Hannibal slammed the door of his office behind him as he stalked out into the morning sunshine, uncomfortably hot already, despite the early hour. He wondered what on earth Face had got himself into this time, and how he’d managed to do it so quickly. It was only the second week of his reintroduction to the Rangers, his first day with the tactical assault team – Face usually excelled at things like that, what on earth had gone wrong?
Hannibal didn’t like irate phone calls, especially when they were from officers he neither liked, nor respected. Especially when they asked, no, sorry, demanded, that he drop everything he was doing just so he could come down to the training arena and be shouted out in person for something one of his team had done wrong. Especially when that someone was Face…
He walked quickly across the base, his feet finding their way all by themselves as his mind whirled away trying to come up with a reason for this interruption to his plans for his new unit. At first he’d been terrified that Face had been injured, a very real possibility when they were training with live rounds. Then, once he’d been assured that that wasn’t the case, he instantly feared that their very new relationship had been discovered, for that to happen before Face was even officially back in the door would be a disaster. But then Major Renard had started ranting about Face and using words like, ‘cocky’ and ‘insubordinate’ and other terms that Hannibal had heard many, many times before regarding his XO and he’d suddenly found himself breathing a little easier.
But then the request had come through for him to ‘get down here and see for yourself what the little shit is doing’ and Hannibal had felt that anger resurfacing, at Renard for just being so damn irritating, but also at Face for sabotaging what was already a delicate offer of reinstatement.
He burst through the double doors of the Training Centre, sending soldiers scurrying away with their heads bowed lest he turn his anger onto them, and strode straight into the command unit, the one with the huge glass windows that looked down into the arena.
Renard was there, with two or three lower ranked officers and Hannibal was glad to see that the man looked at least a little anxious by the obvious steaming temper his phone call had provoked. “Colonel Smith, sir, good of you to come down…”
“Where is he?” Hannibal was in no mood for pleasantries.
Eyes narrowed, Renard gestured to the windows and Hannibal marched over, frowning as he saw Face in the empty space below, sitting cross-legged, head bowed, right in the middle of the arena, his M4 laid across his knees. He stared for a moment, taking it all in and then turned back to the Major. “And? What the fuck is going on here, Renard?”
Anxious looks at the way their boss was being addressed flew between the other assembled ranks and Renard bristled, pulling himself up to his full height which was still a good half foot smaller than Hannibal. “Lieutenant Peck is being deliberately obstinate, Colonel. He’s ruined every single one of the simulations we’ve set up so far.”
Hannibal glanced at the clock, it was only 10:00, shit, Face was working fast.
“How?” he asked instead.
“Well,” Renard, rather self-importantly shuffled his clipboard sheets. “In Scenario One, Close Combat with Insurgents in a Built Up Area, he missed every single hostile target and instead simply shot at random points around the walls.” Hannibal frowned, that did not sound like Face. “Then we tried S2, which is Jungle warfare, and that time he didn’t shoot anything. S4 was Extracting a Hostage from a Hostile Situation and he killed the god-damn hostage so we switched to S6, Assault on an Enemy’s position and this time he shot out the fucking lights! We’re still waiting for an engineer to come now and fix the damn things.” Renard shook his head. “We’ve had rookies in here do better than that, much better. I think Peck’s lost his touch and his fucking mind while he’s at it!”
Hannibal nodded, holding onto his anger by the thinnest of margins. “And what does he have to say for himself?” he asked tightly instead.
Renard paused. “Who? Peck?” he laughed. “I don’t know, I never asked him!”
Shaking his head, Hannibal stalked over to the control panel and pressed a button, speaking into the mike at the same time. “Face?”
Instantly Face was on his feet his head turned up to the gallery above him, “Sir?”
“What’s been going on, kid?”
Face just shrugged up at him, his voice sounding tinny through the speakers in the control room. “I don’t know, boss. I don’t think Major Renard likes my methods.”
