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When the Sky Falls

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“Would you like a drink, sir?” The stewardess was pretty even by the standards of stewardesses, and James took a moment to regret that he was on the job. Not that he exactly avoided pretty faces while on the job, but after the last lecture M had given him about distractions…

“No, thank you,” he replied with a charming enough smile to make the blonde smile back and flush faintly before turning and, lamentably, leaving. Bond sighed as he watched her sashay away, hoping that he got this mission over with quickly - perhaps before he lost track of that blonde. Bereft now of both company and drink - although he’d proven in the past that he could handle both and still complete a mission with... minimal... trouble - the agent let his gaze wander around the first-class seats, eyes lazily hooded but sharp as cut glass behind his lashes.

Taking down a hacker... So far as missions went, this wasn't shaping up to be particularly thrilling. Although, to be truthful, James preferred the missions where he was supposed to gather information - straight-up assassinations put shadows in his soul, which was already dark enough. He sighed, more resigned than unhappy, having become used to the idea sometime after his second - or maybe twenty-second - kill. Apparently, the hacker he was after had gotten hold of the list of MI6’s undercover operatives, and the only reason 007’s head wasn't on the chopping block was that he was still technically declared dead after that last little incident with a train, an irritating opponent, and other MI6 agents’ inability to shoot something other than their partners. Now, MI6 had him playing the shadow and solving what was possibly the biggest problem in MI6’s recollection.

‘Solving’ the problem apparently meant killing the hacker, because the Powers That Be had decided that anything less was just too much of a risk. Ergo, 007 was sitting on a plane and waiting for the opportune moment to do what he did best: make problems go away.

It didn't look like it would be particularly hard, Bond noted, as his eyes caught on his target. He was just a few aisles forward and to the left of the aisle, exactly where the manifest had said he’d be. Actually... Bond raised an eyebrow as he took in the slender frame, bookish glasses, and narrow shoulders taut enough to just about snap. Actually, it looked like the plane-trip just might do the job for him. Even without an eye for body-language and the training to interpret it, James could see someone with a phobia of flying. That hadn't precisely been in his mission brief, but it would be a spot of luck on 007’s part if his target just up and went mad on the plane, forcing James to ‘subdue’ him - or, better yet, just had a heart-attack. The hacker looked well on his way there already.

James settled back into his seat, tamping down his predatory instinct. He had been molded into a killer, but he was a sensible killer - and the sensible part of him knew that terminating a person was monumentally harder to get away with in an enclosed space like an airplane, especially one that was about to take off and be in the air for hours. Most likely, 007 would endure the trip and finish the job in the hubbub and chaos of the airport.

Which, sadly, would mean that his chances of catching up with that blonde would decline considerably. He lifted a hand and was pleased to get said woman’s attention again instantly, throwing her another smile - this one more rueful - and saying, “On second thought, maybe I will take that drink.”

After the general song-and-dance to get everyone seated and the plane in the air, things were pretty dull, especially for an agent who had flown on so many planes he honestly didn't care anymore. Driving was less dull because he at least had a hand on the steering wheel, but soon his mind was wandering. The blonde was still an available pastime - she kept shooting him glances and smiling at him, which he returned with the reflexes of a trained charmer - but with M’s lecture still fresh on his mind, 007 instead discreetly watched his target. MI6 had remarkably little information on the fellow, for all that he looked like the kind of harmless nerd that Bond could easily imagine living between the covers of a book. So far, Bond was aware of his name - Quint Locke, under the hacking title of ‘Q’ - and that he was a skilled enough hacker to crack his way into MI6’s most secure files, although apparently he hadn't covered his trail up well enough to prevent a 00-agent from being sent on his tail. And, of course, the fact that he was going to have a panic attack before the plane landed, if things continued as they were.

Abruptly, Bond waved for the stewardess again. The blonde he’d been subtly flirting with was elsewhere, but Bond was about as loyal as most curs, so the brunette that walked over received the same dashing grin as he made a quick request. A moment later and she was back, carrying another drink and smiling enough to show her dimples. Bond’s returned smile lasted until her back was turned, and then his attention was on the hacker, again.

