"Why'd you join up, Lieutenant? You had your deferment, a bright future ahead of you...doesn' t make sense to me."
Face wiggled uncomfortably in the wet ditch. Hannibal wasn't sure if it was his question or the leeches causing it.
"Uh, well, some stuff came up. Personal stuff."
"Personal as in 'don't go there' ?"
"Well, yeah. Anyway, I just wanted to get out of there, away from all of it. This seemed like the best alternative at the time."
Face chuckled wryly. "Let's say I've made better choices."
"Yeah, I'd hope so." Hannibal shook his head.
"Uh, you, Colonel? What made you join up?"
Hannibal shrugged, looking at the damp cigar. "I was too late for WWII, but the fervor was still there. Had the chance to go to West Point, so I took it. Found out I liked it...well, I liked parts of it. Playing the game, outwitting the other guy. Strategy. Then Korea happened. Wasn't so much fun any more - until I realized my 'game playing' could save lives. Caught the brass's eye and...now I'm here. So, what are your plans after this?"
Face shook his head. "No idea. Was studying business but that seems so boring now. I have to admit...I'm scared a lot here, but there's something else, too. Kind of a rush, you know? We get back to camp and I'm just so glad to be alive...but then I start wishing I was out here again, feeling like...I don't know. It's like beating the devil."
"Hmm, yeah. It's a good feeling. Just don't let it turn on you. You religious, Lieutenant?"
"Well, sort of."
Hannibal could see Face was confused. "Keep it sort of. I've had men that were real religious, and they got that 'feeling'. Started thinking they were Superman, that God was on their side. And that got them killed. You start feeling that jazz, you remember one thing. God's got nothing to do with what's down here. This is politics, pure and simple. We got a job to do, and we do it."
"You're not religious, then?"
Hannibal almost cut him off, but noted the hesitation. He liked this kid, liked how he listened and learned. He wanted this kid, especially, coming out alive. If that meant revealing a few things, what the hell?
"Not here, anyway. Here all that matters is knowing the enemy, understanding what he's thinking and why. It's not prayer that's gotten people out of here, Lieutenant. It's strategy. Practicality. Knowledge. Time enough for praying when you get home."
He glanced over the edge of the ditch, saw the supply truck coming around the curve, heading right for the camouflaged hole they'd dug hours ago. He nudged Face's arm and grinned.
"Doesn't mean we can't have fun at the same time."