“Methods?!” Renard spat. “He doesn’t have any! Doesn’t have any skill with that rifle either, he’s a waste of tax payer’s money and I for one certainly won’t be signing his training off!”
Hannibal ignored him, instead just asking, “S1?”
“Urban conflict. There’s always a sniper in the upstairs windows so I took them out before they could damage my unit.”
Renard huffed. “Could you see a sniper in the simulation? There isn’t one programmed into S1!”
“With all due respect sir,” Face offered, “it’s the snipers you can’t see that are going to kill your team.”
“S2?” Hannibal interjected as Renard opened his mouth to yell at Face.
“Jungle warfare. The second you move, you move the foliage around you and give your position away. No one was shooting at me, so I was waiting for them to pass by, then I could either move on or take them from behind but the scenario was switched off before I had the chance.”
Hannibal nodded as Renard huffed again. “S4?”
“Hostage extraction, but it stank something rotten, boss.”
“The hostage was dressed the same as the insurgents, he was a man of the same age, he wasn’t bound or restrained and he was packing a piece.” Face shrugged, “It was a trap, Hannibal, so I took him out. Either that or a badly made scenario anyway…” he added under his breath.
Hannibal switched off the mike and turned to Renard. “That right? You been recycling insurgents into hostages?”
“He was told the man was a civilian. That should have been enough for him.”
“He’s the one going in and risking his life though, Major. I think you should credit him with a little leeway since that’s the case.” He pressed the button once more. “And S6? Why the lights?”
Face shrugged. “You make an assault on an enemy’s position, you don’t want them to see you coming. I didn’t have any smoke bombs, so I took out the lights instead.”
“They were the lights for the whole damn arena, Lieutenant!” Renard yelled over Hannibal’s shoulder. “We can’t continue until they’re fixed!”
Right on cue, the door down near Face swung open and a couple of engineers with a ladder wandered in, glancing from Face to the gallery and obviously wondering what they had walked in to. “You told me I wasn’t taking the scenarios seriously,” Face shot up with just the tiniest glimmer of irritation in his eyes. “How much more serious can you get than that?!”
Renard was flushed red with anger and he leaned over to shout through the microphone once more but Hannibal shut it off, turning his back to Face and folding his arms as he glared at Renard instead. He sighed, long and hard and when he spoke, his voice was quiet and controlled, like a very tightly wound spring. “That man down there,” he almost-whispered, “has successfully completed more Black Ops than you’ve had sick days,” someone behind him sniggered, “and he could probably devise a more testing and accurate scenario than these standing on his damn head. He’s not a rookie, he’s not a bum shot and he hasn’t lost his marbles, he’s simply fucking bored with the Kindergarten stuff you’re throwing at him. Give him a proper scenario, something more suitable to his experience and stop wasting our time. You got that?”
Hannibal glared in a meaningful manner, but Renard wasn’t quite finished just yet. “Procedures say to start at S1 and work up depending on the skill level of the-”
“Lieutenant Peck doesn’t do ‘procedures’ that well, Major. And come to think of it, neither do I. Give him something he can get his teeth into or I’m calling you out on your methods to the General, you understand me?”
Renard’s eyes narrowed but he ground out a respectable, “Yes, sir.”
Hannibal nodded and pressed the button on the mike once more, “Keep it up, Lieutenant, and report to me as soon as you’re done. Alright?”
“Yes, sir,” Face’s voice drifted up to them all and with a final nod at Renard, Hannibal strode from the gallery letting the doors bang shut behind him.
It wasn’t until he was out in the sunshine with the Training Centre left well behind, that he allowed himself the laughter it had almost killed him to hide from Renard. He was sure that, once the kids were asleep tonight, he would get to enjoy hearing the whole story of Renard’s idiocy and Face’s silent protest in great and animated detail. Hannibal could look forward to that throughout the whole of the coming long and hot day but in the meantime, he allowed his grin to split his face in two as we walked back to the promised cool of his office – the Face he knew and loved was most certainly back where he belonged.