Human children grow up on tales of princesses and dragons.
They have the Princess and the Frog and Snow White and the Sword in the Stone. They learn that no monster is without a weakness, that every evil stepmother gets caught and that the good and the pure will always prevail in the end. They learn that magic can be a good thing, that fairy godmothers and genies in lamps are outside forces that can never be the center of the story from Cinderella and Aladdin. They learn that magic is a bad thing used only by the forces of evil from Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel. They learn that the underdog will always win against a seemingly unbeatable enemy if they just believe in themselves and in the power of friendship and true love from Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast.
Angel fledglings grow up on the legends of their ancestors.
They learn of the Blood of Azrael and the first Angel Lords, the first of their kind. They learn of the value of power and of keeping it hidden, of responsibility and non-interference. They have legendary healers and legendary warriors, saving lives at impossible odds and manipulating the elements. They learn of the things they can and cannot do with their power and that every angel parent is irrationally fond of the tale of Icarus.
Children don’t understand that they’re told different things. They don’t understand the social divides that will guide one to be a paramedic or a vaguely mortal killing machine while the other is a politician or a small business owner. Their games, taught by the eldest to the youngest and passed down to children by children, become a strange amalgam of the two. The prince doesn’t need to climb Rapunzel’s hair, not when he can fly, so of course there are obstacle courses and jump rope challenges and silly traps set by the witch. Magic isn’t a child’s dream, it’s Susie from down the road making sparks when she’s angry and John the school bully who can make patches of ice appear under the feet of those who irritate him and everybody goes to four-year-old Agatha when they’re hurt because she can make it go away.
And when they grow up, they learn the difference between real magic and story magic. They learn that real magic is the paramedics who can stabilize anyone without any equipment at all and the special forces on television who can pull impossible feats and the actors who play them in the movies. That’s real magic. It has rules and limitations that are well-known to anyone who paid attention in class. It isn’t the tales of the archangels who bent the world to their will.
They grow up. They move on. The memories of childhood games are set aside for surprise reunions and bonding with their own children, listening to the clamor of new voices telling them how the Three Little Pigs are clearly supposed to be archangels because nobody can build a house that fast. Can pigs be archangels? I don’t know, honey, they answer, but I’ll ask one the next time I see one.
They forget about it almost as soon as they say it.
Archangels are a fairy tale, after all.
Excerpt from A Comprehensive History of Archangels: From Myth to Science
“Ronson’s down. He needs medical evac.”
007’s voice echoes around the Situation Room at MI6, the first thing he’s said in long minutes of clearing the building. M paces back and forth, high heels click click clicking across the tile. Where she passes, faces are buried back in computer screens with a clatter of hurried typing. Nobody wants to draw her attention right now.
“Where is it? Is it there?”
It’s the sign for everyone else to start talking again.
“Vivian, get Retrieval on their way,” Major Boothroyd orders, sliding between computers to look at Medical’s reports on all of their agents in the field. “How long for Bond to stabilize him?”
“Based on our most recent tests of 007’s healing ability,” Laura from Medical lists off, “Five minutes to stabilize Ronson and he’s not capable of healing him completely. And that’s if he’s not healing any of his own wounds at the time.”
“Hard drive’s gone,” 007 replies over the speakers.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s gone. Give me a minute.”
“They must have it.” There’s a split second while M’s making a decision. “Get after them.”
“I’m stabilizing Ronson.”
M glances over at Major Boothroyd, who shakes his head. They don’t have the time. The hard drive is encrypted, but according to Sebastian, the list of people who are capable of decrypting it is too long for comfort. If they lose this, it will be a disaster on the scale of very little they’ve ever seen. M nods, turning back to the microphone without hesitation.
“We don’t have the time.”
“I have to stop the bleeding!”
The entire room falls silent again, not all at once but rather with bursts of conversation getting quieter and further apart. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that the Double-0s are people. They’re weapons, MI6’s strongest weapons. Destruction follows where they walk and nobody blinks an eye. It’s an uncomfortable reminder, the frustration in Bond’s voice- 007’s voice.
Easier to think of him by his service number. Easier to pretend he doesn’t feel, that they all don’t feel, while they make decisions with a man’s life in the balance.
“Moneypenny has a vehicle,” Sebastian reports. “She’s outside with eyes on the target.”
“Have you got him?” 007 demands.
“He’s in the black Audi.”
“What about Ronson? He’s been hit.”
M looks to Vivian, who mutes the microphone on her earwig. “Retrieval is on their way, M. Five minutes, tops. They have O’Brien with them- if there’s even a spark left in Ronson when they get there, O’Brien can stabilize him.”
“We’re sending an emergency evacuation squad,” she informs 007 coolly.
“They’ll be too bloody late!” 007 snaps.
“Sebastian,” Major Boothroyd orders, “I need all CCTV coverage in the area that you can find. Try to get us visuals on 007 and on the target.”
