DUET : Chapter Two, Part Three

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Ronni walks to work, street lights illuminating a dark and heavy day, another cold morning in prospect. The banks of the Thames are more crowded than she’s expecting, yet despite the weather there remains an undoubted optimism surrounding the people passed. For the first time since she’s begun this journey there is the desire to imagine herself already a 00: looking at faces, trying to work out what the other people do for a living: delivery driver, office worker, postman, City executive… how many of you are a spy?

She suppresses a smile: dressed like a secretary, or perhaps a simple office worker, but all of this is the most glorious of fronts. She is the Trojan Horse, secret hidden inside normality, challenge to the Old School hypocrisy, free spirit about to be caged and tamed for a job that she’d craved with almost obsessive need since the first time she understood what a spy really was. Walking across Westminster Bridge, as darkness shifts to dawn over a London skyline it would be impossible to grow tired of appreciating, Ronni is briefly at peace with herself for the first time in many, many years.

The only doubt comes when standing at the doors to Millbank, staring at what remains defiant and unbroken after Silva’s destructive rampage. The past calls, understanding that after this point she never comes back out the same: for a moment everything sways, shifting light before the sun finally breaks over her last day alive.

‘Don’t dwell on the past, Veronica. The future is always more desirable.’

She doesn’t expect Q in her head, but his parting words at lunch that fateful November Thursday slip back as a reminder. He knows you can be a 00.

Soon, so will everybody else.

Signing in at the front desk moments later Veronica spies Tanner, talking to an unknown woman. The older man smiles with an expression that strikes as odd, because he never does that to anyone, least of all her. In the journey through the tunnel of metal and explosive detectors her ex-Boss waits patiently on the other side: Ronni wonders what to say as explanation. The only reason she ever comes to this building is to meet him or her liaison, and that is always at their behest. If arriving here unannounced…

He will know I’m taking VB, and that’s why I’m here.

‘Good morning Ronni.’

‘It looks like it will indeed be just that, Sir.’

‘I think you can dispense with the title: new guy uses my surname, you can make your own choice.’

‘Well in that case William, I think I may need your help.’

He blushes at the use of full Christian name, that she’s subconsciously slipped into the mode used when on the back foot: using pretence to garner an answer instead of just asking outright.

‘The new guy lives where now, exactly?’

‘I think I can help you with that.’

The woman who Tanner was speaking to has appeared at his arm: stunning in a royal blue ensemble that Ronni’d never ever dare try to pull off, dark skin glowing even under the harsh strip lights of the building. She’d never seen this person before, which is odd, because someone this striking would be hard to miss especially in the white, male orientated world she was used to…

‘Good morning, I’m Eve, and I happen to work on the same floor as the new guy. If you’d like to follow me, I think he’ll arrive about the same time we do.’

Ronni does as she’s told, maintaining discreet distance, suddenly uncomfortable as the two of them walk away from the main bank of lifts and around a corner to a separate small alcove with two solid fire doors. She’d passed this place countless times on the way to the Ladies bathroom and thought nothing of it, and watches in amazement as Eve places her thumb on the end of one of the fire door’s metal opening struts. There is the faintest of clicks and the door swings open as the pair move into to a grey concrete room, in which sits a spacious single lift, already open and waiting.

Eve pulls a key from her pocket and opens a small panel on which she again has to place her thumb. There are only three buttons to press: this floor, up and down. Ronni decides to break the silence with a stab of deductive reasoning. If Q were designing a lift simply to do the job…

‘Up is the day job, down for extreme emergencies?’

‘You’re very perceptive, and yes there is a bunker which is only ever used in times of war. The problem is, of course, that conventional definitions just don’t seem to apply to much any more.’

‘I don’t think anyone expected the war on terror to hit this close to home.’

‘Did you ever meet the previous M?’

‘I’m sorry, I have no idea who you’re talking about.’

It’s a reflex now, and Eve blinks, slighted of tilts of the head. As Ronni has no idea of her status or clearance, the same rules always apply. Never talk about active assignments with anyone.

‘I know who you are, and why you’re here, and I find myself quietly amazed. That you would give up so much in a heartbeat, that you are so perfect a front and yet so complex a depth. Tell me, Ronni, has there ever been any doubt?’

The woman phases her, unsettling in both calm and poise, and Ronni has to think fast. To not know who this was, never meeting her at any point until now could mean one of two things: she was new, or this was someone very important indeed. The exchange with Tanner settles her mind: they knew each other well, which means this is a Field Agent she’s speaking to. In turn that demands that the response was not something that should leave anything open for discussion.

‘Never.’

The appraisal is odd, strangely disconcerting before Eve turns back to the lift panel.

‘I’ve said we need more buttons, but Q maintains that less is more.’

The panel suddenly illuminates as the lift hums: Eve places her thumb on ‘up’, and uncomfortable seconds pass before the doors finally close. Ronni stands, listening to the clicks the lift makes as it rises, before the doors part to reveal an open plan office space that takes her breath away. Even at 7am the place hums, people at work at desks beneath huge glass terminals that act as monitors, technology sophisticated enough for Ronni to stop and stare in disbelief. Although only partially constructed, Q Division’s fingerprints are everywhere: looking across the space she locks gazes with the man himself, standing at a terminal in disarray, two other technicians quietly arguing at its open side.

The look he gives her is enough to make Veronica think she really has done the right thing.

‘There are two lifts: this one is for employees only, and there’s the ‘official’ one for dignitaries that’s a lot less technology and far more old school. We’re still remodelling after the explosion as you can see, but work is progressing well enough. For a while we were in Whitehall but the PM wasn’t happy with the potential security issues, so we’re moving ourselves back here in stages.’

Eve travels through the space with clear familiarity while Ronni follows behind, trying really hard to not get distracted but briefly obsessing on the notion of this floor’s position in the scheme of things. She’d bet you couldn’t travel here conventionally, and needs to confirm the theory.

