Please review! And for background knowledge Monckton is, to the best of my limited research, the base at which new entrants to Six undergo their basic training. But please feel free to correct me if I am wrong.
Monckton Base - somewhere in the South of England, Autumn 2008
The mud was as thick as slurry around her feet and her entire body was aching with the kind of bone deep tiredness that experience had taught her that only 8 hours in her bed would kill. The wind coming off the Channel was icy and with the wetness of her track suit from the last obstacle in the assault course it felt like she might as well be naked for all of the wind protection the material was providing. Her hands were raw under her gloves and the wet edges of her rough ponytail whipped across her wind burnt cheeks like a myriad of tiny red hot wires.
Seriously, there were times when she wondered what the hell she was doing with her life.
"Rider – get a move on, girl! This isn't a holiday camp!"
Her legs were screaming, an incipient stitch threatening to erupt in her side, and when she exhaled out hard to combat it there was the burning in her lungs of tissue being utilised to the fullest. Every footfall had to be wrenched from the glutinous mud that was almost ankle deep along the course and just to top it all it was starting to rain, a fine, wet freezing cold drizzle that blanketed everything in a thin mist and made inhaling particularly unpleasant.
Yup, there really were times when she wondered what the hell she was doing with her life.
She forced her aching legs to go even faster, the heaviness of her limbs jarring the rest of her body uncomfortably each time her feet hit the ground. Last hill before home. Finding a final bout of energy she threw herself up the slope, long legs devouring the ground even as her breathing deepened and stabilised. There it was - the final obstacle, the cargo net. She knew how to handle that one.
Accelerating up the hill she leapt at the net, pushing off as she did so, landing like a spider a quarter of the way up. Then it was a mad scramble to the top, a stomach turning flip over the top and a slide and a leap to the ground, the shock hitting her legs as she landed. 10 Metres to the finish line. Her eyes fixed on the prize and she loped forward, somehow finding the strength deep down inside to push through despite the screaming of her muscles.
The adrenaline drained out of her in one heady swoop and she slowed down to a jog, her legs trembling.
She turned her head at the curt acknowledgement from the grizzled ex-SAS trainer stationed at the finish line and cocked her head to the side in query.
He gave her a brusque nod. "Not bad. 20 seconds off your last time. Now go and wash up and hit the mess."
She smiled at him and without stopping set off at a slow jog for the barracks. Behind her she could hear the shouts of the other trainers as they castigated the rest of the recruits for their slowness. She was pretty sure that the fastest of them were still only about 3/4 of the way through the course. She'd slaughtered them. Unseen, her smile widened to an urchin, sharp edged grin.
Yes – sometimes she wondered what the hell she was doing with her life. But not right now.
Featherstone looked up through the window of the ancient 1950's portacabin that functioned as the instructors field office as Rider jogged easily past, obviously on her way back to barracks after finishing today's attack on the assault course. Despite the absolute shittiness of the weather and having just completed a fairly gruelling run she was evidently cheerful, a small smile hovering around those cupid bow lips, green eyes bright and alert.
Featherstone signed inwardly. She really was unfairly attractive, especially now all the bruises and cuts that had decorated that sharp boned face when he had first seen it had long since faded. And the pure concentrated aggression with which she was tackling the more physical parts of the training course just made her even more desirable to the junior members of his staff. To the highly physical ex-special forces types that acted as instructors down here at Monckton it was a ridiculously seductive package. Thankfully they all had a considerable amount of self-control, and the fact that Rider was only 18 and that M would have their collective balls if anything happened to her newest protégé meant that the only overt signs of their collective madness were a few rather long looks at Rider's arse in her sweatpants when she went jogging by and a careful maintenance of eye contact when they had to interact with her directly.
His musings were interrupted by a blast of cold, wet air as the door to the cabin slipped open and Johnston, his SIC and an ex-Hereford man slipped in, closing the door firmly behind him before he stomped over to ancient table that served both of them as a desk and dropped down on to one of the two chairs. He immediately pulled out a sheaf of paperwork from the pile of personnel folders on the desk and started entering figures into the relevant sections in his signature messy shorthand.
