EX/WHI :: Part Thirteen

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Chris is awake, bolt upright from cold, wet grass, looking around in terror, pretty sure that he was dead about thirty seconds earlier.
This will be the second time his heart has stopped whilst in active service: considering where the last one took place, it is considerably less stressful to be alive here trapped in an alien simulation. He looks for Ami: she’s standing, staring at him with a mix of relief and trepidation before moving his side, checking pulse, as body is gently pushed back to fully horizontal.

This time, there is no objection to her actions: on reflection, lying down’s no bad idea.

‘Because I am a stickler for protocol I’m gonna ask you some questions to check for brain damage. Name and Social Security number, please.’

‘I believe I still am Mark Donald Chambers, 075-26-1431 and I was dead, right?’

‘Very much so and I know as a result your heart’s gonna want some time to recover quite apart from whatever else was rearranged in your body. What’s today’s date?’

‘Friday, June 15th 2018 and you need to explain what just happened.’

‘I will but not yet, not until I’m sure we’re not being eavesdropped on.’

‘You know we are now?’

The nod is almost imperceptible: back at the pillar, his partner wasn’t losing the plot, something happened she couldn’t explain. If he hadn’t reacted so strongly to that touch –

‘No more questions, try and relax.’

‘Aren’t you gonna ask me who’s the joke for a President is right now?’

‘At least you don’t have Brexit to worry about. Be grateful for small mercies.’

A backpack is somehow behind his head and Ami’s fatigue jacket across aching chest as suddenly, Chris is shivering uncontrollably: shock. Almost instantaneously air agitates, now familiar movement as reaction to his condition: a low camp bed materialises to their left, something he’d use in combat training along with blankets and a stainless steel canteen. About to try to get up, a sensation of weightlessness negates any effort and he’s literally floating off the ground, moved from concrete to canvas without ceremony. The blankets float up, down to cover his form, jacket gently placed back into Ami’s lap.

Chambers won’t say another word until prompted: Bishop knows they’re being watched, possesses a ton of intel it’s currently impossible to communicate and he is best serving them both lying here, being a good patient. None of this phases any more, their hosts owning total dominance not only of life and death but the laws of physics, yet Chris just wants to sleep for a week. The thought is acknowledged within subconscious by someone out of his field of vision, and this is no longer psychic sensations. Whoever it was who communicated with Ami in her head before he died also understands the need for immediate recovery.

‘I will provide induced unconsciousness to allow cellular regeneration to complete. When you wake, there will be opportunity to communicate with your partner unhindered.’

Chambers is satisfied because they are being referred to as partners and not subjects there is no danger, right before losing consciousness for the third time that day.


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DEFAULT :: Part Thirteen

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THREE


His first day at MI6 has been more than ever reasonably anticipated, and now at 5am Charlie LaCroix is keeping pace with a woman who he’ll freely admit scares the crap outta him on multiple levels. Ronni can handle a motorbike with an ease seldom seem from anyone of either sex: keeping pace is proving an exercise in nausea. She corners almost at 90 degrees, and how she’s not come off the bike in such wet conditions is still a mystery. They stop several blocks away from where the DB10 is now reported to have stopped, grey and anonymous industrial estate near the railway, mix of modern concrete and Victorian brickwork.

The new 009 is having to think on the run, and is enjoying the freedom he’s been afforded. He’s similarly amazed that his partner takes time to padlock the bikes together with a Service-provided chain, before looking for a way to approach their target from above. Walking in the front door is hardly practical, and Charlie’s immediately alert, staring skywards for fire escapes and buildings as ladders. He’s watched enough videos of the guys who free run this city to know that there’s a whole different climb and jump game above ground level, if you know where to start.

She’s spotted a fire escape, down the side of a disused brick building: 004 is waiting, ready to give him a boost, so he can grab bottom rung and pull himself up. Arms complain until feet are firmly established, and only then does he think how she will cover the gap: turning back to look down, Ronni’s sprinting across the road, jumping up to the bottom rung by using an adjoining wall as a springboard before grabbing it with balletic ease. Flemmings’ parkour skills make Charlie grasp he needed more time watching You Tube as a matter of priority.

Yeah, I shouldn’t be surprised at anything this woman can do.

They cover the last block on the edge of roofs, skipping from building to building, cat like grace in the early morning calm. Ahead there is the sound of an argument, voices in dissonance that become clearer and more strident, and then what is undoubtedly a gunshot. The Walther’s in Charlie’s hand from instinct, not as comfortable as the SIG he’s used to, but no matter. He’s ready, dropping behind a concrete balustrade as Ronni moves past, crouching to his left.

‘Set your watch to Comms, let’s see if I can make it to ground level for a better view.’