‘This floor isn’t accessible except using those two lifts, correct? So you can lock everything up in plain sight?’

‘There are three floors this could be, if truth be told. I’m informed that’s just the right amount of smoke and mirrors one can present between the truth and the illusion, for people to stop considering the possibility they’re being deceived.’

‘You even sound like Q when you quote him. What do you think of all this?’

Aware of growing tension between her and a woman Ronni thinks she’d like to know better, there is the desire to proffer an olive branch, even if that action might be unnecessary. Eve stops and stares again, no softening in her demeanour.

‘I decided to stop thinking for a while, just to toe the company line. I’m still not sure what I feel about a lot of things, if I’m honest. You’re really not what I expected. Maybe you are just too perfect.’

The phrase hits hard, between breastbone and stomach, and Ronni scrabbles to maintain composure. This woman knows her very well indeed, and is clearly part of Orientation, and that means the rules change again. This time there will be no response, simply silence, and the understanding that Eve was not to be trifled with. This was a woman who was defensive and combative, and as a result should be kept at distance.

Finally she turns, heading towards an area of bare concrete and scaffolding, beyond which is a wall, completely out of place against the high tech veneer behind them, solid wood panelling stretching from one side of the building to the other. Ronni understands as she catches up about the move from Whitehall being partially cosmetic. There are no thumbprint scanners, just a large brass handle, and as the door they approach opens Eve almost walks straight into M, face full of thunder, dressed for winter morning with both coat and hat.

‘Dear God, Moneypenny, what is so bloody important that you call me over from the House of Lords this -‘

Most of the anger drains from M’s face when he sees Ronni behind her, to be replaced by what she’s pretty certain is surprise. Of all the people who know me: Q, Tanner, even the woman who I’ll now bet used to be a Field Agent but is now your PA, you’re the only one who thought I’d walk away.

‘Agent Ashby. What an unexpected pleasure!’

Veronica smiles, understanding the significance of the compliment.

‘Good Morning, Sir. If you want to berate anyone it should be me and not Moneypenny, I’m the one who’s responsible for bringing you here.’

M continues to stare, a genuine smile forming, and Ronni knows it is now or never.

‘You said I needed to inform you personally if I wished to be considered for Voluntary Bereavement. I wanted to confirm my interest to proceed well before the deadline.’

Eve has vanished, and suddenly it is just the two of them: M ushers her into the reception outside his office, which is anything but state of the art: she is stepping back in time to the 1940’s. As the door closes behind them the noise of the office vanishes, and all Ronni can hear is the quiet clicking of a grandfather clock to her left. Fear grips her heart, but she steadfastly ignores it.

No turning back, not now.

‘So, to make sure we are absolutely clear, you wish to move forward to the next stage of Active Designation?’

A camera above them is recording this exchange, probably several. Somewhere in that room behind her Q will be hearing this too: knowing this time she was serious,understanding exactly what the Country was asking of her. The last time she tried, they knew she wasn’t ready and didn’t push, and that is exactly what has happened.

‘Yes, sir. I’d like to be considered as soon as possible.’

M is taking off his coat as Eve reappears, who takes it without a word, confirming Ronni’s suspicion. Why would a field agent take demotion to a desk job? There’s no time for anything other than polite silence, however, as M is suddenly all business.

‘Moneypenny, we’ll need the legal people up here, assuming of course any of them are actually in the building at 7.15.’

‘I am sure that I can find someone with sufficient seniority to process the paperwork. I’ve also ensured the rest of the Orientation team have been alerted that the timetable’s been shifted forward. I think a bit of surprise is good for everyone once in a while.’

The first chance she gets, Ronni is determined to find out as much about Eve as possible. First however, is the more pressing issue of getting these people to accept that she’s still worthy, and that will mean making her feel as uncomfortable as M’s PA managed with a single sentence. Moneypenny was good, flawless in her execution, and clearly used to dealing with awkward agents. Now she is professionalism personified, talking to a blonde woman summoned from Q’s playground who is then brought over for introduction.

‘Ronni, this is Elizabeth Sharpe, she’s going to take you before we get the last of the legal waivers signed to go over some details we’re missing on your Personnel folder. Don’t worry about having to be at Horseguards this morning, they’ll be told you’ve had a change of plans and you’ll be packing for Heathrow a little early. Have you done as instructed and have your bags ready?’

There are two suitcases in the hallway of my flat with passport and iPod on top. I locked the door and walked away, just as you requested I’d have to. There are no personal items on me at all right now: jewellery, pictures, even my handbag is at home. I followed every instruction to the letter. It never actually occurred to me that when I said yes, that would be it.

No, you did not make the wrong choice. This life is done.

‘Exactly as instructed.’

Eve’s smile is a lie, everything is the enemy and from now on, she trusts nobody with anything. Ronni’s on the back foot, and it’s how she works best.

Whatever the department wants to throw at her from now on, she’s ready for them.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

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.

DUET : Chapter Two, Part Two

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Ronni can’t sleep any more, so sits and watches early morning over the Thames.

When she accepts VB in an hour’s time, this view will vanish too: that is probably the greatest loss she’ll suffer. Her flat, vista across the cheap end of Docklands and everything in it will be lost forever, entire life replaced at the Taxpayer’s expense. Every material comfort sacrificed, existence erased, accepting the change she knows in her heart will be instigated. Lists in her head have been written and ticked off, arguments debated until her brain screamed, knowing that every path led to the same truth, feelings remaining steadfastly unchanged.

For as long as she can remember, she’s wanted to be the person standing just beyond her grasp.

If that meant she had to give up everything, then so be it. Cross-legged on the lone sofa, hardly worn and seldom used, this is the moment to be grateful that there are no pictures in the flat, deliberate removal of every frame of reference for many years. She’d not owned a proper camera since University, only evidence she even existed to her family was in pictures of her sibling’s joy. Mum would ask where she was on business trips and so she’d use the phone to send landscapes from places visited, never anything to tie a particular location to the job. That was this lie, and her conscience remained comfortable with the truths it provided.

