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Candidate Material (A PM Wheatley Shortfic)
Mycroft: keep calm
wafflestories

(This story is a kind of prequel to my Prime Minister Wheatley AU twitter account, #thebestPM.)

*


She had often thought that she had been born at the wrong time, or perhaps in the wrong world.

She felt it every day, like an itch under her skin. She was so much more than the little people around her, somehow, and if only they had not been people- annoyingly aware that they had rights, frustratingly eager to keep them- if only they could have been subjects, with no choice but to do whatever she wanted- oh, the things she could have achieved.

As it was, getting there was half the battle. She felt blessed, in as much as she had any use for the feeling, that she had found Politics- or rather, like Kekulé’s ouroboros or Watson’s stairways, Politics had found her.

Politics was all about people. The word even meant ‘people,’ in a way- people as citizens, people as part of the massive hivemind organism of a town or a city or a country or a planet. Huge, complicated, and oh-so-comfortingly stupid.

She loved people.

She loved making them dance.



She’d been watching this particular person for a while- from a distance, of course, always from a distance. People didn’t like to be watched, or rather, they didn’t like to know they were being watched. It was one of the first things she’d ever learned.

He was stupid, like most people, and largely unaware of how stupid he was, like most people. He was fairly incompetent, in Politics and in everything else, but had managed a little success- just a little- and he was hanging on to it by the skin of his teeth, hungry for more.

She’d done her research, working from a master list of potential candidates- all MPs, all only minorly successful- eventually narrowing it down to him. He had a sort of tactless charm, a swaggering charisma that people seemed to like- she didn’t pretend to understand it herself, because by her standards he was an annoying idiot, but by taking careful note of how people acted around him, she could see that it was there.

So far, so good- perfect, in fact, for her purposes. What didn’t please her was his confidence, the Napoleonic sense of self-importance that he’d built up on the strength of his little success. He was a small-time MP with big, overblown, flatly impossible dreams of grandeur, going absolutely nowhere fast, but he already thought he knew it all.

This was less than ideal. It was perhaps the reason that she hadn’t told him anything, not yet- no part of her own, far more specific,infinitely more possible plans for them both. She intended to, in this meeting- she intended to inspire awe, not to mention appropriate fear- but her rigid sense of judgement was telling her that it wasn’t quite time. Like the blade of a guillotine, like the slash of a safety line, her judgement was swift and final and had excellent timing, and she’d learned to trust it.

All she’d mentioned was a possible new project, an opportunity for them both. She was letting him talk, watching him talk. She was in no hurry, trusting that an appropriate interval would suggest itself.

As it turned out, fate had other ideas.

He was telling her something inane about his re-election campaign- showing off, swinging back and forth in his chair- when a telephone shrilled somewhere outside. He stopped, cocked his head towards the door like a dog hearing a whistle, and grinned.

“Look,” he said, “look at this. You’ll love this.”

She humoured him, rising and moving behind him as he ducked across to the office door with its slatted blind. From between the slats, it was a clear view across the hallway and into the broom closet on the other side. At least, she had assumed it was a broom closet. On closer inspection, some over-optimistic soul seemed to have decided it was an office, and stuffed it accordingly with office-related things, like a desk, and a chair- and an occupant.

The man in the broom closet was clearly not the sort of person who should have been crammed into such a small space, being the kind of impossibly lanky that didn’t really sink in at first sight, until it slowly dawned that the all of the ludicrous amounts of limbs on display belonged to a single person. The plastic cradle of the phone was vying for space with his elbows on his postage-stamp of a desk, the cord wrapped twice around his arm like an angry python.

“Yes,” he was saying, “yes… yes, I do understand that, definitely do apprehend how annoying that must be for you, third time this month and everything, that is a definite hassle, but thing is, uh, to be brutally honest with you, Mrs. Nisbet, he’s an MP, not a plumber, and- and I’m not sure he’s constituent…ly, constituently responsible for your sink-”

Pause. Wedging the phone in the crook of his shoulder, he fished an apple out from the detritus littering his desk, and started trying to polish it one-handed on his cuff as he talked.

