14: Firearms Training

There was an excited buzz among the students. Whether it was the prospect of
weapons handling, or the idea of not having to fight through howling blizzards like last time no one was sure. But even Min had to admit that he felt a little more energised as he filed into the elevator to descend to Sub-Level 4 with the others.
Shakeel was by his side.
"I've done a bit of weapons handling in school," Min whispered to his roommate. “I'll give you some tips, if you like."
Shakeel smiled at him. "Maybe," he said, then added, “what kind of school did you go to? Terrorist High?”
Min laughed. “No. Back home we have compulsory military service, and some schools have programs to prepare students for long term military service. I wasn’t there long. I am a dancer not a soldier.”
“Then what are you in this group for?”
Min chuckled. “I must be mad.”
Shakeel earned a playful jab in the ribs from his faux insult of a response.
Baer, Sontag and Bishop were waiting for them outside the elevator doors on Level 4, this was the secure section of the huge complex beneath the mansion. This is where the firing ranges were too.
At one end of the range they were on was a row of sandbags, that seemed surprisingly mundane to Min. Fifty metres further on there was a line of eight targets, each in the shape of a human body. Behind the targets, a solid wall of more sandbags. Min assumed this was to stop any stray bullets bouncing back.
Bishop unlocked a door behind them. He, Sontag and Baer disappeared inside. The students waited. There was a hush. Min found a himself standing next to Gaius. He was chewing gum, as usual, it was a surefire way to tell him from his identical twin Jonny. When he caught Min's eye, he spat his gum out into a wrapper and threw it into the nearest bin. Gaius had been on so many punishment laps for just spitting it out wherever he liked. He was putting a fresh piece in his mouth as the instructors exited the door once more.
They were carrying weapons. Each of them had a different kind. Bishop had the smallest, Sontag the next largest and Baer the biggest.
Baer stepped forward. He scanned the students standing in front of him.
"Don't get too excited," he barked at them. "We will seldom send anyone into operational situations carrying weapons. We’re not raising a pack of gun-hungry teenagers. But the students who make it through selection will find themselves in scenarios where the bad guys are armed. We have all seen the gun-toting redneck Purifiers on TV. You need to show us that you have the potential to learn about the weapons you may encounter. At the end of the day you will each be tested on what you have learned. We are also going to be firing some weapons. This will test certain characteristics that we are looking for: strength, coordination, and your ability to learn."
No one liked Baer, he was a bully, and seemed to enjoy abusing the students. Bishop was equally tough but fair, Sontag took no crap from anyone but was not capricious unlike Baer.
“Maybe you think today will be easier than previous days. Think again. Gun work is all in the head. If your head's not up to it, you're out."
Selection. X, as their organisation had become popularly known since the loss of Professor Xavier, had just three field operatives right now. Given the number of mutants that were in trouble, more were required. These all went through Selection. A gruelling series of tests and training to hone those who could do this work and weed out those that could not. The days of sending untrained students out into the field were long gone. Failure at anypoint in the process meant you were out.
He turned to Bishop and nodded. Bishop stepped forward and held up his firearm. "This is a handgun, or pistol," he announced. "A SIG Sauer P226, to be precise. It fires 9mm rounds. It's a semi-automatic. I'm now going to explain to you what that means."
Gaius made a huffing sound and rolled his eyes, as if he already knew everything Bishop was going to tell them. Min turned his attention back to the instructor.
"Semi-automatic means that once a round is fired, the recoil ejects the empty cartridge case, loads the next round and cocks the weapon. This means the user only needs to cock it once, for the first shot. After that, they are able to fire the remaining rounds in quick succession. All shots today will be discharged in semi-automatic mode. Semi-automatic pistols have advantages and disadvantages. They are easy to conceal and can usually fire twelve or thirteen rounds in quick succession. But they have many working parts, which means they are prone to stoppages. In the movies, you see people accurately firing handguns across large distances. It's not like that in real life. These weapons are hard to aim. A highly competent weapons handler could aim a shot at twelve to fifteen metres. An inexperienced shooter is unlikely to be on target above three to five metres. Those of you who make it through selection will learn how to load and strip down all these weapons. And how to fire them, of course."