When Ronni left University and enlisted in the Air Force, it was under a pretence. The Intelligence Service had recruited her at the end of her second year: anonymous advert in the Telegraph’s jobs section followed by two days in a nondescript building in West London where codes were decrypted, mental agility tested before running on a treadmill until her legs stopped working. At the end, sitting in a small grey room with a woman who could easily have been her mother, the message was simple. Veronica Ashby had a chance to change the world for the better. It took a month to grasp that her Air Force placement was only part of a far more complicated story. Only when the two men arrived at her shared home with a briefcase full of legal waivers did reality register: she had fallen into a far more complicated world than even the Civil Service itself had outlined.

The joy at having found her calling however simply superseded everything else from that point forward.

After a year of training, fast track to RAF Officer status and beyond, Ronni accepted that looks were just as significant as brains in her selection process. Anonymous might work for some operatives, yes, but not her. No-one said as much outright either, but when asked to carry a small box to the American Embassy in the volatile days of post Soviet Moscow, it was because a smile and the accent would pass through security unhindered. It helped that she’d picked Russian and Mandarin to learn as secondary languages after French and Spanish, brilliant mind backed up by an implicit understanding of each task in hand. Communication was the key to everything, and doing it better than anyone else had never been a problem.

Her father’s insistence that the tongues of the largest races would always place you at a financial advantage was the only piece of advice ever taken seriously, but not because of Malcolm Ashby’s assertion. Dad gave up completely when it became clear that money was the last of her concerns, dressing and acting on her terms and no-one else’s. He’d issued an ultimatum when she announced to family of future intent: this was a wholly unsuitable job for a woman, and if she continued with this destructive path, there would be no financial assistance from the Ashby coffers ever again. There was no need for help then, never asked for at any point since. Ronni earns more money now than both of her sisters combined, a fact Mum would continue to press whenever possible.

Her father was a misogynist dinosaur, and that was never likely to change.

Ashby spent the decade after Fast Track running across the planet, hotspot to flashpoint, delivering equipment hidden in Diplomatic Bags, until the day when she was called to Millbank, to meet William Tanner, first genuine clash with a world that had up to then only existed in rumour and whispers. He’d looked more uncomfortable than her back then, and ever since there’d been a suffering to the man, as if he couldn’t quite reconcile the seriousness of the position, that at any moment it could be snatched away from an uncertain grasp. Ronni was genuinely pleased when the previous M had poached him, but disappointed his replacement didn’t share as much humanity. Tanner was a man who had consistently treated her with more respect than anyone else she’d met outside of Q Division, the only real place where femininity wasn’t considered a joke or a hindrance.

There is a craving for music to accompany this last trip from the flat, but Ronni knows that is just one of many luxuries that must be sacrificed in order for her soul to finally be saved. This is a religion, mantras and prayers, years of meditation and devotion to a goal that finally, blissfully is within her sight. She might be going straight to Hell for her troubles, penance more than willingly shouldered until the day she died. Working for your Country was all well and good: knowing you would die for it without a thought changed the outlook for everything.

If she needs to be at Millbank for 7am, then it is time to leave.

The cold hits hard as the front door shuts, dropping keys through the letterbox as instructed. The Orientation people can enter her flat without them, after all, but doing what she’s told is all part of this process, and that means a dance which can be performed whilst asleep if required. All that is needed now is resolve not to waver, courage to travel without changing her mind.

Those qualities are second nature, without thought. All that drives her now is the future.


Bond lies awake, staring at the ceiling.

Sleep patterns are permanently shot but at least this time he made it to bed, beginning to grasp that when Q suggested he find something to do away from espionage to aid relaxation, the boy had a point. The laptop’s faint glow on the desk across the hallway still illuminates the room, where he’d been mindlessly losing himself down Internet rabbit-holes before completely detaching from reality. That’s how he functioned: pressure and release, inextricable then inertia and it wasn’t healthy. James resented the extra time with Gregory in the previous week until it was apparent that the most senior Psychologist the Department had wasn’t trying to make a point with anything, he just reflected back what 007 had become.

Sleep refuses to co-operate because he’s never tired when not in the Field.

The mobile suddenly chirps into life on the bedroom dresser; single, uncomplicated tone, and Bond is immediately grateful. Unexpected communication would mean not only diversion but excitement. There was only one person who ever sent him texts, and if he’d got one, time to not be in bed.

The message brings a smile to his face for the first time in several days:

VB arriving early, be ready to meet at work.

Adrenaline hits with a surprise that turns smile to grin: she’s moving before the deadline. Moneypenny will be up, called in well before normal start time, inconveniencing her and Mallory plus disrupting both schedules. William Tanner too will be forced to extricate himself from twin six year old girls and demanding wife before being urged into Millbank because the girl taking Voluntary Bereavement decided everybody gets to understand just how serious she is. Q is already there, calling the team into action, having placed Ronni on 24 hour surveillance since she she asked to die so flagrantly in her post-assessment debriefing.

M may have doubted Ronni’s sincerity, but the more Bond has learnt about the woman, the greater his desire has become to understand the motivation. He’d spent time the previous evening researching sisters, Facebook stalking and Old Girls Network websites providing a surprising amount of detail on the younger siblings but nothing on the eldest. Veronica had done a staggeringly good job of ceasing to exist virtually anywhere: the only photo he could find online is of her looking uncomfortable at the back of a shot from a History trip to the Great Battlefields in Belgium when she was 16, virtually unrecognisable from the woman he’s now shadowing.

