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Build a better life (by building a better coffee machine)

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Five months after his promotion to Quartermaster, Q decides that something has to be done about the coffee machine.

Q much prefers tea to coffee, but sometimes, during a really hectic period without sleep and with far too much to do, the only thing capable of keeping his brain functioning at acceptable capacity is multiple cups of coffee strong enough to dissolve the spoon.

Q’s own coffee machine at home is a thing of wonder, all sleek lines and complex buttons that looks like it was designed by Tony Stark. Unfortunately, the coffee machine in the ground-floor break-room (Q Branch doesn’t have its own - their tiny breakroom is actually a repurposed walk-in supply cupboard, with just enough room for the sofa and nothing else) at H.Q. is not nearly so well equipped. It’s old. And cheap. And it produces the most appalling coffee Q has ever had the misfortune of drinking, including the swill he drank at university that came out of the instant coffee dispenser where all the cockroaches lived.

Something must be done.

If it were purely up to Q, he would simply buy a shiny new coffee machine and install it in the break-room. Sadly, while Q Branch’s budget allocates ample funds for things like exploding briefcases and guns disguised as everyday objects, coffee machines that make good coffee are not categorised as a necessary expenditure.

Considering that most members of Q Branch have as much caffeine as blood running in their veins at any given time, Q wants to know who was responsible for this absurd decision, and why he can’t change it considering that he’s the head of the bloody department.

Anyway, Q can’t take it anymore, which means either buying a good coffee machine out of his own pocket (a definite no, considering the cost and what the other denizens of the break-room are likely to do to the poor machine) or building his own, better coffee machine.

Building his own it is.

Q’s first move is to type a query into Google, just in case someone else has already found a solution to a similar problem.

Q gets as far as typing how to build before the Instant Google results kick in, and he’s distracted by the phrase how to build a time machine coming up in the list of results below the search bar.

Q clicks on it in spite of himself.

Five disappointing yet unsurprising minutes later, Q returns to his search for instructions on how to build a good coffee machine.

The query how to build your own coffee machine comes up with some interesting results, including a how-to guide to making a pocket-size espresso machine with an integrated alcohol stove.

Hmm, Not what Q wanted, and clearly an amateur effort, but it’s interesting all the same.

Besides the guide to building a primitive pocket espresso maker, there isn’t anything particularly helpful, Q decides, which means that, as usual, it’s up to Q to come up with something himself.

The next morning the coffee machine in the break-room is gone; it has been replaced by a sign saying The coffee machine was an affront to engineering and is being upgraded. In the meantime, buy some coffee from the café at the end of the street. The coffee’s far better there, anyway. and signed with a large ‘Q’ embellished with unnecessary curlicues.

Of course, by the time Q is finished, only a few parts of the original coffee machine will still be intact, but technically it’s still an upgrade, rather than an outright replacement.

Q is sitting at a workbench in one of the practical engineering labs with the coffee machine spread out on the benches around him when he becomes aware of Eve standing worryingly close to him, glaring at the dismantled state of the coffee machine.

“Ah,” he says, and meets her eyes cautiously. He’d forgotten that Eve gets her coffee from the ground floor break-room, when there aren’t any assistants around to go on coffee-runs for her.

“What are you doing to the coffee machine?” she demands.

“Upgrading it. I would have thought that was obvious from the sign I left in the break-room,” Q replies.

Eve eyes him. Q tries to look harmless and innocent and well-meaning, and probably fails.

“Will it make proper espressos?” Eve asks finally.

“By the time I’m done with it, yes.”

Eve nods, as though something important has been resolved.

“Good. I’ve left your paperwork on your desk. It needs to be done by Monday,” she says, which is surprising, because normally she insists on paperwork being done NOW, Q, not when you happen to remember that the concept of paperwork exists.  

Apparently Q is not the only one who considers easy access to good coffee to be a top priority. Something to make a mental note of, he thinks.

“Understood,” Q says. He goes back to working on the coffee machine.

By Friday Q’s immediate minions are all helping with the coffee machine project, and Q’s life is a whirl of filtration and grinder designs and ideal water temperatures, in between running communications for operations and outfitting agents with the appropriate tech.

Q is willing to admit he may have become slightly obsessed.

The minions are all equally enthusiastic, wanting to prove themselves to their boss and wanting to drink a decent cup of coffee for a change, although no one’s letting Sanjit become involved with designing the aesthetics – no one has trusted him since he proudly showed off the Iron Man iron he’d built for personal use based off a conceptual drawing by an artist online. (It was red and gold. And had a face. Everyone agreed it was deeply disturbing, as was Sanjit’s excessive preoccupation with Marvel movie fandom.)

