DEFAULT :: Part Twenty

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The combined French and Monaco fire services are struggling to keep events under control as Ronni slips down the sharp incline that forms the southern side of the estate where the safe house is located: it had been an impressive piece of early 1930’s art deco but is close now to being a shattered shell, yet the blaze inside continues to rage apace. According to Q’s intelligence the tracker’s nearly half a mile away from the house, in an area that’s marked as ‘secondary storage.’ In reality that meant the obligatory underground bunker that would have been retreated to if the area came under aerial assault, marked by an unassumingly anonymous low brick building with two large wooden doors.

Ronni slips into darkness, before putting on the glasses Q had provided as extra field equipment. Impressively bright LED’s automatically illuminate the space yet fail to blind, and suddenly a sophisticated heads up display in front of her eyes springs into life. The micro-earpiece crackles briefly: Q’s voice then is so clear that he could almost be at her shoulder.

‘I have Rachel as my second pair of eyes with Emmanuel and Lizzy on backup. We are all with you, 004, so I guarantee we’ll not miss anything. Please however proceed with caution. We have no idea what we may find.’

‘Q, that is normally my default state in situations like this. Who’s more nervous here, you or me?’

‘I think I win this first round hands down, Veronica. Your attentiveness has been a pleasant surprise from that of your predecessors. This outlook will also give everybody time to think: proceed please at your discretion.’

Anonymous concrete surrounds, stretches downwards, temperature control provided by an intact internal electrical system that meant she could find lights if needed, but would prefer to stay in darkness and not draw attention to their presence. There’s a ramp that leads down to another set of solid steel doors that should be shut yet are wedged open, and Ronni stops herself, distracted by a bright patch of red on the ground.

‘Before you ask, it’s blood.’

The inevitable question is pre-empted, as Ronni leans down, trying to imagine who’s body it was from. Could this be Bond, dragged helplessly in here to die, or better Christian’s, as 007 smashed an already damaged face into the concrete? There is a trail too, drips that lead into the first large storage area, and they are followed as breadcrumbs until almost running into a wall. Looking up, there is a moment of shocked amazement when it becomes apparent not only was her presence anticipated, but had been clearly planned for.

Across the entire expanse of concrete wall is a word, spelt out using the same size of photograph: WHORE. Every image is of Ronni: from undercover work to her running in London, images leaving and entering the Barracks, and out at the Colosseum in November. It’s meant to scare, intimidate a lesser mind into believing life had been defiled and violated for months without permission, but she knew better. This was part of the job description, after all, and unavoidable in the modern world. Ronni begins to take pictures of each ‘letter’ with her phone camera, to allow the analysts to better understand what had been used as potential torture. In her ear there is movement, a second body to Q’s left, and then Rachel’s voice talking away from his microphone.

‘We need to ID when and where every one of these pictures was taken, and ensure the integrity of any of our devices that may have been used as access. I want to know as much as you can find out in the next hour. GO.’

It is reassuring to listen to Rachel already two steps ahead, so that Q can continue to handle the situation with dispassionate attention. There is second word, scrawled across the collage in chalk: PERSEVERANCE, clearly added after the main work was complete.

‘Whilst Emmanuel is checking the integrity of our surveillance systems Lizzy will be making notes on anything we see. I think this word was added afterwards, and is not part of the original intent. Please check for anything even remotely unusual, 004.’

‘Looking at where I know these were taken, none of this stuff’s really sensational, I’d be concerned if they had anything from internal CCTV like Whitehall.’

‘Indeed but I’d like to be sure. I’m also concerned in the dark you may find yourself easily disorientated.’

‘I am aware what happened to Theseus: although I may not have string, I’m making sure I remember the way back.’

There are indeed other words as she moves down the access tunnel, and Lizzy’s diligence will recall them all for later. Reaching a second room, it takes a moment for the smart glasses to adjust to the darkness, but as they do there is an audible gasp from Mayer: from the ceiling hangs a dummy, clearly made up to look like Flemmings, with large metal spikes hammered through both breasts and the crotch. Above hangs a banner, red paint, the word SLUT in badly drawn capital letters. Ronni laughs, despite herself, because this isn’t making her frightened. She feels sorry at the simplicity of the effort: was this the best Christian and Maddy could concoct?

‘I’ve never really understood this form of abuse, it’s hardly very well done.’

‘I feel that perhaps you and Christian may be at odds. He appears to have some issues with your professionalism.’

‘Well, can you blame him? We didn’t exactly hit it off, did we?’

She deadpans the joke and knows Q will smile, that this is all that is required from the moment to reassure there’s no concern for her mental well-being. This room however should be full of arms and equipment but is empty, as Spectre has clearly stripped the place clean.

‘My greater concern past the amateur theatrics, Q -‘

‘Indeed. Our guests have been extremely thorough. Lizzy, I’ll need someone on the inventory for this location so we have an idea of what Spectre have liberated on their departure. Ronni, there’s a room to your left, access code Delta One. Can you check it for me please?’

Doing as instructed, recalling the code choice from her first briefing after taking the number, the area is empty apart from a pile of clothes. Suddenly conscious of her audience, Ronni briefly hesitates before reaching down and smelling the underarm of the shirt, dark spots on the surface she knows are blood. Bond’s blood, shirt he changed out of. There’s no need to rescue him, because unsurprisingly he did that for himself.

‘What was provisioned in here, Q?’

‘BMW S 1000 XR motorcycle, survival equipment and the clothes I assume Bond changed into?’

‘In the end, yet again, he saved himself. Can’t say I’m at all surprised.’

The relief is genuine reassurance since the first time her feet touched European soil, that knowing Bond’s already in theatre takes a surprising amount of pressure off her shoulders. Now, however, a whole slew of new questions suddenly rise to challenge: most notably, what lies beyond the main storage area.