Bond knows just how difficult this is to achieve in the Digital Age, and he’s impressed despite the desire to dismiss the perfection presented. Everything that has been asked of Veronica has been achieved, with room to spare, and still nobody takes the woman seriously, because that isn’t what matters. It is a disparity that has nothing to do with ability, or indeed perception. It is a fear of what she represents to some, a dismissal of this role being either acceptable or possible to the same standard he is judged on. Normally, Bond would not think about principles because that’s how he’s remained alive for so long, but now he is unsettled by circumstance. Vesper was as strong as she is, confident and unfazed by what he was. She gave her life to save him, confident Veronica would do nothing less. This isn’t Q drawing parallels any more either. There are demons he is yet fully to address and defeat, and needs to exorcise if there is any desire to remain sane.

007 can shower for his Country, clean and prepared in less time than it would take most people to get to the bathroom. The suit chosen is one of his favourites, waistcoat a considered concession to his own desires, hangover from immediate predecessor. He stops and stares in the mirror: allowed to remain lightly bearded since coming off duty, the look works well. However, it’s not part of the uniform, and if he’s going to do the job Q requires, it will have to go. There isn’t time now, because his target will be on her way and he needs to be in the office before she is.

The laptop seductively blinks from his modest office and Bond goes to flip up the screen, Q conveniently sending secure satellite footage of Ronni’s journey via Company Intranet. He’s less than five minutes walk from Millbank at this flat, ultimate perk of the senior 00 agent, desirable piece of London property that’s worth six figures simply by location. He’d been surprised MI6 had given it back to him after they sold it to a senior civil servant following his ‘death’ at Moneypenny’s hands. Skyfall had meant a change to many things, not simply how the organisation worked in the public eye. The first 007 had lived here in the 50’s, and it was to remain a part of his ‘uniform’ just as the Aston Martin had become, even though by his own admission Bond preferred travelling around London by motorbike.

Ronni is on the Embankment, walking towards Big Ben: Tanner’s coming out of the Tube at Westminster and Eve is already on the Bridge, Millbank directly ahead. Bond needs no further prompting, has keys and phone in his hand as the Laptop shuts down, is outside the flat on instinct, before he shivers and notices the cold. He’d not normally bother in London but something stops him, returning to locate the coat worn for PR appearances. Pulling out her business card from the inside pocket, carried for years and now battered and dog-eared, Bond stares saddened before putting it on the hallway table. Vesper’s name is faded: he never challenged her after the first night it was presented on the train to Montenegro, whether his lover really had hated parents for what they’d called her. The past, as Gregory had told him the day before, is not what should control our actions.

That is our task, not history’s.

He puts chronology away where it belongs, leaving the past to address the future.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

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.

DUET : Chapter Two, Part One

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TWO.

The interview room is small and impersonal, and M appears decidedly uncomfortable sitting in it.

A laptop is the man’s current focus, which he has been staring at for some time, lost in thoughts Ronni knows better than to interrupt. She waits quietly, hair tied neatly in a ponytail, pale grey trouser suit not keeping body quite warm enough. There is a sense that something is wrong, they’re still here and not back in M’s office: her scores are impeccable, so there’s going to be something else that’s not been factored into the equation. The question now becomes whether they will tell her exactly what it is or, as was the case last time, she’ll simply be sent away.

Finally M shifts focus from the screen, considered appraisal and Ronni is reminded oddly of her father. It could almost be disapproval in his demeanour, but because of what?

‘Agent Ashby, these are probably the best results I’ve seen from an assessment exercise in some time. You are to be congratulated not simply for your improvement on last year’s scores but for a clear determination to be noticed as a candidate for Active Designation.’

The compliment is a sweetener, bolstering for disappointment. Ronni knows that if she wants this man to look past the numbers, she’ll need to show her strength in a one to one situation.

‘May I speak freely, Sir?’

‘You certainly don’t need to ask me for permission, Ashby.’

‘My scores were good last year, but that wasn’t enough, and I suspect by the amount of time you’ve spent trying to find a way to open this conversation tactfully you’re not seeing the results as the problem you have with me.’

‘Your perception serves you well, which should not be as much of a surprise as it is. You are a genuine asset Ashby, and I will admit that your enthusiasm to join this programme… well, at least to me it creates a quandary.’

‘May I ask why, Sir?’

‘You’re the oldest of three children, correct?’

The question is unexpected, leaving Ronni briefly scrabbling for a response.

‘Yes, Sir… I have two younger sisters. Both are married, with one pregnant. Can I ask why this is relevant?’

M’s expression shifts, impossible to read for what she’d guess is good reason. Mallory is the modern face of the Service, yet being touted as a way back to the more traditional values that made MI6 the envy of intelligence agencies worldwide. She is also well aware he has to treat her as an equal: the Civil Service has obligations that stretch far beyond the Old Boys Network of the past. However, there are still echoes of those days that remain seemingly impossible to erase…

‘Veronica, your family is clearly an important part of your life. I find myself wondering just how much you would be prepared to sacrifice in order to be placed on Active Designation as a result.’

‘With respect, sir, my family are a part of my life I would have no trouble detaching from.’

‘That’s quite an easy thing to say, but I can assure you that the reality is considerably more challenging.’

She’d never even made it to M’s office last time, it had been a woman in a suit who she couldn’t name who smiled almost sadly and relayed that there were ‘elements of this resume that required work before reapplication would be considered.’ She’d always assumed it was her physical fitness that had been in question. Now she grasps that’s the least of her problems, and understands what is being asked. Q had reinforced the point when she’d pressed him at lunch months previously, but suddenly the words need to issue from this man’s mouth.

‘Your discretion and professionalism are without question. I am well aware that absolutely no-one in your family has ever been considered as a security risk. However, Active Designation is not a world where normal rules apply, even more so should you fulfil the supplementary entrance requirements to proceed. Our best applicants are at an advantage already over you, one that would not be easy to match in your present circumstances.’

He won’t say the phrase, Ronni grasps, suppressing a smile that suddenly seems out of place considering the serious nature of the context: never having to think about the possibility in front of a potential boss before, she’d have no trouble in doing so now. The initial reaction isn’t so hard to swallow. No more weddings. An end to Christmases at home, being an Aunt to any potential nieces or nephews. Goodbye to phone calls or surprise food parcels.