“Yes, sir.” He starts pulling up dozens of grainy camera feeds to the main screen, showing a car chase into a market square, feeds replaced by new ones the minute they’re no longer useful. There’s crashing cars and gunfire and a few well-timed explosions of Bond’s making. Business as usual, when they put angels in the field.
Every single Double-0 is an angel. They’re hard to kill, they fly, and they wield destruction with a wave of their hands. It’s a useful system, and MI6 is all about wringing the most efficiency out of every single employee.
007 takes off after the target on a motorcycle, ignoring anything M shouts over his comms, and Vivian hands Moneypenny’s comms over to M instead. She stares out the window, pointedly ignoring any of the agents clamoring for her attention while Tanner directs Moneypenny through the streets of Istanbul.
Sebastian lets himself tune everything else out, everything but the click of keys as he hunts for the next camera and the one after that and the one after that. He finishes his cup of tea and someone refills it, someone must have because he has more tea now and M isn’t giving him the look that screams you’ve made a mistake, what happened to playing normal?
He still gets that look occasionally, forgets that his cup has to be refilled and he has to use his hands to pick things up and all that nonsense. Vivian’s better at it than he is, says it was the extra five minutes she had before he was born.
Eventually, he runs out of cameras. 007 is on a train, Moneypenny trailing along in the right of way putting her vehicle’s all terrain capabilities to test, and there aren’t any more cameras.
“We’ve lost tracking,” he tells Major Boothroyd. “Going blind.”
“Get my CCTV, satellite, anything!” M snaps at him, back to her pacing. Her steps are crisp, perfectly equidistant with a pause and a scrape as she makes a sharp 180 when she runs out of room. The humans in the room can’t tell yet, but M’s wings are just outside of tangibility, snapping out on the edges of his senses. Major Boothroyd watches her, moving everything he doesn’t want to risk replacing to the edges of the room and sending a couple of baby Q Branch techs to remove the prototypes he was tinkering with back to his lab.
“I’ve got nothing, M,” Sebastian answers, pushing his keyboard away. “Even if I did, the train’s moving too fast for us to see much of anything.”
Step, step, step and turn. M ignores him, returning to the microphone as there’s a nasty crumpling sound and the screech of metal-on-metal. Major Boothroyd is slipping between computers again, checking on all the little details now, the details M doesn’t have the time nor the patience for.
Retrieval got to Ronson.
Ronson was a good agent. He was human, which right now Sebastian can’t help but see as a flaw. Had Ronson been an angel, he would have survived that. Of course, had Ronson been an angel, he wouldn’t have been on that mission anyways. Humans go unseen in the underworld, unsuspected, because the most well-known of agents are angels.
They would have never gotten this close to the stolen hard drive without Ronson, and they let him die for it.
Such is the business.
Sebastian will be upset about it later, but for now he has a job to do.
“007, are you all right?”
“Just changing carriages,” 007 replies. He’s back to sounding unruffled, the veneer of calm that all the best agents have. And despite M’s frustrations with him- the Le Chiffre incident, for one, and everything that happened with Quantum after that- 007 has become one of the best.
“What’s going on? Report!”
“It’s rather hard to explain, ma’am,” Moneypenny quips.
The entire room is watching M at the front of the room now. Tanner sits on one side of her empty chair, Boothroyd sliding into the chair on the other side, while she paces. Up on the wall of the Situation Room, the last camera feeds of Istanbul watch a bridge over empty railroad tracks, the market where people are only now starting to pick up the mess with a resigned sort of patience, and a lone camera carried by one of the members of the Retrieval team watching as they bag up Ronson’s body for transport. Sebastian hasn’t shut them off yet. It’s important to remember what this is costing them.
“Looks like there isn’t much more road,” Moneypenny finally says. “I don’t think I can go any further. I may have a shot. It’s not clean. Repeat, I do not have a clean shot.”
The train horn blares, drowning out the sound of Moneypenny getting into position.
“There’s a tunnel ahead. I’m gonna lose them.”
“Can you get into a better position?”
It’s a reasonable question. Moneypenny’s an angel, too. She can leave the car, open her wings, and find a shot. She’s one of the strongest angels they have in the field, destined for the Double-0 Program one of these days. M wouldn’t have it any other way. Mi6 needs everyone at their fullest potential, and that’s the end of it.
“Negative. There’s no time.”
“Take the shot.”
The Situation Room falls dead silent. M is leaning on the back of her chair now, microphone out in front of her. Major Boothroyd lifts a hand, resting it almost absentmindedly on the back of M’s for a moment before she shrugs him away.
“I said, take the shot.”
“I can’t! I may hit Bond.”
“Take the bloody shot!”
The gunshot echoes off the walls, fading away to the hiss of the wind and the distant rattle of the train on the tracks. Everyone knows, without saying, but they all hold their breath and wait. The train horn sounds again, the drawn out long long short long of a train approaching a crossing.