DEFAULT :: Part Forty-One

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Ronni stares, not able to comprehend what Q is suggesting, and this disbelief must be apparent because the man gets up, going to retrieve a laptop which must have been liberated from Bulgari’s compound. Obviously prepared for this eventuality, Andrew comes to sit beside her.

‘I did wonder if you’d grasp the significance of what’s happened since our enforced extraction from the real world. I’ve been able to keep up to date with progress as I’ve worked, but you’ve had little or no exposure to what I’ve seen. I think now however, this is the moment to change that. Let me show you what’s been going on since we died.’

Q’s skill with a computer does not just cover the technical: as she’s seen at the Barracks, it also includes an innate ability to use skills to tell stories using the vastness of media the Internet presents. On the screen is constructed a timeline, begun at the moment of the explosion in Venice: Italian authorities denouncing Spectre publicly, high-profile arrests of leading mob bosses, prompting French and German governments to follow suit. There’s the Prime Minister, visibly upset, attacking Spectre by name in an address at the United Nations, vowing that the British people would never be shattered by ‘maniacs, lunatics and fanatical power-crazed warmongers.’ Then there is the funeral, and Ronni has to struggle to remain impassive as she watches Bond gunned down in such public view. MI6 use the moment as their spark, urging the rest of the World to accept the existence of Spectre and to join their fight to eradicate the organisation once and for all.

It is M however who moves her to tears, speech to awaiting press as he flies to France to consult with security services, a man who blames the death of his predecessor on the criminal organisation with an anger she’s never encountered before. Then there is the quiet and brutal promise that ‘nothing will be compromised to ensure that the man in charge is located and then bought to justice.’ Overnight, Christian Swann becomes as notorious a criminal as the World had seen: when the US President cancels her vacation forty eight hours after M’s speech to pledge support to the UK’s efforts, the entire landscape irrevocably changes. Q’s pride that he was part of the process is apparent even without the evidence to support it, but that doesn’t stop him making the point.

‘You’ll note that this shift from the US was in direct response to the data I provided London on key Spectre operatives within the President’s own party, the NRA and number of major US Pharmaceutical companies. Once they realised how dangerous the potential was for chaos amongst the faithful? A female Republican Commander in Chief has enough to worry about without being divided and conquered from within.’

‘It was hard enough for her to get there to begin with. I’d understand the desire to throw weight behind anyone wanting to remove corruption from anywhere.’

‘Getting the Americans to admit anything has never been easy, 004. Providing a truth that cannot be ignored, as you demonstrated during training, is by far the most effective approach to making a point.’

Everything since is a procession of news reports, newspaper headlines and You Tube sound bites from local news organisations: Spectre thwarted at every turn, notable members taking their own lives rather than be captured, turned in by friends and in a couple of cases lovers. From Washington DC to Madrid, Edinburgh to Marseilles, the stories are the same: the first step away from oppression brings freedom, and unexpected consequences. Ronni notes the headline in Le Monde that recruitment to the French Armed Forces is up, that this trend may well be repeated elsewhere. There’s also several stories on a joint British-French security treaty which rings vague bells from a briefing after the capture of Bloefeld. The Gendarmerie had something big up their elegantly tailored sleeves, which MI5 had considerable interest in…

The truth however is inescapable: even if she’d not seen it, the World had changed whilst Ronni had been dead, so much to the better. The sense of calm this instils is the most pleasant of surprises, and far more needed than perhaps at first grasped. This isn’t doing the job and having simple satisfaction in the consequences: life would no longer be the same for millions of people. It would be better: less drama and hardship, oppression and tyranny put on notice. This wasn’t just rhetoric or empty promises either. They’d promised to send a message, and that cry to action was echoing around the planet.

‘You’re weren’t lying to bolster my spirits.’

‘Or indeed to assuage my ego. As you can see, this is the honest truth. We have made considerably more than a difference, and yet nobody will ever know it was us.’

Ronni can’t help but smile at the man next to her, not just because he could conjure up a chocolate mousse out of thin air when she needed it most. It had felt like a fight, place to place, no way of knowing they were changing the course of a campaign that stretched across the globe. To have made such a difference was significant, but there was still much left that qualified as unknown.

‘You said ‘what we know about’ and that means what, exactly?’

‘There’s a great deal on Beam’s hard drive that as yet makes no sense, and I suspect I may need Felix for context. I’m waiting to be advised by London as to what happens next. However, as of about an hour ago, there’s a video on You Tube produced by MI6 that announces a raft of significant changes to the Service. After my death, London have formally announced Rachel Frasier’s been appointed as my very public successor, which is not a total fabrication. What it means is that the cover’s again secure, and the pressure on us is lifted. With Frasier taking centre stage for Quartermaster activity, I can continue my work when we return under far less scrutiny.’

‘Which is what you should be doing and not taking to me.’

‘I liberated a fair few items from Mr Bulgari’s home, including this second machine and some extremely efficient solar power cells. I can work all night should I need to, and it means I’ll be able to expedite the last portion of my mission with far greater speed. However, I have one more birthday gift to offer, should you desire it.’

‘Why am I suddenly nervous, Q?’

‘There’s a US intelligence satellite that passes over us at 21:00 CET which I have an access code for. That will make it 04:00 in Bangkok and I can guarantee Bond won’t be asleep. You could at least say hello, and he gets to wish you Happy Birthday.’

Q’s already getting up, preparing to work for the evening, and Ronni knows how well she’ll sleep before then with a full meal inside her. There’s no argument either: she’ll take the 21:00 watch, and make the decision on whether to talk to Bond or not when the time comes.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Nine

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Ronni wakes naturally for the first time in many days, late afternoon sun reflecting through the broken glass of farmhouse windows. Reassuring shards of light scatter across the surprisingly comfortable camp bed, and for a moment she’s back in the Barracks, familiar warmth from brick and earth reassuring a troubled soul. Then reality both of past and present rises to swallow the brief calm: driving away from Marc’s house, crying into Q’s surprisingly solid embrace, hour of revelation before insisting she went and slept. It had been much needed: lying quietly and reflecting on the last weeks alone, even Ronni knew how damaged both mind and body had become. Their thwarting of Spectre at the Violin Museum, the young man’s death in the process plus Q’s breakthrough decrypting Beam’s hard drive meant they’d undoubtedly made a difference. Moving into French territory was academic if they continued in the stolen vehicle, but Ronni’s not sure she wants to draw any more attention to their movements. Uncertain of what Marc would now do knowing she’d taken gross advantage of his generosity, leaving his four wheel drive here and continuing on foot might yet be their best course of action.

They’d done well however: he’d not been joking when bragging over the starter that his ‘complex’ was prepared for any eventuality. The new camp beds were light enough to be carried, canned food and water in plentiful supply so they could last at least another three days before needing to be conspicuous… and suddenly Ronni is distracted, smell wafting from outside that immediately sets her taste buds alight. Immediate fears are forgotten, enough to pull aching body up outside to the high walled garden behind the farmhouse, and to Q, whose latest excursion into outdoor living is ambitious even by his standards.

