Mission Day 31 Evening
Q tensed. The last thing he remembered, he’d been having a drink with Reynolds in an airport lounge. Now he was in a moving car that, after a moment’s disorientation, he recognized as Bond’s.
They were not far from his flat.
After another moment, he realized he was no longer wearing the clothing he’d had on earlier.
The clock on the center console told him it was nearly two hours since his last clear memory.
“Bond, what just happened?” he asked.
“He drugged you,” Bond turned into the parking lot. “Let’s get to the flat and I’ll tell you what I know.”
Q nodded, running his hands through his hair and trying to get his bearings. “Where’s my tracker?”
“On its way to Warsaw, attached to someone who resembles you rather closely.” Bond parked the car and looked over at Q.
Q met Bond’s eyes. “Fuck,” he said.
Bond nodded. “Are you dizzy? Nauseated?”
“No,” Q shook his head. “Let’s get inside.”
Bond brought Q’s carry-on in with them. “I’m going to make tea, then I’ll brief you.”
Q nodded. He pulled his bag into the bedroom and changed into clothes that belonged to him, or rather to Jack, but that was close enough for the moment. He checked the hidden pocket. His cash was all there. The tool for removing a tracker was gone. He returned the money to his dresser where he’d been stashing it for the last month.
When he emerged from the bedroom, Bond was pouring two mugs of tea.
“So,” said Q, picking up a mug. “He knows who I am.”
Bond nodded. “No reason to kidnap Jack. Every reason to abduct Q.”
“My mobile is missing. We’ll need to monitor its activity or shut it down.”
“Moneypenny is already on it, it’s being closely monitored,” said Bond and waved toward the living room. “Let’s sit down and I’ll tell you what I know about what’s happened.”
“I was worried that something was going to go wrong, so before heading to my flight, I convinced Heathrow security to let me watch their feeds of the lounge where Reynolds met you. I saw you have a drink with him, then a few minutes later go with him into the men’s room. A couple minutes after that, you came out again. Or rather, two men who looked rather similar to you and Reynolds came out, they’d swapped clothes with the two of you. They left the lounge, presumably headed for your flight to Warsaw.
“It’s only luck I noticed you and Reynolds exit a few minutes later, I’d been just about to head to my own flight. When I saw you, I could tell something wasn’t right. You weren’t acting like yourself, or like any of the personas I’ve seen you use.”
“How do you mean?”
Bond paused. “You looked… relaxed and happy, but in a vague sort of way.”
“You realized something was wrong because I looked content,” said Q. “Fuck my life.”
Bond shrugged and continued. “Reynolds led you over to a woman wearing clothes that implied ‘nurse’ or ‘health aid’ and he left the lounge. She talked to you for a while, then led you out into the airport. She brought you to a gate for a flight to Thailand and was about to give you a pill of some kind when I intervened. She’s in custody right now.
“The drug he gave you made you—” Bond paused, searching for a word, “—compliant. We had the same conversation a few times, and you didn’t remember swapping clothes, so you clearly weren’t retaining any long-term memories.”
“Compliant, how?” asked Q cautiously.
“You weren’t inclined to act on your own but followed simple instructions. You answered any question I asked.”
Q looked at Bond suspiciously.
“I had to test the theory,” said Bond. “I asked you if you were wearing matching socks and instead of asking why'd I'd ask you something so ludicrous, you answered quite sincerely that you were. I had a medic at the airport check you over and get a blood sample. That’s been sent to MI6 for analysis.”
Q sighed. “If he had an interrogation drug like that, he could’ve been using it on me any night I saw him, for however long he knew who I was. That would explain why we weren’t getting anywhere.”
Bond nodded. “I identified Reynolds on security footage and they’re tracking which flight he took. MI6, or at least local authorities, will be waiting for him wherever he lands. Same with the pair posing as you and him on the flight to Warsaw. We won’t need to investigate him anymore, he tried to abduct you. That’ll get him years in prison, at least.
