DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Six

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Twenty six seconds into heart massage comes a spasm, water spurting from lungs mixed with vomit and the all-pervading stench of medical alcohol: Bond’s alive, gasping air and looking around in terror. Ronni falls back, shoulders hitting solid stone, staring as he readjusts; another one of nine lives summarily consumed. There’ll be an insistence Felix travels back to Como with him because that remains a safe haven, and this time James can get better without falling in love with anyone. Only now does it register: he’s staring, fully conscious and wide-eyed, yet completely incapable of speech. Bond’s expecting a comeback from the dead, and all Ronni can be grateful for is survival.

‘You’re welcome.’

007’s trying to move; shifting body, staring with what Ronni’s fairly confident is amazement. His tears are a surprise before there’s retching again: blood with the vomit prompts the immediate need to move him to the Recovery position. If this wasn’t SPECTRE there’d be another acronym to deal with, different bunch of random nutters with no discernible agenda except chaos. You never eliminated bad guys, they just evolved into something more insidious and the only conclusive manner of eradicating evil was with the good in the hearts of people like 007, because that’s what he was, a fucking hero.

Ronni might often disagree with methods, but the heart’s purity she just restarted was without question. James cared about what was right, stopping bad from becoming the norm, and that alone was worth saving. A shaking hand reaches out, slipping around hers: pulling them together yet conscious of crowding as a pulse is taken. He’s built like an ox, resting heart rate almost stupidly unaffected by the fact he just died. Only now does the Spectre chopper register, climbing above the water, that Christian’s escape is only being allowed because that way MI6 has time to destroy everything he stands for in front of the world.

There’s movement behind her eyeline: Leiter’s arrived, dropping down the set of stairs that lead back up to the main quayside. Because they’ve forced Swann into retreat, it is absolutely the moment to press an advantage.

‘Q has the data, everything’s set, leave Jim with me.’

Bond is clearly capable of understanding Leiter’s presence but not intent, and as 007 remains her partner, Ronni knows this plan needs explanation. Leaning into a shaking body, her own shudders in response, amazement that instinct pushes to lay down and protect until he recovers. Yet again, time has run out. All that is left now is the mission, compulsion to complete this game-changing objective.

‘You’re never going to believe this, but I was the one just passing. I need to be somewhere else so that we can wipe these guys off the map for good. I’ll leave you with Felix: I promise to find you when I’m done.’

Bond understands, despite being incapable of response, nodding assent. Felix stares with what only now registers is awe: truly understanding she means business, very much in charge of the fight back. Spectre had been given notice, already condemned to destruction in the most damning way possible, and if anyone got in the way? She would destroy them, because now was summarily grasped the true value of revenge. It was no use to you on the back foot: the only way forward was to own the concept from first breath until your last.

‘You said you wanted to get Swann…’

‘I must be prepared to go all the way. Because they’re not gonna give up the fight, until one of you is dead.’

She can’t help herself, knowing how they both loved quoting classics. Leiter stares at the mess her body undoubtedly resembles with smile already forming, nodding at the use of the classic movie scene with approval.

‘They pull a knife… ‘

‘- you pull a gun.’

‘He sends one of yours to the hospital… ‘

‘- you send one of his to the morgue.’

Their hug is instant and solid, allowing opportunity to pass him the smartwatch, ensuring both will remain in the loop. As Felix pulls away his smile is the widest she’s ever seen: 004 really hopes in future to watch movies and drink beer with this guy whilst concluding that real life is not nearly as dramatic as the big screen would have you believe. In many ways, this will be the more solid relationship than with Charlie, because Ronni has so much more in common with Leiter than first realised.

‘You got this, Ron. Go make Spectre bleed.’

Leaving Bond is almost impossible, however; there has to be closure of sorts. Planting a kiss to his forehead with all the emotion within, willing into an addled brain to stay safe until the medical team arrived, they are both again forced to work alone. Above come shrill sirens, emergency services arriving in response to their actions and if Ronni didn’t know already it is the cue to complete this mission. The taste of blood in won’t vanish as she sprints up the canal wall stairs, two at a time, trying to erase memory of James as a wreck, literally dead in the water.

Now she understands how 007 must have felt when Vesper died.

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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 Twenty-Five

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Ronni drops to the ground, shadows across canal’s sheltered side, apparent her weapon would not be needed regardless of preparation. She’d encountered no resistance at all since the explosions, watched Spectre guards eventually run for their lives rather than stand and defend posts. The attack on the majority had produced exactly the level of panic and disorientation that Q had predicted, and had forced the Swanns to call for evacuation far earlier than expected. A chopper’s powering down in the large, open courtyard opposite her vantage point: Felix is in place, overlooking the same spot on other side of the waterway. Now, it would be time to wait for their targets to emerge, and react as became necessary depending on Bond’s current situation.

Christian suddenly strides from a side exit, expecting some kind of attack with gun already drawn, seeming genuinely disappointed when it doesn’t materialise. Behind follow a brace of senior members of what probably passes for the current Spectre inner circle, two of them dragging what is undoubtedly a genuinely unconscious Bond. This time there are absolutely no theatrics and this is a man who’s incapable of helping anyone, including himself. The men drop 007 dangerously close to the side of the canal, as 004 moves quietly to water level, already confident of the quickest way across to his position. Maddy almost runs from the building, already heading straight for the helicopter when she registers her brother’s almost flagrant need to stand in the open.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m waiting for Flemmings, what does it look like?’

‘Their intent tonight was to eliminate as many Spectre members as possible, they’ve done that conclusively: the longer we stay here the more likely it is we too will end up as casualties.’

‘I know how much Bond matters to you, but that’s nothing compared with how Flemmings -‘

‘She’s not coming! Don’t you understand, Blofeld is dead and Bond is impotent, this game has no relevance any more. It was played only for him, entire world revolving around a past that is now pointless and obsolete. Our days are numbered, and those of this organisation, unless we adapt and evolve as the Secret Service is. I have told the Council this until I am hoarse, and yet nobody listens. The game is over, Christian.’

‘Flemmings loves this man unconditionally. Why would she not try to save him?’

‘Because she loves her job more! Bond is fleeting, simple pleasure that is possible from any number of sources. Women have never required men to be complete. You’ve been fucked by the one thing you’ve never understood and refused to embrace.’

Ronni slips into the water, surprisingly warm considering, swimming quietly closer to the courtyard. Maddy’s argument isn’t the entire truth, but close enough to conclude that when all is said and done, she’s the far larger long term threat over her brother. Bond remains face down on the concrete, unmoving since dropped there, and there is real fear that if he hits the water, 007 will drown. 004 needs to be ready to react, and closer to the action. As if on cue there’s a voice in her ear, reassurance that the real reason for this operation is still the priority.

‘Felix is in position. Electrification remains at 100%. Am deploying disruption virus now.’

She morses OK to Q on the watch and then continues onwards, listening to the power struggle playing out opposite. Christian is becoming increasingly agitated, and only now does it register that Maddy isn’t trying to reason. This is an attempt to keep him calm, because if he loses his temper…

‘We can change things together. You and me, mon frere, make this organisation fit for purpose, better than it is, to ensure the intelligence community is ours to manipulate and dictate for decades to come.’

