We were dripping wet when we knelt in the open space at the front of the building, between the Device and the big double doors. Alex was grinning like the cat that got the cream, and the Professor had wandered off chuckling, leaving us in the hands of one of the orderly orderlies. Each of us had a Steyr assault rifle and a Glock pistol in front of us, and the orderly was showing us how to take it apart and put it back together, so that we could take care of it inside and out. The idea was to practise it until we could do it blindfolded.
“And this fits into here... and then like this... and like this... and it’s done. Now you try.” His attempts at hiding his American accent were both futile, considering one of our number was an American, and painful to hear, but maybe he thought that was how you were supposed to behave when you worked for the CIA.
I lifted the rifle resting on the mat in front of me, and my fingers started to move. It was automatic; I didn’t have to think what the next movement would be, and I only made a few mistakes on the first pass. I looked over at James, and he grinned at me. Looking at Alex, she smiled ruefully and said “I was never this good with an M4. I guess this is another one of the Professor’s tricks.”
To the orderly’s credit, he recovered quickly, and gave us all blindfolds. They didn’t make any difference. Learning to do the same for the pistol was even easier; less parts, and we knew what to expect. When our skill at taking apart both weapons had been tested to the satisfaction of our instructor, we learned how to use them, first with blank ammunition, then firing at a target in front of a pile of sandbags from the length of the hall. Each of us left a ragged-edged hole, nine millimetres wide, at the centre of our cardboard target.
The noise of the gunfire drew the rest of the small staff, and I’m sure the people outside wondered what kind of idiot would do firing practise inside when there were perfectly good ranges at the back of the camp. The nurse clapped when James’ second target came back with a smiley face drawn on it in 5.56mm.
“What exactly is the point of this, Professor?” I asked when we’d finished, my earmuffs around my neck. “It’s not like we’re going to have any of these weapons down in Wellington, are we?”
“Oh, well... actually, I have already made discreet arrangements for a small arsenal, including both the types of weapons you’ve practised with and a store of ammunition, to be placed at the bottom of the Corporal’s wardrobe. In case of emergencies, you know.”
“Oh? And where exactly am I supposed to put my shoes?” The Professor looked so flustered that we all burst out laughing at the same time, but I never get so deep into laughter that I pay no attention to the world around me, and Crenshaw looked uncomfortable with the way the three of us were joking together, and standing as a group a few feet from the rest. Perhaps he’d thought he could put an eagle in a cage with a pair of kiwis, and she would stay in the trees while we grubbed in the undergrowth. More fool him, then. We weren’t kiwis or eagles any more. We were each of us a phoenix. The thought made me grin even more.