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Shooting Lesson

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Nobody ever actually taught Beckett to shoot. She missed until she didn’t, it wasn’t hard.

The first guns she’d owned that weren’t attached to a ship had been a pair of six shooters she’d purchased shortly before deciding to take up mercenary work. Her company at the time was so impressed that she even managed to land half of her shots firing two guns at once that they never questioned if she actually knew what she was doing.

Even now that she had learned to put aside time for practice she preferred to do so alone. Beckett didn’t need anyone to tell her that her technique was ‘unorthodox’ or that her stance was all wrong. She already knew. In a real fight there was no time to waste making sure everything was correct. Even if you did, there was no guarantee you wouldn't miss. Besides, she didn’t always have to land the shot to send the message.

Imani disagreed.

Above the stony clearing that they and their companions had been using to spar, she was sitting on what might have been a hill, but looked more like a dune, watching. The Captain always took the first watch, always had, even in the old days. For most of the night, they’d been desperately trying to ignore one another's presence. But as the night drew longer, Beckett could feel that one keen eye boring into her. Could picture the exact face she was making as she watched her miss the same boulder three times in a row.

“What?” she blurted eventually, cracking under the scrutiny.

“What ‘what’?” Imani replied coyly.

“You know what, giving me the ‘you’re-doing-it-wrong’ face,” Beckett grumbled; that was a face she was extremely familiar with.

She wasn’t looking at her, but when Imani paused she knew that she was correcting it. Smoothing out her furrowed brow and the almost downward inclination of her lips. “This is my face,” she defended. “You know what it looks like.”

“I know you’re dying to say something, Captain.” Beckett said smugly, lifting her head to meet her gaze with a challenge in her eyes. Imani’s instincts were those of a natural born leader: if she saw something being done wrong she was driven to correct, to teach.

Imani crossed her arms slowly, debating whether or not to admit that Beckett was right. Eventually she shook her head, almost rolling her eye. “Would you listen even if I did say something?”

“Mm, Fifty-fifty chance, to be honest.”

Imani did not argue the point. Instead, she took a step forward and slipped gracefully down the side of the dune in a rush of sand, apparently uncaring if she got any in her boots,. or her pants. Or her hood. Beckett had thought the coat seemed a cumbersome thing to wear out here near the Ghost Reef, but could see now, with night setting in, that the extra warmth it provided made it worth keeping close to hand. “Guess I’ll have to take those odds,” she said, crossing the clearing towards her. “May I?”

Beckett nodded as she placed the butt of her cannon in an outstretched hand before stepping back, slumping down into a heap on the ground. Sitting cross legged with her head resting on an upturned palm she found herself genuinely curious what Imani planned to do.

She’d never seen her shoot anything other than her rifle, but Beckett found herself doubting that Imani was going to make a fool of herself. The Tahiri were famed for their marksmanship and Imani was among even their legends. Her aim was impeccable even with only one eye, but her true skill lay in her endless adaptability; an unfamiliar gun would probably cause her no trouble at all. However, the cannon looked foreign in her arms, too bulky.

Imani examined it carefully, running her gloved hand along the underside of the drum, then her fingers over the breaks in the muzzle. Learning just by sight and touch what it was and how to use it with an insight that was only found in grizzled mercenaries.

“What’s wrong, mine bigger than yours?” Beckett teased, earning an exasperated look. “Well? You gonna shoot or just make eyes at it all night.”

“I’ll shoot when I’m sure I wont blow my fingers off,” Imani said tersely. “You’re lucky you haven’t already.”

Falling quiet again, Beckett watched as she finally raised the barrel to eye level. Shuffling her feet slightly further apart and steeling herself, Imani squeezed the trigger. The muzzle burst into flame and smoke. With a loud boom, its shell surged forward into the boulder she’d been using for target practice, hitting almost dead centre. Debris clattered into the sand around them. Beckett had to shield her eyes with her arm.

“All flash and fury. I see why you love it so much,” Imani said on the exhale, allowing fluidity to return to her form. Beckett was not sure if that was a playful jibe or an insult. Scrambling back to her feet, she tried to wipe the look of awe off her face.

