The workshop. A spacious place where all operators, or at least most of them, improved and worked on their gadgets: Breach charges, Nitro Cells, Drones, and their unique ones.
Thirteen work tables were displayed across the room, ready for usage.
Six were on one side, by the door and other six by a rectangular window, overlooking the base's backyard. Positioned in six lines of two, with enough clear space for any operator to roam around and not disturb another colleague.
The remaining larger board split the room in half, just in the middle. It served as storage for spare parts, tools and stuff.
Also used when people wanted to do teamwork, or when the gadgets took up many space, like Sledge's "The Caber", or any special shield, like Blitz's.
The workshop had very poor decoration, if any. A lot of burned areas covered the ceiling and walls, painted over with white paint, contrasting the rest of its dark color.
Many accidents took place here, mostly with explosives involved. Nearly all of them had Shuhrat and his Matryoshkas' signature. In his opinion, collateral damage wasn't important enough to care about.
In any case, a fire extinguisher was precisely on the spot, if needed.
Since destruction was his specialty, Six knew from the beginning: This operator wouldn't join any hostage extraction team, unless the situation required his peculiar modus operandi.
Six hoped that supposed scenario never get past VR tests.
Back into the workshop, a clock attached to a wall marked a quarter to twelve. So little time for lunch to be ready.
A lone figure worked there, in the left table near the window.
Masaru was concentrated on his drone, Yokai. Silence was key to accuracy, and he couldn't afford any mistake.
"Come on, come on..." he adjusted the upper right propeller. In the early morning, Yokai almost dropped his cup of coffee when it suddenly stopped mid-air. The drone could use some repairment.
Humming, another figure appeared by the door, and sat by another board, the closest to the big one.
Masaru managed to stay focused. Anyway, the hum didn't annoy him that bad.
After a while, of hearing the welder sound, which was also bearable, the hum turned into a singing voice.
"Take oooon meee, take on me..."
The japanese blinked twice, his concentration interrupted. He looked where the voice came from. Jordan Trace welded some C4s for his exothermic charges, while listening to some music with his black earphones on.
He totally didn't need to make so much noise. Masaru was about to silence him with a serious warn, but caught a glance from a brown pot with a green cactus, a little away from his working spot.
Masaru didn't mind it much, as he had something planned to do. He stood up and took one step forward.
"I'll beeee goooooone ... In a day or... Ow." During the climax of his song, he burned his hand with the welder. Bandages covered the texan's hands, so this could be expected.
Masaru smirked and returned to his seat, but his concentration was lost. He put the screwdriver aside, and decided to play a game on his phone, taking a break.
Yokai buzzed, as if it complained for losing its owner attention.
Many songs after, Masaru had to admit he liked to hear some of them, even though Jordan sang them all.
"Put on the red light...!" His fellow operator had the music loud enough to hear the rhythm.
"Roxanne..." Masaru added unconsciously, his voice low. The Texan wouldn't hear him anyway.
After three burns and lost levels on the japanese's phone, Jordan finished two of his exothermic charges.
"Ah, at last." he sighed and stretched his arms, appreciating his latest creations.
"At last." Masaru repeated to himself. He hoped Trace would leave the place soon enough.
The japanese operator put his phone aside and got ready to work again. He still needed to put in Yokai a new spare, so losing time now wasn't an option.
The last days he had eaten nothing but bread and coffee, distracted by his beloved drone. He knew vitamins and proteins requirements, but skipping meals for work was worth it.
Even if he called Yumiko for help, she'd simply ignore him. His laziness made her sick.
"Hey Echo, going for lunch in a bit, you coming?" Jordan stood up, taking his recently made gadgets.
"I'll pass." Masaru answered. He didn't bother to look at Jordan back.
Jordan shrugged, used to this kind of reactions. As he approached the exit, he remembered something and took several steps backwards.
"Check this beauty out. Is this yours?" The texan chuckled.
"No." the japanese retorted, as he tried to regain his focus.
"I like this cactus, bud. It reminds me of my golden ages! Whose is this? Oh, here says... From Chandar, Mark. Whoa, is this Mute's?" Jordan seemed confused, raising his two eyebrows.
"Uh huh, I guess." Masaru nodded, his frown getting more noticeable as every second passed.
"Here's more: To Nam, Grace. Figures, this one is her spot."
Two tables and the large one away from Masaru's workspot, a full with stickers table stood.
Korean expressions and colorful figures, some similar to the Logic Bomb's logo, were scattered across its surface.
It stood out a lot to the dull-coloured others.