‘What on earth are you cooking?’

Her travelling companion stands, clearly beyond proud of himself in a kitchen that is so Heath Robinson in both construction and layout it almost defies belief.

‘I am not simply cooking, Veronica, I am creating. It has been a long time since I enjoyed myself so much with something other than a computer.’

There is what is undoubtedly a well made fire under a carefully-constructed pile of stones, large, flat metal door from something in the wreck of this house being utilised as an impromptu hotplate. From somewhere Q’s obtained a pan, and at least one decent knife: on the ‘stove’ sits and simmers a substantive portion of what Ronni would guess is game of some variety by the smell, probably trapped and skinned by the man himself. There’s pasta in the mix, plus bundles of freshly-gathered leaves and berries sit waiting to be prepared…

‘How on earth-?’

‘I knew today would be significant, after what happened at the Museum, understand enough about employee motivation to grasp that it being your birthday… the occasion should warrant at least something special.’

‘Where did you learn to do all this?’

‘It may come as something of a surprise, but I was a boy scout back in the day, and rather a damn good one as it happens. I was able to pay other people to carry my bags if I cooked for them. I find this kind of outdoor challenge rather exhilarating’

‘Why did you not say this before?’

‘Because being in the field isn’t a contest, and you needed things to do as distraction. I assure you it wasn’t to conform to gender roles. I just like to hide my skills whenever possible.’

‘Why am I not surprised at this one little bit?’

She’d assumed Q had forgotten, or simply decided not to rub salt into her wounds when already low. Daydreaming as distraction as she’d walked to Marc’s house, that if this were just a bad dream she’d have spent her birthday grabbing a spa treatment, eating cake with Moneypenny, but how deep down there’d be the inescapable ache of regret that this year she was alone. However hard Ronni tries, Bond refuses to leave her. His taste now is diesel: inescapable dirty Viennese water, adrenaline mixed with blood, panic inescapable. His hand, around hers, brush of brilliant possibility devolved into anger and confusion. The ache is so fresh and raw it catches her off guard, closing eyes to prevent more tears because she has to prove she wasn’t lying when maintaining this wasn’t love. Need perhaps, desire quite distinctly, but he was never the happy ending she craved. The job was her wage, keeping Q alive her payoff.

Bond was simply the thing she wanted but must never keep, because when that happened, then there was no need in being the number any more.

‘I’d like to keep the contents of dinner as a surprise for a little longer, if I may? Perhaps you could start packing up the rucksacks for tomorrow, as I’m going to assume you’d like to continue on foot and not risk the use of the four wheel drive?’

If he were here, would Bond be cooking, she wonders, would he have possessed the foresight to create something so amazing and uplifting? In this case, he could learn from Q, that this would be the way to show that really, finally, something significant had been grasped about how to treat a woman. But this was folly, idle thought no longer relevant or required. The Quartermaster was pushing her back to the moment, and that’s where she needed to exist.

‘I like the fact I don’t have to remind you of process, that normally you’re one step ahead of me. On days like today, your organisational skill is positively inspirational, Q.’

‘Andrew. My name is Andrew, and I think we have passed the point where I have the right to be considered your superior, at least in the field. I think after everything that has transpired, I’d rather regard you as my friend.’

Ronni stares and realises that her boss just stopped being a letter, and that this makes her happier than she believed was currently possible. Without hesitation they hug, gesture that is returned this time without either hesitation or care. There might be those who’d argue to survive in such situations that the last thing you needed was any emotional attachment to the people you were protecting, but in this case 004 wasn’t one of them.

Right now, this was exactly what she craved.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Eight

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Waking with a start, Q knows to be alert immediately as he emerges from the car.

The man knew this moment would arise: today was Ronni’s birthday, and that made this entire change of circumstances considerably more delicate. There was a very good reason 00’s were told to complete their missions as quickly as possible, because the long-term consequences of keeping agents in the field was not only well known, but dangerous in the extreme. 007’s predecessor was forced into what many considered early retirement after his detention in North Korea, psychological effects of undercover work well documented on men. For women however, there was no research. Nobody knew what happened, because there simply weren’t any metrics.

He goes to find his protector: sitting alone on the steps of the abandoned farmhouse they’ve arrived at, steeling himself to a task that he’d rather never have to undertake. Body language screams, leave me alone, but Q knows enough to understand that with the right stimulus, that can be changed.

‘Ronni? Would you like to talk?’

‘Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’

She’s been crying for some time, and the man finds himself wishing to be made of harder stuff than he knows is the case.

‘You did the right thing, 004.’

‘Like fuck I did. It doesn’t matter how bad the person may end up being: I still slept with someone so I could drug them, steal their car, money and equipment and keep us safe. Explain to me exactly how that is acceptable conduct for anyone, let alone a member of MI6.’

This is the moment to squat down, to not tower over a woman who’s struggling, and to try and make a point, and so Q does just that.

‘Sometimes… an agent is forced to make different decisions in order to expedite their mission.’

‘I joked about it with him over dinner. He didn’t believe me, I told him what was going to happen and he refused to grasp I was serious and when I did it it was like someone had punched me in the stomach. How does Bond live with this? How on Earth is he capable of using seduction as a means of helping himself when the results are just so horrendously awful?’

‘He makes the women want to help -‘

‘- by lying and stealing? By providing pleasure and then abandoning them to get the job done?’ How ON EARTH is that justifiable for anybody?’

‘Because this is the true reality of that existence. It only works if you start thinking rationally.’

Now is the moment to come sit beside her, grasping his own depth of fatigue after weeks on the run, grateful for protection in a manner there will never be means to adequately thank for. Without persistence and sacrifice they would not have turned the current tide in the fight against Spectre. She’s done so much and because of it, in the next twenty four hours they’re finally off the back foot and back in the game.

‘I never realised how strong Bond really was, Q. When we trained, it was always this arrogant swagger, confidence never grasped. He could just tune it out, forget bad and focus on good. He never cared about planning or considering the consequences, he just wanted the pleasure. That’s all that’s ever mattered.’

‘You know that’s not true. Trust me from someone who’s read every report, digested all the files. All he has, in the end, is the job. There was nobody else, until Ms Lynd, and when that turned out to be a lie… he just stopped caring. About himself, the ideal… everything. Moneypenny was placed to instigate a change, but she wasn’t what was needed. He required a very specific mirror, held up to himself. To make him realise. So he understood what he could do if he cared about someone else and not just himself.’

Ronni stares, taking in the truth Q wonders whether she actually ever considered. It had not just been her training he’d engineered, but Bond’s redemption as an agent. By giving him a reason not to be what he had always been, 007’s outlook had finally changed.

‘Q, are you saying if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have fallen in love with Madeline?’

‘Yes, I am very sorry to say that I am. You gave Bond back his humanity, and the moment he grasped that? It simply found the nearest convenient truth to latch onto. He promised a man he’d protect his daughter, without finding anything else out about the mission he’d been presented. That’s always been 007’s failing. The job is everything. It always has been. What you did was save him from himself, but before he was able to actually understand how he could find true deliverance? He got distracted.’