‘Your future is weak, just as you are. Seduced by a fool, misguidedly bargaining with his life. He’s only here now because you see humanity within him. I know what you’re doing. How stupid do you think I am?’

‘But if you stop and think, to include everyone makes far more sense. You must understand this.’

‘I’ve outgrown this stupid charade, and have no need to be lectured by my family.’

Christian lifts the gun, points directly at his sister’s head and pulls the trigger: Madeline is dead before hitting the ground. Ronni ducks under the nearest pier, already confident over what happens next, preparing to dive, because Bond is about to be sacrificed for the cause. The command is given, then splash as a body hits the canal: on cue there is gunfire from Leiter, enough as distraction, at least three bullets sounding as if they hit targets before the unmistakeable start up whine of the commercial chopper drowns out everything else.

The assumption was sound: Bond’s unconscious and dropping like a stone, and that means the only way he gets out of filthy Venetian water is with Ronni’s help. Breathing’s already stopped by the time they’re back at the surface but there’s still time, knowing how good she is at lifesaving. James does not get to check out like this, nobody chooses how this life ends except him. That will be the ultimate gift: not only the one who listened, but the person who returned destiny to his own hands. Dragging the lifeless form to safety, out of sight of the carnage, almost throwing his body on to a small jetty, Ronni starts CPR on instinct.

SPECTRE never gets to win, not until both of them are dead.

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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 Twenty-Four

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The party is in full swing, quay area packed full of revellers, surrounded by a ring of security guards that Felix has counted several times. There’s not just bodies either, but a hastily-erected metal fence that him and his partner intend to make full use of, assuming they can make it inside. He’s still not sure how they’re going to pull that part of Q’s plan off, but isn’t arguing with twin SIGS holstered inside the Tuxedo jacket. The outfit is finished off with Christian’s Spectre ring, a surprisingly good fit: on his arm remains Ronni, garnering far more attention than even he thought would be possible. In fact, as it stands, nobody gives a fuck about the black guy, and everyone wants a piece of this white woman’s body. Flemmings clearly gets how to use herself as a weapon, and that’s the bigger part of an equation Leiter now understands he’s going to have to give some thought to when all this is becomes metrics and debriefings.

It’s a surprising irony that they have to queue to enter the inner section of the bad guy’s party, but this at least gives chance for whispered small talk whilst waiting.

‘I take it back Ronni, you could be wearing a sack but with this attitude?’

‘That’s how power works in the modern world. People can’t be bothered to look past tits and arse. In fairness it’s been like that for centuries but right now, the superficial has become particularly relevant.’

‘I’m not sure I like this version of the future if someone like you gets treated like meat as much as this.’

‘We all have our prejudices to bear, Felix, the system is inherently fucked to begin with. Both of us could do without having the white guys in charge.’

‘Now don’t you go there, young lady.’

‘You’re right, I think we ought to remind everyone of just how lucky you are.’

‘You don’t have to do this.’

‘Don’t fret, all this is only business after all, and I know you’re not an arsehole.’

As the queue moves Ronni puts hand to his face and kisses: acutely aware that she’s doing the job, Felix is still surprised how comfortable 004 feels pressed against his body. As she finally surfaces there’s awareness of people watching, that the reasoning for theatre is apparent. He’s supposed to be a big fish, after all, and the guy at the entrance to the high security area’s already waving them through, not even asking for his ring as ID. The metal detector’s negated and Felix finally grasps the significance of 004’s task as distraction.

‘Q was right, you’re a trojan horse.’

‘And so much else, until Spectre realises the rules have changed forever. Right now we make the most of every opportunity. With Q as silent backup pretty much anything is possible now we’re inside the perimeter.’

‘I actually think this crazy-assed plan’s gonna work. That boy really is a fucking genius.’

‘Let’s go do him proud. I’ll meet you back here when you’re done.’

There was good reason why Q now sat in darkness, hidden from the world and Spectre with just his laptop for company. Access had already been gained to the town’s power grid, plus domestic amenities, and with understanding of both came a plan to use the very things Spectre had deployed as additional protection as weapons against them. The fencing, steel cables that held the large protective awning above the party in place, even the metal tables that revellers sat around were potential conductors of electricity. Even the deep-grooved paving slabs beneath revellers feet was capable of becoming a danger, as soon as all points were connected together, forming a deadly net around the party. Felix’s task was to ensure a number of key electrical connections were quietly made, simple task in areas where no-one expected issues, without CCTV surveillance.

Ronni begins the task of covering the floor in water, slow drip that would on cue become a flood, setting mini detonators which would in time exploit weak points in ancient pipework. No-one pays either Flemmings or Leiter any attention because neither shows interest in approaching the main building. It is a slow yet meticulous process; after thirty minutes of carefully organised effort and co-ordination, the entire area is set to go ‘live’ with nobody the wiser. With interest focussed on the expected attack from security at the building, there’s even time for some food and a drink, as Ronni and Leiter sit, watching excessive celebration continue unabated. It is the first time they’ve had a chance for reflection, and Felix is ready to make the most of the downtime.

‘You ever question whether you made the right call, Ron?’

Felix is amazed at the voracious appetite of this woman, surprising for someone as lean, chowing down on a full plate of buffet food. He’s never hungry when working, but understands that’s often the exception.

‘If the choice came between this life and our side? I know where I’d end up. These people aren’t fans of the way I decide to live. I doubt that will ever change.’

‘Yeah, this celebration makes me uncomfortable, as if there wasn’t a war on their doorstep.’

‘It is as if they’re untouchable, no way they can be beaten. Spectre don’t understand what it’s like to feel fear, so many years being unopposed by authority. At some point, there’s always a reckoning. That’s how life works. You either do the right thing, or face the consequences.’

‘Now I understand why Q wanted this, and not just to take the place down. This isn’t just mindless retaliation -‘

‘Anything but. The casualties should be minimal once people work out what’s going on, and if they’re smart?’

‘They can stay safe, but it’s the distraction you need to get in and to flush the Swanns out. They should let Q out of the office more often…’

An hour passes, then 004’s watch vibrates, signal that it is time to set the trap. Felix hands the second SIG to Ronni who vanishes with surprising speed, before making his way across to the rest area. Beside a row of portable toilets he ducks, exploiting a weakness that Bond’s floor plans had exposed, slipping unopposed into the inner courtyard of the building. With the signal that indicates Q has all the CCTV in his hands, Leiter ascends to the top floor of the building using a fire escape without being observed, shifting to a point where he’ll sit and wait for the next set of instructions. Once it becomes apparent the attack is live, there’s a Spectre helicopter standing by that will land in this spot, pre-planned escape route for the Swanns. Felix has no intention of taking out either, just here to make sure they leave.

