"You were right all along," Bond told Q cheerfully, leaning against a piece of unidentifiable equipment. Q quickly shooed him away from it, knowing James’ propensity for fiddling with things.
"Was I? How splendid! What was I right about again?"
“Alternate universes. They really do exist. I was fortunate enough to take a brief detour through one on my last mission. Quite fascinating. It seems I fell through a Rift in space and time. Can you believe in this other universe I’m nothing more than a fictional character? There’s a whole series of popular novels about my exploits, not to mention twenty-six action movies.”
“Really? My word, you must be quite popular there.” Q sounded favourably impressed.
“I did seem to cause quite a stir among the people I met,” Bond agreed. “Some of them seemed quite star-struck.”
“Hardly surprising; it’s not an everyday occurrence to meet one’s hero in the flesh.” Q hesitated for a moment, but simply had to ask. “Is there by any chance a character in these novels and movies based on me?”
Bond nodded. “Of course; what would James Bond be without Q? According to my sources, you’re almost as popular as I am because of your skill with gadgets.”
Q fairly beamed at the thought. “Well, that’s… Yes, very flattering. Tell me, James, whereabouts did you go? In this alternate universe, I mean.”
“Cardiff, apparently. I was only there for a few hours unfortunately, so I didn't get to see much, but I met some quite extraordinary people, members of a secret organisation that deals with the objects and people who fall through the Rift. I was given the grand tour of their underground base; even saw some honest-to-God aliens. It was quite an experience. Made me wonder whether or not their organisation has a counterpart in our reality.”
“It’s possible. What was it called? I have a certain familiarity with all the secret organisations MI6 has had dealings with since its inception; perhaps I’ve heard of them.”
“They call themselves Torchwood. I understand they take their name from Torchwood House in Scotland, one of Queen Victoria's getaways. It makes sense. It was their Victoria who was responsible for establishing the organization in the first place, or so I was told; Torchwood answers directly to the crown.”
“How intriguing! I’ve heard of Torchwood House of course, been there once or twice, but I'm not aware of any organisation by that name. Why don’t I look into it for you while you’re away? You'll be taking some time off before your next mission, I understand.”
“Just a week or two, I rather thought I might visit Cardiff and do some investigating myself.”
“Splendid idea! Well, do stay in touch, old boy, let me know what you turn up and in the meantime, I'll see what I can find out.”
Bond was somewhat disappointed on his arrival in Cardiff to discover that nobody there had ever heard of Torchwood. Either the organisation in his universe was far better at keeping its existence a secret than the other universe’s Torchwood had been, or it didn’t exist at all. There was also a third possibility; that Torchwood did exist here, but wasn’t based in Cardiff. Perhaps, if there was a Rift through space and time in Bond’s universe, it had manifested in a different city, or even on another continent. That could explain why he’d been caught up by the Cardiff Rift while he was in Prague.
Nevertheless, at present he was in Cardiff rather than Prague, enjoying some well-deserved time off, so he wasn’t in a position to investigate that possibility. Despite the absence of Torchwood, that didn’t mean his little trip had to be a complete waste of time; he could at least take a look around while he was here. There was also the promise he’d made to Ianto Jones in the other universe to be considered. If Ianto had a counterpart in this universe, Bond had said he would offer the young man a job with MI6. With that in mind, he set about trying to find him.
Jones proved to be an even more common surname in Cardiff than Bond had anticipated, and nearly a quarter of the Joneses in the phone book had the initial ‘I’. Tracking down the right one was likely to take longer than he could spare; maybe a different approach would prove more successful.
The Roald Dahl Plas in his universe turned out to be practically identical to the one he’d walked across a few short weeks ago in the other universe, so hoping that more than the Plas would be the same, Bond made his way down a ramp at the far side that should lead to Mermaid Quay, and there, at the bottom, he found what he was looking for. A nondescript door with a sign above it proclaimed itself to be the Mermaid Quay Tourist Information Office, rather a grand name for such a poky little place.
Bond pushed the door open and stepped inside, his eyes quickly adjusting to the dimness. The place seemed deserted, but he made his way across to the counter and tapped on the bell resting on its surface. There was a rustling of the bead curtain hanging in the doorway to what Bond assumed was a back office, and a young man emerged, dressed in a smart but not overly expensive three-piece suit.