There’s not been much time to check out the smart watch that Q issued him with, but because he’s a good boy and has read all the briefing documents on the transport from DC, it’s already making sense. This thing makes commercial efforts to create a truly interactive companion to his phone appear to be designed by fools: Q’s ability to shove everything and anything he might need onto his wrist and make it easy to access is nigh on astounding. Mostly, it’s the fact he can draw on the face for Comms Mode and a series of symbols activates all manner of clever trickery on his, and in this case Ronni’s paired unit. This connection allows the almost seamless switch to eavesdropping away from distorted speech up on the roof down to the clarity of 004’s wrist, which will now conveniently become microphone to his earpiece.

She’s close, managing to get within range of the altercation below. There’s a voice in his ear recognised from an initial briefing on the flight to London: strident, French-accented and surprisingly seductive.

‘I’m sorry, Christian. I only did what I thought would be for the best.’

‘I apologise for getting mad. It is frustrating knowing we’ve lost our advantage because of my failure and this dinosaur. I’m still not sure why I don’t kill him now.’

That has to be Christian, because only a Spectre bad guy’s gonna talk about not eliminating Bond. The fact the man’s silent is a brief worry to LaCroix: who had the shot been at?

‘Because nobody makes your sister as happy as I do.’

Bond is very much still in the game, although doesn’t sound utterly in control: the thump that follows is undoubtedly a punch to somewhere, and Charlie’s fairly certain by the cry he hears that’s not his stomach.

‘You won’t fuck anyone for quite some time, Mr Bond, I will personally make sure of that. That was never my primary focus of interest, you only remain alive thanks to my sister’s assertion you’re worth more as collateral. I find it especially depressing how clearly devoted your prodigy appears to be, after tonight’s performance at your flat. That you would let her do such a thing whilst your lover slept? It is both depressing and utterly predictable. Flemmings was impossible to seduce, yet you make these things look so easy. I fully intend to ensure she’s captured alive so I can make you watch me enjoy her at my leisure.’

Christian’s a psychopathic douche, and I need a better vantage point, Charlie concludes, searching for a spot where there’s a chance of at least a shot at the pair, to reinforce his presence and plant the belief there’s a plan to eliminate them. Felix had been clear: everybody needs to leave, but it needed to look as if the reasoning for intercepting them still isn’t obvious. LaCroix can think of many places on either Swann that he could stick a bullet and still allow them escape reasonably unhindered. That would be his aim.

Make them bleed, at least for a while.


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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 Six, Part One

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SIX.

A week after Bond leaves Scotland, so does Veronica.

The helicopter ride is ridiculously enjoyable, far north all the way down to East London, and Ronni allows herself a moment of self-indulgence with the choice of musical accompaniment for the journey. The morning after their first meeting, 007 had left a parting gift that garnered a grin, despite herself. Her iPod was returned, scratches and all, with brand new set of bone conduction headphones and a note: ‘You’ve earned this back, don’t make me regret stealing it.’ She’s too scared to use it at first, no means to charge, but when the appropriate equipment arrives via internal mail the next day she takes this as a sign ownership isn’t going to get her into trouble. Two days after that a new laptop appears, Gregory cancelling the scheduled afternoon Psych assessment without explanation.

They were moving her to Stage Two ahead of schedule.

The highlight of the flight is the last five minutes, where the pilot takes her down the Thames, showing London in the glory of an early Spring afternoon. Millbank is still a shell, but scaffolding is being erected, construction apace to return the building to its former glory, and the pace of change is reassuring. Ronni’s stomach won’t settle, excitement threatening to reduce her to a wreck of nerves, and the entire trip is a reminder of what there is to look forward to. This is how things will work: already used to the international travel, exotic locations… the only difference is that you’ll be sent there to kill people and save lives. It’s no different from the Air Force, why military service is required for any 00 agent’s resume.

She’d come close to having to shoot someone only once, saved by circumstance. The reality didn’t phase her then and it doesn’t now. Metrics maintain that your first kill is the hardest, because of the inevitable guilt that results. Ronni has no qualms about lives taken if the rationale justifies the effort: what bothers her more are the innocent casualties. Those decisions where a simple yes/no analysis won’t work, consequence and possibility overwhelming a basic need to get the job done. Now she’s over-thinking and it is time to focus on the music, best way of reducing the complex to an aside. Whitehall had started pairing 00’s wherever possible as a response to the issues that Real World developments presented. Ronni thinks she’d still always prefer to work alone.

The parallels Bond had drawn inside with him are more obvious than ever before.


007 stares in the hallway mirror and knows Ronni was right: he is a model, not sure that’s the way things should be. The Paul Smith jacket still fits after a decade, one of the first items Q Branch supplied, nod to retro past that remains very much the present. This uniform worn, rules taught: all a part of the next stage of the journey that Veronica begins. Except she wasn’t scared by the potential, and sure as hell won’t make the mistakes he did, because this is a woman who’s not afraid of what the journey entails.

Suddenly, she had evolved into a role model for how the game should be played.

He’s being stared at: looking down, black and white of Scott Redgrave regards impassively, liberated from Ronni’s file whilst preparation for transport took place at Millbank. It occurs to James that Q must know by now it is missing, the same way he’d repossessed Ronni’s iPod, and that if nothing had been mentioned then no-one was going to question the decision. It was the understanding that she might not want distraction now but there would come a point when it were needed if they were as attuned as he suspected. Taking it upon himself to be the curator of her past, it could be presented with a flourish when the final reward was attained.