A glance at his watch tells Felix all he needs: 15 minutes to 22.00 hours. He thinks of Q, now using the sewer system to make his way to Spectre’s back door, and wonders if he’s met any resistance. As if the boy knew, there’s a buzz to his wrist, and the codeword ‘EGRESS’: not only is he inside but ready to go. Leiter’s about to suggest they could go early when there’s an explosion, then another, before the building he’s hiding on top of shudders. Water is pouring from the ground, mains pipes blown with explosive devices Spectre never noticed, nobody thinking to consider these areas as targets. There’ll be water streaming down walls too, thanks to Ronni, and as soon as the Quartermaster redirects the current along the rewired generators?

Exactly on cue, the entire area around Spectre’s main building is instantly electrified, immediate and unsettling screams of terror as people begin to flee, panic sudden and all-consuming. As revellers run blindly towards the exits, secondary explosives are activated, one after the other, blowing a section out of the quay wall onto the escaping mob, penning everyone into an area where everything touched will shock and possibly kill. From his vantage point, Felix’s understanding of Q’s rationale is further apparent. Those who run in panic become the agents of their own demise, but smarter revellers realise that anything metallic or wet is their enemy, and are forced to stand on plastic chairs or away from the live areas.

Nobody can move, as the full focus of the security teams is effortlessly pulled from the main building, as all fail to note a series of steel plates beneath their feet, supposedly protecting the cabling up to the main building. In what becomes an undoubted irony, hapless guards stream from the front of the HQ and are taken down by their own rush to the fray, one after the other, in an almost elegantly organised pile of smoking black cotton and Italian leather footwear. The Quartermaster had said it himself: evil surrounds itself with stupidity, because the smart people understand there’s no future in being the bad guys. The Swanns had continued to arrogantly assume that they would be the first targets and, more importantly that Bond’s retrieval was the priority.

In reality, nothing was further from the truth.

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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Three

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Flemmings appears from the back of the room and Felix has to try very hard not to stare, because he’s pretty confident she just walked off a Milan catwalk. Hair is piled high, to the side of a perfectly made up face, skin tight green mini dress leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. She’s packing a better set of abs than Bond possesses or Felix could dream of and this is a woman you most definitely will not be messing with at any time, ever.

‘Should I ask where you keep your gun?’

‘That’s what I have you for: fortunately I didn’t need to guess at your suit size, so you’re going to look fantastic in your Armani tuxedo. Bond’s managed to do a supremely good job of dividing and conquering our siblings, to the point where Maddy’s getting ready to leave the house using 007 as leverage against her own brother. There’s an internal power struggle coming to a very useful head and it’s the perfect distraction for the night’s work.’

‘I sense I’m not nearly enough in the loop, you wanna fix that?’

He’s expecting a formal briefing but instead Q gets up from his laptop and walks to the back of the room, vanishing to the area where Ronni had appeared from, as the woman grabs a chair and places herself at his side. This girl smells as good as she looks and Leiter can’t help but be jealous that 007 got to her first.

Bond’s on the top floor of the building, hooked up to an IV full of medical alcohol. He knew exactly what he was doing when strolling in the front door at lunchtime, and had the good sense to let me in on reasoning beforehand. As a result, we can plan accordingly. Everything hinges on Spectre assuming I’ll arrive to rescue him, all guns blazing, and that’s what is now being provisioned for. As it stands, the place is defended like a fortress.’

‘And yet you’re going in unarmed?’

‘Because I failed to show in east London, and now singularly refused to be blown up in Monaco, tradition demands we must have this final showdown in Venice. Bond knew Spectre would postulate this, that the rules of war have been dictated by him over the years with this organisation, and so he removed himself from the frame. He’s conveniently acting as a metaphor.’

‘For what?’

‘The outdated world that designation represents, that dismisses diversity and continues to dictate terms from somewhere in the 1950’s. With Bond removed from the board, refusing to play provocateur, he becomes nothing more than an object.’

‘In essence, Felix, you should consider him the damsel in distress.’

Q reappears, dressed in black fatigues that give the man a completely different look: he is dangerous, unsettlingly powerful. No longer stands the awkward, misplaced young man that Felix remembers from their first meeting after Skyfall. He has evolved into something far more coercive and compelling, suddenly someone to fear.

‘He becomes an ancient trope from a version of history neither relevant or accurate. Every speech, each carefully-worded exchange is just that: obsolete exposition, sauce for the goose, knowing we are already here and eavesdropping. How will we second guess their grand plan? How do we know what our enemy expects?’

‘So how do you play this?’

‘We counter the theatrical with what 007 does so well, the very antithesis of planning. It is the ultimate irony that what I have for so long wished Bond would do has become the very problem we need to address. Because it is through predicting behaviour that Spectre are able to assume they know how we will respond as counter. Metrics, precision, care and effort, all these things become weapons in a war of move and counter move.’

‘You didn’t answer the question. What’s the plan?’

‘Felix, both 004 and myself are conscious of your love of motion pictures. You are, I hope, aware of the central conceit in ‘Wargames?’

‘I am.’

‘Espionage, like thermonuclear war, is a strange game.’

‘The only winning move is not to play?’

‘Indeed, and this is what we do, Mr Leiter, stop listening to Spectre’s tune once and for all, and change the entire course of this absurd narrative for good. Shall we begin?’

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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Two

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Having arrived at Marco Polo Airport less than a minute previously, Felix Leiter is already uncomfortable. The captain’s announced a delay in disembarking plus the guy to the right’s complaining again, but what’s concerning most is that his rear pants pocket is vibrating. This isn’t the work phone, but private comms with Bond, that they’ve maintained off and on since that evening at Casino Royale. Emergencies only, number shared with those he trusts with his life. That’s the way real espionage should work, after all, no spreadsheets or metric-driven briefings. MI6 was, at least in that regard, offering a potentially interesting opportunity to work off script. Last time he’d heard, Bond wasn’t capable of communication, meaning this call’s got the adrenaline running.

‘How you doing Jim?’

‘It’s Ronni. He’s gone dark. You able to talk?’

Things have suddenly gotten really interesting, because Flemmings is the MVP nobody wanted to draft and yet everyone needs a piece of. Plus, she’s a movie fan, and Felix always has time for anyone talking celluloid.

‘Nope, just landed.’

‘Yes or no answers please. Have you contacted the field office?’


‘They’ve been compromised, chances are the original staff are already dead. Trust nobody on the ground as a result.’

‘Not a problem, anything else?’

‘Walk from the airport. On reflection, regard Venice as compromised. As soon as there’s a confirmed safe house, Q will contact you.’

The phone goes dead, and Felix’s smile turns to laughter, because she’d made the call last just long enough to ensure nobody could triangulate them. Ronni’s better than good, and whatever’s now going down has the potential to push them both to the limit, and that was never a bad thing.

He loved it when a plan came together.

The waitress returns with his receipt, smile that makes Leiter wish he wasn’t in town on business, because he’d really like to try his luck with this woman, especially as it’s apparent she’s under the employ of the British Secret Service. Maybe when it’s all done in Venice there’ll be time to return to this restaurant, ask for help improving his conversational Italian, which is woeful at best. Maria hands over both credit card receipt and the address he’s been waiting for: then there is a moment to enjoy the pert rear sashaying off back to the kitchen. Getting more women in the service was absolutely the way forward: now all Felix needed to work out was how he benefited from this expansion in diversity, without making it appear that all he was really looking for was a woman to watch Netflix in bed with.