“You know me, shoot first, ask questions later,” she sniffed. The words came out more bitter than she’d meant them to. They stilled in the air and, for a brief moment, neither of them said anything, just watched the other closely.

Imani crossed the space between them and handed back the gun. If she saw the apology written clear as day across Beckett’s face...she didn’t acknowledge it. Instead, she straightened out the bottom of her coat and cleared her throat, all business again.

“Raise the stock to your cheek, under your dominant eye...keep them both open,” she instructed. “Now, bring it back to your shoulder.” As she spoke, she moved to circle the back of her. Every bit the captain that Beckett remembered — stoic and analytical. It was hard not to tense up under her hard gaze. “Your stance is good. Where’d you learn that?” The tone of her voice suggested she was dubious, she, too, had never asked Beckett where she’d been taught to shoot. Perhaps it was just occurring to her now that she never had been.

This time Beckett swallowed the remark she wanted to make and shrugged. “Just feels right,” she said instead, inclining her head to look back at her. Imani’s eyebrows were raised. Surprised or maybe impressed, it was hard to tell; she gave so little away.

“When you pull the trigger, do it quickly and with just one or two fingers in a squeezing motion. Like how you’d imagine milking a goat—”

Beckett snorted.

“What?”

“Nothing. You just said that so seriously. And the mental image made me laugh. Sorry… Go on.”

Imani’s mouth quirked in that very slight way that Beckett recognised as her wanting to make a comment but thinking better of it. “If you tense your whole hand you’ll throw off your aim. It’s got to be firm but not aggressive.”

“Right.”

“Once you’ve fired, swing into the recoil with your knees.”

“With my knees?” Beckett asked. “How do you mean?”

The captain moved up behind her and Beckett felt the weight of her hands come to rest on the engines of her jets. She shifted them like a gear stick, guiding her movements with a firm touch, gently rocking her side to side but using only her legs. “Like this. If you twist on your hips you’re going to go wide or hit behind your target, not to mention damage your back. But using your legs gives you a wider space to find your next target in and helps absorb the shock from your recoil. You can probably use the weight of your jet pack to lean into it as well, so you don’t need to waste as much energy.”

Imani’s voice was very gentle this close and Beckett was thankful that the low light was probably covering the flush in her cheeks. That said, she thought for sure that Imani must have felt the warmth on her when she leaned forward a little to correct the position of the gun against her shoulder. It was actually sort of nice, hearing her talk about something she was clearly knowledgeable about. ...Even if that topic was guns and warfare.

Finally, she pulled away, pointing her chin in the direction of the still smouldering boulder in front of them. “Try to keep all of that in mind and take a shot,” she said, taking a few steps to the left and covering the ear closest to the gun.

Beckett nodded, carefully recounting each step in her mind before firing, the shot going wide and exploding into the sand.

Imani turned to look at her expectantly and she actually felt the heavy mouthful of pride she swallowed before speaking. “Yeah, I got it. I swivelled my hips still.”

“It’ll take some getting used to,” Imani reassured her. “Keep going.”

The more shots she fired and reloaded the less under a magnifying glass Beckett felt. Imani must have stayed with her maybe an hour or two more, mostly watching but occasionally discussing technique. She was not as strict a teacher as she led others to believe; it was easy to be encouraged by her gentle words and genuine praise. Beckett almost regretted not asking her for tips sooner...almost.

-

“So...you’re self taught?” Imani asked her much later. The two of them were taking a break up on the vantage point where the captain’s sniper was resting up against the side of her stool. Beckett was sitting cross legged on the ground. She nodded.

“Yup.”

“You just picked up a gun one day and thought, ‘This’ll do,’ hmm?”

“Yeah? What about it?” Beckett felt her hackles rising, sensing she was on the verge of yet another lecture.

However, Imani wasn’t looking at her. Instead, her gaze was trained on the stars, the look in her eye was far away, seeing some other time or place. Wherever that was, she didn’t look unhappy. “Nothing. That’s just so...you.” Her shoulders slowly sagged with a silent sigh before she rose to her feet.“C’mon. Knossos has the next watch and I’ll need help dragging him out of that tent.”