In Paris, on Boulevard Haussmann, there was a certain building. By all appearances it was a very normal, very drab building, the sort of uniformly ordinary building that was so very common in any city of significant size, especially in the capitol of one of the most powerful countries in the world. The front was simple, grey stone and brick, old but not uniquely so, a product of a bygone era, but still one recent enough that that didn’t draw interest in itself. A small bronze plaque next to the door was the only clue that this wasn’t another government office or civil service building.
The letters were slightly worn by the elements, but the plaque shone, and it was easy enough to read the inscription of “Fraternité Internationale de la Résistance contre l’Oppression.” The International Brotherhood of Resistance Against Oppression, in English. If the casual onlooker was compelled to enter, they’d find a graying receptionist at her desk, working on a slightly out of date computer. After asking if they had an appointment, she would insist that they please take some of the literature, gesturing vaguely toward the long table set against the wall, piled high with pamphlets and a few copies of the organizations’ monthly magazine. If they had an interest in seeing the premises, the secretary would pick up her phone and call down her superior, an older man in a slightly cheap looking suit, and he would gladly show them the various offices and explain who they belonged to and what their functions were. It was largely volunteer work, with generous donations keeping the lights and electricity on, as well as enabling the organization to hire a few full time staff.
Largely, the man would explain, the organization served to lobby against oppressive or dictatorial regimes, to highlight the plight of victimized peoples in foreign lands - and at home - and, at the behest of relatives or loved ones, using local contacts and channels available to the organization, to search for missing individuals who might have fallen victim to government sponsored abuse or violence. After all that was explained and the tour was undertaken, revealing nothing more interesting than tacky office wear and outdated computers, staffed by equally expired looking individuals, an opportunity to volunteer would be offered, and if accepted, a form would be given, and the offer to join the online newsletter would be offered. It had just been introduced, the older man would add with a note of pride, showing himself to be a little less than tech savvy.
What the casual onlooker or the interested passerby, or even the vast majority of the staff and volunteers did not know, however, was that this building was not all it appeared to be.
For beneath the veneer of humdrum good will and charitable action was something else. Something far less mundane.
A little over two dozen people were aware of the buildings true function, were aware that it was merely a front, a ruse.
Underneath the building lay the closest thing to a command centre that Quantum possessed. In all reality, it was nothing quite so impressive, largely serving as neutral ground of the various high ranking members to meet and discuss issues and potential “investments.” They did this rarely more than a handful of times a year, sometimes only once or twice. Thus far, Quantum had existed in the deepest and darkest of shadows, unknown except to those it made itself known to, the people and organizations it contacted with business propositions. Those would amount to threats, blackmail, extortion, or an offer of their services in some capacity. Very rarely, it was in the interests of vetting someone for a potential membership.
The complex itself could be accessed through various secret entrances scattered up and down the street, all property owned by shell companies that secretly belonged to Quantum or one of its members. On the day of a meeting, each attendee was given a specific time to arrive and a five minute window in which to do so. It usually took around four to six hours for all the attendees to show up, their arrival times staggered out so as not to appear overtly suspicious. Quantum did not become so successful by being unprepared or lacking care, and that had served it well for the better part of a decade.
The conference room was simple, uncomplicated, most of the surfaces consisting of stark black or polished steel, a long black table dominating the centre of the room, with leather chairs set around it, eighteen in all. It was fairly normal for there to be one or two empty seats for one reason or another. Often, it was simply inconvenience or caution. Sometimes, it was the matter of discipline. The result of purging someone from the organization. Due to the nature of its existence and its business dealings, Quantum had in place strict guidelines, both ethical and professional. They were few, but they were unbreakable. They encouraged loyalty and competence and punished betrayal and stupidity extremely harshly.
Today, a meeting had been called, and an irregularly high number of chairs were empty. Four members had been unable to attend. One was dead. One was in custody and would soon be joining the former, and two were unwilling to take the risk of attending the meeting, feeling that it might draw even further attention to an organization that, up until very recently, had been a ghost to the wider world.