‘Why are you sorry, Q?’

‘Because this was never just about Bond’s redemption. I’d never truly grasped what the consequences might be for you in all of this, and for that, I am so terribly, dreadfully sorry. I know how much you care about him now, and if I’d known the upshot of my actions -‘

‘Q, you didn’t make this happen. I did. I only have myself to blame.’

Ronni stares, tears streaming unhindered down a face that now screams for reassurance and despite himself Q reaches across, pulling body close, so he can hold 004 while she cries. Once upon a time this would have been awkward but now he knows only too well how much he needs strength and focus, to keep them both alive. He cannot lie, not today of all days. The truth remains that, like it or not, she is less than her best in the field without Bond as balance. How they have emotionally altered the other is abundantly apparent. Now he has forced her to confront that truth, it will be time to deal with the consequences.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Seven

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Dinner is palatable, far more so than Ronni expects: as tiramisu is finished Marc returns from the kitchen with coffee that’s enough to make her aroused simply by smell. She’s sitting opposite his empty space in a dress shirt, faint whiff of the man’s scent distracting: oddly erotic considering circumstances. It transpires that Bulgari is both smart and funny, but everything falls down when it becomes apparent the only real interest is himself. That’s all that’s been discussed since arriving downstairs after an extended shower: his life, projects recorded, how he came back from the US to claim a brilliant legacy and never went back. There’s also subjects off the books: both parents and life before their demise have been obviously and often forcibly ignored. 004 may crave the caffeine, but wants this deception done. However caution still overrides all else: mindful of pushing, because of what might happen if control is even caressed out of this man’s hands.

Two espresso cups are placed on the table; instead of drinking she stands, seductive stare at her host generating more confidence than is currently either possessed or felt.

‘I think you’re the only stimulant I need right now.’

His desire is almost luminous in semi-darkness, candles casting unreal shadows across them both: yet moving closer there is still no attempt to touch or introduce intimacy.

‘I like to take my time with everything, enjoy the moment, extend stimulation. You should feel free to control, use me as you wish.’

This contradiction makes her want to laugh but suddenly there’s uncertainty in the man’s frame, shaking hand placed on the table to steady himself, allowing a chance to recompose. A small smile forms, Bulgari’s sudden revelation at her refusal to take the bait.

‘I like you far more than the other girls. They just want to fuck and leave, don’t care about my needs. You’re quiet and respectful, let me talk without interrupting. I don’t like it when people do that.’

Discomfort won’t budge, awareness of hunting knife next to the place setting: the SIG may have left his leg but is still within arm’s reach. He looks incongruous in casual slacks and shirt, but there are too many unanswered questions that Ronni never wants to resolve. Pushing the pace she looks away, feigning compliance to support the position of submission. His soft, uncalloused hand comes to her face, almost frustratingly gentle as head is shifted back.

‘Don’t be afraid, Veronica. If you spend the night, I’ll make sure you’re very well rewarded in the morning.’

The other hand is offered which she takes, pulled gently to his chest, and without ceremony there is a nuzzle to neck, before being guided upstairs. His bedroom is small and cramped, and Ronni wonders why they’re here and not using one of the larger rooms and then sparks the memory of his parents: perhaps this was always his place in the house and Marc can’t bear to leave. There’s a stab of guilt swallowed without remorse: now is just the time where everything else is forgotten and deed is done.

He’s a fantastic kisser, it transpires: Ronni detaches from reality in this small restrictive space, allowing him to undress first her, then himself. Marc’s body is incredibly lean but surprisingly strong, erection more than acceptable under the circumstances, and so this becomes the dance she knew could be done but had never needed to perform. They move from vertical to horizontal, yet there is no rush to Marco’s need. He’s happy to trace patterns with tongue across breasts and stomach, feel the points where scars were made as she reacts, and after a while there is the demand to be fucked and have it over with, except he won’t. On reflection this is no surprise, from actions earlier it should have been obvious this was a man who worked to his own timetable and nobody else’s. There is a final understanding that if this is going to be done, a measure of control is demanded.

Once it’s apparent he’s only interested in extending foreplay, she pushes to see how he reacts, and blissfully is allowed to roll them over, before producing a condom from the side of the bed. This may have been the intent all along, Ronni decides: happy for her to set the pace, and once protected there’s a moment of lucidity. Once this is over, the last wall is broken. There is no desire for this man at all, but arousal is inescapable; how the two will finally combine never had to be performed in the field. As she takes him inside it isn’t Marc beneath but James, fantasy required to complete this transformation.

In the candlelight it is easy to blur lines, trick a sleep deprived brain: another under and inside and so it is, wondering if Bond does the same. Everything’s a game, in the end; falsehood, deceit and death wrapped around a job that was too often glamorised and never really understood. For every time he had done this, 007 rationalised and moved on, but already Ronni feels the world crumbling, slipping sand beneath foundations that had appeared far more solid. As Bulgari orgasms she fakes a spasm but not tears; no pleasure, simply pain. Then the final acceptance hits: she never truly learnt to do this properly and should have failed her final assignment.

Next time, she kills or disables her target before they make it to the bedroom.

He doesn’t talk post coitally as she lifts off, going to the bathroom for a drink, pre-mixed sedative that Q had provided beforehand. The actions are reflex: pretending to drink, passing it over, watching the shift up onto one elbow as cup is drained, condom still on. In fifteen seconds he’s out cold yet the erection remains, testament to the moment that eventually is covered with a blanket. Showering again, nausea rises and she’s sick against the tile, defiled despite the fact it was utterly consensual. Once she’s dressed, toiletries are also stolen, because if she’s going to act to type, then that’s how this works.

He’s washed all her clothes, still warm from the tumble dryer, and 004’s compelled to go across the landing to check the other rooms. Both are empty shells, spotlessly clean: understanding how other people deal with grief is none of her business, Q’s profiling remains beyond reproach. Then there is the desire to return to Marc from compulsion; removing his condom, cleaning genitalia before returning the almost dead weight to bed. Somehow it seems only fair that she creates an illusion of care, before taking what’s needed there will be an understanding.

Veronica was human, even if now the woman is a shell.

Q waits quietly outside, getaway vehicle already stocked and ready. He’ll have known the coast was clear because, like it or not, he’ll have worked out there was a camera installed in the bedroom. That’s how Marc filmed all his conquests for later viewing, admitting as much himself over dinner. He’d even offered to use it as foreplay but Ronni had politely refused. She expects the Quartermaster to get in automatically, surprised when the young man just stands, staring at her with wet hair. There’s none of the embarrassment or discomfort expected, instead professionalism that is both welcome and comforting.

‘I didn’t watch. I need you to know that. As soon as you went into the bedroom I took it as a sign it was safe and began removing what we needed. Whatever you may think of this job, not everyone is damaged goods or a voyeur.’

