1: Humble Beginnings (2/3)

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The next time the group of pilot candidates gathered, they grazed about haphazardly in one of Alloyo's many hangar bays. Behind them, resting on landing struts, a dozen -- one full squadron's worth -- Z-42 Hammerheads. Curious, Antes broke away from the cadets to take them in. Upon closer inspection, he noted that they were the newer C-models.

Goosebumps danced over his skin. These were the latest iteration of the Chagan Industries Z-42 Space Superiority Fighter, affectionately called the "Hammerhead" by pilots, plane captains and admirers alike. This was the first time he'd seen a Z-42C in person and he'd be lying if he said he wasn't thrilled.

A nudge on his left side stirred him from his thoughts.

"Good going, earlier, Golden Boy. You might have just provided us all with enough entertainment for the rest of this program."

Then, another voice joined, his tone drowned in mockery.

"No sir, I didn't think about any of that at all. Come on, man. You gotta show a little more creativity when dealing with the Commander. He appreciates that sort of thing, you know."

Antes spun on his heel and was not surprised when he saw them. One was shorter with dark skin and curly black hair worn close. The other was fair skinned and slightly taller, with a nose more than a little noticeable and a cleft in the center of his chin. Those two guys -- the pair of troublemakers sitting in the back of the amphitheater telling jokes, interrupting the class and, otherwise, just generally annoying. They were, for all intents and purposes, the candidate group's own clown committee.

"Well then, care to enlighten me as to what I should have said?" Antes fired off, crossing his arms over his chest.

The pair looked at each other with quizzical expressions, not quite prepared to answer Antes' question.

The taller one stuttered over his next words. "Well see, I'm glad you asked. I'm not quite sure either. To be honest, we were both just glad the Commander found another target for a change."

That was an unexpected bit of honesty, not at all what Antes would have expected from either of them. What happened next only compounded Antes' surprise. The tall one stuck out his hand.

"The name's Kalvyn Jemara."

Antes regarded Kalvyn's hand carefully, in case this was some kind of mean prank or something. Against his better judgment, Antes shook the other cadet's hand firmly.

"Antes Elsos."

"Oh, we know who you are. Pretty much everyone around..."

"You'll have to excuse my friend, he's got no manners," interrupted the shorter one. "I'm Jenson Davyles. Nice to meet you, Antes."

"Likewise, Jenson," Antes said exchanging another handshake.

Immediately, Jenson turned to Kalvyn. "See, I told you he didn't have a stick up his ass."

Antes fought to suppress a chuckle as Kalvyn handed Jenson a folded up ten-credit bill which was promptly stuffed into the breast pocket of Jenson's flight suit.

"So," Jenson continued, hardly skipping a beat and stepping past Antes to eye down the Hammerheads. "When do you think we're gonna get a crack at those bad boys?"

Antes and Kalvyn turned and stood with Jenson to get one last look at the Hammerheads before the bass-filled voice came from the direction of the hangar bay doors.

"Attention!"

Antes, Kalvyn and Jenson spun on their heels and snapped to full attention as Commander Warren approached the group of cadets. He couldn't identify the look on the Commander's face -- a mixed cocktail of amusement and anticipation. Antes anxiety only worsened when the Commander smiled at them.

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