There is one word written on the paper, laughter when it becomes apparent this is the rendezvous point all along. Dropping his well-used napkin, Leiter stands, turns and heads down the narrow steps that lead to the bathrooms, walking past both them and several storage rooms to the door marked Privato before standing, waiting for presence to be detected and the electronic lock to click open. Inside the surprisingly large brick built area are chairs stacked, barrels and crates of bottled beer, plus Q. The Quartermaster doesn’t even look up, clearly engrossed with laptop and the mission ahead.

‘Good evening, Felix, I trust you’ve had a hassle free afternoon?’

‘I walked, did some light sightseeing and just finished up an extremely good plate of bigoli in salsa, because I should enjoy my visits to places like this far more than I do. How was your flight from London?’

‘Singularly uneventful, which suits me just fine. Flemmings will be with us shortly, she’s just getting changed, so let me give you an idea of this evening’s entertainment while you wait.’

‘We have people to meet and places to go?’

‘It is a marvellous party that we will be going to crash. Please, take a seat.’

There’s a temptation to ask why he’s not being directed behind Q’s screen, but Felix knows well enough by now to understand when told to go somewhere by this guy, there’s a reason. Picking a chair from the nearest stack he moves to sit, waiting for the show to start. The young man does not disappoint: from a small projector to the right of his laptop, set on a large wooden barrel, there is a burst of light, as a fully rendered 3D model appears. It’s a Renaissance style building by the quay that Felix recognises, clearly visible on the approach to the Airport.

‘Spectre do love hiding in plain sight, and their Venetian HQ is a case in point. Bond has helpfully provided not only Beam’s location, but his own, placing himself directly in the lion’s den. He’s also had the foresight to steal a full set of floor plans, taken from the Swanns themselves without their knowledge. I just wish 007 had become this considerate far earlier.’

The building morphs, twisting and flipping in front of admiring eyes, to reveal Bond’s liberated data, and Felix can’t help but be impressed.

‘That is very cool, Q.’

‘Thank you, one likes to tinker on the side when one can. Beam, we have now established, is being held in the basement. However, as we have no idea as to the kind of data he was carrying -‘

‘Q will be coming with us both, so he needs to get prepared.’

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DEFAULT :: Part Twenty

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The combined French and Monaco fire services are struggling to keep events under control as Ronni slips down the sharp incline that forms the southern side of the estate where the safe house is located: it had been an impressive piece of early 1930’s art deco but is close now to being a shattered shell, yet the blaze inside continues to rage apace. According to Q’s intelligence the tracker’s nearly half a mile away from the house, in an area that’s marked as ‘secondary storage.’ In reality that meant the obligatory underground bunker that would have been retreated to if the area came under aerial assault, marked by an unassumingly anonymous low brick building with two large wooden doors.

Ronni slips into darkness, before putting on the glasses Q had provided as extra field equipment. Impressively bright LED’s automatically illuminate the space yet fail to blind, and suddenly a sophisticated heads up display in front of her eyes springs into life. The micro-earpiece crackles briefly: Q’s voice then is so clear that he could almost be at her shoulder.

‘I have Rachel as my second pair of eyes with Emmanuel and Lizzy on backup. We are all with you, 004, so I guarantee we’ll not miss anything. Please however proceed with caution. We have no idea what we may find.’

‘Q, that is normally my default state in situations like this. Who’s more nervous here, you or me?’

‘I think I win this first round hands down, Veronica. Your attentiveness has been a pleasant surprise from that of your predecessors. This outlook will also give everybody time to think: proceed please at your discretion.’

Anonymous concrete surrounds, stretches downwards, temperature control provided by an intact internal electrical system that meant she could find lights if needed, but would prefer to stay in darkness and not draw attention to their presence. There’s a ramp that leads down to another set of solid steel doors that should be shut yet are wedged open, and Ronni stops herself, distracted by a bright patch of red on the ground.

‘Before you ask, it’s blood.’

The inevitable question is pre-empted, as Ronni leans down, trying to imagine who’s body it was from. Could this be Bond, dragged helplessly in here to die, or better Christian’s, as 007 smashed an already damaged face into the concrete? There is a trail too, drips that lead into the first large storage area, and they are followed as breadcrumbs until almost running into a wall. Looking up, there is a moment of shocked amazement when it becomes apparent not only was her presence anticipated, but had been clearly planned for.

Across the entire expanse of concrete wall is a word, spelt out using the same size of photograph: WHORE. Every image is of Ronni: from undercover work to her running in London, images leaving and entering the Barracks, and out at the Colosseum in November. It’s meant to scare, intimidate a lesser mind into believing life had been defiled and violated for months without permission, but she knew better. This was part of the job description, after all, and unavoidable in the modern world. Ronni begins to take pictures of each ‘letter’ with her phone camera, to allow the analysts to better understand what had been used as potential torture. In her ear there is movement, a second body to Q’s left, and then Rachel’s voice talking away from his microphone.

‘We need to ID when and where every one of these pictures was taken, and ensure the integrity of any of our devices that may have been used as access. I want to know as much as you can find out in the next hour. GO.’

It is reassuring to listen to Rachel already two steps ahead, so that Q can continue to handle the situation with dispassionate attention. There is second word, scrawled across the collage in chalk: PERSEVERANCE, clearly added after the main work was complete.

‘Whilst Emmanuel is checking the integrity of our surveillance systems Lizzy will be making notes on anything we see. I think this word was added afterwards, and is not part of the original intent. Please check for anything even remotely unusual, 004.’

‘Looking at where I know these were taken, none of this stuff’s really sensational, I’d be concerned if they had anything from internal CCTV like Whitehall.’

‘Indeed but I’d like to be sure. I’m also concerned in the dark you may find yourself easily disorientated.’

‘I am aware what happened to Theseus: although I may not have string, I’m making sure I remember the way back.’

There are indeed other words as she moves down the access tunnel, and Lizzy’s diligence will recall them all for later. Reaching a second room, it takes a moment for the smart glasses to adjust to the darkness, but as they do there is an audible gasp from Mayer: from the ceiling hangs a dummy, clearly made up to look like Flemmings, with large metal spikes hammered through both breasts and the crotch. Above hangs a banner, red paint, the word SLUT in badly drawn capital letters. Ronni laughs, despite herself, because this isn’t making her frightened. She feels sorry at the simplicity of the effort: was this the best Christian and Maddy could concoct?

‘I’ve never really understood this form of abuse, it’s hardly very well done.’

‘I feel that perhaps you and Christian may be at odds. He appears to have some issues with your professionalism.’

‘Well, can you blame him? We didn’t exactly hit it off, did we?’

