June 12, 2179 (New Era Calendar)/
Arcturus System, Arcturus Capitol Building, Arcturus Prime
Gonzo Antreya wiped the sheen of sweat off of his forehead and used it to slicken back a loose strand of dark brown hair before standing at full attention. The office he stood in was all but foreign to him. After all, up until hours ago, it belonged to a Confederate Governor, but now flew the flag of the Alliance.
The fighter pilot rigidly looked at a spot on the wall behind and just above the head of the sitting General Chris Winston. Winston, a man in his early 50s should have been dried to pasture years ago. Wrinkled, leathery skin sat atop a stocky body. Balding salt and pepper hair crowned the general's soft angled but clean shaven face. The drab green flight suit bulged in all the wrong places, but no one would dare to comment—the rank insignia and numerous battle tabs guaranteed that.
Winston shot to his feet and began to pace in front of Gonzo for a few intimidatingly silent moments. He stalked around the large wooden desk bringing himself face-to-face with the young squadron commander. Gonzo met the general's hard stare with one of nonchalance.
"You think this is funny, Antreya?" Winston demanded.
Gonzo stayed quiet.
"I asked you a question, Captain!"
"No, sir, General," Gonzo responded as Winston resumed pacing.
"So then tell me, Captain, why you disobeyed my direct order."
Gonzo cleared his throat, and responded evenly, "As I stated in my report, sir, it was the wrong order. I had reason to believe there were cloaked Interceptors in the engagement zone. And I was right."
"Granted, Captain. But you deliberately disobeyed an order from a superior officer. Specifically, you disobeyed my order."
"All due respect, General, Defiant Squadron takes its orders from General Howard."
Winston inched closer toward Gonzo if that were possible and stuck a menacing finger in his face. "I don't give a damn about whatever orders Old Man Howard gave you. When you're out here in a task force under my command, you follow my orders to the letter. Do you read me, Captain?"
"No sir, not when they're the wrong ones, General."
Winston face softened slightly and chuckled with pseudo-amusement and then let a genuine curiosity creep into his voice. "Is that how you're able to do it then, Antreya? You just don't care?"
Gonzo's face contorted almost instantly.
"I made the right call, General. There were two squadrons of cloaked Interceptors just waiting for our Marines to make a move. Had we done it your way, we would've lost a dozen Marine regiments and the Confeds would still hold Arcturus."
"Had you followed my orders, Captain, the Mercury, Aurora, and Calypso would've survived the fight! That's more than five thousand men and women. Gone!"
The leader of Defiant Squadron reacted with such subtlety, only someone intimately familiar with him would have noticed; his teeth clinched, his jaw bunched and his eyes narrowed ever-so slightly.
Of course he didn't, Gonzo knew.
It was no secret that Winston held little love for Gonzo, but Gonzo had always attributed that to the fact that Gonzo had been a Confederate defector. They were on the same side in this war now and fighting to bring an end to it all. But this seemed to go beyond personal qualms.
Gonzo would shoulder the burden for the lives lost when the time came to pay due respect. But that would have to wait as the flames of war threatened to consume the galaxy one star system at a time. Too much was at stake.
After a tense silence, Winston finally spoke, the quiver in his voice betraying barely checked fury.
"You're finished, Antreya. The level of insubordination you consistently show toward me and this military are a complete disgrace."
Gonzo visibly recoiled as if he'd been shot.
"Your career is done," Winston went on.
"You can't do this!" Gonzo shouted.
"Oh, rest assured, I can," Winston smoothed out his flightsuit and placed his hands behind his back and while walking away from the stunned Gonzo, concluded, "I'll see you at the tribunal."
Gonzo froze; he simply didn't know how to react in this instance. Should he salute? Or should he simply turn and leave? For as long as he could remember, the answer had been salute. He only watched as Winston began sifting through datapads on his desk. For the General, it had clearly been back to business as usual. The intercom on Winston's desk blared with an activation notice. Before he answered it, he addressed Gonzo.
"Oh? You're still here? Please, leave my office before I have MPs remove you."
Gonzo stared for another long moment as Winston, who hadn't even bothered to look up from his menial tasks, answered the intercom. A female's cold-edged voice was on the other end.
"General Winston, sir. General Elanger has just arrived."
"Excellent. I was just concluding some business. Send him in."
Winston only now met gazes with Gonzo. "An MP escort will accompany you back to the Exped. Now get the hell out of my sight."
Gonzo spun on his heel and headed for the door to Winston's office. Before he even drew close to the proximity sensor that would automatically open the door, it slid open. At its threshold stood General Byron Elanger. Battle tabs adorned the breast pocket of his service blue uniform. Despite the shades of white at his temples showing in the otherwise jet black hair, this new General looked as if he stepped off of a recruitment poster—save for the stenciled beard and moustache. A pair of blue eyes provided a stark contrast with his pale skin—a tell-tale sign that he'd been on board a ship for far too long.
The door slid shut behind him, and for the first time in a long time, Gonzo didn't know what tomorrow would bring.
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