[8 months before]
Tanner had a peculiar look about him that made Bond realize that he hadn’t been invited up for a friendly chat.
“Good afternoon, Bond,” Tanner said. He gestured for Bond to sit in the guest chair in front of Tanner’s desk. “I wanted to talk to you today about the future.”
Bond stared at Tanner steadily. Academically, he knew that this conversation was going to happen sooner or later, and it made sense that Tanner, as the Chief of Staff, would be the one to deliver the final blow, as it were. The chief of staff had a stack of folders on the desk in front of him, and he kept lifting the top corner of the stack, letting it riffle through his fingers before picking it up again.
“As you know, the mandatory retirement age for surviving 00s is 45,” Tanner said. “You’ve been one of our best and longest surviving 00s in the history of the program, but the fact of the matter is that in November, you’re going to be retired from it permanently.”
“If I live that long,” Bond said, sprawling a little bit in the chair.
“You will,” Tanner said, a touch grimly. “Q will see to it. And I don’t put a little necromancy past him.”
Bond tipped his head to concede the point. If anyone could manage the impossible, it was the floofy-haired boffin with the green eyes and unholy attachment to an impressive collection of jumpers and cardigans.
“However, just because you’ll no longer be a 00, doesn’t mean that we’re turning you out into the cold. You have a lot of skills and experience that we find invaluable, and in the next 6 months, we will help transition you into another role here at the agency. We have a list of positions we’d like you to consider.”
Tanner started handing over file folders. “We need instructors for new and existing agents, so if you wanted to go the route of instructorship and training, there are several options. We could use a pilot instructor, a combat and weapons instructor, surveillance tactics, languages, and there’s a few other things you could do. Or, we can send you back to school if you like. Or, another career track is politics—we could move you to M-Branch, and you could come out from behind the camera, so to speak—”
“Thank you,” Bond interrupted. “But I already know what I want to do.”
Tanner stared at him. “You do?”
Bond grinned and told him. Tanner looked flabbergasted, peered closely at Bond’s unusually earnest face and gleaming blue eyes, and then started to howl with laughter.
It was a mundane Monday morning in January when Q felt what could only be described as a disturbance in the Force. He surveyed his kingdom from above, sipping tea from his favorite Scrabble mug and eyes roving over the familiar desks and persons of his small army of Minions. Nothing seemed out of place. Still.
Not satisfied but unable to put his finger on what was off, he went to his office. Budget reports didn’t write themselves, unfortunately. They just sat on his desk, mocking him.
It was an hour later, when Q had turned his combed hair into a gravity-defying mess that suggested he’d voluntarily stuck a fork in a light socket, when his door opened.
“James Bond, reporting for duty.”
James Bond had forgone his usual Tom Ford suit and tie or black tactical wear look. Instead, he was dressed down in a blue jeans and oatmeal jumper combo that had the wheels in Q’s head grinding to a screeching halt. He had a badge clipped to a belt loop and Q fixated on it. It was a standard issue Q-Branch badge that all the minions were issued, this one with a top security clearance just a click or two beneath Q’s own. It had Bond’s picture and signature and everything.
“—all right? Q?”
“I’m fine.” Q cleared his throat.
Bond grinned cheekily at him and offered his hand to shake as though they were meeting for the first time. Q shook hands robotically. Those blue eyes twinkled at Q and his brain stuttered again. He had the sudden feeling that he’d somehow sidestepped into the Twilight Zone.
“Q. I’m your new weapons specialist,” Bond said.
“You’ve got to be joking,” Q said.
Bond’s Cheshire Cat grin widened. “Why, because I’m not wearing a lab coat?”
“I thought you’d gone,” said Q.
“Took some leave after retiring from the 00-Programme,” said Bond. “But now I’m back.”
“And you’re my new weapons specialist.”
“Correct. There was a memo about it and everything.” Bond rubbed his hands together. “So, where do I get started?”
Q looked down at the stacks of paperwork on his desk—paperwork! In the 21st century! Why?! —where the memo was probably hiding if it ever existed and decided not to pass Bond off on R or another minion. He needed a break.
“The grand tour,” said Q. “Come along, Bond.”
Q-Branch was a vast, interconnected web of multiple departments in one. There was TSS, which handled the cyber security, and which Bond was most familiar with.
