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THE SUN NEVER SETS

 

The Call of Duty

 

For a moment, he was not the British Government's best agent, nor even a

civil servant with a job to do, because James Bond was lost in the enjoyment

of driving. It was always a pleasure, and behind the wheel of a fine new

vehicle was all the more so. He powered the 1968 E-Type through the tight

bends of the A-Road into Cheltenham without the slightest sign of effort,

driving at just over the speed limit. There was something like a smile on

his face. It was good to forget for a few moments, and lift a little weight

from his muscular shoulders. The last job had been too much, and too many

people had died for Bond's liking.

 

There was a time, after the war, when professional murder had somehow

pleased Bond. He had thought of it as erasing, as cleaning up, and there

were few faces in his personal file of kills who had not deserved a bullet

in them, or a knife drawn across their throats in the darkness. Every man

matures, though, and Bond could no longer think of it as a game. They had

taught him that way of thinking at public school, on the rugby pitch, on the

shooting range, and at the time, he had respected them. Now, their rhetoric

seemed absurd. Facing the muzzle of a Bulgarian semi-automatic in Seoul,

only a week earlier, Bond had found himself remembering a time many years

before. Standing in front of a class of boys, reciting from a book with

childish faith: 'If I should die, think only this of me./ That there's some

corner of a foreign field/ That is forever England'. What did England mean

to him now? What did it mean to anyone? Britain was part of something

bigger, and he felt the most powerful sensation of personal disgust. He was

serving money. Not that Bond objected to money, or to the rich. There was

something clean and impressive in wealth, applied rightly. He couldn't help

but wonder, though, what made the men he worked for so different from Auric

Goldfinger? From Largo? Only the pattern of their Old School Tie. Of course,

these thoughts had made Bond angry, and when he ripped the gun from the

SMERSH agent, he had done so with a grimace on his face. The little assassin

had been terrified, even before Bond turned the pistol on him, and slowly

squeezed the roughly cast trigger.

 

GCHQ came into view on the horizon, a rash of temporary buildings, and

rotating radar screens, and Bond had a moment to appreciate the sense of

impressive concentration it emanated, before the white bonnet of the

growling jaguar dipped downward on the hill. These complexes, full of

Oxbridge boffins and clerks, moved Bond to admiration, despite his distaste

for idleness. In a sense he envied the kind of man who could influence

events on the other side of the world by the power of his mind, rather than,

like Bond, by his stamina and instinct. There was a sense in which Bond was

no more than a trained animal, and it was the code-breakers and intelligence

gatherers who held his leash. Rather them, he thought, than someone acting

out of prejudice. Everyone deserves to have his case examined before

judgement is passed, and before the punishment is delivered.

 

Bond wore his naval uniform, and the bands of gold embroidery at the cuffs

of his jacket brought immediate attention as he approached the first

checkpoint on the way into GCHQ. Two redcaps, sergeants of Military Police,

with the square, powerful build of infantryman, approached as he purred to a

halt. He handed a pass through the open window, and waited as it was checked

in the guardhouse.

 

'Very good, Commander Bond. Doctor Eberhard is expecting you, in C17.'

 

'Thank you, sergeant. How is the old bastard these days? Still unbearable.'

The sergeant's face creased a little.

 

'I couldn't say, sir. Don't have much to do with him, if you catch my drift,

sir.'

 

'Don't blame you, old man. Don't blame you.'

 

The barrier swung open, and Bond revved the sports car through the first

checkpoint. A hundred feet on, he was waved through the second, and brought

it round into the car park. It was filled with little Ford Anglias,

Volkswagens; family cars, paid for on HP, and immaculately clean. No big

engines here, or racing colours. A spot of rain fell on the broad

windscreen, and before the weather got any dirtier, Bond climbed out of the

car, and made his way toward a temporary building in the shadow of the main

scanning complex.

 

A guard at the door snapped to attention as Bond flipped his pass open, and

entered the building. Inside was a small reception. Amanda Eberhard was

waiting to greet him, having been notified by landline of Bond's arrival.

She was a handsome young woman, inclined to muscularity, but Bond was no

less impressed than he had been three years before when she had delivered a

paper at the 1966 Geneva Conference on counter-intelligence methods. Beneath

the dowdy lab-coat, the lines of her splendid body were visible, and her

eyes still had the power to pierce a man like a knife. Her mother had been

Italian, and the voluptuousness of that Mediterranean side combined with the

neatness of her Austrian father gave her a peculiar appeal.

 

'Hello. Dr Eberhard junior, I presume? We met three years ago. Too long ago,

in fact.'

 

'Quite. Follow me, Commander Bond. My father is waiting in the laboratory.'

She seemed angry, and Bond felt inclined to slap her, to snap her out of it.

She was rather a spoiled little prig, and he had done nothing to cause

offence, unless she was able to read his mind. Instead, he smiled tightly,

and followed her through a door into the laboratory.

 

The lab was large, and the upper floor and walls had been removed, leaving

only supporting pillars at intervals of ten feet or so, set in a grid

pattern. A huge glass tank had been erected in the centre of the room,

sealed tightly, and with an airlock at its right side. Bond stepped up to

the tank, hearing his steps echo as he did so. PANDORA stood within, hanging

inelegantly in a rig of fine metal, looking considerably less valuable than

Bond's briefing officer had suggested. Karl Eberhard greeted Bond stiffly

from the other side of the glass, and gestured at his sterile mask. Amanda

Eberhard stepped alongside Bond, holding a similar mask.

 

'For you. PANDORA is very sensitive to pollution. These gloves also, please.

And cover your shoes.' The tone of her voice was unnerving to Bond. He had

the strongest sensation that something of great importance had slipped his

mind, that she was angry because he had forgotten something.

