DEFAULT :: Part Twenty-Nine

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FIVE


The first time both fugitives stop is just before dawn.

They’ve said nothing since leaving Venice; simply walked, keeping away from civilisation whenever possible. Q hasn’t complained about the rucksack carried, but slowing in his pace tells Ronni rest would be appreciated, plus perhaps some sleep. She’s found an abandoned building far enough away from the beaten track for them to have some respite, but ideally they need to be further away from the centre of their handiwork before there is time to truly relax. Spectre’s regional HQ was stripped of everything valuable, before they’d destroyed it to send a message: we will die for our ideal, without a thought. Bond’s salt blood intoxication remains all that Ronni can taste; memory must be buried deeper than a sleep-deprived brain is capable.

She stands at the front of the house alone, guarding Q as he relieves himself, conscious of only one clip of ammunition for the SIG which might not be enough, when it becomes apparent she’s being stared at. This is not the place to talk, and so the man is ushered inside, conscious of anywhere that might be seen with a long lens or via satellite. Only then is rucksack removed, slump of shoulders telling 004 all that is needed. The Quartermaster is exhausted, food and fluids required before any attempt is made to travel further: if his level of dudgeon is any indicator, there’ll also need to be some verbal reassurance mixed in.

‘Honestly, Veronica, I will just require a moment.’

‘You can take all the time you need, it is absolutely fine.’

‘All I can smell is burnt electrical wiring, I assume that passes in time?’

‘Could be worse, there are far less pleasant things to fixate on.’

‘Would you like me to boot up the laptop and see how Bond is -‘

‘It’s better I don’t know. In fact, it’s sensible just to keep moving, but I know how tired you are. As far away from prying eyes as possible while the world still sleeps. Then when it’s awake? We can rest.’

‘I did write this briefing document, remember. Never thought I’d actually have to follow it.’

She hands over a banana which Q eats, bottle of water afterwards that is quickly finished. They move to sit on a solid wooden table, surrounded by decay and damp, still shell shocked at their sudden change of situation. Ronni has already died once: the numbness will, she knows, pass in time. Suddenly this young man is the unknown quantity, both in mental and physical fitness: conscious of circumstance they need to be moving, and before it becomes an issue he’s shifted back to standing.

‘I am also aware of my status as your liability.’

‘There are many words I would use to describe you Q, but liability will never be one of them. Brilliant, strong, determined and focussed are better, and I’ll use them instead. You came all this way knowing full well what the consequences could be. Lesser mortals would have run. I have your back, because I know just how important you are. Not to Country or mission, but to me.’

The man blinks, briefly embarrassed at the regard. In the Barracks he was in charge but this is Ronni’s world, a fact that won’t need reinforcing. Having never seen him deal with this level of stress, remaining aware of what was at stake, perhaps making this overtly personal wasn’t the right answer. However, this was 004’s method: Bond made people want to assist using charisma and sexuality: honesty and warmth seemed to her better bets, ostensibly because that was just easier under pressure. Only now it appears has Q grasped this difference: there is a conscious shift in body language, normally detached curiosity aware and then surprised at what her words had meant.

‘That was a genuine compliment.’

‘Is this the moment when I remind you that I’m not 007 and there’s no need to alter the terms of our relationship?’

‘Your honesty was always refreshing in training, but I’d always considered it dangerous in the field because of the potential issues it might cause. However, hearing it now? That’s exactly what the scared, confused and frightened boy I now am wanted to hear.’

‘You do yourself a disservice, Q. You may be frightened but I guarantee once safe and secure, you’ll grasp what an adventure this has the potential to be.’

‘Is that your reasoning, 004?’

‘Every time I remember what I’ve become there’s a double take, disbelief at this opportunity I’ve been given and that must always be taken seriously. It’s amazing, yet humbling. Thank you for believing I was capable when there were moments I believed failure was inevitable.’

The words are doing their work, both energy and confidence in the young man’s stance. Then he sits back down, closing the distance between them for a reason. There is an admission coming, as the Quartermaster’s voice drops.

‘When I agreed to go dark, I was utterly cognisant of consequence. Your foresight, in that regard, has been remarkable: I wouldn’t have considered many items as essential equipment, would have questioned your need to walk in wet clothing until I thought through your reasoning. I have staggeringly misjudged your organisational acumen, and it chastens me greatly. Of all the people in the World I would want to be on the run with? I would pick you, in a breath, every single time. I won’t disappoint you, and I will make sure I’m always strong and determined. Of that, you have my word.’

A hand rests on Ronni’s leg, brief squeeze from now dirty hands before they’re both standing. Rucksacks are secured, the laptop grasped across Q’s chest, and 004 will keep them both moving until they can’t any longer. With what was pillaged from Venice, they can set up a decent camp somewhere, anywhere, and then her superior can sleep for as long as is required.


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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 Eight, Part Seven

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‘We’ve still not found an easy way to do this, so it will hurt a great deal.’

Even with the area of skin numbed, the pain as the tracker capsule enters her arm is considerable. Ronni squirms with discomfort as Q walks back to the Lab, leaving her to rock backwards and forwards as the ache slowly ebbs. There is absolutely no turning back now, the electronic tag is the last piece of the puzzle in place and with its insertion she’s finally arrived at the destination. This is the top of the game, there’s nowhere else to go.

As the irritation finally recedes she considers just how much has given up to get here.

She still doesn’t have a home to call her own, not even a Hotel room for the night. The things she owns sit in the one small suitcase, opposite on the other bench and that is it: no fabulous lifestyle, just her and the job dreamed of since childhood. The nightmares would recede in time, understanding of what she had become growing over the wounds. What Veronica had always wanted to be.

A proper spy.

A suitable job for a woman.

