It was time to sum up the newbodies’ first round. Avril had scheduled individual meetings with each one, and had decided to start with Tianyi. Most headache with her, better get rid of it asap.
Lace had stopped by her office as she was trying to figure out how to tell Tianyi that she better start behaving, or else, without having that ‘or else’ sound ridiculous. Naturally, they had started talking about Santo. The other day they got a message from the hospital saying that he was going to be fine, but of course they knew it wasn’t going to be an easy trip back for him.
“He has to be replaced then, I guess?” Captain Lace spun their coffee mug around in their hand. Their thin hair was completely grey, while their face barely had any wrinkles. Avril knew they were younger than herself, otherwise she’d never been able to guess their age.
Avril tapped a fingertip at the desk beside her. The office was a tiny room with a computer desk at one wall and two chairs. Just like the other officers’ rooms. The lit ceiling and fake window made it feel less cramped, but Avril still hated it.
“Yeah. It’ll be months before he’s back on his… feet….” She literally facepalmed. It hadn’t even been five days. She rubbed her face. “And then he’ll have to get used to the prosthetics and all that shit. But I don’t know, they let people like Haylen back in, maybe there’s a chance for Santo too.”
“They’re doing pretty good though?” Lace asked, taking a sip of the coffee. “Your newbodies, I mean.”
‘Newbodies’ wasn’t a word Lace used in public, but they allowed themselves to be more casual when there was nobody else around than the captains.
“What can I say”, Avril said, folding her arms across her chest, “the grunts can follow orders and the scrub can put band aids on .”
Lace smirked. “You’re saying you like them?”
Avril snorted. “That would be stretching it too far.”
“And your ears? Are they still intact?
“What do you mean?”
Avril scoffed. “Well, I’d say Haylen equals that out.”
There was a signal from the door, and Tianyi stepped in as Avril opened it.
“Private Tianyi reporting for meeting, captain.”
Lace stood up and repaid Tianyi’s salute. “I’ll leave you to it then”, they said and left the room.
Avril raised a hand at Lace, then bid Tianyi to sit.
“Nice lamb.” The soldier smiled at a photo of a lamb on the wall as she sat down. “Is it yours?”
Unlike Lace and Ismail, Avril had no pictures of her family or friends in her office. Instead, she had a photo of a lamb she got when she was five. Her first ever. A stubborn, butt ugly lamb that she named Whacky, and slaughtered herself when it was big enough to eat.
Avril didn’t bother to small talk though.
“Opinions about your first round, private?”
“I like this ship. I like this crew. Best grub I ever had in the UAF. And the officers aren’t so bad either.” She winked at Avril.
Avril didn’t play along this time either. “You said you left your previous commendation because you didn’t get along with one of your teammates.”
“That’s right.” Tianyi sounded as carefree as usual.
“Why didn’t you get along? You never said that.”
“You didn’t ask.” She grinned.
Avril kept looking at her, sternly.
“Let’s say we had different opinions on a matter that included us both.”
“Maybe he didn’t like the way you express your own thoughts to make other people look stupid?”
Tianyi snickered. “Well he didn’t like that either, no.”
“So you don’t deny it?”
“I like to tease people, captain. It’s fun.”
“As your officer, I don’t find it amusing. At all.”
She paused. Tianyi shrugged, but didn’t say anything.
Here goes, Avril thought.
“You know they say that if you have to remind people that you’re the boss, you just prove that you’re not. So I’m taking a risk here. What you do when you bitch back or comment anything I ever say or do, it’s undermining my authority. You don’t listen, neither do you care, when I reprimand you. You don’t apologize. To keep trying, or start punishing you for real, would only prove that I have no control over you. That leaves me with only two options. One is to put you in someone else’s team and get another soldier in return. Another is to kick you from the Ignis. I would look bad either way, but it’s still better than losing whatever respect I got left from the other soldiers.”
The carefree look wasn’t quite as carefree now, but Tianyi looked more thoughtful than offended. Avril waited.
“If that’s how you feel, captain, then I can’t say much about it. I like this place, I like my teammates, I like you. But it’s not worth wringing myself inside out for, if you catch my drift.”
Avril peered at her. “You like me?”
Tianyi shrugged with a smile. “See, that’s one of your problems, cap. You don’t like being liked by your soldiers. And it works with people like Felicia or Haylen, because they don’t like it when their officers like them. But me? I’m like Keith. I want us to have fun and get along. So if none of us are going to change, then one of us has to go. I’m not going to change, so the ball’s in your hands now.”
Avril leaned back in her chair, looking at Tianyi with a frown. Tianyi looked back, calmly smiling.
“Then I’ll just conclude this by saying that you’re a good soldier, pulling your weight, filling your spot. You’re an asset to the team. You’re also a pain in the ass.” She stood up, and Tianyi followed.
“You stay for now, until I found a replacer for Santo. Then we’ll see. Dismissed.”
Tianyi actually stood at attention and saluted her before she left the office.
Avril groaned and sank back into the chair.
What the hell just happened, and how the hell was she supposed to deal with it?