Disclaimer: All Alex Rider characters herein are the property of Anthony Horowitz and the Penguin Group. No copyright infringement is intended. I write for fun, not profit--so far at least.
Warnings: Violence, light swearing, character death (not Alex or K Unit).
Author's Note: This story starts during Stormbreaker, after the Killing House incident. This was written for the 2009 Spy Fest, the recipient of this story will be revealed at a later date. I hope this story doesn't disappoint you! Thank you Ara for putting the whole thing together and being patient as I asked my many questions! ^_^ And to Vorsekeien for being a wonderful, brilliant beta who worked wonders with due dates! Any mistakes you see, please point them out!
Chapter One: Crash and Burn
Alex heard the footsteps, but decided to ignore them. K Unit was not the only unit here that despised his presence, and if he made eye contact, then the other men saw an opportunity to jeer at him.
He was sitting on a tree stump at the top of a fairly tall hill. Most of the scenery consisted of thin pines and cedars. The few large trees had been cut down to stumps, like the one Alex was sitting on.
Most of the tents in the SAS camp were barely visible from where he sat. All Alex could see was camouflage green of the tents and a lot of red and dark dirt, when he was turned towards them.
The sergeant had finally told them to leave after a brutal workout. Alex used his free time away from everyone else. There was no one he wanted to spend time with here.
"I expected you to go ahead and tell the sergeant what I did, but you didn't. What I should have expected was you to tattle when I wasn't around."
Alex glanced confusedly over his shoulder at Wolf, then his eyes traveled back to the knife in his hand.
"What are you going on about?" he asked disinterestedly. Continuing to whittle the piece of wood in his hands with the sharp knife, Alex waited for an answer.
His only warning was the irritated growl from behind his back, then Wolf pushed him off the stump he had been sitting on. The Swiss Army knife flew into the air and Alex stood up heatedly.
"What the hell was that for?" he yelled.
"You know very well what," Wolf snarled and pushed Alex back a step.
Eyes flashing, Alex glanced around to see if he would have any witnesses if things got dirty, but no one was around. Just Wolf, himself and the surrounding woods.
"You waited until it was dark, then you snuck off to tell the sergeant that I pushed you in the killing house." Wolf finished mockingly and crossed his arms tightly across his chest, all the while he glared at Alex with disgust. "I've seen you leaving at night, and now I know what you're doing."
Alex blinked and felt a slight blush enter his face. Wolf narrowed his eyes at the guilty look that Alex could not hold back in time.
"I knew you were a spoiled brat," Wolf said slowly, "should have realized you were a coward as well. Only a coward waits until all eyes are off him before sneaking off to whine--"
"Will you please shut up," Alex said in exasperation. "I did not run off and tattle to anyone. Yes, I think that you should have had punishment for pushing me into the trip wires, everyone blames me for it, but truthfully I didn't expect any better from you, I'm over it, you should move on too."
Turning away, Alex walked a few steps before bending over to pick up his tossed aside knife.
"I know you did it," Wolf said calmly. "I saw you leave the tent last night, and the next morning I'm getting glares from the sergeant and being assigned cleaning duties."
Glad he was facing the opposite direction, Alex refrained from rolling his eyes as he walked down the hill and away from his angry teammate.
For a man in his late twenties, Wolf's attitude reminded him of that of a child.
It was hard for Alex to sleep in this new place. That was the real reason why he had snuck off, as Wolf called it. The tent got hot at night, Alex was not one to complain, but his bed was bloody uncomfortable.
Besides that, the smell of cigarette smoke always hung in the air and Eagle tended to snore if he slept on his back.
The bout of sleeplessness had started quite suddenly and he found himself unable to concentrate in his classes during the past day or two. In the mornings his eyes would burn from lack of sleep and after two days he had had enough.
It was surprisingly easy to get out of the tent without disturbing anyone. Then he would go to sleep under a nearby oak tree. He would wait until the rest of K Unit were asleep, and carefully escape the uncomfortable confines of the metal bunk, and quietly open the tent flap.
The fact that Wolf had seen him leave the tent in the middle of the night was an insult to Alex's spying abilities, and now he could not help but question himself. Had he been found out because Wolf was a trained soldier…or because Alex was really terrible when it came to the art of sneaking about?
Was that really a bad thing if it was true, if so maybe he still had a chance of changing the minds of Blunt and Mrs Jones?
