4: Nova (4/4)

20 2 3

March 17, 2180 (New Era Calendar) /
Antilla System, Arverian Aerospace

Gonzo Antreya sat calmly at the controls of Unit Zero, the Alpha: one of the two experimental multi-configuration starfighters at the heart of Project Nova. Despite being surrounded by holographic touch screen interfaces, Gonzo was reminded most of the cockpit of his Hammerhead.

He pushed a button on the side of his helmet and the visor slid down as he gripped the flight stick and throttle with relaxed fingers.

"This is Captain Gonzo Antreya. Unit Zero is on standby awaiting orders."

The voice of Byron Elanger sounded over his helmet's comm unit, "Begin stage one tactical assessment."

"Roger, General. Unit Zero is engaging drone fighters."

With the cold blues, whites and purples of the icy Arveria as a backdrop, Unit Zero accelerated blisteringly fast and tore into a formation of drones at a small percentage of light speed. The rangefinder on the holographic HUD clocked down and then deactivated as he completed his high speed attack run.

The drone Interceptors exploded as Gonzo continued to push the prototype, Unit Zero, to his limits. Based on the the technical manuals, he hadn't even come close to skating the prototype fighter's performance envelope. He gritted his teeth from the G's brought on by the narrow, high speed turn. Even then, he couldn't help but smile. In his Hammerhead, he would've had to wrestle with the stick's rough vibration if he were to attempt such a maneuver. In the Alpha, however, the fighter responded effortlessly to his control inputs.

He brought the Alpha around and fired off its quartet of laser cannons, destroying another group of drone Interceptors. Easing off the throttle, Gonzo shook his head in amazement. This fighter made combat too easy.

Elanger's voice invaded the comm frequency again, "Standby to begin stage two."

"Roger that. Switching to mech configuration in three. Two. One."

Gonzo flipped a cover off of the only button on the control board and pressed it. Unit Zero began to transform. Wings folded underneath themselves. Fuselage panels slid away. In its place a pair of arms and legs unfolded from the fighter's center-mass. When the transformation was complete, Unit Zero had gone from a sleek starfighter to a humanoid robot. The smooth control surfaces and a set of four engine housings were the only hints at Unit Zero's previous form.

With Gonzo at its controls, Unit Zero charged the next group of drones. His hands and feet danced wildly as his eyes darted from one target to the next. Piloting Unit Zero in mech configuration seemed easier than in fighter mode. As the drones emptied from Skyline's hangars, they were handily eliminated.

In the middle of Gonzo's rampage, a yellow light pierced into the cockpit. It grew brighter and brighter with every passing second. In a panic, Gonzo keyed his comm.

"Skyline, what's happening?"

Suddenly, every nerve in Gonzo's body felt a traumatic pain that only grew in intensity as the light grew brighter and brighter. Elanger's voice shouted over the comm.

"Antreya! Respond!"

Gonzo screamed in agony as he tried to mouth a response. His eyes bulged wide and he screamed in silence. Pleas from Skyline tried to raise the pilot—nothing but silence.

Then the darkness.

- - -

March 22, 2180 (New Era Calendar)/
Antilla System, Alliance Research Station Skyline, Arveria high orbit

The moment Gonzo opened his eyes, his world spun. The bright light of Skyline's infirmary blurred Gonzo's vision. He tried to sit up, but he couldn't muster enough strength. Frustrated, the injured pilot stuffed his head into his pillow and wiped the crust from his eyes. Looking up at the light in the ceiling and then at the medical droid examining the leg of one of the Skyline techs.

A chime at the door to the medical bay rang out and the door slid open. In walked General Elanger in his drab, olive green fatigues. He held a datapad in his left hand as he walked toward Gonzo's bed. Scorn had etched its way into the General's features as he drew nearer.

Gonzo could've sworn he heard a bit of condescension in Elanger's speech. "Welcome back to the land of the living," Elanger greeted.

As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, it felt as if his brain was going to burst through his skull. Gonzo rubbed his forehead and then looked at the General, straining to put a sentence together.

"How long have I been out?" Gonzo groaned.

"It's been two days."

Gonzo's shock at the revelation overrode the pain caused by his headache. "Two days! What the hell happened to me?"

Elanger's eyes narrowed and took a brief moment to respond. "Simply put: the Fusion System," he said as he handed Gonzo the datapad.

On the datapad showed footage of Unit Zero shortly after Gonzo had reconfigured to mech. Gonzo noted that the footage wasn't in holographic format. The cockpit was flooded in bright light.

As if Elanger had been reading Gonzo's mind, "After Zero eliminated the drones it engaged the observation ships and took them out. The rest of the recordings were flat cams from Skyline."

Gonzo could only watch the footage in silence as the Unit Zero mech tore through anything near it with a pair of green energy blades. When the footage stopped, Gonzo turned his attention back to General Elanger.

"The Fusion System, General?"

"The test exceeded our expectations, Captain. What do you remember?"

Gonzo shook his head and regretted it instantly. His brain rattled with every movement. Definitely a concussion. That didn't explain his memory loss, however. Everything before going mech was crystal clear. But after? All he remembered was the light.

A sliver of ice etched down his spine.

"Nothing after I switched to mech."

"I see," Elanger said with a nod of his head. He placed a hand on Gonzo's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. "Get some rest, Captain. You're going to need it."

With no less than an acknowledgement, Elanger turned to leave the infirmary. Gonzo cursed himself as he watched the General leave. If he hadn't disobeyed Winston at Arcturus, then maybe he and Defiant would still be where they longed to be. Who was he kidding? If he hadn't, the Alliance would've lost a lot more good soldiers that day. No one would ever question that. Except for maybe Winston.

He exhaled tirelessly and closed his eyes.

"Just see this thing through to the end, Gonzo."

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