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Dead Ringer

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#1 Captain Tightpants

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Posted 07 June 2011 - 07:54 AM

Captain Tighpants presents

Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in


This is a work of fiction, using characters created by Ian Fleming. The author recognises that
he has no right to claim these characters as his own - I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Chapter I -- Dear One
Somewhere off the coast of Cape Verde, West Africa

In life, it is said that two things are certain: death, and taxes.

In the intelligence community, it is much the same. Death is an inevitability - indeed, it is often a means to an end, or in some cases, the end itself - but the difference between life and intelligence work is in the second certainty: not taxes, but bad intelligence. Which is precisely how James Bond came to find himself five miles from where he was supposed to be, nearly thirty miles from where intelligence said he should have been, and God alone knew how far he was from land.

He surfaced in the roiling sea, letting the momentum of the enormous waves carry him about while he searched the horizon. He could not rightly assign blame for the mistake, partially because he did not know who to blame, and partially because he did not have the time to go blaming anyone for his current predicament, but mostly because the culprit was Mother Nature herself, unleashing a minor fury on the Atlantic Ocean. In their hurry to plan an operation with a limited window of opportunity, someone had forgotten to check the weather, and now Bond found himself at the mercy of the currents and large waves around him. Scanning the horizon, he spotted a faint glow that he knew to be his target. By his rough estimation, the mishap with the weather had put him further out to sea than he had originally planned, and so the glow could only be one thing. Still, best to be sure. He let the next wave lift him up, and sure enough, the glow took shape: a boat. Satisfied that his target had been confirmed, Bond tucked himself over and dived back down under the water before the wave could break. He started swimming towards the boat, letting each wave push him further and further in the general direction and adjusting his position between the waves. It took longer than if he had swum straight to it, but it used less energy, and Bond's instincts told him that he was in for a long night. Besides, the boat was not going anywhere. The fool at the helm had decided to fight the waves rather than ride the storm out and circle back around to his destination.

Her name was the MV Milaya, a Russian word meaning "dear one". She was a small cruise liner; there the likes of the Queen Mary II could hold over three thousand passengers, the Milaya barely held five hundred. Registered in Bulgaria and flying the flag of Estonia, she was twenty-five years old, and her age was starting to show. She was certainly not the kind of pleasure liner that people wanted to board. Indeed, as far as MI6 could tell, she had never made landfall and taken on passengers in at least a decade and possibly more. Closer examination had found a confusing mire of shell companies and dummy corporations that made it almost impossible to determine who actually owned the cruise ship.

The Milaya had first appeared on MI6's radar after she emerged from the Baltic Sea. Most commecial shipping liners went through the Kiel Canal, starting at the German city of Kiel and ending at Brunsbuttel, effectively bypassing Denmark before heading for the English Channel. The Milaya on the other hand, had swung north through the Kattegat before turning into the Skagerrak, the two straits that separated Denmark from Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. She had then taken a long and involved loop, circling up around Scotland before disappearing entirely. MI6 had scoured the North Sea looking for her, but she had disappeared entirely before reappearing weeks later somewhere off the coast of Morocco. After contacting a well-placed source in St. Petersburg, MI6 had discovered that the Milaya's intended destination was Nicosia in Cyprus, which demanded the question of why the crew had suddenly decided to head south. With a satellite trained on the cruise liner full-time, MI6 had launched an investigation and James Bond had been dispatched, flying out from Gibraltar before parachuting onto the site.

Another wave picked Bond up as he approached the cruise liner, and he was about to slip under when he spotted a second set of lights beyond the Milaya. Despite the captain's dogged refusal to follow conventional shipping lanes, the storm had blown her into one. Bond slipped under the wave just in time to avoid being carried into the side of the Milaya. He surfaced again and began franctically searching for a ladder to avoid being pulled under by the ship as she passed by. It took him a long moment to realise that the boat was completely stationary; the captain had given up on his futile attempts to fight the swell, and instead had decided to kill the engines and endure the storm. The lack of a ladder was proving difficult, but Bond hardly expected the crew to welcome him with open arms. Spotting the lifeboats hanging from the side, an idea began to form in his mind. He delved into the folds of his wetsuit and pulled out his weapon, a Walther P99 that had been refined to protect it against the elements. Waiting for the next rumble of thunder, Bond took aim at the pulley mechanism that cotnrolled the descent of the lifeboat and fired in sync with the clap of thunder. Nothing happened; he was too wide. Adjusting his aim, he threw caution to the wind and fired again. The pulley sparked as the bullet struck it, and the bow of the lifeboat fell into the ocean at an angle, with the aft still suspended above the water. Bond scrambled over the side of the boat and climbed up to the aft, grasping the cable still anchored to it in his hands. Glad that he had taken his time in approaching the Milaya, he started pulling himself up, hand over hand, to scale the side of the boat. He paused just before the deck railing and scanned the space above him to ensure that nobody was watching, before hositing himself up and over the railing and onto the deck.

