EX/WHI :: Part Eighteen

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She dreams of their child, created by aliens.

Foetus grows in an opaque, circular space, suspended mid-air, culmination of this bizarre experiment. A child is ‘born’ from her egg and Chris’ sperm, no worries in subconscious that part of this equation is impossible to complete. Unseen beings are not bound by the same rules as the humans that have now become their scientific research: theatre show to be watched, characters manipulated.

Ami comprehends without doubt that this will be her child, created as nature intended.

The presence inside subconscious is risking a fair deal by
confirming possibility as fact.

For millennia their kind have returned to Earth, caretakers of humanity’s fledgling intelligence. Each time the dominant population appeared capable of causing major damage to surrounding ecosystems, an intervention had resulted: reason why they had now returned. Her planet was at a tipping point, moment when decisions must be made: is this iteration of humanity worthy of continued, unrestricted ransacking of resources, or is it time for an inevitable reckoning?

The presence in Ami’s head offers stories grasped as previous truth: Atlantis washed away, Egyptians sandblasted out of history, Pompeii buried to prevent evil that would have risen and altered history… but then finds herself compelled to respond subconsciously with images of Auschwitz, Baghdad… New York’s Twin Towers. How were your interventions so important and yet these other horrors allowed as acceptable? She expects no response and when one comes, its dispassionate commentary is not nearly as surprising as expected.

The significance of particular events alters when viewed from a distance.

If linear time is only her prison and not theirs, a wider overview would pinpoint exact moments for interference, consequences were it not to take place. However, possibilities from this moment must be infinite: how could others arbitrarily make decisions in this fashion? The being in her head remains silent, undoubted uncertainty generated in the space where they sit. Dream imagery fades until all that is left is warmth and comfort, reassurance provided for a reason.

Keep acting on instinct, remain yourself. This strength will see you through.

There is a version of her future, tantalisingly placed just beyond Ami’s reach, echo of what could be should they succeed in these tests. This is a game, after a fashion, means by which the rest of the planet would be judged. Scenarios require thoroughly completion with no room for error or fear. This is the job she is now charged with; prize is not simply her life, returned better than it was.

The alternative, also offered without comment, is as chilling as it is now fully believable. Should she fail, her World will have humanity wiped from it. Everything else would remain: plants, animals, all natural wonders and even geological uncertainty would continue untouched and vibrant. Her brethren, wilfully destroying existence, completely eradicated in a breath as anything related to mankind’s influence was irrevocably eliminated.

The taint of pollution, global warming, globalisation, deforestation… all would cease to exist: planet left as it had been before the first apes evolved, stumbling out of their caves. This can still happen, unless she sacrifices everything. If Ami is prepared to give her life to ensure that future does not come to pass, so much more will be possible.

She must die, allowing planet to survive.


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DEFAULT :: Part Eighteen

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FOUR


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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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

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

DUET: Chapter Seven, Part One

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SEVEN

This was not what Ronni had in mind when Q had warned her to prepare to go undercover.

The ‘uniform’ currently being fitted isn’t restrictive, but the black cotton skirt is at least two inches shorter than she’d normally wear, and there is far too much cleavage on show. She tries not to be irritated as the two middle-aged seamstresses fiddle with the waitress outfit as if she was a mannequin, but there is no way this will ever be acceptable attire, even though at the back of her mind there is perfect comprehension at the look being aimed for.

‘We are using your assets to their best advantage, Veronica. Please try not to fidget.’

It has been a week since the incident in the Sparring Ring: much had changed in the Barracks. Ronni knows she’s earned respect from everyone, even the most hardened of senior techs. Bond hasn’t mentioned their confrontation since, often wondering if she should bring it up, before remembering the golden rule. No discussing current assignments with anyone, not even senior officers. He’s either the best actor she’s ever met, or the incident is behind them. If anything, the defiance has bought them closer: he’ll greet her in the morning and at least nod when she leaves for the night. Ronni made him laugh unprompted earlier that day, but now there’s relief he’s not in the room.

‘Well, that’s an interesting look for you.’

God, how do you do this Bond?

‘Can you read minds, 007?’

‘If I could Ashby, I’d be earning my wage anywhere but here. I heard you were being fitted for your undercover work. When someone told me stockings and heels were involved I thought I’d see what you considered appropriate.’

‘You arrived to make me feel uncomfortable?’

‘You don’t need me to do that, you’ll manage perfectly well on your own. That skirt could be shorter still and you could throw in a garter, because it’ll give the guys somewhere to tuck your tips other than cleavage.’

There is a moment of something in Bond’s features, look Ronnie tries and fails to assess, even after such prolonged exposure to him. The mask instead slips effortlessly back into place and he’s gone, back to the Lab, leaving the realisation the man’s right. If the focus of this disguise, because that’s what it is, is to help her attract the interest of certain patrons at the Hotel then Bond, as usual, knows what would work. Stockings, but perhaps not with a shorter skirt… a split to let her leg and garter be accessed…

‘I think you could take this in a little bit, actually.’