‘Lock was operated about an hour ago, I can now check satellite footage to confirm it was him regardless. The DB10’s tracker’s still registering, 004, lets see if we can recover some stolen property while we’re here.’

‘No. This is where I stop.’

Ronni knows she’s done, suddenly unwilling to continue the objective, every nerve unsurprisingly on alert, and it takes a moment to work out why. Only now does brain register words read as she’d descended into the bunker, needing confirmation of what is suddenly compelling her to disobey a direct order. Explanation added after the fact, familiar handwriting. The letter he sent, telling her the wedding was off, reminder that these circumstances changed the game plan. Turning suddenly, consciousness connects with location to provide an answer. In chalk, on the wall of the small room are scrawled three words: TODAY WE ESCAPE.

‘Care to explain, 004?’

The first thing truly bonded over was music, back when 007 had liberated her iPod during training. This band would always come up somewhere in conversation, and so Ronni felt obliged to buy the albums and, despite herself, began to appreciate a new back catalogue. He knew every lyric by heart, because James was the bigger nerd, and that suited his persona just perfectly when all was said and done. They’d agreed the last night they’d slept together: codewords were easy to decrypt if you knew someone’s history. Lyrics were far more esoteric and mysterious. If they were ever compromised, needing to communicate on an intensely private level, she’d use The Divine Comedy, and he’d always pick Radiohead.

‘Private joke, 007 knew only I’d understand. He knew it would be me here, and planned ahead. I think this is where we use the drone, and I get ready to run if required.’

‘No, you will exit first, I can control the unit perfectly well from ground level. If Bond is telling you to go no further, I am the last person to ignore such sound advice.’

Once back outside the bunker, Ronni retrieves the tiny remote controlled device from her four wheel drive, effectively a camera with sensors and propellers, watching as Q takes the reins from Central London via her scrambled connection. He flies the unit up and away, back into darkness, with a skill that should not be a surprise. The heads up display on her glasses register as the tiny device zips back to their last point of interest, before ascending to just below ceiling level. Another ultra bright LED bank activates and shines down as the unit moves slowly forward, before an alarm sounds, then another, with the sickening realisation Bond knew full well the theatrics had only one aim, to draw her to an untimely demise. Ronni unconsciously begins to back away from the entrance, aware that the unit’s picked up multiple hazards, but that’s the least of their concerns.

As she runs, as fast as possible away from the bunker, there are shouts from up at the house as the fire crews also scatter, leaving the building to burn. Q has raised the alarm for them via the French authorities, video from beneath her feet revealing the ultimate, damning truth. Inside the final storage area sits the DB10, still immaculate, surrounded by enough explosive compound to blow a hole in the mountainside that would make the safe house’s destruction appear like lighting a match.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Nineteen

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The bikes are again utilised: 004 and 009 chase each other from Whitehall into the Wiltshire countryside, all the way to RAF Lynam. Moneypenny is already there, with Felix pretending to be in charge yet not pushing the point. A Tornado is fuelled and waits for them on the tarmac in the early spring sunshine, and Ronni doesn’t let excitement show, despite every cell of her being demanding it. There’s no luggage to check in or passports to remember; as below the radar as she’s ever travelled, totally anonymous to everyone including the skeleton RAF ground crew. As far as they know she’s a Person of Interest, and if anyone asks where the plane went at 9.26 am they’ll insist it was training over the Mediterranean with a single pilot. Eve’s a qualified radar operator from her time in the Navy, so once ordinance and equipment are secured the Tower staff are asked to leave and sit in the Mess Hall for fifteen minutes: if anyone asks?

MI6 was never on the ground, and she’s on her own.

Except in the modern world, alone is something of a misnomer.

Thirty seconds after the plane screams into French airspace Q’s prototype retrofitted smartphone beeps with three distinct tones: scrambler, audio and video. All communication is instantly encrypted from the satellite that’s now listening above to her alone, thanks to the US and their continued gratefulness to MI6 for keeping quiet about those missing nuclear warheads Charlie tried to intercept whilst Ronni was in training. Q had pulled most of his remaining favours to use 004’s mission as proof this surveillance software, pushed through after the same incident the previous year, was not only legitimate but viable in the field. There was a general understanding of how much money could have been made if the Government had decided to launch it commercially, but instead the deal was in place: the Quartermaster got to keep full control of everything, British Intelligence reaped the rewards and nobody else knew until it was too late. She was the first active field test, best way to check they could communicate yet not be compromised, Q acting as virtual partner in the field.

This would be the man’s ace in the hole for reviving the country’s respect amongst his intelligence peers, and Ronni is supremely confident of his success. Normally this would also be Bond’s preserve, but he could already be dead. All that could be hoped for now was the best, that Maddy’s affection for him was indeed genuine. It was a good bet he continued to hold value as a bargaining chip or his death could be broadcast around the Globe via social media as an example that even with Blofeld gone, SPECTRE was never to be ignored. Either way, Ronni would be there for him, until the end. In that regard at least there was a determination to keep the promise given before she became a number.

Working on the theory that the less she heard from London the better, now was all about vanishing from existence with the minimum of fuss.

The Tornado is silent as she slips out of her flight suit by the side of the runway, using the plane as cover. Charlie has five minutes while the French pretend he doesn’t exist, so she can change into camouflage fatigues and head for the edge of the airbase. There will be a battered Range Rover waiting with Swiss plates and a boot full of camping equipment, because this time the senior 00 doesn’t get to stay in the best hotel there is. This isn’t about being hidden in plain sight when so much of SPECTRE’s operating personnel is seamlessly integrated into the lives of the rich and famous. Thanks to the Gendamerie, she’s become a joint French/English mission, yet her silent partner is not aware of what happens after now.