A grunt was Featherstone's only answer as he moved over to the obligatory cheap Tesco kettle and mismatched storage jars of tea bags and sugar that every army office seemed to have as if by law. Once brewed he dumped a chipped mug on the ramshackle table in front of his grumpy SIC and took the other seat, leaning back and cradling his mug in his hands to warm them as he regarded his junior steadily.
Johnston glanced up from his paperwork, a frown creasing his forehead.
Rolling his eyes internally at the other man's deliberate obliviousness Featherstone tapped the edge of the personnel folders with one hand. "Update please."
The older NCO sighed and shifted in his chair before answering.
"Blake and Cameron are doing as well as can be expected. Although Blake needs to work on his defensive driving if he ever wants to get assigned to close protection. Fellows' physical training scores are pretty appalling and her shooting is worse, but she's going to be a boffin, not a shooter so I think with a bit of effort she'll make the basic physical grade. Janaz is good behind the wheel but I would hate to be him if there was any close action work. He wouldn't last a minute. No natural aggression in that boy at all."
"What about Lloyd?"
"Good lad that one. Likely."
Featherstone pursued his lips in consideration. That was high praise from his taciturn SIC. "Would you recommend him for further field training?"
"As long as he stays at this level, yes. He's no baby 00, but we do need some sane ones out there as well as the nutters."
"True enough. O'Neill?"
Johnston waved a hand in a see saw motion. "He's got potential. But he's not really applying himself as much as I would like. It's that whole Oxbridge thing - he thinks he's above all of this grubbing-in the-mud stuff."
"Hhmm. Well – we have a few more weeks to dissuade him of that notion. And if we can't?"
"He'll pass. But I would recommend an immediate posting to somewhere with a decent threat level. A few years of worrying about being blown up every morning will be good for his character. Otherwise he'll end up a politico from the get go and we don't need any more of those at headquarters."
The two men smirked at each other. O'Neill's life was about to get somewhat interesting for the next few years.
"She'll do. Needs to work on her hand to hand though. But good attitude. She's another one of Q's isn't she?"
"Think so. I'll check."
"Not bad. A steady improvement. He's got that karate background which really helps with his hand to hand. Needs to work on his shooting though."
"Is he a goer for further field training?"
"I think so. He's got the languages hasn't he?"
"Yes. Urdu, Punjabi, Farsi and classical Arabic I believe."
Let's not waste that. I'll do some extra work with him on his shooting."
"Both of those are so so just now. Smith especially. If he doesn't pick up the pace in the next few days you may have to have a serious talk with him."
"Adequate. He needs to pull his finger out though if he wants us to recommend him for advanced field training."
"And finally. Rider...."
Johnston leaned back in his chair and picked up his mug to cradle it between his hands, mirroring Featherstone's body language as he regarded his Boss for a minute before he spoke.
The older man shrugged. "What do you want me to say, Boss? You know as well I do how she's
"Indulge me anyway. I've got to have something to report back to M."
They regarded each other for a moment more before the NCO capitulated. "Right, Rider."
The older man paused, obviously choosing his words carefully. "Boss - has Six ever had any female 00's?"
Featherstone smiled wryly and a little grimly. "Yes." He smiled that wintery little smile again at the look of surprise that passed across Johnston's face. "What – did you expect me to say - no? Remember what they say about the female of the species, Tom."
Johnston rolled his eyes at his boss's amused tone. "Oh aye. But still…it's not a job that I can imagine many women having the.....mindset....for."
Featherstone inclined his head in acknowledgement. "True. And it's certainly not that common. On average we get about one a decade and there hasn't been an active female 00 on the roster for about 15 years." He met the other man's gaze levelly. "I will be very surprised if that doesn't change within the next few years."
