, and a thumbnail picture. The thin scroll bar indicated that the list went on for quite some time, but it was alphabetized by surname and Bond was already visible, "once you select an agent, please note that their picture will replace yours in the upper right, and the background will change to a blue theme to show that we're working on someone else's behalf."
He thought about the easiest way to get himself to appear in the results, where he should never be. Fixing his gaze firmly on the screen he selected the "Quartermaster (Q-Branch)" heading so from the department dropdown, pointedly ignoring the activation of the subdivisions menu, and then entered Q into the name field before clicking search.
Q - Director
Angelina Quellian - Tech Floater 2nd Class
Pulling up his profile, he cringed briefly at the associated picture - really should have updated that when he was promoted (or at any time after his formal intake). Most of his information read simply 'redacted' but apparently preferred partner wasn't considered identifying enough, because there it was: 'men,' outing him to every agent in the entire fucking service. As if he hadn't fended off enough passes since becoming Q.
Q entered in 8:30pm as the start, meeting at the agent's reception desk, and turned back to Bond, "and when do you think we'll be done?"
"Oh, I might see my way to letting a pretty young thing like you go for lunch."
"12 o'clock then." He typed it in, clicked submit, and pulled out his work-issued mobile. A moment later it dinged, alerting him to the changes in his schedule and directing him to his ACES profile for more information. "As a side benefit this will notify you superiors if you'll be out during normal working hours, and flag all meetings in conflict to the appropriate admin pool for rescheduling. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a number of items to wrap up since I won't be in tomorrow morning."
Forgetting the rest of the meeting, Q ripped the headset off with as much dignity as he could muster, snapped the laptop shut, and fled through the instructor door before the applause began.
"Sir, should we erase the Bang-On test data from the presentation?"
"First, now that we're in production, the system should be referred to by its proper name, and second, I'm afraid that that wasn't test data. 007 asked for a practical demonstration, and it seems that I have a... an assignation to tonight."
"But you're exempt!"
"I'm afraid not. Historically, Q branch has lacked the respect required for exemptions."
Q hurried through the department as the chime of the interoffice chat program began to chorus though the air before his staff remembered to mute their speakers. He sagged into the stillness of his office as the echo of locking solenoids in the door dissipated.
It was easier than expected to clear tomorrow morning; it was a Saturday, and there was only 009 in the field under deep cover. Regretfully he put off the ballistics testing of the new rocket launcher from automotive a full week - experience had shown that anything that could shake the foundations really should be tested pre-dawn on a Saturday, and, well, he'd been looking for an excuse to put off the quarterly budgets anyway.
Ok that was done. He was clear to spend well into tomorrow having sex with James Bond.
The panic he'd been trying to keep down seized him; he was going to have sex with a double-oh. Or rather 007 was going to have sex with him. He'd barely passed his physicals; there was no way he was getting through this. Pulling at his hair, he slumped against his desk.
Q couldn't say how long he sat frozen, only that it ended when the override on the door blinked green.
"Q? Love?" That was Moneypenny.
"Sir?" R, Henrietta, in full mothering mode. He couldn't blame her, he was the same age as her kids and she'd taken him home and all but adopted him when M dumped him on Q branch more than a decade ago. Even when she'd redone their rooms (getting rid of that horrible bunk bed) she'd made it clear he was always welcome to come and stay.
The two slipped inside, followed by a half dozen of his technical leads. Claire Anderson, better known as Switch, was his first recruit and the unofficial head of Cybersecurity. Catherine Alice Walker, MD had been one of the original flower children, and her salt-and-pepper hair was still in plaits wrapped around her head. She'd swapped "Dr. Alice" for "Dr. Walker" when Silva's bombing promoted her to associate director of Pharmaceuticals.
Paul, Geoff, and Thomas were straight-backed men in white coats straight out of the old MI-6. They ran the Engineering, Micro-computing, and Automotive Divisions. They took up position near his bench as the ladies sat down in his too-hard sofa, and Eve positively lounged against his desk.
