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A sticky explosive hits the Range Rover’s roof, exploding seven seconds later with satisfying power. Bond’s understanding of motion and mechanics is enough to negate the fact this helicopter wasn’t fitted with a weapon; the remote controlled detonator did the rest. He’s pushing stick down hard as the EC-135 ascends away from a now deserted motorway: eyes aren’t on the sky, instead he’s back to the Megane as it returns to the carriageway. French Police having done their job at removing any chance of remaining casualties, he just needs his targets back at Base. Wheeling and returning to a static hover, it’s a few moments to establish that car’s okay: potential demise of both people he’s become emotionally attached to comprehensively avoided.

Knowing he’s not the only one who grasps the significance of timing, there’s expected crackling; interference static across the headset. Then comes the familiar voice in his ear on cue, enough to set Bond grinning.

‘Thank you, 007. Nobody does dramatic entrances quite like you do.’

‘You’re welcome, Q. Always a pleasure to cover your back. Also impressed you’re able to hack encrypted comms whilst in a moving vehicle.’

‘I will have a quiet word with the French on my return, because if I can decrypt at 150 kilometres per hour, there’s probably a few loopholes in the system that require closing.’

‘I’d expect nothing less. In your own way, you’re as much of a showman as I am.’

‘Why, thank you, I’m taking that as the compliment it undoubtedly is. I think it’s high time we all went home, don’t you?’

‘Is she okay?’

James wants to know, needs to hear her voice but is aware of the concentration required to have negotiated the previous flash-point after an extended period in the field. He knows only too well how exhausted Ronni will be. Normally this could be considered as weakness but Bond understands what’s at stake: history won’t remember either beginning or end, only that this mission succeeded. His concern however is a world away from issues of national security: it matters most that her absence makes chest ache along with groin. Like the incurable romantic he undoubtedly is, there was the hope she’d reach out… yet the silence speaks volumes.

‘We’ll see you back at base. Should probably call ahead first and check they’re expecting us.’

The alarm bells that rang in Bangkok are louder, more strident, and Bond interprets the comment completely. He has to get back on the ground, ready to support Ronni when she’ll need it most of all. If, as hoped, Flemmings becomes the next owner of his number, it is time to ensure she’s as complete as humanly possible.

It’s his job, after all, to make her stronger.

The applause from the room over Bond’s entrance has faded yet Tanner’s still grinning broadly. This particular 007’s arrogance and bravado in the field will be missed, but Ronni’s more than a worthy successor to his title. 003 and 009 are eliminating the last two enemy pieces on the board, Range Rovers effectively disabled and left for the French Police to mop up. There have been fatalities, of course, mercifully none of them civilian: that as progress was infinitely preferable to slaughter on the scale Spectre had dictated.

‘White King, this is White Queen, requesting clarification of game status, over.’

Q’s voice fills the room and from the corner of his eye Tanner sees Rachel begin to cry, tears of joy as it becomes apparent the deception was really that: the worst kept secret in the room blown to hell and beyond. He’s worried that there’s not been a word from Flemmings, that her effective partner is the one doing all the talking, but in the end she’d never been as verbally demonstrative as the teachers. That banter was seldom for an audience, only apparent when you got Ronni alone. In some ways 004’s a world away from 007’s arrogant destructiveness or Q’s clever observance, but honestly at this point he doesn’t care.

Having them all safe is what matters most of all.

‘White Queen, this is White King, Checkmate. I say again, Checkmate.’

‘Copy White King, both pieces have ended the game. Returning to base. White Queen out.’

Suddenly Tanner’s being hugged, a surprise until he grasps it’s Grace, smile broader than he can ever remember, before planting a kiss to his cheek with a force that makes him grin.

‘You’re a fucking terrible actor, Will, and frankly nobody cares. You can stay just the way you are.’

As he willingly returns the ex-00 agent’s embrace, Tanner’s already looking forward to having everyone back together under the same roof.

Ronni’s breathing has returned to something approximating normal, motorway now devoid of traffic on both sides. They’re coming close to the rendezvous point specified and yet there’s nothing anywhere to suggest an exit or indeed intended direction, only Bond’s helicopter keeping watch from above. Then in the rear view are two cars, approaching at speed. Q doesn’t even bother looking up from his laptop, fresh confidence apparent as he explains their next move.

‘Charlie is red, Eve is blue, and they’re our escort. Normally we’d do this by air but as nobody is watching? There’s a turning not marked on the maps coming up that was used during construction. We’re going in the back door: Tanner’s opening it now.’

The two Meganes come to flank and Ronni’s staring with surprise at Moneypenny, wearing a smile she’s never seen before, and it registers that perhaps this woman cares about welfare and is pleased to see her. It’s not politeness, this is genuine pleasure, the same true of Charlie whose grin is oddly infectious. The cheesy thumbs up he then offers to them both is met by a smile she’s not managed since the days after first becoming 004. Unexpected warmth in Ronni’s chest flares, emotion forgotten yet vitally important, and there are tears that are a complete surprise.

