DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Seven

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The last of Beam’s data has been safely transposed to his own portable drive, and Q spends a moment to check the integrity of the information. At the same time his laptop’s more than 90% complete with the task of hacking Spectre’s own mainframe, and once that is done London will proceed with the retaliation plan he’d created and agreed first from a British Airways flight and then from a restaurant basement in Venice. It had been a snap decision, intentionally light on planning, but this at least proved the point that the man could work on instinct if required. At the sound of movement from behind him the Beretta is in his hand, only relaxing when he sees Ronni, soggy wreck of her previous immaculate self.

‘Is everything alright?’

‘All sorted, Bond was just out of his depth.’

She deadpans the one-liner this time with a skill that makes Q laugh, despite himself.

‘You can do this now without thinking, can’t you?’

‘No, I’ve just become incredibly adept at ignoring everything except the mission brief. Bond did a remarkable job at manipulating Maddy, cutting Beam out of the equation. We need to make sure that Christian’s overriding desire to save himself gets exploited as comprehensively as possible.’

He can’t help but stare, beauty unthinkingly bedraggled to complete the task, knowing she’s cried between 007 and here, and hand goes to her arm, because suddenly there’s the need to reassure.

‘Was he able to talk?’

‘No, so I left Felix with my watch: if we need to communicate he’s in the loop, because apart from you and Bond he remains the only person I’m trusting in this town.’

‘Considering how many dead we now know have resulted from this spot, that’s very sound indeed. I’m also beginning to suspect that all our operations in Northern Italy may have been compromised. Spectre are almost as thorough as you are, but not quite. You were right, 004, tonight we fly.’

He uses her own code phrase, final acquiescence to the plan they’d hatched before Felix had met them under the restaurant. Now hands intertwine briefly, shared strength as the pact between them is cemented. Without 007 capable to be her shadow, Q had agreed to do the job. It would mean a different set of issues for them both, but their dedication was already unshakeable. It might frighten him now, but in the end reward would far outweigh risk.

‘How long do we have?’

‘I’ll be into Spectre’s system in less than 10 minutes. Nobody as yet is aware of our presence, though that is likely to change as soon as we deliver the mail. You might want to consider a change of clothing.’

Q was aware of how audacious this plan remains: half a dozen hastily picked Spectre locations, the cream of remaining 00 agents and Field experts from Army and Air Force pulled together in less than eight hours, relying on him and the woman to his left who reeks of marine diesel and sweat. As she goes to change, he ignores what could yet go wrong, simply focussing on the things done best.

The packed briefing room at the Barracks goes silent, all eyes watching as M arrives at the desk that would normally be Q’s. Tanner stands off to one side, quietly impressed with everyone he sees: most were working on limited sleep and an excess of caffeine, yet all were immaculate. The new team that included Emmanuel and Elizabeth had lost their initial nervousness, now all quietly standing and watching as their boss took off his coat, handing it to the young Asian man who now acted as his PR. To his right was Rachel, looking unbelievable on only a handful of hours rest, her team from Acquisitions and Expedition with tablets already out, prepared to take notes if required.

Tanner remains pleased and proud to work for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, most particularly at moments like this. They stand at a crossroads: key Spectre locations in the UK and Northern Europe ready to be attacked and shut down. Q had provided their impetus, it is now up to this team to make that plan a reality.

M stands, surveying the room with increasing satisfaction, before he speaks.

‘When I was offered this job, the world was a very different place to the one we now inhabit. It is staggering to think how much has changed in such a short space of time, but undoubtedly this future remains one not only worth fighting for, but that everyone in this room has a chance of improving. Each and every one of you brings a unique perspective to the landscape we all now travel together, and I realise just how narrow-minded my predecessors have been in thinking that by excluding certain elements, we’d somehow survive better in the modern world. Nothing is further from the truth. It is only by inclusion that we can become stronger.

The 00 Section has, for a long time, been the dinosaur in the room. With Veronica Flemmings and Eve Moneypenny’s promotions, Q’s acceptance of a field role and his efforts to diversify Q Section overall, the evolution of many other departments has become not just a priority, but an expectation. Metrics and organisation have their place, but not at the expense of free thinking and spontaneity. Q may not be here in body, but that man’s drive, passion and enthusiasm for the job regardless of the dangers lives in every single one of us, myself included. We have the chance to hit back at Spectre, but to begin a symptematic process of eradication and redefinition that will finally turn the tide in this new conflict, and return both sanctity and belief to thousands of men and women who’s fight for freedom is a daily struggle worldwide.