Q took him down to an underground level Bond had never been before. It was deeper than Q’s own vast personal lair/garage under TSS. They walked down a long narrow corridor, with thick glass windows looking into individual laboratories. Outside each door was a cabinet with a big fire extinguisher and a med kit. Above each door were a set of lights—green for safe to enter, red for otherwise.
“You’ll rarely have occasion to come down here. We keep a lot of the top-secret research down here, especially some unsavory projects of the biological sort.”
Bond peered into one of the windows, watching a scientist wearing a full hazmat suit do something to a petri dish.
“I have to warn you about the Decontamination Shower Club,” Q said. “Occasionally accidents happen that require personnel to be decontaminated. There’s a set of showers, and occasionally Hazmat must be called in to scrub them down. You do not want to be in that club, Bond. Your eyes will see things that you should never see on a coworker.” Q looked a little haunted. “And there aren’t enough showers for everyone, so sharing happens sometimes.”
“Are you speaking from experience?”
“More experience than I’d like,” he said. He cleared his throat. “All right, back upstairs.”
The next stop was the garage. Bond had spent a fair amount of time there for one reason or another, so it was a short visit, just long enough for him to drool over the vehicles. It was too bad he didn’t know anything about car maintenance, Bond reflected. Otherwise he would have tried to make a bid for the garage.
Then it was R&D. It was another department that Bond had been known to visit from time to time.
“You’ll have a fair amount of ado with R&D as a whole,” said Q. “You’ll be part of the Armory Division, which will design, make, and test the weapons for field support. Do not drink anything they give you in R&D proper. Made that mistake once and spent quality time in Medical, hallucinating wildly. It was unpleasant.”
“Duly noted,” Bond said, wondering exactly how many weird misfortunes Q had experienced in Q-Branch. Maybe that was how they picked the next Q? All the quartermasters Bond ever had seemed unusually prone to but unfazed by the various disasters that happened in their kingdom.
Q ushered Bond through the department, introducing him to various minions and minor overlords as they went.
“This is you. The Armory Division,” Q said. He swiped his badge outside the double doors and the door buzzed.
“You’ll have to ask your immediate supervisor about a workspace and day to day duties,” Q said. “But welcome home.” He was smiling a little when he said it, like he was letting Bond in on a secret.
The bullpen office smelled like gun oil, leather, and coffee from the small breakroom. It was populated by an odd mix of ex-military types and nerds wearing Lord of the Rings t-shirts.
“Mitch, I have your newest victim here,” Q said, as a tall, spare man with military posture approached and tried to crush Bond’s fingers in a handshake.
“Mr. Bond, welcome. Do you know what we do here?”
“Design, make, and test the weapons for field support.” Bond said, echoing Q’s earlier words.
“Just so. And all of us do all of it. How are you with a forge?”
Bond grinned, then looked from Mitch to Q and back and the grin dropped. “A forge?”
“Where do you think custom knives come from?” asked Mitch. “Lisa, take Mr. Bond out back and show him the forge and workrooms. We have a bunch of new blades that need to be sharpened and polished. We’ll start there. Let me know when you’re done.”
Q clapped a hand on Bond’s shoulder. “It’s fire and metal and dangerous things. You’ll like it.”
“That was not what I expected,” was the first thing Q heard when he came home and turned on the lights. The former 007 was collapsed with limbs akimbo like an abandoned puppet on Q’s sofa. Q’s cats eyed Bond with mild interest, as if judging whether he was dead enough to eat yet. Clearly, Bond had not given up his habit of breaking and entering the homes of colleagues.
“Oh?” said Q.
“I thought I’d be at the firing range all day or stabbing dummies and writing things on a clipboard. Instead, I sharpened knives for three hours, then I stripped, sorted, and cleaned guns all afternoon—do you know how many agents turn in used weapons without cleaning them? Or turn in weapons that are broken? –and then when they finally handed me a clipboard, they told me to start working on the first of the year inventory. It was like having an actual job.”
Q hid a smile by turning to his sideboard and pouring a couple drinks. The Armory did quarterly inventories and had just finished the year-end inventory back in December. The next one wasn’t due until March, but he decided not to say anything. When he composed his face, he turned and brought Bond a drink, placing it on the coffee table.
Q held up his glass. “To your new career repaying the karmic debt of years of destroyed equipment.”
“Fucking cheers,” grumbled Bond.