~Close Protection, of a Sort~
Chapter One: In From the Cold...Or Not
It began with a telephone call.
This was not unusual in the least. Every time MI6 needed their conscripted superspy, they
rang him asking him to come into the ‘bank’ that served as their cover. It was almost a
ritual of sorts.
Actually, Alex thought it was rather careless that MI6 always contacted him in the same
way, with the same instructions. In the intelligence world, habit was deadly. That’s how
you got killed. For a group of the best espionage personnel in the world, he would’ve
thought they’d known better. But perhaps they thought that there was no danger in
someone being able to predict exactly how MI6 would contact him; perhaps they thought
their personnel could handle it if there was any danger. In any case, every call was the
same, just a change in date and time.
This call was no exception. It came on a Wednesday at the beginning of January. Alex
had just come home from school. Outside, it was a gloriously sunny day, despite it being
the middle of winter, and Alex had every intention of enjoying it. He had been labouring
arduously the past few weeks to catch up all of his school work that he had missed
because of his involvement with MI6. He had come home expecting to have a full night
of work, like always, but upon checking his agenda realized that he had finished
everything. For the first time in months, there was actually nothing he needed to be
doing. He went into the kitchen with a huge grin on his face.
“Guess what, Jack?” he asked his housekeeper and close friend, who was busy looking at
Jack smiled when she saw him. “Well, I’m glad you’re happy today. What’s up?”
“I’m all caught up!” Alex told her proudly. He laughed as she grinned in surprised
“Alex, that’s great! You’re finally getting your life back!” she exclaimed.
“I know,” he replied happily. “I actually feel normal for the first time in months!” Alex
knew he was probably excessively excited over this, but he couldn’t help it. It was just so
nice to not have the pressure of all that work hanging over him, especially with his
“Now, this calls for a celebration,” Jack said enthusiastically. “I was trying to decide
what to make for dinner,” she gestured hopelessly at the cookbook on her lap, “but you
should choose. What are you in the mood for?”
Alex, knowing full well that Jack really didn’t want to cook, suggested, “Pizza, maybe?
From that little café place?”
Jack grinned. “You know me too well, Mr. Rider. Pizza it is. When do you want to eat?”
Alex shrugged. “I’m not really all that hungry - lunch was actually decent for once.
Maybe in an hour or two?”
Jack nodded. “Excellent.”
Alex flopped down into a chair next to her. “You know, I really have no idea what to do
with myself now that I have no work left,” he mused wonderingly. “I feel almost guilty,
like I should be doing something, you know?”
Jack looked at him with raised eyebrows. “Actually? I don’t. Most of us enjoy free time
when get it, not complain about it,” she teased.
Alex sighed dramatically. “What can I say about you lazy Americans? Must be your
upbringing. We Brits can’t just be comfortable doing nothing. We like some action, some
“And that is why we are sane and y’all are not,” Jack said sagely.
There was a moment of silence before Alex’s face contorted. “Did you seriously ‘y’all’?”
Jack nodded solemnly and stared at him for a moment. Then she started to giggle and she
started chucking and it wasn’t long before they both were gasping for air with tears
streaming down their faces.
They had just begun to calm down when the sound of a telephone ringing could be heard
from the living room.
“I’ll get it,” Alex said through his giggles, walking into the other room. Taking a deep
breath in an attempt to calm himself, he picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Mr. Rider? We need you to come in and meet with us. There’s been a problem with your
Alex froze in shock. He recognized the voice immediately. It was the cold, emotionless
voice of an MI6 employee. He hadn’t been contacted in nearly 2 weeks and he’d hoped
that this time they would just leave him alone. It seemed not.
“Hello?” the voice on the other end asked. “Are you there?”
Alex mentally shook himself out of his stupor. “Fine. When?” It was not as if he would
get a choice.
“Today at 5:00. We’ll send a car.”
“I’ll take the tube,” he said bluntly and hung up.
He stood there for a moment, still reeling. MI6 wanted him again. No doubt they had
some new assignment that no one could do but him. He’d thought he’d made it clear after
his last escapade that he wasn’t interested in working for them. Not that he really thought
they would listen, but a glimmer of hope had existed. Now that was gone. He was angry.
He had just started to fit back into normal life and rebuild his shattered self. Now, he was
going back into the field, probably to his death. Oh, he’d protest of course, but they’d
force him into it like they always did. His stint at normalcy was over.
He walked slowly back into the kitchen. Jack wouldn’t like this at all.
“Hey, Alex. What do you think we should do tonight after pizza?” Jack asked, facing
away and cheerily oblivious to the new development.
“I don’t think there’s going to be pizza,” he said quietly.
Jack spun to face him. “What?” she asked confusedly. “What’s wrong?”
“MI6 called. I have to go in.” The words spilled numbly out of his mouth. He watched as
Jack’s expression changed to one of horror. “No! They can’t do this to you Alex!” she
He sighed sadly, resigned to his fate. “Yes, they can. I don’t have a choice.” He smiled
bitterly. “I guess they found I was caught up and decided it was time for me to leave
He regretted that sarcasm when he saw the heartbroken look Jack was giving him. “It’s
ok, Jack,” he said more quietly. “I’ll get through this one and then we’ll figure something
out. But I better go.”
He turned and walked out the door, just barely hearing her faint whisper.
“Don’t let them do this to you.”
A short while later, Alex was sitting in an office in the Royal and General Bank, or rather
MI6’s Special Ops HQ. Across from him sat a very grey man and a woman with dark
hair: Alan Blunt and Mrs. Jones.
He had been shown in. Mrs. Jones had greeted him and asked how he was. He didn’t
even pretend he wanted to be there. Blunt didn’t bother with such pleasantries and simply
told him to sit down. With no other preliminary, Mrs. Jones began..
“Alex, we want to send you for more training,” Mrs. Jones announced.
“I thought I made it clear I wasn’t interested,” Alex said. He should have known better
than to believe they would leave him alone.
“Yes, well, a situation has arisen,” Mrs. Jones told him a tad bit uncomfortably.
“Right,” he answered dully. He was an idiot. He had actually believed that MI6 might let
him alone after all the emotional trauma with Ash and his parents. Or at least give him a
break. But Alex realized that hope had been in vain. MI6 would never be done with him.
Mrs. Jones hesitated, looking a little unsure how to continue. Alan Blunt took over.
Speaking in a cold voice, devoid of all emotion, he asked Alex, “You are aware that we
arranged for Scorpia to leave you alone, after the incident with the sniper?” Alex nodded
his ascent. Blunt went on, “Well, I’m afraid that after the loss of both Julia Rothman and
Major Yu, the organization has come under new management. They’ve announced any
agreements made since the end of Invisible Sword are void.”
Alex was curious as to what this had to do with him needing more training, but he was
beginning to get a bad feeling.
Mrs. Jones sighed. “The thing is Alex, it seems as if the new leaders are bent on doing a
little ‘spring cleaning,’ you could say. They want to tie up loose ends, and all.”
Make that a very bad feeling.
“I’m one of those loose ends, aren’t I?” Alex guessed with trepidation. He didn’t need an
answer. He knew he was right. He suddenly felt very cold.
A nod of Blunt’s head confirmed his worst fears. “Well, you did manage to dispense with
two of their executive board members, ruin multiple major operations, and kill one of
their top assassins, as well as betraying them to us,” the man reasoned. “Quite frankly,
you’re an embarrassment they cannot afford as they attempt to salvage what’s left of their
reputation as a leading organization.”
“They want to kill me,” he realized heavily. Somehow, it didn’t surprise him. He’d had a
hard time believing they were just going to leave him alone in the first place. Scorpia
never forgets, Scorpia never forgives. He had seen this day coming from the moment he
told Blunt information after being brought in when he tried to kill Mrs. Jones.
“Unfortunately yes, Alex,” Mrs. Jones affirmed, looking at him sadly. “We’ve picked up
a significant amount of chatter suggesting you are a target.” She sighed and rubbed her
eyes. Alex noticed that she looked tired, and almost defeated, somehow. “We hoped that
we would be able to negotiate, as we did before, but Scorpia is not interested in anything
we’ve offered. You’ve embarrassed them, and your age only makes it worse. As of now,
they’ll settle for nothing but your death.”
Alex took a minute to consider this. He’s thought that after the events on Dragon Nine
that he might have a chance to get out of this world, at least for a bit. But, he reasoned
bitterly, it seemed he should have known better. It was strange, really. He would have
thought he’d feel more fear or anger or something contemplating his seemingly imminent
death. Instead he just felt … numb.
“So Scorpia’s out to kill me.” It was a statement that fell on the room like a pebble
dropping into water. There was no emotion in his voice. “And you want to send me to
train? So I can protect myself, or something?”
“Partially,” Blunt answered. “We need to keep you in a secure location for the time
being. Eventually we can convince Scorpia to leave you alone…” Alex snorted at this.
Look what happened last time. “…We can. It’s all a matter of proper leverage. But it will
take time. We need you out of the way for now. And seeing as you’re going to have to
spend however long it takes up to negotiate under close protection anyway, you might as
well do something useful.” He picked up the folder on his desk and browsed through it
for a minute before continuing. “We’re sending you back to the SAS camp in Wales.
You’ll resume training where you left off.”
SAS camp! Alex thought furiously. They couldn’t do this to him! Well, apparently they
could, but it was just wrong!
Seeing Alex’s face, Mrs. Jones attempted to soothe him. “Alex, this is for your
protection. You’ll be in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by some of the most highly
skilled men in the world. There’s hardly a safer place.”
Alex snorted, unconvinced. In his past experience of SAS training, those ‘highly skilled
men’ were more likely to kill him, accidentally or otherwise, than protect them.
“Great, just great. More school I’ll miss,” Alex commented dryly. “I don’t suppose you
realize my GCSEs are next year?” he asked, glaring at the pair of adults before him.
It was a rhetorical question, but Mrs. Jones answered anyway. “Actually Alex, we are
concerned. We’re working on setting you up with tutors now.” Alex felt a little relieved
at this. It seemed that it was in MI6’s interest to keep him doing well in school, at least
for the present. Mrs. Jones surveyed him for a moment. “In addition we’ve been talking
to our psychologists. They’re very concerned about your mental and emotional state.
They fear you’re disconnecting from your peers and becoming isolated. We’re very
concerned about your state, Alex. We can’t afford to loose one of our best assets.”
Alex was a little surprised at that. They’d never showed an interest in his well being
before. There’d been a mention of a psychologist once, but he’d said no and they hadn’t
pushed it. But, it seemed that the Scorpia affair had changed things considerably.