"Maybe Mark likes Grace, I don't know, but can you shut the fuck up, Trace? I'm trying to work here." Masaru growled and hit the table with the screwdriver's bottom.
Yokai buzzed again, as if it were trying to calm his owner.
" 'kay, 'kay, don't get mad. " Jordan turned and left, humming a new song.
"At last. Peace and quiet."
However, Masaru, out of curiosity, turned to see the cactus.
Indeed, a two-armed small spiny plant stood in a brownish pot, on the sticker-covered spot. Its left arm had a reddish flower, giving it a touch of unique beauty.
Huh, Mark leaving such details to someone. So strange to be real.
No human being interested him in any way, be it man, woman or whatever was in between.
All his love seemed to be spent on his signal disruptor, Moni. His time as well, repairing, improving, or just hiding the gadget from Dominic, his german defender counterpart.
Several times their colleagues compared them for the relationship they had with their gadgets, but none really cared. Masaru liked Mark. Focused and only spoke when he was spoken to. Good enough.
In fact, he didn't see it as impossible.
Few weeks ago, Six ordered Grace to improve her Logic Bomb, and Masaru, to help her out. He was kind of interested on her work, so he agreed.
A field mission required her hacking, since her ability to see through enemy CCTV helped a lot with stealth.
At first, Grace was reluctant to do anything. She knew her gadget couldn't get better, with an untraceable and overwriting code. Sure, signal disruption hard countered it, but hacking had limits.
Nonetheless, she decided to show off to her japanese colleague. Masaru wasn't amused, and pointed every error it could get. Like a newly made counter-hack.
Grace took that as a challenge, proving she could beat anything he could bring into. They both started coming to the workshop regularly and work/compete together on the large table.
Everything went as usual. Many operators came, worked and left, as they did normally. Well, all but one.
"Hello, Mark!" the korean girl smiled as she waved at him.
The first time she did that, Masaru was caught off guard.
Since when Grace called Mark by his name? Only SAS members did that. The rest of the base addressed him by his codename, probably because they shared with him nothing more than a colleague relationship, with few exceptions. Like Chul, but he didn't talk much. Maybe less than the young brit.
Masaru looked at each with his eyes narrowed. Something odd was going on.
Mark didn't make any sound and replied with a slow nod, then deep silence. His expression remained hidden behind his gas mask, the adhesive tape making an X included.
He kept coming to the workshop everyday. His jammer and personal working tools alongside, avoiding getting near to the large board.
No matter which situation the workers were on, Mark always ended up looking at Grace. Nearly staring. Like a shy admirer or a creepy stalker, he could be any with his face always covered.
However, Mark was quick enough to turn away when the korean girl tried to look back at him.
As days passed, Masaru began to care less about it. If Mark ended up getting caught, it was his business. However, Grace had to be blind to not notice.
Their last day scheduled, the korean hacker got lipstick and a bit of makeup. Or more than she had before, Masaru had no idea.
He didn't make a single comment and tried to work as usual.
The same scenario repeated, greeting and then absolute silence from Mark.
Masaru sighed, it showed signs to be another day of third wheel discomfort.
He made his usual attempt to ignore them, but a sudden thought made him stop. What if she...? Damn.
"Uh, Grace." Masaru called. He glanced at her narrowly with the corner of his eyes and kept typing randomly, as he tried to look casual.
"Hm? What's wrong?" She turned to him, and stopped typing on her laptop for a moment.
The japanese sighed in relief. No puppy eyes, no dilated pupils, no fake smile. At least having read Yumiko's teen magazine proved to be useful.
Masaru wouldn't have known how to act otherwise. Besides, he had been in love before, and now he didn't have the time for that kind of crap.
"No, it's nothing." he shook his head.
Masaru felt Mark's gaze on himself, but he shrugged. Soon the usual "stare - look adorable" exchange returned and swarmed the atmosphere.
The project went swimmingly, as it improved her code by a fair amount.
A weird sound returned him to the loneliness of the workshop. His stomach just growled, so he considered speeding up his work.
"But when did he leave it here?" Masaru wondered.
Mark always tried to learn Taina's step and go unnoticed where he went. If his drone had him busy, he wouldn't have noticed anything at all.
"So original, Mute." Masaru shook his head and turned away from the plant. He focused again on Yokai.
The four propelled drone buzzed. As if it were happy to receive the spare it so badly needed.
Despite the sun being near to its highest point in the sky, darkness covered the first floor sleeping quarters' hallway. The few light came from the window at the end, which gave a shy view of the garden, as it got greener after a long winter.