She deadpans the joke and knows Q will smile, that this is all that is required from the moment to reassure there’s no concern for her mental well-being. This room however should be full of arms and equipment but is empty, as Spectre has clearly stripped the place clean.

‘My greater concern past the amateur theatrics, Q -‘

‘Indeed. Our guests have been extremely thorough. Lizzy, I’ll need someone on the inventory for this location so we have an idea of what Spectre have liberated on their departure. Ronni, there’s a room to your left, access code Delta One. Can you check it for me please?’

Doing as instructed, recalling the code choice from her first briefing after taking the number, the area is empty apart from a pile of clothes. Suddenly conscious of her audience, Ronni briefly hesitates before reaching down and smelling the underarm of the shirt, dark spots on the surface she knows are blood. Bond’s blood, shirt he changed out of. There’s no need to rescue him, because unsurprisingly he did that for himself.

‘What was provisioned in here, Q?’

‘BMW S 1000 XR motorcycle, survival equipment and the clothes I assume Bond changed into?’

‘In the end, yet again, he saved himself. Can’t say I’m at all surprised.’

The relief is genuine reassurance since the first time her feet touched European soil, that knowing Bond’s already in theatre takes a surprising amount of pressure off her shoulders. Now, however, a whole slew of new questions suddenly rise to challenge: most notably, what lies beyond the main storage area.

‘Lock was operated about an hour ago, I can now check satellite footage to confirm it was him regardless. The DB10’s tracker’s still registering, 004, lets see if we can recover some stolen property while we’re here.’

‘No. This is where I stop.’

Ronni knows she’s done, suddenly unwilling to continue the objective, every nerve unsurprisingly on alert, and it takes a moment to work out why. Only now does brain register words read as she’d descended into the bunker, needing confirmation of what is suddenly compelling her to disobey a direct order. Explanation added after the fact, familiar handwriting. The letter he sent, telling her the wedding was off, reminder that these circumstances changed the game plan. Turning suddenly, consciousness connects with location to provide an answer. In chalk, on the wall of the small room are scrawled three words: TODAY WE ESCAPE.

‘Care to explain, 004?’

The first thing truly bonded over was music, back when 007 had liberated her iPod during training. This band would always come up somewhere in conversation, and so Ronni felt obliged to buy the albums and, despite herself, began to appreciate a new back catalogue. He knew every lyric by heart, because James was the bigger nerd, and that suited his persona just perfectly when all was said and done. They’d agreed the last night they’d slept together: codewords were easy to decrypt if you knew someone’s history. Lyrics were far more esoteric and mysterious. If they were ever compromised, needing to communicate on an intensely private level, she’d use The Divine Comedy, and he’d always pick Radiohead.

‘Private joke, 007 knew only I’d understand. He knew it would be me here, and planned ahead. I think this is where we use the drone, and I get ready to run if required.’

‘No, you will exit first, I can control the unit perfectly well from ground level. If Bond is telling you to go no further, I am the last person to ignore such sound advice.’

Once back outside the bunker, Ronni retrieves the tiny remote controlled device from her four wheel drive, effectively a camera with sensors and propellers, watching as Q takes the reins from Central London via her scrambled connection. He flies the unit up and away, back into darkness, with a skill that should not be a surprise. The heads up display on her glasses register as the tiny device zips back to their last point of interest, before ascending to just below ceiling level. Another ultra bright LED bank activates and shines down as the unit moves slowly forward, before an alarm sounds, then another, with the sickening realisation Bond knew full well the theatrics had only one aim, to draw her to an untimely demise. Ronni unconsciously begins to back away from the entrance, aware that the unit’s picked up multiple hazards, but that’s the least of their concerns.

As she runs, as fast as possible away from the bunker, there are shouts from up at the house as the fire crews also scatter, leaving the building to burn. Q has raised the alarm for them via the French authorities, video from beneath her feet revealing the ultimate, damning truth. Inside the final storage area sits the DB10, still immaculate, surrounded by enough explosive compound to blow a hole in the mountainside that would make the safe house’s destruction appear like lighting a match.

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DEFAULT :: Part Nineteen

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The bikes are again utilised: 004 and 009 chase each other from Whitehall into the Wiltshire countryside, all the way to RAF Lynam. Moneypenny is already there, with Felix pretending to be in charge yet not pushing the point. A Tornado is fuelled and waits for them on the tarmac in the early spring sunshine, and Ronni doesn’t let excitement show, despite every cell of her being demanding it. There’s no luggage to check in or passports to remember; as below the radar as she’s ever travelled, totally anonymous to everyone including the skeleton RAF ground crew. As far as they know she’s a Person of Interest, and if anyone asks where the plane went at 9.26 am they’ll insist it was training over the Mediterranean with a single pilot. Eve’s a qualified radar operator from her time in the Navy, so once ordinance and equipment are secured the Tower staff are asked to leave and sit in the Mess Hall for fifteen minutes: if anyone asks?

MI6 was never on the ground, and she’s on her own.

Except in the modern world, alone is something of a misnomer.

Thirty seconds after the plane screams into French airspace Q’s prototype retrofitted smartphone beeps with three distinct tones: scrambler, audio and video. All communication is instantly encrypted from the satellite that’s now listening above to her alone, thanks to the US and their continued gratefulness to MI6 for keeping quiet about those missing nuclear warheads Charlie tried to intercept whilst Ronni was in training. Q had pulled most of his remaining favours to use 004’s mission as proof this surveillance software, pushed through after the same incident the previous year, was not only legitimate but viable in the field. There was a general understanding of how much money could have been made if the Government had decided to launch it commercially, but instead the deal was in place: the Quartermaster got to keep full control of everything, British Intelligence reaped the rewards and nobody else knew until it was too late. She was the first active field test, best way to check they could communicate yet not be compromised, Q acting as virtual partner in the field.

This would be the man’s ace in the hole for reviving the country’s respect amongst his intelligence peers, and Ronni is supremely confident of his success. Normally this would also be Bond’s preserve, but he could already be dead. All that could be hoped for now was the best, that Maddy’s affection for him was indeed genuine. It was a good bet he continued to hold value as a bargaining chip or his death could be broadcast around the Globe via social media as an example that even with Blofeld gone, SPECTRE was never to be ignored. Either way, Ronni would be there for him, until the end. In that regard at least there was a determination to keep the promise given before she became a number.

Working on the theory that the less she heard from London the better, now was all about vanishing from existence with the minimum of fuss.

The Tornado is silent as she slips out of her flight suit by the side of the runway, using the plane as cover. Charlie has five minutes while the French pretend he doesn’t exist, so she can change into camouflage fatigues and head for the edge of the airbase. There will be a battered Range Rover waiting with Swiss plates and a boot full of camping equipment, because this time the senior 00 doesn’t get to stay in the best hotel there is. This isn’t about being hidden in plain sight when so much of SPECTRE’s operating personnel is seamlessly integrated into the lives of the rich and famous. Thanks to the Gendamerie, she’s become a joint French/English mission, yet her silent partner is not aware of what happens after now.