“Sorry, didn’t hear you come in,” the young man said with a pleasant smile. “How can I help you?”
This man’s hair was slightly longer than his Torchwood counterpart’s, but other than that he looked just as Bond remembered him, although technically they’d never met before; something to keep in mind. Bond smiled pleasantly. “Ianto Jones, I believe?”
“That’s me.” The young man frowned. “Have we met?”
“Not officially, no. Let’s just say you’ve come to my attention, although I’m not at liberty to say how or when. The name’s Bond; James Bond.” Bond offered his hand and a rather bemused Ianto Jones shook it.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Bond.”
“Is there somewhere private we can talk? What I have to say to you is of a rather confidential nature.”
It was a strange request, and Ianto knew he should perhaps be wary, but instead he was intrigued. He came to a quick decision. He’d been wishing since he’d first started work for the Welsh Tourist Board that something interesting would happen to break up the tedium of his days in this out of the way little office, but in the two years he’d been here, nothing ever had. He led an incredibly boring life for a young man of twenty-four.
He gestured towards the bead curtain. “Go through to my office; I’ll just lock the door and put up the closed sign. It won’t matter if I close up early; it’s not as if anyone ever finds this place, not unless they get themselves seriously lost.”
Bond did as instructed, entering the cramped little cubbyhole and taking a seat on a hard plastic chair beside a desk, upon which rested a laptop computer. Glancing at the screen, he noted he’d interrupted Jones’ game of spider solitaire. He appeared to be well on his way to winning.
Jones returned, squeezing past Bond and going over to the filing cabinets at the back of the office, on top of which sat a coffee machine. “Can I offer you a cup of coffee, Mr. Bond? Sorry, but I don’t have any tea.”
“Coffee will be fine, especially if it tastes as good as it smells,” Bond assured him.
“Oh, I think I can promise that it will,” Jones replied confidently, pouring the fragrant brew into two slightly chipped mugs. “Milk and sugar?”
“Thank you no, I prefer my coffee unadulterated.”
“That’s good, because I don’t have any actual milk; no fridge to keep it in, see?” Ianto admitted. “Only got sugar and a bit of that powdered milk substitute for finicky people who prefer their coffee not to taste too much like coffee. Here you go, just as nature intended.” He passed Bond the least chipped of the mugs. “Sorry about the mugs; they’re part of the office furnishings. The coffee machine is my own property; a man has to have standards, even in a dead-end job like this,” he said with a wry twist of his lips.
“Oh, I agree, standards make the man, or woman, as the case may be,” Bond replied, taking a cautious sip from his steaming mug and sighing with pleasure as the heavenly taste flooded his mouth. “Excellent. I can safely say that nowhere on this earth have I ever tasted better coffee.” Still holding the mug cupped in both hands, Bond leant back in the hard, uncomfortable chair and stretched out his legs, looking as perfectly at ease as if he’d been in the private lounge of some exclusive gentleman’s club.
Ianto pulled out his desk chair and sat, smirking slightly as he sipped from his own mug. “That’s quite a statement.”
“It’s true, nonetheless, and I assure you I have travelled quite extensively.”
“I always wanted to travel, that’s why I got a job with the tourist board,” Ianto admitted, a wistful tone to his voice. “As you can see, things haven’t quite worked out the way I’d hoped. Perhaps I should have applied for work at a travel agent’s instead.”
“Or perhaps you’ve merely been waiting for the right opportunity to come your way.” Bond sipped appreciatively at his coffee.
Ianto raised an eyebrow, his expression otherwise unreadable. “And might I assume you have something in mind?”
Bond inclined his head. “I believe that’s a fair assessment. Tell me, Mr. Jones, what do you know of MI6?”
“British Intelligence? No more than any other member of the public, I should imagine; spies, counter-espionage, that kind of thing, and very good at what they do by all accounts. They don’t exactly go in for publicity.”
“Quite. Publicity would rather defeat their whole purpose.”
“But what does all that have to do with me?” Ianto asked.
