Author Topic: Licence to Drive


Licence to Drive
« on: November 27, 2015 »
M summoned me to her office. ISIL, I assumed. "DVLA," she said.

"You're sending me to Swansea? Is that some kind of code?"

"You serve at the pleasure of the Queen, do you not?" M was, as usual, in no mood for insubordinate banter.

I've been all over the world keeping it safe from fools who want to blow it up. This would be my first trip to Wales since a summer holiday which only seemed like the end of the world at the time. A woman was involved then, too.

"The information we have is very sketchy," said M, not waiting for a reply to her rhetorical question. "All we know is that Dr Evil is mixed up in it."

"Dr Evil?" The name was not in my mental file of arch-nemeses. "Is he the one who replaced the public water supply with Ribena in Cardiff a few years ago?"

M shuddered, a momentary lapse into humanity. "No, that was the Phantom Menace. Still at large, by the way," she added pointedly.

"Was Evil responsible for the Mayday Incident?" Mayday was the infamous computer virus that had forced screensavers of the Home Secretary on every computer in the land. Eradicating them all had threatened to bankrupt the nation.

M lowered her voice, uncharacteristically cautious. "That was May herself. (You didn't hear that from me.) No, our man isn't a cyber terrorist. He likes to work with his hands. He has a workshop." She slid a photo across the desk.

"The agent who took that hasn't been seen since."

I studied the photo, imagining the 00 who had presumably lost his life over it being prepped for torture just out of shot. Likes to work with his hands indeed.

"I'll find this Dr Evil and neutralise the threat."

"See Q on your way out. He's got a special… ride for you."

Ah, a bright spot in an otherwise grim mission: "New wheels, eh?"

M smiled, chilling the room.

Q was wearing his trademark sour face. Parked next to him was a preposterous machine for the job. I circled it in wonder.

"Try to bring it back in one piece, will you?" He looked sick at the prospect of entrusting it to my care. But then he felt that way about everything that he dreamt up to aid us in our spycraft.

"What am I going to do with a bicycle?" I finally blurted. Although it's well known I'm a quick study, bravado and good reflexes will only get you so far.

Q was slow to hide his disdain. "Surely you've ridden a bike before?" Apparently too horrified to wait for an answer, he relaxed into techgeek mode. "This particular model has been equipped with several refinements."

He said this last bit just as I was gripping the brake levers experimentally, causing the chain to leap off and wrap round his legs.

"Squeezing both levers at exactly the same time with exactly the same pressure initiates phase one of the defense mechanism," said Q with exaggerated patience, disentangling himself.

He removed the pump, extended it. "This isn't strictly speaking necessary, as the tyres are impervious to anything short of armour piercing bullets, but it has its uses." He jammed down the handle and all four radials of a nearby Astin Martin went flat. "Same principle as wireless charging. Might come in handy." I doubted it.

Other "refinements" included a tail light with a hypnosis setting, very aptly named quick release skewers, and a bottom bracket guaranteed to never make any mysterious noises. I pressed the button of the front light a few times, which caused it to blink rapidly. "Is this a weapon of some sort?" I teased. "No, it's just annoying," said Q.

I'd been given a bike because I was going on a ride. 000 – that's double 0 0, not triple 0 – had indicated, in his final message, that the person who had led him to Dr Evil would be on an overnight excursion from Cardiff to Swansea. It wasn't clear if the contact was a double agent. I was to cozy up to him or her, then use subterfuge and wiles if necessary to engineer a meeting with the Dr. Preferably without getting myself iced, but that last part was optional. There's a reason our pension plan is first rate: few agents avail themselves of it.

Q had refused to fit a bike rack to any of the cars in the garage, so I took the train to Wales.

The group I met up with at the other end numbered several dozen. The only thing I knew about the contact was a codename: C. An actual name would've been more useful at this stage, but enigmas are, after all, my forte.

The ride leader, Claudine, greeted me warmly. Could it be that easy? I had to be sure, using the process of elimination. Literally if necessary. "A licence to kill doesn't mean indiscriminately," M had once reprimanded me after a particularly bloody assignment; and she's not known for being squeamish. Neither am I.

None of the conversations I had with the other participants through the night gave me serious cause to believe they were in league with Evil, so Q's gadgets didn't come into play, though I was briefly tempted to hypnotise a chap who offered to help me with a puncture provided I let Jeremy Corbyn into my life. At one point someone mentioned SMIDSY, which I took to be a subsidiary of SMERSH until clandestine googling on my smartphone cleared that up. C was busy with tour guide duties, so I was forced to bide my time till the finish.

