The blonde man stares upwards watching data fill the terminal: as it filters through him there is the notion forming of why Q’s interest has been piqued. On cue the man appears, divested of duffle coat: hovering just out of view, perennially observing as details are gathered and assessed. His brief had been simple: what are Veronica Ashby’s weaknesses and should the department regard her as a suitable candidate for the job she seemed so keen to be considered for? Normally he’d baulk at the demotion to research, but this woman has a resonance with him that he’s sure Q is more than aware of.
‘This woman’s scores are ridiculous. Are you sure she didn’t cheat on the Range?’
‘Her ordinance skills are so precise she can shoot her own initials into targets. I’d like to see you try that when I test you later.’
‘I’m not a big fan of showy, Q.’
‘No, indeed, destruction is your forte. You could do well to learn from Veronica’s finesse. So 007, what do you have for me?’
Bond wants to be back in the field but knows it won’t happen, at least not yet. Quite apart from the fact he was rushed returned to fitness after his ‘death’, there’s still too many wounds that haven’t fully healed. M had used him for clean-up post-Skyfall but then asked for a step back, albeit briefly: checks and balances from the Department’s Psychologist suggest he could happily breathe for a bit, and grieve properly after the events in Scotland. Q had strongly agreed, before reminding that the new people they’d trained should be given a chance to bed in, and it might be an idea to actually let them do the job for a while. Bond can handle PR in his sleep, and may as well be: this is him doing Q a favour, giving something back to the programme. It’s another part of the service package, to help everyone heal after Silva’s rampage through Central London.
‘I spoke to Tanner: he was her handler before being promoted to Chief of Staff. He’s got nothing but good things to say about her work in Acquisitions, she’s literally not put a foot wrong for close to a decade. I’m not sure if that’s brilliant or boring.’
‘Considering how much you’ve cost the Department in the last twelve months Bond, I think I’d take the latter simply as it’s cheaper. However you are not addressing the brief, I asked for a specific assessment of weaknesses.’
‘Personally she appears to live a faultless existence. The eldest of three daughters, father is a senior executive in an Investment bank, mother works as a volunteer at a Hospice. On the surface it’s perfect, but when you start to dig… the cracks begin to show. I looked at the surveillance from her flat. There’s not a single photograph anywhere. No trinkets or nick-nacks, nothing with any sentimental value. The only concession she has is music. Oh, and she drinks everything with far too much milk, particularly coffee.’
‘I don’t think I can mark her down for her taste in beverages, Bond. Anything else?’
‘Both sisters are married, and looking at what we have for her in terms of personal relationships? There’s nothing. Veronica’s not managed a long-term anything with anyone of either sex for fifteen years. Strictly heterosexual, nothing has lasted more than a couple of months. So I went back to when she was recruited and discovered the reason. She was engaged, at 19, to Scott Christopher Redgrave. He was reading Classics at Oxford, they were expected to marry when he graduated. He died in a motorcycle accident on the M4 when he was 20 and I’m betting she never recovered.’
Bond stares sadly at the grainy photo booth strip digitized on screen, four snapshots of young love, and can imagine that it’s Vesper Lynd and him he’s staring at, understanding the terror of sudden loss is still a skill he’s learning after decades. The young woman smiling freely back has piqued curiosity: for the first time since M included this as part of his workload whether he liked it or not, there is a shaft of genuine empathy. The younger man moves in closer, staring at the screen above, taking up the story on Bond’s behalf.
‘Not strictly true, she’s wanted this life since her teens, if we believe the metrics taken when she applied to join Covert Ops. However she is very much the late bloomer, that much is apparent from the last three years’ test scores. This is never a woman who’s accepted life on anyone else’s terms but her own. Once Redgrave died, she did what many people might consider the sensible thing and pretty much gave up on the opposite sex altogether. All her energy was funnelled into her childhood dream.’
‘But Q, we both know nice girls don’t want to be secret agents.’
There is an undoubted moment of unspoken understanding between the two of them. It was a standing joke, no women as Field Agents, and had been until Eve Moneypenny had kicked the trend in the head. However she’d chosen to walk away and go back to a desk, decision under the circumstances that was completely understandable, and one for which Bond still felt relief. This did mean however a noticeable absence of female agents on the top tier, which needed to change, not simply for the sake of quotas and appearances. There was absolutely no reason why women couldn’t do this job, it was no longer a man’s world. In fact, as Q enjoyed pointing out to Bond and anyone else that would listen, the opposite sex were at a distinct advantage, because no-one would expect them to be agents to begin with. It was why the Chinese had so many in service. The British were lagging behind, and it needed to be addressed.
The problem was finding the right women to fit the job.
007 stares at the woman Veronica has become, most recent photo on screen enlarged and enhanced, and finds himself wanting to know more despite his reticence. Curiosity was a weakness he’d discovered Q was particularly adept at exploiting: he could sense the itch, at the back of his mind, need to ask how death drove every waking thought. Running from the last kill, ignoring fear, living with an understanding that every day could be your last. He’d promised himself after Vesper’s demise he’d not care again, and then Eve had undermined his control. She was never going to be his answer anyway, because she’d walked away from the job Bond knew she couldn’t cope with, but he loved.
Maybe Ronni could play the game as well as he did.
‘Do you have anything to add to your assessment, 007?’
‘With consideration, I think she’s a perfect choice. She’ll cope with the grief because she already knows how to. However, at some point she’s going to need to address what I suspect will be some intimacy issues with the opposite sex, because that’s probably the most powerful weapon she’ll ever wield.’
Q smiles, knowing Bond’s experience in the field had never been just about the mission. If he was going to tailor anyone for this particular shadowing, he couldn’t have found a more perfect fit. Looking at Ronnie’s behaviour in the last six months, the metrics told him she was ready to make the next step. With Bond as his instrument, the business of fulfilling this woman’s potential had become considerably less of a concern. Now all the young man had to do was sit and wait.
Immovable object and irresistible force would collide soon enough.