Johnston leaned back in his chair. "So you can see it too?" At his Boss's slow nod he exhaled explosively. "It's bizarre. I mean - don't get me wrong, it's as impressive as hell and she's completely wrecking my grading scheme for the other trainees, but I sometimes feel like I'm training three different people and all of them scare me for different reasons."
Featherstone nodded his understanding but gestured for his SIC to continue. He wanted the older man's unadulterated opinion before he started adding his two bits.
The other man leaned forward and put his mug down, counting off on his fingers as he spoke. "There is - let's call her Rider One, who seems to be the closest one to what you would expect an 18 year old kid to be." Featherstone noticed that Johnston still didn't categorise 'Rider One' as a 'girl' in the same slightly derisive tone that the majority of the other trainers did when faced with a young female trainee.
Despite himself the older man's mouth quirked. "That kid - she's having a blast. Doesn't matter what physical thing you throw at her she just bounces through everything like a damned energiser bunny. I don't think she would understand the concept of 'quit' if you explained it to her. And she's so bloody cheerful all the time. I mean - it's quiet, don't get me wrong, she's not wandering around carolling, but the more physical crap I load on her the more upbeat she gets. I mean, I caught her out of hours last night, going over the obstacle course in the dark...." he chuckled quietly, shaking his head in amusement. "It's driving the other trainees insane. She's just so hyper fit that trying to keep up with her is killing them."
Featherstone chuckled as well. "Well, it's good motivation for them."
"Heh. Yeah. So - yeah. That kid is a great recruit. Bit young maybe, but really attentive and a quick learner. The kind of recruit that if this was Catterick I would be recommending her for a commendation and potentially for officer training. I would definitely be looking at her as a candidate for quick promotion."
"I can see all of that. So what worries you about 'Rider One'?"
"She's very – young - sometimes. If you move too quickly around her she tenses, if you try to touch her in any way other than from the front and with clear warning she flinches. She's not comfortable around men in large groups and she avoids them in social situations."
"So you noticed that. I wasn't too sure if you would." Featherstone commented quietly.
Johnston shrugged. "I've been paying attention. It's not that obvious – but it's there. And you put a young girl who looks like Rider and who is trained to the level that she is trained in situations where she is going to be in close contact with special forces who aren't paying attention? Just asking for trouble."
"True. Let's just say she has her reasons for that reaction and leave it at that." Johnston raised his eyes to meet Featherstone's steady grey eyed gaze, and after a moment he nodded. He didn't need to know and he didn't think he actually wanted to know. He'd seen enough of the crap that one human could do to another over the years that he didn't want to know the details of what the kid had been through. It was obviously in the past and he couldn't do anything to fix it, so the best thing for him to do was to ignore it and just continue to treat the kid the same as he had been doing so far.
"Anything else?" His Boss prompted him.
"She doesn't know how to quit. I know I was joking about it earlier but I genuinely do not think she knows how to stop until she finishes what she starts. You have to almost physically restrain her. And while that's better than the alternative that kind of blind determination is likely to get her killed in the field when someone who's willing to take a step back would survive."
Johnston shifted in his chair. "So 'Rider One'- I'm more scared for her, than of her, but she's still pretty much a force of nature.
"And 'Rider Two?'"
Johnston grimaced. "Have you seen that look she gets whenever she's really into something? That intense focus? It's as if she's determined to take in absolutely anything we can teach as though it's all going to be taken away tomorrow. She's eating it all for breakfast. And when I introduced them to the armoury....let's just say I know a hell of a lot of men on this base that would give a month's salary for Rider to look at them the way she looks at a gun. Three months if she was prepared to handle them the way she handles the weaponry."
Featherstone smiled at the exaggeration, but appreciated the hyperbole for what it was - an attempt to make a somewhat serious subject more palatable. "So she's somewhat…intense?"
"That's an understatement. And she's almost frighteningly competent. She was unfamiliar with a few of our standard issue but even those she picked up fast. And the ones she knew already?" He shook his head. "An 18 year kid should not be able to do what she does with those. And she doesn't have any tells."
