Hi! I was just reading Alex Rider and came across a part that mentioned Alex beating up a group of bullies and it got me wondering. If trained child combatant who was going to a normal public school how would the school as a whole (faculty, parents and students) react to of a story circulating regarding a kid taking on five and going to the ex-special forces levee of brutality to win? How could it be covered up?
Looking at the real world, if you have a kid who’s been getting training from their parent… look, this shouldn’t happen. Most responsible adults with advanced combat training won’t teach it to their kids. Most. But, it does happen. You will occasionally run across kids who’ve had police or military hand to hand training. They have a parent who’s a cop, or spent tours oversees. The kid may be responsible with this information. Or, something like this could (and does) happen. Maybe it was some misguided, “teaching them to fight,” machismo by their parent. Maybe the kid just wasn’t quite stable, or simply made a miscalculation. There’s a lot of potential factors.
The result is pretty messy, however. Criminal investigations, of both the parent and the child. Depending on the severity of whatever they meted out, you may be looking at criminal charges, potentially being charged as an adult. A kid snaps, gouges out the eyes of an opponent, and kills another by crushing their trachea, and you could easily see a kid in modern America sentenced to +25 years in prison. This can easily spill over onto their parents. It’s not hard to see a situation where an older kid could get their younger siblings taken by CPS in order to, “protect,” them from the parent responsible for this training in the first place.
There’s also a real liability issue for the school and the kid’s parents. If you’re wondering about the idea of a cover-up in the real world, that would be stopped dead by civil litigation. Say whatever you want about America being overly litigious, but things like this are why tort law exists. This would also become a factor regardless of the bullies being alive after the encounter. Someone trained this kid; they’re responsible. Someone let this kid wander around free, waiting for something like this to happen (even if they didn’t know); they’re responsible. This means, even if he kills all the bullies, and there’s no witnesses, you still couldn’t bury this thing fast enough.
The irony here is, even if the bullies provoked this response, it’s still indefensible, and in the eyes of everyone the kid who went too far, and started turning people into meat origami, and they will be held responsible.
This is something every martial artist lives with’ the more training you have, the less force you’re allowed to use to defend yourself. The thought process goes (accurately) that you need to apply less force to ensure your safety, and that of others. It becomes far easier to become the aggressor, legally. This still applies to your kid. Age really isn’t a factor in that. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teen or an adult, with advanced hand to hand training. They go off and start killing people, even in self defense, it’s going to be viewed far more carefully than if a white belt screwed up and accidentally killed a mugger.
So, yeah, that’s not going to be fun.
There’s another factor here worth remembering, bullies are looking for easy victims. They don’t always succeed in finding them, and they probably couldn’t tell you how they identify their potential victims. Normally, bullies will avoid someone with combat training. This isn’t intentional behavior, so much as a subconscious response. Martial training builds self-confidence. In turn, this makes them look less like ideal victims to a bully. Somewhat obviously, it’s not 100%. Some people really are too stupid to live, but that tends to be a self-solving issue.
So, let’s put this back in its intended perspective for a minute. Or at least, as much as I can, having never read the Alex Rider books.
You’re an intelligence agency that just took complete leave of its senses and trained a teenager to be a superspy. They then took that training and used it on civilians? Your next phone call is to get a cleaner on site to bullet the kid in the back of the head, and dump them in a landfill, hog farm, or whatever’s nearby, then pretend that kid never existed in the first place. Let everything after that become one more mystery, because really who’ll notice?
After all, if you couldn’t trust them to keep their training secret, what hope do you have that they won’t flip and start spewing classified information to anyone with a badge or a gun? You can’t afford that. No one can.
Worst case, leaving the body where it landed won’t really lead back to your doorstep. There’s an awkward truth to homicide investigations: If the killer and victim are total strangers, it can become damn near impossible to identify them. A cleaner with an unregistered .44 can leave your teen spy in a pool of their own blood, and slip the perimeter before the local PD figures out what happened. They’re used to giving authoritarian regimes the slip; what are the NYPD going to do? Seal Manhattan over one homicide? Yeah, right.
Not killing the kid and just turning them loose will result in a psychologically unstable rogue agent who may have information you really don’t want in the wild, and their cover is now blown. So any rival groups could potentially make a play for them, or try to disappear them for their own use. That’s another big problem, but hey, it’s a tough world. Hell, even M threatened to have James Bond killed at least once, right?
Also, having a kid flip out like this is a training failure for your agency. I mean, it’s one thing when we’re talking about some guy who was teaching their kid Krav Maga in their basement, but if you’re supposed to be a respectable intelligence agency, you really needed to make sure your spy would actually be able to operate in the field. That doesn’t mean shirking the issue of bullies, but it does mean finding other, more creative, ways to neutralize them. Not necessarily non-violent means, though those would be preferable. Planting evidence, framing them for crimes, or just straight up blackmailing them into public confessions are all on the table, but taking the direct approach for no substantive gain? No, that’s just bad tradecraft. It exposes the kid, it exposes your agency, and it does this for no benefit.
If there’s a lesson for your writing, it’s that no one is too important to kill if they become a big enough problem. I realize this kind of flips the script on the superspy genre. But, given the provided scenario, there’s no compelling reason not to snuff them. Any cover-up needs to start with tying up loose ends. That means the kid and anyone he confided in. Best case, just him. Worst case, it’s time to dig out the tarps and deep six a few friends and acquaintances. Just be quick, clean, and make sure there’s nothing left that can tie back to you, and you’re golden.
Now, this doesn’t mean that assassinating the kid needs to be successful. The odds aren’t in their favor, but they could find a way to survive. I mean, the entire Bourne film franchise is based off a rogue agent working against his old handlers (the novels are slightly different). But, it is the reasonable response, especially when working in a genre that goes through supporting characters like popcorn. It’s easy to sit back and think, “well, that doesn’t apply to this character, because they’re one of the main characters.” Splat. Not so much, it seems.
One of the best ways to keep your audience engaged (in genre fiction) is to find ways to subtly violate the conventions of your genre by remaining true to the nature of your characters. Especially if those characters are baked into the genre itself. The superspy genre is (usually) very lethal, selectively. It kills off characters who aren’t important to the narrative. It will wax the mentor, the old friend, people your protagonist cares about, because it’s expected. But, it rarely turns around and puts a bullet in the protagonist because they became too much of a problem… unless you’re Sean Bean.
It’s probably worth saying, in closing, you really can’t train a teenager as a spy. Maybe for sigint, but not spies like you think of them. Working in human intelligence includes a staggering amount of psychological pressure. Most adults can’t handle it. Part of the training process is about screening out recruits that simply wouldn’t be able to survive the job. While you could subject a teenager to this, their chances of coming out the side as a functional operative, or even alive, are extremely low. It’s one thing to wave this for because you’re looking at the superspy genre, but that operates with a comfortable disconnection from reality. When you start asking, “but, how would this actually work?” Everything starts to come apart at the seams.
Since I didn’t work a reference in along the way, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is still a fantastic look at spies, and absolutely worth your time. Amusingly, it’s not the first novel in the series, but is an excellent book.
Also, I’ll say it again, the first couple seasons of Burn Notice are a fantastic tradecraft primer. They’re not perfect, but the narrator offers a lot of excellent insight into how to exploit human nature.