As if to reinforce the sorrow building inside 004, rain begins to fall, light shower that is suddenly torrential, thunder rolling up in the mountains, and there’s no more chance to talk as both scramble into the vehicle. This impressive, generically Asian four wheel drive will give them enough of a head start to make it north to the mountains west of Turin, long before the man wakes and probably goes on a destructive rampage. After that, there will be no video to place them at the house as Q explains he’s wiped everything in Marc’s studio clean, including the CCTV feed from the bedroom. Ronni’s glad for the condom regardless of its actual requirement, tuning out as her handler explains what he found in Bulgari’s recording complex. When the bigger picture becomes clear, his care and attention’s simply the front for a deeply flawed personality. Money buys a lifestyle, stream of escorts from Milan, and nobody asking any questions because no-one ever got hurt. In the end, he’ll probably consider the loss of property less significant than the removal of the movie collection.

Rationalising makes the job easier, but won’t hold together the damage the incident has caused within her. As they drive away, heading towards the French border, there is a numbness to heart that Ronni has never experienced before, frightening yet strangely comforting as the sun begins to come up.

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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Six

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They keep pressing east: Ronni tries to put everything back into proper order, but somewhere between Cremona and Novara where they finally stop it all gets disturbed and damaged. The desire is to head away from the civilised world completely: perfect planning until the following morning when Q wakes her with a problem: the laptop is overheating. Efforts to fix the dual external fans have been fruitless, and they’ll need humanity’s help if there’s to be any chance at repair. This will be the first time a need to directly interact with the world has arisen since their ‘demise’: Q is keen to ensure this thievery, as that’s what it will end up being, is well considered. He locates several possible targets between periods of laptop restarting, deciding on the one least likely to have any associations with Spectre, or indeed anybody else.

She wishes there was another way, but there is no other choice if her partner’s work is to continue unabated.

Marco Bulgari’s fortune is considerable, legitimate and inherited, plus the man is a virtual recluse after the death of both parents, introversion creating perhaps a soft target, were the man not quite so overt in his interests. His largely overrun mansion to the north of Novara is an hour on foot from where they currently sit, and Q will take his time whilst Ronni scouts on ahead. With only a days’ worth of fresh water they are limited in options again: needs now dictate direct intervention on several levels. Bulgari’s effectively holed up in the complex, food and supplies delivered to the gate, all part of a deliberate persona invented for his new obsession: internet celebrity. He plays the role of urban terrorist and fighter around his own home, linking videos to a You Tube channel that include small arms tests, hunting and bush craft. More than seventy thousand people watch his ‘lifestyle’ but as none of it is ever broadcast live, Q decides the risk of exposure is minimal. Ronni however remains unconvinced.

‘I don’t know, this all seems a little too convenient. Do people really create existences like this?’

‘Absolutely they do, 004, you need more time online to understand the future of entertainment. It’s why the SAS has its own You Tube channel: armed forces worldwide already grasp the significance of the platform for both intelligence gathering and recruitment.’

‘But what about anonymity? How on earth do you maintain your cover with the world watching?’

‘You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide in plain sight, and for how long. This virtual world remains the Wild West for espionage and everyone’s doing their part to keep the place as law-free as possible. In this case, Mr Bulgari’s entire alternate existence as ‘The Knight Stalker’ revolves around nobody knowing where he lives, which is of course a complete fallacy.’

‘You have any idea how I should approach this?’

‘Yet again, I advocate total honesty. This will work on multiple levels, considering Mr Bulgari enjoys playing first person shooters with a secret agent flavour.’

‘So you’re suggesting I tell him I’m a spy, sent for a night of passion before I drug him?’

‘Well, this way he’s at least not going to be surprised when he wakes up alone and robbed. He’ll probably even enjoy it. However on consideration I think I can probably do better than that, leave it with me and I’ll pave the way. Be ready to play it by ear.’

Ronni had entertained serious doubts around sections of the internet for a while, the fact that anyone would find this kind of stuff entertaining is frankly incomprehensible. As she walks to the house across fields full of ripening crops, the smells of summer in another country reminds of how much home is missed; preferring grime and grit, London in her face. Mostly it is time alone without music or distraction that isn’t needed, grasping life has become almost a parody of how the journey began. Pretending to be a damsel in distress, using sex to distract but never having to worry about ever being challenged, had been the way she’d survived for close to a decade as an Analyst. The point had never been reached before the designation, where someone would have wanted to sleep with her, always someone else’s problem.

There is nowhere left to hide. The thing feared most was all that was left to rely on. If James were here he’d probably relish the fact this walk ended up with a guaranteed night of passion, commitment free. All Ronni wanted was to shoot this guy and steal his stuff. Crucially however Bulgari was as much an innocent as the Museum janitor, or the field agents that Spectre had massacred in Venice. Walking up the long gravel drive in full view of multiple security cameras, Ronni has no idea how she’ll play it, right up to the moment where the door to the house opens and a man emerges in combat fatigues with a SIG strapped to his leg. He’s far more attractive in the flesh than his videos suggest, and seems totally unphased at her presence.

‘I’m impressed, I asked for something different and you’re certainly that.’

The American accent is a surprise, especially as the man’s Italian on camera is impeccable, and Ronni smiles, grateful at least a part of the game can be conducted in an easier language. Q had noted in passing this man’s interest in female escorts from Milan, and if that’s what she is being mistaken as? Then that’s the way forward. However, if he’s expecting her arrival, perhaps another woman might be on her way and now that would have to be considered moving forward. Play it by ear, that’s what Q had suggested: you’re an escort pretending to be a secret agent. This is a way to make it work.

‘Hopefully I’ll fulfil your requirements for the evening.’

‘Oh that’s good, you’re English, this just gets better and better.’

‘I can be whatever you want me to be. All you need to do is ask.’

‘Your name’s Veronica?’

So Q had the escort angle already covered. He’d clearly phoned ahead and covered her arse, and Ronni’s smile turns to a grin: her handler’s doing a better job of comprehension than this man will ever manage.

‘Indeed. What else did they tell you about me?’

‘That you walked here for authenticity, and would appreciate a shower as a result. Oh, and that you know how to fire the Walther and as a result I’d better watch my ass.’

‘I am not what I appear, Mr Bulgari.’

‘No, I bet you’re not. I’m not what you’re expecting either. Dinner’s already cooking, you’ll have plenty of time to get clean. Please, let me get you comfortable.’

The back of Ronni’s neck’s already prickling, discomfort to all of this that just feels wrong on so many levels. Already alert after the last time dinner with an American was on the table, she allows him to take her non-dominant hand, before leading her into the house.

The option to shoot him can then comfortably remain a last resort.

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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Five

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It had taken weeks but the salt taste of Bond has finally gone, in its place smell of smoke, and however often Ronni plunges into the freezing river, it will not leave. It should have been an easy task not to rack up fatalities but the young man had been simply a bystander, and paid the price. Half a dozen lives saved against one lost would be a good tally on any day, but not this one. Her involvement had begun a chain of events that had ended with a death that could have avoided and would hunt her down for penance. Now there is nausea, anger and displacement and all 004 wants is to run.

