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This is it. After thorough research and meticulous planning, IQ has finalised the assembly diagram of a new gadget. It’s not the newest of inventions, per say, since it’s merely a merge of HDS flip sight and RED Mk III Spectre. It is an idea that sparks high potential that’s ready to grow and foster, it may become a groundbreaking technology to detect electronic devices and hostile enemy units. Oh, how she is itching to let everybody know of her idea. How she bottles up the burning ambition that keeps her awake at odd hours of the night. However, she isn't a freshman in college anymore. Monika 'IQ' Weiss is a certified expert and it is her duty to pose a realistic perception of what she does. For instance, the combined gadget has areas that may need further development. One being that the graphical user interface may appear clustered, two is that it’s hard to find a compact battery packet that can provide power for two strong gadgets and last hurdle to overcome would be finding the right person who can make the best use out of this. 

In addition, she still needs to convince the Research and Development team to commence the plan. All these negatives would make anyone wonder her motive behind the idea if she cannot bring herself to commit. Unless if you are Glaz, the guy who gave her the rights to experiment on his gadget. The man of details has been listening to her idea whenever she was struck by a jolt of inspiration. The merit of having his support proved to be constructive and encouraging, especially given how the Spetsnaz are infamously reluctant to compliment and cooperate. 

“I think you should suggest your idea to the tech team.” Glaz takes another glance at the blueprint. He taps on the parts that IQ has explained to him and mutters the jargon he recently learned. 

“No, it’s not something to be done on a whim. There are still faults that need solutions before it’s presented.” Woe her tendency to aim for perfection; a habit that led her to success, but also a curse that eats away her confidence when she faces an underwhelming outcome.

“I believe feedbacks are crucial. Why don’t you ask Streicher and Pichon to look it over with you? They are your friends as well.” An implication from Glaz that he shouldn’t be the only one to know about her idea.

IQ ponders upon whether Glaz also called himself her friend, but that’s besides the point. She is quite sure that the two aforementioned technicians will inspect her documents with unbiased eyes, since all of them value professionalism in high regard. In fact, they’ll offer extra help as trustworthy friends; and that’s more the reason why IQ refuses to disappoint them by showing such flimsy work by her standards, “More the reason why I can’t ask them. I’ll think about it when I find the right candidate to test out the prototype.”

“I’ll do it.”

“What?” IQ blinks rapidly, “No, you’ve helped me enough. I’ll give you the finalised product when it has been tested.” She can’t bear the thought of relying on him as she has taken considerable amount of his free time for her own ambition.

“It won’t be a problem at all. Picking out small details is what I do on and off work,” Glaz humbly stated the obvious, “And I would like to see how it develops as someone who is more likely to use it.” Those are some good reasons which are hard to deny. Under his calm mask, IQ sees a pair of grey blue sparkling in keen enthusiasm and a scratch on his sclera. What a fatal near-miss for a renowned sniper such as himself. Possibly a battle scar or an unfortunate accident. Although she won't ask, she can't help but to imagine a better scenario where Glaz could have detected oncoming enemies faster. If there was a device that could have prevented the injury. If her idea can add at least a percent of chance towards safety, then that’s more reason to be motivated. 

“You’ve got a point,” IQ gathers the documents in the folder that she neatly organised at all times, “Alright. I'm ready this time.” 

Хорошо (Good.)” Glaz nods and stands up to pack his gadget and rifle. As she stands up to leave the table, she glances at him and catches a faint curve on his lips. Is it a mild grimace from carrying heavy objects? Or a faint grin? Well, no matter. She’d rather forget about what she saw because this isn’t the time to hope for the latter.

 


 

The initial discussion is proven to be less nerve wrecking than she thought. Looks like IQ should have trusted those in similar profession all along. She knew better that it’s crucial to seek for peer review when working on anything that she deems important for the team, but her damned stubborn work ethic made her doubt. Therefore it’s a relief to see Jäger flooding the entire conversation in excited gibberish that’s only coherent to those who understands engineering. Dokkaebi also seems thoroughly impressed, and Twitch finds the time to tease why IQ didn’t tell her friends first before the nice looking Slavic hunk. 

“Don’t be ridiculous! He had to be the first one to know if I’m working on his gadget.” IQ scowls in deep red. She can’t afford to be distracted yet again, especially when the head ‘honcho’ Mira will arrive soon. Don’t ask her where she learned such nickname for the Spaniard. It’s what the ‘explosive’ Americans call Mira whenever they need approvals for their risk-inducing ideas. 