Standing on the rain-sllick deck, his weapon cocked and ready, Bond paused as a flash of lighting lit up the heavens and a single thought penetrated his mind.

What fresh hell is this?

#2 Captain Tightpants

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Posted 08 June 2011 - 10:09 AM

Chapter II -- A Stale Hell

Bond allowed himself a minute to adjust to motion of the cruise liner as it rocked and rolled about in the turgid seas, using the time to take in his surroundings. Rust and grime covered almost every visible surface, and those free of dirty streaks were stripped of paint. The rain-lashed deck was little more than pressed sheet metal, and the small swimming pool set into the centre of the deck was an ugly milky green colour from a build-up of algae. It was an altogether uncofmortable atmosphere; Bond felt it could not be any more uninviting even with razor wire wrapped around everything. Nevertheless, there were still a few cosmetic touches that spoke to the cruise liner's intended purpose; lines of lights were strung up above the open deck, while the far wall of a wet bar half-sunk into the pool was home to a bright mosaic that would have been the height of fashion in the 1970s.

Feeling comfortable with the rocking and the swaying, Bond started in the direction of a nearby door in the hopes that it would take him below decks. Finally stepping out of the rain, he took the opportunity to strip off his wetsuit. It had been specially designed to keep the wearer dry, but when worn over day clothes, it was unusually bulky and limited his movements. The wetsuit gave way to his standard operational gear - black fatigues, boots and jacket with webbing for his equipment. In addition to his Walther, he carried a flashlight that attached to the slide, three extra magazines, and the latest generation of digital microhpne with an additional earpiece. It strapped around his neck, with the microphone - roughly the side of a bottle cap - resting against his Adam's apple. It picked up vibrations in his voicebox and converted them into sound, transmitting directly to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit over western Africa and on to the MI6 operations room in London. It was so sensitive that it could transmit messages with crystal clarity even when he was murmuring.

"Bond here," he announced as he fitted the earpiece into his ear canal.

"You're late, Double-Oh Seven," the impatient voice of Bill Tanner snapped in his ear.

"You're not standing at the door with a scowl on your face and burnt pot roast in hand, Bill," Bond replied. "It can't be helped. Take it up with the Met Office."

"Where are you, exactly?"

"On the upper decks. I just got here. Trouble in paradise?"

"Nothing so dramatic. We have some new intelligence on the boat. We've managed to untangle the skein of ownership. The Milaya is registered to a holding company that we can link to one Maxim Malinovsky, a Kazakh national."

"Do we know him?" Bond asked.

"Until today, no. But going by his resume, we probaby should have. He's an arms dealer with a reputation for trafficking in high-end weapons. This guy isn't running crates of Kalashnikovs through Afghanistan, but those hard-to-procure items that various groups of naughty men around the world would love to get their hands on. Think of him as the Ferrari dealer of the arms trade. The Russians don't like him too much; he survives by playing them against the Chechens. He's got a reputation for being very cunning, James."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"M authorises you to investigate the contents of the Milaya and take the appropriate action."

"Understood. Can you trangulate my position based on this transmission?"

"That shouldn't be too difficult. It might take us a few minutes, though. Is there a problem?"

"The storm blew the vessel into shipping lanes off Cape Verde. I'd just like to know if company is coming before they knock."

"We can do that," Tanner reported confidently.

"Keep me posted. Bond, out." With that, Bond started for the stairs, taking each one carefully to keep any noise down. He instantly noted that a thick layer of dust covered everything. He would be unlikely to encounter anyone if he stuck to the dusty corridors, but at the same time, if any of the crew members found his footprints in the dust, it would not be long before he was discovered. He quickly made up his mind to get out of the dust at the earliest possible opportunity.

