Disclaimer: I don't own Torchwood.
Warning: Spoilers for Exit wounds.
A/N Massive thanks to Aelfgyfu for betaing.
When Robert Carmichael woke on a typically wet summer's morning in London, he went about his usual routine with a usual lack of enthusiasm. Brushing his teeth in his usual way, selecting his trousers and shirt in the usual way (whatever was closest to hand) making his tea in the usual way, burning his toast in his usual way and spilling his tea down his shirt as he usually did every morning.
So there was absolutely nothing to suggest to Robert Carmichael that this day would be in any way exceptional. Just another normal day, in a boring job, working for people who couldn't even begin to appreciate his brilliance.
Robert left the house at 8:15, which gave him plenty of time to walk from his apartment to London's City Centre where his office was situated. He worked in a non-descript office block no different than all the other office blocks littering the London skyline. It was slightly better kept than most but had nothing to recommend it to a casual observer.
There was absolutely nothing about the building that would reveal it as one of the offices for UNIT, the International community's official organisation for dealing with alien threats.
As he passed through the foyer of the building Robert only paused momentarily to give the receptionist a small smile, which she met with a stony glare. He'd fancied her for ages when he first joined UNIT nearly four years ago but had since gone off her as she was, quite frankly, a cold-hearted cow.
Robert ignored the other employees milling around the foyer, talking about classified events he'd never have the security clearance to know about, moving briskly he swiped his ID card and stepped into the lift which had no buttons and would take him automatically to the third floor.
The third floor was the dullest and most mocked department in the entirety of the UNIT organisation. They dealt with the lowest form of alien catching: mostly the administration matters involved when intergalactic refugees were marooned on earth and were assimilated.
This was the wasteland of the UNIT Empire, full of the disgraced and those who were deemed an embarrassment. Ted had once been a high flier in Research and Development until he'd had a stress-related breakdown and held his entire floor hostage with what had turned out to be an alien hairdryer. Jacinta had been shunted down for having an ill-advised affair with her boss and Jonah had been demoted for using alien pheromones in order to seduce women. Robert's crime had been one of arrogance and youthful idiocy, and he was paying for it everyday in tedious paperwork and the condescending attitudes of the other UNIT employees.
Robert had been head-hunted straight out of university with a first in computer science and given a job as a member of the Programming and Decoding division on the seventeenth floor. His life was going perfectly: excellent money, a good measure of respect and appreciation, a beautiful secretary to deal with the more mundane aspects of the job. But then it had all come crashing down around him.
It was his own fault really; too clever for his own good and too cocky to be modest of his talents. He had been dared by one of his mates to try to hack into the secure files and for the sake of a round of drinks, he had. But it didn't stop there. Once he had done it once and found it ridiculously easy, Robert couldn't stop hacking into the top secret files. He learned more about aliens and conspiracy theories in a week than he had learnt in his first year of the job.
But it couldn't last and eventually he was caught and disciplined. Head office decided that whilst the incident was highly embarrassing they'd rather he stayed with them in a humiliatingly dull job than live on the outside resentful and embittered with the ability to destroy their systems. So Robert had been sent to Alien Relocation on the third floor, where he spent his time dealing with the most unexciting aspect of alien life and quietly, secretly overrode the UNIT control on his computer and honed his hacking abilities; becoming better, sharper, faster, undetectable. And when he had nothing better to do he dwelt on the 'what if's?'. Other times he stared into space and tried to think of a way to escape UNIT that didn't end in him being assassinated. Mostly, though, he cursed himself for being blind and stupid and resolved to never be so foolhardy and unthinking again.
As he exited the lift, which opened directly into a large open plan office, Robert was hailed by Nigel from Human Resources, who had been sitting in his chair waiting for him.
"Robert, lad, good to see you." Robert opened his mouth to say good morning, or why are you calling me lad when I'm three years older than you? Personnel files were worryingly easy to hack. But Nigel barrelled on before he had a chance to form a sentence. "You've got a letter here. All very mysterious. Who sends letters these days, eh? What with e-mail and all that? Yes, well, here you are, explicit instructions that it be hand-delivered to you personally, apparently. All very hush-hush. Yes, well, can't stand around gossiping all day. Some of us have got work to do."
And with that Nigel turned on his heel and strode from the office. Robert watched him go bemusedly and offered a "Good morning, Nigel." To his retreating back.
Robert frowned down at the envelope in his hands and went to sit at his desk distractedly, murmuring a hello to Doris who was walking by with a cup of her godawful coffee. The envelope was stark white and seemed to be expensive from its parchment-like texture; it was relieved only by the presence of flowing script in black ink bearing his name. Just 'Robert Carmichael.' No address, postmark, stamp, nothing.
