EX/WHI :: Part 23

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Arrival Plus One

The night before they won, she realised that nothing would ever be the same again.

Lying awake, Ami watches the man sleeping next to her on his own camp-bed with a mixture of disbelief and reassurance. He’s just as scared as I am, when all is said and done. At least now there’s no embarrassment or worry admitting that in public. Chris and her had talked for several hours after dinner was done, until their plates and uneaten food had vanished from in front of them. It had been taken as a prompt that their ‘captors’ wanted them in beds, a second one having been provided next to that which they’d both slept in previously.

She’d woken as was nearly always the case when her internal body clock hit 7am, to find that their world had been significantly reduced in size and depth: their note-taking space remained but new dividers had appeared: a single sofa and table, plus chairs were shifted against one wall, with what were clearly washing cubicles added opposite. It should worry her that nothing was constant any more but instead Ami’s brain is surprisingly willing to accommodate alteration.

Today is when we are to be tested. Chris had been surprisingly frank on her return from the bathroom: they were both now comfortable with the alien presences that had manifested within them, enough joint sanctity to be confident that this experiment, in whatever form, would be no different from a planned training operation. That meant at some point they’d be provided with equipment: as the thought manifests, so do two large wooden crates at the bottom of each bed.

Now she’s up, looking through what is being provided: fresh clothing and food, no new shoes or backpacks, so they’ll be expected to reuse what was provided yesterday. Chris is stirring and she takes it as a prompt, out of bed and into one of the two cubicles where towels hang next to a shower unit that switches on the moment she’s naked. There’s no need for temperature control either, water just pleasantly hot enough as to not be scalding but damn close, and Ami smiles to herself.

My captors have thought of everything.

There’s no fear either that her partner might take a leaf out of a fictional secret agent’s play-book and come join her: he might be built like 007, but Special Agent Chambers possesses considerably more respect for her than James Bond ever did for his partners.

He’s now also awake and showering…

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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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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 Eight, Part One

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Two days after returning to surveillance duties at the Hotel, a summons is sent for a meeting at the Barracks outside of schedule. When she arrives to find M waiting in the main Lab, Ronni knows they cannot postpone the inevitable any longer. She fights butterflies as uniforms are switched, waitress for operative, and decides this is the day she’ll wear trousers, because on most occasions that’s more comfortable, whatever the time of year. Arriving forty seconds early, Q nods his approval at the ensemble.

‘As you are more than aware, the last two weeks have been a difficult period for the 00 designation.’

Veronica stands, constant and implacable, eyes on M as he begins what sounds like a pre-rehearsed speech. She knows Bond’s behind her, glimpse reflected in terminal glass; did he come for the show or is 007 just passing?

‘Q tells me you are at the end of your formal assessment period. There is one more assignment to complete, and assuming that’s performed to the required standard we can expect to have you to the final stage of Active Consideration by the end of this week.’

Ronni exhales, significance of the comment only too obvious. She’s done everything that’s been asked, and more. The Service needs her out of the training ground and into the game, sooner rather than later. Special Agent Ashby is ready for anything they can throw at her.

‘If that is the case, this could well be the most important week of your entire life.’

007 knows the pep talk, given from this man’s predecessor. She’d chided him on arrogance, overt enthusiasm for destruction, pushed to temper desires with common sense and remember why he was doing the job. His M was from a different time, one he’d dearly like the chance to return to, but the past was just that, everybody forced to live in the moment. This present did have its advantages, he just needed to ensure full control of circumstances first.

‘You’ve performed in an exemplary fashion, often under considerable pressure, and I have no doubt this week will be no different. Special Agent Ashby, your Country requires your services, more now than it has ever done before. We have a battle that rages on our own doorstep, and threats so many and various our resources are stretched to breaking point. Your assistance will be a valuable addition to our national security. I have no doubt you will deliver what is expected of you as a result.’

The next three days are everything to her. This is where Ronni could stand or fall, and Bond knows that his actions will ultimately determine her fate. Part of him simply wants to pass the woman for service and have done with it but Q’s brief was persuasive and damning. For them both, at this moment, there needed to be an empathy beyond where they stood. Their friendship was now without question, but it wasn’t enough, not in this job. Their remit extended well beyond the conventional and into the dangerous, indistinct, where lines blurred and the only certainty was a mission goal. Ronni needed to be assessed in the one way she could never willingly agree to, and by the one person who knew more than anyone else in the department about the power of intimacy.

He too was about to be tested, perhaps more than her. Restraint, supplicancy and detachment until he could absolutely be certain she was in total control of him.

The potential of the final assignment to return him to Active Duty is enough to briefly render Bond breathless.

M extends his hand, which Ronni shakes, and then man is gone, leaving her feeling somewhat perturbed. Q sees the concern, and is about to question before being summarily pre-empted.

‘I think he could use some work on the speeches. He reminds me of Tanner, never quite that comfortable doing the motivational stuff the metrics tell him he needs to.’

‘I think both Q and I can agree, his predecessor was undoubtedly the better orator.’

Ronni smiles despite herself, turning to acknowledge 007 and noting his attire: if the Tom Ford is back, he isn’t here to work. He’s off on ‘official’ business again, and will hate every minute. This also means their time together could finally be coming to an end. After all, there’s only so much babysitting the Service will want him involved with.

‘You have an appointment at the Parliamentary reception?’

Bond rolls his eyes and gives the look which she knows means he’s already bored at the possibility.

‘I’ll make sure I offer him some tips. However, I know what I’d rather be doing.’

As he walks out of the room there is the slightest of touches, hand to arm: watching him leave, aware of Q not moving from his spot, observing closely. Ronni waits, but the young man says nothing.

‘So, what happens next, Q?’

‘You go back to work, and I return to trying to persuade Whitehall that we need better remote field access for agents than simply a mobile phone and luck.’

‘That’s it?’

‘You seem disappointed, Veronica, one assumes after Bond’s love of theatrics were you expecting something more dramatic?’

‘I was thinking there’d be more than this, I will admit.’

‘There are many demons to face in this world, Ronni. I for one am grateful that I don’t have to do that every day. It gives me a chance to relax and reflect on what I’ve learnt.’

‘I appreciate the sentiment, Q. I also realise that my expectations in this job are in a constant state of flux.’

‘Well, it may come as a surprise to you that 90% of all field work is unbelievably mundane. You don’t get nuclear warheads every week, despite what 007 might tell you. Go back to work, Special Agent Ashby and wait. Your assignment’s already in progress.’

Q turns and leaves the Lab, with nothing more to be said.

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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.