Bishop stepped back. Sontag took a step forward. She held up her weapon.
"MP5 submachine gun," she announced. Even Gaius was paying attention now. “Submachine guns offer the user the portability of a handgun with the firepower of a machine gun. They are generally designed to use the same ammunition as a pistol, but in larger quantities and at a higher rate of fire. We're talking twenty- to thirty-round magazines. The range of a submachine gun is much higher than that of a pistol. A skilled user can get a shot on target at about sixty metres. The rounds themselves will travel for a good hundred and twenty metres. Like the handgun, this weapon can be set to semi-
automatic. However, it also has a fully automatic function. On this setting, the weapon will continue to fire bursts of rounds so long as the trigger is pressed and there is enough ammunition in the magazine. For this reason, submachine guns are often used by gangs firing randomly in drive-by shootings. It's called spray and pray."
For a fraction of a second, Sontag glanced at Gaius.
Gaius looked at the ground.
Then the moment passed. Baer stood forward with his firearm, the largest of the three. He looked very comfortable with it slung across his huge chest. Min could tell he was well used to carrying such weapons. It suited him.
“M16 automatic assault rifle," he stated. "Magazine fed. Longer barrel. Higher calibre rounds such as 7.62 and 5.56. You see a bad guy with one of these? Run. An untrained operator will likely hit a target with an assault rifle at three hundred metres. A trained operator at six hundred metres. And they’re deadly far beyond that. These are intended as weapons of war, but terrorists and militants all over the world are in possession of them. Assault rifles like this can penetrate most things, so you can guess what they do to humans. If any of you are still under the impression that firearms like this are fun toys, say now and I'll tell you about the men and women I've known who have been killed by them." He looked at each of them in turn, his characteristic scowl etched deep on his face. The students looked back at him in silence.
"Right!" Bishop said eagerly. "Let's get to the range, shall we?"
Min could tell that the group was now more nervous than excited. They lined up by the sandbags while the instructors disappeared back through the door to the armoury. When they reappeared, Bishop was still carrying the handgun. Sontag and Baer were carrying boxes. Min assumed these contained ammunition. Baer looked along the line of students. He selected Illyana. “You, come with us. The rest of you, wait here."
Illyana stepped forward, eyes darting from side to side as she tried to judge
the reaction of the other students. Baer was already striding down the range
towards the targets. Bishop gave Illyana an encouraging smile. "Come on," he said.
"Let's show these boys how it's done," Sontag added.
Illyana followed them hesitantly down the range. The remaining students watched silently. Illyana and the others stopped at the far end of the range, ten metres from the nearest target. The instructors stood around her. They seemed to be showing her how to load and unload the handgun. How to hold it. How to aim it.
And finally, how to fire it.
Her arm was outstretched. The weapon was in her right hand, and steadied by her left. She released three rounds, then made the weapon safe, then handed it back to Bishop.
Min had to squint to see how accurate her shots were. Two were just outside the outline of the body printed on the target. One was just above the heart. Was that good? He didn't know.
Illyana didn't seem pleased as she trudged back to the others, head bowed. She looked at Thomas.
“They want you," she said, before sitting on a sandbag a little way from the others.
Thomas fared slightly better than Illyana, Sophie slightly worse. Neither Angelica or Johnny were on target.
Gaius went next. He was astonishingly good, way better than his twin. He held the firearm one-handed and released three rounds in quick succession. The bullet holes were closely clustered around the target's heart. He handed back the gun and returned to the others. If he was pleased with his performance, he didn't show it.
"You," he said to Shakeel as he took a seat on a sandbag and stared resolutely back down the range.
Shakeel gave Min a ‘wish me luck’ look. Min felt for his new friend. He looked so diffident walking down the range. Unlike Gaius, he listened patiently to the instructors, nodding in all the right places. When his time came to fire at the targets, he looked unsure as he raised the gun in his right hand and supported it with his left. He fired three shots, then lowered his gun and handed it back to Bishop.
There was one bullet hole, directly in the centre of the target's chest. At first everyone thought that the other two rounds had missed the target entirely. But the instructors were looking at each other in astonishment. The students realised that all three of Shakeel's rounds had hit exactly the same spot. Shakeel handed over his weapon and walked back up the range.