Her friends are here to take them home.

Up ahead a large billboard for French Police recruitment is moving, clearly on some kind of automated track, revealing freshly laid tarmac behind. Eve slips in front and Charlie behind and the three of them are onto a road pushing away from the motorway, almost immediately hidden from sight by dense fir trees and camouflage netting. Ronni’s curiosity is already piqued, that the forest is incredibly well planted and anything but random: these trees are almost regimented in their placement. Ahead there’s what worryingly appears to be a sudden and solid obstacle, road coming to an end shortly before a large and steep drop, and yet Eve’s not slowing down. Interest is rapidly evolving into concern, pushing 004 to ask the question.

‘Q, where are we going?’

‘You didn’t read the briefing document on the new French Security HQ, did you?’

‘I was sulking over Bond. It was only a momentary incident of rebellion.’

‘Then you need to trust me and just keep driving.’

Ronni’s beginning to panic until the scene in front of them flickers, before suddenly vanishing, the most realistic of virtual backdrops. Instead of dense forest on either side of the steep drop there’s large metal hexagons, melting into each other almost as if they were liquid. The path opens, large man-made tunnel as the three cars enter together, Bond above them and quickly away towards the light. In seconds the tunnel’s vanished, and Ronni is momentarily stunned by what she sees. Q’s smile is broad and comes from months of knowing only of the possibility of this place: seeing it for real is enough to render him temporarily breathless.

‘You see, 004, it isn’t just the enemy that gets the secret hidden lair any more. The French decided to throw away the rule book and build this in plain sight, then wait until someone noticed it. As of yet, amazingly, nobody has, which is impressive considering what they’ve constructed.’

The structure they are now hurtling towards is beyond huge, solid and towering; circular edifice of glass and metal that could be a space craft, or perhaps some kind of self-contained city. Surrounding it are hangars and communication installations, plus what is quite obviously a sizeable power plant. Ronni now wishes she’d been paying attention, reminder to catch up once time allowed, because something this astonishing demanded more than simply passing interest. To have built this in secret and have no-one aware of its presence was, it had to be said, an achievement of significant proportions.

‘Solar power makes this entire facility self-sustaining, and any excess energy is quietly slipped back into the French power grid without anyone noticing. It’s a triumph of modern Gallic construction and engineering. Alex has spent many hours explaining the ins and outs of the processes.’

‘He works here?’

‘He designed the entire communication network from the ground up. I’m really rather looking forward to seeing both it and him.’

‘Then you may wish to check behind us.’

The Lamborghini has appeared on cue, Felix’s smile in her rear view mirror, as Charlie and Moneypenny accelerate away and ahead, allowing the Countach to pull alongside. It is the first time she’s seen Q this emotional, visibly moved that his lover has come to accompany them home, and as the Tahiti Blue supercar accelerates away, Q wipes away tears. Ronni puts a hand to his leg, gentle squeeze bringing him back to the moment.

‘I think he missed you too.’

‘That he’d come out to protect me…’

‘You can thank him in person, I assume that’s where we’re heading.’

Ronni can spy their destination, at the bottom of the southern part of the structure, large rectangular bay on top of which the Gendamerie helicopter now sits. There’s a reception committee too, which would have been unheard of a year ago. Then it would have been a quiet return on a military transport or commercial flight, but this is different. The location, their situation… all of this is new ground. It is no longer one man in his own, secret world. Everything has changed, bond of connection evolved from one to two, to four, eight and beyond. They are now a family, stronger together than would ever be possible alone. However, whether she liked it or not, Ronni was a performer, role model and inspiration, especially in situations like this. Looking ahead, the other Meganes are parallel parked with a regulation car’s space with a fraction extra between bonnet and boot, presenting perfect opportunity for an entrance worthy of only the most competent of 00 agents. She’d been taught to do this during her time in Orientation, had managed the ‘stunt’ at first time of asking. That had been some time ago, and with more sleep plus caffeine.

There is the briefest of glances at Q, to grasp his assent, Andrew’s grin plus hand to ceiling enough to provide confidence to begin this manoeuvre. Flemmings handbrake turns the Megane with impeccable accuracy, inserting white precisely between red and blue vehicles within a hair’s breadth, in the most extravagant manner possible. Understanding that metaphors were worth a lot when your peers were watching, the assembled masses burst into applause plus some very un-British cheering. Then the car is surrounded, no idea how she goes from sitting to standing, embraces appearing in a blink. Charlie hugs with a joy she is happy to return, Moneypenny’s emotion all too genuine with Q. It is Tanner however who holds Ronni the longest, and when they separate his delight is enough to break resolve and reduce her to tears.

Looking up in his embrace, Bond stands away from the celebrations; alone on a metal balcony, still in his flight suit. When he meets her gaze and smiles, only then does 004 relax.

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Everything related to James Bond (007) belongs to Eon Productions and Danjaq LLC, except the bits in here that are mine and I made up. I get how this works.

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