 

Once through the airlock, Bond found himself face to face with the older

Eberhard. The Doctor was bald, and taller even than Bond. His eyes were

cold, and Bond found himself, as he always did, wondering just how

trustworthy this ex-Nazi party member could be. The last time Bond had

voiced such concerns to M, he had been invited to peruse the files

pertaining to Eberhard's trial. The evidence was certainly convincing, and

there was no doubt that the Austrian had followed Hitler reluctantly. His

intelligence work on behalf of the British had halved the time of the Enigma

project. Bond supposed it was as simple as this: he didn't like Germans, and

Austrians were Germans, wherever their borders lay.

 

'You have been briefed?' No pleasantries. Eberhard clearly had as little

respect for Bond as Bond had for him.

 

'Yes, fully. PANDORA is capable of transmitting signals from a high-flying

aircraft, and diguising their origin. Applications in decoy work,

surveillance counter-measures, and on the battlefield, transmitting false

orders to enemy troops. M calls it "electronic voice-throwing."'

 

'Yes. Messervey would trivialise things. This machine is an incredibly

powerful espionage tool, but it is paramount that this prototype be shipped

to its testing ground without harm. I am assured that you are the best man,

and who am I to disagree? Are we not told that an aggressor is the best

defender? There are several important details you must take into account.'

 

Eberhard explained the details of the shipping process to Bond, who took no

notes, as much as an expression of insubordination as anything else. When he

was finished, Eberhard paused, before gesturing Bond toward the airlock.

'You may go, Commander Bond.' Bond nodded, and made a point of taking a long

time to make his way out. Amanda Eberhard was watching him, and their eyes

met for a moment. Bond recognised the expression, even through the screen,

as one of utter contempt. He had hurt this young woman, but he couldn't

remember how. He hadn't seduced her - although the idea had more than

crossed his mind - so there must be something else. She turned and walked

smartly away as Bond emerged from the lock and he paused in the hangar to

watch her. His eyes narrowed, and he reached into the inside pocket of his

jacket for his cigarette case. 'Curious woman,' he said to himself.

 

A fortnight later, Bond found himself at the head of a column of military

vehicles driving westward toward Plymouth, where PANDORA was to be loaded

onto a Royal Navy destroyer, and shipped to Hong Kong. The column was made

up primarily of Territorial Army units, so as to appear like a local reserve

battalion on manoeuvres. Despite the two weeks Bond had spent preparing the

route, auditioning drivers, trucks and guards, he felt wary. PANDORA must be

important for M to assign an agent from the double-oh section to its

protection, and Bond suspected that between them, Eberhard and the old man

were keeping something under their hats.

 

As the convoy passed out of Exeter, Bond became warier still. He signalled

from the window, and slowed the Land Rover down at each blind corner. As a

result of his caution, he had a moment to anticipate the situation when,

passing beneath a high Victorian railway bridge, he caught a glimpse of a

movement. He sped up, signalling for the truck behind him, which had

PANDORA's sealed carriage unit beneath its canvas, to do the same. The

driver was one of the best, an SIS man Bond had worked with in Vienna after

the war, and he reacted to Bond's signal with lightning speed. Still, he was

too slow, and as the bridge exploded in a shower of stone and mortar, the

cab of the vehicle was buried. Bond pulled the Land Rover off road as

bullets began to rip into its armoured roof. He had five minutes before the

seals on PANDORA's carriage unit would automatically blow, destroying the

prototype, and ten years work at the same time.

 

He rolled from the passenger side of the still moving Land Rover, and the

sniper followed it, rather than Bond, with his bullets. Bond dropped into

the ditch at the side of the road, trying not to worry about what was

happening on the other side of the blocked road, and to concentrate instead

on catching the sniper. A flash from a tree-top, beyond the pile of rubble,

gave away the location of the marksman, and Bond assessed the distance and

the angle, before standing up straight in the muddy water, and firing two

shots from his army issue .38. The first shot missed, but the second sent a

black shape tumbling to the ground, smashing into branches on the way. Bond

was already moving, clambering up the stone wall of the collapsed viaduct.

He could hear shots, and shouting. The TA men were fighting, and Bond was

pleased at his decision to use them. Most of them had seen no action, having

missed national service by five years, and were ready for a scrap.

 

Then the horror of the situation dawned on him. From the top of the

remaining bridge-support, Bond could see that he was already too late. The

shooting and the cries came from the burning column of trucks. Men, burning,

were running from the wreckages, and throwing themselves into ditches. The

heat of the flames was setting off rounds in their abandoned weapons. A dark

figure, his face concealed by a balaclava, stalked alongside the trucks,

loosing off ten foot long licks of fire from an old German flame-thrower.

Without a second though, Bond fired three shots, hitting the man in the arm,

and then catching the tanks of paraffin on his back. With a crashing sound,

he exploded in a flower of fire.

 

Bond turned his attention to what was happening beneath him. A large

removals van had emerged from the undergrowth, and, as they moved PANDORA

from the truck beneath the rubble and into the van's hull, two men worked on

defusing the charges in the seals. Jumping from the bridge, Bond landed

awkwardly, and before he could right himself, a foot pressed into his back.

 

'No more trouble, Mr James Bond. We must take this trinket, and you are in

our way.'

 

Ready to fight, Bond rolled away, but a crashing pain ripped through his

leg. A bullet had been fired into his foot, and, despite his struggling, he

passed out. As he slipped into fire and darkness, he saw PANDORA

disappearing behind the doors of the van, and caught a glimpse of a

contorted face as his assailant removed his balaclava. He made a point of

remembering it.

 





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