The bikes are again utilised: 004 and 009 chase each other from Whitehall into the Wiltshire countryside, all the way to RAF Lynam. Moneypenny is already there, with Felix pretending to be in charge yet not pushing the point. A Tornado is fuelled and waits for them on the tarmac in the early spring sunshine, and Ronni doesn’t let excitement show, despite every cell of her being demanding it. There’s no luggage to check in or passports to remember; as below the radar as she’s ever travelled, totally anonymous to everyone including the skeleton RAF ground crew. As far as they know she’s a Person of Interest, and if anyone asks where the plane went at 9.26 am they’ll insist it was training over the Mediterranean with a single pilot. Eve’s a qualified radar operator from her time in the Navy, so once ordinance and equipment are secured the Tower staff are asked to leave and sit in the Mess Hall for fifteen minutes: if anyone asks?
MI6 was never on the ground, and she’s on her own.
Except in the modern world, alone is something of a misnomer.
Thirty seconds after the plane screams into French airspace Q’s prototype retrofitted smartphone beeps with three distinct tones: scrambler, audio and video. All communication is instantly encrypted from the satellite that’s now listening above to her alone, thanks to the US and their continued gratefulness to MI6 for keeping quiet about those missing nuclear warheads Charlie tried to intercept whilst Ronni was in training. Q had pulled most of his remaining favours to use 004’s mission as proof this surveillance software, pushed through after the same incident the previous year, was not only legitimate but viable in the field. There was a general understanding of how much money could have been made if the Government had decided to launch it commercially, but instead the deal was in place: the Quartermaster got to keep full control of everything, British Intelligence reaped the rewards and nobody else knew until it was too late. She was the first active field test, best way to check they could communicate yet not be compromised, Q acting as virtual partner in the field.
This would be the man’s ace in the hole for reviving the country’s respect amongst his intelligence peers, and Ronni is supremely confident of his success. Normally this would also be Bond’s preserve, but he could already be dead. All that could be hoped for now was the best, that Maddy’s affection for him was indeed genuine. It was a good bet he continued to hold value as a bargaining chip or his death could be broadcast around the Globe via social media as an example that even with Blofeld gone, SPECTRE was never to be ignored. Either way, Ronni would be there for him, until the end. In that regard at least there was a determination to keep the promise given before she became a number.
Working on the theory that the less she heard from London the better, now was all about vanishing from existence with the minimum of fuss.
The Tornado is silent as she slips out of her flight suit by the side of the runway, using the plane as cover. Charlie has five minutes while the French pretend he doesn’t exist, so she can change into camouflage fatigues and head for the edge of the airbase. There will be a battered Range Rover waiting with Swiss plates and a boot full of camping equipment, because this time the senior 00 doesn’t get to stay in the best hotel there is. This isn’t about being hidden in plain sight when so much of SPECTRE’s operating personnel is seamlessly integrated into the lives of the rich and famous. Thanks to the Gendamerie, she’s become a joint French/English mission, yet her silent partner is not aware of what happens after now.
Disappearing completely however shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.
As the sun goes down over Sospel, Ronni settles down after dinner outside her tent, staring down on the town picked to be her base of operations on Bond’s previous recommendation. She’ll be fine here for several days, but hopefully it won’t take that long. A couple of extra hours sleep had been snatched too, but no more rest would happen until the address is checked north of Monte Carlo. Part of her knows the guilt eating away at professionalism may never be assuaged if Bond does turn up dead. 004 has to be moving, constantly considering options: sitting here enjoying the foothills of the Alps in early Spring won’t help anyone’s chances of survival in the long term. Yet that’s the plan, to wait until dark, because it’s just easier to be inconspicuous without daylight.