“Yes- no- yes, alright, fair point, the sink is in his constituency, not arguing that, but, it doesn’t vote-”

Another pause, during which he started to sag, visibly, lower in the chair. Through simple mechanical action, this pushed his knees up against the underside of the desk, which lifted gently into the air.

Seduced by the new incline, the apple rolled gently floorwards. He made a wild grab for it, and missed.

“Uh- you vote, yes, that is a- that is an excellent point, Mrs Nisbet, you have definitely got me there. Umm… well, have you looked in the sink-trap? Because, I find, with- with sinks, sometimes all sorts of stuff gets stuck in there, clogs it right up…”

“It’s amazing,” said the MP for Bristol East. He was next to her, still peering through the slats. He giggled. “He has no spine. He is the missing link between man and jellyfish. You watch, another five minutes and she’ll have him round there with a plunger. It’s-”

“Pathetic,” she said, thoughtfully. The man in the broom closet put the phone down, rested his head in his hands for a moment, then tried to duck under his desk to retrieve the apple, knocking a jam-jar full of pens and a cascade of paper to the floor in the process. “Who is he?”

The MP shrugged. “Secretary…wellllll, sort of. He’s an idiot, he’s totally unemployable. Got a CV as long as your arm, never hung on anywhere more’n five minutes. Utter twonk, gave him the job ‘cause I felt sorry for him- hey, watch this. Oi, Wheatley!”

Clump,
went the desk, bouncing another inch or so into the air. For a little while it looked as if its victim wasn’t going to get out from under it without resigning himself to wearing it on his back like a turtle, but with some effort he managed to disentangle himself and squeeze out into the corridor, rubbing the back of his head. Upright, he was startlingly tall but walked with a slouch, a sheepish unspoken apology for the space he was monopolising just by entering a room.

“Got a new… potential sponsor here,” said the MP for Bristol East, smirking. “Wants to remain anonymous, for now, so you know, be nice to her.”

“Hello!” said Wheatley. His grin was huge, earnest in the middle and desperate at the edges. With a worried glance at his boss, he stuck out a hand.

Her mind thrived on detail, a savage and detached eye for the material value of things. There certainly wasn’t much of worth here. His shirt- Matalan, too big in the body to get enough length in the sleeves, oh, and he thinks ‘easy-iron’ means ‘don’t bother’- his tie- is that a piece of spaghetti?- his shoes- Marks, how nice, we splashed out- three years ago- his odd, harelike face. Hardly aesthetically pleasing, that face- all teeth and shaving cuts and anxious, fast-flitting eyes.

Wheatley fidgeted, shifted from foot to foot, and finally gave up and lowered his hand. She watched him carefully, quite fascinated. She liked to find people’s weak spots, but this was the first time she’d ever met someone who was all weak spot. There was something intensely vulnerable about him at first sight, a kind of frayed-round-the-edges optimism as naïve as it was unfounded. To her, it was as well-concealed as a trail of blood in a shallow paddling-pool.

“So, like I was saying,” said the MP for Bristol East, turning his attention back to her, “we’re going to walk it this year, no problem, as long as they don’t keep pushing that bloody first-past-the-post referendum. What d’you reckon? Oh God, don’t look at him, he thinks a referendum’s the bloke in charge of a footie match.”

Wheatley laughed, or rather made a weak and unconvincing huffing noise which, unfortunately, his boss seemed to take as an affront.

“Go on then, genius, what’s a referendum?”

