Location: London, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben wiped the condensation from the mirror to get a good look at his appearance. A nice warm shower had done wonders to relieve his nerves and focus his mind; not to mention relaxing his muscles. The locker rooms were still pretty empty with a half hour left in the officers’ lunch break, so he’d been able to shower without feeling rushed. <Well, as not rushed as you can feel when you are meeting with your department head in half an hour, > he corrected himself.
He did a personal inventory to make sure he met the Fleet’s grooming standards. The first thing to consider was his hair. Hair had to be in a close-cut, professional fashion. On men it couldn’t touch the ears, and on women it couldn’t touch the collar of their CMUs. Women had the option of doing their hair up in tight buns; so as long as their hair wasn’t waist length they could have whatever style they wanted. Uniform sticklers would focus on hair color, but changes were allowed as long as they were natural. Anyone with blue or pink hair was going to get written up.
Ben had run into the problem when he first reported for duty. His hair wasn’t bubble gum pink or sky blue, it was gold; not blonde, gold. That was another part of the in vitro enhancements he’d undergone before birth. Since their family surname was Gold, and the company was on Fortune 100’s list of most successful enterprises, his father thought it would be impressive to recode all of their genes. Everyone in the Gold family had golden hair, but it wasn’t an issue to anyone but Ben.
The situation was easily remedied with a quick genome evaluation and a note on his record stating that gold was his natural hair color. Some people still questioned him, but telling those types of people that he came from that Gold family usually kept them off his back. When his hair was longer it was more of an issue, but Ben had it cut in a traditional fade style that officers preferred. It lost a lot of its shine when it was practically skin tight on the side and fairly short on top.
It had been about two weeks since he had it cut, but he was still well within regulations. Next he needed to shave. Just like the hair on top of his head his facial hair was gold; which would make his face shine like the precious metal if he ever decided to grow a beard. Fortunately, he found the itchiness of the growing hair irritating, so he shaved every morning. There was just the barest hint of a five o’clock sunrise, Ben’s version of a five o’clock shadow, but that was enough for him to quickly drag the razor across his face. The beam of light reduced the small, developing hair follicles to cinders that fell cleanly into the sink.
Confident he was within grooming standards, Ben turned his attention to his uniform. Like all officers at First Fleet Headquarters, Ben wore his gray CMUs on the Dress setting. As a Lieutenant, the lowest officer rank, with only four years in the Fleet Reserve, Ben’s uniform wasn’t as distinguished as most people in the building. His rank insignia was the most prevalent. A platinum stripe two and a half centimeters thick started at his neck, went over his shoulder, and all the way down his arm to the wrist. The same platinum stripe started just below his armpit and ran down the side of his torso and legs to his ankles. All officers had these stripes on their CMUs while the enlisted and non-commissioned officers did not.
Aside from the rank stripes he had two rows of ribbons above his left pectoral, but they were all standard service ribbons and unit ribbons everyone in First Fleet wore. He was proud of his Qualification badge, where he earned the highest level of marksmanship; and his achievement medal for his performance representing the fleet’s Personnel Department in last year’s fencing championship. In the past, officers wouldn’t have worn those medals, but the smartcloth uniforms of the modern military displayed everything on your official record; whether you wanted it or not.
There was no need to smooth out any wrinkles or shine any shoes. The smartcloth uniforms eliminated any upkeep requirements that past uniforms required. Ben suspected veterans from past Earth nation’s would argue about the merits of uniform maintenance and how it instilled a sense of duty and respect for the uniform. Anyone who had to spend hours on something to meet high standards was going to take care of that item. This was all a hypothetical in Ben’s mind, because anyone who fit that description had been dead for hundreds of years.
Ben stepped back from the mirror and took a deep breath. He was nervous about the upcoming meeting, and the things that lay beyond it. Today was Sunday, the last day of his weekend training for the month; but tomorrow was going to be one of the biggest days of his life.
Ben was only twenty-six, and he knew that was young; especially by modern standards. Every time he looked in his own eyes he was reminded of that. At twenty-five Ben was old enough to undergo his first round of cellular rejuvenation therapy. The procedure had been around for a century, and was in its third iteration. Despite how long it had been around it was still absurdly expensive. Fifty million Commonwealth dollars to perform, and that was on top of any coverage that health insurance offered. It only got more expensive with the once a decade follow-on treatments. Only a fraction of the human population could afford it.