Disappearing completely however shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

As the sun goes down over Sospel, Ronni settles down after dinner outside her tent, staring down on the town picked to be her base of operations on Bond’s previous recommendation. She’ll be fine here for several days, but hopefully it won’t take that long. A couple of extra hours sleep had been snatched too, but no more rest would happen until the address is checked north of Monte Carlo. Part of her knows the guilt eating away at professionalism may never be assuaged if Bond does turn up dead. 004 has to be moving, constantly considering options: sitting here enjoying the foothills of the Alps in early Spring won’t help anyone’s chances of survival in the long term. Yet that’s the plan, to wait until dark, because it’s just easier to be inconspicuous without daylight.

Her phone is charging from the last rays of evening sun, solar cells built into the case also ensuring the backup battery is at maximum capacity, when a message alert brings her back to the moment: local law enforcement is being alerted of a massive explosion. As if on cue there are fire engines and ambulances screaming through the town, sirens and lights blazing, and Ronni has to resist the temptation to jump up and follow. From the direction of Monte Carlo there is a plume of smoke, pushing every sense on alert simultaneously. Her upgraded smartwatch vibrates, Q on it’s face, red letter that reminds this is on the scrambler by default yet there’s reticence to to take it, knowing that the moment they connect this brief sanctity of calm will be gone, shattered forever –

‘How do you cope?’

Bond sits casually on a low bench opposite the changing area; black Tom Ford trousers and immaculate white shirt, holster almost a natural part of his ensemble, considering the question. It was a week since punching him in the balls had moved their relationship on, and this felt like the right moment to pose a question that kept concerning a troubled mind. However good Ronni remains physically, the psychological maintains the ability to destroy everything, and she’d love to know how 007 dealt with the pressure.

He takes a long time to answer, carefully considering the choice of words.

‘I don’t. I lie, mostly: to other women, to Gregory, but never to myself. It’s like a great big dirty wave that you can’t control and just have to meet head on.’

‘But you didn’t lie to me.’

‘I’m supposed to be teaching you. I’ll be honest, I resented this job at first, but now? I understand the significance, because having to explain it to somebody else? You better grasp it yourself.’

‘Do you regret not dealing with things sooner?’

‘You never use that word in this job. If you do, the whole conceit just collapses on top of you. What I’ve done over the years would mount up to enough to destroy me ten times over. Don’t go there.’

This is the most Bond’s ever disclosed about the psychology of the job… in truth, revealed about anything. Ronni’s aware that she’s staring, suddenly wanting to hear him speak, but unsure how to keep the conversation going. It is a considerable surprise therefore when she doesn’t have to.

‘How do you do it?’

The man stares into her soul, only because for a moment access was granted, without realisation the exposure had occurred. She can’t lie as a result, and suddenly doesn’t want to, need to share fear with someone who understands the sensation very well.

‘I run, until legs hurt and my feet bleed to try and find a level for it all, but more often than not I fail. It might look as if I have it all under control but things aren’t forgotten that should be, far too much held onto. I regret choices even now, sometimes wish I’d never even started down this path to begin with.’

The honesty is temporarily blinding, struggle to prevent the emotion of admission from overwhelming everything. Bond senses this and says nothing, empathy both impressive and welcome. For a moment the air shimmers, adrenaline and association creating frisson that renders Ronni brilliantly breathless. As quickly as it appears, Bond shuts it and her down, standing without ceremony.

‘You’re going to need a better way, Agent Ashby. Time to start learning.’

Without a flicker of emotion or concern, Bond’s gone, leaving only stunned silence in his wake.

‘Ronni, you’re not going to need to wait until dark after all.’

The Quartermaster’s in her ear, professionalism personified, and suddenly this isn’t just a solo mission. Despite an overriding desire to not take support Q had insisted he travel with her, that having secondary means of assessing situations allowed better evaluation of most possible outcomes. He was right, of course: allowing Bond to exist alone for so long, as had been the case with all the 00’s before him, had been the biggest single contributing factor to their ultimate failure and demise.

‘The Monte Carlo safe house is now a raging inferno, however the DB10’s tracker is both intact and functioning, and as a result I need you at ground zero as quickly as possible. We need to eliminate the possibility Bond is still at the scene.’

‘You think he caused this?’

‘We both know only too well 007’s predilection for destruction. I don’t think this would be an unfair assumption to make under the circumstances. If he’s back in theatre he’ll inevitably ignore the mission brief and have gone dark, so we’ll need to confirm regardless.’

Events happen without thought, professionalism swallowing everything in a heartbeat. The Range Rover is moving, driving down the mountainside, Ronni having to stop the shake in hands by gripping the wheel tighter, understanding that this was the moment already stepped up to. Punching finally at weight, Bond could be just behind a mountain and requiring assistance.

She wasn’t anywhere near ready, but it didn’t matter.

This was the job, and now it would be done.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Eighteen

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She always wakes before the alarm: it’s become habit, body’s method of showing readiness. Adjusted to mission time, lying in darkness, the bunk on the far side of the room’s already empty. 009’s been charged with the task of flying to the French airbase at Nice, as Ronni’s not logged the flight hours to qualify going alone. Part of an already concerned consciousness doesn’t want to be beholden to LaCroix any more than is necessary, but there is little time to worry about debts and consequence. Confident now of where the Swanns are heading, 004 wants to be as close to Bond as it is possible to manage, because with the volatility of both siblings more than apparent, there’s genuine concern for 007’s safety.

The entire Barracks had been briefed by Gregory at length the previous evening: everyone invited to watch a number of interviews with Madeline, woman looking increasingly uncomfortable and edgy. Bond himself had gone on record admitting her mental state had deteriorated in the weeks following Blofeld’s capture, and was concerned for her health. However he was faithfully following his Spectre mission briefing: promising to protect, right up until the moment things got ugly. Q had replayed the last monitoring to be sent from Bond’s flat and although there were no pictures, the audio was damning. Swann had snapped, physically assaulting him, whilst hurling a slew of verbal abuse; claiming her half brother had told about an affair he’d been having with a fellow agent. It had been uncomfortable to sit in a room of a dozen people knowing she was being used as fuel for a fire that had subsequently resulted in 007 being attacked.