“Er, well-” Wheatley looked panic-stricken, his eyes going everywhere as he talked, as if they had an independent agenda and wished they were already on their way to fix Mrs. Nisbet’s sink. “Well, like you said, uh, ‘first past the post’, obviously, dead giveaway, isn’t it- clearly got to be something to do with racing- not, not entirely up on the specifics, if I’m honest, not much of a gambling man myself, not really that keen on horses, not to tar all, um, equestrians with the same brush but had a pretty close shave with a donkey once-”

The MP for Bristol East burst out laughing. She closed her eyes, struck by a nightmarish vision of being trapped in a small space with that laugh for the next seven years. Over the phone, it was just about bearable. In person, up close and without the benefit of a ‘mute’ button, it was all she could do to go away to a calm place in her mind and run through her well-worn list of reasons why homicide was unacceptable and non-conducive to her ambitions.

“There’s only one donkey round here,” he said. “Jesus. You are a moron. Go and get us a coffee.”

Wheatley sloped off. His boss was still sniggering affectionately, but she caught the taller man’s rabbity, benign face at the moment he turned his back, and saw it twist with something that was very nearly hatred.

*


“So,” said the MP for Bristol East, once they were alone again. He seemed to have decided to be professional, leaning his knuckles on the desk, raising his eyebrows. “You said something about a new project- hey, where’re you off to?”

“Oh, I’ll be right back,” she said, smiling deliberately at him- a sight that tended to worry most people. “I just need to make a call.”

*


She stood in the small reception area, her nails clicking quietly across her phone, waiting. When Wheatley finally emerged from the kitchen (a room she’d correctly located by following the sour smell of burnt instant coffee and elderly tea-towels,) she shut the keypad with a snap and looked up.

“Oh! It’s you, lady with the hair- hello again!”

He was carrying a tray, a little out of breath, a string of his own thinnish hair escaping across his forehead. When she failed to respond, he glanced at the stairs and shifted the tray awkwardly in his big hands.

“Can I- get you anything at all, um, a coffee, or we have- not many biscuits left actually- yeah, I know! Shocking. Entirely out of Hobnobs. My fault, to be honest, I keep meaning to go down the Co-op, it’s on the list-”

“Is that really your job?”

“Um, part of, matter of fact, yes, it is. Lot of- got a lot of responsibilities, I have, lot of- hats, round here. Not actual literal hats, of course, ha, no, that’d be a bit weird, me going round wearing loads of hats-”

“Like what?”

“Er- what, like, types of hats?”

“Responsibilities,” she said, patiently. She was good at being patient, like a snake with its eye on a small furry thing is patient, and it usually paid off.

“Oh, oh, right, well, um, him upstairs, I do a lot of his paperwork, amongst- other things, and if anyone wants tea or coffee, that’s my job, annnd… when we’ve got a campaign on I do a lot of envelopes, envelope-stuffing, door-to-door work, canvassing, um- do his emails, answer the phones-”

“Yes. I heard you up there.”

He flinched, a faint nervous tic that pulled at the skin under his eyes and twitched at one corner of his mouth. “She’s a bloody menace, that woman. Always moaning about something or the other. He says I should tell her to bugger off but then he also keeps going on about how if I lose him one more voter he’ll have my head on a spike by the front door so I dunno how I’m supposed to-”

“Oh, I thought you handled her pretty well,” she said. “The personal touch. Trust me, the public really loves that kind of thing.”

A passing observation, barely a compliment, but it was astonishing how much of an effect it had. His chest puffed out unconsciously, his back straightened, and he beamed.

“Well- yes, obviously, got to keep ‘em happy, it’s not that I couldn’t tell her to bugger off if I wanted, I could do that, but you’ve got to consider the whatsit, the electorate. Diplomacy.”

“It’s a lost art,” she said. “You know, you’re probably making all the difference to his campaign. It’s actually a pretty common political phenomenon, I see it all the time- no matter where you go there’s always one person behind the scenes, holding it all together. Doing all the work.”

