EX/WHI :: Part Three

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Neither of them trust the car any more, so it is abandoned. Walking into the City, weather is impossibly muggy, precursor to storms moving from Europe northwards, breaking an unopposed two week’s worth of sunshine and shirtsleeves. Chris would dearly like to lose the jacket but remained unwilling in the underground parking area to remove his weapon, a feeling Ami completely agreed with. Both have spent decades understanding that when stuff went wrong, there was always a reason: today’s court appearance may now be anything but routine, so alert is their plan.

Neither is nearly awake enough either, so this unscheduled coffee stop serves several purposes. This is an extremely passable Apple Danish, Chambers decides, almost perfect combination of sweet and soft to make taste-buds forgive him for the handful of peanuts and instant coffee in the hotel room, that pretended to be acceptable as most important meal of the day. As he drinks, his MI6 counterpart’s facial expressions give the impression she’s internally debating something that needs to be shared.

‘I’m concerned about the person who wrote my CIA file.’

‘They’re a moron, without doubt. Don’t stress about it.’

‘It is enough of a fight normally to get taken seriously on my own manor, let alone worrying about what you Yanks are thinking.’

Her broad accent is East London, Chris knows, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what ‘manor’ means in this context. She’s ex-Metropolitan Police, learning the ropes on these streets as he did in Hoboken with the New Jersey PD. They’d both been too smart to stay tied to policing, recruited in circumstances that aren’t really close enough to be considered as co-incidental, but someone probably decided would be a decent way of making him feel at home. Her face finally resolves into a smile, and reminds Chambers not to be a dick because she’s earned the right to be attractive without him flirting at the acknowledgement.

‘How many people have you killed, Mr Chambers?’

‘Twelve. Thirteen if you count the guy I blew up by accident.’

‘So, really unlucky for him, then.’

‘In fairness, it was his own bomb I inadvertently detonated, so we’re not talking about an innocent conscience to stick on the scorecard.’

‘I remember that story from your file: Jihad motivations to martyrdom have always been impossible to understand. Maybe it’s ‘cause there’s too much left I’d like to do first.’

‘That guy was dangerous before the brain-washers got him. Do you keep a card for your losses?’

‘I have a box at home. There’s six pictures in it, all taken on the mortuary slabs. The Department’s Psychiatrist isn’t sure this is a smart way of keeping me focussed on the human cost of protecting Her Majesty and her loyal citizens, but it works for me.’

‘You don’t fit the profiles, that’s why nobody can do a decent review of you. The rest of the World relies far too much on labels and containers. Those of us who prefer to live in the cracks never get a fair deal.’

‘You really want to keep cultivating that maverick persona, Mr Chambers? Your ex-wife wouldn’t take kindly to hearing that.’

‘I don’t give a flying fuck what my ex-wife thinks.’

‘That really won’t help you see your son more than once a month.’

‘I thought about this long and hard on the flight over: maybe it would be best for everybody concerned if my son never sees me again, and we all just move on.’



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DUET : Chapter One, Part Three

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The blonde man stares upwards watching data fill the terminal: as it filters through him there is the notion forming of why Q’s interest has been piqued. On cue the man appears, divested of duffle coat: hovering just out of view, perennially observing as details are gathered and assessed. His brief had been simple: what are Veronica Ashby’s weaknesses and should the department regard her as a suitable candidate for the job she seemed so keen to be considered for? Normally he’d baulk at the demotion to research, but this woman has a resonance with him that he’s sure Q is more than aware of.

‘This woman’s scores are ridiculous. Are you sure she didn’t cheat on the Range?’

‘Her ordinance skills are so precise she can shoot her own initials into targets. I’d like to see you try that when I test you later.’

‘I’m not a big fan of showy, Q.’

‘No, indeed, destruction is your forte. You could do well to learn from Veronica’s finesse. So 007, what do you have for me?’

Bond wants to be back in the field but knows it won’t happen, at least not yet. Quite apart from the fact he was rushed returned to fitness after his ‘death’, there’s still too many wounds that haven’t fully healed. M had used him for clean-up post-Skyfall but then asked for a step back, albeit briefly: checks and balances from the Department’s Psychologist suggest he could happily breathe for a bit, and grieve properly after the events in Scotland. Q had strongly agreed, before reminding that the new people they’d trained should be given a chance to bed in, and it might be an idea to actually let them do the job for a while. Bond can handle PR in his sleep, and may as well be: this is him doing Q a favour, giving something back to the programme. It’s another part of the service package, to help everyone heal after Silva’s rampage through Central London.