Except in the middle of a mission, nowhere is safe to hide.


She’s facing away, cold in her own warm double bed, trying not to show the hurt. His comment had been flippant, typical Bond off the cuff wry irony, but it had stung. She did care too much, about so many things, but that was just the way she was made. Normally this would be dismissed but something had changed between the two of them, and without an understanding of what, there is sudden reticence to simply let the remark pass.

‘You know I was joking?’

His voice tickles in her ear, naked chest pressed to her back, erection brushing arse in a way that would normally distract but is now annoyance, and anger smoulders. Instead of pushing himself Bond then moves, up and across, to squat by the side of the bed, attempting to make eye contact.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘I told you. I had a nightmare.’

‘I know. Tell me what about.’

‘What do you do when you can’t save someone?’

‘So, yesterday still is a problem.’

He’d read her field reports from Cairo, of course, could look at any of the many files without need for clearance, because technically they’d kept him superior. Having returned after his first mission proper for the new M, he’d appeared like the genie he was at the back of the Hall when Ronni had stood down, having given testimony to the Coroner as the official Inquest opened. He’d sat through three hours of evidence, listened to the story of the flashpoint, SAS officers attacked whilst escorting a convoy of aid workers to the south of the city. It hadn’t even been in her brief, she’d just literally been passing, but the effects of the moment still resonated within. At the top of that list was the Red Cross worker from Berlin, who’d protected his female colleague and taken a bullet to the chest that had killed him at the scene.

That’s why she’s uncomfortable, waking from troubled sleep to find him watching. Bond’s immediate desire to fulfil his own needs ahead of assuaging her discomfort had rankled, and now intimacy was last thing on anybody’s minds.

‘Remind me of his name, please, because I’ll be honest I didn’t pay total attention yesterday.’

‘Dieter. He was 28. His mother worked at the Attaché’s office in Berlin. I’d met her, on an Acquisitions mission last year. She’d bought me lunch and was generally lovely.’

‘Did you make sure he was comfortable at the scene?’

‘I held him when he asked me to, and he died in my arms.’

‘I also assume you talked to his mother at length?’

‘Plus his father, who’s now living in Michigan. He also has a sister in Paris. They’re a really adventurous family.’

‘Everybody knew he was a hero?’

‘Without question.’

‘Then that’s all you can do. Remember them, make sure everyone knows they were amazing and move on. For the record, you taught me the value of appropriate mourning. I’d never really grasped the significance.’

‘Is that the truth?’

‘I carried Vesper with me for years, refused to let her go. I didn’t think I’d ever feel that way with anyone again. You made me understand the truth that death is an inevitable part of the job you simply can’t remove from the equation. So, there’s a choice: embrace it or become less of a person. I like what I’ve become, appreciate the change you’ve wrought within me. Whatever else might happen, I’ll always be grateful for that. Always.

Sitting on the bank of the river, Ronni and Q have far outstayed their welcome. They should have left days ago but her partner had taken longer to recover from the shock at the hospital than anticipated. Now he’s ready the camp is packed: it is time to move far away and quickly, but there is one task left to complete. Because it matters that people understand the truth, wherever you travel, Ronni will go back to town one last time.

An hour later 004 watches the small cortège in the graveyard, Italian family bound in grief over their son. A middle aged man stands, away from the mourners, recognising her without question. He’d been there at the Hospital, looking for his daughter, and they’d briefly exchanged small talk. Ronni didn’t even know these people’s names, there hadn’t been time in the chaos, and shouldn’t be here now but something makes her move towards him, approach a face etched with relief that it’s not his child being buried.


Conversational Italian has flourished into something better, almost fluent, and Ronni’s language brain is ready for whatever gets thrown at her.

‘Sei tu che hai salvato mia figlia, non è così?’

‘Sì, volevo sapere come sta.’

‘Dovrebbero poterla dimettere tra qualche giorno. Ma perché sei tornato?’

‘Perché non ho potuto salvare tutti… e dovevo portare l’ultimo saluto a chi non c’è più.’

The envelope comes out of her pocket, handed over without ceremony, plus the small parcel inside which is the money she’d liberated from Alberto when he’d been taken out and tied up with his accomplices. It was enough to keep the family comfortable for a few months, she had no use for the cash regardless. It made sense to give it to someone who could use the help, plus put to rest her own inadequacy, albeit briefly. After that, phone numbers had been provided for psychological counselling, in the hope it might provide some closure.

‘So chi sono quelli che ti inseguono dopo il Museo, non dovresti fermarti.’

He was right, and Ronni was out of time, but the point needed to be made before she left.

‘No. Questo è più importante. Per favore, portalo alla famiglia, digli che loro figlio era un eroe e mi ha salvato la vita e questo non lo potrò mai, mai dimenticare.’

‘Certamente, lo farò. E non scorderemo mai la tua generosità. Thank you.’

His English is impeccable: respect understood, returned in kind. The man hugs, firm and solid, and suddenly Ronni remembers her father, wondering if perhaps he felt this way when she passed away. It’s the first time that’s happened since Carnagie, and the memory is enough to reduce her to tears.

[*] For those of you not fluent, there’s a translation here as follows:

Conversational Italian has flourished into something better, almost fluent, and Ronni’s language brain is ready for whatever gets thrown at her.

‘You were the one who saved my daughter, weren’t you?’

‘Yes, I wanted to know how she is.’

‘The doctors think she’ll be well enough to leave hospital in a few days. Why did you come back?’

‘Because I couldn’t save everybody, and I need to show my respects to those who passed.’

The envelope comes out of her pocket, handed over without ceremony, plus the small parcel inside which is the money she’d liberated from Alberto when he’d been taken out and tied up with his accomplices. It was enough to keep the family comfortable for a few months, she had no use for the cash regardless. It made sense to give it to someone who could use the help, plus put to rest her own inadequacy, albeit briefly. After that, phone numbers had been provided for psychological counselling, in the hope it might provide some closure.

‘I know the men who pursue you after the Museum, you should keep running.’

He was right, and Ronni was out of time, but the point needed to be made before she left.

‘No. This matters more. Will you give this please to the family, tell them their son was a hero and that he saved my life, a fact I will never, ever forget.’

‘I will, and your kindness will always be remembered. Thank you.’

His English is impeccable: respect understood, returned in kind. The man hugs, firm and solid, and suddenly Ronni remembers her father, wondering if perhaps he felt this way when she passed away. It’s the first time that’s happened since Carnagie, and the memory is enough to reduce her to tears.

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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-Four

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The hospital is packed, and Q feels particularly exposed inside it, but he dropped everything when it became apparent that circumstance had drifted from their grasp. He’d hotwired a Fiat to get here, leaving car unobtrusively hidden around a corner, grateful the owner left driving gloves on their passenger seat. There’ll be no fingerprints to tie him to the theft, hopefully a distinct lack of hairs or fibres either: even under considerable duress, training always kicks in. He is nothing but thorough, especially under pressure. Looking for a sign of her in the cramped Emergency area, finally a flash of curtain exposes auburn ponytail: sneaking into the small treatment booth Ronni sits dishevelled, considerably dirtier than she was when they’d parted company two hours previously.