Disappearing completely however shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

As the sun goes down over Sospel, Ronni settles down after dinner outside her tent, staring down on the town picked to be her base of operations on Bond’s previous recommendation. She’ll be fine here for several days, but hopefully it won’t take that long. A couple of extra hours sleep had been snatched too, but no more rest would happen until the address is checked north of Monte Carlo. Part of her knows the guilt eating away at professionalism may never be assuaged if Bond does turn up dead. 004 has to be moving, constantly considering options: sitting here enjoying the foothills of the Alps in early Spring won’t help anyone’s chances of survival in the long term. Yet that’s the plan, to wait until dark, because it’s just easier to be inconspicuous without daylight.

Her phone is charging from the last rays of evening sun, solar cells built into the case also ensuring the backup battery is at maximum capacity, when a message alert brings her back to the moment: local law enforcement is being alerted of a massive explosion. As if on cue there are fire engines and ambulances screaming through the town, sirens and lights blazing, and Ronni has to resist the temptation to jump up and follow. From the direction of Monte Carlo there is a plume of smoke, pushing every sense on alert simultaneously. Her upgraded smartwatch vibrates, Q on it’s face, red letter that reminds this is on the scrambler by default yet there’s reticence to to take it, knowing that the moment they connect this brief sanctity of calm will be gone, shattered forever –

‘How do you cope?’

Bond sits casually on a low bench opposite the changing area; black Tom Ford trousers and immaculate white shirt, holster almost a natural part of his ensemble, considering the question. It was a week since punching him in the balls had moved their relationship on, and this felt like the right moment to pose a question that kept concerning a troubled mind. However good Ronni remains physically, the psychological maintains the ability to destroy everything, and she’d love to know how 007 dealt with the pressure.

He takes a long time to answer, carefully considering the choice of words.

‘I don’t. I lie, mostly: to other women, to Gregory, but never to myself. It’s like a great big dirty wave that you can’t control and just have to meet head on.’

‘But you didn’t lie to me.’

‘I’m supposed to be teaching you. I’ll be honest, I resented this job at first, but now? I understand the significance, because having to explain it to somebody else? You better grasp it yourself.’

‘Do you regret not dealing with things sooner?’

‘You never use that word in this job. If you do, the whole conceit just collapses on top of you. What I’ve done over the years would mount up to enough to destroy me ten times over. Don’t go there.’

This is the most Bond’s ever disclosed about the psychology of the job… in truth, revealed about anything. Ronni’s aware that she’s staring, suddenly wanting to hear him speak, but unsure how to keep the conversation going. It is a considerable surprise therefore when she doesn’t have to.

‘How do you do it?’

The man stares into her soul, only because for a moment access was granted, without realisation the exposure had occurred. She can’t lie as a result, and suddenly doesn’t want to, need to share fear with someone who understands the sensation very well.

‘I run, until legs hurt and my feet bleed to try and find a level for it all, but more often than not I fail. It might look as if I have it all under control but things aren’t forgotten that should be, far too much held onto. I regret choices even now, sometimes wish I’d never even started down this path to begin with.’

The honesty is temporarily blinding, struggle to prevent the emotion of admission from overwhelming everything. Bond senses this and says nothing, empathy both impressive and welcome. For a moment the air shimmers, adrenaline and association creating frisson that renders Ronni brilliantly breathless. As quickly as it appears, Bond shuts it and her down, standing without ceremony.

‘You’re going to need a better way, Agent Ashby. Time to start learning.’

Without a flicker of emotion or concern, Bond’s gone, leaving only stunned silence in his wake.

‘Ronni, you’re not going to need to wait until dark after all.’

The Quartermaster’s in her ear, professionalism personified, and suddenly this isn’t just a solo mission. Despite an overriding desire to not take support Q had insisted he travel with her, that having secondary means of assessing situations allowed better evaluation of most possible outcomes. He was right, of course: allowing Bond to exist alone for so long, as had been the case with all the 00’s before him, had been the biggest single contributing factor to their ultimate failure and demise.

‘The Monte Carlo safe house is now a raging inferno, however the DB10’s tracker is both intact and functioning, and as a result I need you at ground zero as quickly as possible. We need to eliminate the possibility Bond is still at the scene.’

‘You think he caused this?’

‘We both know only too well 007’s predilection for destruction. I don’t think this would be an unfair assumption to make under the circumstances. If he’s back in theatre he’ll inevitably ignore the mission brief and have gone dark, so we’ll need to confirm regardless.’

Events happen without thought, professionalism swallowing everything in a heartbeat. The Range Rover is moving, driving down the mountainside, Ronni having to stop the shake in hands by gripping the wheel tighter, understanding that this was the moment already stepped up to. Punching finally at weight, Bond could be just behind a mountain and requiring assistance.

She wasn’t anywhere near ready, but it didn’t matter.

This was the job, and now it would be done.

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DEFAULT :: Part Eighteen

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She always wakes before the alarm: it’s become habit, body’s method of showing readiness. Adjusted to mission time, lying in darkness, the bunk on the far side of the room’s already empty. 009’s been charged with the task of flying to the French airbase at Nice, as Ronni’s not logged the flight hours to qualify going alone. Part of an already concerned consciousness doesn’t want to be beholden to LaCroix any more than is necessary, but there is little time to worry about debts and consequence. Confident now of where the Swanns are heading, 004 wants to be as close to Bond as it is possible to manage, because with the volatility of both siblings more than apparent, there’s genuine concern for 007’s safety.

The entire Barracks had been briefed by Gregory at length the previous evening: everyone invited to watch a number of interviews with Madeline, woman looking increasingly uncomfortable and edgy. Bond himself had gone on record admitting her mental state had deteriorated in the weeks following Blofeld’s capture, and was concerned for her health. However he was faithfully following his Spectre mission briefing: promising to protect, right up until the moment things got ugly. Q had replayed the last monitoring to be sent from Bond’s flat and although there were no pictures, the audio was damning. Swann had snapped, physically assaulting him, whilst hurling a slew of verbal abuse; claiming her half brother had told about an affair he’d been having with a fellow agent. It had been uncomfortable to sit in a room of a dozen people knowing she was being used as fuel for a fire that had subsequently resulted in 007 being attacked.

An overhead light in the room switches on, sudden brightness only temporary disorientation. Charlie’s standing with vanilla latte and croissant, dressed to travel yet with hair still wet. The Army fatigues suit him, grey shirt stretched over abdominal muscles that are undoubtedly impressive by service standards. It makes sense he’s a looker, all part of persona, but this man shouldn’t be bringing her breakfast, handed over without ceremony. Charlie’s a pleasant contradiction to wake to, Ronni simply grateful.

‘You get any sleep?’

‘Thank you and yes, but as I may have to wait for engagement when I make it to Nice, it’s not an issue. If all else fails, I can always rest on the plane.’

‘Not the way I fly you won’t. On that front, I’d suggest not eating any more than this, there’s high pressure all the way from Calais to the Med: things might get a little scary.’

‘If this is my last good breakfast for days, I’ll take my chances.’