Incredibly unlikely, he scolded himself mentally. Alex was too far into training to change his mind, or anyone else's now. He'd been to the SAS training ground, been taught skills that would help him in the mission MI6 had for him. If he changed his mind now, MI6 was more likely to make his remaining life miserable then set him free.
"Double O Nothing, you're wanted by the Sergeant," Wolf snapped as he came inside the tent just to throw his jacket onto his bunk.
Nodding, Alex left for the Sergeants' office, which was only a small building located to south of the training ground.
"New orders, Cub," the sergeant said as he leaned back in his seat. "Something's come up, and because of that you will be here for another week," the man finished with an almost feral smile.
Alex felt himself pale just slightly at the thought of staying around the ever hostile Wolf for another week.
He was so very dead. However, the sergeant had made it clear the first day that the teen should only speak when asked a question. Because of that, Alex stood there silently and waited for the man to dismiss him.
"I already have a four day survival trek planned for your unit…the rest of your unit have not been informed of this."
Alex nodded and noticed the dismissal, but his rising curiosity kept him from going out the door.
"Sir, why did Wolf get kitchen duty?"
The man paused from his reading and looked up at Alex. "I have my reasons, and while I understand that Wolf may take it out on you, know that I would have given him the same punishment had he done the same to any other member of his unit. Get back to your tent, Cub. You leave first thing tomorrow morning," with that being said, the sergeant looked back at his file and Alex left.
It was with great reluctance that Alex walked towards the tent that he shared with the rest of the K Unit. Although he was sure that he would need his rest, he was also sure that Wolf would be in the tent--unless he was in kitchen duty.
Dinner had not ended too long ago, the mess of trays and food scraps was probably still a large mess. If he was there though, then the glares would hit Alex full force.
He could understand Wolf hating him. Alex was a minor, and he had been shoved into Wolf's unit without a warning to any of them.
Alex had heard more then one man making subtle yet humorous jabs towards K Unit for being stuck with a kid. While Alex could understand their feelings toward him, it did not lessen his resentment towards them for feeling that way.
He did not want to be here. Even though Mr. Blunt had given him a choice: either work for them, or be sent to the Saint Elizabeth Institution, which was known for its unpleasantness.
Also, if Alex chose not to spy, Jack would have been sent back to America. He would not have been able to stand that, and so he was sent to Brecon Beacons. Men from other units were talking in low voices near K Unit's tent. Keeping his eyes straight ahead, Alex walked closer to them and ignored the silence that descended. One man went as far as to stick his foot out in Alex's path.
Stepping over the limb swiftly and without stopping his pace, Alex ignored their chuckles and entered his shared tent. K Unit was smoking over a deck of cards. Fox glanced around and put out his cigarette at the sight of Alex.
The others did not bother and talked and laughed around their glowing cigarettes. Not bothering to change, Alex slumped onto his bunk and wished for a privacy screen. He was not shy, but knowing that a man who had it out for him also had a clear view of him sleeping, was a bit intimidating.
Rubbing his eyes, Alex flopped onto his back and rolled onto his side. He would block out their voices and sounds of mirth knowing that they were wasting precious hours that should be used for sleeping.
But then, K Unit did not know they were being sent off on a four day trek tomorrow morning. Alex smiled slowly into his arm. The sergeant had not told him to tell the rest of K Unit, just said that they did not know….
As the smile on his face took on a sly edge, Alex rolled onto his stomach to completely block out the light and waited for sleep to come.
The next morning Alex awoke earlier then usual. He opened his sore eyes and without moving his head he looked around the tent. From his position on his side, he could see the other members of the K Unit still lying on their bunks. Eagle was snoring loudly as no one had taken up the job of making sure he slept on his side. Snake had his head covered with the thin blanket, but Alex could hear his steady and deep breaths.
The sky was still dark and there was a chill in the tent that made Alex want to bundle under the covers. Usually they would have about an hour or two left to sleep but the teen had a feeling that the sergeant was going to demand that they were ready to go before , as he did not want the men yelling at him for waking them up, Alex got up. He winced slightly as he put his clothes on.
There were several bruises on his back, sides and legs from his training, and the rough material rubbed against them uncomfortably. After he was dressed, Alex decided to head to the mess hall by himself. As he moved to the flap, his eye caught one of the many boxes of matches they had lying around.