An overhead light in the room switches on, sudden brightness only temporary disorientation. Charlie’s standing with vanilla latte and croissant, dressed to travel yet with hair still wet. The Army fatigues suit him, grey shirt stretched over abdominal muscles that are undoubtedly impressive by service standards. It makes sense he’s a looker, all part of persona, but this man shouldn’t be bringing her breakfast, handed over without ceremony. Charlie’s a pleasant contradiction to wake to, Ronni simply grateful.

‘You get any sleep?’

‘Thank you and yes, but as I may have to wait for engagement when I make it to Nice, it’s not an issue. If all else fails, I can always rest on the plane.’

‘Not the way I fly you won’t. On that front, I’d suggest not eating any more than this, there’s high pressure all the way from Calais to the Med: things might get a little scary.’

‘If this is my last good breakfast for days, I’ll take my chances.’

Sitting where M had yesterday, Charlie watches with obvious interest: there’s no desire, but concern that Ronni can’t reconcile. They know each other only in passing, after all, she’d been undercover pretty much since the last time he’d been here. Yet the man keeps staring, clearly keen to engage and she’s about to press when concern is vocalised.

‘You still feel bad about having to let Bond get beaten, don’t you?’

‘I don’t know how I feel: the training kicked in pretty comprehensively. I keep playing back the ‘no’ he mouthed just to make sure it was the right call.’

‘007’s worth more alive than dead until you’re in theatre on their terms. He’s the bait remember, Christian said it himself. Once they have you in the frame, then his life’s not nearly as secure.’

‘Let’s hope someone from our side’s there to save him when it matters.’

‘Would you do the same for me?’

‘Yes I would, as it happens, but before you ask? No, it’s not quite the same.’

‘I have no intention of ever trying to compete with Bond, for the record, so don’t start giving me that evil eye thing you do ’cause I so don’t need that this early in the day.’

‘Am I not attractive, 009?’

‘Very much so, 004, but this is business, and I’m not an asshole.’

Charlie is no-nonsense, affable and without the kind of self-absorption you’d expect from someone this ridiculously charismatic. In fact, his openness and honesty had been the defining factor in the job being offered to begin with: Ronni can’t help but like him, and there’s no tension, distinct lack of banter that she’ll throw at Tanner, Q and even Moneypenny if the moment arose. His respect is obvious and makes her smile, gives comfort in a moment where her own ability is anything but constant. That comment, for instance, states the case without contention. He knows she’s not available, and as a result would never even chance his arm. However, now there is the desire to ask why, interest awakening as the caffeine begins to work its magic.

‘You think I’m taken?’

‘You know you are. That’s why as a team you work so well. Q likes to call it ‘Friendship Plus.’ I also suspect that’s why I’m being double teamed with Moneypenny. They did their fancy metrics, realised we were the best fit.’

‘If it happened naturally, would that be a problem for you?’

‘I really dunno what to think. We’re pretty good together. She’ll drive, I’ll shoot things, it’ll work on a lot of levels. I’m not sure if she’d wanna be involved with anyone after what happened in Alaska anyhow. Part of me thinks that’s a bridge I gotta cross sooner than later, just because I was the last person who saw her ex-boyfriend alive.’

‘Would you travel across half of Europe in the hope you could save her?’

‘In a heartbeat. I’m not sure she’d do the same for me.’

‘Then I think maybe you ought to be having this conversation with her instead. Q and Gregory are a pretty sound team when it comes to combining the disparate. Bond and I shouldn’t work, but we do because the match-up helps us expose the weaknesses in each other. Sometimes, it’s up to you to take the initiative.’

‘Between you and me, I think Moneypenny’s wearing the pants in our relationship.’

‘She’ll only be doing that because she thinks you’re not stepping up. You’d be well served to meet her as an equal.’

‘And I do, for the record. This is a conversation however I’ve never had the nerve to start with her. You don’t scare me any more, but she still does. That’s my problem, right?’

‘Maybe as the current senior 00 on roster I can help there as time goes on. All I know is if it were me, I’d want someone I felt I could open up to without being worried you’d take it as a weakness.’

‘Do I really do that?’

‘The metrics say that you can be overly critical. Maybe that’s a starting point.’

Breakfast is finished, and Ronni can’t avoid the inevitable any longer, needs to be showered and ready to go by 07.30. As she deposits breakfast things on the table next to the bed, Charlie rises, taking time to think on what had been said.

‘Bond’s a lucky guy. I will make sure when you bring him back alive to remind him of that fact.’

‘You were the one bright spot for him in the whole of Operation Icebreaker. He had nothing but good things to say about you.’

‘I’ve a lot to thank 007 for. I’ll help you liberate his ass but only for you, because he’s got no idea of just how damn lucky he is to have you rescue him.’

Charlie leaves without ceremony, casual confidence in both stride and outlook, and Ronni can’t help but be impressed. He’s a perfect fit for Eve, will bolster her uncertainty, and in turn she will keep him from getting sloppy. 009’s right, she will wear the trousers, but only because that’s the way it has to be to ensure respect by everybody else. With this guy on the team, her backup’s beyond reproach.

All Ronni needs to do is make sure she doesn’t screw it up herself.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Seventeen

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Ronni knows what it is now, undoubted feeling of terror hadn’t been at the situation, but firmly around Bond. Having to leave, even knowing how competent the man was, caused an ache in a manner she could only recall having felt when far, far younger. Despite all the best intentions, he’d not just gotten under her skin. This was something far more concerning and absolutely the wrong moment for all of it to surface, at the time when 004 needs to be at the most professional and focused. The fear that grips a disbelieving heart, sudden and unavoidable, isn’t around ability, or 007’s situation. With abrupt and inescapable amazement, Veronica registers it is not agent that matters here, but person.