Finding this more than a little strange, Robert turned the envelope over and carefully broke the seal of the envelope and pulled out the letter inside. It was typed rather than handwritten, but the signature at the bottom was of the same elegant script as the envelope.
Dear Mr Carmichael:
At present the Torchwood Institute in Cardiff has a vacancy for a technician. After reviewing your file and studying your work closely, we would be delighted to offer you an interview for said position. Only the best and brightest will be considered eligible, and if for any reason you do not wish to pursue this offer, you may forget about it completely.
The first round of interviews will be held on 22nd July at 9am at 12 Caposey Gardens, Cardiff.
Hoping to make your acquaintance soon.
Ianto Jones, Administrator, Torchwood Three
Robert frowned at the letter and reread it. What the hell was Torchwood? Well, there really was only one way he could possibly find out. Smiling slightly to himself Robert took off his jacket and hung it on the back of his seat. Cracking his knuckles dramatically he logged into his computer and began the 'not-nearly-so-tricky-as-they-thought' business of hacking into UNIT's Priority Clearance files; they really should replace those idiots on the 13th floor.
At 8:45 on the 22nd of July, Robert was sitting in the reception area of what appeared to be a completely empty tower block in one of Cardiff's busiest streets. There was no receptionist at the desk but there were fifteen other people in the room with him all dressed in business suits with varying degree of formality. No one spoke, and Robert found the silence heavy and oppressive.
Looking at his fellow applicants Robert found it hard to not be intimidated. There seemed to be a wide age-range from one girl who could have passed for a post-graduate student who was eying the competition with a discerning eye to an old man with a black and silver cane who was reading the Financial Times. Mostly, however, the applicants seemed to be around his age, thirty to forty, young up-and-comers who excelled in their field. He knew the type from London; hell, he'd been one of them ten years ago.
As far as he could tell from the upper-level files he'd decoded, Torchwood was like UNIT but more dangerous, less institutionalised and more prestigious. It was no surprise that so many candidates had wanted a piece of the Torchwood pie. Aside from the complete cock-up in London a few years ago, which UNIT had covered up so well that he hadn't even heard a whiff of Torchwood, Torchwood were generally the elite. The most interesting piece of information, though, was that Torchwood technically outranked UNIT and if they chose to hire him he'd be out of his self-inflicted exile on the third floor.
At 8:59 the front door swung open and a young man in an expensive suit strode purposefully into the room. The man was tall and slim and was wearing a black suit with a black shirt and a sapphire tie. He offered them all a bland smile. "Good morning ladies and gentlemen; if you could follow me."
The man in the suit walked decisively through the foyer and into a large conference room that was efficiently and sparsely arranged, with little more than a seat for each of the applicants at a large oak table which stretched the length of the room and a bottle of water at each place. Robert silently grieved the absence of coffee; he'd even settle for tea at his rate. The suited man strode to the head of the table and gestured for them to take a seat.
"Good morning and welcome to the first of the clearance interviews for the positions at Torchwood Cardiff. My name is Ianto Jones, and I will conduct the initial interviews today. Before we go any further you will all be required to sign the Official Secrets Act, a copy of which is in front of each of you. I realise you may have already signed at your current place of employment, but it is company policy to have a recent copy for our records."
Robert looked down and realised that there was indeed a contract in front of him as well as a black pen placed at a right angle to the side of the paper with such precision that he wondered if the person who put it there had used a protractor. They'd made him sign this at UNIT when he started, he hadn't read it.
He glanced over to see the majority of the people signing it directly whilst a few were flipping through the pages, and, deciding that he'd come this far and that anything with Torchwood would be better than his current dead end job, he flipped to the last page and signed.
Then he sat back and took a better look at Mr Jones. The man was younger than he, by a few years at least; he didn't look much older than twenty-five. He was easily the youngest person in the room; in fact there were a few people in the room old enough to be his parents. That made Robert want to laugh so he quickly changed tack and studied the table in front of him with dedication.
Once everyone had signed Mr Jones moved silently around the room taking each contract and sealing it into an airproof bag with a stylised 'T' made from hexagons on it. When this chore was completed he placed them into a cast iron box that Robert only just noticed and sealed it with a digital code.
Looking up he gave them a polite smile again. "Just a few moments before we begin the formal interviews: I have a couple of instructions to give you. Firstly, if for any reason I am urgently called away, the interviews will be postponed and you will be contacted with new information as soon as possible. If this unlikely event occurs, you will be put up in a hotel for the duration of your stay. Secondly, this group will be halved by the end of the day. Eight of you will not be eligible for either post. There will be four Doctors and four technicians left who will proceed to phase two of the interviewing procedure. Are there any questions?"