The seat-belt sign was off, so 007 straightened smoothly, new drink still cradled in one hand. With an easy, strolling step he paced over until he was stationed at Q’s seat, rather amused by the fact that he was standing over a man he was supposed to kill, and his target didn't even know it. Q jumped quite spectacularly when Bond murmured almost cheerily, “Not a fan of flying?”

The young man - boy, almost - was clutching his chair with one hand, typing away on a small-ish laptop with the other. He jumped so badly at the sudden voice near his ear, the laptop almost slid off his lap. He scrambled to save the thing before looking up at Bond and laughing nervously. “One could say that,” he said, his voice pinched.

He was wearing a dark blue hoodie with some image or other on the front, but Bond couldn't see what, hunched over his laptop as he was. Almost as if he didn't want anyone seeing what was on the screen. His glasses were slightly askew after his scramble for the laptop, and his hair was all over the place. His eyes were a curious mix of different colours as he peered up at Bond expectantly.

When Bond didn't move along, his eyes narrowed and he snapped the lid of his laptop closed. “Can I help you, mister…?”

“Bond,” replied Bond affably, “James Bond. I've been sitting just over there-” He gestured back to his seat idly, one hand still holding his new drink, “-Close enough to notice you quietly going to pieces.”

Because of long practice, the agent was able to say this in a fashion that was more humorous than derisive, twisting one side of his mouth ruefully to match as he watched his unusual target. 007 had been sent to kill people of all descriptions before - businessmen, ladies of class, bodyguards with more muscle than brains - but he had to admit that Q would take up a memorable place on his list. The refined, almost clipped tone was easy on the ears, and it said something that Q’s eyes were quick and bright despite the fact that he looked a bit airsick.

“Care for a drink?” he finally asked when he’d stared just long enough to no longer be acceptable. With an easy shift of his arm (he’d moonlighted as a waiter on missions, to the extent that he fancied himself rather good at it), he extended the drink he’d ordered but never touched. He settled it close enough to Q’s hand that - human reflexes being what they were - the hacker flipped his wrist and instinctively grabbed the glass with a surprised expression. Those eyes (shades of green and brown, perhaps? Plane lighting was never flattering, but Bond was curious despite himself) flicked up to him with a cautious, bemused look, so Bond finished with his most disarming and cordial grin, “A bit of vodka should steady your nerves. I find that getting through stressful situations is generally easier with the addition of alcohol.”

Q seemed to hesitate for moment, before raising one corner of his mouth in half a smile and taking a sip. “... Thanks?” he said. It took a trained eye like Bond’s to notice the signs of his inner confusion. To anyone else, he looked only slightly bemused. Then he perked up, as if realizing that he was maybe expected to offer something in return. “Quint, Quint Locke. Nice to meet you, mister Bond. And thanks for the drink.”

Easily digesting the new alias, Bond tipped his head back, but didn't move to leave. M would give him such a talk about chatting up his targets - and, to be honest, even 007 was aware that it was rather morbid - but the flight was going to be a long one, and he was more than a bit curious how such an unassuming figure could actually be vicious enough to break into MI6 and threaten to share the names of all its undercover agents. Bond was smiling, but underneath it, there was a slow-burning anger, because he knew quite a few of those agents...

All of his instincts, however, as he looked at that carefully smiling face and big eyes behind studious glasses, were telling him that the young man he was looking at wasn't a killer.

Bond gave himself an internal shake, firmly reminding himself that impressions weren't always right, and that orders overrode them... at least nine times out of ten. He would have said always, but then he wouldn't have been 007, most recalcitrant agent in M’s black books. She’d skin him one of these days... “So what brings you up in the air then? If you so obviously hate it, this must be important,” he asked, leaning his weight against Q’s chair and not caring that it put him imposingly close.

Q actually leaned back a little, eyes shifting away to the left. “Business,” he said, patting his laptop. “I need to meet someone about a business deal.” His words were clipped but otherwise neutral. The fact that he’d looked to the left and up told Bond that he was lying, though. Sometimes it was nice to be working with people who obviously weren't practiced liars.

“I’m traveling for business, too,” Bond replied back, just because he felt that turnabout was fair play. He briefly considered flagrantly lying about what his business was - something totally unbelievable, just so that he could see if Q would call him on it. Let it never be said that Bond didn't like to push his luck, and honestly, if someone was going to lie to him - and hack MI6 - then 007 was going to get offended. He got petty when he was offended. “I’m a chef, but work wasn't keeping me busy in London. I figured a change of venue would liven up my day.” He plucked the falsehood out of thin air without his expression ever wavering, although maybe his eyes got a bit sharp and frosted around the edges. He waited to see how Q would react.