“We’ll need to check-in at headquarters first thing tomorrow, but I got permission to bring you back here to get your bearings first.”
Q stared at his tea. “I wonder what he wanted from me.”
“Clearly nothing he was willing to ask you for,” said Bond.
“One cage to another,” muttered Q.
“I said, one cage to another,” said Q. “It would be nice to be offered a carrot rather than be threatened with a stick sometime.”
“This is about prison, isn’t it?” asked Bond sympathetically.
Q nodded. “I was going to leave. From Warsaw. It seemed like the only chance I was likely to get any time soon. I was confident I could ditch Reynolds and imagined I could probably convince you to let me go.”
“Ah,” said Bond. “I’m sorry.”
Q slumped back into the couch, holding his tea close to his chest. “I’m going to spend more time than I care to admit wondering, if he had managed to abduct me, whether I could’ve gotten away.”
Bond watched him carefully but didn’t say anything.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Q, after several minutes of silence.
“Abducting me. He could already get any information he wanted from me without my knowledge. His best bet was to keep stringing us along until MI6 gave up and called us back in. No one the wiser how he’d beaten us. Why try to pull off a complicated kidnapping? An unnecessarily complicated kidnapping. He could’ve drugged me once we got to Warsaw and I would have apparently gone anywhere with him. No need for doubles and accomplices.”
“He needed you to do something bigger? Something he couldn’t hide in nightly interrogations?” Bond sighed. “I think it’s time for you to tell me what the two of you did together.”
Q grimaced. “He bought me a drink every night. That would be how he drugged me. God damn it. It was good tequila too.”
“You drink tequila?” asked Bond.
Q smirked. “Yes, he was buying. The good stuff is bloody expensive and I don’t indulge often. Anyway,” he said. “I sucked his cock and then he watched me jack off or fuck myself with a toy. Same thing every night. The drug must have taken effect while I was sucking him off. I would just think I’d zoned out for a moment if I noticed anything at all.” He nodded thoughtfully. “It’s rather elegant actually. That would be why he bound my wrists, fewer possible changes in position that I might notice. I would have no idea if I lost perhaps, 10 or 15 minutes over a couple of hours. More than that I probably would have spotted. An extra dose might explain a couple evenings early on where it felt as if the time went by unusually fast.”
“That was,” Bond hesitated, “More tame than I’d imagined.”
“I know,” said Q wryly. “I did say.”
“I thought… never mind. So, he wanted you for something he couldn’t get from you in short time periods. And he wanted us to look for you in Europe while he took you somewhere in Asia or the Pacific. Which suggests he had some long-term task he thought he could convince or coerce you into doing once he had you wherever he was taking you.”
“Useless to speculate. We’re not likely to determine more until someone interrogates him,” Q sighed.
“Are you all right?” asked Bond.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Q shrugged, looking around the flat. Then he straightened. “Yes. We’re going to headquarters. Now.” He stood and went to the bedroom.
After a moment, Bond followed. “Q. You don’t need to…”
When Bond entered, Q was closing a dresser drawer. He began packing up the laptop he’d been using for the past month. “Yes. I do. He’s still in flight, so is my double. They may not know they’re caught, but his people here may. They can scatter before we catch them. Someone else could take over from Reynolds and we might not know who it is for months. I’ve been playing this game with my hands bound behind my back the entire time and I don’t have to anymore. I have tools, and supercomputers, and a staff.”
He looked around and Bond saw him calculating whether there was anything he wished to bring with him. Clearly finding nothing, he looked at Bond. “Let’s go,” he said, his smile predatory.
Bond grinned. He’d missed that smile.
Mission Day 32 Late Evening
Q arrived back at his building exhausted, trailing his suitcase. His real home for the first time in over a month. He checked his mailbox out of habit, though the office would be holding all his mail for him and he’d have to get that tomorrow. There was, unexpectedly, a small padded envelope. He barely glanced at it and continued up to his flat.