“We think we’ve found a solution,” Mrs. Jones announced. Alex merely raised his
eyebrows as a signal to continue. It wasn’t as if he had a choice, so he might as well hear
Blunt picked up the explanation. “Were you aware of the recent government resolve to
strengthen interest in the armed forces? No? Well, you see, due to a declining enlistment
rate, the government has announced a new program in which students experience the
military through their school. It’s a brilliant manoeuvre by the conservatives.”
“And?” Alex asked. “I hardly doubt you brought that up just to discuss the political
“Of course not. What is important is that a school was selected to provide a test group.
And so, your class has been chosen to participate. Your homeroom will be accompanying
you to your training with the SAS.”
Alex was stunned for a moment. “You’re kidding right?” Alex asked, disbelief evident in
his voice. “Sending a class of schoolchildren to train with the SAS?” He laughed. “That’s
insane.” He looked at their severe faces and sighed. “You’re serious,” he said grimly.
“The thing is,” Mrs. Jones said quietly, “we’ve been monitoring communications for
weeks, and we’ve been hearing things that, well frankly, they’re disturbing. There’s a
worrisome number of rumours that we’ve intercepted indicating that Scorpia plans not on
targeting just you, but your school as well. We’ve learned they’re targeting your class to
make a bigger statement - that though Invisible Sword failed, they are again strong and
can kill children.”
Alex suddenly felt sick. Innocent children were being put in the line of fire because of
him. Not only had he not managed to escape this world, but he was dragging others into it
too. His own life was one thing, but the lives of his friends and peers? That was
something else entirely. His stomach twisted violently as he thought of Tom on the
receiving end of an assassin’s gun.
“They’ll be targeted because of who I am,” Alex whispered in horror. His tone hardened.
“Because of who you’ve made me become.”
“No Alex. You went to Scorpia entirely on your own,” Blunt said coldly. “We had
neither knowledge of nor involvement in your little adventure in Venice. Neither did we
assign you to the incident surrounding Gregorovich sending you to them. In fact, if you
had followed orders, you’d have never met him on your first assignment. You should
have pulled out. And your most recent adventure with the ASIS was entirely voluntary on
your part, I believe. So I’m afraid you got yourself into this position with Scorpia.”
“Because of you!” Alex cried, enraged. “If it wasn’t for you, I’d never have gotten
tangled up in any of this! I never wanted to be involved. I still don’t. So you know what,
Blunt? You can stuff your training, because I won’t be needing it. Because I quit. I’m
done.” Alex held up his hands. “I’m done with all of this.” He stood up, eyes hard, and
moved to walk out.
“Really, Alex?” Blunt’s voice stopped him. “Because you might find that your bank
account has dried up. We’ll have to sell the house, of course. A shame. And immigration
will be most interested to hear about Ms. Starbright. She’s clearly no longer a student.
She’ll be deported at once.” He smiled humourlessly. “And with no one to take you in, I
suppose you’ll have to go to an institution.”
Alex glared at him murderously. Threats. And so the blackmail began again. Well fine,
they could do what they wanted; he’d had enough. He again turned to walk out, but again
Blunt’s voice stopped him.
“But the thing is,” Blunt continued, “all that is immaterial. Because, like it or not, you’re
part of this world now. You’re one of us.” Again that smile devoid of life. “Let’s pretend
that you do leave and that you never see us again and by some miracle you avoid Scorpia.
What would you’re life be like, hmm?” He leaned forward. “How are you getting on with
your friends? They’re growing a bit distant, aren’t they? You don’t really fit in anymore.”
Alex glared and shook his head rebelliously. But the words stirred some inner knowledge
and Blunt caught the glimmer of doubt in his brown eyes that told him to continue.
“You’ve seen things, Alex, that they will never understand. You’re just too mature.
Chemistry tests and girlfriends seem to pale in comparison to the plots of insane
billionaires, don’t they? Now that you know the secrets behind the world, how will you
live with not knowing what’s going on anymore? Because let me tell you Alex, that kind
of knowledge does not just go away. How will you feel when an emergency comes up?
How will you live with yourself, knowing that maybe you could have stopped it and
saved innocent lives, but now you’ll never know? You have the instinct to protect;
you’ve proven over and over that you will sacrifice yourself for others, just like your
father. You’d never forgive yourself for the people who are sure to die, like your
classmates will if you dismiss Scorpia. That kind of guilt must be…interesting.” Alex
looked into Blunt’s cold, unwavering eyes. They were manipulating him, he knew. But
somehow he also knew that Blunt was right.
“Because Alex, you can never just go back to how you were before.” He paused.
“Perhaps we are to blame for bringing you into this. It is regrettable, but I’m afraid you’re
here now and past damage cannot be undone. This is where you are. And you know it.
You know deep down you could never give this up. It’s addictive isn’t it?”
“There is no going back. You will never be satisfied. You’d be permanently restless,
anxious, always on guard against nothing - for the rest of your life, Alex, the entire rest of
your life. Do you really want that? Alex, by your will or not(i), you are in this world. And
once you’re in, you can never get out.”
There was silence in the room as Alex thought it over. He could walk out the door right
now. But something stopped him. Blunt’s words had chilled him and he knew why. It
was because Blunt had just voiced the many feelings Alex had tried so hard to ignore.
And from that came the terrible truth of the situation: Blunt was right.
“Damn you!” Alex hissed. Then he sighed in defeat. The anger drained out of him and
acceptance came. He walked back over to the chair and collapsed into it.
“Fine. What do you want me to do?” Alex asked numbly. He was so empty and hollow it
“Just go along with what we talked about,” Mrs. Jones said gently. “Get the training. It’ll
help protect you and your classmates. We’ll worry about when and how you’ll use it
later. For now we’ll focus on keeping you alive.”
Alex nodded. He felt totally drained, like he had just signed his own death warrant. Well,
in a way he supposed he had. But what choice had he? Blunt was right. He’d know for a
while now that he’d never be able to return to normal life. He’d hoped he would, sure, but
deep down he’d known. And in any case, he couldn’t abandon his classmates. It was
because of him that they were in danger. He owed them. He wouldn’t let them down.
Alex took the tube home. Wearily he explained what MI6 wanted to Jack over dinner.
She was none too pleased. “When is this going to stop?” she demanded. Alex didn’t
know what to say. She had looked ready to continue berating him, but realized he was
practically falling asleep at the table. She’d sent him to bed with a sigh.
Tired as he was, he could not fall asleep. Instead, he laid awake, thinking of all that had
been said. He’d quite possibly determined the general direction of the rest of his life. It
was strange how Blunt knew exactly what he was feeling. The man was excellent at
reading people. He supposed it was why the he was so good at his job.
Alex’s thoughts turned towards the “mission.” Twenty odd school children training with
the SAS…ridiculous. And the men would be less than happy, if his last visit was any
indication. And he had been only one kid; they were talking 20 times that. Yes, he
decided, it was going to be hell.
And to make matters worse, Alex was going to be undercover the whole time. None of
his peers could suspect anything. That was certainly going to be a challenge as he already
knew how the camp worked and had done the training exercises over and over. A lot of
what he’d learned had been drilled into him until it was subconscious. It was going to
take a lot of work and constant vigilance(ii) to pretend he knew nothing. When he’d
pointed this out to the two MI6 executives, Blunt had only told him that it would be a
‘good exercise’ in ‘staying in character.’
Alex sighed. It was going to be worse than hell. How could he get closer to people to
whom he was consistently forced to lie?
In the early hours of the morning, Alex fell into a restless half-sleep. His dreams were
filled with images of being trapped with no way out.
~Close Protection, of a Sort~
Chapter Two: A Little Two Much Rockstar
“Did you hear, Alex?”
Tom Harris, Alex’s best friend bounded up to him in the schoolyard. “Our homeroom is
going to be training with the SAS! I can’t believe we were selected!”
Alex grinned. “Hey Tom,” he greeted his friend with much less enthusiasm. His lack of
sleep had not improved his energy levels.
“Isn’t it going to be great?” Tom asked excitedly. “Of course,” he lowered his voice,
“you’ve trained with them before right?” Tom was the only person besides Jack who
knew about Alex’s other life.
“Yeah,” Alex replied.
“What are they like?” Tom asked eagerly.
Alex thought for a minute. What could he tell Tom? The words ‘evil’, ‘sadistic’, and
‘brutal’ came to mind, but he didn’t feel like crushing his friend’s ignorance just yet. Let
him be excited for a while. “They’re tough,” he decided on finally.
“Right,” Tom nodded his head solemnly. Then he broke into a huge grin. “This is going
to be so cool!”
It was official: his entire class was insane. And not just a bit nutty with a few screws up
in their heads loose, but totally, completely insane - so far off the deep end it wasn’t even
funny, Alex thought with slight awe.
It seemed Tom was not the only one to be caught up in the whirlwind of SAS madness.
All day the students had chattered excitedly, gossiping and talking about getting their
“letters” that had informed them of the trip. This seemed to be the most exciting thing to
happen at Brookland since Alex had taken care of the school bullies behind the bike shed
a few years back. Rumours floated around about the reason that Brookland was chosen,
ranging from somewhat logical (“Our school has good test results and fitness levels”) to
the completely absurd (“The aliens were somehow controlling the government”). When
Alex had heard one about how the government was “recruiting them to a private army of
assassins by brainwashing them and turning them to the dark side,” he had to laugh. Of
course, given that Alex was in their class, it really wasn’t that ridiculous, not that the boy
making it up knew that of course.
And so the whole of Brookland was alight with the news.
For Alex, it couldn’t have been worse. As far as he was concerned, anyone actually
wanting to go to the SAS was bloody insane, and those that were excited were so far over
the rainbow there was no hope of return. It was like his schoolmates expected this trip to
be fun or something. Alex knew better.
His own experience with the SAS training had been a far cry from the adventurous
escape from school his class was expecting. He had faced primitive conditions, sleep
deprivation, few amenities, and intense physical and psychological torture as he was
screamed at, bullied, pushed, and tripped through “walks” through mountains, the
infamous Killing House, the nightmarish assault course, self defence with men twice his
size, and ‘fun’ night manoeuvre, all in the unceasing Welsh rain. And that was just the
orthodox training methods.
On top of that, Alex was unceremoniously dumped in a unit of men nearly twice his age
who were less-than-pleased to be stuck with a fourteen year old boy, and alternated
between making his life hell and ignoring him completely. No, Alex was not exactly
looking forward to his return to the Brecon Beacons, and his classmates’ enthusiasm was
only making it worse.