He hugs probably a little too hard but her response is to pull closer, shaking quietly into shoulder, as instinctively hand moves to head. The curtain shifts suddenly, young female Doctor returning from retrieving tests, clipboard and paperwork in hand. As his Italian is shocking there’s a moment of panic, until it transpires Q’s concern is unnecessary: English is the preferred first language regardless, and his presence in the space is anything but a surprise.

You were right, there is nothing wrong with you. If you are fast you can leave before the AISI arrive.

Their sanctity and the curtain are both quickly redrawn as the woman vanishes: Q steps back and tries to assess Ronni’s stability, watching as she wipes tears from a blackened face. The smell of woodsmoke is all-pervading, so strong it makes him nauseous. Exposition is required, and quickly.

‘What did you tell her?’

‘The absolute truth, like the briefing documents suggest when you’re out of options: at some point all you’ll have is total honesty and the hope the person you’re speaking to believes your story. I simply admitted if I’m compromised both you and I are dead, and was just at the Museum to help. It appears she believed me.’

‘It’s amazing how often the truth works. That doesn’t detract from the issue however: after I lost video and audio there was understandably panic as to your well being. We may have saved the violins, but what of our assailants?’

‘I finally stopped them from reaching the main exhibit, and thought I’d neutralised everybody -‘

‘Except we both missed the man on the balcony. That wasn’t just you, Ronni, I can take the blame for not covering all the exits. It was him who started the fire in the annex?’

‘Completely by accident. By the time he was unconscious the whole restaurant complex was in flames. It was only when I saw the girl on the first floor I realised there was a problem. I couldn’t leave them, I know I should have but -‘

‘No, it’s fine, I completely understand. You were incredibly brave for going up there.’

‘Or stupid, or both. I don’t know, but at least one of the people I helped get out hasn’t recovered consciousness. Did the fire service contain it?’

‘Yes, that I can confirm, long before it reached the main building. I suspect -‘

Then nothing else matters except the commotion suddenly behind them, raised voices and then a wail that strikes fear into Q’s heart, all too familiar. He’s back in the Barracks, the day Bond saved the Americans from themselves and brought LaCroix to his attention. He can smell Moneypenny, crumpling to the ground, tears streaming down a distraught face, unable to remain upright at the news her lover had perished. The woman spied between the curtain gap cannot be any older than him, classically beautiful, dark haired and olive skinned in a perfect red dress, on the floor with two female friends in attendance. An older man stands behind, staring past him and directly at Flemmings. Q wants to know, needs to understand what he’s missed, but can’t take eyes away from the woman as she shakes, grief all too apparent.


‘That man’s daughter was the first person I rescued. The boy I pulled out last, who clearly never woke up, was the museum’s junior janitor. That was his girlfriend. We need to leave.’

This wasn’t an act, staged to deceive an audience, but the closest Q had ever been to the effects of his handiwork on the living, breathing world. Stomach lurches, and he’s able to keep it down until the second set of doors and then the meagre dinner he’d eaten is being deposited outside the Hospital’s front entrance. Suddenly a hand is at his back, lifting up and almost carrying him away, into the night as Cremona blurs, disturbing disorientation. Everything becomes dissonance, anxiety as chest hurts, dirt under fingernails as a bank is almost crawled up: branches scratch his skull, sudden pain as he fails to clear a wall.

The next thing recalled with any clarity is at camp, bottle of water in shaking hands. Ronni sits opposite, blackened and charred but very much alive, watching him closely. Q had gone to rescue but had been saved himself, as she had with all the other innocents that could easily have been left to perish, thus preserving their anonymity. Instead, yet again, the humanity of this woman had become boundlessly apparent. Suddenly an awful lot of disparate metrics slip together and make perfect sense in a wider context, and he’s infinitely grateful Veronica is part of the organisation. After a while, even the silence makes sense: she’s waiting for me to speak, to ensure I’m recovering from shock.

‘So, this is how it feels when a stranger dies and you couldn’t save them.’

‘I don’t know why its different out here, maybe its because they are strangers and not people you know. With the casualties at the Barracks that was different, almost less personal, because in that situation there was no opportunity to show weakness. I think maybe when you accept death as part of your job, when it happens the process is almost acceptable. You’ve prepared for it. When an innocent dies, a true victim…’

‘Everything changes. Yes, I suspect Gregory would agree with you. What happens now?’

‘You cope, and we move camp in the morning.’

He’s shaking suddenly, not cold but delayed shock, and Ronni comes to wrap herself around him, holding firmly until the trembling stops. She makes him drink the last of the water before frog-marching him to the tent, despite the fact he should be taking first watch. This time, she will guard while he sleeps, because that way he’ll feel safe enough to actually relax and try and forget the trauma.

Q’s very grateful he trained this woman as thoroughly as he did.

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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty-One

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Watching the sun rise has become her daily routine, as Ronni waits for a bite on the field-built fishing line. This is absolutely the best time to be working the river, highlighting just how beautiful surroundings are to be lost in, especially in the quiet calm before dawn. On cue, water ripples and there’s carp being harvested, grateful supplement to the hare snared overnight. This means protein in their diets as well as fruit and vegetables quietly liberated from various spots, and no real concern of hunger for another few days. By her own admission 004 is not the greatest of cooks, but Q’s been quietly offering pointers without making criticism appear too overt. He’ll be awake already and working, leaving her trying to keep busy in his efficient, unstoppable wake. Adopting role of protector while he decrypts Beam’s files, providing an ear to his frustrations, whilst keeping occupied with exercise and drills is what 004 does best, and with Northern Italy as their backdrop, this could almost be a summer vacation, were their circumstances not so obviously extreme.

Time has become oddly fluid, without normal routine as distraction the nature of existence stretches and alters unimpeded. In reality, this morning marks ten days since they died, which means today is important: a coffin will be cremated later and her ashes handed to Bond, now named as her executor by mutual consent. Thinking whilst cleaning fish at the river’s edge, cutting still warm flesh, Ronni knows how deeply he’ll hate both ceremony and attention, much prefering to lose himself in mission work. It’s best too he’s at a distance: 007 remains an internal observer, reassurance from afar. That removal is helpful, on reflection: no emotion to distract, allowing her to be vulnerable alone when required.

However much she rationalises however, a part of this equation is flawed. The Barracks taunt her, sitting shaking on a bathroom floor, not incapable of her mission but instead disabled by desire. Reminded of how she’d been initially unable to grasp how Bond was capable of reducing Moneypenny and Madeline to mush, the understanding is now all too apparent. For them he had no need to do anything except be what he was: the women ended up succumbing to a particularly brutal combination of charm, personality and physical fitness. Except for Ronni, charm and personality were irrelevant, because she knew what lay beneath. Vulnerability plus brutal honesty combined as the most potent of mirrors to herself, then the sex had finally scuppered everything, including her resolve. There’d never been such a strong pull to anyone like this in her life, arousing each other to a point where they’d spontaneously combust, and it wasn’t enough.

