The sun made sweat bead on her forehead, but Riza refused to wipe it away. She knew the moment she did, the clay pigeon would arc across the sky and she would fail this part of her firearms exam. The cadet who had shot just before her had, and the sergeant had yelled for two solid minutes. She wasn’t about to give them cause to remediate her. Failure simply wasn’t an option. Even without her current motivation, failure had never been something tolerated in her family. Any failure was met – not so much with a drill sergeant’s fury – but rather her father’s sad-eyed disappointment and his request to try again.
Hearing the thunk of the machine’s throwing arm, Riza shouldered her rifle, sighting down the barrel in the span of a single breath. She blasted the clay pigeon, already moving to target the next one before the mule-kick of the rifle really registered with her abused shoulder. She had benched the rifle in wrong during practice, leaving herself with a bruise on her skin so deep the manufacturer’s name, usually stamped into the rubber on the rifle butt, could be read backwards on her pale flesh. There was no mistake this time. She hit all three pigeons and just to show off, hit some of the shards before they fell to earth.
The showmanship would probably be met with a grunt of disapproval, but she thought it important that they recognized her skill. Riza was one of the few women on the firing range. The military might be fairly accepting of women but still, they made up a very small percentage of all soldiers. She couldn’t be simply as good as the boys around her. She needed to shine. Someone was depending on her, even if he didn’t know it yet.
Riza picked up her brass while the sergeant made a few notes on his clip board. His face was twisted into a furious scowl, but she assumed that was standard operating procedure for trainers. She and Rebecca had joked that they probably went to sleep with the skin of their faces in ‘curlers’ to make the deep lines of disapproval, much like girls did with their hair. Riza ran a hand over her short hair. She actually had never slept in curlers to get the bouncy waves boys liked. It had never seemed important, and the one young man she'd wanted to attract was always surrounded by girls, so beautiful that Riza couldn't compete with them.
“Hawkeye,” the sergeant barked.
She snapped into field rest, the rifle slapping against her thigh. “Sir, yes, sir.”
“Getting a little fancy there.”
“Sorry, Sergeant Hamilton, sir,” she replied.
He checked his notes, mostly for show. She knew he already made his decision before he even walked over to her. “Yup, you pass.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Hamilton leaned in closer. “In fact, Lieutenant Milhone wants you to report to him at sixteen hundred hours to discuss enrolling you in sniper classes.”
Riza found the smile that threatened to ruin her professional demeanor. “Understood, sir.” That was perfect. It would put her in a position to guard him once she graduated.
She headed back to the showers. Luckily no one was around. It was always difficult hiding her secret here with the communal wash rooms. Her roommate, Rebecca Catalina, was stretched out on her bed when Riza got back to their room. Rebecca seemed deeply engrossed with their text on strategy, but she looked up brightly hearing Riza coming back in.
“How’d it go?” Rebecca sat up.
“I passed.” She’d tell Rebecca about the sniper training if it actually happened.
Rebecca bounced off the bed and hugged her. “That’s great! I’m going to get remediated. I just know it.”
“We can practice tomorrow if you want,” Riza offered, dropping onto her own bed, the adrenaline finally leaving her.
Rebecca nodded. “I’m just not as natural at this as you are. How did you get so good?”
Riza shrugged. She had no idea. She’d never really shot before and she couldn’t credit all of it to her motivation. “I think you’re right. I’m probably just a natural.”
“Ever wonder why we ended up here? I mean, this was my way out of bad family and there was no money for school. The military is a pretty good place really, if…” Rebecca shrugged. If they ignored the specter of being sent into the Ishbalan desert.
Riza’s own family life had always seemed a little dismal, poor, until she heard Rebecca’s. Her father’s preference for alchemy over her seemed like a dream in comparison and she hadn’t considered the military until she heard Roy’s fiery speech about their country. It affected her, but she couldn’t discount that its influence was mostly because it was Roy saying it. He had one hell of an impact on her and she wasn’t sure he knew it.
After the funeral, her grandfather contacted her for the first time since her mother died. Her father and he never got along, and Riza didn’t know if her father had forbade Grumman from coming around, or if her grandfather came to that conclusion on his own. Either way, he had been fairly stunned to hear about how poverty-ridden her father’s latter days had been, how lost in half-madness he’d gotten. It had been decided that she’d keep her connection to him hidden, and Grumman would help guide her career. Riza didn’t tell her grandfather, but she was determined that she wouldn’t need that, with one exception. She wanted stationed where she could protect Roy. None of these things she felt like sharing with anyone, not even Rebecca.
“I’m alone and, like you said, there’s no money. My schooling was all the finishing school stuff, but I have no interest in being a rich man’s prize.” Riza shrugged. “This is far more interesting.”
Rebecca nodded knowingly, and Riza smiled, satisfied. Roy would remain her little secret for now.