Tom had been going on about it all day, utterly missing his friend’s discomfort. And
Alex’s other friends, who he wasn’t as close to as Tom, were just as excited, and, since
they knew nothing about MI6, he was obliged to dredge up his most enthusiastic “Woos”
so as to not arouse suspicion. He didn’t need to give them any reasons to be wary of him.
As much as he didn’t want to acknowledge Blunt’s remarks from the previous day, they
were truer than he was comfortable admitting. His many absences were taking a toll on
his friendships. He had heard rumours going around about him being involved with drugs
and gangs. While his friends would never go so far as to accuse him of those things, he
could tell they didn’t buy his sick excuses. When he’d first come back, they’d been
cautious of him. They had just started to trust him again and he couldn’t bear to loose that
He supposed this mission did have one benefit: SAS training was nothing if not bonding.
If Alex and Wolf (his old team leader) could come to a truce-like agreement (albeit a
tentative, unspoken, and very, very twisted one), anything was possible.
And Alex supposed he had to excuse his classmates. They didn’t know what to expect.
He almost wished he was as naïve as they were. And so he tried to be excited and to talk
with his friends.
But by last period, any tolerance Alex might have had for the ignorance of his classmates
was gone. His patience was worn thin and he just wanted to scream in frustration. The
constant whispering and note passing was giving him a headache. He didn’t think he
could take any more girls worrying about whether there would be proper hygiene
facilities or boys boasting about how they were going to break records and be better than
the actual SAS troopers. The most reasonable response he had heard all day was the more
lazy kids in his class worrying about keeping up. At least they were thinking somewhat
When the bell finally rang, it was an immense relief to Alex. Finally he could go home
and just chill for one of the last times for a long while. He wasn’t expecting any at
training. The SAS didn’t believe in free time. Hurriedly calling goodbye to his friends, he
moved quickly to his bike and set off towards his house. He immediately felt better as he
flew down the road, the wind against his face. He loved his bike and the sense of freedom
he got from riding fast. It was so liberating.
Alex rode home and went immediately upstairs. If he finished his homework, he’d have
time to relax for a while before bed. He opened his history textbook and looked at the
first question: Describe the Gunpowder Plot and its greater significance. He knew this
and began to write. But though he tried valiantly to concentrate, guilty thoughts kept
crowding his mind.
He felt bad about being so annoyed with his friends. After all, it’s not like they had any
idea what to expect. They were just acting like normal teenagers. He was not. It was like
he was behind a glass pane. The realities of their world didn’t touch him. He just looked
on as they went through the highs and lows of adolescence. The glass kept him alone. He
was so empty without life. He desperately wished he could break that glass and just feel.
And he felt bad because he was to blame for the situation his class was in. None of this
was their fault; it was his and MI6’s. He couldn’t let anything happen to them. His friends
did not deserve to be targeted by a ruthless criminal organization. He would keep them
Alex fell asleep over his textbook.
The next few days progressed much the same. It was still like everyone had drunk a little
too much Rockstar(i). Alex was beginning to settle in more to the whole school routine.
He talked to his friends, played football, and did homework.
On Tuesday, Tom asked him to go to the movies with a group of people. On impulse,
Alex agreed. As the time approached, Alex got more and more nervous. This was the first
out of school thing he had done with his friends in nearly a year. He was apprehensive
about fitting in – Blunt’s comment was still stinging.
Calling a good bye to Jack, Alex left his house and walked to the cinema. As he was
about to get to the there, Alex almost turned back. What if he did something stupid? What
could he talk about with normal teenagers? What if they didn’t like him anymore? But
then Tom saw him and waved him over and Alex had no choice but to join him, giving
him a weak smile. Tom, noticing this, grabbed his arm and whispered in his ear, “Relax
Alex! We’re your friends. This is going to be fun.”
Alex swallowed and nodded. Tom cuffed him gently on the head. “You dolt. It’ll be fine.
Now come on, the others are inside.”
They walked inside and Tom steered him over to a group of waiting teenagers. There
were two boys and a girl. The girl caught sight of him first. “Alex!” she cried and
promptly hugged him. Caught by surprise, Alex tentatively hugged her back after a
moment. She stepped back, saying with a smile, “Tom said he wasn’t sure if you were
coming. I’m so glad you did! We missed having you around.” Alex smiled back. This
was Emma, a girl he had known for years.
The boys came over too. One with short blonde hair clasped his hand warmly saying,
“Hey mate! We were wondering if you ceased to exist outside of school or something.”
That was Nick, a general prankster. The other, a tall dark boy, shook hands with Alex.
“I’m glad you’re back,” he said quietly. Josh was the serious one of the group. Alex
wasn’t quite sure how to respond to all of this. He hadn’t been expecting such a warm
“Did you guys get the tickets?” Tom asked with a wink at Alex, saving him from having
“Actually, I got the tickets,” Emma said with a mock sniff. “These two are totally
useless.” She linked her arm through Alex’s and dragged him off, saying “Now Alex,
have you heard about…”
Two hours later, the five teenagers walked out of the movie theatre laughing. “Oh my
god, it’s the…DEEP FREEZE!” Tom parodied. They all laughed. The movie “The Day
After Tomorrow” had been a little over the top.
“Seriously though, I think that was one of the worst movies I have ever seen,” Alex said.
“Yeah,” Josh agreed. “That’s right up there with the archaic movies my mom made me
watch last weekend.”
“Hey, I thought the part where they were stuck in the library was very dramatic!” Emma
argued. The four guys turned to stare at her. She looked back at them with a straight face.
Then her lip quivered and she doubled over giggling. “Your faces!” she gasped.
“You wanna go grab something to eat?” Nick asked after they calmed down again.
“Sure,” said Alex. Emma nodded, and Tom and Josh agreed as well. “Where d’you want
to go?” Alex asked.
“How about that pizza place?” Nick suggested.
“Sounds good,” said Josh. They set off walking.
Half way there, Nick stopped walking abruptly. They turned to look at him quizzically.
“Oh no,” he said. “Guys…RUN GUYS RUN! THE WOLVES ARE COMING!” he
yelled in mock terror. The others collapsed laughing, gasping for air.
“I think I’m going to pee my pants,” Josh moaned.
“Thanks for sharing.” Alex laughed. “I really wanted to know that.”
Everyone just laughed harder at this.
A while later they made it to the pizza place and sat down. They ordered and then talked
about random things. Alex sat back and let the conversation wash over him. He was
comfortable here. It had been surprisingly easy to fit back into his old group.
Tom noticing his expression, grinned and gave him a thumbs up. Alex realised that Tom
had set everything up for him to feel at ease. Feeling a rush of gratitude towards him,
Alex mouthed “Thank you.” Tom just waved him off and returned to the conversation of
the others about whether ninjas or pirates were cooler.
It wasn’t until after they had finished eating that the question Alex had been dreading
“So Alex,” Nick asked casually. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been sick,” Alex replied, feeling guilty for having to lie to his friends.
They stared at him incredulously. “Um, mate,” Nick said, “You do realise that no one
believes you, right?”
“I really was!” Alex insisted, feeling horrible.
“Fine. Don’t tell us,” Nick said.
“I am telling you. I was really stressed out after Ian…died and the doctors said it lowered
my immune system,” Alex explained, trying to be as convincing as possible, while
inwardly being sickened by having to lie.
“Alex,” Emma said, “we’re your friends. Don’t you trust us?” she asked, looking a little
“I do trust you!” Alex exclaimed. “I…” he floundered, looking desperately at Tom.
“Look,” Tom cut in. “Just let him alone. He was sick. I know.”
The others looked like they were going to protest, but, to Alex’s surprise, Josh stopped
“I’m sure if Alex isn’t telling us something he has a good reason,” he said quietly,
looking eyes with Alex. “He’s never lied to us before.”
Emma and Nick agreed reluctantly. “Sorry mate,” Nick said sheepishly. “It’s just, we’re
your friends and all – we care, you know?”
“Yeah, s’alright,” Alex responded, feeling horrible.
There was a mellow silence for a minute, before Tom interjected, saying brightly, “Who
Laying in bed that night, Alex looked up at the ceiling, realising how lucky he was to
have such good friends. As much as SAS training was going to be hell, he felt somehow
comforted that, for once, he was not doing this alone. He missed his friends; he hadn’t
realised how much before. Emma: the happy-go-lucky tomboy until you messed with her
friends; Nick: the smart-ass prankster who was actually really intelligent; Josh: strong
and steady, he said little, but perceived so much and was always deeply loyal; and Tom:
Tom, his best friend who was always there, no matter what. For the first time in weeks,
Alex fell asleep with a smile.
The days passed pretty normally after that. Until Friday, that it. That’s when Scorpia
made their hit.
Alex had been sitting in maths dully recording the statements of proof for congruent
triangles when armed Special Forces in full body armour stormed the room. Alex had
frozen at the sight of figures swathed in black. He watched in shock and horror, finding it
too unreal that that world had invaded his school. It wasn’t until a white-faced Tom had
dragged him onto the floor that Alex realized the men were yelling “Get down, get
down!” The team quickly secured the room, covering the windows and door. From the
noise outside, it appeared units were doing the same through out the building. Alex noted
that one man came over discreetly to stand next to him.
They waited nearly an hour before the school was cleared and the threat was declared
neutralised. The students were sent home, their questions deflected with the universal
response “An explanation will be coming as soon as we have one.” As they left, there
were a lot of excited exchanges of rumours. It seemed that a threat was welcomed as a
way to get out of class.
In the chaos, Alex had been discreetly removed from the crowd and taken to a car by a
SF man. He was driven directly to Liverpool Street. Only a short while later he found
himself sitting in Mrs. Jones’s office as everything was explained.
It seemed that Scorpia had taken their first hit on Alex and his class. Luckily, MI6 had
intercepted their plans and had activated the many SF teams around the area. They had
been able to neutralize the threat before it had reached the school, but had decided to
secure the building just in case. With Scorpia, anything was to be expected.
Digesting this, Alex realised he was rather surprised that it had taken Scorpia this long to
act. He would have expected their retaliation to be far swifter. But even this attack
bothered him. There had been no back-up plan and the whole thing seemed to be far too
simple and rather sloppy. It was almost as if Scorpia has no intention of success. But that
made no sense – why waste money and people in an attempt, as well as loose whatever
element of surprise they had?
“Scorpia didn’t want this to succeed. Why?” Alex asked.
Blunt looked at him for a moment. “We don’t know that. Perhaps this new leadership is
Alex knew immediately that they didn’t believe that at all. They were, as usual, keeping
something important from him. But before he could question them further, Mrs. Jones cut
“Alex, there’s one more thing. I’m afraid these attacks have complicated things.” She
sighed then continued. ”Our cousins across the river at 5 have gotten involved, as this
was a terrorist attack in Britain. The government has been informed.”