"Sir, you said this would be an improvement." Switch accused. She had reason for concern, with a face like a Botticelli angel and a figure that precluded taking the tube at rush hour, if she wasn't hidden in Crypto he'd be losing at least a third of her working hours. Which would be a bollixed up waste of the second best programmer on English soil?
"I did." Q acknowledged, dragging himself from the desk to an empty whiteboard. "There was a direct request from a double-oh in front of witnesses. My hands were tied. It is fortunate he didn't try to pull me up himself." He set a marker to the board, beginning to sketch the system architecture.
"Now, your department is an inheritable class, so all members of the auditing team are also in finance, which is part of central administration, which is part of 'six. However, during testing of Bang-On Q-branch may, and I stress may, have been set up as non-inheriting parent organization; a full review of the current configuration is currently in the general queue at priority eight.
"In addition, while names, nicknames, alternate spellings and diminutives will pull up a full range of results, handles are considered classified information and are not searchable fields within the system. That means that a search for 'Switch' will never return you, and a search for Claire will only return you if the agent has selected Quartermaster as a top level department, then R&D, and then Cybersecurity.
"At the parent level there's only myself, R, the reception staff, and the floater tech pool. We're fortunate Quellian went floater after her maternity leave, or there would have been a suspicious lack of results." Just thinking how badly it could have gone, Q’s shoulders tensed, and he braced a hand against the board for support.
"In addition, as all results have a default sort of relevance, the more closely an individual is linked to the agent - terms of department, geographical location, preferred lunch break, etc. - the more likely they are to appear at the top of the suggestion list. However, rotational positions are excluded, and cyber security support for agent runners is nominally rotational position, so it is not prioritized the relevance rankings."
His team stared at the board. Q couldn't read their closed-off faces, but he imagined the anger he felt at himself was reflected there.
"I'm sorry I couldn't do more." He apologized.
He must have looked pathetic, because suddenly Henrietta was wrapping her arms around his shoulders and leading him my back to the spot she'd vacated on the couch.
"Alright then," She declared, returning to wipe the board clear with a few decisive strokes, "What do we need to do to send our quartermaster into the field?" With the block engineers script the previous Q - Major Boothroyd - had drilled into his staff she titled the board:
Q's Big Date
Q made a strangled sound. "It's not a date!" He yelped, "It's a bloody booty call; there's no way I'm going to get out of this unharmed-"
"Sssh, love" Eve was pressing the cold mug of tea from his desk into his hands, "take a drink, yes? That's a good boy, now. Deep breath. Another. OK. Now what worries you?"
"Bond breaks everything he touches. We gave him a custom titanium radio - Paul was in the vacuum chamber doing micro welds for hours-"
"14 on the production copy alone, sir"
"It should have been indestructible, and he managed to shear the speaker off with his bare hands-"
"I believe he caught the wire from his garrotte in his watch under the protective cage-" Paul started to describe the failure before Eve cut him off with a hand motion only to have Q bulldoze on.
"Exactly! 2 watches, 8 earpieces, a dozen radios, and that's only because we replaced more than one mid-mission, 5 cars, of which 4 were salvageable, and a customized Walther PPK! And that's just in the last three months. There's nothing from Q-branch that makes it out of that man's custody in one piece."
"On the other hand," Eve was trying to soothe him, "in the same time he's only had to replace one suit, and repair two dinner jackets. Try thinking of yourself more as a bespoke piece of art, and less a device, and I'm sure you'll make it through fine."
"You're forgetting that I wiped the tapes of him and 006 outside of the armoury last week. I have no illusions about what I'm getting into."
"Right then." Henrietta interrupted, drawing attention to the typical mission matrix she'd drawn. Written down the left side were probable events in chronological order, with the next columns given over to supplies and preparation, mitigation efforts, and finally post-mission clean-up.
She labelled the first event "Dinner and Drinks"
"Because we all know who's for dessert," grumbled Q.