This would be the last time this location would be used. It had not been compromised, that much was certain, but risks were not things that Quantum dealt in. It was not an organization that grew complacent or soft. It had not survived this long by being weak or slow to adapt.
Around the table sat thirteen men and women in various smart and expensive looking outfits. They each had extensive backgrounds in intelligence, business, crime or politics, and they each had a shrewd, predatory look in their eyes. No one smoke or drank, nor did they engage in small talk. They simply waited.
The fourteenth member sat at the head of the table. He looked like the others, and yet in other ways he looked very unlike them. He shared their taste in clothing, and the look of predatory cunning, but there was something more there. Something grander. Where they treated each other as peers and equals, however begrudgingly in some cases, they looked to him with something approach reverence. Devotion. To these men and women, he was not an equal or a peer. He was a superior. The one constant influence in their lives whose dominance they had accepted, whose vision and ability had allowed them to make fortunes, to gain influence and power that they never would have dreamed possible.
And all he asked for in turn was their complete obedience and loyalty.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld held each and every member of Quantum to the highest standard in return for the boons his organization had brought them. Failure was not tolerated. Betrayal was not tolerated. And there had been a good deal of both in the last few months.
The meeting began as most did, status reports, earnings reports, the language blunt and to the point, Blofeld saw little use of flowering his speech with “friends” or “gentlemen”, and they had picked up on his preferences. Statistics and figures were given, updates were offered. Raw data. Uncoloured. Pure.
And then they came to the matter of discipline. A matter that he knew they expected him to address. They all knew of the leak. They all knew of MI6’s foiling of their Bolivian operation. They knew of Dominic Greene’s capture and interrogation. And his execution. They knew all this, and they knew Blofeld would seek to rectify matters.
"We have had setbacks," Blofeld began, the other matters having been attended to, “and that is unacceptable.”
"Members of this organization have betrayed the integrity and conduct that has made us prosperous and successful. They have placed their own good over the good of the whole, and in doing so, they have put this entire organization at risk of disruption and perhaps even destruction. Steps have been taken to punish the guilty. Dominic Greene has been silenced and while another member currently resides in the custody of the Central Intelligence Agency, he too will be dealt with."
"But there is another man here today who has attempted to sell us out."
Blofeld’s gaze passed along the assembled Quantum members, cold eyes settling on the figure of one Armando Ortega, a Spanish intelligence operative turned software mogul. He didn’t blanch or shift in his seat, because he had been loyal and he knew this. He had every confidence that Blofeld knew this. Blofeld seemed to know everything.
"Whenever I have acted in the past, it has been with your complete approval. When I deem it necessary to punish disloyalty or ineptitude, you have been satisfied with the results. This organization can only exist with the highest levels of professionalism from its members. If even one fails to act, or acts in self interest, it spells doom for us all."
Nodding, silent agreement. Ortega still looked confident, even though Blofeld’s eyes had not yet left him.
"Our enemies are many, and our greatest ally is secrecy."
Gaze still unwavering, Blofeld’s left hand began to move, disappearing underneath the table.
"We cannot survive if that secrecy is broken."
The hand snapped back into sight, now holding the unmistakable the dull metal grey of a gun.
Blofeld’s gaze snapped from Ortega to the man on his right, Gregor Karakov. An asset implanted in the FSB had informed Blofeld that Karakov had offered extensive intelligence on Quantum if they would grant him immunity and a new identity, along with a percentage of his funds. Enough to live very comfortably on for what he hoped would be the long remainder of his life. He had yet to disclose anything of value, his offer was still being discussed among the upper intelligence echelons.
In a split second, he’d aimed and squeezed off two rounds, one in Karakov’s chest plate, the second in his heart. The Russian was pitched backward and out of his seat with the force of the shots, the chair falling to the ground. The walls were sound proofed. None outside of this room would know what had really happened.
No one looked shocked or surprise. Why would they? Blofeld had seen a traitor and he’d acted. They knew the price. And they accepted he would take it.