“And?” Alex prompted.
She sighed again. “Understand that we don’t agree with this at all, but I’m afraid we were
given no choice. The government of the day has decided that the students in your class
should be informed of the attacks on them and the true purpose of sending them to the
Alex was shocked. Why would it be a good thing to scare his class mates and create
panic? “Why would anyone want to do that?” he asked, confused.
“Because they’re bloody politicians,” Blunt growled. Alex looked at him in surprise.
Blunt never showed emotions. “They think that this could help them push a new defence
bill through parliament. They care more about their little careers than the safety of this
nation.” He took out a bottle and poured himself a drink. “We told them that this was
stupid, that it’d play right into Scorpia’s hand to give this more publicity. Even 5 agreed
with us, which never happens. But of course they didn’t listen when they saw an
opportunity to play their little games,” he said vehemently. ii
“We have no choice in this matter. So on Monday, we along with other officials will be at
your school to explain this to your class,” Mrs. Jones told Alex. “You will, of course, be
kept out of this. It really shouldn’t change much, except perhaps motivate your
Alex nodded. “Can I go home now?” he asked.
She looked at him a little sympathetically. “Not quite yet,” she said gently. “We need to
make sure that your house is secure. You’ll just have to hang out here for a bit. Perhaps
you’d like to visit Mr. Smithers?” she suggested.
Alex smiled. Smithers was perhaps his only friend in MI6. No matter how down he was,
a visit with Smithers would be sure to cheer him up. “That would be nice,” he replied.
Mrs. Jones nodded. “Just go out to the waiting room. We’ll send someone up to take you
Alex stood, nodded to Blunt and Mrs. Jones and went outside to wait.
Alex waited and waited and waited, but no one came. It had been nearly an hour and the
formal chair he was sitting in – straight wooden back with a pathetic cushion for all its
elegance – was becoming quite uncomfortable. He wondered if Mrs. Jones hadn’t made
the call. He supposed this could be some sort of test. But that didn’t make sense – what
was the purpose? No, more likely Smithers got distracted and forgot to send someone. He
stood up to stretch and his phone fell on the ground.
He bent down to retrieve it and was about to put it back into his pocket when a thought
hit him: he’d never called Jack! She’d be worried sick when he never came home.
Quickly he dialled her number. “Hello?” her voice answered, tense and worried.
“Jack?” he said.
“Alex!” she screamed. “Oh my God, are you ok? Is everything alright? I saw on the news
that your school was attacked. You’re not hurt are you? I was so worried!”
“I’m fine, Jack,” Alex said tiredly. “Nothing actually made it as far as our school.”
“Thank god,” she said simply, clearly relieved. “Where are you now?”
“I’m at headquarters,” he replied. “They want me to stay here until they’re sure it’s safe.”
“Alright. Do you know when you’re coming home?” she asked, exhausted after hours of
“They said it shouldn’t be too long,” he said unsure.
“Ok. Well, stay safe,” she said. “Call me if anything changes.”
“I will,” he promised. “Bye.”
He hung up and stood there for a moment undecided. No one still had come for him. He
could wait some more… He glanced around the deserted waiting room. The only person
was a secretary at the far end bent over her desk, engrossed in typing furiously on her
computer. His mind made up, he turned and walked off.
He vaguely remembered the way to Smithers’ office. And he supposed if he got too lost,
he could always ask directions. Besides, after everything MI6 had put him through, he
deserved to have a look around the place.
As he walked through the labyrinth of white hallways, Alex glanced curiously at the
people he passed. There were many, seeing as it was only 3:00 on a week day. Alex was
interested to know the sort of people who usually worked for MI6. Most of the younger
people cast him curious looks. They were obviously unsure what to make of a 14 year old
boy roaming MI6. The older ones hid it better; only a slight tensing around their eyes
gave them away.
And then there were a few who upon seeing his face turned white as if they had seen a
ghost. At first Alex didn’t understand why and tried to ignore it. But then as he passed by
one such person, he heard the whispered words “John Rider.” Then he realised. These
were people who had known his father. Everyone always said how closely he resembled
his dad. For these people, it was like they had seen a ghost, seeing John Rider’s son walk
down the hall. Realising this, Alex lifted his chin. He was proud to be his father’s son.
Still, he was grateful when he reached a less populated stretch of hallway. If he
remembered right, Smithers’ office was somewhere around here. That was when he
spotted the rather rotund man hurrying towards him. When the man caught sight of Alex,
he grinned hugely. “Alex, old chap!” he exclaimed. “Terribly sorry about the wait. I’m
afraid I got caught up in testing. Quite a useful little bugger, it is. But you seem to have
made it down here alright!”
Alex smiled. “Don’t worry about it Mr. Smithers. What are you testing?”
“Come see, come see!” Smithers waved excitedly for him to follow. “You might be very
interested in some of it. I developed a whole line of useful things for you – you never
know when some of it might come in handy.”
Alex followed the man into an elevator concealed behind an ordinary looking door.
“Right this way,” Smithers directed as he led Alex into a futuristic-looking laboratory. It
was quite large, filled with workbenches and cabinets, littered with gadgetry and raw
materials. There were several other people there, working on various projects.
Smithers led Alex over to an area. “Have a seat,” he said.
Alex looked around and seeing no chairs, hauled himself up onto a workbench. “I hope
I’m not interrupting your work or anything,” he apologised. “Mrs. Jones just suggested
this because she didn’t have anything for me to do.”
“Nonsense, dear boy,” Smithers assured him warmly, waving away his apology. “I
haven’t had a chance to talk to you in far too long. Besides, while you’re here, we’ll just
have you check a few things for us. Now, how have you been? I hear you’ve gone back to
“Yeah,” Alex said. “It’s been really nice, this whole normalcy thing. Kind of like a much
Smithers nodded, wrestling with a device in the workbench. “Normalcy does have its
benefits,” he agreed. “Are you getting out of this world, then? After this whole Scorpia
business is dealt with?”
“No,” Alex said quietly. Smithers looked up at him intently. “At least, I don’t think so.
Blunt will never just let me go. And I don’t think I can just walk away from all of this.”
Smithers nodded slowly. “It’s a shame, really, that you had to be dragged into all of this.
I worry about you, old boy. But I suppose you’re right. Most people find it very hard to
get out of all of this.” He fiddled with a screwdriver, doing something to the device.
“Perhaps you could come to some sort of agreement with the higher-ups. Like you could
only work once every two months or so. Or something like that.”
Alex thought that over. “You think they would go for that?” he asked disbelievingly.
Smithers chuckled. “Alex old boy, do you really think they’d pass up an opportunity to
have their top agent work for them consentingly?”
Alex frowned at this. “I doubt I’m their top agent.”
“Oh, you’re certainly up there,” Smithers replied, distracted by a particularly difficult
Alex sighed. “You know, I don’t really mind the missions so much, apart from the whole
family history and near death things. I just really miss my friends. I hate having to lie all
the time to everyone.” He was revealing more to Smithers than he had to anyone else, but
he inexplicably knew that he could trust the man. And Smithers was the one person in
MI6 who actually seemed to care about Alex.
Smithers nodded at him sympathetically. “I know old chap, I know. But I’m sure they’d
understand. After all, it’d be dangerous for them if they found out. But take a look at this;
it’ll cheer you up.” He took a device off the workbench and handed it to Alex.
“What is it?” Alex asked curiously. It looked to be an iPhone.
“Why, it’s an iPhone!” Smithers exclaimed mischievously. “Every teenager’s dream.”
Alex gave him a reproving look. “Yes, but what does it do?”
Smithers laughed, a jolly chortle. “You mean, besides everything an iPhone normally
does? Well, it does it a lot faster for one thing. Any signal incoming or outgoing is secure
and it gets reception everywhere, and I mean everywhere.”
“And?” Alex prompted, know that would not be all the phone would do.
“Demanding aren’t you?” Smithers asked. “There is of course a highly developed
contacting system. Speed dial 1 and you get a direct line to Alan Blunt’s office. Speed
dial 2 and you get a direct line to me. We also put a few more useful things in,” he said
with a wink. “You might be interested in the games section, the Minesweeper game in
particular. Use it to locate bugs. The Superman game is also quite useful – an X-
ray/Listening device, like that gameboy I gave you. A bit more powerful though. It works
the same way, plug in the headphones and place it against any surface. Now, a camera is
a standard feature, so be just improved the resolution a bit. If there’s anything you need to
send us ever, just text it.”
“That’s cool,” Alex said impressed.
Smithers smiled. “Yes, but there’s one more feature. Do you remember the phone I gave
you before?” Alex nodded. “Well, there’s a similar drugged needle reaction, just a fair bit
stronger. Call 9999 and it fires out the top right,” he indicated the spot. “You also get 5
shots, instant reload of course.”
“Wow Smithers,” Alex enthused. “You’ve really outdone yourself.”
“Thank you, dear boy,” Smithers replied fondly. “Now, I want you to keep it. You’re up
against Scorpia, so you never know when it might come in handy.”
“Thank you,” Alex said quietly. Smithers was the one person he could truly count on to
do right by him.
“Don’t mention it,” Smithers said jovially and returned to whatever it was that he was
“So Alex,” he said conversationally after a moment, “I hear you’re going to train with the
Alex nodded. “Yeah. I think Blunt and Mrs. Jones are insane for having a class of 14-
year-olds go. It’s not exactly summer camp and the men aren’t going to like it at all.”
“Yes, it does seem rather ludicrous,” Smithers agreed, “but they have to keep them safe
somewhere I suppose. And they really want you to train.”
Alex made a face and Smithers laughed. “Come now, old boy. It can’t be all that bad!”
“It was last time,” Alex said miserably. “I didn’t want to be there and they didn’t want
me there. The worst was my unit.”
“Really?” Smithers asked. “That Ben Daniels said they gave you a bit of a hard time in
“Yeah,” Alex replied. “But Ben and the others just ignored me mostly. Wolf was the only
one who really went after me.” He sighed. “I think he was just insulted that his unit got
stuck with me. But at the end if training I helped him out and then I saw him again at
Point Blanc and he took bullets for me, so I think we’re ok now.”
Smithers nodded. “Sounds like it. How did you help him out?” he asked curiously.
Alex grinned. “I kicked him out of a plane.”
Smithers laughed. “How noble of you,” he teased. There was a pause for a moment as he
wrestled with the device before him. “Blasted LEDs,” he muttered. “Don’t…ever…
work!” With a groan he set the device aside and turned to Alex.
