EX/WHI :: Part Nineteen

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If he says so himself, this is a damn fine job.

Putting down the black marker, Chris stands back to admire the completed, joint work. Massive expanse of wall is packed with two people’s reasoned observation, allowing moment of expectation that now completed, the aliens could yet wipe the whole thing clean and Ami won’t get a chance to read it. Nothing happens however: Chambers takes this as indicator there’s no need to wake up his partner just yet.

Her exhaustion is even more apparent in sleep: hardly moving, yet eyes rapidly flickering. She’s been through at least three cycles of REM sleep already, grateful a couple of moments of clumsiness failed to rouse her. He’s tired, could do with a comfortable place to sit… There is a chance alone to consider feelings, previously left well alone for a reason. Her link with the aliens is obvious, ability to empathise and gain favour… is he jealous of her ability to do so?

When they’d touched him, or moved body about, he could sense presence, yet never personal or focussed. This was very much the unseen hands of gods, controlling destiny and directing fate. Ami possessed something different, more personal and visceral, and there shouldn’t be annoyance they didn’t pick him as their conduit, but right now that’s what’s surfaced. He’s nine and annoyed his sister’s Prom Night preparations are pulling all the attention away from his Soccer tournament final…

This is not a healthy emotion to be experiencing at any point in proceedings, and Chris needs to deal with it.

He sits on the larger of several sofas scattered around the large area that absolutely weren’t here before. They must have appeared whilst the last of his notes were added: he’d like to think it’s because the chairs that initially were supposed to be here, reproduced in simulation, are hard, uncomfortable wooden seats that nobody in their right mind would ever actually manage longer than 15 minutes working on…

There’s the moment of revelation. He’d though the chairs were hard, then considered what would be preferable. Something yielding but not too soft so he can stay awake and still be on guard. The means to relax but not switch off, like the couch in his soon to be ex wife’s apartment. That whole thought process all took place in subconscious, before aliens reached inside a mind unaware of the intrusion and provided the wish. Ami asked out loud for the change of clothes and food. He hadn’t needed to, and was now comfortable.

On reflection, this feeling isn’t jealousy at the responsibility Ami carries, Chris grasps with more than a measure of reassurance. There might be the hint of discomfort he can’t predict what’s going to happen, but if the means exists within to conjure what is required to make his partner’s task easier, that ought to be the way forward. Look after her above everything else: keep mind focused, stress to a minimum, so that if anything important does need to be communicated from however far above them these zookeepers were, it happens in the most efficient way possible.

Ami’s stirring now, light sleep close to wakefulness: Chris knows that if he moves again, she’ll surface, so in his head comes recall of last time in London with Alex West, MI6 liaison who could be a celebrity lookalike for that guy who plays 007 in the movies. He’d been here for training and intelligence briefings but had ended up with a dozen pints of passable lager and fantastic curry at Spitalfields Market as the more enjoyable result.

Taste suddenly ignites on his tongue, magic trick that then unfolds in front of his eyes beyond impressive.

His memory of the restaurant is reproduced down to the finest detail, part of the space transformed with a corner booth, ambience and decoration exactly as remembered. However it is the smell that hits nostrils from food that steams invitingly doing things to both brain and stomach that Chris is powerless to ignore. It’s not just him either: Ami’s awake, sitting up and staring with considerable amazement at her wish made real.

‘Am I still dreaming, is that really-?’

‘Chicken Jalfrezi, Lamb Bhuna, plain and pilau rice, plain and peshwari naan plus a section of sides and poppadoms. I’m a man of my word, Ami, and have just worked out how I can make life better for both of us going forward.’

‘How did you -’

‘I’ll explain while we eat, because I’m not waiting around in case it all vanishes. Shall we…?’


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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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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 Two

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WARNING: This passage contains adult and sexual situations.


That night, Ronni dreams she’s on the back of the Bonneville: it’s not Scott driving but Bond, waking her suddenly in a sweat.

Lying in the dark she remembers Redgrave’s warmth, breathless intimacy between them, only time she’d ever felt special or truly wanted. That’s never going to happen again, and certainly not with somebody she works with.

Aware from conversations with the trio of ex-Field Agents that all of them had succumbed over time, Grace to at least two 007’s, she finds herself wondering in the dark how these men manage to charm as they do. Is it simply a notion of power? Does the job generate excessive sexuality making a designation attractive to anyone and everyone? The latter might have some mileage: considering how the Barracks had reacted to her the previous lunchtime suggested that this would be a way forward.

The problem is that Ronni still can’t reconcile the appearance of power and control with what her body would then be forced to do. She wonders if perhaps this is because it’s been so long since she actually had sex: it might be an idea to start trying to change that and see if this was the problem. After all, she only kept her shooting skills at peak with daily practice. However, on reflection, this really shouldn’t be necessary. Other 00 designations however might think differently.

