8: Opening Moves (2/3)

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March 25, 2180 (New Era Calendar)/
Antilla System,
Hillhouse, Antilla Prime

With fingers interlocked behind his head, Gonzo Antreya stared up at the ceiling of the posh room he'd been accommodated for his stay on Antilla Prime. He looked over and a vision of Kyra Smalls stared back at him with wide eyes. Gonzo blinked once, and she was gone, leaving Gonzo alone with his own thoughts.

Rays of sunlight shone through thin linen curtains and under normal circumstances, he would have found the room relaxing -- a perfect vacation getaway if there ever was one. The room had been adorned plush couches covered in the finest cloths, lavish furnishings that put expert-level craftsmanship on display, and a large viewscreen that looked integrated into the wall itself. Easily, the money it would have taken to furnish and decorate a room like this would cut a large chunk of Gonzo's pension.

Unfortunately, Gonzo was in no shape to enjoy the accommodations. Like one bad dream, the Battle of Skyline repeated itself over and over. The more his thoughts gravitated to the fight over the world of Arveria, the more Gonzo wondered just how much of the defeat there came down to him. As if there was something more that he could've done to prevent the tragedy. Each time, he really dove into it, he came away with something more that he could've done.

Got your back, big daddy, the voice of Jaysin Star echoed in Gonzo's ear.

"Dammit, Jays."

Gonzo didn't have the tears to shed -- that would have meant acknowledging the pain he felt. Instead, he merely compartmentalized it, a skill that fighter pilots were unmatched in. In its place, the anxiety at waiting around. The Hammerheads had already been repaired and brought back to operational status, but the last Gonzo heard, the Exped still wasn't ready. Though he knew he should be getting that call any minute.

He rolled off of the bed, as comfortable as it was, and stumbled into the bathroom -- even more gaudily decorated than the bedroom. Heavy with brass, ivory and the finest porcelains, Gonzo almost felt bad for desecrating the bathroom the way he had. He flushed the toilet and the water rushed into the bowl forcefully -- far different from the toilets aboard ships like the Exped. With child-like maturity, and that's to say none at all, Gonzo flushed the toilet again.

Funny how the little things brought such satisfaction.

Making his way over to the sink, Gonzo turned on the faucet and the cool water flowed over his hands. He splashed his face and then looked at himself in the mirror. There were bags under bloodshot eyes and the weariness he felt was beyond evident. Once more, he splashed his face with cold water this time and the crispness snapped him into a state of alertness albeit forced.

This feeling of claustrophobia gnawed at him and the irony wasn't lost upon him. For a man whose job required him to sit in a cramped cockpit for hours at a time, having to spend time in a room like this should have been easy. Again, this was what happened when Gonzo was left alone to his own thoughts.

There was a grumbling in his stomach. Maybe I should try to find some chow.

Zipping up his flightsuit and sliding his sleeves up past his elbow, he exited the room and into a hallway that reminded him of the fanciest hotels. The plush, red carpet underneath his feet only made Gonzo draw more comparisons to live aboard a spaceship, which despite its harshness, Gonzo almost seemed to prefer. The walk to the dining area seemed longer than usual and a growling-noise reminded Gonzo why. When he arrived, he saw his squadron chatting lively with the young pilots from Alpha Squadron.

Seeing them transported him back to a time as a raw recruit at the Confederate Naval Academy on Pegasus Three. While most of the time there had tempered him into the pilot he would ultimately become, his time immediately after the Academy had scarred him -- a wound that would be with him for the rest of his lift. The sight of the young pilots of Alpha Squadron made him wonder how his life would be different if he were brought into a squadron with a leader like Myles Warren instead of the bastard CO he ended up with.

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