“Wow, you must be good, for you to be able to change venues so easily,” Q said, something like admiration lightening up his face. “I can boil an egg, but anything fancy...0 Let’s just say I prefer to order out when I have guests.” He shrugged, but was still leaning away from Bond as much as he could without being obvious about it.

“I bet I could come up with something better than anything you could order out for,” Bond’s smile widened and deepened a careful fraction, possibly... probably... slipping into the territory of leering. “I’m flexible.” As horrid as it was to be flirting with a target, it wasn't exactly a new thing for 007 - actually, this came naturally. Besides, unless Q was a very quick study and an equally quick opportunist, he wasn't going to have time to capitalize on the hints 007 was dropping before the plane landed and the 00-agent killed him.

Q stared up at him, eyebrows raised skeptically. “I’m sure...” he said, the same skepticism dripping from his voice, for Bond to puzzle out later. “Either way, I’m sure-”

Q was stopped from saying any more by the airplane giving a big lurch. Instantly, he clutched his laptop to his chest, his other hand gripping the armrest so hard his fingers turned white. His body went completely rigid, facing the headrest in front of him. The drink, barely half finished, danced off the table. It would've made a mess, if not for Bond’s reflexes. Instead, he caught it and threw the rest of the contents back himself. No use wasting good alcohol.

Seeing that he wouldn't be getting much out of Q until the turbulence let off, he graced him with a pat on the shoulder and went back to his chair. “Nice talking with you, Quint.”


Gods, but Quint hated flying. Around him, the plane shook again. He held on to his chair with a white-knuckled grip, clutching his laptop to him with the other. He should've known better than this. He really should've. Nothing wrong with a boat. A nice, big boat that was close to the water and that you could jump off of when something went wrong. Like engine failure. Or an iceberg. Or-

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts. There is no cause for alarm. We are simply experiencing some turbulence. I repeat, there is no cause for alarm. Please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts.”

-Or compromised structural integrity of the wings, or failure of the aviation instruments, or fuel deficit, or a power outage, or pilot error, or-

Around him, all the lights powered down, including the emergency lights. People were scrambling to get back to their seats and strap in. Q, who never loosened his seat belt in the first place, stared resolutely at the headrest of the chair in front of him, and not at his fellow passengers, who were yelling, screaming, and just generally losing their minds all around him. He was 94.3 percent sure that the popping in his ears was due to a change in air pressure associated with rapid loss in altitude. Also, that the electricity had just cut out. He really, really hated flying.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please calm down and fasten your seat belts! Under your chair, you will find life jackets. There is no cause for panic at this time, but as a precaution, please put them on. Remember to always secure your own life jacket before you secure that of your children!” The stewardess was yelling, but even so she was barely audible over the passengers’ panicked ruckus.

Mechanically, Quint grabbed his jacket and strapped himself in, laptop balancing on his lap, before he clutched it back to his chest. If they had been at an average cruising altitude of 35.000 feet, and they were losing altitude at a rate of 4000 feet per minute due to complete engine failure, this would mean they had an estimated 8 minutes and 45 seconds between start of altitude loss and plane crash. If the turbulence was any indication, they had been losing altitude for approximately 6 minutes now. This gave them another 2 minutes and 45 seconds. Unless only one engine failed, in which case the plane should be leaning more than it did now. In case of a complete power outage, the pilots would also have lost control over the engines and the results would not differ from complete engine failure. This scenario showed most consistency with the current situation, but would imply dysfunction of both the main power source and the three back-up generators, which was improbable at best, yet the best possible explanation to all the facts. Chance of survival based on previous crashes with similar models was approximately 43.5 percent, though very dependent on the skill of their pilot.

Quint gripped his chair tighter as the man next to him started chanting that it must be a punishment from god and how they were all going to die. It was all strangely distant. Quint suddenly remembered the extra protective laptop casing he had in his hand luggage and used his last seconds to slide his laptop in, before once more clutching it to his chest. He hunched over it, closed his eyes and braced for impact.