The original internal design of the Milaya was relatively simple. The cruise ship held four hundred and eighty passengers, with one hundred and twenty on each deck; each deck was arranged with sixty passengers at the fore and aft, with facilities like dining halls in the centre of the boat. Bond reasoned that if Malinovsky wanted to transport contraband, he would retrofit a cargo hold on the bottom level of the boat in the very centre to optimise the centre of gravity. It was not difficult for Bond to work his way down to the lower levels. He noticed that one light in every four was on, plunging large sections of the corridors into darkness - but not so dark as to justify using night-vision goggles. The corridors themselves were deserted, though Bond thought he heard movement several times as he circled the aft of the boat, prompting him to double back and seek out another route down. Where the upper levels were filled with dust, the lower levels are clear, though he noticed wet streaks in the darkness at times.

The lower levels of the Milaya had been almost completely gutted, replaced by a large rectangular cargo hold that took up the bottom two decks. There was not roof the the hold; it simply opened up onto the mid-deck, allowing Bond to peer down into the belly of the ship. It was compeltely empty. Bond doubled back once more, weaving down through the stairwells until he found a clear path through. He almost tripped as he stepped out onto the bottom deck, stopping just short of the body sprawled out at the doorway. His Walther appeared in his hand immediately, more of a reaction than a conscious decision. He stooped down to examine the body. Most of it was a bloody mess of crushed bones and twisted joints. Bond flicked on the light mounted on his gun, surveying the corridor. Bloody streaks were smeared across the walls and floor. He hesitated a moment before cautiously making for the door to the cargo hold.

The inside of the cargo hold was more of the same. Bond counted three more bodies lying around the floor, similarly twisted and bloodied. Bullet holes peppered the walls, whilst shell casings were scattered across the floor. There were scrapes and gashes in the walls, and everywhere he looked, blood. Whatever had happened here had happened quickly. And it had been intensely violent. Bond gave an involuntary jump as his earpiece cracked to life.

"Bond," Bill Tanner said urgently. "We managed to triangulate your position. You're not in the shipping lanes. You're not within a hundred miles of the shipping lanes. But there is a boat approaching, and quickly. We've been watching it for the past fifteen minutes, and it hasn't deviated or altered its course. James, whatever it is, it's coming straight for you. And we think, based on the markings that it's--"

But Bond never found out exactly what it was, for at that moment Bill Tanner was cut off by an unholy bellowing coming from the aft of the Milaya

#3 Captain Tightpants

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Posted 09 June 2011 - 10:00 AM

Chapter III -- Once Bitten

"What in the bloody hell was that?" Tanner demanded, giving voice to Bond's thoughts.

"I don't know," Bond replied. "I'm not entirely sure I want to know." As if to emphasise his point, the braying sounded again, accompanied by a metallic scraping and scratching.

"I think we're about to find out."

"We? What we!? I'm the only one standing here, Bill!" he chastised. "Well, there's nothing else for it."

Bond stepped back out into the corridor, leading with his weapon. The scraping and the scratching grew louder as the creature started drawing nearer and nearer. Bond felt a shiver that he hoped was just the cold of the ship, telling himself it had nothing to do with approaching an unknown creature that sounded as if it had charged from the depths of hell and had apparently massacred the crew with ease. Taking a deep breath, he swung around the corner and froze. There in the darkness was the vague outline of a creature, shiffling through the corridor. Bond could not make it out, but felt himself tensing up as he realised it started shifting nearer to him. With one last bellow, it stepped forward into the light. Bond gave an involuntary sigh of relief and lowered his weapon.

"It's okay Bill," he reported. "It's not what you think."

"Is that ... is that a cow?"

"Okay, it's exactly what you think," Bond said. The cow shuffled forwards, filling up most of the corridor. It walked with a strange limp, and had clearly been injured; its bellows were howls of pain that had echoed and reverberated throughout the hard edges of the steel corridors.

"A cow," Tanner repeated disbelievingly.

"Or a steer. Or a bull. It's livestock. Cattle."

"Malinovsky is transporting black market beef?"

"I think the more challenging question is why he's transporting it, Bill."