He was nodding vehemently before she had finished speaking, doing nothing to help his resemblance to one of those toy dogs that sit on car dashboards. “This place would just fall apart if I wasn’t around, I’m telling you- and it’s not like I’m asking for thanks! Not like I’m angling for anyone to go, ‘oi, Wheatley, sterling job there mate, particular fan of the way you answered all those emails for me, keep up the good work,’ but, you know, it’d be- it’d be nice, for a change, that’s all I’m saying. Just to mix things up a bit.”

She affected sympathy. “It’s tragic, really. All that potential, always dedicated to helping someone else get ahead. Such a waste…”

Another guilty glance at the ceiling. “Well… he’s my mate, isn’t he, I mean, he jokes about, you heard him, but at the end of the day, we’re friends, good old friends, and he- he gave me this job, he lets me work here, so…”

“Oh, I get it,” she said, politely. “He lets you do all this work, so he doesn’t have to. Wow. You’re right, that’s seriously nice of him.”

She watched this sink in, then continued.

“Personally, I’ve got an eye for potential,” she said. “Maybe we should talk.”

He looked at her as if he wasn’t entirely sure that she was really there. Recognising that he needed something practical to grasp hold of, she flicked open her phone.

“Give me your number.”

Immediately, he looked worried again. “Right, only snag is, I don’t actually have a phone at the moment- I’m sort of between phones, actually, long story, bit of an ongoing palaver with the landlady- flat upstairs was supposed to be having an extension done but the builders, you won’t believe this, they only went and knocked through my wall instead! Un-believable. And of course it was the bit of wall with the phone on it, wasn’t it, so I’m sort of hoping that’ll be sorted relatively soon-”

Parking the tray on the reception desk, he fished out a dogeared address book and read, falteringly, from the page at the back. She skimmed quickly through her contacts, a list of truly gargantuan proportions that periodically outgrew her phones, making space management a priority. She had no use for dead wood. In the space of a few moments, she’d located the information she’d already entered for his boss, tapped ‘Delete’, and added Wheatley’s in its place.

He would need a phone. Something like the new Palm Oracle would do nicely, something suitably gadgety- she hadn’t missed his envious glance at hers. He would need a decent haircut, too, and she would have to do something about his wardrobe.

Burn it, ideally.

She’d thought his boss was a pretty good subject, a reasonable starting point, but this one- he was perfect. Desperate for any kind of praise or approval, hapless where the other was arrogant, an incurable optimist with the IQ of a flowerpot and a deeply-ingrained inferiority complex that could- with a few pokes in the most tender places- be an invaluable ally.

She would mould him to her purpose- break him down and re-assemble him as she saw fit, but he would have to remain himself. That, she recognised, was vital. He was the clay from which she would sculpt her new mask, and it would be a friendly mask, a mask that people could have faith in, a mask with a stupid trustworthy grin a mile wide and a cheerful voice that went on forever and absolutely no understanding of what a referendum was. There was a golden phrase here, and it was ‘plausible deniability.’

He was watching her, grinning an anxious placeholder grin, fiddling with the frayed bit of ribbon that hung out of his address book like a nauseated tongue. “Are you… going to give me yours, or…”

“No.” She shut her phone again, a sharp punctuation mark in the silence, and put it in her handbag. “I’ll be in touch.”

He followed her, holding the main door open for her on dazed autopilot. “But… wait, hang on, sorry, not to seem uninterested or anything, I am very definitely interested in- in whatever it is you’re talking about, believe me, big, massive interest levels over here, but- I mean, you don’t even know my name-”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Accepting that there had to be some sacrifices for the good of the project, she shook his proffered, ink-smudged hand with her cool, manicured one. In the interests of diplomacy, she would wait until she was out of his sight before reaching for the Purell.

“Pretty soon? Everyone will.”

She smiled.


“Trust me.”


  • 1
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, yes. I love how you have her absolutely scheming from the very first moment she lays eyes on Wheatley. <3

... Creepy GLaDOS is effective and creepy. o_o

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