No more family life ever again with her genetic parents or offspring.

Voluntary Bereavement. She’d heard the term first as a joke, in a briefing, from a Field Agent who she knows now was probably a 00, calling it ‘the best way to simplify your life.’ She grasped the irony of that statement when Q confirmed it was a mandatory requirement to proceed with her career, but never dwelt on the consequences because that’s how she’d survived until now. A simpler existence, new start. The most terrible of prices to pay.

Your life: ended, and then created again anew.

M’s discomfort remains apparent, but he continues regardless with what Ronni can’t help but feel is a pre-prepared speech for her benefit.

‘I cannot fault these scores, Ashby, they’re practically perfect. You’ve done everything that the Department has asked of you, and more, but the final reality of the journey to 00 status requires a sacrifice, that proves ultimately that you are indeed the right woman for the task. Some may consider it barbaric, but almost 60 years of metrics have proven that this method delivers the type of individual capable of surviving the rigours this position presents.’

‘Q Branch have provided me with all the requirements I’d need to fulfil in order to proceed, Sir. I am well aware of what is being asked of me.’

‘Despite what the politically correct lobby may think, there are a number of very good reasons why we have so few female applicants that have ever been placed into Active Designation. Those in secure families, with commitments and ties… we understand that this is often simply asking too much. Unless we introduce compulsory conscription to the equation, that’s not likely to change.’

‘You are of course intimating that I’d have to accept Voluntary Bereavement to proceed?’

M’s eyes widen at Ronni’s casual use of the term, correct nerve both located and hit first time. It’s really easy to understand why so many would fall at this last hurdle. Easier still to grasp why the service appealed to those with the minimum amount of personal baggage. Ronni had never fitted the profiles since Grammar School, yet here she was, ready to move forward.

She refuses to break eye contact with the older man and watches his expression alter, soften in her appraisal. I just asked you to kill me so I can take this job. I’m completely serious. Sitting here, in front of the person who would be her ultimate superior officer, the choice seems deceptively simple, but she can’t be seen to be making such a quantum shift without reasoned reflection.

Please, give me the opportunity that I crave.

‘I couldn’t possibly comment, Ms Ashby, suffice it to say I’d personally need to believe you’d considered all the options available to you before we process your application further.’

‘Theoretically, how long would I have to come to a decision to ensure I’ll be included in this cycle?’

M’s face finally breaks, slightest hint of a smile on thin lips. He must know she would be an absolute boon to the Service at 00, but still Ronni sees it: he cannot believe she’d give up her life to do so. They needed women without commitments or the desire to begin families. He didn’t like to be the sexist, but someone had to do it, something his predecessor had taught him was an inconvenient truth in the modern world. If Ronni voluntarily accepted this life, he’d be amazed. She’d make that an emotion he’d not only feel, but regret he ever considered to begin with.

‘I’d need to be told personally within forty-eight hours. In my office, in Millbank. I want proof that you’re genuinely serious. I’ll leave it up to you to decide how that is delivered.’

The man rises suddenly, and Ronni can’t be sure but thinks that maybe he’s been rattled, just a touch, by her intentions. As he leaves, she can’t help the smile she knows Q will be watching on a screen somewhere, as he always does.

The boss refuses to believe I’ll do this. We’ll have to fix that as a matter of priority.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

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.

DUET : Chapter One, Part Three

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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.


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DUET : Chapter One, Part Two

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It is so cold that lungs hurt, five mile run rapidly evolving into a marathon, but Ronni locks herself away, knowing the time she must complete the course within. Whitehall Gardens are covered with a light dusting of frost, February particularly bitter and twisted, winter refusing to release London from its obsessive grip. The flag on the Ministry of Defence is at half mast, latest casualties in Afghanistan still fresh in the memory. She considers their faces, staring back from the paper over breakfast, lives taken in a war that would never be successfully concluded. She is being distracted, and this is not the time for reflection.

Stop worrying about what might be and simply focus on what can.

She travels around the Central London park with music from the wedding in her ears: classic songs from a sheltered childhood, memories of life growing up in the suburbs. Moments surface recalling Grammar school boys in packs, staring at the duckling who never got to fit in. Itchy in her own skin, braces and spots: ignored as plain, focus on prettier girls further down the station platform. Too many days were spent despising what life had become; bitterness and anguish of teenage existence out of her hands, in other people’s control. Every day was a struggle, holding herself inside, never showing the hurt at being teased. Crying in the rain so that no-one knew the truth was simply easier for everybody.

She’d been a late bloomer in every respect, still having to push to catch up.

There’d be no-one to celebrate with if this secured Active Designation, distinct lack of friends or lover to share the excitement. It would just be the knowledge she was good enough, that MI6 would then believe Agent Ashby prepared for the special assignments required to finally finish the course. It’s odd that anyone would do this at all: pondering as the last circuit begins, understanding especially with MI6’s concerted push into equal opportunities and incentive rewards. Why would you want to be a spy any more when the only way anyone would learn of your achievements would be long after your demise?

That might be true for most ranks, but not the one she aspired to.

She can see her target, wrapped up against the cold February air, standing in a duffle coat and woollen hat, and is gripped with a burst of adrenaline, excitement that this is actually the home stretch and she’s smashed the personal best. Small arms and rifle scores were as close to perfect as it was possible to get. Ronni had aced every intelligence quandary they’d thrown at her across the last two days, and knows that the psych results won’t show anything other than a woman who has her mind firmly focussed on the task.

She’s at least twenty yards past Q when it occurs to stop running.

The young man in glasses walks up with a smile, understanding she’s done enough without having to ask, even though he can’t tell her anyway. A hand emerges from coat pocket, fingerless gloves showing a manicure Ronni bets cost more than a week’s worth of her beauty products combined. He shakes his congratulations with customary vigour before hiding extremities and stopwatch away.