"Okay ... why?" Tanner asked as the cow bellowed once more. Bond did not know much about animal physiology, but he could clearly see the animal had lost the use of one leg and was losing the use of the other. This far from land, the cow was likely to spend hours in pain. Regretfully, Bond cocked his weapon and placed it at the base of the animal's skull. Taking a deep breath - he might have a licence to kill, but that did not mean he enjoyed the act of killing - he pulled the trigger. The report of the gunshot rang out through the corridor and the animal collapsed. Bond returned to the radio.

"Don't panic, Bill - I'm just putting the poor thing out of its misery. From the looks of things, the Milaya was carrying a whole herd of them. If I had to guess, I'd say something spooked them and there was a stampede. The crew panicked and got trampled. It explains a lot about what happened. I'm guessing the crew shot the rest of the animals and dumped them over the side."

"But not why," Tanner pointed out.

"You said Malinovsky dealt in premium weapons, correct? Anybody else we know like him for anything in particular? The Russians aren't fond of him. What are they saying?"

"Uh, not much. You know how they are, playing things close to the chest. But ... nothing that might explain cows."

"Cows," Bond mused. "I can't imagine that there's a warlord out there with a sudden need for rump steak. Especially from a cow this atrophied. There's virtually no meat on it."

"Bond," Tanner said cautiously, but Bond cut him off.

"It's anthrax. Malinovsky doesn't want the cows for meat, he wants them for the anthrax! There are dozens of strains that we don't know about, and they all occur in cows."

"Bond," Tanner implored.

"And it's the perfect way to transport them, because it incubates the bacteria and nobody would think to give them a second look if the ship was inspected."


"What!?" he demanded.

"That ship we were keeping an eye on is right alongside you!"

Bond froze. "That can't be coincidence," he said, waiting for the inevitable - and as if on cue, the whole ship shuddered at the sound of an explosion coming from the aft. "Somebody else knows about the anthrax."

"Get out of there, James." Tanner called.

"There's no need to tell me twice," Bond repiled, turning and leaving the body of the cow in the middle of the lonely corridor.

#4 Captain Tightpants

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Posted 10 June 2011 - 02:21 PM

Chapter IV -- Twice Shy

Bond ran through the bowels of the Milaya as the ship shuddered with a second explosion. He did not have a particular path in mind; he simply picked his way through stairwells and cabins as they appeared. He could hear the faint echo of gunfire ring through the ship as he burst up onto the second level, almost crashing into one of the crew members as he burst into the hall. The man was surprised as Bond was, but Bond's reflexes were quicker. He swung a fist at the man's jaw, but it only collected in a glancing blow that disoriented the man without stunning him outright. Bond had never intended for the punch to connect - as he swung, he reach out with his other hand and grabbed the magazine of the man's Kalashnikov, flicking the release and letting the magazine fall to the floor. By now the man had recovered and brought the gun to up bear. Or what passed for a ready pose; he was only shooting from the hip and had foolishly left the strap of the weapon looped over his shoulder. Bond stepped in, pivoting on his heel and twisting the gun about in the man's hands. He threw his shoulder into the man's jaw, stunning him properly this time. He kept twisting the gun, tightening the strap around the man's chest and putting him in an awkward position before unbuckling the strap and completing the pivot, whipping the Kalashnikov around in a path that ended with the butt of the rifle striking his opponent on the side of the head and sending him into unconsciousness. The whole fight had lasted just seconds, and Bond was continuing down the hall before the man's body had even hit the floor.

He came to the rim of the modified cargo hold, diving behind the chest-high wall that encircled it as gunfire erupted around him. A dozen shadowy figures started encircling the hold with military precision, start-shaped flashes bursting from their rifles. They would be on him in moments. The ship gave another shudder and the world suddenly tipped over ten degrees - water had started flooding the Milaya. Bond seized his only chance, hoisting himself over the chest-high wall and into the open cargo hold as the armed men finally rounded the corner. His fall was cut short as he landed heavily on crates that had been stacked hard up against the cargo hold wall. His momentum kept him moving, tumbling down over the edge of the crates that had been shaken loose by the ship listing over. He half-fell, half-rolled in an ungraceful tumble to the floor of the cargo hold. He landed heavily, losing his weapon in the process, as the precarious stack of crates came tumbling after him. He rolled out of the way just in time to avoid being crushed by a falling crate, but rolled straight into the path of another one that landed heavily on his legs. Grunting in pain, Bond tried to pull his legs free, but the crate was too heavy. A dull roar filled his ears and in a moment of horror, he realised that the water that was filling the lower levels was rapidly approaching the cargo hold. He redoubled his efforts to free himself, but the water kept approaching.