“Hm, I can’t be fooled when it’s about feelings,” Twitch darts her eyes at Glaz eagerly trying to catch up with Jäger, then tugs IQ away from the others, “And I don’t think you are the only one who’s feeling that way.”

There’s a leap of pulse in IQ’s ribcage, “Pichon- Emma. Stop it. This isn’t the time to talk about these kind of things.”

“Oh?”

“Besides, I don’t feel anything for him and neither should he.” IQ whispers as Mira walks in the room.

“You don’t know that.” Twitch has to have the last laugh. They put their humourous banter aside and focus all attention on the chief executive. 

Mira gives a curt nod to acknowledge those in the room and walks towards the documents laid out on desk, “Is this the one that you messaged me about?” 

“Yes.” IQ almost added ‘ma’am’ at the end. Despite Mira’s chummy attitude, she possesses an aura of authority that no one dares to disrespect. A fine balance between intimidation and awe, which derives from her disciplined work ethic. Fiery temper also plays a role to keep people in line and that’s all within reasonable grounds.

“No wonder why I heard Streicher squealing,” Mira flickers a half-smile that spreads fully when Jäger slams the table in objection. She reads intently as her eyes darted between the lines and papers, and a thin line appears around the corners of her brows, “You’ve written quite a bit of minuses rather than pluses. Why’s that?”

“I’d rather be realistic of what I can achieve.” IQ bites her lip for sounding rather sheepish.

“I admire you, Monika. Your criticisms are good to trust, as your logic has helped us more than enough,” Mira taps her finger on the bullet points under the headings of pros and cons, “But being harsh on your own project doesn’t really sell it to me. How am I going to give permission on something that you lack conviction? Are we going to waste our time and money on an idea that may get abandoned if you deem it too unachievable?” 

“Elena, this has potential.” Twitch is quick to stand by her friend.

“I need to hear from her,” Mira fixates on IQ. The gentle stare stays stern, “Tell me. What is the rationale behind this project?”

The German is seemingly still as a statue, therefore trickles of sweat and slight but weighty swaying go unnoticed by the majority of those around her, “My rationale,” She let out a sigh, “Is to ensure our safety.”

“Tell me more.” Mira sits down on the nearest stool. Her relaxed posture gives others a room to breathe.

“We aren’t the only one who researches and invent,” IQ remembers the time when the newest operator, Nøkk visited their facility for her gadget HEL, “During the past four years, we have gained thirty operators. Thirty new gadgets to be maintained in this facility. Not all of them are designed and manufactured here, but we can’t be the only organisation that grew in terms of technology.”

“She’s right.” Dokkaebi agrees, probably for a reason that’s more personal to herself.

“That’s why I thought of merging two gadgets that will identity the enemies in terms of electronic devices and thermal vision. It’ll be time-efficient when mastered, easier to maintain since it’s nothing new.”

“Then why doubt?” Mira rest her cheek against the palm of her hand.

IQ narrows a leer at the chief executive who is presenting herself lazy and bored, “It’s far from doubt, Álvarez. I prefer to specify what may go wrong rather than going in blindly,” Her shoulder stiffens in annoyance when Mira yawns with curt apology. It’s all too clear that IQ is being taunted to be bolder, whether she likes it or not, “Have I convinced you enough?”

“One more thing,” Mira reads over the papers again, “You haven’t specified who will test this out for you.”

“I am.” Glaz breaks through the tension. He has been standing apart from the group, quietly observing the dynamics as the conversation unfolded.

“You? That’s unexpected.”

“I hope you don’t doubt my skill, señora.” Most are aware that Glaz is advertised as an expert of visual discrimination, and yet it’s an appropriate hint to show that IQ has him supporting her.

Mira gives him a once-over and shrugs, “Fine by me. I shall sign off the form once you submit the application, then.” 

“Good.” IQ squeezes her eyes shut to prevent a sarcastic roll. She considers staying a few more minutes to settle a score with Mira for being purposefully provocative, but she decides against it out of better judgement.

“We won’t disappoint you.” Glaz smiles and extends a hand towards Mira for a handshake. The simple gesture earns plenty of attention; some are amused or indifferent, and only one is utterly surprised.

“We shall see.” Mira clasps on the offered palm and waves goodbye to IQ who hurriedly leaves the room. The way Glaz follows after her immediately reminds Mira of a Siberian Husky with his tail wagging for attention. Yes, the intimidating kind that stands between his loved one and whoever he deems as a ‘threat.’ 