James is funny, almost achingly so, and clever beyond words. A perpetual observer, yet seldom boring. The addictive personality understands danger in both alcohol and drugs, often unable to avoid their allure when pressured. Fools are never suffered, honesty welcomed and ultimately, desire embraced with enthusiasm never found the like of with anyone else… Ronni lets everything fall away until the basic truth remained: complete the mission. Locate Beam, save Bond, then worry about everything else. If you let emotion cloud even one step, the end may never be reached. Never forget what he is, however, under the 00 veneer. This man lives and breathes, makes you hurt with absence…

There is then, perhaps unsurprisingly, a knock at the bathroom door.

With no idea of how long she’s been lost in thought, Ronni’s professionalism snaps instantly back into place before getting up, opening the door and expecting Eve, certainly not anticipating Q. He holds a large mug in his hand plus an inescapably concerned look.

‘Moneypenny thought you might find it easier talking to me, so I’ve left her with Curtis now his clearances are organised. You should give Eve credit, she understands you have a lot to learn about each other. I also think 003 may have embarrassed herself by second guessing your professionalism.’

Ronni takes the drink as offered: hot milk, with a delicate, vanilla smell. There are dark spots she’ll guess are real seeds in the liquid: staring at the man with amazement, confusion is not only expected but immediately assuaged.

‘The last thing you need now is more caffeine. I’m here to help you relax, and this is not my proven method… but 007’s. Thanks to him I have vanilla pods in my bottom drawer. Tell me how you feel.’

‘Honestly, it’s like somebody’s kicked me in the chest.’

‘I can only imagine how hard it is to watch someone you care about be attacked and have to stand by helpless. Bond however is more than capable of the task Felix has asked of him, and this entire operation will hinge around all three of you being able not only to fulfil but exceed potential.’

Leading them both out of the bathroom and back to the cot, Q sits and talks whilst Ronni does the same and drinks, amazed at how much better this combination is making her feel. It isn’t just that, on reflection, but the implication behind it that is soothing a troubled soul. James’ care is beyond reproach, when everything else is stripped away. Quiet concern and genuine compassion, if you know how to expose it. As the milk works its magic, their plan moving forward is explained.

‘Let us assume for the sake of argument that the Swanns are expecting you to be sent as rescue, so if we’re going to show our hand, there will be the requirement to strike first and with force. Also, as Bond’s life is undoubtedly part of this equation? We’ll need to at least attempt inserting you to theatre with some measure of subtlety. If Monaco is where they’re heading, it will presumably co-incide with some kind of meeting, as these people also seem to like to celebrate their success in committee. I’ll set up a video link with the French as a matter of urgency. I also need to issue you with suitable field equipment, and as I’m not entirely sure I can trust our contact on the ground under current circumstances? I have a friend inside the Gendamerie. That kind of friend. I think it may be the right moment to call in a favour.’

Ronni stares as Q goes a quite delicate shade of pink. Of everyone she’d worked with, he just never mentioned any personal life out of turn. In fact, the only time there was memory of doing so was in the last days of her training. The Quartermaster’s life outside of the Barracks was subject to tighter security than most Eyes Only assignments, and 004’s curious to know more.

‘Q, I’m genuinely impressed. I always thought you were the type who never discussed their conquests.’

‘Alex was hardly a conquest. In fact, if truth be told, I was very much the submissive partner. However, I must have done something right with him, as we still talk at least once a week.’

‘Please tell me you don’t have a network of friends stretched across Europe for just such emergencies?’

‘I’ll have you know I’m the model of professionalism and decorum, but only about 90 per cent of the time. Nobody ever used to talk about sex in this place until you turned up, it was all just reward for the 00’s and then quickly forgotten. Considering my particular desires, I rather like the revolution you’ve wrought in that regard, and long may it continue. I know your professionalism is assured, trust me when I say the same for myself.’

‘The boss knew about Bond and I being intimate. Was it discussed in committee?’

Q’s not expecting this question, and spends a moment composing a response.

‘I made a call, Flemmings. As it transpires it may well have saved Bond’s life, because your influence on him has seen a marked improvement in communications. He’s the only agent currently not actively tracked too, thanks to Spectre. I was forced to deactivate his system at M’s request, and we never got around to reversing the situation. If you’d not have positively impacted his outlook-‘

‘He’d not have had the foresight to call me.’

‘I will gather further intelligence, 004, and we will hold a briefing at 1500 hours. I would suggest as you’re likely to be in the field sooner rather than later that you attempt some more sleep in the meantime. You may not have Bond here in body, but you can be most assured he remains very much in spirit.’

The man is gone and Ronni stares into the mug, suddenly aware of the depth of her task.

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DEFAULT :: Part Sixteen

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Ronni lies in the Barracks cot, staring at the ceiling, understanding now why 007 never slept off the clock. Even in the relative quiet her mind’s far too noisy, multiple scenarios bouncing in a troubled brain. Mostly the image of Bond’s bloodied face is a concern, that even though she knows where they’ll send her, there needs to be more context than currently exists. There is three weeks of intelligence on Maddy to catch up with for starters, and the understanding that a lot of internal politics had been missed whilst undercover…

‘You’re supposed to be resting, Flemmings, and are not trying hard enough.’

Moneypenny stands in the doorway, dark blue McQueen trouser suit a recent addition to the wardrobe. Ronni doesn’t move because finally, she’s comfortable and it would be sad to lose at least the notion of relaxation.

‘We keep meeting back here, do you think there’s a reason?’

‘Normally at least one of us is on the back foot. Last time it was me. I should thank you for sharing the responsibility.’

Ronni expects to have to move but Eve comes to sit on the cot’s edge, staring down at her.

‘I wanted you to know I’ve made sure Bond’s ring’s in M’s safe until such time as you can hand it back to him. I don’t think you need worry too much about anyone stealing it.’

‘Thank you Eve, I appreciate the thought. I presume you took a look?’