Bond realised that the modified hold had completely reconfigured the lower levels. There was now just one entry and exit on either side, forcing the water in one direction. A plan began to form in his mind. He had to act quickly; there would only be one chance. As the water started rushing towards the door, he positioned himself to give him leverage over the fallen crate. The wave burst through, surging through the door and directly into the path of Bond and the crate. The sheer force of the water was enough to lift the weight of the crate from Bond's legs for just a moment, but a moment was all Bond needed. He quickly pulled away as the crate slammed back down onto the floor of the hull. Running with a slight limp, Bond made a beeline for the door on the opposite side of the hold as another wave of gunfire erupted overhead. In his panic to free himself from the crate, Bond had completely forgotten the men one deck up. They had evidently not forgotten about him, and unleashed another storm of bullets as soon as he broke from his cover. He leapt at the door as both the water and the bullets chased him through it, landing hands-first and tucking himself into a roll as he entered the safety of the corridor. Free from the bullets and the water for the time being, he once again started picking his way through the bowels of the cruise liner. He had to find a stairwell as soon as possible; with the ship rapidly taking on water, it would soon be overwhelmed to the point where it would be dragged to the depths of the Atlantic.

More bodies littered the halls here, each of them killed by a gunshot to the head. From the looks of things, they had once been the crew of the Milaya, killed by whoever had stormed the ship. They had been taken completely by surprise - no doubt alarmed by the explosions and then shot from behind - and had not ever had the chnce to get a shot of their own off. Bond had little sympathy for them, forgetting about them as he ducked into a stairwell. He cared little for subtleties, making his way straight to the deck. When the Milaya went to its watery grave, it would drag down anything nearby, and Bond intended to be as far away from it as possible when that happened. The ship tilted wildly again, this time listing past twenty degrees and making it difficult to stay upright. Bond emerged onto the slippery deck to realise that the edge closest to the water was just meters above the ocean and getting closer. He scrambled across the deck, making for the lifeboats when he felt a sharp pain in his chest and a strangth warmth spreading across his shirt. Ignoring all of his instincts, he stopped where he stood and looked down. A bright red patch had appeared on his shirt, just at the bottom of his ribcage. He coughed and tasted blood, and a single thought crossed his mind. I've just been shot. Whoever had stormed the boat was in the process of evacuating just as he was, and had taken a shot at him. He had never even heard it. The thought barely had time to register when he felt his legs give way and he started to fall paralell to the Milaya, both man and ship heading for a watery grave.

#5 Captain Tightpants

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Posted 11 June 2011 - 03:22 PM

Chapter V -- The Point of No Return
Fitzroy, the Falkland Islands
Seven Weeks Later

"That's the last thing I remember," Bond said. "Falling. Not the actual fall, mind you. Just the sensation that I fell. There are ... gaps, I suppose, whch is to be expected. I don't even know if I was shot on the deck. That was just the first time that I became aware of it."

He sat in a leather-upholstered chair with a strange back that curved around to form two armrests. The armrests were too high to rest confortably on, but the chair was too narrow for him to sit with his arms by his side without feeling like he was pinned in place, and so he sat with his elbows awkardly splayed out. Still, it was better than the leather couch on the opposite side of the room. He had never been comofrtable with the idea of a psychiatrist's couch; it was not the act of opening hiself up to a complete stranger that bothered him, but rather that he felt vulnerable when lying down like that. Bond liked being able to look at someone eye-to-eye; not having to twist about just to see someone. He had given the couch one glance before choosing the leather chair opposite the wide psychiatrist's desk. If his discomfort had registered, his doctor gave no sign of it. Her name was Alice Hull, which was as straightforward and easy a name as Bond could recall. She was relatively young - in her early thirties - with bright red hair and peaches-and-cream skin. She was certainly alluring, but Bond felt a slight repulsion, the same as if he held two magnets with the like ends together. There was a look in her eyes that did not sit well with him, as if she had ordered a piece of meat from a butcher's store and found it had more fat on it than she would have liked. It was a strange quality, given her profession.