“Straight to the point, excellent,” Bond said approvingly. “As I’m sure you can understand, such a covert agency can hardly advertise job vacancies in the newspapers or online, so it falls to existing agents to seek out potential recruits, and as I mentioned earlier, you have come to my attention.”
“Wait a minute, you’re saying you work for MI6?” At Bond’s nod, Ianto tipped his head to one side and regarded his unexpected guest through slightly narrowed eyes. “And why should I believe you?”
“I don’t expect you to; if you did that would make you entirely unsuitable for consideration. Nevertheless, it is the truth. Tell me, when is your next day off?”
“Wednesday. Tourist offices are expected to be manned at weekends, even the ones no one ever visits.”
“Perfect. I’ll arrange a rail ticket to London for Wednesday morning then; I’ll have it delivered to you by courier on Monday. If you’re interested in trading all this,” he made a sweeping gesture to encompass the small office, “for a varied career involving a great deal of travel and a certain amount of risk, then present yourself at noon at Century House on Westminster Bridge Road. They’ll be expecting you.” Bond finished his coffee and set the mug down, rising to his feet and once again offering Ianto his hand. “Until we meet again, Mr. Jones. Thank you for the coffee; I’ll let myself out.” With that he was gone, leaving Ianto feeling rather bemused. What had just happened?
He replayed the last half hour over and over in his head for the rest of the day, and every time came to the same inescapable conclusion. If this James Bond was to be believed, he’d just been headhunted by MI6. Of course it could all be some kind of hoax or practical joke, but still… The weekend couldn’t pass fast enough.
The rail ticket was delivered to the tourist office as promised on Monday, so bright and early on Wednesday morning, after a night of very little sleep, Ianto dressed in his best suit and took the train to London, then caught a bus to Westminster Bridge Road. Century House wasn’t hard to find; it was quite an imposing building. Stepping inside, through a sensor array even more sophisticated than one would find at an airport, Ianto crossed the foyer to the reception desk.
“Can I help you?” a young and pretty dark skinned woman asked him.
“Um, I hope so. Ianto Jones; I was told to report here at noon.”
The young woman consulted her computer, then glanced up at the wall clock, her smile widening. “You’re right on time, Mr. Jones. Someone will be down for you in a minute; if you’d like to take a seat?” She gestured to a small grouping of black leather sofas and chairs to Ianto’s right.
“Thank you.” Ianto crossed to them and sank onto the nearest chair, suddenly feeling a bit weak at the knees. Butterflies fluttered wildly in his stomach, no doubt the result of the mixture of nerves and excitement consuming him. He was expected! That must mean Bond had been serious… He tried not to get ahead of himself; this might not mean what he hoped it did, maybe all MI6 wanted was an office clerk who could make good coffee. Still, even that would be better than the job he had now.
“Mr. Jones, good to see you again.”
Ianto had been so deep in thought he hadn’t noticed anyone approaching. Looking up, he jumped to his feet. “Mr. Bond!”
“Please, call me James. Do you mind if I call you Ianto?”
“No, of course not.”
“Well then, if you’d come with me? There’s a truly horrendous amount of paperwork to fill in, followed by a full medical and extensive training in a number of essential skills. The next few months are going to be quite busy for you.” Ianto followed in bit of a daze; James spoke as if everything was settled and Ianto was an actual recruit rather than just a potential one. He straightened his shoulders; his life was about to change out of all recognition and he could hardly wait!
A year later, Ianto Jones, 009, sat in his new London apartment, sipping coffee. Across from him sat his good friend and mentor, James Bond.
“Are you ready for your first assignment?” James asked.
“If I’m not then an awful lot of money has just been wasted on training me.”
Bond laughed. “I disagree, in my opinion it’s money well spent; your instructors all speak very highly of you.” He sipped his drink. “I have faith in you, Ianto. I knew when we met that you would make an excellent agent, and everything you’ve done up to this point has only made me more certain that my initial impression was correct.”
It was oddly humbling to hear James talk like that. “Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t thank me, dear boy. I only presented you with the opportunity; it’s your hard work and dedication that have got you to where you are now.”
“I suppose it is.” Ianto smiled, knowing that at last he had the kind of career he’d always wanted. The future stretched out before him, full of travel, excitement, and more than a little danger. “I won’t let you down.”
Bond returned his smile. “I know.”