‘Indeed, it’s truly beautiful. Would you wear it?’

There it was, Moneypenny not messing about as was always the case, straight to the point and no deception. Ronni often wondered how she made it through Basic Training being so blunt, and maybe when Gregory came down from Whitehall shortly for his briefing, she could ask.

‘No, I wouldn’t. I don’t want to marry him either. The thought has never crossed my mind.’

Eve knows this is Ronni’s honesty at play, and is taken aback.

‘All the work you did on Maddy-‘

‘- was because I saw her as a genuine threat. Why is your disbelief not surprising?’

‘I’d assumed because James cancelled the wedding -‘

‘ – I suspect as a result of what he knew was coming and not because of me. Of course, I can’t find out and I’d bet it wouldn’t be on the agenda the next time we meet, but really, truthfully-‘

‘I’m sorry. On top of everything else, I just assumed you were the reason.’

It’s obvious the entire conversation isn’t going as Moneypenny had hoped: expecting the woman to get up and leave, when she stands there is clear indecision and Ronni’s immediately curious. Eve could have waited for the briefing to talk to her, and didn’t. That means the real reason she is here will be personal. For the first time since they’ve known each other there is confusion and uncertainty in the woman’s features. Eve’s mask has slipped, perhaps even removed for a reason.

‘I know you told Q you thought I was being wasted at the desk, and Tanner’s told me what happened after Blofeld’s arrest, when the previous 009 suggested I wasn’t capable of taking responsibility. You didn’t need to defend me but you did, and when Bond called and urged me to accept the promotion at the weekend it was a surprise. Between the two of you, this is a second chance at a designation I’d pretty much accepted was lost. I still can’t entirely believe I’ve made it here.’

Now Ronni moves to sitting, because this is important. It’s the longest she’s ever heard Eve talk, and it deserves nothing less than her full attention.

‘I know what Q’s done, that Charlie’s been picked as a partner for me because we’re a good fit, but I’m not sure how this works. How do I do this job when I can’t be sure I’m capable?’

‘That’s just not true, and you know it. The organisation can be done in your sleep, that’s never going to be an issue. I found really quickly that if you trust the training, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. Mostly, it is about faith in yourself. Everything else will come eventually.’

Once upon a time they’d been wary of each other, uncertain, but this isn’t the same Eve from Ronni’s training days. The attack on the Barracks had changed her, added a level of determination to the demeanour that had previously been missing, blown away the myth of an inability to shoot under pressure. When the circumstances had called for her to just step up and be a 00? She’d not even stopped to think. The journey to make it here, via Istanbul and regret had finally been forgotten. Confidence was established, she just wanted reassurance. Ronni knows that feeling only too well.

‘I’m sorry I assumed things about you and Bond. I just thought that if he’d given you the ring-‘

‘I don’t know what to think, Eve. I wish I did. All I know is that I have to save him. I can’t trust anybody else. When I’ve done that?’

Suddenly Ronni wants to be somewhere, anywhere else, and without another word is up and heading for the small bathroom opposite the cots. Being sure that if she cried Moneypenny would be both supportive and understanding, the reassurance isn’t needed. If all this emotion spills out now, she won’t cope for the rest of the day, and this is the time for the training that Gregory gave her concerning stressful situations and dealing with consequence. Standing moments later, back against the hastily-shut bathroom door, 004 sinks to the floor and tries to clear a troubled mind.

Being unable to save Bond had ripped open her heart.

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Fifteen

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The Barracks hum on their return, breakfast laid out in the briefing area with thoroughness that suggested Q was making sure everyone on the primary mission team were properly rewarded. Charlie needs no encouragement to take two bacon sandwiches and a bucket of Brazilian Roast but Ronni’s appetite is less forthcoming. There needs to be food eventually, because with no certain idea how life will adapt or change, eating and drinking whenever freely available remains top priority. A wholemeal bacon sandwich and vanilla latte is taken, but away from the centre of activity. There needs to be somewhere to think, alone, chance to process what’s just transpired at her own pace.

Sitting in the changing area, Ronni can’t erase the image of Bond from her mind, lying on the concrete, certainty unwavering. Felix had his word, and that meant nobody stopped until Beam was located and his ‘package’ collected. However, right now there was absolutely no indicator as to where the Swanns were going, distinct lack of indicators towards intent. The tracker meant they had a fighting chance of an interception, but Q was not prepared to show their hand too early, and so this became cat and mouse time. Ronni hated not having an advantage, and they should. That’s what 007 had taught, admitted he failed at more often than not, remaining an area for personal improvement.

If Bond had known where they were going, he would have found some way to pass this on.

Only now does Ronni grasp she’s not alone.

The young black man stands, looking slightly uncomfortable, a second to put face to name. This is Emmanuel Curtis, recruit from the Army Fast Track scheme. He was a prodigious talent but needed work on both self confidence and communication. His tie’s also a little too tight and that shirt could use an iron across it, plus 004’s pretty certain he shouldn’t be here either as the area had been recently designated as women only.

You only broke the rules if it was important, to complete your mission…

‘I know I’m not supposed to be here ma’am but Q said that should we discover anything I’d need to find you as a matter of priority.’

‘Is this to do with 007?’

‘It is ma’am, I have something I think the senior team has overlooked.’

Almost dropping the tablet he’s holding and then his glasses in short order, Ronni can’t help but take pity on the man, bending down and reaching across to hand them back. The smile is genuine yet guarded, and only then does it occur to Ronni he might have a problem with her seniority. That would never do, and was easily fixed.

‘Tell you what, Emmanuel, let’s both sit down while you take a second to grasp that you’re holding all the cards.’

‘I … I am?’

‘You’re the one with the information. Without your input, I don’t have anything to work on.’