A woman dressed in a smart trouser suit who looked to be around forty further down the table raised his hand, "Yes, Ms Smith." Mr Jones nodded to her politely.
"Yes Mr Jones." She sneered at him, "I recognise your face; you worked in Torchwood London?" He nodded to her, ignoring the sneer. "That is correct."
"Weren't you a secretary there?" She was glaring at him in a cold manner. "Are we getting interviewed by Harkness' bloody secretary? This is a disgrace; they should at least have sent someone with managerial experience."
Robert held his breath as he knew everyone else at the table was and stared at Mr Jones, wondering how he'd react to such an affront. Surprisingly, he didn't react at all.
His face remained impassive and when he spoke his voice was level and calm: "As you may remember, Ms Smith, the managerial staff at Torchwood London are responsible for over 800 deaths, so naturally enough Captain Harkness has little faith in the managerial training of Torchwood One. As for my credentials, I am the second most senior member of Torchwood Cardiff, which with the fall of London became the main branch. But that is beside the point. I'm not the one interviewing for a job here. You are."
The lady who had spoken, Ms Smith, seemed suitably chastised and flushed, dropping her eyes from Mr Jones' unsettlingly steady gaze. The man turned back to address the other candidates and swept the room once with a level gaze before calling the first candidate, a woman- Dr. McCartney-, to follow him into a little anteroom off the conference room they were in.
Robert became getting increasingly nervous as six candidates went in before him, including the obnoxious Ms Smith, and all emerged smiling and seemed pleased with their interview, no doubt certain they had gained a call back.
He was anxious about his interview; he was next on Mr Jones' list, mentally preparing his answers to possible questions, running his CV over in his head, concocting possible excuses to explain his demotion, meticulously examining all possible avenues that Mr Jones might choose to pursue and forming faultless answers-that would leave no doubt that he was the man for he job.
But when the anteroom door opened, Mr Jones rushed out and apologised courteously, asking them to wait for a taxi to bring them directly to the hotel. "I'll contact you as soon as possible. Terribly sorry about this but we're having a bit of an emergency."
Robert and the others watched in shock as Mr Jones picked up the metal box, slipped an earpiece into his ear and pulled a gun out of his briefcase, tucking it into his trouser waistband. With another apology he rushed out the door and jumped into the back of a black SUV that had just screeched to a halt in front of the building.
"Flash git," Robert heard someone mutter. "Yeah, but how much do you want the job now?" someone else replied. Robert was inclined to agree; at this moment in time he wanted nothing more than to join the enigmatic Mr Jones in his alien hunting.
That night, after a large dinner ordered on the Torchwood expense account, Robert was lying in his huge suite debating the advisability of drinking the mini-bar and leaving Torchwood to foot the tab when there was a brisk knock at the door.
He padded over to the door in bare feet and the complementary bath robe, opening the door to the head concierge, who obviously deemed himself too important to be delivering mail if his sour expression was anything to go by. "Your messages, sir." His tone was as discourteous as it could be without risking offence. Robert took the letter without a word and slammed the door in his face. He heard an indignant huff from the corridor and smiled to himself.
The letter was once again from Torchwood and was handwritten this time in what he was coming to recognise as Ianto Jones' neat hand:
Dear Mr Carmichael:
I apologise profusely for any inconvenience caused by today's unfortunate interruption. I have taken the liberty of notifying your office of your extended absence. The interviews will be completed tomorrow at 9am in the same location. For tonight, please enjoy the hotel's resources to the full and place all expenses on your room's tab; we will take care of the bill.
Look forward to seeing you tomorrow.
Ianto Jones, Administrator, Torchwood Three.
Robert dropped the letter onto the bed and walked over to the mini-bar; well if Torchwood were footing the bill, this opportunity was too good to miss.
The next morning at 8:45, Robert walked into the foyer of the tower block with a surprisingly clear head. There were fewer people here today. There were only eight other people in the reception area: three men and five women all dressed in yesterday's black suits with black umbrellas and black briefcases (the suits no doubt laundered overnight at Torchwood's expense). Robert felt slightly out of place in his beige trousers, blue shirt, casual blazer and well-worn laptop case. He wasn't wearing a tie and he didn't even own an umbrella. Maybe he should have laundered his suit instead of concentrating on the mini bar.
Robert looked over the other applicants again -nine including himself; that meant two of the other hopefuls had bailed following Jones' dramatic exit yesterday. Or had they received information that he wasn't privy to? Been scared off by Jones' abrupt manner? Been disposed off by an overzealous applicant? Been killed in a tragic sauna accident back at the five-star hotel? Robert tried to hide a giggle behind a cough.