Featherstone raised an eyebrow in a request for clarification.
"When she shoots, I mean. All of the others had the normal reaction to shooting for the first time – lack of adjustment for recoil, wincing when the gun fired, blinking…you know – the normal."
"But she doesn't?"
Johnston shook his head ruefully. "Not a single one. Everything anticipated and adjusted for as though she's been doing this for 20 years. Which is frankly unnatural in an 18 year old kid in this country. If she had grown up with guns abroad I could understand it, but there was no record of that on her file." The last was noted with the slightest hint of a questioning intonation, just enough that Featherstone could choose to expand if he wished or leave the unspoken question unanswered. He chose the later, carefully maintaining his blank expression as Johnston paused for him to interject if he was going to.
Correctly interpreting the lack of response Johnston merely gave his boss a slight eye roll before continuing, his expression detached and thoughtful as he recounted his findings. "She's exceptionally good at long distance target shooting. I've got her on the L96 sniper rifle, but I might see if I can cadge a L115A3 to see what she can do with that. I'm seriously considering setting up some kind of condensed version of the Sniper Wing course for her if we can squeeze in the time."
Featherstone raised an eyebrow at that. For his normally taciturn-to-the-point-of-negativity SIC this was almost the equivalent of gushing. Certainly he couldn't remember the last time when Johnston had considered going out of his way to rustle up that level of extra training for a recruit going through basic agent training.
"What about hand guns?"
Johnston rubbed his fist across his lips as he considered. "She wasn't really familiar with the Browning, but she picked it up pretty quickly. I asked her about what she may have fired before," he paused at his superior's faintly disapproving look. Johnston knew very well that he wasn't cleared to have access to Rider's history before Six. "Boss – it was relevant information, I needed the context to work out what to bring her up to speed on."
"Fair enough," Featherstone conceded after a moment's consideration. "But seriously, Tom, don't pry. No more than the very basics that you need to know."
Johnston nodded in capitulation. "I got it Boss. But in relation to the handguns….she said that she was familiar with the Beretta 9, but her primary training had been with the Walther PPK." Featherstone pursued his lips at that. He wasn't familiar with every detail of Rider's file (he doubted that anyone other than M was) but the PPK was not standard military issue, but was rather used in situations where concealed carry was considered preferable. So civilian law enforcement, general civilian carry (where permitted) and professional work, where a wet work artist needed to make a quick shot and then re-holster the gun concealed.
He somehow doubted that Rider had been trained in any civilian capacity.
"Right. What's her accuracy like with the pistols?"
"Solid centre mass 8 times out of 10. Whoever trained her, and no Boss - I didn't ask – taught her to double tap. On the head shots she's hitting about 7.5 out of 10 on average. So there's still room for improvement."
Double tap. So whoever had taught her to shoot hadn't bothered to faff around with shooting to wound or any of that nonsense. Which meant at least they didn't have to break her of any bad habits.
"So I'm guessing you don't have to worry about any squeamish crap about shooting to wound with her then?"
Johnston smiled slightly. "Rather the opposite, Boss. Whoever taught her to shoot never bothered with shooting to wound. In fact when I mentioned it she gave me a very old-fashioned look."
"Fair enough." In Featherstone's opinion 'shooting to wound' was a load of crap anyway. Nine times out of ten in their line of work you would end up having to double tap the bastard eventually. And your chances of missing were far higher if you aimed for a leg or an arm. Like the majority of those in the armed services Featherstone believed that if you drew your gun you better be prepared to use it, and if you used it you shouldn't fanny about. A target with two in the chest and one in the head was unlikely to subsequently get up and shoot you in the back.
"So - you're going to work with on her on the pistol side?"
"Yeah. She mentioned that it had been a few years since she had done any serious shooting so if she's shooting at that level of accuracy now, after all the time off...." Johnston shrugged. "I bet I can get her up to at least 90% accuracy, if not higher on the pistols by the time the course finishes. And I really want to see what she can do with the L115A3 while I've got the chance."