‘I spoke to Tanner: he was her handler before being promoted to Chief of Staff. He’s got nothing but good things to say about her work in Acquisitions, she’s literally not put a foot wrong for close to a decade. I’m not sure if that’s brilliant or boring.’

‘Considering how much you’ve cost the Department in the last twelve months Bond, I think I’d take the latter simply as it’s cheaper. However you are not addressing the brief, I asked for a specific assessment of weaknesses.’

‘Personally she appears to live a faultless existence. The eldest of three daughters, father is a senior executive in an Investment bank, mother works as a volunteer at a Hospice. On the surface it’s perfect, but when you start to dig… the cracks begin to show. I looked at the surveillance from her flat. There’s not a single photograph anywhere. No trinkets or nick-nacks, nothing with any sentimental value. The only concession she has is music. Oh, and she drinks everything with far too much milk, particularly coffee.’

‘I don’t think I can mark her down for her taste in beverages, Bond. Anything else?’

‘Both sisters are married, and looking at what we have for her in terms of personal relationships? There’s nothing. Veronica’s not managed a long-term anything with anyone of either sex for fifteen years. Strictly heterosexual, nothing has lasted more than a couple of months. So I went back to when she was recruited and discovered the reason. She was engaged, at 19, to Scott Christopher Redgrave. He was reading Classics at Oxford, they were expected to marry when he graduated. He died in a motorcycle accident on the M4 when he was 20 and I’m betting she never recovered.’

Bond stares sadly at the grainy photo booth strip digitized on screen, four snapshots of young love, and can imagine that it’s Vesper Lynd and him he’s staring at, understanding the terror of sudden loss is still a skill he’s learning after decades. The young woman smiling freely back has piqued curiosity: for the first time since M included this as part of his workload whether he liked it or not, there is a shaft of genuine empathy. The younger man moves in closer, staring at the screen above, taking up the story on Bond’s behalf.

‘Not strictly true, she’s wanted this life since her teens, if we believe the metrics taken when she applied to join Covert Ops. However she is very much the late bloomer, that much is apparent from the last three years’ test scores. This is never a woman who’s accepted life on anyone else’s terms but her own. Once Redgrave died, she did what many people might consider the sensible thing and pretty much gave up on the opposite sex altogether. All her energy was funnelled into her childhood dream.’

‘But Q, we both know nice girls don’t want to be secret agents.’

There is an undoubted moment of unspoken understanding between the two of them. It was a standing joke, no women as Field Agents, and had been until Eve Moneypenny had kicked the trend in the head. However she’d chosen to walk away and go back to a desk, decision under the circumstances that was completely understandable, and one for which Bond still felt relief. This did mean however a noticeable absence of female agents on the top tier, which needed to change, not simply for the sake of quotas and appearances. There was absolutely no reason why women couldn’t do this job, it was no longer a man’s world. In fact, as Q enjoyed pointing out to Bond and anyone else that would listen, the opposite sex were at a distinct advantage, because no-one would expect them to be agents to begin with. It was why the Chinese had so many in service. The British were lagging behind, and it needed to be addressed.

The problem was finding the right women to fit the job.

007 stares at the woman Veronica has become, most recent photo on screen enlarged and enhanced, and finds himself wanting to know more despite his reticence. Curiosity was a weakness he’d discovered Q was particularly adept at exploiting: he could sense the itch, at the back of his mind, need to ask how death drove every waking thought. Running from the last kill, ignoring fear, living with an understanding that every day could be your last. He’d promised himself after Vesper’s demise he’d not care again, and then Eve had undermined his control. She was never going to be his answer anyway, because she’d walked away from the job Bond knew she couldn’t cope with, but he loved.

Maybe Ronni could play the game as well as he did.

‘Do you have anything to add to your assessment, 007?’

‘With consideration, I think she’s a perfect choice. She’ll cope with the grief because she already knows how to. However, at some point she’s going to need to address what I suspect will be some intimacy issues with the opposite sex, because that’s probably the most powerful weapon she’ll ever wield.’

==

Q smiles, knowing Bond’s experience in the field had never been just about the mission. If he was going to tailor anyone for this particular shadowing, he couldn’t have found a more perfect fit. Looking at Ronnie’s behaviour in the last six months, the metrics told him she was ready to make the next step. With Bond as his instrument, the business of fulfilling this woman’s potential had become considerably less of a concern. Now all the young man had to do was sit and wait.

Immovable object and irresistible force would collide soon enough.


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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.