‘That was very impressive, Ms Ashby. I think we can reasonably assume you’ve been working hard since the last time our department’s paths crossed.’

‘Thank you Q, I am beginning to understand how hard one has to work to illicit a compliment from anyone north of the river, especially you.’

‘Let me be honest, Ms Ashby: it is easy to admire but takes a certain skill to praise a performance without your recipient being suspicious of motive. You already know how well you have performed, that much is abundantly apparent. After all, if I wasn’t supremely confident of your chances of success, you wouldn’t even be here to begin with.’

Q’s Division was the closest most normal people in MI6 ever got to the big time. The license to kill no longer officially existed, of course: if anyone asked there was the polite yet firm assertion that secret agents were a hangover from the Cold War and that a firm grasp of electronic warfare was a far more efficient and sensible use of tax-payers’ money. That’s why the Government had changed the rules and allowed them to do all the assessments, that when someone from Division came and sat at your side during a break, you were being eyed for a very special brand of consideration. After all, there’s only so much to be achieved with a computer, regardless of this impossibly young man’s assertions to the contrary. However, electronic was the future, and putting the man-management into the Quartermaster’s hands had, so far, shown a marked improvement in both productivity and success.

When Q himself sent Veronica an e-mail asking her to lunch, she knew exactly what he’d want to discuss. Previous inability had been put aside, and again came an opportunity to impress her worth.

Ronni sits quietly fifteen minutes later, Earl Grey in Q’s own Scrabble mug, ten points of warmth as the sweat still cools on a body, shivering in the horribly draughty Barracks Command Centre. Normally they’d send her away after an assessment but this time she’s been asked to stay, and it is making her increasingly nervous. A lot of Ops remained in what had been the service’s emergency HQ after the explosion that destroyed part of Millbank the previous year, because the powers that be still considered having such a public façade as asking for trouble. If she wasn’t here Ronni would have been shoved on a commercial flight to India anyway, but they sent Greg Fisher instead, and the Cambridge Scholar and Army darling was not going to screw up anything. He applied and is also short-listed for Active Designation this time around.

Fisher would be a far better fit for a field agent than she could ever be.

Q finally re-appears from his office, looking distinctly warmer than he was earlier but still wrapped against the cold, holding a memory stick in his hand, and Ronni smiles. That’s why they made her wait: there is a courier task to complete. He hands the data across almost too deliberately, as if the information had particular importance.

‘I am sorry to have kept you waiting, but I have a new member of staff this morning who I wanted to ensure was orientated to the Mainframe as a matter of priority. I think perhaps I should be looking for some new technical staff this year, assuming the budget is capable of supporting anyone else.’

‘I had assumed I was being retained for a reason, as we’ve done everything on the schedule?’

‘Indeed. This contains your results, and needs to be delivered to M. Personally.

‘I’m sorry, to whom?’

His emphasis on the last word is a surprise: Ronni knows this too is a test, and the response comes without thinking. Q takes the empty mug from her hand and points to it, creating a deliberate moment of theatre.

‘I am Q, the Quartermaster. You need to deliver this to M, which stands for-‘

‘I’m sorry, but I have no idea who you’re talking about, because the last individual that used the codename ‘M’ passed away in the 1970’s. This department no longer has one senior individual – ‘

‘It’s alright Ashby, you’re off the record.’

Ronni has to remember to breathe as M interrupts, appearing in the Barracks doorway, immaculate in a three piece Saville Row suit. There is a moment of sadness, past illuminated, before only grasped in other people’s conversations. This was the first time she’d seen the new man, not expecting to even get this close. Ronni met his predecessor once, by accident in Whitehall with a liaison in tow, and wished she’d known that M far better before she died. After all, she’d been a woman in a man’s world for a very long time.

M takes the drive from Q’s hand, who leaves without ceremony, and then turns to Ronni, regarding her appearance with what she’s pretty sure is disdain. Even in the cold, the smell of effort is unmistakeable and clearly distasteful to her potential boss.

‘Feel free to take your time in the shower, I could do with a second pot of tea on a morning this cold. We will continue this when you’re more appropriately attired.’


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DUET : Chapter One, Part One

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Before you Begin:
Set in a post-‘Skyfall’ Universe, this takes a couple of liberties with the 23rd addition to the canon. Let us assume for the porpoises of this exercise that the current 007 only takes the number and the Christian name from the last fella, and that he’s the sixth person to hold that title. Knowing that, you can carry on now.



DUET

‘But of all the dead volcanoes on Earth you just happened to retch
And roll
Through mine’



ONE


Veronica Ashby’s family had thrown a lot of money at this wedding, and it showed.

A quick glance at her watch told its own story: a whisper after midnight and both bar and dance floor were packed. Ronni was one of the few people not currently glued to either, neither drinking or grooving as if lives depended on conspicuous consumption. She’d imbibed plenty of champagne and thrown enough shapes to maintain the happiness for her younger sister and new husband, dismissing with increasing frequency the comments on her being the only one of three children without a ‘secure’ future. On the journey to happy endings, in her life, it had simply become easier not to dwell. After all, this was the most content she’d been for some time.

It no longer mattered what other people saw in her, not any more. She’d finally perfected the disguise.

This whole evening had turned from inconvenience to blessing: it should provide at least a year of clear air before her mother began the disapproving phone calls, that Ronni still wasn’t seeing anyone seriously, their eldest clearly not getting any younger. At least her father wasn’t likely to give her a hard time about her staunch refusal to accept any offers from anyone who looked remotely promising from the offspring of his financial services and international banking ‘acquaintances.’ Malcolm Ashby had not spoken a word to her all day, which was probably better than the number three bridesmaid could have hoped for. Maybe he’d finally got the message that whoever he tried to set up, Ronni simply wasn’t interested. After all, once you’d slept with one investment specialist, you’d pretty much fucked them all.