Everyone is happily working on making the 18th set of revised blueprints a reality, when a hush falls, and four pairs of wide eyes train themselves on a point in space behind Q.

He has one of those oh no, this is where I’m reprimanded for misuse of Q Branch time and resources, and the sanity of Q Branch is called into question again moments. Pulling himself together, he slowly turns.

“What is this?” M asks, looking bemused and faintly pained, like he just found Q and his minions attempting their own Frankenstein experiment in the basement, instead of building a coffee machine. Q wonders who, and in what department, someone tattled. Never mind. He will find them.

Everyone looks expectantly at Q, because as Quartermaster, it’s his job to answer all of the awkward questions asked by people outside the department.

Q clears his throat.

“We’re improving the break-room coffee machine,” he says firmly.

M just stares at him.

Q tries not to squirm. He feels acutely aware of the fact that he’s at least twenty years younger than every other branch head in MI6, his hair is standing on end, and he chose to wear his STAND BACK, I’M GOING TO TRY SCIENCE t-shirt today because he doesn’t have any meetings scheduled.

In retrospect, Q possibly regrets this sartorial decision.

Whenever he deals with M, Q always feels like he’s looking at an example of what a real adult is like, and that he himself is merely an over-grown adolescent who isn’t fooling anyone.

Q liked the previous M better. She was unimpressed and called his choices into question a lot, but at least she took his capability as Quartermaster seriously. The current M always looks as though he doesn’t know whether he’s staring at a five year old genius inexplicably inhabiting an important government position, or an alien who’s wandered in from another planet.

Intellectually, Q knows that M is well-aware of his competence and abilities, it’s just – well. Q has lingering issues with adult-ish adults wearing suits and looking like they don’t know what to do with him.

“Do you really think this is necessary?” M asks at last, after a long, fraught moment.

Q adjusts his glasses, and meets M’s eyes with a sharp stare.

“If we had to drink any more of the break-room coffee,” Q says deliberately, “there was going to be a revolt. Sir.”

M sighs, like he really didn’t sign up for this, and somehow expected MI6 to contain more sane people. Q can’t imagine why.

“Just don’t let it distract from anything important,” M says tiredly.

“Of course not,” Q agrees.

Everyone stays respectfully still and silent as M leaves.

“Brilliant!” Anna squeals, as soon they’re all sure M is gone. She and Martin awkwardly high-five.

“Back to work, everyone,” Q calls, and his minions return to action like a group of busy, geeky bees.

Q is drinking a cup of tea at his desk when 003 sticks her head around the door to check that he’s in, and immediately walks into his office.

“Did you steal the coffee machine?” she asks. She’s been on a mission in Hong Kong for the last week and a half.

“It was a travesty of engineering,” Q says loftily.

Rather than complaining, 003’s face splits into a grin. She’s possibly the only agent in the building who is delighted no matter what tech Q gives her. If she ends up receiving some of the better prototypes, that’s purely a coincidence.

“Too true,” she agrees fervently. “So you’re upgrading it, then?”

Q nods, and doesn’t bother to elucidate any further.

“So, basically, you’re replacing it with a machine that actually makes coffee?” 003 guesses. “Because I don’t know what it was making before, but ‘coffee’ wasn’t what I’d’ve called it.”

Thanks to the bugs in the break-room, Q has a very good idea what 003 would have (and in fact, has) called it.

“Quite,” he agrees primly.

“Thank you,” 003 say sincerely. “Seriously.”

It’s nice to know that his department’s efforts are (sometimes) appreciated, Q thinks.

When the coffee machine is finished, Q, in a fit of unexpected benevolence, allows all of Q Branch to participate in assigning it a model name, by putting forward a list of nominations followed by a branch-wide vote. When all the votes are counted, Q discovers that the winning nomination is for the name ‘Q Continuum.’

Sometimes Q despairs of his people, honestly.

Nonetheless, ‘Q CONTINUUM’ is worked onto the front of the machine in an impressively stark, futuristic font, which is almost enough to make people overlook the fact that the coffee machine is named for a species of god-like aliens from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The Q Continuum proves to be a great success with everyone, producing delicious, wonderful coffee that meets the most exacting standards.

Q doesn’t even try to pretend he isn’t radiating smugness.

The next time Bond gets off a mission, he wanders down to Q Branch to return the sad remains of the tech he was issued with prior to the mission.

“I heard you rebuilt the break-room coffee machine,” he tells Q.

Q sips his cup of tea and maintains a placid face.

“Something had to be done,” he says.