Her phone is charging from the last rays of evening sun, solar cells built into the case also ensuring the backup battery is at maximum capacity, when a message alert brings her back to the moment: local law enforcement is being alerted of a massive explosion. As if on cue there are fire engines and ambulances screaming through the town, sirens and lights blazing, and Ronni has to resist the temptation to jump up and follow. From the direction of Monte Carlo there is a plume of smoke, pushing every sense on alert simultaneously. Her upgraded smartwatch vibrates, Q on it’s face, red letter that reminds this is on the scrambler by default yet there’s reticence to to take it, knowing that the moment they connect this brief sanctity of calm will be gone, shattered forever –
‘How do you cope?’
Bond sits casually on a low bench opposite the changing area; black Tom Ford trousers and immaculate white shirt, holster almost a natural part of his ensemble, considering the question. It was a week since punching him in the balls had moved their relationship on, and this felt like the right moment to pose a question that kept concerning a troubled mind. However good Ronni remains physically, the psychological maintains the ability to destroy everything, and she’d love to know how 007 dealt with the pressure.
He takes a long time to answer, carefully considering the choice of words.
‘I don’t. I lie, mostly: to other women, to Gregory, but never to myself. It’s like a great big dirty wave that you can’t control and just have to meet head on.’
‘But you didn’t lie to me.’
‘I’m supposed to be teaching you. I’ll be honest, I resented this job at first, but now? I understand the significance, because having to explain it to somebody else? You better grasp it yourself.’
‘Do you regret not dealing with things sooner?’
‘You never use that word in this job. If you do, the whole conceit just collapses on top of you. What I’ve done over the years would mount up to enough to destroy me ten times over. Don’t go there.’
This is the most Bond’s ever disclosed about the psychology of the job… in truth, revealed about anything. Ronni’s aware that she’s staring, suddenly wanting to hear him speak, but unsure how to keep the conversation going. It is a considerable surprise therefore when she doesn’t have to.
‘How do you do it?’
The man stares into her soul, only because for a moment access was granted, without realisation the exposure had occurred. She can’t lie as a result, and suddenly doesn’t want to, need to share fear with someone who understands the sensation very well.
‘I run, until legs hurt and my feet bleed to try and find a level for it all, but more often than not I fail. It might look as if I have it all under control but things aren’t forgotten that should be, far too much held onto. I regret choices even now, sometimes wish I’d never even started down this path to begin with.’
The honesty is temporarily blinding, struggle to prevent the emotion of admission from overwhelming everything. Bond senses this and says nothing, empathy both impressive and welcome. For a moment the air shimmers, adrenaline and association creating frisson that renders Ronni brilliantly breathless. As quickly as it appears, Bond shuts it and her down, standing without ceremony.
‘You’re going to need a better way, Agent Ashby. Time to start learning.’
Without a flicker of emotion or concern, Bond’s gone, leaving only stunned silence in his wake.
‘Ronni, you’re not going to need to wait until dark after all.’
The Quartermaster’s in her ear, professionalism personified, and suddenly this isn’t just a solo mission. Despite an overriding desire to not take support Q had insisted he travel with her, that having secondary means of assessing situations allowed better evaluation of most possible outcomes. He was right, of course: allowing Bond to exist alone for so long, as had been the case with all the 00’s before him, had been the biggest single contributing factor to their ultimate failure and demise.
‘The Monte Carlo safe house is now a raging inferno, however the DB10’s tracker is both intact and functioning, and as a result I need you at ground zero as quickly as possible. We need to eliminate the possibility Bond is still at the scene.’
‘You think he caused this?’
‘We both know only too well 007’s predilection for destruction. I don’t think this would be an unfair assumption to make under the circumstances. If he’s back in theatre he’ll inevitably ignore the mission brief and have gone dark, so we’ll need to confirm regardless.’
Events happen without thought, professionalism swallowing everything in a heartbeat. The Range Rover is moving, driving down the mountainside, Ronni having to stop the shake in hands by gripping the wheel tighter, understanding that this was the moment already stepped up to. Punching finally at weight, Bond could be just behind a mountain and requiring assistance.
She wasn’t anywhere near ready, but it didn’t matter.
This was the job, and now it would be done.