I don’t need to tell you to do your best, because everyone here already is. You make me proud, and long may this continue. To your stations, and let luck no longer be a factor in anything we do.’

As the room breaks into spontaneous applause, M knows that the advantage has moved decisively into London’s hands.

Showered and changed, Ronni still can’t remove the taste of Bond from her mouth, and knows why. They’re partners now, truly indivisible, doesn’t want it any other way. He’ll never be distraction, simply strength that will be needed in the days that follow, weeks to come. Now the path is set? Nothing remains but the execution of a plan that, if she and Q do it right, really does give her superiors all the chips to gamble with as they please.

The report that fills the screen in the security room is damning: Q and her are marked as priority targets for immediate execution by any and all Spectre agents. Capturing them alive also rewarded a million US dollars or equivalent. The bounty is ridiculous, but considering the damage the pair of them have caused to Spectre’s infrastructure since their arrival, it seems both appropriate and acceptable. The automated software suite sends the screen above her back to London, as she notes with interest that Christian’s on his way to Geneva, still blissfully unaware of their efforts. However, it would not be long before the truth reached Spectre’s new defacto leader with authorities already on the scene.

It is time to go to the basement, down narrow steps to the crude jail cell, to find Gregory Beam virtually pressed to the bars waiting for redemption. At her arrival he’s clearly keen to have hands untied, gag removed, but Ronni’s glad of the silence and doesn’t have time for conversation. The only thing needed now is for this man to be out of the equation, with a salutatory warning over both his arrogance and its consequences.

‘Mr Beam, considering the number of deaths you have caused today I should shoot you in the head. However, as this would be a criminal waste of ammunition, I would suggest you start running until you hit civilisation and don’t look back.’

She leads him up the stairs and to a side door, watching as the man bolts away into the Venetian night. As soon as their present to Spectre’s worldwide intelligence mainframe was delivered the power would be lost, their position vulnerable, and that was entirely unacceptable. Before then there was a lot to pack, plus more to consider.

Planning ahead also afforded enough time to send a message to the two people who mattered most.

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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 Five

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Bond’s not at the Lab when she returns from Millbank, and there is the briefest pang of disappointment, until Q appears at the Barracks entrance to congratulate on her performance with M. He looks at her with a different air, she decides: no longer his pet project and finally transformed into the woman he’d wanted for the job back in February.

‘I think your performance this afternoon shows you’ve finally grasped the 00 banter. You’d have got more marks for extra double-entendres with M, however, but there always has to be room for improvement.’

‘Were we on the books, Q?’

She has to ask, and the man blushes.

‘I went out for dinner last night myself, with an acquaintance who I hope in time may be as much of a friend as Bond is to you. Despite what you may think, I am not a voyeur in my spare time. That is very much reserved for office hours.’

‘You didn’t answer the question.’

‘I’d need a warrant to place security cameras in your Hotel room, Ronni. I know Bond entered at 5.25pm and left at 6.45am the following morning. That’s all that is required from the debriefing notes.’

‘Does M know -‘

‘He has Bond’s field report, written this morning. He arrived at the Lab in jeans and a totally inappropriate Radiohead t-shirt. I think you’ve done good things for everybody in your tenure. Now it’s time to ensure you’re as capable as I know you are.’

She goes to Q’s office, and sits in front of his sophisticated desk one last time: now everyone who matters has decided she can be a 00, it is time to prove it. She is to go back to the Hotel, continue undercover work, and wait. There will be no return to Millbank until two confirmed kills are under her belt: when Ronni asks how this is supposed to happen, Q simply waves the question aside. She will eventually possess everything required to make them happen. The rest is up to her.

Patience had never been a problem, but it is a decent guess there won’t be long to wait.

Ronni wakes the following morning to a message on her mobile.

Collect parcel for Room 426 from reception.