Her lifestyle was never going to be conducive to a normal existence anyway.

That wasn’t stopping Russell, however, who’d been doggedly determined to score for the entire evening with little sign of flagging. He appears to her left almost by magic, two flutes of Krug in worryingly unblemished hands, slipping a little too close for comfort. Ronni considers moving but remains confident enough that there won’t be groping, at least not yet. He’ll need to be more wasted and less aware of her body language, deliberate but subtle refusal to let him into her personal space for a damn good reason.

‘Can I interest you in another glass, Veronica?’

‘Have I told you that just my parents use the full name, and normally only when I’m in trouble?’

‘Sorry, I always forget – Ronni, would you -‘

‘That’s really kind, but I think I’ve probably had enough. After all, we’ve been at this since just after lunchtime.’

‘Tell me about it, this has to be the best food and drink I’ve ever had at a Wedding. All so beautifully presented… everything’s perfect. Your family celebrates with convincing style. I think this might even be better than Alice’s.’

That was a good night, Ronni remembers with a stab of nostalgia. Everyone had assumed that her happiness that day was because she’d met someone, blissfully unaware of the truth. Finally having made the most important of work transitions, significant shift from delivery girl to analyst, World opening to her at last. That realisation resonates within her tonight: if the fates allow she’s just one step away from never having to sit behind a desk ever again. Fuck the fates, this is her choice, fully intending to grasp the future with both hands and threaten to shoot it in the head if it didn’t hand over what was required.

At times like this, absolutely the last thing she needs to be doing is telling anyone the truth.

There’d been issue over being able to be genuine with family for a time, but only until the understanding stuck, even this would make her better at the job. She doesn’t care that they don’t know, because that is no longer a part of the equation anyway. Somewhere between Alice and Emily becoming wives, destiny had been settled and accepted, at least in part.

Russell’s still talking, lubricated and blithely unaware.

‘In all that time I’ve never seen you with anybody, not a single bloke. There was a rumour in the office for a while -‘

‘That I was a lesbian, perhaps?’

‘I didn’t believe it, not for one moment, because you’re clearly far smarter than that.’

If she didn’t know it already, Russell had more than adequately confirmed not only his staggering stupidity, but a narrow-mindedness she could quite easy push off the chair and onto the expensive Axminster. However, it’s just simpler to tune him out. Frankly she’d be better off going back to the hotel room and sleeping, not simply because of the week ahead. This conversation was no longer a sensible use of her time.

‘You think you’ll ever get married, Ronni?’

‘Maybe. Would have to be someone pretty spectacular who asked.’

For a moment Ronni turns to stare at the fool, playing the lie of making him believe she’s willing with a conviction that only comes when you can deceive yourself as easily as you can anyone else. This loser genuinely believes I work for an international exports company, that I spend time when not in London travelling the world making deals for the Government. The places I go, the difference this makes: to give that up, to marry anyone would take someone unbelievable indeed. Even more so because this entire persona is a beautifully constructed conceit and if you knew what I really did, you’d probably not believe me anyway.

Women just don’t play that game.

Veronica pushes a stray lock of auburn hair behind her ear: delivering her most dazzling, distracting smile, one that best accentuates both face and eyes. She knows, at least temporarily, that Russell is believing he’s going to score, but there will be disappointment instead because in twenty minutes she will vanish like smoke and he’ll be left with nothing. She needs to be checked out by 7 am and running by nine because she’s not going to fail her Physical Assessment for a second year in a row. There is a steadfast refusal to jeopardise what is possibly the last chance at a job promotion that could really change her career prospects forever. In that respect a clock was ticking: age an issue not for motherhood, but for physical fitness.

After all, it was not every day the chance for an Active Designation was presented.

She watches him in the darkness, face rapt and eyes wide, and for the first time in her thirty-five years on the planet genuinely understands this is exactly the right thing to do. It doesn’t matter that this entire life is a lie, because she is comfortable with what it has become.

Ronni Ashby is both proud and grateful to serve on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.


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Poetry in Motion

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK.

So, here is a poem I wrote. because I am a writer, and however much this form scares me, when you can embrace it well, it is glorious.

==
The Internal Ache

I don’t deserve this care, yet you remain: wound around my heart; soft, quiet constriction.

A measured passion forms constant desires:
you won’t desert me, trapped in our affliction.
I search for those reciprocal beliefs, within the skeptic depths of my bruised soul.
You have arrived before an answer’s found: a promise bound, to make these two a whole.
Inevitable fate may yet be true: contradictions of myself in you.
I sense a shocking lack of fit response: I own no solid truth to reach or grasp,
but this is where I know that I should be.
You watch my struggle with the thing you ask:
to try and look within where words are caught, inside the heart so scared to answer back.
Your patience while I struggle gives me strength, a constance as I crave the words I lack.

I will always love you, but can’t say now: these words never enough to show you how.

==
Words are hard, you know.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Yesterday, I tried to stay up late to catch the SPECTRE trailer launch but singuarly failed. However, that’s what the Internet is for.

Here you go, watch away:

One frame leapt out at me in watching this, and that’s part of the ‘personal effects’ Bond gets handed from Skyfall. Particularly relevant? This frame:

So here’s a Certificate of Temporary Guardianship with Bond’s name on it (and he’s 14 at the time) and that picture? I’d assumed that the head ‘missing’ was his mother, but I know it isn’t. That’s another boy.

That’s actually the Bonds’ real son.

Brain’s been doing somersaults over this since I saw it, and I suspect I’ll need a bit of time to digest all the possibilities. I’d like to postulate at this point the following:

  • Craig’s character is not the Bonds’ biological son. This will allow the writers a gimme out of the big mistake I and many other fans feel they made in Skyfall when it was pretty much stuck in canon that he was the original owner of the name. This also frees them up for when they cast a new Bond (and they will because that’s how this franchise works) to give that person the ‘name’ and the number without consequence.
  • Christopher Wentz’ character is in fact the Bonds’ biological son. If he was presumed dead and lost with his parents in the accident that befell them (and I’m going to guess that has a link to the cabin we see Bond confront Mr White in, as that picture was clearly taken by Bond’s mother in the Alps) he’s gonna have some SERIOUS issues about his ‘brother’ being where he is. That’s probably the best ‘Motivations to become a Supervillain’ I’ve seen for some time.

