5: Into The Black (3/3)

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March 24, 2180 (New Era Calendar) /
Antilla System, Alliance Research Station Skyline, Arveria high orbit

The Fusion System.

Captain Gonzo Antreya awoke, drenched in a sheen of cold sweat with the images of pain, suffering, and death still vivid in his mind. It was the same recurring nightmare, every day for the past week since getting behind the controls of Unit Zero.

The joy of unbridled freedom power provided to him through the Alpha conflicted with the painful helplessness of the Fusion System and its ability to induce uncontrolled madness..

As it had been explained to him, Project Nova was the essence of achieving one's full potential. "As what?" Gonzo questioned every time he opened his eyes, "As a human being? As a soldier? As a pilot? Or as a killer?"

The more Gonzo ruminated on his brief time with Unit Zero, the more he started to understand its nature. The ease with which he flew and laid waste to anything in his vicinity was only part of the puzzle as he saw it. The other piece came in what Elanger cryptically called the Fusion System.

Footage from Unit Zero's cockpit camera erased any notion that the machine itself had gone berserk. The footage showed that the pilot, however, had.

Gonzo tried to remember the four minutes in which Unit Zero rampaged, and despite the numerous tests and procedures done to help his memory recover, all the scientists had to go on were the data recordings.

But Gonzo knew he hadn't truly forgotten. He could never forget. Every time he closed his eyes to sleep, he would relive his stay at Zero's controls or some other tragedy from his past

Gonzo jerked upright, his hands tightly bunched into fists. He kicked his feet off the edge of the billet and tried to slow his breathing. "Welcome to the land of the living," Elanger's voice echoed, evoking feelings associated with his time as a pilot in the Confederation. The thought of his former commander, a man named Lagerfeld, and his similarities to Elanger almost caused the dam holding back the torrent of Gonzo's anger and frustration to burst.

He closed his eyes and inhaled deeper, slowly excising the frustration that had begun to build. Gonzo's comlink beeped and then a voice he didn't recognize intruded over the channel.

"Captain Antreya, your presence is requested on the control deck."

He responded with silence. Then he began to dress; stepping into his boots and then zipping his flightsuit up. Gonzo navigated Skyline's corridors passing technician after technician who all seemed to avoid eye contact with him. He didn't blame them. No doubt that some of them had friends who'd been abord the observation ships he'd destroyed when the Fusion System took over.

No. That's an excuse, Gonzo. You killed them.

Gonzo kept walking, and by the time he'd arrived to the control deck, he'd shuttled his guilt away to a distant corner of his mind. If anything, that's what a fighter pilot was a master of; compartmentalization. That was the only way he'd been able to stay in the cockpit.

There, Captain Upton Rakes was in the middle of conversation with General Elanger who sat in his elevated command chair. Upton took his foot off the base of the chair and gave Gonzo a warm smile followed by a quick nod of acknowledgement.

He then saluted Elanger and was quick to speak.

"General, sir. I need to speak with you about Project Nova."

"Excellent. Because we're ready to resume testing."

"Sir?" Gonzo asked, puzzled.

"We're ready for you to resume testing on Unit Zero, Captain. Your mishap put us behind schedule. Our tests on the mech configuration are inconclusive and we need an accurate baseline for mech-based anti-capitol ship capability."

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