The first teams to join Rainbow lived here, as they were all rooms with four cramped bedrooms inside, including a living room.
The rest lived on the smaller rooms around the base. Most were on the second floor, with two exceptions, located on the first. It had space up for two people, so it didn't seem like a coincidence the fact of bringing two operators when a new operation started.
Each door had a metal plate with a name according to the residents inside. The SAS had a United Kingdom flag just below. The GSG-9 had a Germany one, the GIGN, a French and so on.
A door after a door the sequence continued. In the middle of the corridor, in front the FBI SWAT shared room, there was a showcase. A place for Rainbow's news.
Or at least that was the idea, because now a message to the chat group solved the problem easy enough.
However, Jäger's birthday party invitation still hanged in there. Alexsandr, attached to the old habits, gladly made it. They became good friends after the outbreak in New Mexico.
The room two doors to the right was occupied by the SAS members. A sign that said: "Special Air Service" had below "Layza soights" written in indelible black ink. A korean signature was just beside.
Voices came through that door, interrupting the silence reign in the corridor.
"Why does the old man take so long? I'm hungry." Seamus' deep voice asked.
"Perhaps breakfast got him sick." answered Mark's muffled voice.
"Great, James left without us." A door closing sound was heard. "Let's get going, the old man will take an hour or two to get out of there."
This time another door opened, and another voice came up.
"Because I do have hair and beard to take care of." Mike growled. "And stop calling me old!"
"You have hair yet, old man. Can we go now?"
"Give me a sec, let me dry myself off."
A gray cat came to the door of the SAS room, as quiet as cat feet could be.
Upon hearing the voices, he stopped and sat, moving his tail to each side.
"Will you go with the mask on again to get lunch, Mark?" Mike asked, his tone filled with annoyance.
"It doesn't bother anyone, if that's what you mean." Mark replied, bored as usual.
"Oi, Baker, did you hear the latest news?" Seamus said, curving a smirk.
"Oh, a gossip? Which one? Just say it, Cowden."
"My super reliable source of information assures me that a certain korean..."
"Huh, I think I know already. It involves someone around here, right?"
"Yep, thought it was pretty obvious."
The silence lasted a few seconds.
"What?" Mark asked with awkward tone, and louder than usual.
Seamus and Mike laughed.
"Look kid, when I was young..."
"You had a lot of girlfriends. I know that cliche, old man." Mark snapped . His tone died as he spoke.
"I did, Mute. And I'm not old. I'm middle-aged."
"You sure? I don't think that's..." Cowden objected.
"Shut up, Cowden. Going back to the subject, have you already tried asking her out?"
"Who? I don't know what you are talking about, Thatcher." Mark tried to suppress his nerves, but his voice changed now to a higher pitch, making it more obvious than before.
"We're talking about your korean bombshell Dokkaebi." Seamus replied, emphasizing each word.
Mark gulped. He expected it, but couldn't get ready enough.
"Son, don't make it harder for yourself. Have you talked to her, invited her out, something?"
Silence took over the place, again. Mark snorted.
"I gave her a cactus, happy?"
"A cactus. Seriously?" Seamus frowned.
"Well, it's not a bad idea, if she likes it and as long as you've given it to her personally." Mike conceded.
"Oh, actually..." Mark took a lingering pause. "I left it in her spot at the workshop"
"You couldn't give it to her yourself? Oh, man up Mark!" Seamus snapped, disappointed.
"Really? A gift out of the blue? Grace would think I'm a weirdo..."
"And you think what you did changed any of that, huh? Unexpected presents discomforts women, just for you to know."
"That's not always true, Cowden."
"Well, it's not when you at least know the girl."
"Wait, wait, you have talked to her, right?" Mike asked again, his tone a little doubtful. "Besides your bloody single syllable answers." he added.
A moment of silence passed, as one of the residents inside took a deep breath.
"No." Mark's voice sound frustrated. "And I don't know even why I'm telling you this." The screech of a sofa being pushed back was heard through the door.
The cat flinched, as the footsteps got closer. He raised his tail, and took a pose to run away.
"Stop right there, Mute." Mike's tone stayed calm. He usually was bossy as hell, but this time he kept his composure. "I just wanna help. Plus, it'd be great if the woman whose goal in life is making her colleagues rage over and over again with shitty pranks, finds another way of entertainment, and that could be you."
The pet relaxed his tensed muscles, as the footsteps got away.
"Let's look at the bright side." Mike continued. "Maybe Grace in some way likes plants."