“You know, I wouldn’t worry to much about training. I believe Ben’s going to be there.”
“Really?” Alex asked, interested. “Ben’ll be there?” Smithers nodded, a twinkle in his
“I really like Ben,” Alex confessed. “During training he was all cold and everything, but
in Asia he was really nice. You were right about him watching out for me. He saved my
life many times and even got shot for me and all. I felt bad I didn’t visit him when he was
in hospital, but MI6 wanted to get me back to London as soon as possible,” Alex said
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about it. He was just in here the other day, you know. He always
stops in to say hello. He seemed quite pleased to find out you’ll be joining him in the
“He knows?” Alex queried.
“Yes. He was just worried about this whole Scorpia business, as was I.” He looked at
Alex intently. “He cares quite a lot about you, you know. He’ll look out for you.”
Alex wasn’t quite sure what to say to that. “He’s kind of like an older brother. That’s
what it was like last time, anyway,” he remarked slowly. “But why is he in training
anyway? I thought he left the SAS.”
“It’s to recover from his injury I suppose,” Smithers mused, “although I heard something
about him rejoining his old unit. There’s a rumour that the SAS and MI6 are in talks
about forming some kind of joint task force.”
Alex laughed. “Smithers, you are worse than the girls in my school about gossip.”
“Whatever, old chap, as I believe you teenagers say,” Smithers retorted. “Now come over
here. I want you to tell me what you think about…”
A while later, Mrs. Jones came to tell Alex that he could go home. He left after thanking
Smithers profusely, feeling significantly better about life in general. Smithers had that
He was dead tired though, and went home and straight to bed, pausing only to assure Jack
that he was indeed fine. He slept soundly and woke up late the next morning, glad that it
was a Saturday.
The whole weekend Jack pampered him. She made his favourite food, rented his
favourite movies, and took him wherever he wanted to go. Knowing in advance that he
was leaving for an assignment was a novelty, and Jack was adamant that she planned to
make the next few days perfect. Neither of them wanted to broach the subject of the fast
approaching Tuesday when he would be leaving.
Monday morning dawned bright and early. Alex woke up groaning as his alarm went off.
Blindly slapping at his clock, he rolled out of bed and got in the shower. Standing under
the spray helped to wake him up some. He and Jack had been up late watching movies
the night before. He realised it was probably irresponsible, but he just didn’t care. He
wanted to make the most of last few days before he left.
He got out of the shower and quickly towelled off, throwing on clothes. He made his way
downstairs to the kitchen where Jack was making breakfast.
“Morning sleepyhead,” she greeted him brightly. “I made eggs.”
He smiled and said, “Thanks Jack.” He paused then added, “for…everything.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she replied easily. “But you better hurry – you’re running late!”
Seeing she was right, Alex ate quickly and ran out the door calling a hasty goodbye.
Jumping on his bike, he pedalled quickly to his school. As he raced inside, he briefly
noted the guards posted around the building. They must be MI6’s security plan, he
decided. He slid into his seat in homeroom just before the bell rang. His teacher sent him
a reproving look, to which he just grinned sheepishly.
Homeroom was the one class he, Tom, Emma, Nick, and Josh all had together. This
meant they were all going to the SAS camp.
The teacher had just started attendance when the loudspeaker crackled to life.
Will all homerooms please report to the auditorium for an assembly.
The students in his class jumped up, talking excitedly.
“I wonder what this is about?” Emma asked as they poured out into the hall.
“Probably about what happened on Friday,” Tom speculated. Alex agreed. Mrs Jones had
said they were coming to explain things.
As they walked into the auditorium, Alex caught sight of two of the figures on the stage:
Mrs. Jones and Alan Blunt. Seeing them, Alex felt somehow violated by their presence in
his school. They weren’t part of this world and he needed to stay safely in his ‘spy’
world, not his real world.
Alex sat down with his class and observed the other figures. There was an older man
sitting down talking to a younger man, who Alex didn’t recognise. However, the older
man seemed somehow familiar. Alex tried to remember where he had seen him before.
Then it clicked: the COBRA meeting. These men must be MI5.
The principal began speaking first. Alex zoned out as he talked about why they were
there and welcomed the guests.
The older man Alex had noticed before got up to speak. “Good morning. I am Harry
Pearce, Director of the Security Service,” he began. “I would first like to assure you that
every precaution has been taken to secure you. You will have noticed the guards that
have been posted. Every effort is being made to keep you out of danger. Now, the attack
on Friday was an attempt mad by the international criminal organization Scorpia. The
intent behind this attack is unknown, as is the reason. However, intelligence has
suggested that the homeroom 9B was specifically targeted.”
A flurry of whispers exploded at this. Tom turned to Alex and asked quietly, “because of
you?” Alex nodded regretfully. Tom reached out and squeezed his shoulder, knowing
how awful Alex was feeling.
Mr. Pearce continued, “And now I’d like to turn you over to my esteemed colleague from
the Secret Intelligence Service, Mrs. Jones.”
Mrs. Jones rose and walked over to the podium. “Thank you Mr. Pearce.”
“We at the SIS have had extensive dealings with Scorpia. While not to be trifled with,
Scorpia is not an ideological group. Rather, their mission is monetary gain. Therefore,
they will be amenable to compensation. We have already opened negotiations and I
assure you, we will resolve this as quickly as possible. Until then, you need not worry.
You have the finest protection. Thank you.” She returned to her seat.
The principal came forward again to make some closing remarks, which Alex ignored.
He ended with “You are dismissed. Homeroom 9B, please stay behind and move up
The other students got up to leave as Alex and his class moved forward. As soon as the
last students were gone, Mrs. Jones stood up and began to talk again.
“Now, I’m sure you’re all aware that your class leaves tomorrow for training with the
SAS. While you are there, you will be under the protection of the finest Special Forces in
the world. In addition, you will be receiving training on dealing with potential attacks.”
She paused and looked around the room. “You will not tell anyone where you are going.
If anyone asks, say we are moving you to a secure location, nothing more. You make
think this is a game. Take this not seriously and you will die. Tell someone and you will
die. Scorpia does not mess around. They have every intention of killing you and they
have the means to if they find you. Don’t help them.” She gave a stern look to emphasis
this. “Now, you may return to class. Alex Rider, please stay behind.”
The students got up to leave giving Alex curious looks.
Emma asked quietly, “What do they want?”
Alex shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Tom gave him a meaningful look and left. As the last of the students and staff filed out,
he walked up to the stage,
“I hope you have a good excuse for this,” he said bluntly.
“Of course Alex,” Mrs. Jones frowned. “Alex, this is Mr. Pearce as you heard and Adam
Carter, the Head of the Counter-Terrorism Section of MI5.” She indicated the younger
man. Alex shook hands with them both.
“A pleasure, Agent Rider,” Carter said. “We’d like you to know that your security is our
top priority right now. We’re doing all we can to protect you.”
Alex nodded. “Thank you.”
The MI5 men left.
Mrs. Jones turned to Alex. “Now, while you’re at the camp, we want you to train.
Obviously you need to be doing alternate exercises from the rest of your class without
raising suspicions. Therefore, we’ll say that due to your illnesses, you are in a delicate
state and must do less strenuous work.”
Alex nodded. This made sense. Perhaps it would even lend credence to his sick excuses.
Mrs. Jones added, “You can tell your classmates that was what we wished to discuss.
Good luck Alex.”
He turned and left going back to class. The teacher didn’t question him as he returned and
sat down. Nick, sitting across from him, poked him. “Hey Alex, what did they want?”
Emma, Josh and Tom all leaned in to hear his answer.
“They were just worried about me training because I’ve been sick so much. I guess
they’re going to have me doing easier stuff or something,” he whispered back.
Emma, Josh, and Nick all seemed to accept that, but Tom shot him a covert look that said
he was having none of it. Alex mouthed that he would tell him later.
“So what did you think of that Jones woman?” Emma asked. “She was seriously creeping
me out with all of her ‘you will die’ remarks.”
“Yeah,” Nick added. “Like, we know we’re in deep shit. There’s like Special Forces
dudes making us cower on the floor for hours! But seriously, how dangerous can a group
of crack pots be?”
Alex laughed to himself. If only they knew.
~Close Protection, of a Sort~
Chapter Three: Welcome to Hell
The next day found Alex on a bus with twenty eight other teenagers. Luckily, and
because they’d only been given one chaperone, it allowed them plenty of space to spread
out. Alex was sitting with Tom in the very back which Nick and Tom had managed to
grab first. As a result, the group had control over the bus’ most highly coveted seats.
Emma sat in front of Alex, sprawled out with her ear phones in. She said she was
catching up on sleep, so her friends left her alone.
Nick, sitting across from Alex, was engaged in a very intense discussion with Tom about
the Iranian embassy siege and the SAS tactics used to diffuse the situation. Alex didn’t
really want to join in. It was clear the other two boys were in complete awe of the SAS,
something Alex just couldn’t appreciate. It wasn’t that he didn’t think they were skilled –
no one knew better then him exactly how tough their training was and how effective their
ops were. Rather, he had spent far too much time in close quarters getting to actually
know them to be able to hero worship them. In any case, he knew far too much about the
SAS (he had trained with them and taken part in a live op, after all) it would have been
awkward to make sure he didn’t appear too knowledgeable on the subject.
That knowledge frustrated Alex. It was this kind of thing that really upset him: that his
spying got in the way of his being able to act normally. Even when he was relaxing with
his close friends, he had to be alert and on guard against any slips, so instead of talking,
he sat back and just let the conversation wash over him. As he did so, his thoughts turned
to K unit. He wondered what they had been up to over the past months. He had gotten
that card from Wolf postmarked Iraq, but he wondered what the others had been doing.
He didn’t really know much about the operational life of an SAS member. Hell, he didn’t
even know if the men were still in a unit together. At the very least, they’d have to have a
replacement for Ben.
With that, his thoughts turned towards the man. Ben was going to be at the camp. He
wondered if K-unit was going to be there as well. Alex didn’t think that an SAS unit
would probably return to training often. But then, Smithers had said Ben was probably
going to be joining his old unit, and when it came to gossip, Smithers’ information was
surpassed by no one.
Alex hoped K-unit wouldn’t be there. They’d never really got on with him and putting up
with that on top of making sure he didn’t out himself would be too much. Even after they
had both saved each other, the relationship between Alex and Wolf was a tense one. But
then again, Alex and Ben hadn’t gotten on until after seeing each other again, so maybe
that was how it would be with the others.
Alex’s thoughts were interrupted by Tom saying “Hey Alex, do you mind if Josh and I
trade seats, since you two are being such loners?” It was said with a grin, to assure Alex
he was just joking.