Mr Jones arrived at 8:59 in another startlingly sharp suit which made all the suits of the applicants look dull and cheap. The well-cut black suit, aubergine shirt and tie did nothing to detract from the rather obvious black eye and split lip that the young man was sporting. Nor did it hide the gash near his hairline or the slight stiffness with which he moved, distinctly different from the coiled elegance of his stride the day before.
He was obviously not the only person in the room to notice Jones' dishevelled appearance as the other applicants openly gaped at the young man. Jones seemed unmoved by their scrutiny and just gave them a polite smile.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I must apologise for yesterday's unavoidable interruption. Now, if we could just relocate to the room we were in yesterday, I shall pick up from where I left off. I believe that was with you, Mr Carmichael."
Robert glanced up startled to find Jones' cool blue gaze on him. He nodded briefly and gathering his blazer and laptop case, followed Mr Jones through into the anteroom that had been used yesterday.
Robert craned his neck as he walked into the room; it was a sharp contrast to the white walls and sheer glass planes of the conference room. The anteroom was wood-panelled in a manner more suited to a stately manor than a tower block. It reminded Robert vividly of a National Trust property that he had visited on a lazy Sunday with his ex-girlfriend. They had spent the morning on a tour of the house laughing at the tour guide's overenthusiastic descriptions of the décor and watched the sun set as they'd strolled through the picturesque gardens.
A light cough brought him back to himself and he glanced down to where Mr Jones was standing behind an old antique desk, smiling lightly at him. "Take a seat, Mr Carmichael." Robert blushed and moved to the chair that Mr Jones gestured to.
"Well, Mr Carmichael, your CV is highly impressive, and you appear to have all the attributes we are looking for in the candidate, despite certain indiscretions." Jones gave a mild smile and Robert blushed. "But I will need to ask you a few work-related questions to be certain. If this interview is successful you will be asked to attend a second interview with branch director Captain Harkness to gauge your suitability to our specific type of work. Do you have any questions?"
Robert shook his head mutely and removed his gaze from his knees to the other man's face; he was rather surprised to see Mr Jones giving him an encouraging smile. "Very well, I'll keep this as brief as possible."
"Have you had any firearm training?"
"Would that be essential?" Robert was surprised; his level of work at UNIT didn't let him within 100 yards of a gun. Mr Jones glanced up from the papers in front of him and raised an eyebrow which stretched the bruise around his eye in a painful-looking manner.
"Not at all, we can provide training; I just wanted to get a level of competency." Robert sighed. "No, none to speak of; they don't give the computer geeks guns." he added a little bitterly. To his surprise, Jones gave a small, more sincere, smile. "More fool them."
"What, if any, contact have you had with aliens and how would you describe those interactions?"
"Met some Narkans -they were boring-, Althusians, Cremacians, Xenenoinians, Tryuxians. I can't really remember them all. I'd describe most of the interactions to be pleasant; they were all friendly and grateful for asylum." Robert was feeling very nervous of his answers, which made him wonder when he'd begun to want this job so badly.
"When did you first start hacking into secure files?"
"Well I-" Robert looked up sharply but Jones' seemed intent on the sheets on his desk. "I don't know what you mean, sir."
Jones' lips quirked at that for some unknown reason. "When did you first start hacking into secure files?" His Welsh-accented voice was calm and serious but demanded an answer.
"When I first started at UNIT, I guess; they don't tell us anything so I decided to find out for myself. That's why I was shunted into Alien Relocation. They upgraded the security system, and I got better so they wouldn't catch me again." Robert muttered but Jones' face was unreadable as he scribbled on the page in a familiar scrawl.
"So you didn't stop after your demotion?"
"You just 'got better'?"
"Have you ever hacked the Torchwood database?"
Robert decided that telling the truth would be more advisable than risking the wrath of a Top Secret Organisation. "Tried to, but I couldn't get passed the security systems. Whoever set those up was damn good."
Jones' pen paused of a moment before continuing its track across the page. "I believe that will be all, Mr Carmichael." Mr Jones walked around the desk and took Robert's hand in a firm clasp. From this close up Robert could see the bruising and cuts in vivid detail as well as black circles around the younger man's eyes. Piercing blue eyes that were as cold and unyielding as steel. Robert had to force himself not to flinch. "We'll be in touch."
With that Ianto Jones ushered him briskly from the room and called the next candidate and Robert was left with a gnawing feeling in his stomach, and when he recalled the dark expression on Jones' face he thought that maybe he'd made some monumental mistake and in so doing lost out on the job of a lifetime.
Thanks for reading.