It’s 3.25am and there’s no point trying to get back to sleep: maybe it is wiser to prepare for the first day of mission work proper and have done with it. She dresses in the dark and sits on the edge of her bed, going over personal details, cover story she has to be capable of recounting as well as her own life history to ensure the undercover position is secure. Make-up is completed, longer skirt with a slit the better choice, and she’s out of the door as the sun comes up, walking ten minutes from this Hotel to the one that now employs her, bastion of British gentility that will be base of operations for the foreseeable future.

She is introduced at the early staff meeting as Julie Fisher and uses nerves as an excuse but can’t be completely hopeless at convincing because by 9.30 she’s on first name terms with everyone in the kitchen. Sam, Emilio and Marco invite her to share the remains of the morning’s leftovers; progress is made when by lunchtime she’s being asked for a drink after shift. Sam’s interest in her is immediate and intoxicating: whip thin, tattoos everywhere, he is the perfect example of the kind of man Ronni never normally crossed paths with yet found incredibly attractive. She allows herself to flirt, and is amazed when, at the end of the evening, he kisses the inside of her wrist with a delicacy that sets every nerve on fire.

Moving into staff accommodation the following week, Emilio carries her bags out of the service lift. There is brief paranoia that cases could open and the Walther could spill out, but that’s probably healthy. He’s married, kid on the way, and is perennially helpful: Ronni decides to use him as her point man. Trusted with a lot of information as his brother works on the Reception desk, this is an easy choice. It’s not hard to get the man to open up either, relationship with a heavily pregnant wife difficult because of the extra hours he’s working. Ronni is grateful for the lessons learnt, to manipulate without it being obvious: people simply end up wanting to confide what needs to be known. She ID’s a woman at breakfast at the end of her first week who the Metropolitan Police pick up the same day before lunch, wanted for multiple counts of passport fraud, and finally there is a glimmer of hope, to begin to start making a difference with the training.

Two days later, a flashpoint comes in the loading area behind the kitchens: she discovers Sam in an alcove, forcing one of the Chinese maids to fellate him, clearly under considerable duress. When he pulls a knife the training takes over and he’s unconscious before there’s a chance for resistance. The woman isn’t interested in pressing charges, already illegally working three jobs, but Emilio has Sam’s room cleared in under an hour as the police take him into custody. It transpires that the man’s part of a gang the Met has been targeting for drug distribution, and so Ronni’s again congratulated: knowing Sam’s employers will not be best pleased, she is conscious of being on guard.

Walking back to the Barracks the next afternoon, Ronni instinctively knows she is being followed. The Walther is in her room because she doesn’t want to use it, aware that all these weeks worth of hard work could be for nothing: in training there’d never been more than two guys at once and because the three shadowing aren’t going to expect resistance, that’s already an advantage. When there’s a hand on her mouth before being bundled down an alley she decides on minimal struggle, reminder that not fighting is sometimes the best way to gain an advantage. Their tattoos confirm the suspicion: Sam’s ‘friends’ have arrived to exact their version of revenge for her actions.

Only when two assailants are restraining her and the other begins to unzip his jeans comes the concession in Ronni’s mind that sex is pretty much what motivates everything, and that’s not how to operate if there’s ever an opportunity to avoid it. None of her attackers remain conscious long enough to register anything, anger at these men’s notion of punishment enough to ensure nobody comes up once she has them on the ground. When the Police vehicle arrives thirty seconds after the last one’s head has been slammed into the alleyway wall, Ronni realises her back had been covered all along.

Returned to Barracks, Frasier is the Medic on call who sits and stitches the wound on her neck: two of the three were carrying knives and Ronni hadn’t even noticed. There were Tetanus shots to have and a police report to be filed, but Q insisted she did one and not concern herself with the other. Apparently he had the whole incident on CCTV anyway. Maybe Ronni should worry every waking moment was under surveillance, but not today.

She drinks tea from Q’s mug as concession he cares, thinking about Sam’s lips on the inside of her wrist, when 007 does the genie trick in a tuxedo that’s impressive even by his standards.

‘I hear you beat up some more bad guys. That’s four now?’

‘I’m not keeping count, but clearly you are. Let me guess, you were just passing?’

‘The English National Opera is just over there, so as a matter of fact I was.’

‘Ah yes, tonight is the Royal Gala. You taking someone from the Department?’

‘I asked Moneypenny, she declined my invitation. Apparently it’s finals night for some reality TV show.’

‘She can’t record it?’

‘I think I know by now when I’m being intentionally friend-zoned, Ashby. Don’t rub it in.’