I’m REALLY hoping this is what happens, because I’ve always wanted the number and name to simply be an identifier, and Skyfall was a MASSIVE disappointment in this regard.

Needless to say, Bloefeld and Bond are brothers. Because that’s just too perfect not to have happen 😀

Scattered Black and Whites

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember a lot about my first year at College.

Nice legs, shame about the face.

There are pictures, of course: that’s one of them, a self-made costume that I remember being particularly proud of (Christmas Tree Fairy, before you ask ^^) I can recall watching ‘Moonlighting’ on a battered black and white TV owned by my roomate, falling off a barstool after too many cheap Pimms in a Student Bar promotion. Everything else though, not so much memory really remains. I lost a lot of it, I now know deliberately. I was arrogant and stupid and really not a good person to know back then. I don’t remember how I felt at the time either, but there were moments that I think, actually, I did the right thing.

It was also the point in my life that I can look back on now and grasp were the first days I realised something wasn’t right in my mind, but it took me a very long time to even grasp this was something I could deal with, or that it was actually a problem. In amongst those pictures and moments there was a point, probably the later part of that first year, when someone decided they knew what was wrong with my life, and tried to help me change.

They attempted to convert me to religion.

I attended a Church of England College: not because of God, but because of the course I wanted. I can remember a few details about the girl who latched onto me, because that was what it was: persistent, unending and slowing soul-destroying. The girl with sandy blonde hair, the round face and the glasses. Her politeness and friendliness, a counterpoint to my unhappiness, inability to make friends, the issues I’d have sometimes getting cross and introverted. All of this was because I could not accept God into my life.

One day, the persistent pushing came to a head: she followed me to my room, and wouldn’t leave. I got angry at her and she used it all against me: accept God into my heart and I’d feel better, everything would change, and my hatred would leave me. I got progressively more irritated: I didn’t want God, and she needed to leave. With no phone to use to call anyone, alone and now actually frightened, something altered inside me, and I found myself with a choice. How did I get her to leave without attacking her physically and making myself in my mind no better than she was by simply refusing to believe that I believed that God was a metaphor. Nobody could help you with your problems. The only person who you could rely on was yourself.

In desperation I started hitting my head against the wooden window frame, over and over, screaming at her that God wasn’t my problem but she was. She didn’t try and stop me: when presented with my anger she froze. Her God didn’t help her deal with the reaction, her assertions that she cared when in reality she was like everybody else.

When I eventually drew blood, she panicked and ran.

The following morning I couldn’t see and fell over as I got out of bed. My room-mate saw the gash to my head and took me to the Doctor, who called an ambulance. When they asked me what had happened, I lied because I was afraid of what might transpire if I told the truth. One session in A&E later I was back in my room, diagnosed with a concussion.

The round faced girl with the glasses never spoke to me again.

Happier times.

There is a ridge on the front of my head, close to the hairline, the mark worn into my skull self-inflicted, so I didn’t turn and attack her that day. It was easier to hurt myself than try and get her to understand. Her desire to do what she thought was right was a passion I’d never encountered in anyone before… yet at the crucial moment, she was as frightened as I was. If she’d have the strength to stop me, to actually show she could help, then maybe things would have been different. What I do remember, with a clarity that now surprises me, is that I challenged her to explain how a God would allow people to hurt themselves if his love was so encompassing. If he cared about everyone, he’d save those who needed him most.


Let me be very clear: if God is important to you, I will ALWAYS respect this. All I ask of people is the decency and understanding that they do the same regarding ethics and ideas that matter to me. Except, as I discover, this doesn’t happen with everybody. In fact, sometimes, people decide that the easiest thing to do in difficult situations is just to run away. This happened to me yesterday, and although unrelated I find myself wondering what has to change in some people’s minds to understand that the World is bigger than themselves.

Maybe some people never do, that’s the problem, and I should really stop worrying about the things I can do nothing about. On reflection, this is probably a good idea.

Personally, I’m glad I finally found my own way to be comfortable with what I really am.

Stars Align


Motivational Crap goes here.

Occasionally, the stars do align for me. It’s still a rare enough occurrence to have to take a step back when it happens: today is a case in point. A blog post I wrote on the gaming site was mentioned by an AOL affiliate, and (quite possibly, not sure, need to check publication times) as a result of this got dragged onto one of the de facto huge traffic websites around the game. This means, as of 6pm tonight, I’ve had more hits in twelve hours than I’d probably see in a week. Even more ironically, I’d suspect very few people have actually read the post at all. That’s one of the issues picking a subject matter which inevitably has ‘contentious’ written through it. It makes me wonder how many people might stay as a result. Time inevitably will tell.

What today did make me realise is that my website is, after nearly six years, beginning to creak from having had too much crap bolted onto it and not enough effort placed in organising it properly. As a result I suspect ALL my web content’s coming up for a merger, this site included.

I went and registered alternativechat.net as a result today, and now it is mine.

Not often, but…

I have a number of things I would like to do next year. Quite apart from doing a fair bit of dancing at gigs (Elbow, Underworld and David Arnold so far on the list) I have half a plan to review all 23 Bond Films before the the most current one comes out for my birthday (cheers for that Mr Mendes.) There is other stuff too, but a girl likes to keep stuff something of a mystery, especially when trying to make more days when stars align and everyone gets to at least see her work on’t t’internets. Needless to say, this site is likely to change this month, along with the other one, and it is probably possible there will be some kind of central portal to cover everything by the time we move into January 2015.

Consider it the first steps into a larger Universe. Or summat 😀