“Go ahead,” Alex said. Tom quickly switched with Josh and he and Nick soon returned
to their conversation. Josh turned to Alex. “So how you holding up?”
“I’m alright, ”Alex said. “ You?”
“Ok,” Josh sighed. “I don’t think we’re ever going to get there. I think we got the worst
bus the school has.” He made a face.
Alex laughed. It was true about getting there - they’d been driving for hours. “This bus is
certainly a piece of work,” he agreed. It certainly seemed that Brookland had seen fit to
requisition one of their most run down buses for the trip, as became clear as the class
bounced down the road in the dilapidated old thing. It made sense that they didn’t want to
break one of their precious new models on the highly unkempt Welsh country back roads.
Alex noticed the book lying on Josh’s lap. “Wachta reading?” he asked with casual
Josh’s eyes lit up. Alex remembered that he loved talking about books. “Well it’s called
L’étranger in its original version, but this is an English translation called The Stranger.
It’s by Albert Camus and it’s really interesting because it’s all about how the universe is
indifferent and how life is utterly meaningless.”
Alex raised his brows. “That sounds really depressing.”
Josh laughed. “Yeah, but that’s existentialism for you.”
“Whatever that is,” Alex laughed.
“I’ll explain later,” Josh said wearily, clearly used to having to educate his less cultured
fellows. “I really want to finish it, because right now the protagonist is set to be executed
“Well, I’ll let you get back to it,” Alex said. Josh began reading, leaving Alex to return to
He rested his head against the window and thought of the rapidly approaching camp. He
really didn’t want to be going there. Last time was hell and this time promised to be even
worse as at least before he didn’t have to worry about his cover. It was odd really how in
this ‘assignment’ of sorts, his ‘real’ identity was his cover. It reminded him of his
escapades with the Drevin family. He fervently hoped that this situation would turn out
much better. He prayed that for once, his cover would not get blown.
That was another strange thing. When Alex had first started to work for MI6, he had
desperately wanted to be able to tell everyone, especially his friends, what was going on.
Now, he wasn’t so sure. The change had started for him after he had told Sabina and she
hadn’t believed him. That had hurt more than he was willing to admit. Still, he had told
Tom after that. No, really it was with Scorpia. That’s when things had gotten so deeply
personal. Before, spying was just something Alex did after being coerced into it. After,
the experience had changed him so profoundly… well he was only just getting his sense
of identity back. He had, after all, turned to the dark side and come back. He had learned
the truth about his father. He had nearly died…
The whole world of espionage had suddenly become real in a way it hadn’t been before.
Not that he ever took it lightly before - no, it was more the comprehension of what
espionage could do to you, especially with seeing the way it destroyed lives. He thought
of his mother, with her simple, lonely wedding and her death far too soon after. He
thought of Ash who intelligence work had corrupted and hurt so much that he’d killed his
best friend. He thought of Yassen, who though he was an assassin had felt such loyalty
toward a dead man to get killed himself rather than harming that man’s son. And then he
thought of his father, John Rider; a noble man willing to sacrifice his life for his country
and for his people. John Rider, his dad, who was now dead at the bottom of the ocean.
It all came down to one simple fact: espionage just got you and those around you killed.
He didn’t want his friends to get mixed up in it.
But there was another reason for not telling them: it was something that his peers just
couldn’t understand. To know you were going to die, and to accept that for the sake of
others… it was beyond their comprehension. No matter what he told them, they’d never
truly understand. To them, he’d be a superhero with a cool job. The reality of being
scared, helpless, and utterly alone as you looked down a barrel of a gun just didn’t exist
for them. He hoped it never would; it was an awful sort of knowledge. But because of
that, it was better for them not to know. He didn’t want to be a hero. He needed them to
treat him normally.
When he returned from a mission bruised, battered, and broken inside, he needed the
steady comfort of normalcy. It was his safety net, the thing that kept him sane. For them
to know would mean having his two worlds touch. And he knew he couldn’t handle that.
For his sanity, he needed to keep the two parts separate. And now he was going into a
situation where is would be ever so easy for them to meet. His identity was far from safe
when training with the SAS.
There were so many dangers associated with this venture, it was ludicrous. He hoped the
men of the SAS had been briefed that he was undercover. What if someone recognized
him and did something stupid like calling him ‘Cub’ or acting like they’d known him
before? He would be compromised in an instant. All it took was one slip and it was all
over. And his classmates were bound to notice if he was always doing separate work. His
friends were not going to accept sick excuses so easily. Chances were, sooner or later,
someone would stumble in on something and the whole operation would come crashing
His only comfort was that Ben was going to be there. He at least would watch Alex’s
back. And there was no need to worry about him compromising Alex’s cover – the man
worked for MI6 after all. If he didn’t know how to be covert, there was no hope for the
world. And Ben was someone who Alex could trust, and god only knew there were
precious few of those. Somewhat reassured by this, Alex shifted in an attempt to get
warmer. The bus was a drafty old thing.
The trip was taking forever. Alex was really starting to get uncomfortable. He was glad
that the last time he’d been brought here he’d been out cold and not had to sit through the
tortuous journey. The kids in the rest of the bus were starting to get more and more
unruly. The MI6 appointed chaperone was not even attempting to keep them under
control. He looked totally annoyed with having to be there.
Bored, Alex tuned back into the conversation Tom and Nick were having. It seemed they
had moved on to general awe of the SAS. He distinctly overheard Tom say “They’re so
good! I can’t wait to meet them!”
Privately, Alex thought that his classmates, including Tom, were in for a rude awakening
when they reached the camp. The SAS did not play nice and was certainly not going to
welcome the addition of 29 school children. Alex felt bad for the rest of his peers in a
way; they had no idea what they were getting into when their parents signed those forms.
When the bus finally came to a stop, the entire class had stood up, pushing and shoving to
be the first ones off. Peering through one of the windows, Alex could tell that they had
not reached the training camp, and was wondering what was going on. His pulse sped up
as he realized that this could very well be an attack. But the man chaperoning seemed
completely unconcerned, acting as if he expected this to happen. Then a man in military
fatigues climbed on to the bus.
“RIGHT, GET OFF THE BUS!” the man yelled with no other preliminary. The teenagers
scrambled off in the most disorderly fashion possible, while Alex had kept to the back to
avoid getting trampled.
Once outside, Alex went to stand by his friends and looked around, realizing that they
were on the grounds of the manor where he had been brought close to a year ago. His
classmates pointed excitedly at the building, obviously thinking that was going to be their
accommodations for the next fortnight. Alex snorted at their ignorance. The manor was
only for the leading Mi6 personnel who came to oversee training. ‘And for teenagers
those same personnel had tranquilized and were planning on blackmailing into being
spies’ Alex added with black humor.
The SAS man had surveyed the babbling mass of children before him for several minutes
with obvious disdain. Alex noted that he had never met this man before. He was standing
with three other men who Alex assumed were his unit. He was probably the leader. Faced
with a mass of unruly children who showed no signs of giving him their attention, the
man finally snapped.
The voice cut through the chatter. Alex watched as his classmates jumped and turned to
face the man. They looked almost shocked, as if they were never yelled at before.
“That’s better,” the man said in a quieter, but still deadly voice. “Now, we’ve still got a
few miles to go before we get to base. We’ll be taking jeeps.” Noticing the confused
glances some of the kids were shooting at the manor, the man smiled evilly. “You didn’t
think you were staying here did you?” He let out a short bark of laughter at the thought.
Several kids flinched at the sound. “Oh no, I assure you, where you’re going is far
Then his face turned angry again. “Get on the jeeps! Keep your mouths shut and your
hands to yourself.” Still in shock, the kids hurried to obey. Alex sighed. This was only the
A few hours later, Alex stood in the center of the camp. Their guide unit had abandoned
them to find their superiors. The class was milling about and the noise level was
beginning to rise again. The students whispered excitedly to each other, commenting on
the rough buildings and on what to expect.
Alex stood with Tom and co. He zoned out of the conversation, preferring instead to look
around. Straining to see through the dismal drizzle that seemed to be a permanent fixture
of the location, he saw a group of tents on the outskirts of the camp. Looking curiously,
he wondered what they were for – they hadn’t been there on his last visit. He supposed
they could be for some sort of exercise – there was always some sort of training going on.
“…don’t you, Alex?” Alex was startled out of his thoughts by his name. “Huh?” he said,
realizing that Tom had asked him a question.
“I was asking whether you thought this rain would clear up soon,” Tom replied. He made
a face. “This won’t be any fun if we get wet the whole time.”
Alex severely doubted that there would be any fun to be had, rain or no. But not wanting
to crush his best friend, he replied, “Yeah, it’ll probably clear up.” What he omitted from
that statement was that it would probably clear up for few hours before starting right up
again. Wet was a state inherent to the area. Tom, satisfied, turned back to the others and
Alex fell back into his own thoughts.
A short while later, a figure emerged from the mess and strode towards the gaggle of
teenagers. Alex squinted at him through what was now a steady rain. With every step the
man took, the feeling of dread at the pit of Alex’s stomach increased. Perhaps it was the
way he walked, or perhaps it was the way he held himself, but there was something
decidedly familiar man, the sort of something that comes from seeing him day and night
for two weeks, through exhaustion, hunger, and pain.
Eventually, the man reached the group. The teens, unaware, continued their chatter
aimlessly. It could now be seen that he was an extremely fit black man, who had a
decidedly dangerous air about him. Of course, Alex could have already told anyone this.
This man was his old training officer, a sergeant he had known only as Sir and who had
made his life hell for two weeks. Great, just great, Alex thought. Someone at MI6 must
have been having fun getting his group assigned to this man.
The word cut through the chatter like a knife through butter. The class jumped for the
second time that day. Alex nearly stood at attention. It had been so ingrained into his
body to listen to that voice. Just barely he caught himself. It would be too suspicious if he
was the only one to respond correctly. The other students quieted down, turning to face
The sergeant stood frowning at them for a good while. Alex could see him growing more
and more angry with the crowd of fidgeting adolescents in front of him. He must have
been less than pleased to learn he was to be training more 14 year olds. He had been
thoroughly unhappy with having to train Alex the last time. Alex wondered if the man
had been briefed to expect him.
Very subtly the sergeant was searching the crowd. Alex doubted anyone but him had
noticed, but then he was trained for such things. When he finally got to Alex, he locked
eyes with him. Alex noted there was no surprise in the gaze, just a weary sort of
acceptance. Yes, the man had known about him. As if the emphasize this, the sergeant
gave the tiniest of nods. Alex twitched his lips in a slight smile in acknowledgment.