Thinking back to their hike the other day, when K Unit could not get their fire started, it seemed to Alex that even though many of them smoked, they never had matches when they were needed.
Without really thinking about what he was doing, Alex shoved the matches into his back pocket. Alex glanced around to see if any of the K Unit had woken up yet. None of them were awake, but Eagle was snoring loudly and it seemed Wolf was drooling slightly.
Alex bit his lip and hoped he could hold back his laughter until he got out of the tent. Striding out of the tent with his hand covering his mouth, Alex ran straight into the sergeant.
Mirth quickly forgotten, Alex started apologizing to his sergeant, who he had ran into in his haste.
"I'll excuse your hasty manner for being the first of your unit awake," the man said stiffly as he dusted of his chest.
"Thank you, sir," Alex replied with relief.
The sergeant nodded. "Go get something to eat Cub, the rest of your unit will be along soon."
Alex nodded and left the sergeant to sound the wake up call. At the entrance of the mess hall Alex stopped to listen to the sergeant rage on.
"Get up you lazy slobs!" The man's voice rang out loud and clear and a few soldiers eating or smoking turned their heads. "Put a cork in it Eagle! Wipe your face of Wolf, you drooled all over yourself!"
Alex smirked with amusement and a few men laughed or grinned. Entering the metal building, Alex headed for the line. The mess hall was set up like Alex's school cafeteria, the only thing different was the fact that the food was worse and these were men not teenagers.
After he had grabbed a few slices of toast and an apple, Alex went to find his table. The first time Alex had came to the mess hall he had had a hard time finding a place to sit. K Unit wanted nothing to do with him and it was very uncomfortable trying to sit with any other unit, but there was always one table that no one sat at, and Alex sat there.
Alex did not mind sitting alone, in fact he preferred it. He started eating slowly and watched the door, he wanted to be in the Mess Hall when K Unit entered.
Not long after, Wolf led the way into the mess hall with the other trailing after sleepily. They looked irritated and half awake as they walked heavily to the food line. Alex watched them as he picked at his food, they had gathered there food and headed for a table. After eating Alex headed outside, once he had exited the mess hall he headed for his sergeants office. It was there that the sergeant would inform him and the rest of K Unit about there task.
He planned on just waiting outside the doors of the office until the sergeant sent out the call for him and his unit, he had nothing better to do but wait only took a few minutes before the speakers attached to the roof of the mess hall sounded out, "K Unit report to your sergeants office immediately."
Alex smiled grimly as he watched the doors to the Mess Hall open.
His unit came out, Eagle trying to swallow down a piece of toast before he reached the sergeants office.
Even from where he was, Alex could see Wolf's deep frown when he spotted the bane of his existence already leaning against the walls of the office. Alex smirked at him and Wolf's eyes narrowed as he scowled fiercely.
With one final look Wolf went to the sergeants office door and knocked.
"Enter," came the sergeants voice. K Unit filed in leaving Alex to enter last, the sergeant looked up from a stack of papers he was reading over.
"Ready to go are you?" he asked and without waiting for an answer he stood and came to stand in front of them.
Wolf blinked and glanced at Fox who gave a subtle shrug. They were obviously at loss as to what to say and the sergeant's eyes narrowed to slits.
"Cub, you didn't tell them?" The man did not seem angry, he did not even feign surprise.
Eagle, Fox and Snake glanced at Alex who placed a blank expression on his face. "Must have slipped my mind, sir," Alex said. Alex saw Wolf's hands clench in anger, and the sergeant raised an eyebrow.
"Well, just so you will know, I'm sending you to your first wilderness survival course. You'll be supplied with the necessary equipment to survive a four day hike. The jet which will take you to your drop-off point, we will be leaving in thirty minutes, I suggest you suit up."
The sergeant paused when K Unit did not move, but his yell got them moving and they rushed out of the office to get ready.
Half an hour later, Alex and the rest of K Unit were being loaded into a transport helicopter. The pilot was checking controls in the cockpit and all the needed supplies was being secured.
Wolf shoved Alex out of the way to get the seat closest to the door, but the teen rolled his eyes and moved toward the back of the small cabin. Alex buckled himself in and grasped the side of his seat.
The pilot said something over the radio and a moment later Alex felt and heard the blades start to rotate. Soon, the airflow lifted the helicopter off the ground. The sound of the rotors was loud above Alex's head.