"That's the spirit!" She was in full-on R mode now, ready to facilitate a mission plan. It was the psychology degree; Q would put money on it. "Now 007 hasn't typically made use of the perks of being an agent at MI-6, so we're working with limited data. However, going from his missions, he almost always starts his flirtatious at a bar, or gaming table, and then adjourns to dinner or has a full meal - and then some - delivered directly to his rooms. I thought no he'll be taking you to dinner."
"Counterpoint," Interrupted Geoff, "no dinner, directly to drinks. We need to make sure that there's something in Q's stomach to slow the absorption, but not so much he can't eat if he needs to."
"I doubt I'll have an appetite."
Henrietta pencilled in light meal under mitigation, for both dinner and no dinner, adding dress clothes to supplies.
"Next?" She called out.
"Sex," That was Switch.
"Probable locations?" Asked R.
"Bond's flat, Q's flat, hotel suite," said Eve.
"Worst case - agent's lounge," added Geoff
"Continuing - alleyway or public location, car, sex clubs," oh gods. Henrietta had said sex clubs with a straight face. Q was going to die of embarrassment long before 8:30 ever arrived.
Q moaned, and buried his face in his hands. Mercifully, his team ignored him and continued on.
"Switch - pull the security logs for 007's flat, and cross reference with environmentals and his charge history at restaurants, bars, and hotels to get us some odds on this. What are the practical consequences of this choice?"
"I've lost track of the number of knickers I've pulled out of agent's cars during resupply." Thomas muttered, "Ripped blouses too."
R amended dress clothes with "easily removed"
"We issue agent 007 protection when he goes in the field, any idea if he uses them, or should we get an antiviral?" R asked the group.
"We didn't in Macau" Oh gods, that was Eve, "of course, it could be that we were in a hurry and there weren't any on the balcony." She paused to think a moment, "Also, it was sort of an amazing bout of hatesex. The way he got his hands around my-"
"Miss Moneypenny. That will be enough." He had no idea Switch could take that tone, her voice as sharp as her handle, "I think that you should head to medical, brief Dr. Mehri, and fetch back the usual supplies."
Eve glared down at Switch, taking in the navy cardigan and careless plait of electric-blue hair, "as if a kid like you-"
"Out." That was R. No one messed with her team, and Eve was much more a friend to Q than to Q-branch. Eve waved a vague salute in R's direction and left, her heels clicking deliberately as she closed the door.
"Between Moneypenny and 006 we have two similar data points. Are there other types of sex we should prepare for?" R turned back to business, adding "condoms and lubrication" to supplies and an indented bullet with "rough sex"
"I don't suppose I could put flowers and candlelight on the list?" Q sighed.
"No Sir." Thomas from automotive now. "We can't afford to lose our quartermaster due to inadequate preparation." He paused to think. "Have you ever given a blow job, sir?"
"Yes," Q's said, more shortly than intended. He was not thinking about being on his knees before James Bond. Not thinking about that at all. "The problem is I don't see how I can prepare for this other than by getting dead drunk."
R obligingly wrote "Chemical Relaxation" under top-level mitigation measures, followed by "Preparatory Stretching." Q felt the flush spread from his hairline to his chest.
"Ma'am," Switch looked up from her tablet, "Post-Skyfall London data, adjusting for the purchase date of his flat, while limited, indicates that he usually takes his partners there, with none of the ladies purchasing so much as a coffee in the morning. Either he's feeding them breakfast or they're no longer up for food.
"I'm still waiting on several HR systems, but current data shows 2-3 days out of work following their encounter with Agent Bond."
"Breakfast" was added near the bottom of the board, along with "change of clothes" and "dressing gown." At the very top level R added a leave recall notice under clean-up. Not Good, Q thought, very Not Good. The last time one had gone out Major Boothroyd and 30% of the department had a nasty case of norovirus.
"Humiliation, mitigation," Q forced himself to push out, "Spare glasses, all critical supplies in a case locked via micro-dermal sensors."
"Rough sex, mitigation, bio-tracer watch." Supplied Paul from engineering.