Despite herself she laughs at him, because suddenly here’s the field agent who needs cheering up, that this was ironic considering Bond’s normally the boy all the good girls want. Except here he is again, at her door, standing close enough to allow appreciation of the hint of Issey Miyaki. This isn’t his usual scent, but her favourite and suddenly Ronni feels the power in the room shift into her hands.

‘It’s a good thing for you that Q’s got your back.’

‘They were all unconscious before the Police arrived. I had it covered. What, you’re going to warn me now that undercover work is dangerous?’

Waiting for the comeback he’s frozen, staring in a manner that isn’t so much odd as surprising. His hand goes to her head, tracing scar that remains, injury sustained in the last bout of sparring that he had finally conceded had been on truly equal terms. The touch is so light, delicacy that makes her shiver at the care, understanding why body should never control your actions.

‘Everything’s dangerous, especially you.’

‘Should I take that as a compliment?’

‘Absolutely you should. You’re the most competent and accomplished field agent I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.’

‘You know, that’s the sort of opening that could be construed as an overture to something else.’

‘From anybody else, but absolutely not from me. You deserve far more respect than that.’

Now the room’s oppressive, and Ronni’s aware of a tension created that Bond is fighting to control. I know what you want: this is how it would have begun for Moneypenny and all those other women. A moment of conflict, diffused with first hand, then mouth… watching him handsomely torn, unable to cross the line. She could let him in, would be the easiest thing in the World, but then everything she stood for would be shattered, destroyed by a moment of weakness he’s fighting to contain and she has totally under control.

Well, that’s almost true.

‘I don’t know anyone else with your strength, and it frightens me.’

‘No it doesn’t. This isn’t fear. I just don’t understand why you choose to treat me differently. What’s the problem?’

‘What you want, what I could provide… it’s not my job to. You have to ask.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Trust me, it won’t be long now. Then you may end up hating everything you stand for.’

He almost runs from the room, leaving Ronni alone and empty, wondering what horrors Q has yet to make her face.


She stands hours later in the hotel room’s shower, pushing face to tile, trying to leech some of the heat from her body, but failing. Today she realised that with all the training in the world, there was a part of Veronica Ashby that wasn’t ready for the 00 designation. She could use sexuality as a weapon, and there would come a point where this was the only option, possibly to save her own life, but not now. Bond can switch gears without a thought, slip effortlessly between personas. She however, has a lot to learn. In the end she’d rather kill someone than sleep with them, and ultimately that would be bad for business.

It takes forever to get comfortable in bed, desire refusing to leave but finally sleep takes her. It is impossible to escape his influence, however hard she tries.

Bond has worked his way inside her body despite the belief he could be resisted.

She’s back in the Barracks, before the interview, and 007 is inches from her face, staring at her mouth, rendering body incapable. Suddenly his hand is on her hip, stuff of the dress being pulled up, fingers travelling down under g-string and over pubis, thumb beginning to stimulate an already swollen clitoris. The wave washes up her back, shudder of pleasure as lower body ignites, trying so hard not to break eye contact as legs begin to shake. Ronnie’s hand suddenly moves to his face and pulls them together, kissing so hard that mouth hurts…

The alarm won’t go away, insistent beeping, and Ronni can’t separate anything accurately, missing clock and instead sweeping phone off the cabinet to her right. Eventually the alarm is silenced and she lies, feeling the knot of unreleased pressure below the waist, sexuality demanding attention in a way she can’t remember for a long time… until her brain is conscious enough to grasp the problem.

It doesn’t have to be Bond: he really is a metaphor, simply the nearest convenient truth.

She’s forgotten how to enjoy herself: on this journey losing an understanding of how that equated to her own body. Crucially, Ronni’s not controlled by the same forces a male agent would be to begin with, pure biology their weakness and her overriding strength. Up until now there has been a concession, there is no need to assert power: concerned only with her task, with little thought for personal reward. That’s what sex ends up being in this game: a way to define control, means to an end, which you may as well enjoy along the way. Bond can do his job and indulge in fringe benefits without either derailing the task in hand. Ronni however has ignored one to the benefit of the other, but would need the ability trained just as much as her surveillance or small arms skills.

Looking at the clock she doesn’t have time to deal with her arousal or this revelation, already late, and has to be at the Lab in an hour. At some point she should take a trip into Soho on a pretence and do something constructive about the female frustration. If Ronni were to believe Q’s assertions the night before she really wasn’t under permanent surveillance, so finding a shop to buy a suitable item would be far easier than attempting to order anything to help her over the Internet.

Lying in the rapidly lightening room, the revelation hits of planning to purchase sex toys for field practice on government time. At least if caught doing it, she can claim it as a legitimate expense.

Ronni doesn’t stop laughing for quite some time.


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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.