Bond only now acknowledges how alike the two of them look, that this might be an issue as time went on, but concludes that Ronni’s far smarter in that regard, and it’s only him that obsesses about past relationships. This woman’s doing it right, and you’re the one who’s wrong, and maybe it is high time you started learning that. His bike sits outside, ready to ride to the Heliport, to begin this part of the surveillance detail. There were far less qualified people who could do this as practice but 007 had decided he was on this assignment until he signed the woman off himself.

It might be egotistical, but making himself a part of her training was absolutely the best thing to do for them both.


After a wait of over an hour at the Docklands Heliport, a courier appears and hands an envelope to the woman who waits, delivered without a word. Inside is a Hotel keycard, postcode plus £100 in cash. Ronni turns plastic over in her hand, wondering what is expected of her, suddenly filled with the thrill that everything that transpired from this point onwards became part of the training. She wastes no time and hails a cab, asking the driver if postcode is enough to get her to a destination: the man pulls out an iPad from the driver’s side door and locates the address, and she’s being deposited outside an expensive Hotel front in Whitehall thirty minutes later with the first tickles of excitement in her stomach.

The room’s on the first floor: standing at the door there is suddenly the wish for a weapon, feeling particularly naked without anything but her hands as defence. As she pauses outside a dozen different scenarios run through her head simultaneously, quietly confident that even without bullets, she’d be able to hold her own if challenged inside. Without a second thought, the door is opened into a room that’s beyond what’s expected on the Civil Service’s current budget.

Two sizeable and elegant suitcases sit shut on the double bed: placed on the nearest is a phone, which begins ringing on cue. Checking the caller ID, Ronni laughs for the first time since she left Scotland.

‘I see you have successfully arrived at the next stage of our adventure without incident. Welcome back Veronica, I hope the frozen north was not too inhospitable.’

‘Thank you Q, I appreciate the welcome, and a great deal more beside. Would you thank 007 for me, I truly enjoyed Kylie Minogue on my way down the East Coast.’

‘Between you and me, Special Agent Ashby, I think you are being quite the positive influence on 007. I saw him taking cream in coffee yesterday, I don’t think I ever remember that happening in my tenure here.’

‘You take your stimulants where you can find them, Q. Maybe if you didn’t run half of us in a permanently dehydrated state there wouldn’t be this obsession with caffeine as a substitute.’

She runs hands over the cases, unzipping one whilst listening to instructions. The rest of the day is for herself, restricted to the Hotel room: expected to arrive at 0900 the following morning for the first day’s worth of secondary orientation at the Barracks, where the real work will begin. Q is deceptively vague but Ronni can guess that everything is about to become very brutal, and the possibilities are making her unreasonably excited.

‘You’ll want to open both cases, by the way, Moneypenny was given a very specific brief on what to buy you and I think you’ll not be disappointed by the choices.’

Ronni does as she is told and is met by a Walther PPK nestled on the top of a rather stylish Alexander McQueen jacket, and she can’t help but stop and stare. The palm print sensor on the back made this piece of equipment worth more money than most things she’d ever owned. There is a reticence to hold it, in case it isn’t real; index finger traces the length of the barrel, mind slowly filtering the possibilities.

You remember the day when you asked your father for shooting lessons. Despite the argument, he finally gave in. In fact, if it weren’t for that head start, you’d not be nearly as competent as you are now. Perhaps there is something to thank him for after all.

‘I suggest you spend some time adjusting your holster’s shoulder strap, the fit’s always problematic when one introduces breasts.’

‘I’m sorry Q, but that’s one part of my body you are not getting to adjust.’

‘Your breasts have been quite the topic of conversation in the last forty eight hours, it’s been a while since we had to factor in anything over a 32C into the equation and this has caused more than a little consternation.’

‘Why does this not surprise me in the slightest?’

She can hear him smiling on the end of the line, that is certain: this amuses far more than it normally would. Apparently the ability to fire a comeback as fast as she can a pistol is as important a skill to a 00 as shooting said weapon straight. Ronni can do one from instinct, but the other is going to need some practice. Q should be impressed that she’s found something that needs work at.

‘You have plenty of time to get organised. Room service arrives at 18.00 hours, I’ve picked some suitable things for you based on how well I know your life by now. I’d expect Bond to be playing the provocateur from the moment you wake up tomorrow. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

The line goes dead, yet Ronni can’t take her eyes off the gun. Finally she picks it up and watches the grip illuminate in a sweating palm: mechanism registers, safety is off and she’s holding a live firearm for the first time outside a range or military service in thirty-five years. Dramatically she spins, facing reflection in the mirror, ready to shoot for the heart: no games any more. Scenarios are history, she’s loaded with live ammunition.

Welcome to a completely different world.


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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.