The Sergeant looked to the rest of the group and began to speak.
“Listen up. This is an SAS training camp. You’re here because the government has
decided that you should be trained. This isn’t a summer camp. This isn’t daycare. This is
real.” He paused for a moment. “You’re here along side soldiers. If they talk, you listen.
If they tell you to do something, you do it. Don’t expect to be welcomed. They don’t
want you here. I don’t want you here.” He glared at the crowd, as if it was their fault.
“Selection is going on right now and I need to focus on the real attendees of this camp. I
don’t have time to baby-sit you lot. Stay out of the way. See those tents over there? Stay
away from them. That’s where the new recruits are. Don’t interfere with them, ever.”
Well, at least that answered Alex’s question of what the tents were for.
“There’s to be no messing about here, no disobedience. This isn’t a game. Because of
why you’re here, I can’t bin you. I can make your life a living hell. Do you understand
me?” There was no reply. The man flew into a rage. “When I ask you a question, you
answer ‘yes sir’!”
“Now, DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”
There was a chorus of ‘yes sirs’.
The sergeant nodded. “Better.
“The mess hall is there and the bathrooms are there.” He coldly indicated the relevant
buildings. “Normally girls aren’t allowed in the SAS. Temporary bathrooms have been
erected over there. But other then that, you’ll have to deal.” The scowl became even more
pronounced. Alex wondered if the man just didn’t like the so called ‘fairer sex’ or if it
was the change in rules that was pissing him off. “You’ll be staying in the barracks, off to
your left, divided up into boys and girls. These huts are for real members of the SAS.”
This was new to Alex. The last time he’d been here, he had stayed in one of the huts
alongside K-unit. “Because I don’t have time to baby-sit you, I’ve divided you up under 4
veteran units. Each unit will be responsible for 2 groups of 4 students. Your groups are
posted on the side of the barracks. You’ll be coded by color. You’ll find out your unit
later. Any questions?”
There was silence. Then timidly one girl raised her hand. Alex noticed it was Charlotte
Hale, one of the smartest girls in his year. The sergeant barked gruffly, “What?”
“Um sir,” she stammered. “There’s 29 of us, so won’t someone be by himself if we’re in
four person groups?”
The sergeant glared. “Yes. Who is Alex Rider?”
The class turned to stare at Alex, whispering heatedly. Alex said quietly but clearly, “I
The man looked directly at him, face giving away nothing. “Right. We’ve been notified
that you are still recovering from an illness. You’re to train separately so as to not strain
you too much.” It was said in a slightly patronizing tone. Alex didn’t rise to the bait,
simply nodding his understanding. He had been expecting nothing less.
The sergeant returned to addressing the whole group. “You have just enough time to find
your groups and change before dinner. Pick up your kit and go to your barrack.” He
surveyed the crowd in front of him and smiled thinly. “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome
The crowd turned and began to mill off over to where kit was being distributed. “Rider,
stay behind so we can discuss your special needs.” Alex had been expecting this and
moved towards the sergeant. Josh and Emma gave him sympathetic smiles before
walking off. Nick squeezed his shoulder awkwardly. “Sorry, mate.” Tom sent him a
significant look that clearly said he didn’t believe a word of the sergeant’s excuse. Alex
had never gotten an opportunity to tell him about MI6’s master plan. He knew he was
going to have a lot of explaining to do soon.
As the last of the students left, the sergeant turned to him. “Cub,” he nodded gruffly. “I
was told to expect you.”
Not sure how to act or what to say, Alex settled on a nod.
The sergeant sighed. “I didn’t expect you to be back here so soon.”
“Neither did I sir,” Alex said dryly, “but they had other ideas.” There was no need to
clarify who ‘they’ was – both man and boy were far too clear.
The sergeant shook his head. “I’ll never understand you Special Ops types. I don’t
suppose you could have left the annoying school children behind.” He sighed again
before switching attitudes to survey Alex critically. “I’ve been told to have you trained.”
Alex nodded. That was the whole point of coming to the camp.
“There are a few specific things they’ve requested you do, but mostly you’ll just be
training as an SAS soldier,” the Sergeant explained. “Have you done any training with
MI6 since you left here?”
Alex thought for a moment. He had worked with Scorpia and trained on Malagosto, but
he’d rather not share that. He still was avoiding thinking about the circumstances of that.
So he shrugged uncomfortably. “Not really,” he hedged.
The Sergeant was on him in an instant, shouting “What do you mean, not really? Answer
the question and address me as Sir!”
Alex was suddenly reminded of why he had intensely disliked the man. “No sir,” he
replied grudgingly. After all, he hadn’t been training for MI6.
The man nodded and continued as if nothing had happened. “Right. You’re in shape?”
Alex nodded. “Relatively, sir. I’ve been out of the field for a few weeks, but I’ve been
“Good,” the Sergeant answered. “Your unit will be training you separate from the others,
with your ‘illness’ as an excuse. For group activities, you’ll just have to maintain your
Alex nodded his understanding. “Yes sir.”
“Dismissed,” the Sergeant barked. Alex walked away over to pick up his kit and then
made his way to the barracks, following the direction he had seen his classmates going in
The barracks were built behind a screen of woodland, which is why Alex had never
noticed them before. He didn’t even bother looking at the list since he knew he was by
himself, instead moving to the barracks labeled ‘Boys’.
Inside was utter chaos. Boys were everywhere, shouting and laughing, with their stuff
sprawled out across the room. Alex spotted Tom, who waved him over to a far corner
where he was standing with Nick and Josh.
“Hey, Alex,” Tom said. “We saved you a bunk.” Alex grinned his thanks and set his stuff
on the bed. He turned back towards his friends who were standing there, watching him
expectantly. “What?” he asked.
“How’d it go?” Nick asked impatiently.
Alex shrugged. “Alright. He basically said that I’d be training separately doing less
strenuous stuff since they don’t want me to relapse or anything. Pretty much what I told
you guys yesterday.” He ignored the look of disbelief Tom was sending him. That could
wait for later.
Nick looked at him sympathetically. “That sucks, mate”
“Yeah. It’ll be okay,” Alex said.
“At least you’ll be doing easier stuff,” Josh said encouragingly.
Alex nodded. If only they knew what he was really going to be doing.
Nick shuddered, as usual making a joke when things got awkward, “I wouldn’t want to
be by myself with those SAS guys. Seriously, what is their problem?
Alex laughed. “I think they’re just jealous because we’ve actually been near civilization
recently. So what groups are you in?”
“You didn’t look?” Tom asked.
“Nah,” Alex replied. “I forgot.”
“Oh, well, we’re all together, with Emma. Lucky, huh?” Tom said.
“Yeah,” Alex said. Privately he thought that it was very possible that the groups were
anything but random. Like Alan Blunt once said, where others saw coincidence, he saw
conspiracy. It was a good motto for any one doing spy work.
“We’d better change into uniform before someone comes in and yells at us,” Alex said.
Agreeing, they moved to their bunks to do so. Having had far too much practice, Alex
quickly and effortlessly slipped into the camouflage. Turning around, he saw that his
friends, along with the rest of the class, were having a lot more trouble.
Nick, partly through trying to fasten the uniform, stopped and stared when he saw Alex.
“How’d you do that?” he asked disbelievingly. Josh, hearing him, turned to look at him
Crap. He’d forgotten about being inconspicuous and unknowledgeable. Stupid, stupid,
stupid! They hadn’t even been there a day and he’d slipped up already. He thought
frantically for an excuse.
Tom once again came to his rescue. “Haha, Alex. You remembered from that time you
were an army man for Halloween?”
Alex laughed nervously along with him. “Yeah, amazing isn’t it?” Nick seemed to buy
that. Josh however gave him a piercing look, as if to say he knew Alex wasn’t telling
them everything, but dropped it and Alex relaxed. Crisis adverted. But he was going to
have to be more careful in the future. He couldn’t afford to completely miss something
that basic. And Josh was already suspicious.
“Hey Alex,” Josh asked, “Do you think you could help the rest of us?”
“Sure,” Alex replied. The damage was already done, so it wasn’t like he could pretend he
didn’t know how.
Twenty minutes later Alex had managed to help the rest of the class into the uniforms. It
seemed MI6 had learned a few things since Alex had been there last and the uniforms
were actually closer to the size of a teenager. They didn’t fit perfectly, but at least they
weren’t nearly as uncomfortable as his old one, and for that Alex was grateful.
He had just finished that task when the door banged open and the Sergeant walked in.
Noting the general chaos, he whistled sharply and the class quieted. “That kind of
disorder is never to happen again!” he yelled. “Do you understand?”
There was a general chorus of “Yes, sir.” He nodded, as if pacified. “Now it’s time to
meet your leaders.” He gave them a wolfish grin, which most disconcertingly seemed to
be directed right at Alex. Then he turned and walked out briskly.
Alex followed along behind with his class. He was having very bad feelings about who
those leaders would be. Now that it came to it, he was very nervous to find out if he
would have to be working with K-unit again.
He wasn’t disappointed. There, standing along with three other units, was K-unit in all of
their glory: Wolf, Snake, Eagle, and, of course, Ben, or Fox. All 4 men were scowling
furiously. Apparently they didn’t appreciate being tasked with baby-sitting. Wolf looked
as formidable as ever, Snake was wearing a very disapproving sort of glare, and Eagle
just seemed pissed off. Alex was glad to see Ben looking much better than when he’d last
seen him. His arm appeared to be healing fine. Ben looked up to meet his gaze and
winked, before returning his face to its stony glare.
The Sergeant began talking. “This is N-unit, J-unit, D-unit, and K-unit. They’ll be
training you while you’re here. From now until you leave, consider them God(i).” He
glared at each one to make sure this was clear. “Now, your units. You already know your
At this Tom leaned over. “Seeing as you didn’t bother to look,” he ribbed gently, “you’re
black and we’re white.” Alex shot him a smile in thanks.
The sergeant continued, “Once you’ve been called, go along with your unit. They’ll
address you and then dismiss you to dinner.” He began calling off the groups. “Groups
Red and Orange, with N-unit,” the students in this group left, following the men of N-
unit. “Groups Yellow and Green, with J-unit, groups blue and violet, with D-unit, and
groups white and black, with K-unit.”
Alex inwardly groaned. Someone at MI6 was taking great care to make his life as hellish
as possible. He was going to be under K-unit, with his friends - bloody brilliant.
Alex followed behind Tom, Emma, Nick and Josh as they moved over to stand in front of
K-unit. Alex stuck to the back – he wanted to delay the wonderful reunion bound to take
place as long as possible. It didn’t work though, and eventually the group of friends
reached the unit and stopped. For a moment, no one acknowledged them. Alex took the
opportunity to surreptitiously observe his old team up close.