Min expected to see a small smile of achievement on his face. But there was none. If anything, his friend looked distraught. He was on the verge of tears.
“What's up, Shak?"
But Shakeel just shook his head and said, "You're next."
Min was confused, but the instructors were looking in his direction. He didn't want to keep them waiting so he jogged down the range to meet them. He was the last student to fire the handgun. He knew he couldn't beat Shakeel or Gaius. He would just have to do his best.
He listened carefully as Bishop explained in more detail about safety catches and loading mechanisms.
"Keep your finger outside the trigger guard," he said. "When the time comes to fire, don't yank at the trigger. Squeeze it, hold it, then gently release. Breathe regularly. Don't hold your breath too much or you'll start to shake." He handed Min the pistol. "Good luck," he said.
"He’ll need it," Baer growled.
"Everytime," Sontag groaned, clearly exasperated with the senior instructor.
But Baer's words were like a worm in Min's brain. As he stepped up to the firing point and cocked the weapon like he"d been shown, he realised his hand was shaking. He tried to steady it by taking some slow, shallow breaths as he raised his weapon and aimed at the target.
He took a shot. He saw that it had landed wide of the body target, and felt sick. He could almost feel Baer's hot glare on him, and sense his smugness. Somehow it just made him more determined. He steadied his breath again.
Took his second shot.
Better. Nothing as close to the chest as Gaius or Shakeel had managed, but only a few centimetres to the left.
"Sweet," he heard Sontag say.
There was of course no word of encouragement from Baer.
He lined himself up for the third shot. Calmed himself. Fired.
It was a perfect shot. As accurate as Shakeel’s, straight through the centre of the target's chest. Knowing that Baer would be watching his every move, he moved his finger to the outside of his trigger guard. Then he handed the weapon back to Bishop. He was aware of Baer glowering at him, and he was tired of it. He knew better than to challenge him, however. Instead, he turned to Bishop. "Thanks for the lesson," he said mildly, and walked back up the range to the others.
The handgun lesson had taken over an hour. The submachine gun lesson took longer. There was more to learn, and the safety procedures were more involved. Again they approached the targets individually, this time standing fifty metres away. It became gradually apparent that the students’ aptitude, or lack of it, with the pistol had been no fluke. When it came to firing the MP5,
Illyana and Thomas were passable. Angelica, Sophie and Johnny struggled. Gaius looked like he had been handling one of these weapons all his life. Shakeel's skill was offset by the tears that threatened to roll down his cheeks at the sound of gunfire. Min himself showed little initial brilliance, but learned quickly. Baer seemed to find this galling, but kept his comments to himself.
After lunch, they tackled the assault rifle. Even Gaius found this beast of a weapon difficult to handle. The kickback bruised Min's shoulder and the retort of the single shots numbed his ears. He only landed one shot on target.
Shakeel, however, was as accurate as ever. His three shots landed right on top of each other. The instructors were clearly astonished at how good he was. Shakeel was just as clearly in no mood to accept their admiration. Now his tears flowed freely, and he avoided the others as he walked back up the range. Min didn't know why he was upset, but he couldn't help wondering how he would react if he was ever in a real combat situation.
It was mid-afternoon by the time the weapons-handling exercise was over.
The instructors locked the firearms away and led the students back up to ground level and outside where the sun was trying to shine. There was even a bit of warmth on Min's back as they lined up at Baer's instruction.
"Does anybody want to throw in their hat?" he asked.
Min looked along the line. Gaius was jutting his chin out defiantly. Illyana looked uncertain, but stayed put. It was Shakeel, standing next to Min, who appeared tempted. It was clear to everyone that he was the best weapons handler and the sharpest shooter. But he seemed on the brink of stepping forward. Min put one hand on his shoulder, Shakeel gave him a grateful look and kept his place.
When it became clear that nobody was putting themselves forward, Baer nodded. "Fair enough," he said grudgingly, “you can all progress to further firearms training.”
Min was delighted but he was a bit unsettled by Shakeel’s skill with guns and his obvious terror of them.

< Prev : 18: Moonstone Next > : 12: Ni-Bump-ght