Sitting where M had yesterday, Charlie watches with obvious interest: there’s no desire, but concern that Ronni can’t reconcile. They know each other only in passing, after all, she’d been undercover pretty much since the last time he’d been here. Yet the man keeps staring, clearly keen to engage and she’s about to press when concern is vocalised.

‘You still feel bad about having to let Bond get beaten, don’t you?’

‘I don’t know how I feel: the training kicked in pretty comprehensively. I keep playing back the ‘no’ he mouthed just to make sure it was the right call.’

‘007’s worth more alive than dead until you’re in theatre on their terms. He’s the bait remember, Christian said it himself. Once they have you in the frame, then his life’s not nearly as secure.’

‘Let’s hope someone from our side’s there to save him when it matters.’

‘Would you do the same for me?’

‘Yes I would, as it happens, but before you ask? No, it’s not quite the same.’

‘I have no intention of ever trying to compete with Bond, for the record, so don’t start giving me that evil eye thing you do ’cause I so don’t need that this early in the day.’

‘Am I not attractive, 009?’

‘Very much so, 004, but this is business, and I’m not an asshole.’

Charlie is no-nonsense, affable and without the kind of self-absorption you’d expect from someone this ridiculously charismatic. In fact, his openness and honesty had been the defining factor in the job being offered to begin with: Ronni can’t help but like him, and there’s no tension, distinct lack of banter that she’ll throw at Tanner, Q and even Moneypenny if the moment arose. His respect is obvious and makes her smile, gives comfort in a moment where her own ability is anything but constant. That comment, for instance, states the case without contention. He knows she’s not available, and as a result would never even chance his arm. However, now there is the desire to ask why, interest awakening as the caffeine begins to work its magic.

‘You think I’m taken?’

‘You know you are. That’s why as a team you work so well. Q likes to call it ‘Friendship Plus.’ I also suspect that’s why I’m being double teamed with Moneypenny. They did their fancy metrics, realised we were the best fit.’

‘If it happened naturally, would that be a problem for you?’

‘I really dunno what to think. We’re pretty good together. She’ll drive, I’ll shoot things, it’ll work on a lot of levels. I’m not sure if she’d wanna be involved with anyone after what happened in Alaska anyhow. Part of me thinks that’s a bridge I gotta cross sooner than later, just because I was the last person who saw her ex-boyfriend alive.’

‘Would you travel across half of Europe in the hope you could save her?’

‘In a heartbeat. I’m not sure she’d do the same for me.’

‘Then I think maybe you ought to be having this conversation with her instead. Q and Gregory are a pretty sound team when it comes to combining the disparate. Bond and I shouldn’t work, but we do because the match-up helps us expose the weaknesses in each other. Sometimes, it’s up to you to take the initiative.’

‘Between you and me, I think Moneypenny’s wearing the pants in our relationship.’

‘She’ll only be doing that because she thinks you’re not stepping up. You’d be well served to meet her as an equal.’

‘And I do, for the record. This is a conversation however I’ve never had the nerve to start with her. You don’t scare me any more, but she still does. That’s my problem, right?’

‘Maybe as the current senior 00 on roster I can help there as time goes on. All I know is if it were me, I’d want someone I felt I could open up to without being worried you’d take it as a weakness.’

‘Do I really do that?’

‘The metrics say that you can be overly critical. Maybe that’s a starting point.’

Breakfast is finished, and Ronni can’t avoid the inevitable any longer, needs to be showered and ready to go by 07.30. As she deposits breakfast things on the table next to the bed, Charlie rises, taking time to think on what had been said.

‘Bond’s a lucky guy. I will make sure when you bring him back alive to remind him of that fact.’

‘You were the one bright spot for him in the whole of Operation Icebreaker. He had nothing but good things to say about you.’

‘I’ve a lot to thank 007 for. I’ll help you liberate his ass but only for you, because he’s got no idea of just how damn lucky he is to have you rescue him.’

Charlie leaves without ceremony, casual confidence in both stride and outlook, and Ronni can’t help but be impressed. He’s a perfect fit for Eve, will bolster her uncertainty, and in turn she will keep him from getting sloppy. 009’s right, she will wear the trousers, but only because that’s the way it has to be to ensure respect by everybody else. With this guy on the team, her backup’s beyond reproach.

All Ronni needs to do is make sure she doesn’t screw it up herself.

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DEFAULT :: Part Seventeen

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Ronni knows what it is now, undoubted feeling of terror hadn’t been at the situation, but firmly around Bond. Having to leave, even knowing how competent the man was, caused an ache in a manner she could only recall having felt when far, far younger. Despite all the best intentions, he’d not just gotten under her skin. This was something far more concerning and absolutely the wrong moment for all of it to surface, at the time when 004 needs to be at the most professional and focused. The fear that grips a disbelieving heart, sudden and unavoidable, isn’t around ability, or 007’s situation. With abrupt and inescapable amazement, Veronica registers it is not agent that matters here, but person.

James is funny, almost achingly so, and clever beyond words. A perpetual observer, yet seldom boring. The addictive personality understands danger in both alcohol and drugs, often unable to avoid their allure when pressured. Fools are never suffered, honesty welcomed and ultimately, desire embraced with enthusiasm never found the like of with anyone else… Ronni lets everything fall away until the basic truth remained: complete the mission. Locate Beam, save Bond, then worry about everything else. If you let emotion cloud even one step, the end may never be reached. Never forget what he is, however, under the 00 veneer. This man lives and breathes, makes you hurt with absence…

There is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, a knock at the bathroom door.

With no idea of how long she’s been lost in thought, Ronni’s professionalism snaps instantly back into place before getting up, opening the door and expecting Eve, certainly not anticipating Q. He holds a large mug in his hand plus an inescapably concerned look.

‘Moneypenny thought you might find it easier talking to me, so I’ve left her with Curtis now his clearances are organised. You should give Eve credit, she understands you have a lot to learn about each other. I also think 003 may have embarrassed herself by second guessing your professionalism.’

Ronni takes the drink as offered: hot milk, with a delicate, vanilla smell. There are dark spots she’ll guess are real seeds in the liquid: staring at the man with amazement, confusion is not only expected but immediately assuaged.

‘The last thing you need now is more caffeine. I’m here to help you relax, and this is not my proven method… but 007’s. Thanks to him I have vanilla pods in my bottom drawer. Tell me how you feel.’

‘Honestly, it’s like somebody’s kicked me in the chest.’

‘I can only imagine how hard it is to watch someone you care about be attacked and have to stand by helpless. Bond however is more than capable of the task Felix has asked of him, and this entire operation will hinge around all three of you being able not only to fulfil but exceed potential.’

Leading them both out of the bathroom and back to the cot, Q sits and talks whilst Ronni does the same and drinks, amazed at how much better this combination is making her feel. It isn’t just that, on reflection, but the implication behind it that is soothing a troubled soul. James’ care is beyond reproach, when everything else is stripped away. Quiet concern and genuine compassion, if you know how to expose it. As the milk works its magic, their plan moving forward is explained.