Hull was the head psychiatrist at Shurblands, a discreet health retreat - of sorts - for agents of the British government. Bond had heard the stories of agents who broke under pressure being sent to the facility, built on the southern edge of the Falkland Islands. It was about as far away from anything as it could possibly be, keeping agents out of harm's way. While its intentions were benevolent, few who went to Shrublands were ever approved to return to active duty; Bond had first heard of it when a fellow Double-Oh had been captured in Afghanistan. Rather than kill him, the Taliban had instead fed him pure heroin, pumping the rawest form of the drug through his veins twenty-four hours a day. When he had finally been rescued, the agent had been sent to Shrublands for rehabilitation. Bond had no idea what had happened to him next, except that he was never cleared for field work again.

"How did that make you feel?" she asked. Her voice was cool, clear and confident and entirely suited to her appearance.

"Like I'd been shot," Bond replied.

"No, your feelings," she emphasised. "What was running through your mind when it happened?"

"Like I'd been shot," Bond repeated simply. "I know my life was supposed to flash before my eyes, but it didn't. I've got this theroy. I know I've only been shot the once and I'm in no hurry to repeat the experience just to test it out, but I do have a theory: when you get shot, you usually only have enough time to think 'I've been shot' before passing out."

"Then let's change the subject: how did you survive?"

"I have no idea. At least not beyond what I've been told, and I haven't been told much. I was pulled from the water by whoever had boarded the boat. I still have no idea who they were - Russian, I suspect - but they saw the microphone around my neck and knew I wasn't a part of the crew. I guess they tried to figure out who I was and what I was doing there and could only conclude that I was on-board the ship for the same reasons they were, and patched me up. I woke up here, six weeks ago. After all the did for me, the Russians do get a bad rap."

"I see," Hull said. Bond blinked, waiting for her to write something down. But in two weeks' worth of these sessions in which they made no visible progress, he had never known her to record a single thing. "We've been doing this for a while now, Mr. Bond," - that was another of her strange habits, referring to him formally instead of by his given name - "and by now I would have expected to make some progress. So, let me ask you something: what are you expecting to get out of these sessions with me?"

"I just want to return to active duty."

"And you understand that in order for that to happen, you have to convince me that you are fit for it. I know the nature of you work. I know what you do, how you do it and why. It's not that I have no faith in you or your ability to recover, but you have your work cut out for you. You have such a demanding job that the bar for your recovery is set considerably higher than it might normally be."

"I can live with that."

"Can you?" she asked pointedly.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what it sounds like: can you live with it? More to the point, can you live with it here, as far away from civilisation as you can imagine? I've spoken with your physiotherapist and trainers. They all say you clearly want to return to the field. That's unlikely to happen here. Not unless Argentina decide they want to go another three rounds with England."

"Do you think they might?"

"The point is, Mr. Bond, that you want to be back out in the field. A little too much for my liking. I've seen if before - you're not the first Double-Oh that I've treated."

"You think I'm just going to go out and get myself killed?"

"Something like that. Every morning you wake up and ask yourself 'Is today the day I die?', and you may not even be aware of it. It's an inevitability, especially since the average lifespan of a Double-Oh is fifteen months."

"I'm not the only one frustrated by life here."

"It's only natural. You kill so often, you can't tell me that you're not even slightly curious."

"By all accounts, you're very good at what you do. Too good to be stuck at the edge of the earth like this. So what's holding you back? It can't be the glass ceiling. You're already the most senior psychiatrist here, but this is as high as your star rises."

"Curious to know what it's like, what's on the other side."

"You refer to me stiffly, formally. Your office doesn't have any of those little personal touches; no personal photographs or anything like that."

"So curious, that I think the next time your life is on the line, you won't fight so hard to live."

"Any decorations have a significance known only to you - and to whoever gave it to you."

"I've seen it before. You wouldn't be the first."

"You're a lesbian," Bond concluded. It was not an accusation, just a simple statement of fact.

"All Double-Ohs have a death wish," Hull countered, perhaps a little too saveagely to be called professional.

"I think this session is over."