‘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.
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