‘Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Swanns are expecting you to be sent as rescue, so if we’re going to show our hand, there will be the requirement to strike first and with force. Also, as Bond’s life is undoubtedly part of this equation? We’ll need to at least attempt inserting you to theatre with some measure of subtlety. If Monaco is where they’re heading, it will presumably co-incide with some kind of meeting, as these people also seem to like to celebrate their success in committee. I’ll set up a video link with the French as a matter of urgency. I also need to issue you with suitable field equipment, and as I’m not entirely sure I can trust our contact on the ground under current circumstances? I have a friend inside the Gendamerie. That kind of friend. I think it may be the right moment to call in a favour.’

Ronni stares as Q goes a quite delicate shade of pink. Of everyone she’d worked with, he just never mentioned any personal life out of turn. In fact, the only time there was memory of doing so was in the last days of her training. The Quartermaster’s life outside of the Barracks was subject to tighter security than most Eyes Only assignments, and 004’s curious to know more.

‘Q, I’m genuinely impressed. I always thought you were the type who never discussed their conquests.’

‘Alex was hardly a conquest. In fact, if truth be told, I was very much the submissive partner. However, I must have done something right with him, as we still talk at least once a week.’

‘Please tell me you don’t have a network of friends stretched across Europe for just such emergencies?’

‘I’ll have you know I’m the model of professionalism and decorum, but only about 90 per cent of the time. Nobody ever used to talk about sex in this place until you turned up, it was all just reward for the 00’s and then quickly forgotten. Considering my particular desires, I rather like the revolution you’ve wrought in that regard, and long may it continue. I know your professionalism is assured, trust me when I say the same for myself.’

‘The boss knew about Bond and I being intimate. Was it discussed in committee?’

Q’s not expecting this question, and spends a moment composing a response.

‘I made a call, Flemmings. As it transpires it may well have saved Bond’s life, because your influence on him has seen a marked improvement in communications. He’s the only agent currently not actively tracked too, thanks to Spectre. I was forced to deactivate his system at M’s request, and we never got around to reversing the situation. If you’d not have positively impacted his outlook-‘

‘He’d not have had the foresight to call me.’

‘I will gather further intelligence, 004, and we will hold a briefing at 1500 hours. I would suggest as you’re likely to be in the field sooner rather than later that you attempt some more sleep in the meantime. You may not have Bond here in body, but you can be most assured he remains very much in spirit.’

The man is gone and Ronni stares into the mug, suddenly aware of the depth of her task.

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DEFAULT :: Part Sixteen

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Ronni lies in the Barracks cot, staring at the ceiling, understanding now why 007 never slept off the clock. Even in the relative quiet her mind’s far too noisy, multiple scenarios bouncing in a troubled brain. Mostly the image of Bond’s bloodied face is a concern, that even though she knows where they’ll send her, there needs to be more context than currently exists. There is three weeks of intelligence on Maddy to catch up with for starters, and the understanding that a lot of internal politics had been missed whilst undercover…

‘You’re supposed to be resting, Flemmings, and are not trying hard enough.’

Moneypenny stands in the doorway, dark blue McQueen trouser suit a recent addition to the wardrobe. Ronni doesn’t move because finally, she’s comfortable and it would be sad to lose at least the notion of relaxation.

‘We keep meeting back here, do you think there’s a reason?’

‘Normally at least one of us is on the back foot. Last time it was me. I should thank you for sharing the responsibility.’

Ronni expects to have to move but Eve comes to sit on the cot’s edge, staring down at her.

‘I wanted you to know I’ve made sure Bond’s ring’s in M’s safe until such time as you can hand it back to him. I don’t think you need worry too much about anyone stealing it.’

‘Thank you Eve, I appreciate the thought. I presume you took a look?’

‘Indeed, it’s truly beautiful. Would you wear it?’

There it was, Moneypenny not messing about as was always the case, straight to the point and no deception. Ronni often wondered how she made it through Basic Training being so blunt, and maybe when Gregory came down from Whitehall shortly for his briefing, she could ask.

‘No, I wouldn’t. I don’t want to marry him either. The thought has never crossed my mind.’

Eve knows this is Ronni’s honesty at play, and is taken aback.

‘All the work you did on Maddy-‘

‘- was because I saw her as a genuine threat. Why is your disbelief not surprising?’

‘I’d assumed because James cancelled the wedding -‘

‘ – I suspect as a result of what he knew was coming and not because of me. Of course, I can’t find out and I’d bet it wouldn’t be on the agenda the next time we meet, but really, truthfully-‘

‘I’m sorry. On top of everything else, I just assumed you were the reason.’

It’s obvious the entire conversation isn’t going as Moneypenny had hoped: expecting the woman to get up and leave, when she stands there is clear indecision and Ronni’s immediately curious. Eve could have waited for the briefing to talk to her, and didn’t. That means the real reason she is here will be personal. For the first time since they’ve known each other there is confusion and uncertainty in the woman’s features. Eve’s mask has slipped, perhaps even removed for a reason.

‘I know you told Q you thought I was being wasted at the desk, and Tanner’s told me what happened after Blofeld’s arrest, when the previous 009 suggested I wasn’t capable of taking responsibility. You didn’t need to defend me but you did, and when Bond called and urged me to accept the promotion at the weekend it was a surprise. Between the two of you, this is a second chance at a designation I’d pretty much accepted was lost. I still can’t entirely believe I’ve made it here.’

Now Ronni moves to sitting, because this is important. It’s the longest she’s ever heard Eve talk, and it deserves nothing less than her full attention.

‘I know what Q’s done, that Charlie’s been picked as a partner for me because we’re a good fit, but I’m not sure how this works. How do I do this job when I can’t be sure I’m capable?’

‘That’s just not true, and you know it. The organisation can be done in your sleep, that’s never going to be an issue. I found really quickly that if you trust the training, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. Mostly, it is about faith in yourself. Everything else will come eventually.’

Once upon a time they’d been wary of each other, uncertain, but this isn’t the same Eve from Ronni’s training days. The attack on the Barracks had changed her, added a level of determination to the demeanour that had previously been missing, blown away the myth of an inability to shoot under pressure. When the circumstances had called for her to just step up and be a 00? She’d not even stopped to think. The journey to make it here, via Istanbul and regret had finally been forgotten. Confidence was established, she just wanted reassurance. Ronni knows that feeling only too well.

‘I’m sorry I assumed things about you and Bond. I just thought that if he’d given you the ring-‘

‘I don’t know what to think, Eve. I wish I did. All I know is that I have to save him. I can’t trust anybody else. When I’ve done that?’

Suddenly Ronni wants to be somewhere, anywhere else, and without another word is up and heading for the small bathroom opposite the cots. Being sure that if she cried Moneypenny would be both supportive and understanding, the reassurance isn’t needed. If all this emotion spills out now, she won’t cope for the rest of the day, and this is the time for the training that Gregory gave her concerning stressful situations and dealing with consequence. Standing moments later, back against the hastily-shut bathroom door, 004 sinks to the floor and tries to clear a troubled mind.

Being unable to save Bond had ripped open her heart.

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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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