A plain brown box sits waiting for her thirty minutes later with instructions in Q’s impossibly feminine handwriting: there is small vial inside in which a tiny white tablet rattles, and a locker key tied to a parcel label marked with a west London postcode. She sits in her room and stares at the first murder weapon: they’d sent Bond to Prague, but she was to do her work on home territory. So be it. Dressing quietly, without ceremony, the vial slipped into her apron is forgotten as the room is tidied as has become routine. The locker key is tucked into her Mary Janes, the space she’d had Q make for her specially.

It was her half day, scheduled to work until lunchtime: the tablet would need to be dissolved in the Texan’s orange juice, making sure he’d drink it the same way as normal, like a shot of tequila. ‘The healthy stuff, then the fun,’ is what he’d say and she’d smile, nod and simply stand to allow a twenty pound to be sloppily pushed into her cleavage. It’s not hard to ensure she intercepts the tray to his table, playing the part of dutiful hostess: eggs over easy, hash browns and bacon, four sausages. The man smells even worse than usual, not enough cologne and too much sweat, and as she hands over the glass there isn’t a moment of regret. Whatever this man has done, British Intelligence have deemed it of sufficient danger to end his life. Bond knew what it was, and had tried to warn her, but she’d not taken the bait, because making the first kill anonymous allowed some distance from the reality.

I understand only too well that sometimes it’s just my job to do as I’m told.

There is no flicker of change in his demeanour, smile as large and greasy as always, and Ronni reciprocates as he decides the twenty pound note will be tucked into her garter instead, before handing back the glass. Closing her eyes, quietly noting that one should always take the attractive assignments whenever they arise, she leaves the dead man eating.

Ronni’s cutting toast twenty minutes later when there is a clatter of crockery and a scream, and wants to pretend she’s not heard, but takes the cues from Amy and Jake who are also on shift that day. Rushing out, the Texan is off his chair: sprawled on the carpet, a beached whale. They are shooed away back to the kitchen, where they stand and stare at the door as the Paramedics come and struggle to put the man on a stretcher but finally succeed, before wheeling him away.

Q watches the ambulance travelling through morning traffic on the Lab’s surveillance system, hand to ear allowing eavesdropping into the vehicle’s radio communications with the hospital. A second Earl Grey appears in his favourite Scrabble mug, milky coffee beside it, and there is the satisfaction of a new way of working from everyone in the Department. Ronni had altered many things, shaken up the schedule, and that was never going to be bad for anyone in the long run. Change was good, and should never be feared.

‘I like the feeling that my letter is worth over three times as much as yours, 007.’

Bond positively hated him when they first met, but knows now that judging on appearance will always be met with short shrift in this building whilst he’s in charge. There is a joint vested interest in the next six hours of Veronica’s life, blowing off the last official reception at Whitehall before they legitimately let the agent back to Active Duty. However, his time is best used currently serving overly perfumed beverages to receive absolutely no thanks for his efforts. Only Q could get away with demoting 007 to tea boy. If this all went well, he knows he’d extend that privilege to Ronni as well.

In fact, if Ashby succeeds, Q’s betting Bond will suggest they celebrate her promotion together. He’s pretty certain she’ll turn him down, but that won’t stop him trying his luck regardless.

The ambulance has stopped, half a mile from the Hospital, and Q is rapidly updating information on a screen to his left. The man is dead, massive chemically-induced heart attack, with time of demise being recorded as 10.22 am. They gave her an easy draw this time around, as her second target would take considerably more finesse. Shooting someone in broad daylight in Central London was pretty audacious even by Q’s standards, but she’d suggested it herself and the opportunity had arisen. Weaponry was absolutely Ronni’s forte, and if anyone could pull this off, it was her.

Q calls up Ashby’s file to update, pausing briefly to make sure a particular section is highlighted as he does.

‘Mary Sue’s range scores continue to be consistently better than yours, Bond. Doesn’t that make you feel inadequate?’

‘Her name is Veronica, and the game’s over. Show her the respect she deserves.’

‘Do I detect a defensive tone, 007?’

‘You care about her now as much as I do. Maybe it’s time we both stopped playing games and let her show how this is done properly.’

Q turns, and the look Bond gives is enough to confirm that she has fulfilled the brief for him even better than hoped. The screen quietly updates her progress:

‘Number of confirmed kills: 1’

The two men look at each other, knowing the real mission is about to 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.
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