“Oh my gosh! What was that?” Twitch slaps Mira on the back harder than being friendly, accusing her being ill-manner towards IQ.

“You know it had to be done. Monika has great ideas and this is just the tip of the iceberg of her ingenuity. I had to give her a little jab,” Mira chuckles as her thought goes back to the whole dog-imagery, “But looks like I didn’t need to do much.”

 


 

Ever since that she has gained an official permit, IQ is hardly seen at the lounge or any other entertainment area. Some assume that she is leading an unhealthy lifestyle of a one-track minded nerd. That’s partially true, meaning that IQ takes great care of herself. None of the generic red-eyed, sleep-deprived ghoul whose soul is taken by the cyber monster. Hair is fresh rather than flaky with dandruff, physique is in top condition from regular visits to the gym. IQ refuses to be a sloppy mess when there’s a journey ahead of her, thanks to the mantra ‘Healthy mind in a healthy body.’ Therefore she sticks to a strict schedule, a timetable that has to be followed on the dot. Rise at 6am, hit the gym straight after, breakfast for thirty minutes, then work on the project until 10pm. Meals and 20 minutes power naps are somewhere in between, but they all tend to stay within the workshop rather than cafeteria or the GSG 9 dormitory. This kind of work ethic may be effective in a span of a week or two, but if it’s dragged out for a month? Approximately twelve hours of work every day? 

“You know this isn’t all that healthy.” On the thirtieth night, Bandit objects the supposedly perfect routine. IQ would have ignored the blunt remark if Bandit isn’t leaning on her table, deliberately pushing away the rolling tool cabinet away.

“Better than what you do.” A muscle in her jaw twitches as she stands up to drag the tool cabinet back to her.

“What do I do? Enjoying myself a well-deserved break whenever I see fit?”

“No, I’m talking about smoking, drinking and sleeping at 3am.” As soon as IQ returns to her stool, Bandit kicks the cabinet away again.

“But it works. I’m efficient and and never fails to get a raise in my salary.” Bandit sniggers until IQ stands up again, this time she walks on the arch of his foot.

She comes back with a noisy rattle trailing behind her. The cabinet stays on the other side of the table and IQ intends to keep it furthest from Bandit. “Unlike you, I’m a hard worker. Don’t rope us together, don’t compare and don’t pretend to give me some corny advice.”

“A hard worker! Are you filthy rich yet?” He isn’t the one to quit. Especially when it comes to leave a scratch on his friend’s ego.

“I’ll feel accomplished when this gadget helps our comrades succeed.” IQ dares to hide a sense of pride to prevent a sense of arrogance.

“You may be feeling smug in future, but you look like a cubicle slave from an office job. Tired and ready to retire when you’re still in your prime,” He picks up a flip sight that has an unrecognisable scope. The lens appears to have dark green hue, and there’s a post-it tag on the bottom which reads ‘PROTOTYPE ALPHA-6,’ “Is this the final product?”

“No, it’s ALPHA-8. Now put it down and leave me alone.” IQ holds an urge to step on his feet again.

Bandit side-glances at his colleague and enjoys how she’s too easy to read, “Oh, it’s modified on his gadget rather than yours! What an adorable sentiment.”

“Put it down. Right. Now.” IQ is at her limit. Bandit’s deliberate taunts are usually ignored with minimal effort, but it’s proven to be a difficult task when she hasn’t felt anything other than frustration and impatience. A slow-cook recipe for undulating stress.

“Okay, okay. Don’t kill me yet. I bet your new love child can see through me and my batteries,” Bandit places the gadget down and proceeds to show himself out before IQ cracks what’s important between his legs, “Congratulations! It’s a digital ACOG!” Now he sprints away.

As Bandit leaves the room, a sense of irritation seems to have followed him out. IQ slumps down in weariness as she has spent the last bit of energy to deal with her comrade’s annoying antics. Pressing thumbs against the temple, she decides to tidy up the work bench to clear up some space. There are previous models of prototypes laying around and she counts each one of them. From ALPHA-1 to ALPHA-4, then 5, 6, 7 and 9-

“Where’s 8?” Unpleasant surprise pushes drags her down into the depths of panic. Her fingers run through numerous items high and low, eyes dart every corner of her station and yet it’s nowhere to be seen. Unless it’s been taken by someone. But who? As she tries hardest to remember where the number 8 could be, she jump at a loud buzz on her table. A call from Mira. It takes an immense control over her nerves to not shake a muscle while picking up the phone to receive the call. IQ shall take full responsibility in being careless, and she may have to beg for an extension from the head-honcho. After a deep and shaky breath, IQ swipes right and greets the Spaniard, “Hello?”