The ride was so pleasant and the stunning arc of Swansea Bay in the crisp morning light so restorative to a jaded soul that the mission threatened to be swept from my mind as I mulled over breakfast options at the cafe. But I'm a professional. It was time to step up for queen and country. I had to be subtle, yet persuasive. It would take all my powers, honed through years of tradecraft, to–

"I'd like you to meet Dr Evil," said C, escorting me to an occupied table. Was this a fiendish plot to disarm me? I sat down and studied my adversary as he ate his mushroom on toast.

Some like to dance first, others prefer the direct approach. "Did you know the hill behind us is hollowed out?" said Dr Evil.

"No kidding." I tried not to sound too interested.

"It used to be sewage works, but it's been converted," he explained. "Amazing engineering feat. Would you like to see it?"

Had Dr Evil just been so bold as to invite me to his lair? Could this be the rabbit hole 00 0 had tumbled down? I tapped my fingers on the table, admittedly struggling to change gears to adapt to the uncommon ease with which each new piece of intelligence was being gathered. "Sure," I said. "Lead the way."

I thanked C, who was such a natural at this game that she didn't even appear to be playing it, then fetched my bike to follow him. I'll admit I was hoping for a good chase, if only to maintain my full skillset, but he kept a considerate pace.

The lair was in fact signposted (that's Welsh, in case you're wondering).

We parked our bikes and he took me in to the lobby of none other than the DVLA. "What luck," I casually said to Dr Evil, improvising. "I've got to get my licence renewed."

He sat down and grabbed a magazine. I approached the receptionist to request a renewal form. As she handed it over her phone rang. She said "Excuse me," frowned and picked up the receiver; her eyes went wide, a string of "Yes Sirs" issued forth, then she hung up, beckoning me behind the counter. "The boss would like to see you."

Dr Evil seemed happy enough with his copy of Inventors Digest, so I slipped into her troubled wake. When we got to the elevator she ushered me inside, reached in to press a button, then quickly rescued her hand as the doors closed. Before I could say anything I was on my way down, down, down.

The doors opened onto a world with which I was much more familiar. I stepped out into a cavernous room, sparsely furnished. At the far end sat a figure in shadows, his back to me.

As I approached he slowly spun around, a Lazy Susan of malevolence. It was 00 0. He was stroking the white bunny rabbit in his lap.

"How good of you to join us," he said. "Would you like to pet the bunny?"

I considered my options. I was hundreds of feet below the surface, deep into insanity, with only my intuition to guide me. Yes, I would pet the bunny.

As I stepped forward he pressed a discrete button set into the arm of his chair. With a whispery whoosh a trapdoor opened and I immediately dropped down about a foot and a half. 00 0 looked pained, pressed the button again several times to no effect, sighed. "Well, you might as well have a seat."

"Why would you betray your country?" I asked. "Did Dr Evil put you up to it?"

"Dr Evil?" He looked momentarily confused. "No, he's just a friend." He sighed again. "Look, I like Swansea, OK? And I'm staying. The quality of life is good. I get to go home at 5 every day. There's very little stress in the back office." He scratched the bunny between the ears.

I wondered aloud why M sent him in the first place.

"She'd racked up quite a few points on her licence," he explained. "Wanted them expunged. Tasked me to take care of it personally. Well, I did her dirty work, then took some unscheduled holiday time. Now that you mention it, Dr Evil is indirectly responsible. I saw him preparing to surf off the Gower and we fell into conversation. I decided it was finally time to stop and smell the roses. Or catch a better wave, as the case may be."

"I understand," I said, and did; his little speech sounded heartfelt.

"Don't tell them I'm here?" he implored.

All of this did rather strike me as a large failure of intelligence. I promised to leave him and his bunny in peace.

Back upstairs I apologised to Dr Evil for the wait. He told me not to worry. Then he took me to his place up the road, where he showed me the Iron Man suit he'd made using spare parts he'd bought on eBay and hoped to use to take over the world and bend it to his will. We did battle, of course; the world will never know how close it came to annihilation. But that's another story.

This was written in lieu of a ride report of the September 2015 night ride between Cardiff and Swansea. Claudine was the ride leader. 'Dr Evil' is a real person, a friend of Claud's. I am unaware of any nefarious plots he has hatched; he appears to have been given that nickname by her because he has a very well equipped workshop and can apparently fabricate just about anything. 'Castle of Doom' is her description of his house. The two photos of him were grabbed from the site where she often posts; the 2nd one is genuine except I moved him outdoors.

Inventors Digest: the magazine for idea people. I read Nature, myself.


« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2016 »
Funny, that screensaver popped up again.