He’d been at headquarters for over 24 hours, catching only a few hours of sleep while waiting for news from Reynolds’ flight, and it had been a continuous, unrelenting series of failures.
Heathrow security had identified the flight Reynolds had actually taken, to Jakarta. They knew diverting the flight would alert Reynolds that they were on to him and they weren’t willing to risk what he might do to avoid capture. With no MI6 personnel within range, they’d relied on local authorities to make an arrest when the plane landed. Local authorities who’d detained the wrong man.
The woman who’d been Reynolds’ accomplice was not in custody. The airport security guard who’d detained her for Bond had also disappeared.
The pair of men who’d exchanged clothes with Reynolds and Q had been taken into custody but steadfastly insisted they were actors who had been hired to help pull off an elaborate prank. They provided emails, a contract, and other documentation as proof. They’d eventually been released.
The blood sample Bond had asked the airport medic to take and send to MI6 had never arrived. No medic employed at Heathrow fit the description Bond gave.
Reynolds’ few known associates appeared to have quietly left the country over the previous two days.
When he reached his flat, there was a plastic bin outside his door: a grocery delivery. Moneypenny, bless her, had recognized he’d have little waiting for him at home and made sure that he had enough for a few meals. She’d assured him he needn’t return to the other flat. His personal items would be collected and delivered to him the following day.
He carried the groceries in and put them away feeling out of place. It was his home and it didn’t feel like he belonged and that was going to be an issue, wasn’t it?
He made himself a sandwich, opened a bottle of beer, and sat down to eat. Then he remembered the envelope and grabbed it from the counter. It contained a USB drive. He’d deal with that once he’d eaten.
After taking precautions to insure he didn’t infect a computer by plugging in a random data storage device, he checked its contents. There was a single, encrypted file. It wanted a password. He decided to try the most obvious option first and typed ‘silver’. The file decrypted.
It was an audio file dated the day before. He took a few more precautions, then opened the file. It was not quite two minutes long.
He heard Reynolds’ voice. “Are you looking forward to returning to Q-branch?”
Then his own reply: “Back in my cage.”
“What do you mean?” asked Reynolds gently.
“I’m on parole. Mess up and they send me back to prison. But MI6 is a cage too.” His voice sounded sleepy, as if drugged perhaps. And he must have been, he didn’t remember a word of this conversation.
“Ah. Do you want to leave?” asked Reynolds, and Q realized where this was headed. Why the complicated kidnapping plot existed. What Bond’s overprotective zeal had just cost him.
“Can’t leave London without permission. Not allowed to fly. They track me everywhere.” He heard the yearning in his own voice and paused the audio. He stared at the ceiling for a long moment, angry and frustrated and exhausted. He hit play again.
“I’m sorry. That sounds awful,” said Reynolds, voice full of quiet compassion.
“You said you’d help me. Leave him. Leave the country. I could leave them.” Q closed his eyes and forced himself not to turn off the audio again.
“I did say that,” said Reynolds.
“Would you? Please? I’m trapped and no one will help. No one even knows I’m a prisoner except my jailers. I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”
“I can keep your secret and I’ll find a way to help you.” Reynolds said with soft assurance.
There was a pause and a change in the background noise that suggested another audio recording had been spliced in. “Hello sweetheart,” said Reynolds. “I’m sorry. I tried. Perhaps I should have told you my plan, but this seemed the safest for everyone, including you. Don’t let them get away with treating you like this. I know you feel trapped, but I think you have more power than you realize. You’re brilliant, and they take you for granted, and there’s a space there where you can maneuver. When you get out, and I have no doubt you will, you’re welcome to find me. I have an offer I think you’ll find—intriguing. Or, if you ever need my help, for anything, send a message with your safe word and I’ll do what I can.”
Q sighed. He’d had a simple, elegant escape plan for Warsaw. And two men, who apparently both thought they were doing the right thing for him, had bollixed it up.
He set about methodically destroying the USB drive. His next move was going to take some thought.