Q smiles, silent acceptance, then briefest of nods in agreement as Ronni decides against the flats she’d initially planned to wear, instead picking a pair of more substantive heels. She’s also quietly reconsidering her choice of interview wear as the seamstresses wander away with the ‘finished’ outfit, even though employment at the Hotel would be secured regardless of performance. Like everything else in this exercise, it had already been planned down to the smallest detail. To play the part well, she could do a lot worse than get into character immediately.

Her ‘interview’ was set for 14.00 hours, taxi ride from outside the Barracks: working as normal until an hour before, aware of Bond in her periphery for most of the morning. The confidence she’d gained since giving Q a chance to take out Kendrick was growing, quietly nurtured with fertile self-worth. Now was the time to see if she was able to create reaction with herself as a different kind of weapon. The request for an outfit change arrives without a word, delivered by Q himself with what was assumed to be an approving nod to her station.

Alone in the communal changing rooms, preparing quietly after lunch, she waits until Bond returns from the small arms range, jacket off and rolled sleeves, strolling unaware past the open door. The emerald green jersey dress did everything right for her body, comfortably clingy across breast and waist with heels that meant she’d be eye to eye with 007 should he challenge her, even if it meant dealing with sore feet by day’s end. She’d consciously left mobile phone by her workstation, which meant an extended ‘catwalk’ in and out of the lab to retrieve it.

She’s not expecting her own arousal but it happens, lower body aware of what brain is suggesting, and it’s a shock that almost derails the plan. Closing eyes, there is a moment of panic, legs unsteady, until training kicks in. Normally she’d be swallowing fear but now it’s different, subtle redefinition of the playing field. Like it or not she understands finally that every waking moment really is a test, until the day they tell her she earned the number.

There is no focus except the desk, only interest her mobile: once secured she turns and walks out of the side office, aware that Rachel is standing just outside the doorway. Once she’d learned that all the flirting in the world by Bond wouldn’t make this ex-Field Operative the slightest bit interested, that she’d come out in an attempt to promote more agents of both sexes to embrace their gender identities, this woman’s opinion had become indispensable. She leans on her cane, eyes smiling appreciatively.

‘I see you’ve grasped the lesson that sex sells, Ashby, especially when it comes to distraction. Your dress certainly works for me.’

‘I’m getting there. I doubt I’ll ever be really comfortable in this version of the uniform, or with compliments from either sex.’

‘A wise mindset to be in, you’re far less likely to be deceived as a result.’

‘How did you cope with this part of the training?’

‘It’s not about dressing for what you think other people find attractive a lot of the time, its what makes you feel more sexual. Of course, there are disguises like the waitress outfit where there comes a measure of compromise. Always defer in that case to the people you’re attempting to deceive.’

‘You must have spent a lot of time pretending to be someone else.’

‘Indeed, and that’s why I encourage everyone to be honest with their outlooks whenever possible. I really hope your undercover work bears fruit. I for one am looking forward to doing some actual work for a change.’

At this Ronni can’t help but smile: after all, there’s a lot of people here on any given day who have little or nothing to do unless an emergency appears. If she could spice that up? So much better for everyone else.

Rachel turns and walks away, and Ronni is ready to leave. She is almost to the Barracks entrance when 007 launches his effort to derail her.

‘Special Agent Ashby.’

She has to wait, listening to the slow, measured gait as he walks up the corridor. He hasn’t pulled rank on her once the entire time she’s been here. Now he approaches, relaxed yet impeccable, different jacket and tie to the combination he’d been wearing that morning; yet there is disquiet in the demeanour. This isn’t the Bond she expected. He can’t keep eye contact, eyes to breasts and then back, finally fixating on her mouth almost in desperation, aware he has no power at all over her.

She won’t be phased by anyone, especially him.

Close enough now to taste expensive cologne, to note a shave is in order there’s no response, and yet he moves closer still. Fingers slowly brush her hand, desperately trying anything to break resolve. It won’t work. She’s immune to this. The stand-off isn’t uncomfortable, but it’s not pleasant either, as Ronni’s body subconsciously responds to his proximity. Leaning across, mouth to ear: words carefully placed, shooting straight into her brain.

‘You don’t need it, especially from me, but I will wish you good luck. Because I can.’

‘Thank you, Sir.’

She uses the word with emphasis, acknowledgement that if he’s going to invoke rank, then she will too. Only when he pulls away does something shift between them both, moment of history briefly illuminated. Bond looks an awful lot like Scott right now, Ronni grasps with a sudden stab of amazement, jacket remarkably similar to one he owned… and he knows it. 007 is gone, sudden purpose in gait before vanishing back into the main Lab. He had altered his hairstyle, gel when normally there’d be none, highlighting a parallel she’d buried, tried to forget. Knowing she’d pushed, he reacted in kind. The agent had tried to use his physical similarity to Redgrave as a means to derail confidence, and had come close to succeeding.

Only when she’s in the Taxi outside does Ronni admit to herself that the past retains an ability to destroy everything completely.


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OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER:

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