Karakov’s body would be smuggled into Chechnya, where a local milita group would take possession of it. The leader would claim responsibility for the execution, seeing another dead oligarch as an effective way to show the power of his peoples conviction and will. Karakov had been the foreign minister, an important governmental figure. His friends in the Kremlin were still many. Action would be taken. Air strikes, command raids, perhaps even army deployment. It would destabilize the region even further. The flood of refugees into the surrounding countries would strain their law enforcement and public services to the limits, making already corrupt institutions even more so, opening up even further opportunities for business and expansion.
Georgian gold, Armenian copper, Azerbaijani oil. All lay open and ready for the taking. Karakov’s assets would be split up and sold off, eventually falling back under the ownership of Quantum and its associates. A replacement would be found, one more loyal and less ambitious, and in the coming months and years, the damage of these betrayals would be repaired. Quantum would endure. Quantum would prosper.
Blofeld would act as he had acted. With decisiveness and clarity. And, in time, when the damage had been seen to and precautions had been taken, he’d turn his attentions outward. MI6 and its allies knew who they were, now. There would be no hiding from them, not forever. They would have to act. They would have to strike before they were unable to.
And strike they would.
The Sun was unbearable. The pain was blinding. The sands rolled ever on.
The harsh glare of the Sun did little to dull the throb and agony of an axe wound, a self inflicted accident that had split his foot, forcing him to limp and stumble ever forward.
The heat made his wounds pain all the more, his tattered and ragged and clothes caked with blood, sweat and dirt. When today had begun, he’d had everything. He’d been two signatures away from owning this country, these people, guaranteeing his fortunes - fiscal and otherwise - for years to come. Only a scant few hours ago, he’d been so close. So very close.
Then Bond had to get involved.
His black car had disappeared into the horizon long ago, now. It seemed like an age. The Bolivian desert told him nothing. It was without respite or mercy.
Just like Bond himself.
But it wasn’t Bond that Dominic Greene was scared of at that moment. Greene knew that Bond wasn’t concerned with him anymore, he’d gotten what he’d wanted. Information. Names. And in return, Bond had given him a can of motor oil and told him that he’d make it twenty miles before he drank it. Greene was a proud man, a man who liked control, who was used to having it. Now, he’d been stripped of all that control. All his money, his power. Gone. Useless. All because one Englishman couldn’t get over the death of some damned woman.
The words echoed in his mind. Twenty miles. He wouldn’t make it twenty miles. Greene was starting to believe them. Starting to see any other option as being better than this, the can held loosely in his fingers seemed more and more tempting with every painful shuffle and stumble.
Better to end it now. Better to end the pain, end the misery. He knew he was a dead man anyway. Quantum did not abide loose ends, and he’d become one.
They’d find him, even in the middle of a desert. They’d find him. He knew that. Just as he knew what would come after.
He stumbled, fell, came crashing down into the hot sand, his body aching, every fiber throbbing, nerve endings on fire. For a moment, he just lay there, the side of his face resting on the ground, body sprawled out uselessly, like a broken, discarded thing.
Greene managed to push his aching limbs into working order after what was likely minutes, but felt like hours. He rose onto shaking legs, a pale hand brushing down the front of his tattered outfit, smoothing out the wrinkles, loosing the sand. Habit.
When his eyes met the horizon, he saw a dark blot, one that grew larger and larger with each passing moment. It took his weary, frayed mind a little while to realize this was a car. And that this car was heading in his direction.
Finding new reserves of strength, Greene started to move toward the blot, legs working weakly, giving him a pathetic burst of speed, then breaking into a shambling run, ready to fall down into a heap once more. He waved with one hand, the other still grasping the can of oil that Bond had given him.
He could see it now, it was a black jeep, the kind some of the more successful local paramilitaries used to move around in. All terrain, outfitted with survival gear, usually purchased from one of the high end European manufacturers. Greene could only think of salvation, now, of bribing whatever tinpot warlord was being chauffeured into taking him to safety. He had been without hope, without a future. Now, perhaps, he had his chance. He could get away. Start over. He had failed Quantum, and they would make him pay with his life. Unless he hid himself. Started over.
He could do that. He had the chance and he’d take it. They’d never find him. He could make it out of this.