"Won't do any good if it gets taken off," countered Switch.
"If it's as fast as it was with 006, the watch is staying on. It'd be damn useful to have basic biometrics. If we register a sudden drop in blood oxygen we can have an ambulance there in 90 seconds flat."
R had added "breath play" to the list and the watch to mitigation efforts. Q felt sick. In the upper left she added the 24/7 notation and a single tally. One-full time monitor then.
"Paul." Q had to focus on the engineering to keep his voice steady, "Aren't we still in pre-beta with that watch?"
"Sir. We've been unable to resolve the blood pressure calibration issues, so we're not going to get any change unless you're bleeding out, but it can reliably report temperature, perspiration, heart-rate, and blood-oxygen levels. The prototype on my bench has a cultured sapphire touch-screen face, works with tap, tap-and-hold, and swipe motions, although the testers have been having a devil of a time with complex directional input."
"So we could use Morse code?" Geoff, now.
"No." corrected Switch gently, "Bond came into the double-oh program from the navy. He'll pick up on Morse code tapped out on a watch face like a dog on a bone. I can monitor, best to leave the agent runners out of this, and we'll come up with customized code."
They would. She'd been his first hire once he was promoted high enough to have a say in things, and the only one fast enough to keep up with him on polymorphic code engines. Compared to some of the things they'd created, code for the watch would be child's play. Focusing on this like any other pre-mission prep kept his movements steady as he crossed to the board and his voice from cracking as he addressed his team.
"I think we have enough to go-on here. Switch, Paul, head down to your bench and get that watch wired into an appropriate sandbox environment. Thomas, verify the tracer on 007's car. Coordinate with R to see if there's something else she'd like in there. Geoff, see if we can modify one of the small delivery cases to hold my glasses and any other critical items we come up with; my bio-prints are on file, and I think we can take the match threshold down to 60% given the disparity in hand sizes. Catherine, I'm leaving chemical relaxation in your capable hands. I'm going to take the contents of my locker down to wardrobe and see what they can set me up with in terms of a dinner outfit and overnight bag. The rest of you get back to work. We'll meet back at T minus 30 for a final systems check and pre-mission toast."
Interlude: MI-6 Firing Range
There were 24 stalls in the primary range. However, with all but one of the double-ohs in London, and all of those at the range, even the clerks had cleared out after running a quick inventory and propping open the gate to the armoury. 006 and 007 had finished their handgun magazines before the others, and had dropped back to lean on the armoury counter and chat.
"James, you dog." Chuckled Alec. "Propositioning the quartermaster in front of that sort of audience - lucky he didn't hand you your balls."
Jack, 005, left his gun on the mat, and sprawled almost all of the way over rage counter as he rooted behind it for the spare ammunition. "Wish I'd thought of it first," he interrupted, "I bet with that hair of his that you could grab a fistful, right at the base of his neck, and pull him to his knees... It'd line up his mouth and throat. Order him to suck. So by-the-book, I wonder he'd give me any cheek with those red, red lips-"
There was a sickening crack of an elbow impacting the back of Jack's floating rib, driven by all of Bond's strength, and a thousand 9mm rounds hit the floor. The range went silent as the other three agents stopped firing and turned to watch the already finished altercation. Bond had him in an effective choke-hold, with one arm twisted up so far behind his back that it was clearly dislocated even though the black turtleneck.
"I got it, got it," the younger man rasped, slumping to the floor when Bond released him. Bond smiled at the rest of the agents, indicating that they should finish off their rounds, and turned his attention back to Alec.
"Well, that was refreshing. Drinks in 15?"
"Make it 30, and I'll join you," called out Bill, making his way over to the pair. As 002, he was the second oldest agent after Bond. "Rookies," he spat, "No respect these days." With a casual kick immaculate wingtips precisely struck 005's kidney, below the already bruised rib.
"Agreed. We'll meet up at the East lobby?" Bond replied, a hint of a smile pulling at his eyes. None of the remaining agents offered any help to the softly moaning man as they left.