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Equilibrium

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“File transfer is complete, 007. Well done and no one had to die,” Q couldn’t resist a subtle dig after the unbelievable nightmare Bond’s last mission had turned into – three fatalities and 9 casualties, including Bond.

Bond huffed in Q’s ear. The Georgian debacle, as they had come to call it, had gone epically wrong in ways no one could have imagined. All the intel had been complete and accurate, save for the fact that the source of the intel had turned unexpectedly greedy and decided to sell it thrice again. The resulting crowd of foreign agents had converged at once, all determined to obtain the same data while preventing others from doing so.

Listening as Bond left this mark sleeping blissfully unaware in the distant tropical bungalow; Q could swear he heard waves crashing in the background. What he wouldn’t give to be on a beach in the Caribbean for the weekend – or better yet, the week. If it wasn’t for the flying, he might envy Bond just now. Well, the flying and ever-present possibility of things going pear-shaped and getting shot or worse.

Automatically, he shifted into post-mission mode and accessed the British Airways reservation system. It was a good thing the field agents and Double Os didn’t share his aversion to flying or Her Majesty’s work might never get done. “I have a seat reserved for you on the BA flight at 23:10. Please advise should you decide to take a different flight.”

“Thanks, Q.” Q could hear the smile in Bond’s voice at his light teasing. “Tempting though it may be to enjoy the locale, I think I’ll head back before I tempt fate here once Margo wakes up and Eduard returns home.”

“Missing the glory of London in April are you?” Q’s dry tone conveyed amused disbelief at the idea that Bond might actually make the flight he had booked. Surely something, or more accurately someone, would prevent Bond’s return before Sunday at the earliest. He understood how agents’ libidos worked post-mission. The bookings were really more of guidelines after all, though Q doubted M agreed with that assessment.

“Just make sure to inform someone should your plans change and you are not able to return your equipment on Monday. Have a great weekend. Q out.”

Q removed his earpiece and stretched, glancing about the mostly deserted Q Branch. Only two techs remained this late, both part of the overnight shift in case of emergency. For a change, there were no active agents in the field requiring support now that 007’s mission was wrapped. Q was looking forward to a rare quiet weekend at home, pursuing some personal projects that had been teasing him for weeks. Now that the insanity of taking over the post of Quartermaster had eased, he finally had plans that didn’t revolve entirely around MI6.

Shutting down his mission control systems and laptop and packing up the latter to take home, he shook his head. Not even six months as ‘Q’ and this – his new life – had become routine. And what an amazing routine to have; he smiled to himself as he shoved his arms into his parka and hoisted a leather messenger bag over his head to hang diagonally across his body. An R&D budget he was not funding personally. Relative freedom to hone skills that once had threatened to put him in prison. Regular interaction with seriously Alpha-type personalities whom he was responsible for guiding to success and safety. Full access to the latest amazing technology. Seriously, it didn’t get much better.

Locking his office, he waved at the night staff as he exited, “Here’s to an uneventful weekend – unless you choose otherwise, of course!”

~~~~~

Friday night traffic was tapering off as the hour turned late. Q ducked his head against the chill, damp air and walked briskly out of the Tube station ten minutes from his flat. If he hurried, he might be able to get a last minute order for Indian takeaway. His stomach clearly approved of that plan and growled appreciatively. He picked up his pace; all thoughts banished save for the glory that was chicken tikka masala and saag paneer.

~~~~~

Alec Trevelyan, Agent 006, strolled into Q Branch bright and early – well, early for him – Monday morning. Technicians were scurrying about, working intently at the standing workbenches or typing furiously away at their computers. The mission control screens – as Alec had come to think of them – in the front of the lab were dark with no Quartermaster in sight. The door to Q’s office was closed; the access scanner panel lights blinking red to indicate it was locked from without.

Alec double-checked the time on his mobile – half nine. Surely Q was around somewhere. In his experience so far, the youthful Quartermaster all but lived at Q Branch. Spotting a familiar face among the technicians, Alec approached and cleared his throat. The south Asian woman, one of Q’s senior techs who occasionally ran Double O missions, startled and spun around, dark eyes widening as she recognised Alec.

“006, what can I do for you?” Her hands fluttered briefly and then clasped at the base of her keyboard as she tried to smile in welcome.

“Ruksana, where’s the Quartermaster? I have equipment to return for a change.” All of it in fact. It was such a rare occurrence for him that he really did want to hand it over to the Quartermaster himself. Alec turned on the full force of his charm, only to have the technician’s expression falter. Dialing back the wattage, he pressed, “What is it?”

“Er, I haven’t seen Q today. Normally he’s the first to arrive and just about the last to leave, but when I got here at seven, he wasn’t here.”

Alec’s mouth tightened. “Has anyone seen him?”

Turning to her computer, Ruksana typed quickly, briefly, before looking back at Alec. “According to the building security logs, he’s not here. Looks like the last time his badge was read was when he left at 00:08 Saturday morning.” A few more impatient clicks and she frowned. “That’s odd. No indications that he logged in remotely over the weekend. He always logs in over the weekend. The man’s a workaholic.”

Hair rose on the back of Alec’s neck. Something was wrong. Very wrong. “Thanks,” he gritted out, turning abruptly to leave the way he had entered.

~~~~~

“I think something’s happened to Q.”

Tanner’s expression morphed from annoyance at Alec’s sudden intrusion in his office to concern as he registered Alec’s words. “What do you mean?”

“I just came from Q Branch. Q’s not there.” Surprise flickered across Tanner’s face; the new Quartermaster’s standard office hours were notoriously long. He may have only held the position for five months, but he’d all but moved into Headquarters. “Ruksana, in Q Branch, checked the security and network logs and it seems Q left just after midnight Saturday morning and has not been online since.”

Punching a speed dial number on the desk phone, Tanner activated his speakerphone. After several rings, the call transferred to voicemail with the standard MI6 greeting. Tanner cut the connection without leaving a message; caller ID would indicate he had called. Pulling out his mobile, Tanner called what Alec guessed was Q’s personal mobile with apparently no more success. Tanner rose and was striding towards M’s office before he had even pocketed his phone. Alec followed.

A sharp knock with no delay and they entered M’s office to find 007 slouched in the chair across the desk from Mallory. Both men looked up as Tanner and Alec entered. Tanner didn’t mince words. “We have a situation, sir. Q’s missing.”