"Right." Featherstone mentally considered for a moment, slotting all of what his SIC had just provided him with into his overall plan for Rider's training, adjusting as he went along.
"What about the technical side? Any reports from Sanjeep?"
Johnston nodded. "He likes her. Says that's she's got, to quote "mad hacking skills", unquote. He's pretty happy with that side of her development. Happy enough that he's setting up an advanced curriculum for her on that side of the fence."
Featherstone snorted in amusement. "So it looks like Q Branch might finally get their dream of a technologically adept field agent at last."
Johnston smiled in return. "Maybe. She's not as familiar with the communications tech, though. Never used the radios or the transmitter set up before. But Sanjeep says she picks things up pretty quickly and that she's already bugging him for extra briefings on all the kit, so I'm not that worried about that side of her training."
From the briefing M had given him Featherstone wasn't that surprised by Rider's lack of familiarity with the communications tech. By the sound of it most of Rider's previous field work had been almost totally unsupported. She certainly hadn't had Q branch's incessant directions to contend with while she went about her work. Featherstone genuinely didn't know whether to envy her the autonomy (and the peace and quiet) or to feel furious on the young agent's behalf that she had been essentially cut loose and left to (often literally) sink or swim without proper training or support. No wonder she was gulping down the training like a baby bird with its mouth open.
"She's fluent in French, German and Spanish. Think she has a bit of basic Italian as well. Once she gets based at headquarters M has arranged for her to receive some intensive tuition to get fluent in that. I also understand that the kid is keen to take advantage of Six's arrangement with Oxbridge to start studying for her undergrad. She hasn't indicated exactly what she wants to study but I will be pretty surprised if there's not some language component to her degree."
"Yes. She would be bloody stupid not to take advantage of the resource. And if there is one thing that's coming across very clearly about Rider is that she's definitely not stupid."
Johnston smiled wryly. "You got that right Boss. I admit I was a bit surprised when she first turned up - I mean she's very young and let's be honest - she looks like the kind of girl you see on the cover of a magazine, not the kind that's an embryonic shooter." He shook his head in baffled amusement. "But by god, are they right sometimes about first impressions being misleading."
Featherstone snorted a laugh.
"In this case – absolutely. But then I had the advantage over you before Rider turned up. M briefed me, and I've read an edited version of her file, so I was more prepared for the disparity between what she looks like and how she acts. But it'll certainly be useful if she does undercover work. If she acts like a girly girl, well…with her looking like that –no one will ever suspect that she's an agent."
"True. And she's bright enough that she'll be able to take full advantage."
"Absolutely. So - any concerns with 'Rider 2'?"
Johnston shrugged. "She's mono focused. But that could just be a side effect of her attitude to the training. She needs to relax a little so that she can improve her ability to multi task. But it's more that intensity of hers - she needs to learn to disguise it. Otherwise it's going to be a vast flashing sign to our kind of people if she's undercover in the field."
"Hhm. I’ll discuss it with her. She may relax a little anyway once the training tempo goes down, but we'll see. So - you've updated me on Rider One and Rider Two. What about Rider Three?"
For a moment his SIC looked almost troubled and he uncharacteristically hesitated before he replied.
"Rider Three….," Johnston paused again, clearly being careful with his words, finally taking refuge in the bland terms of military obfuscation. "Rider Three has demonstrated a number of the necessary characteristics that would lead me to consider that she should be recommended for advanced field agent training as soon as possible, with the long term aim of inserting her into the 00 program at the appropriate juncture." Johnston spoke quietly; without mumbling or hesitance but Featherstone could clearly hear the conclusions that his SIC had already drawn lurking underneath the polite facade of military reserve.
Rider 'Three' was a stone cold killer, hidden behind the face and figure of a swimwear model.
And somehow, that didn't surprise Featherstone in the slightest. Please review!