“Monika! How are you?” The voice beyond the screen is chirpy and bright.

“I could be better,” IQ collects her thought for an excuse, “Listen, I need to tell you something.”

“Oh how great. I need to tell you something too.” Mira is still cheery, but IQ notices the way the other woman falters a little as she has muttered the last bit.

“You go first.” Good or bad, IQ prefers to prepare for the worst.

“Well, your gadget is proven to have worked like wonder,” Wait, what? “But Glazkov might have gotten too enthusiastic and got carried into the infirmary.” WHAT?!

Colour drains from her skin and blood runs cold in instant, “Is it the infirmary in this base or the other building?” IQ barely restrains the raw intensity in her voice.

“The other building, but it’s not too-” She doesn’t need to listen to what Mira has to say. IQ sprints as if everything around her moves in slow motion. In middle of thumping heartbeat and burning lung that regurgitates faint taste of blood, she wishes to either time travel or teleport. A demon can buy her soul to rewind back into a time period where she can stop Glaz from being involved into her stupid project, or she can simply teleport to wherever Glaz went to get himself hurt; but if there’s really a demon who can grant her one wish, she would ask to have a heart of a stone. The time where she wasn’t biased towards the man, the moment before she fell for his kindness that had been hiding behind his intimidating exterior. If she didn’t choose Glaz to be her muse, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt due to her ambition.

When IQ arrives the infirmary, she sees droplets of blood making a trail into the further end of the building. Relax, Monika. Make yourself understandable, “Is- is Timur Glazkov here?” She gasps for breath while leaning on a receptionist’s desk.

“He’s in Room 2 on the right.” She nods a gratitude and proceeds to the mentioned room. Despite how fast her mind races, IQ knocks on the door in case the medical staff are working on him.

“Come in.” A familiar gruff tone responds, so she opens to let herself in. Tachanka is sitting next to a stretcher that hardly has any curtain or blanket; in fact, Glaz isn’t laying or appearing unconscious. The sniper is also sitting up right with trump cards in his hands which is the same kind that Tachanka is holding. The only noticeable worry on him is the taped gauze on his cheekbone and wrapped bandage around the upper torso.

“Monika.” Glaz greets and attempts to smile, but it falters has he winces in pain.

“You,” IQ tightens a ball of fist, “You idiot.” She storms into stomps, exuding massive presence that forces Tachanka to drag his chair back.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” The older Russian isn’t happy that his game of poker, the one that he was winning, is put on hold without any given reason, “He’s fine. Breathing and about to lose his money. Haven’t seen him being this bold in the battlefield before, so he better thank you.”

“How can you do this to me?” Her sole focus is on the younger Russian who stares back with the same grey-blue that makes her blush not only out of anger, “I told you that I’ll give you the finished product.”

“I wanted to give it a go so you can improve. Nothing good comes out when it’s kept behind the action.” Glaz looks down in an innocent guilt, “How can we analyse without any hands-on experiments?”

“Yeah, but still! How can you be such an impatient idiot? Did you think that I was taking too long?”

“I may be an idiot, but I'm your idiot," Glaz seals his mouth as soon as the entire room has heard what might pass as a flirt. A public wooing in the weirdest and most inappropriate times, “I mean, I’m your candidate for a field practice. We all need to be a bit of a fool and make mistakes, don’t we? That’s how we all learn.” He turns tomato red and that’s not common from a patient who has suffered minor blood loss.

“You’re my- you’re,” Her mouth hovers at a loss for words, flustered to comprehend whether this situation is favourable for her mind or brain. However, she has realised what she feels for him. It’s all too obvious by judging her reaction towards Glaz possibly being hurt in any kind of way.

“Fucking love birds. I’m leaving but make sure you have my money ready.” Tachanka tosses the cards on the floor and closes the door behind him, leaving the couple to have some honest conversation. They can continue to unwrap what’s been lurking underneath their so-called logic, under a pretence of being two grown-up adults who tried to separate their personal and professional life. They can also mumble and blabber the whole conversation as a big joke and tease how they’ll never see each other in that kind of light. But we all know what they really want. They don’t have to hold back. They never had to, ever since the two chose to work together and complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.