Distance doesn’t dampen that issue either, simply serving to make things worse. This morning she’d let the river’s coldness strip desire from a grateful body, but without something sizeable as distraction it would only be a matter of time before the inevitable attempted to derail, again. Walking back to their camp, Ronni hopes that Q might have something she can do that will allow a focus back to reality. They’d been forced to shift two days ago, when spotted by a couple walking a dog: Q thought Ronni overreacted, but with total anonymity as their aim? Absolutely not. Their home, such as it was, is built down a bank, by a coppice, and with camouflage remains virtually undetectable. It’s a good piece of work, Ronni proud of the skills learnt finally having a practical application in the real world.

Given a choice between hotel bed and campbed roll, of course luxury would win, but for now this is acceptable. As she heads back a fire is already burning for cookery and Q’s dressing after his wash in the tributary that runs along the sharp drop to the south. Still naked, Ronni wonders if she should concern herself with privacy: if positions were reversed he’d wait and had on previous days, and this is what should be adopted as benchmark. Instead of Bond, she thinks of Eve, ans whether LaCroix ever talked to her about their relationship in theatre…

‘Good morning Ronni.’

Q stands dressed and 004 understands she’s not as awake as is needed, and that’s a problem to solve as priority.

‘Did you sleep well?’

‘You were right, a run before bed is becoming very helpful in wearing out body as well as mind. I made excellent progress on decryption yesterday, there’s real meat to package and dispatch to Washington once our satellite arrives. I think today you could do with finding something to occupy apart from pretending to babysit me.’

‘It’s okay, I’m not thinking about the funeral.’

‘No, but having been passed fit for active duty today’s very public events will be an inconvenience Bond won’t want. Yesterday evening there was an assassination of a high-ranking UN official in Bangkok that has Christian Swann’s fingerprints all over it. 007 will desire to be back in theatre as soon as is humanly possible.’

‘Are there any issues I should know about?’

‘Apart from the fact he’s lying through his teeth to everyone except the 00 section? I hear that’s being done with more style and determination than at any point in his career.’

‘I remember how I felt when I thought he’d died in Alaska. Don’t want that ever again if I can help it… and hang on, aren’t you supposed to be incommunicado with London generally?’

‘You will be amazed how much one can learn by electronic eavesdropping, Flemmings. This is also a good exercise to expose which areas of our system can be routinely hacked by a professional. You know, should one be stuck in the arse end of nowhere waiting for tasks to process. Go explore Cremona, liberate something sweet for dinner. I’m sure you can charm something from someone with your conversational Italian.’

‘You know I shouldn’t leave you unattended for too long.’

‘I don’t need protection but you could use distraction. Go do something useful after breakfast and don’t be here. If I’m in any way threatened, I’ll contact you, but having done such a good job of killing us both, Spectre have bigger fish to fry, as indeed do I by the looks of your catch. I think there’s some rice left, we can pretend its kedgeree for breakfast.’

Ronni’s amazed at Q’s continued resilience, and won’t argue if he wants to play mother with the catering. He’s a better cook anyway, managing to adapt to their routine with ease. He’s also read her mood without the need for a prompt: it is her who is beginning to struggle with their rules and restrictions presented by circumstance.

Something meaty as distraction would help everyone in the long run.

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DEFAULT :: Part Thirty

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Bond’s sober, conscious and instantly nauseous; sudden need to vomit whilst disorientated in the darkness, until there’s a hand gently holding head, medical container under mouth. He doesn’t remember the last time there was food yet the bowl is full, blood and dirt obvious amongst the yellow liquid. Too many seconds pass before the woman next to him stops being a stranger, smell and touch suddenly familiar…


‘Oh, James…’

His compatriot is dirty, soot on face and arms, cut to dark forehead as disbelief morphs into recognition. He’d expected to wake up at Como but this undoubtedly Lynam, Secret Service medical unit that sits out of sight of the world. For a second he cannot grasp why 003 would look like this, until memory finally provides context. Eve’s returned from her first field mission: the guy taking your vomit away while she hugs you is 009.



He doesn’t like his surname used, Bond recalls, doing his best to show more awareness than might be expected. Their first meeting was almost yesterday, crossing paths on the tarmac outside this place as he flew to Alaska, LaCroix on the way for debriefing at the Barracks. Coalescing awareness registers dressings on face and hands, dull pain in the left lower back he knows is a historical injury and not new. Without any idea of time frames and contexts there’s uncertainy as to how this game’s being played, and so keeping quiet is probably wise. However, there are no tears, only grim determination in Eve’s features. When Charlie returns, Bond decides to hand his colleagues the initiative.

‘What did I miss?’

The pair exchange an uncertain glance, LaCroix who speaks first.

‘Doctor was very clear, we can’t tell you anything, has to be recalled by yourself, because there’s a concussion, probably several. That’s gonna cause a problem, I suspect, because you’re hoping we tell you what we know first.’

‘Excellent idea: why don’t you tell me what I should know.’

‘Charlie and I shut down an entire Spectre operation in northern Holland with minimal casualties, nearly sixty people have been detained as a result. Local law enforcement were struggling to cope when we left.’

Moneypenny’s pride is obvious, Bond grinning at the woman who finally stopped caring what people said, just as had been the case with the agent who’d inspired them all. Veronica. Her mouth’s on his, salt tears falling onto disbelieving features, gentle pressure of lips to a grateful forehead. She’d used his joke about just passing, finally bettered his abdominals, abundantly apparent under that dress, plastered to a perfect body as everything comes back to him in a rush. Having sacrificed himself to Maddy, refusing to continue their intimacy, James knew there’d been a chance he’d become nothing more than a condemned man. However, as the end rose up to swallow him, 004 had materialised as ultimate redemption.

Bond detaches from reality, simply nodding along to an animated recount of the Dutch attack, factory running as a front for drug distribution plus people trafficking. Letting their revelations exist alongside undoubtedly joint joy at this completed mission, Bond is impressed that Q got the metrics on both utterly spot on. There’s already respect from Charlie as Eve tells her side of the tale, clear admiration and joy in the young woman’s face when narrative switches to LaCroix. James grasps enough about body language to place desire existing between them both, but this is early days, and maybe the rest of humanity doesn’t work on the same motivation that he does.

‘This is clearly a fantastic job from you both. However, it still doesn’t explain what happened to me.’

‘Perhaps you should just ask the question and see where that gets you.’

M, it appears, has been sitting in the room the entire time but Bond never registered, realising that his eyesight’s not exactly as brilliant as first thought. The revelation’s a surprise, staring at the large dark blurred space where sound came from before hazarding a response.

‘Where’s 004 right now?’

There is no flicker of response from anyone in the room, before M stands, conveniently moving into Bond’s focus.