Ben studied his eyes and saw the blue specks in his sclera, a side effect of the treatment. When the first iteration of the therapy was administered the original recipients had been horrified with the deformation. It wasn’t much, just a handful of tiny blue marks in the whites of their eyes, but it was noticeable. The second iteration quickly found a cure for the abnormality, but by then it had become a signifier of class and no one was willing to change it. As a result, no one said someone was “born with a silver spoon in their mouth”. The modern equivalent was “being born with blue in your eyes”. Anyone who had blue in their eyes was automatically identified as wealthy, powerful, and influential; the best that humanity had to offer.
Ben ignored that thought. If this meeting didn’t go well he would probably never be the best at anything in the military. The man he was meeting with would undoubtedly have blue in his eyes, and half a century of military experience. Ben was inconsequential compared to the Admiral.
<Twenty minutes.> Ben stopped psyching himself out and exited the locker room. He was on the fiftieth story of the Commonwealth Planetary Government Headquarters, and had a long way to go.
The Commonwealth headquarters on Earth was massive, and a testament to architecture that had tried to combine the wonders of the ancient world with modern technology. In Ben’s opinion they had failed, but Ben’s opinion didn’t matter in this arena. The building was two and a half kilometers tall, the tallest building in London. The first kilometer of the building took up a large portion of the city’s central district. A flawless white pyramid dominated the London skyline, and rose into the clouds. The nanites on the building’s surface kept it pristine, and a constant symbol of the Commonwealth’s authority as the wealthiest and militarily strongest of the starfaring nations. After the first kilometer, where a normal pyramid would have ended, a blade of gleaming metal and glass burst from the pyramid’s tip to rise another kilometer and a half into the sky. The outside of the construction was pockmarked with anti-grav generators to keep the massive structure standing.
Ben literally needed to ride the grav-lifts into the clouds to get to his scheduled appointment over two kilometers away. Twenty minutes was barely enough time. He started his ride with four other people. They stopped four times within the pyramid portion of the buildings, which largely held the non-military governmental functions. Each stop picked up more passengers which caused the lift to stop even more times. Ten minutes past and Ben had gone less than two hundred floors. He could feel the sweat forming under his armpits as the seconds ticked by. If things didn’t slow down he’d have to commit to blocking the door with his considerable bulk and turning people away. There were dozens of lifts stationed all over the building, but it would still make a lot of important people angry.
Thankfully, once the lift broke out of the pyramid and into the smaller spire the people began to thin out. Now the only occupants were in CMUs and they were in just as big a hurry as Ben was. The last officer to leave gave Ben a confused look. The older man had the three golden stripes of a Captain. This was a man who’d probably commanded entire battleships, and he was getting off on a lower floor than Ben. All Ben could do was nod respectfully to the man who outranked his direct supervisor.
The lift door closed and Ben silently and swiftly ascended to the top dozen stories of the building. Ben had never been this high, and he doubted 99.9% of the people in this building had either. The top dozen floors of the spire were reserved for the top brass of the planetary government and Fleet. The planetary governor, Council representative, and First Fleet Commander would all be within two hundred meters of Ben. A moderately skilled marksman could make that shot hungover.
The ding of the lift opening made Ben jump. “Rear Admiral Johnathan Helms, Officer in Charge, First Fleet Personnel Department.” A soothing computerized voice announced.
The lift slid open to reveal a large open space. It was filled with luxury items, opulent furnishings, a state-of-the-art holo displaying the news, and a single individual. The professional, hawk-faced women in double gold Commander’s stripes looked over at Ben like a predator evaluating her prey. Ben easily had a hundred plus kilos, and seventy centimeters, on the woman, but that didn’t matter. Everything about the woman made Ben afraid of what was about to happen.
“Lieutenant Benjamin Gold.” Her voice had a short clip that was brisk and to the point.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Ben answered just as quickly. Everything about this woman screamed “time is money”.
She quickly glanced at her watch, but her face didn’t change. Ben couldn’t tell if she was angry at him for being nearly late, or pleased that he was still on time. “The Admiral will see you now.” Her eyes pointed to the only office on the entire floor.
Ben didn’t hesitate because doing so would have been a critical mistake. He’d been taken off guard, but Ben had seen these types of people before. He’d seen these attitudes when he’d gone with his father to board meetings. The commander was a predator, a human shark that would circle blood of any weakness she could exploit. The only different between her and members of Gold Technologies Board was that she gave law-abiding orders he had to follow.
<No time to think; only time to act.> Ben steeled himself as his long strides carried him across the richly carpeted room and to the door made of Martian Sandalwood.
He gave it three powerful knocks and waited.