K-unit looked as intimidating as they had when he’d first met them. Even Nick and Tom,
who had before been so enthusiastic, seemed to be cowed by the stony faced men. Eagle,
glaring into the ground, didn’t even seem to notice their approach. Ben looked stoically
pissed-off, though Alex could see in his eyes that he didn’t really mind the whole
situation. Snake and Wolf were observing Alex’s friends one by one.
All too soon, Wolf locked eyes with him. To Alex’s surprise, shock flashed across the
man’s face as he recognized Alex ever so quickly before his features settled into an even
fiercer glare than before, if that was possible. Wolf ever so subtly nudged Snake, who
also looked over. Snake’s reaction was also shock, though less obvious than his
teammate’s – a flash in his eyes and a stiffening of his body. Eagle, sensing something
was happening, looked up at his teammates and followed their gazes to Alex. His reaction
was much the same as Wolf’s, a flash of surprise.
By now Alex was thoroughly confused. It was like they hadn’t known he was coming…
but Ben had known for sure. Why didn’t the others know?
Alex looked over at Ben in confusion. It was then that he realized the man was avidly
drinking in his teammates’ reactions with a wicked glint in his eyes. Ben had obviously
decided to have a bit of fun with his mates. Inwardly Alex sighed. At least the others had
been sensible enough not to blow his cover. Glancing at his friends, he was glad to see
that they were too intimidated by the SAS men to have noticed the covert exchange going
on around them. While such occurrences were glaringly obvious to Alex, his peers were
utterly oblivious. Or so it seemed.
Wolf, seemingly recovered from his surprise, addressed them curtly, glaring ferociously.
“Right, so we’re K-unit, your…leaders. That’s Fox, Eagle, Snake,” he indicated each
man, “and I’m Wolf. I’m the unit commander, so I’m in charge.” The statement was
almost unnecessary; Wolf exuded command. No matter how bad relations were between
Alex and Wolf, Alex had understood from the beginning that Wolf was a natural leader
and a damn good one at that.
“You’re to obey us at all times,” Wolf continued. “I don’t want any messing about or any
problems. I’m not here to be nice; I’m here to keep you alive. No idiotic, immature
behavior or you will face the consequences. Understood?” Alex’s friends nodded
Fox at this point took up the lecture. “Now, tell us your name and your age,” he said in a
more relaxed tone than Wolf’s. He nodded at Tom to start.
“Tom Harris, um, 14” Tom said nervously.
Fox moved on to Josh.
“Josh Evans, 15” Josh said, quietly but clearly.
“Emma White, 14”
“Nick Hall, 15”
Lastly, Fox looked to Alex. Alex noted that the rest of K-unit looked over to him intently
waiting for his answer. He realized, with some amusement, that no one but Ben, and
maybe Wolf, knew his name. “Alex Rider, 14” he said clearly. Snake, Wolf, and Eagle
all started in surprise. Inwardly Alex laughed. Apparently they never really knew his age.
Recovering, Wolf continued, “Right. Training starts tomorrow. We’ll be assessing you
then. You four are a group and you’ll be working together. Rider, we’ve been told that
you’re sick.” Only Alex caught the sarcasm in the man’s voice. “We’ll be training you
separately, but don’t think that we’ll go any easier.” His eyes bore into Alex. “Snake here
is the unit medic. Tell him if you get yourself seriously injured. I don’t mean if you get a
boo boo and want to run crying to mommy. But if you really get hurt, don’t be stupid and
“It’s dinner time now. You’ll get more instructions later. Dismissed.”
They had begun moving towards the mess hall, when Ben called out, “Rider, stay back.
We need to discuss your health.”
Alex turned, waving goodbye to his friends, to walk back to where K-unit was standing.
Eagle stared at him in visible disbelief. Snake appeared to be surveying him critically.
Wolf was glaring at him furiously.
They waited until the others were out of earshot, then Wolf began.
“Cub, what the hell are you doing here?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous.
Alex stared at him for a moment, unsure of what to say. It was apparent that no one but
Ben had known he was coming.
“Well?” Wolf prodded, temper flaring.
Alex settled on telling the simple truth. “I’m here with my class, because Scorpia wants
me dead and is threatening them too. I thought you knew, but…”
He turned to look at Ben and saw the wicked grin on the man’s face.
“Ben,” Alex said slowly, ignoring the second bout of shock that flashed across the men’s’
faces at his use of Fox’s name, “Why didn’t you tell them?”
~Close Protection, of a Sort~
Chapter Four: Angry Wolf
“Ben, why didn’t you tell them?”
Ben grinned, “Oh, it was so much more fun this way.”
The rest of K-unit was looking between Alex and Ben in shock, in Eagle’s case the
openmouthed variety. Wolf’s shock however was quickly changing into suspicion and the
traditional accompanying anger.
“What didn’t he tell us?” he asked Alex angrily.
Alex hesitated for a moment. He didn’t really want to get Ben into trouble right after
seeing him again, but he kind of deserved it and they were going to find out anyway.
“That I was coming.” He explained reluctantly.
Wolf rounded on Ben. “You knew about him,” a vague gesture in Alex’s direction was
made, “and you failed to tell us why?” Wolf growled.
Ben looked sheepish. “Because I forgot?” he supplied tentatively.
This was apparently the wrong thing to say. “Because you forgot? Now you’re gonna lie?
What are you, a goddamn teenager? I guess I just didn’t realize you were that immature,
Ben!” Wolf yelled.
Ben looked ready to protest and Snake had opened his mouth to step in, but it seemed like
the name had brought Eagle out of his bout of shock. Interrupting the current
conversation as if it had never happened, he turned to Alex.
“How’d you know his name?” he demanded.
“Wh…what?” Alex asked, caught off guard by the sudden change in conversation.
“You called Fox, Ben,” Eagle explained impatiently. “How’d you know it?”
Wolf turned to glare at Alex too. “Yes, that’s a good question. How the hell do you know
“I…” Alex began, glancing at Ben. He didn’t want to get the man into any more trouble
and he had no idea what K-unit already knew.
Ben saw the look and understood. He took over. “Alex was with me on my last mission,”
he explained as the others turned to him. “You know the one where I got shot? I was
protecting him when it happened. I told him my name when I first met up with him,
though,” he turned to Alex, “you’d better call me Fox while we’re here. We don’t want to
be overheard.” Alex nodded, mentally noting it.
Wolf looked none too pleased by that piece of information. “More things you
conveniently forgot to tell us?” he asked, his voice low and dangerous.
“Oh stop glaring at me,” Fox said, sounding a little annoyed by his teammate’s
animosity. “It’s not like I was trying to keep that from you. It just never came up. You
just got here; I never had a chance to explain about the mission.”
Wolf still looked ready to explode, but Snake stepped in. “It’s true, Wolf. Fox told me
when I went down to him. He wasn’t withholding it.”
“Yeah, c’mon Wolf. We’ve only been here, what, 24 hours?” Eagle supplied.
Wolf nodded in acknowledgment, but still turned to Fox, apparently still mad about the
earlier prank. “Fine, but that still doesn’t excuse you from not briefing us on Cub’s
arrival.” He said, glaring. “That was idiotic and childish! We’re a team. We don’t keep
secrets!” he yelled, his voice rising.
Fox sighed. “Look Wolf, I’m sorry ok? I was just messing around because I haven’t seen
you in a really long time. It’s not that serious.”
This seemed to appease Wolf somewhat, but he still was determined to make his point.
“It is serious when you don’t tell your team things. You know that,” he insisted.
“Besides, what if we blew Cub’s cover?”
At this, Fox laughed. “Aw, Wolf, I have more faith in you guys than that.”
Wolf rolled his eyes heavenward, in what Alex assumed was irritation with the idiots of
the world and took a deep breath.
“We’ll discuss this later,” he told Fox icily. “Now would someone mind explaining what
the hell he,” he gestured vaguely in Alex’s direction, “is doing here?”
Fox shrugged. “Well he already pretty much told you. Scorpia’s pissed at him so they’re
targeting him and his class. They’ve threatened to kill them, so MI6 arranged to have
them sent here. Even Scorpia would be hard pressed to pull anything off here, not that
they won’t try. There’s already been an attack I believe.”
Alex was well aware of the 3 pairs of eyes that swiveled to stare at him. Eagle broke the
silence first, saying, “Bloody hell, Cub. What’d you do to make them that angry?”
Inwardly, Alex pondered exactly what had made Scorpia so angry. His traitor father who
successfully double crossed them? His own double crossing? Maybe it was his
decimation of two of their major operations, or the death of their prized assassin, or the
death of two of their board members, or perhaps it was him surviving their attempt to get
even. Not feeling particularly inclined to share any of these reasons with K-unit, Alex just
“It’s complicated.” he mumbled.
Eagle raised an eyebrow and looked ready to push the issue, but Fox cut him off.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a long story, so you can torture him for information later.” he told
Eagle knowingly. “Anyway, MI6 decided that this was a perfect opportunity for Alex
here to get some training. That’s where we come in. Apparently, last time was a bit too
brief for their tastes. They want a bit more specialized, in-depth approach. I have files for
you back at the ranch with the details.”
Wolf was looking murderous again. “So, basically, we’re babysitting a bunch of school
kids because Cub here was stupid enough to piss off a major criminal organization and
the Firm thought they’d take advantage?”
Fox shrugged and nodded. “Pretty much, yeah.”
Alex frowned. “It wasn’t all my fault,” he protested, feeling Wolf’s summary was more
than a bit unfair. Scorpia had a vendetta against him since he was born, after all - and he
was sent to them. “I couldn’t help a lot of it.”
Snake frowned. “What do you mean?” he frowned.
Alex, realizing he had just stupidly opened himself up for questioning, shifted
uncomfortably. “Just that it’s, uh, kind of a family thing I guess. And that I didn’t
actually know what Scorpia was when I went looking for them…” When he saw the
team’s eyes widen, he realized his mistake.
“You went looking for them?!” Eagle asked incredulously.
“Well…”Alex said awkwardly, cursing his stupidity.
“You’re right Cub. I was wrong,” Wolf said, voice deceptively calm. “You weren’t
stupid. You’re a fucking imbecile!” The last part was yelled. Alex flinched.
“Wolf, don’t,” Fox said. “It really wasn’t his fault.”
“He goes looking for Scorpia and you’re telling me it’s not his fault?” Wolf yelled. “Now
we’re stuck dealing with this mess,” he glared menacingly at Fox, “Which you forgot to