‘003 was correct, we can’t provide you with that answer. You need to do it for yourself. The truth please, 007.’

‘Once she’d rescued me, I was left with her smart watch, and shortly afterwards was sent a codeword. She and Q are dead.’

‘Indeed they are, both were incinerated in the explosion that destroyed the building in Venice we now know was Spectre’s Northern Italian HQ.’

M stares, no emotion on grim features. Moneypenny is a mask, Charlie impassive, and Bond loves that British Intelligence does everything by the book. Each person in this room grasps full well that he just lied through his teeth, will play the conviction of truth with a skill they’ve all been trained for. In any situation where communication could be compromised, codewords will be used to reinforce intent. When a 00 agent goes dark, all others on the roster are on a need to know basis, which will be defined by the current senior officer.

‘I am very sorry to report that your fiancée is also dead, and we’re now pursuing leads to locate Christian Swann, who was responsible for her demise. Any help you can give with this would be greatly appreciated, 007. However, for now you need to rest, and the medical team allowed to complete their work. La Croix and Moneypenny, we need to commence your debriefing. Until later, Bond. We’ll allow appropriate space to grieve this terrible double loss.’

As soon as they’re gone, 007 drags his complaining body out of bed, testing levels of fitness. There is undoubtedly disorientation and nausea, but still ability to make the bathroom with IV in tow to deposit the last stomach contents in the en suite’s sink. Looking critically in the bathroom mirror, face is a mess, far more than he ever remembers at any point in the tenure. Everything will heal if he allows, but there simply isn’t time. There’d been a point where rest would have been appreciated but now? There is a game to be played that holds far greater significance, and that’s already making him irritable. Grieving for absence will be easy: he’ll just be more angry than usual and use his frustration at being unable to rescue Ronni as fuel for the journey.

Maddy’s death however, prompts a fury that is surprising. The woman did nothing to deserve the abuse and manipulation levelled from her half brother, becoming unwitting pawn in both father’s and sibling’s game. This loss therefore could not be allowed to be forgotten without some form of organised and decisive retaliation. Her death would be mourned, then dissected at length with Gregory, so that Bond could categorically assure himself to never allow the same set of circumstances to consume existence ever again. After that’s done, 007 needs to be out of Hospital and back into theatre as soon as humanly possible.

As it transpires, he’s still not done with the designation.

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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Nine

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The first time both fugitives stop is just before dawn.

They’ve said nothing since leaving Venice; simply walked, keeping away from civilisation whenever possible. Q hasn’t complained about the rucksack carried, but slowing in his pace tells Ronni rest would be appreciated, plus perhaps some sleep. She’s found an abandoned building far enough away from the beaten track for them to have some respite, but ideally they need to be further away from the centre of their handiwork before there is time to truly relax. Spectre’s regional HQ was stripped of everything valuable, before they’d destroyed it to send a message: we will die for our ideal, without a thought. Bond’s salt blood intoxication remains all that Ronni can taste; memory must be buried deeper than a sleep-deprived brain is capable.

She stands at the front of the house alone, guarding Q as he relieves himself, conscious of only one clip of ammunition for the SIG which might not be enough, when it becomes apparent she’s being stared at. This is not the place to talk, and so the man is ushered inside, conscious of anywhere that might be seen with a long lens or via satellite. Only then is rucksack removed, slump of shoulders telling 004 all that is needed. The Quartermaster is exhausted, food and fluids required before any attempt is made to travel further: if his level of dudgeon is any indicator, there’ll also need to be some verbal reassurance mixed in.

‘Honestly, Veronica, I will just require a moment.’

‘You can take all the time you need, it is absolutely fine.’

‘All I can smell is burnt electrical wiring, I assume that passes in time?’

‘Could be worse, there are far less pleasant things to fixate on.’

‘Would you like me to boot up the laptop and see how Bond is -‘

‘It’s better I don’t know. In fact, it’s sensible just to keep moving, but I know how tired you are. As far away from prying eyes as possible while the world still sleeps. Then when it’s awake? We can rest.’

‘I did write this briefing document, remember. Never thought I’d actually have to follow it.’

She hands over a banana which Q eats, bottle of water afterwards that is quickly finished. They move to sit on a solid wooden table, surrounded by decay and damp, still shell shocked at their sudden change of situation. Ronni has already died once: the numbness will, she knows, pass in time. Suddenly this young man is the unknown quantity, both in mental and physical fitness: conscious of circumstance they need to be moving, and before it becomes an issue he’s shifted back to standing.

‘I am also aware of my status as your liability.’

‘There are many words I would use to describe you Q, but liability will never be one of them. Brilliant, strong, determined and focussed are better, and I’ll use them instead. You came all this way knowing full well what the consequences could be. Lesser mortals would have run. I have your back, because I know just how important you are. Not to Country or mission, but to me.’

The man blinks, briefly embarrassed at the regard. In the Barracks he was in charge but this is Ronni’s world, a fact that won’t need reinforcing. Having never seen him deal with this level of stress, remaining aware of what was at stake, perhaps making this overtly personal wasn’t the right answer. However, this was 004’s method: Bond made people want to assist using charisma and sexuality: honesty and warmth seemed to her better bets, ostensibly because that was just easier under pressure. Only now it appears has Q grasped this difference: there is a conscious shift in body language, normally detached curiosity aware and then surprised at what her words had meant.

‘That was a genuine compliment.’

‘Is this the moment when I remind you that I’m not 007 and there’s no need to alter the terms of our relationship?’

‘Your honesty was always refreshing in training, but I’d always considered it dangerous in the field because of the potential issues it might cause. However, hearing it now? That’s exactly what the scared, confused and frightened boy I now am wanted to hear.’

‘You do yourself a disservice, Q. You may be frightened but I guarantee once safe and secure, you’ll grasp what an adventure this has the potential to be.’

‘Is that your reasoning, 004?’

‘Every time I remember what I’ve become there’s a double take, disbelief at this opportunity I’ve been given and that must always be taken seriously. It’s amazing, yet humbling. Thank you for believing I was capable when there were moments I believed failure was inevitable.’

The words are doing their work, both energy and confidence in the young man’s stance. Then he sits back down, closing the distance between them for a reason. There is an admission coming, as the Quartermaster’s voice drops.

‘When I agreed to go dark, I was utterly cognisant of consequence. Your foresight, in that regard, has been remarkable: I wouldn’t have considered many items as essential equipment, would have questioned your need to walk in wet clothing until I thought through your reasoning. I have staggeringly misjudged your organisational acumen, and it chastens me greatly. Of all the people in the World I would want to be on the run with? I would pick you, in a breath, every single time. I won’t disappoint you, and I will make sure I’m always strong and determined. Of that, you have my word.’

A hand rests on Ronni’s leg, brief squeeze from now dirty hands before they’re both standing. Rucksacks are secured, the laptop grasped across Q’s chest, and 004 will keep them both moving until they can’t any longer. With what was pillaged from Venice, they can set up a decent camp somewhere, anywhere, and then her superior can sleep for as long as is required.

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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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