‘Congratulations 004, welcome to the family.’

Tanner’s been taking lessons from Bond, far more comfortable than she ever remembers in her presence, and extends a congratulatory hand. It is painful to return the gesture: this new position means putting on the professional front 24/7, until you know you’re alone. Then and only then is there time to reflect on what’s happened.

‘Thank you Will. This feels like home far more than I thought it would. It’s also an honour to be able to take the number of someone I know you and others had a lot of respect for.’

‘I think Flemmings would appreciate his successor breaking moulds and starting trends. The carefully placed rumours surrounding your adventures has already had an effect on internal recruitment inquiries. I think you’re paying for yourself already.’

She’d considered it a privilege to be asked to replace one of the two agents that had lost their lives while she was training, and pushed just hard enough to keep her Christian name: eventually M had relented. Eve had set the precedent for that when she took over the desk and the persona opposite her new Boss. Flemmings was the cover that went with the number, surname on a new passport, bank account where the utterly irrelevant salary would be deposited each month. Thank God she didn’t need to practice a new signature to pay for anything any more or Ronni knows she’d be completely screwed.

009 was in China with 008, searching for a lead on a massive money laundering ring. 003 was in Houston, infiltrating a terrorist cell related to the initial incident in Alaska. 007’s location was currently listed as ‘Sensitive’, meaning he was doing something that Q would only describe as ‘awkward’ which in turn ensured that Ronni didn’t need to know, and wasn’t going to push. If Tanner was here, she’d be off on an assignment almost immediately, which is probably the best way things could work out for everyone concerned. The less time she thought about the future the better, at least until the lay of the land was clearer.

‘I thought you might like these.’

He hands over a keyring, on which is are three keys: two look like they’ll fit doors and the other seems unfeasibly old. Ronni is confused, looking to the Chief of Staff for an explanation.

‘We have arranged accommodation and transport for your downtime in London, and M thought you might want to familiarise yourself with both before we send you off to Egypt.’

Political unrest, violence and potential corruption. These were things she could work with.

Tanner is already walking away, calling over his shoulder as he does.

‘Briefing is 0700 on Monday to give your arm time to adjust to the tracker. Have an enjoyable weekend, 004. You’ll find your Jaguar outside.’

She isn’t sure she’s heard him correctly until standing on the gravel outside the Barracks, staring with disbelief at the British Racing Green 1964 E-type. It takes considerable restraint for Ronni not to squeal in delight.


The Jaguar’s interior is exactly as she expects, with one notable exception: a small black box, quietly unobtrusive on the dashboard. Turning on the engine makes a screen flip upwards, revealing the Mainframe’s mobile interface. Ronni can’t help but think that if Q is involved there’s more to it than that, and she’s about to start playing with buttons when the unit begins to flash.

‘Home destination selected. Press Enter to begin satellite navigation.’

It never occurred to her to ask Tanner where she lived, and now her car will provide the answer.

Her heart lifts even further when her destination is the river, that someone in MI6 appreciates how much she loved the old apartment, view spectacular especially at sunrise. Ronni expects to be west but ends up east, in remains of a warehouse converted into luxury apartments. Finding her space in the underground car park, taking the lift prompts a thrill of anticipation she can’t remember from anywhere else. This is payback for two lives, what the Government considers sufficient compensation for your sacrifice.

She can’t help but grin, arriving at flat number four.

There are fresh flowers in the narrow hallway, which opens up to a massive open plan room with kitchen to the right and lounge opposite: four doors run down the left hand wall equating to two bedrooms, a bathroom and an office. She’s already making mental notes on what to change, colour schemes to try if there is the time to live here, when she notices an envelope propped up against a second vase of lilies on the dining table. Inside there’s an essay from Q: security systems in the house clearly need a degree to understand, and so she skips to what seems to be more pressing. Food is in the fridge, new wardrobe, passport and credit cards all in the obvious places. In the office her computer sits with printer and laptop waiting, space divided by a beautiful screen on which The Great Wave off Kanagawa is reproduced. Sitting in the luxurious desk chair she can see all the way up the Thames to Tower Bridge.

Eve has fulfilled her part of the bargain, not just here but in the wardrobe: wonderful selection of clothes she’d want to wear, shoes that make her smile plus two evening gowns that take breath away with both beauty and simplicity. Her entire life has been reproduced down to the last detail: fridge contents almost identical to that left so long ago, bookmarks on the web browser synced. So much familiarity in a place that was still so odd and alien, showed just how much life was never going to be her own again, but it didn’t matter. This was perfect, better than she could have possibly imagined it would be, even though there is suddenly a tiny part that wishes there were someone to congratulate on obvious brilliance and expertise in making it to the finish. She doesn’t dwell however: there was simply no more time for regret.

Instead, Ronni decides to make herself the biggest sandwich possible with the materials available.

Looking for butter she notices a tin, nestled towards the back of the fridge, and has to do a double take. Beluga was not on the weekly shopping list. Her home had been visited by a friend.

She opens the tin, and Scott’s black and white stares back.

She knew what Bond had been told, that morning in the Barracks when she started her journey. He’d covered her back from that first day and would until the last, unerring faith in ability to succeed. Scott had been his companion since the iPod was liberated. He’d admitted as much, in the darkness beside her, that Redgrave was the reminder not to interfere, refusing to let job get confused with ideal, because they were two very different things.

The business card beneath is battered, and the name makes Ronni think that Bond left this with her for safe keeping, or maybe to prove a point. Perhaps they could both move forward finally, that it had stopped being about those they’d lost to get to this place. Then she notices the message on the back and there’s a smile: rewards remain important, the present is always the best place to live and work.

‘Until our next performance…?’

Ronni Flemmings laughs, life finally in her own hands.

FIN

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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.
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