The pilot increased the thrust produced by the tail rotor and Alex was pushed against his seat as they suddenly swerved to the right. He had been flying once before with his uncle, Ian, only once, but that time they been inside a closed space with windows and a cheery atmosphere. Here it was harsher, and he felt a bit queasy as the pilot swerved back to the left.
Glancing to the right of himself, Alex saw that Wolf looked a little green. Eagle, Fox and Snake however looked quite content. They continued to fly and Alex eventually felt better as he got used to the way the engine made his seat vibrate, and how fast the aircraft managed to change direction.
Alex was not sure how much longer they had to go, he had a map which was marked at their drop point and the place they would have to reach in four days. But it lay in his backpack under his seat, and Alex did not want to try and retrieve suddenly slowed and Alex glanced at the cockpit to see the pilot talking into a radio. He frowned. The pilot looked less composed then he had been five minutes earlier.
Alex could not hear what was being said over the sounds of the engine, but the pilot kept peering out the window on his left.
Alex looked at the rest of his unit. They had not yet noticed anything was wrong. The helicopter swerved to the side a lot less smoother then they had been flying. The force of it made Alex's head hit the side of the helicopter. Then the aircraft swerved dangerously to the right again and Alex realized that something was wrong.
The pilot was talking urgently into the radio and Wolf was yelling something at the others.
Even over the rotors, Alex heard the bullets hit the side of the helicopter near the tail rotor and engine--and also near him. At the same time a high pitched alarm started ringing, and a light was flashing above the pilot's head.
Alex lost his hand hold as the aircraft suddenly started descending rapidly without warning.
"Cub!" He barely heard the yell and saw Eagle gesturing for him to hold on to something. Before he had time to grab onto his seat, the second wave of bullets hit the cockpit. Alex saw blood on the controls right before his head was jerked back as the aircraft started spinning in air.
Wolf was yelling instructions from his seat and Alex was pushing himself into his chair, his hands grasping the seat so tight that they hurt. The helicopter was sideways and Alex clenched his teeth together as he saw green tree tops. They were going to crash, he realized and clenched his eyes--a second later the rotors met the ground.
There was a horrible sound as they were torn apart from the rest of the helicopter. Bits of flying metal hit the side of the cabin adding to the jarring K Unit already felt. Even worse, they started flipping, twice the cabin turned and Alex closed his eyes from the sight.
The seat belt was the only thing that kept him from being tossed around inside the cabin. Suddenly--everything stopped. The rolling cabin hit a massive object in its path and even though they could feel the tremors, the object did not budge.
In frightened awe, Alex opened his eyes. It was hard to discern what he was looking at, the helicopter had stopped rolling at an angle and Alex's legs were dangling.
The urge to escape his confines grasped at Alex and panic made his breath catch. Both his hands were shaking and reaching for his seat belt, they fumbled and shook as shock started setting in.
"Come on!" Alex whispered in agitation and he finally found the clasp. He fell out of his seat to the ground and Alex scrambled to the door--but stopped himself. Alex took a deep breath and turned back to where his unit were. He had to help them. He took a cautious step forward--and the cabin made a groaning sound before tilting up.
Gasping, Alex fell forward and the cabin rocked once before standing still again. Snake suddenly groaned and Alex shot back to his feet and stumbled toward him and the others.
"Snake?" he asked and the man opened his eyes.
When the cabin had shifted and righted itself, it had turned to the right and now the seats were back in the original position. Alex unbuckled the man and was glad that their legs no longer dangled, he doubted he could have caught a full grown man.
Draping his arm under one of Snake's arms, Alex lifted the man without to much difficulty and glanced at the others.
Wolf was obviously unconscious, however Eagle was shifting and Fox--Fox looked like hell. He had a gash in his head and it was bleeding copious amounts down the side of his face. Alex cursed as he noticed and Snake turned his head to look at him anxiously.
"Come on, can you walk a bit?" Alex asked as he guided him to the door. Snake nodded and grabbed his damaged bag off the floor of the helicopter as they walked past it.
"Yes, I--wait I think my ankle is broken and…" he paused and Alex stopped trying to help him out of the door when Snake froze.
"I smell smoke."
Alex froze as well, and then he smelt it. Some part of the helicopter was on fire, and Wolf, Eagle and Fox were still inside, and unconscious.