The sun is coming up as Ronni finally returns to her tent, exhaustion beginning to eat at the fringes of rationality. It had taken six hours for the specialist French explosives team to make it into the bunker and disarm the bomb, and another twelve or so would elapse before there’d be a chance to recover the DB10. However, in that respect at least the operation was a success, and would go a long way to restoring trust between manufacturer and Whitehall. Sometimes, collateral gains mattered far more than principles. Mostly, 004 took every success where she could find it. That included breakfast, quietly liberated from the passenger side of the Bomb Disposal Team’s own support vehicle; croissants that taste a thousand times better than anything she’d ever find in London. There is time to savour as the valley fills with sunshine; appreciation that, albeit briefly, everything was going to plan.
The phone vibrates inside leg pocket of her fatigues, long, long, short, long: expecting the Barracks a blank screen comes as a surprise. If Q is contacting her outside normal auspices of procedure, something has happened off the grid she needs to know about urgently.
‘Ronni, how goes your extraction project?’
‘The car’s intact and being removed, French team confirms probably a thousand pounds of explosive at the scene. Why aren’t you at the Barracks?’
‘002 was shot an hour ago, Spectre sniper who’s gone on to kill four other innocent people at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Reports are still sketchy, but the French authorities have him in custody.’
‘Our man’s alive?’
‘Yes, but we have no means of extraction as yet.’
‘Why aren’t you on an internal line?’
‘Two of our strategic army communications centres have been bombed, Lynam’s control tower is still on fire. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s apparent all these events were timed to co-incide with the explosion in Monaco: it wasn’t 007 who blew up the Safe House. I’d guess Spectre chose now to increase the pressure on the 00 network. Sadly for them they’d not factored in Bond’s overriding obsession with resurrection. Activate scrambled video, please.’
The shakiness to Q’s voice is all that’s required: not only is the man scared, but possibly compromised. Ronni’s fatigue is forgotten, and switching over to screen mode it is a surprise that she’s looking at the young man’s laptop, probably through another set of smart glasses. On the screen is the video from her trip to locate the DB10, series of words that had been written across walls and on photographs.
‘Handwriting analysis confirms what you already know, this was Bond’s work, six words as follows: perseverance, endurance, persistence, ingenuity, decisiveness and belief. We have satellite footage at the Safe House that confirms two people left by helicopter fifteen minutes prior to detonation, with a lone individual exiting the building three minutes from the explosion. 007 then entered the tunnel system and left on the BMW.’
‘Those six words were his message to me.’
‘Indeed, I told 007 to use those in his report after that final assessment for Active Consideration. Even if you’d not realised the significance, he’d ensured I’d be watching closely. I may have to take back what I said about Bond’s flagrant disregard for process.’
‘So if that’s the message, where’s the decryption key?’
‘Emmanuel’s attention and genius provides that yet again, from your home phone this time, message was left from the main safe house number four minutes before the entire place disintegrated. I should also congratulate you on getting Bond to communicate in a variety of codes, good to know he finally paid attention. I am aware of your love of word puzzles, so I’ll leave you to work out why you were sent 619732 as the cypher.’
She’s already scanning words on screen, counting along each one with a speed that surprises. After the first three letters the rest don’t need to be decrypted.
‘He’s heading for Venice.’
‘That’s fast, even for you 004. ‘
‘You know me Q, I work well under pressure. I’m also getting very good at second guessing 007’s modus operandi.’
There is noise suddenly, overly apparent Q’s most definitely not at MI6’s HQ. Ronni’s not sure what she’s just seen so pushes for an explanation.
‘Was that a stewardess? Where are you?’
‘On a commercial flight to Venice from Gatwick. Felix was in Geneva, he’ll get there first and meet us there.’
‘Q, what are you doing?’
‘Making an executive decision. You need me on the ground, and as Spectre have pole-axed our traditional covert insertion method, I acted on instinct. I need to be part of this equation: M sanctioned the whole thing and Rachel’s in charge while I’m gone. If Bond really does know where Beam is, you’ll undoubtedly benefit from my IT skills amongst many other things. Grab as much sleep as you can and then get on the road. It’s a six hour drive from your present location. I’ll contact you again when I’m in theatre.’
He’s gone, silenced not by Spectre but a clearly over-zealous flight attendant and Ronni knows she won’t rest, regardless of what Q suggests. It’ll take an hour to disassemble the tent, time to relax when well into Italy. After that, it’s probably not wise to think too much anyway, so she doesn’t and forty five minutes later the last of the equipment is secured. Only then does it register she never slept in the tent to begin with, and there’s a moment to laugh at the ridiculousness of this life as an agent. Most of the job was planning, and ultimately pointless. Except occasionally, it did matter.
Only then does it register: if Bond had decided on this course well in advance, then something important had been missed at the Safe House.
Returning under a pretext, courtesy check-up of the team who’s now preparing to remove the explosives, Ronni returns to the small side room only 00 agents had access to. Bond’s clothing remained where it was left, placed for her to find, that she’d stupidly failed to search. In the pocket of the trousers are two pieces of paper, because now 004 understands they’ve been partners in theatre since he whispered the code-word in her ear. Both are read before folding up one and putting it away, sudden confidence in the next section of the game plan. From the other pocket comes a memory stick, which is slipped away as a present for Q.
The Quartermaster will be absolutely delighted: this isn’t simply scrambled afterthought from Bond. The meticulousness of his plan, attention to detail presented is glorious, demonstrating an agent absolutely at the top of the game. It uses intelligence gathered combined with present circumstances to create a series of events that tell 004 precisely what is expected of her, and what will be jointly required to not only extract Beam’s data but eliminate the enemy. There is even a provision to save Madeline, wrapped up in his approach, that Ronni cannot help but be impressed with. Above all else, this life still mattered, regardless of the pain she’d wrought upon him.
This is how the previous senior officer held the job unopposed for nearly a decade, benchmark now happily aspired to.
Back at the surface, Ronni asks one of the Bomb Disposal officers for use of their satellite phone.