‘I’m sorry, You’re just -‘

‘100% human, just like you. There’s no difference between us, age and rank are irrelevant. If you’ve picked up something the senior team have overlooked? I’d like to hear about it. Take your time, there’s no rush, until we know where 007 is being taken – ‘

‘That’s the thing. There’s a message in your Inbox, on the internal phone exchange. It was sent at 04.45 am and as you’re now on priority it’s our job to check for anything unusual. There’s no message and as it sounds like a dead line the senior team overlooked it, but I know they missed something.’

Ronni’s heart soars: had Bond finally begun thinking ahead?

There is a confidence to this conviction that is immediately exciting, prompting the young man to present his case. Curtis plays the sound file from his tablet and Ronni listens, initially unaware of what she’s hearing. It is obvious why the tech team would overlook this, right until the moment it is apparent there is indeed something hidden in the static.

‘Start it again and turn up the treble, please.’

At the request the young man smiles because he knows she’s grasped the discovery. Embedded inside this noise is a message, dots and dashes that she begins to translate out loud. Morse code, lost and obsolete from communications except when you learnt your trade in the armed forces as James had.

‘Domino… break. Halfway… between… Germany… and… Portugal… break. Trusting… only… you… end.

‘Bond sent this knowing only you would understand the relevance, correct?’

‘Indeed he did, Mr Curtis.’

Q’s standing in the doorway as the young man almost jumps to attention. The Quartermaster has changed between early morning and now, tie and jumper over standard issue shirt and trousers. Considering the message, there is quiet contemplation before he speaks.

‘It’s okay Emmanuel, I’ll overlook the lapse in protocol, because now I’d like 004 to tell me where Bond is heading and as you don’t have the clearance as yet to be on the team who’ll now deal with this, I need you to go to wait for me in Ops so I can change that. Suddenly your skills have become indispensable, and I intend to make as full a use of them as it is possible during your shifts.’

When the young man is gone, Q comes to sit at Ronni’s side, clearly concerned with what he has heard.

‘My geography’s pretty sound, and I know where the Bonds wanted to go for their honeymoon. I assume that is what 007 is implying?’

‘They had a week arranged in Monte Carlo, Madeline had never been there. The safe house just outside the town had been put aside from Saturday on M’s orders -‘

‘I’m not going to ask how you know this especially when I turned down the request.’

‘I used Moneypenny’s login details, please don’t tell her. M authorised the request off the books, she confirmed the arrangements. It seems everybody has a soft spot for 007 except you.’

‘If I told you why I refused to arrange the safe house, you must promise not to tell anyone else. I objected to Bond’s choice. I thought he was being unfair.’

‘What, by using Government property without paying for it?’

‘No, I thought he was being unfair to you. That’s why I didn’t stay past the cheese board on Sunday. I decided his decision was misguided, and now I’ve been proved correct.’

Ronni stares at Q in amazement: he judged Bond. Of all the people in the building expected to do this, he was probably on the bottom of the list. There’d been gossip, of course, but it didn’t matter, all that concerned her was doing the job. To have him admit this with a straight face?

‘What Bond does in his time outside the office is nothing to do with me, Q.’

‘I know that, and so do you. I find it depressing and disappointing however how much protocol and procedure 007 ignores, normally for his own unspecified ends. This, at least for me, was a step too far. Fortunately for him, you seem to care sufficiently to have not only covered his arse but have inspired others to do the same. I doubt Emmanuel would have had the nerve to approach Bond under current circumstances: you do at least present an accommodating and charming front. I doubt he’d have been as thorough either, and so in that regard?’

‘Bond could end up owing me his life on multiple levels.’

‘Indeed. I need to arrange Curtis’ clearances, and you are looking tired. Go take thirty minutes in the temporary accommodation I’ve organised. I need to get Gregory down here to brief you on Madeline anyway, it will give time to organise myself.’

As he stands to leave, Ronni is compelled to reach for his hand, surprised at the need to acknowledge concern. She expects him to simply receive the gesture and isn’t ready for him not only grasp, but squeeze in reciprocation.

‘I know only too well what you’re capable of, and what you may now need to do in order to retrieve 007 from the Swanns. Go and rest, you’ll need it.’

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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.

DEFAULT :: Part Fourteen

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On the ground Ronni waits, poised, listening to discussion taking place mere feet behind her. Only a corrugated metal garage door separates body from the Swanns, temptation to wander in gun blazing beyond compelling. However, Bond is on the ground, and she won’t risk compromising any hostage, for that’s what he now is. 007’s strong enough to survive considerable torture, Ronni all too aware of his level of fitness, but if he’s been drugged or mentally compromised, Felix’s plan could be in jeopardy. She’s wedged less than a foot from the front end of the means by which the stolen DB10 will be removed from site: impressive custom-built horse transport, with a compartment at the rear to protect the super-car. If this goes to type, they’ll load Bond inside too and vanish surreptitiously into the sunrise. Before that happens, 004 has to know he’s still capable of self-preservation.

What concerns more is the conversation she’s become eavesdropper to, no choice but to overhear. This is far more personal than expected, apparent that Madeline’s love for Bond was genuine, at least for a time. What’s less obvious is whose benefit this part of the show’s being performed for.

‘I know you cared, for a while. I still don’t understand why you can’t tell me the truth.’

Ronni really doesn’t need this but there is no choice: Bond might already suspect they’re here, but with the tracking on his car intentionally disabled it is just as likely he went blind to keep them away. The reply takes time, because 007’s been incapacitated in a manner he’s become used to from the women he sleeps with. Spectre clearly got the memo about hitting where it hurts.

‘Things changed. This isn’t the same relationship any more.’

‘You are the man who cannot commit to any future, and yet this is my fault?’

‘I freely offered my life, away from the number, and it wasn’t enough.’

‘That’s not the truth either. I watched her kiss you, how you stared longingly when she left. The moment you knew what I really was, it wasn’t about love any more, but loyalty. Not to me or her, but to the job and country. You could never knowingly betray England, James. It is too much of what you are.’

