9: Shorebirds (3/3)

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April 3, 2180 (New Era Calendar)/
Antilla System, Alloyo Military Academy 

The roar from a pair of Hammerheads blasting overhead rumbled through the night sky, riding flames of blue fire. Thousands of feet beneath them, Antes and Izzy jogged side-by-side, step-in-step on the perimeter of the Alloyo compound. Dewy grass pressing down under their feet.

Between paced breath, Izzy spoke.

"I can't wait to get back up there."

"You and the rest of the squadron," Antes replied in stride, beads of sweat trailing down the side of his face from his head of brown hair.

"You sound less than thrilled," Izzy said picking up the pace a bit.

Antes shrugged, "Not too excited about screwing up again."

Izzy shook his head. "You won't."

Antes fired Izzy a quizzical look, tinged with a hint of annoyance.

"Don't give me that look. You won't."

The words made Antes stop in his tracks, his breath heavy from the run. Izzy turned back to Antes, "Why are we stopping?"

Antes, hands on his hips, exhaled. "What do you mean 'I won't'?"

"If you were the type of pilot who didn't learn from his mistakes, you'd have washed out months ago." Exasperated, Antes shook his head with a sigh. Izzy went on. "Look at it like this. Commander Warren should have ordered us back to hyperspace the minute we dropped in. He knew the risks of leading a cadet unit right into the thick of it. He did it anyway. And for my money, he'd probably do it again."

"I get all that. But you weren't the one who let that frigate get away."

Izzy blinked twice, as if Antes words stung just a bit. "I'm pretty sure I was there too. You think I don't feel like I screwed up too? You don't think Dara or Camilo or any one of our squad feel like shit cause we couldn't get it done?"

Antes let real emotion into his words. "It's not about that and you know it. You know who my father is. Being his son comes with expectations. He might not put them on me explicitly, but they're there. Anything less than the best isn't enough. Not for him."

"So you're doing all of this for him then? Just so your dad can look up and see his son highlighting the news feeds in his Hammerhead?"

A laugh came from Izzy -- almost mocking.

"Don't be a dick. You're not wrong. I am doing this so I can make my father proud."

"So am I, but that's no excuse for you being afraid to hop back into the cockpit."

There it was. The truth that Antes had run from ever since returning to Alloyo in the days following their return from Antilla Prime. The rest of his squadron hadn't shown any of the fear at getting behind the controls as Antes had -- but none of them could really understand. As Gonzo Antreya reminded him, in this profession, there were good and bad days. And Antes knew that one day, on one of those bad days -- he couldn't finish the thought. He looked up to Izzy.

"I'm not afraid of getting back in the cockpit. I'm afraid that the next mistake I make will get one of my friends killed."

Defiantly, Izzy shook his head. "And that's why you're not gonna screw up again."

"What makes you so sure?"

"If I learned anything from my parents, acknowledging that responsibility right there, really giving a damn about your people, is what separates the good from the great." Izzy's voice dropped to a lower register. "That's something you got that I don't."

It was Antes' turn to laugh at Izzy mockingly. "That's funny. You come into Alloyo all devil may cry, hair on fire at full burner. But I've watched you fly, man. And as much as my pride doesn't want me to admit it aloud, I've seen you pull off maneuvers in a Hammerhead that I could only hope to dream of. You don't fly like someone who doesn't give a damn."

"That's the thing, Antes. I do give a shit about what happens to the people around me. I'm talking about command. I don't want that responsibility. I don't want to be the guy that makes the hard call. That's the difference between us, Antes."

"Then why are you even here?"

Izzy gestured to their surroundings. To the hangar bays. The barracks. The Hammerheads resting on the flightline. The section of fighters roaring through the night sky. "This, man! All of this. It's in my blood. I'm a Lanceville. That means something, Antes. My dad commands the best fighter squadron in Antilla. My mother is the first female ship captain in the history of the Antilla Space Force. I'm a Lanceville. And I just want to live up to the name. To prove to myself that I'm worthy of the legacy."

Antes took a step back and for the briefest moment, he saw Izzy drop his ego shields a bit to show a sliver of the real him.

"You are. Give it time."

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