Then, the jeep came to a stop. Had they spotted him? Had they seen him coming? Greene didn’t know, but his legs refused to relent. Tired as he was, painful as his wounds were, he couldn’t stop. He shambled and limped forward, getting closer and closer to the jeep, to his chance at survival.
The driver opened his door and slipped out of the jeep. At first Greene couldn’t make him out, but then, as he began to close the gap, he saw the face. That familiar, terrible face.
And all of a sudden, Greene knew he was dead.
He came to a slow stop, nearly falling over again in the process, but the driver of the jeep wasn’t going to let Greene get away. There was nowhere to run to, not out here. And this man was not the kind of man who let his enemies run.
Moving out a stroll, the man picked his way over the sands, closing in on Greene with a casual inevitability, a dreadful kind of certainty. They both knew what was going to happen. Now it was just a matter of waiting.
And now, here he was, only a few feet away, dressed in a crisp grey, climate conscious suit. Tall, powerfully built, his skin a healthy shade of tan, head bald, hazel eyes regarding him with something close to disapproval.
Most who knew him, and there were few who did, knew him as Number One. Greene was one of the privileged few who knew his real name; Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
It was a name he wished he didn’t know, a face he wished he didn’t recognize.
"What did you tell them?" he asked, tone almost conversational.
"Everything," Greene answered, too tired to lie. There was no point to it anyway. Blofeld would know. Blofeld always knew. The end result would be the same, the only difference being whether or not Greene chose to insult the intelligence of a man who up until this moment he’d held in equal measures of fear and awe.
"Unfortunate, Mister Greene. Most unfortunate."
He spoke English, but his vaguely Middle European accent gave away that it wasn’t his native tongue. Tone rich, refined, his diction crystal clear and almost melodic, it was a pleasant voice tinged with malevolence.
"We have invested considerable resources in this venture," he continued, "and not only did it prove to be unsuccessful, but you informed our enemies of our existence. Bolivia has been lost to us for the time being, and the millions we’ve spent setting up this operation pale in comparison to the information you divulged. Money is one thing Mister Greene, but discretion is far more valuable. You sold us out to buy a few precious hours of life. Unacceptable. Show me what’s in your hand."
Greene blinked, glancing down at the oil can still held tight in his grip. He raised to up so Blofeld could see. The man nodded, just once. Curtly.
Blinking again, his eyes growing large with confusion and fear, Blofeld’s firm gaze gave a silent answer. A wordless affirmation. He knew why Greene had the can, someones idea of a cruel mercy. One he now intended for Greene to experience. A dry tongue sliding over dryer lips, Greene glanced down at the can, fumbling with the cap after a few seconds of frantic thought, getting it off, then, looking to Blofeld once more, he raised it to his mouth and tried to down as much of the thick oil as he could. Spluttering and coughing, it made him wretch, but he tried to force it down.
Blofeld walked around him, watching the pathetic form of Dominic Greene with something close to satisfaction. He was irritated, but only in his quiet way, growing firmer and stonier rather than lapsing into pointless displays of dramatics and emotion. Blofeld didn’t believe in such things. They were pointless. Destructive. Risky.
Standing behind Greene, who had now slumped down to his knees, still trying to swallow as much of the dark liquid as he possibly could, Blofeld slipped a hand into his jacket, fingers curling around the grip of his pistol. He removed it, slowly, slipping it out of his shoulder holster, then trained the barrel to the back of Greene’s head.
"This organization does not tolerate failure."
The loud bark of a gun shot tore through the desert air, followed by a second, the two bullets making a mess of what had formerly been the skull of one Dominic Greene. His body slumped forward, the pristine sand now flecked with blood and bone.
Watching the body for just a moment, Blofeld slipped the gun back into its holster, then, without any further delay, made his way back to the jeep.
Greene had damaged Quantum. This was a setback. The information he’d given up would require swift response, loose ends would have to be severed, compromised agents would have to be dealt with. A trial to be sure, but one Blofeld was well suited for. This was a setback, but only a setback. Quantum would settle its in house affairs, and then it would turn its gaze outward. It would settle things. With the CIA, with MI6.
With James Bond.
This was not an end, but a beginning.