"Yeah, maybe. Hope dies last." Seamus said, with an easier tone.
"Well, come here and sit down. The first and only thing you need to know is that there's no such thing as impossible woman. Only you make the possibilities."
"But don't get cocky or you'll win plenty of slaps on the face. As I'm told." Seamus snorted.
"The possibilities I talk about are many, but for me there are only two. The first, I know we all here earn the same so money won't get you anywhere. Unless you're looking for just a lay."
The air felt heavier for an instant.
"Well, you decided for the really hard way. I don't know about the other possibility because since I met you the only female you've spoken to, apart from the previous Six, is Twitch, with that stupid mask on."
"Does that matter?" Mark asked, interrupting Mike.
"Nope. What matters is that I don't know if you have any experience talking to women."
"It's like he's afraid of them, right?" Seamus said amused.
"Now, kid, I need to know how many resources do you count on, besides your crappy face. Did you have a girlfriend in high school?"
"No, never got interested. I was twelve when I graduated high school." Mark replied bitterly.
"Alright, in college?" Mike insisted for some positive info, but his faithful tone weakened.
"I don't think twenty-year-old girls are interested in fourteen year-old-lads."
"Have you ever talked to ANY girl before joining the Service?" The old man lost his calm for emphasis on one word.
"No. Romantically, no." Mark clarified, clenching his teeth.
"Awesome. We're at about... Ah, zero percent of progress. Nicely done, Mark."
The cat approached the door again, put his two front paws on and began to scratch it.
"It must be Bandit's cat, James feeds him sometimes." Mark spoke up, trying to change the subject.
Deeper steps than earlier got close to the door. It swung open.
"Get out!" Mike hit the floor with the sole of his right boot.
The cat ran away terrified. The opened door let see the SAS' small living room, painted in dark blue.
Two armchairs, a couch and a small rectangular table all over the parquet floor. No windows were around, but the little one the bathroom had.
The bathroom split in two the room. To the right, an abstract painting hanged on the wall, and a door which had a wooden sign engraved, saying "Smoke".
Few inches next to it, another wall started. In the middle another brown door stood, which had another sign, saying "Mute".
The other half mirrored the first, with "Thatcher", beside the bathroom, and "Sledge", the other one. A circle lamp hanged on the center of the ceiling, always turned on, as sunrays practically never reached that place.
Seamus sat on the couch, turning his back to the bathroom. It had a large cover over it, protecting from the possible humidity. Mark, with his CBRN gas mask on, sat on an armchair, the one in front of his own room. Both pair of eyes were on the old man.
"I dunno why you hate cats, man. You are a lot like them, if I recall well." Seamus pointed out.
"Huh?" Mike turned and crossed his arms.
The scotsman grinned and took a tiny object out of his pocket, and turned it on, firing a red light to Mike's forehead. He had it with him all the time, though he never used it as an attachment for his rifle.
Mark let out a brief chuckle. Mike looked at the young brit and raised an eyebrow. His laugh was extremely rare to hear. Seamus had the same surprised reaction, and aimed the red laser to Mark.
"Ha, someone's changing." the old brit leaned against the door frame, smirking. "Marky falling for that korean demon. Who would've known."
"Just falling you say? Nah, she charmed him all the way around." The Scotsman shook the laser all over Mark's chest.
Mark tried to keep his stoic body language, but felt rattled with his roommates' comments. Was he that obvious? He haven't showed interest at all!
Mike's stomach growled, interrupting Seamus' incoming positive answer.
"Don't you think we're done here, kid. Today it's the Germans' turn to serve lunch. Let's go." he turned to the hallway. "Cowden, turn that fooking thing off. Don't make me say it again."
He immediately aimed the laser to the corridor, just for Mike to see.
"Aye aye. I am sure Blitz and IQ will manage to do something edible." Seamus turned off and put the little laser pointer back to his pocket and followed, but stopped and peeked through the door. "Hey, Mark!"
"Oh, coming." he replied, distracted by his own thoughts.
Mark followed Seamus to the corridor, and closed the door.
"As long as Bandit doesn't touch the food..." Mike's voice sound a little far now, diminished by distance.
"Hey, who gave the idea of the cactus?" asked Seamus as the sound of his steps halted. "I know you are smart enough to not begin your courting like that."
"Just tell me. I'll know anyway."
"It was... James' idea." Mark walked off behind Mike, with a fast pace. He didn't want to see the scotsman reaction.
"Oh, man, from zero progress... It's now minus one."