‘I’m not a company man any more. I gave that up, would have married you if you’d admitted the truth about who you really worked for. The moment you lied, it was over.’

There is a slap, and Ronni closes her eyes. Bond’s restrained, wouldn’t attack her anyway. He’ll allow the hand to his face as punishment, fair penance for what Maddy’s been put through. This woman’s supposed to be a psychologist, specialist in trauma and rehabilitation, yet seems totally incapable of seeing the fault in her own life. Ronni wonders how much of that story is a lie as was the case with her half brother.

‘If you really cared, James, what I did wouldn’t matter.’

‘If I was anyone else, perhaps, but this is all a lie to exact revenge. So are you.’

This time a punch lands, hard and crunching; bone plus flesh sickeningly rended before the thud of body impacting concrete. Expecting more Ronni waits, taking the anger inside, allowing disgust at this pair to evaporate into the rapidly lightening morning.

‘There is no point in discussion, he will not tell you what you want, any more than his friends will allow him to escape unhindered. We have company on the roof. It’s time to leave.’

Ronni imagines 007 lying lifelessly on the ground, blood streaming from mouth and nose, understanding the brutal truth behind why the wedding would have been cancelled. He had been used, in the most damning manner possible, by a woman who is walking from him towards the open warehouse door…

A single shot rings out from the roof; Charlie’s attempting to cause a diversion, enough so she could move in to pull 007 out if she chose. Shifting position to the opened door next to the roll-up shutter Bond’s in view, awake and staring straight at her before mouthing a single word: ‘NO.’ Felix was right, he is playing dead, well aware what’s at stake if they’re ever going to destroy Spectre’s presence. With the woman he used to care about exposed as a fraud? He just went back to the job. That never hurt him, or lied, or tried to push into something unsavoury. Everything was on the man’s terms, in Bond’s hands, and 004 couldn’t in good conscience second guess that, though every cell of her body screams to mount a rescue.

She mouths ‘OK’ in response before making a break to the back of the warehouse where the DB10 waits to be loaded, before slipping a tracker under the car’s rear wheel arch and ducking away, melting into darkness on the other side of the unit. A young dark haired accomplice arrives to complete the loading process, dressed in surprisingly conservative black trousers and white blouse. This is new: none of the Spectre personnel who’d been captured at Bloefeld’s demise were female, yet this one wore not one but twin Berettas. Maybe diversity wasn’t simply an MI6 objective.

Ronni’s wrist vibrates as a message illuminates in darkness: ‘Bond or DB6?’ For a moment she wants to scrub the mission, forget the bigger picture. Instead the letters C A R are drawn on the face of her watch with a shaking hand, expecting Charlie to object, until it occurs this just confirmed Felix’s call. As the senior 00, that’s what she did, allowing these people to escape thinking they’d at least partly achieved their objective. If the position on the ground is revealed they’d know to sweep the transport for transmitters: remaining hidden at least gives an upper hand in the short term. The gunfire continues and finally there is a shout, followed seconds later by a delicate jangling of metal on concrete. That’s a grenade pin. Quick and dirty, enough to throw a wrench in her partner’s attack plan if he doesn’t know its inbound.

Ronni’s palm hits the watch face with enough force to ensure Charlie’s wrist will shudder, loss of audio plus vibration sufficient notice that he needs to move and fast. Hands over ears, the explosion is still deafening and shakes the entire unit, dust falling into hair and eyes. Several seconds later the watch confirms her message was received: ‘Still alive, Calvary inc.’ The explosion blows the Swanns’ cover open and the Met will be rolling the anti-Terror bandwagon out with all due diligence. They’re out of time, as the garage door begins to automatically ascend and personnel files in.

The DB10 is loaded, custom-built container for the purpose, and for the first time Ronni catches a glimpse of Maddy and Christian together. She’s made a great mess of his face, 004 notes with some satisfaction, point that is likely to be recalled when they next meet. His hand rests not protectively on shoulder or waist, but disconcertingly on his sisters’ arse, making alarm bells ring. Perhaps there’s more at play here than was immediately apparent. Bond remains ‘unconscious’, dragged to the back of the transport before being secured inside by handcuffs that won’t keep him restrained for long.

There is a silent prayer that he’ll remain capable at least long enough to keep his back covered, so this isn’t over before it begins. As the back of the vehicle closes automatically, blue eyes open, meeting her concerned gaze with confidence that unexpectedly galvanises. How did Bond know where to look? Because you’re where he’d be standing for the best view. 007 might be physically broken, but mentally he’s stronger than ever, lessons taught well. It worries Ronni sometimes how much alike they think, that they could almost be each other in both outlook and problem solving.

Once loaded, the trailer swings out of the yard and away into the morning. Only when it’s quiet does Ronni emerge, to see the DB6 intact, shining in the early East London sun. There’s a smoking hole where the second warehouse used to, as Charlie athletically drops off the adjoining building before walking over to stand, staring at the pool of blood that is all 007 has left in his wake.

‘You get the transmitter fixed?’

‘Yes, I’ll let Q decide when he activates it. They’ll make a stop and shift the car to something else now they know their cover’s blown. At least this means I might get some sleep before we intercept.’

‘Bond’s really up for this?’

‘I know he is. He was married to this job long before Maddy came along, it’s always given him something better to do when the world failed him. It’s the only constant he feels comfortable grasping.’

‘And you?’

We need to rescue him so he can finally retire and then everybody gets to do their jobs without his legacy constantly acting as distraction.’

Ronni intentionally pluralises the sentence, because Charlie has to be in on this, plus Moneypenny too and indeed everybody else to drag the Service into the 21st century, once and for all. Like it or not, Bond’s legacy is a liability: expensive, narrow minded and outdated celebration of a time that no longer exists and a way of life nobody really wants to remember.

Using him as bait could yet be the best outcome for everyone concerned.

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