Location: London/New York City, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben might have been dismissed for the day, but he still had to spend twenty minutes cleaning everything up before he left. He sent the two dozen packets over to the new LT, a girl fresh out of one of the Commonwealth’s elite military academies, who was here due to her connections, not her aptitude. Despite how annoying it could be to have to work with someone who didn’t know how to do their job, Ben was never too hard on the woman. He knew his father was the reason he’d received this posting. He just happened to be good at what he did. As a precaution, he added an apology to the end of the message before sending it and the packets to her.
After getting rid of his workload he needed to clean up and secure his desk. The Personnel Department dealt with personal information, and there were privacy issues to take into consideration. Ben’s desk needed to be totally cleared, classified material put in their appropriate safes, and not classified but still sensitive documents needed to be locked in his desk. Unlike some people who might just dump everything in and sort it out later in favor of a long weekend, he took the time to organize.
Twenty minutes later he was in the grav-lift and heading down to the lobby. He ignored the gaudy displays of wealth and power that decorated the lobby in the center of Commonwealth power on Earth, and instead headed through a side door. He knew a shortcut to the air-car pads.
An area a city block in size was divided into fifty separate pads for air-cars to land in. The place was guarded by Commonwealth security forces, but that was just the first layer of defense. High profile dignitaries and diplomats landed in this area all the time, so the large port usually had at least one private security team, or foreign military detail, present at all times. Ben also knew of a quick reaction force of highly training heavy infantry troopers sitting in a ready room less than fifty meters away, and a full complement of surface to air (SAM) missiles whose turrets would pop up at any provocation and shoot explosive ordinance at several times the speed of sound. There were also at least two Spyder assault shuttles on constant patrol around the building, and an infantry base less than a kilometer away that could have a full Battalion on site in less than ten minutes. That amount of firepower was enough to handle anything short of an invasion.
Ben was a little in awe when he got the security brief on his first day. Mostly, it was because he’d seen what those SAM launchers could do to military aircraft. An unarmored air-car didn’t stand a chance. He also suspected there had to be more protecting the planetary capital building than what was being publically disclosed. The thought that something more deadly could be waiting to strike made him feel sorry for anyone stupid enough to try and attack this place. But the man who’d received that security brief wasn’t the Lieutenant Gold who’d just rubbed shoulders with a rear admiral. Today, Ben just walked out onto his assigned air-car pad without a care in the world.
The sleek, black, luxury air-car idling in the spot had the golden Gold Technologies logo on the door, and a familiar face behind the wheel. “Hello, Geoffrey,” Ben greeted the family butler who’d been around longer than Ben had been alive.
“Good afternoon, Master Gold.” Geoffrey answered in a thick, sophisticated English accent. Even in the heart of London it sounded like a little too much. “Are we headed back to Oxford?”
The Gold family had an honest-to-god castle just outside of the English city on a dozen acres of highly coveted land. Ben had stayed there since starting his doctorate, and he would have to head back their eventually; but not now.
“Not right away. Take me to my father.” If Geoffrey thought it was an unusual request it didn’t show.
“Yes, Master Gold.” The air-car was of such high quality that Ben didn’t feel them take off, but he still felt a weight settle on his chest.
Ben hadn’t seen or spoken to his father since Christmas. They’d had another one of their arguments. Ben’s father wanted him in the family business, and Ben wanted to pursue his own dreams serving the Commonwealth and using the doctorate he was working very hard to achieve. It had been the source of their father-son friction for half a decade, and it was the reason why getting the admiral his father’s backing was going to be difficult.
“Lord Gold is at the New York penthouse, Master Gold,” Geoffrey informed. “We will be arriving in forty minutes.”
Ben couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the “Lord” title Geoffrey was forced to use when referring to his father. Lord Gold wasn’t a lord at all in the hereditary sense. He’d bought the title when he’d bought the castle just outside of Oxford. The English aristocracy had been dead since the birth of the Commonwealth, but that didn’t mean the descendants of that aristocracy didn’t use those titles whenever they could. They were lords, barons, and dukes in nothing but name.
The Gold’s were a member of the new aristocracy. The small group of men and women throughout the galaxy who’d used humanity’s expansion to build business empires that spanned multiple star systems, and bestowed them with wealth that was difficult to comprehend.
That was the reason Rear Admiral Helms wanted Ben’s father’s support in his run for Admiral. Unlike other promotions, being selected to rise from rear admiral to full admiral wasn’t standardized. A rear admiral could only be promoted to admiral if he was selected by a majority of the current admirals. The most powerful military men in the galaxy had to pick you to join them, and to be picked by them you needed to bring something special to the table.
Gold Technologies had a strong starfaring corporate footprint. The corporation held the rights to and had colonized, three star systems. It was constantly surveying for more, had thousands of asteroid mining contracts throughout the explored galaxy, was a chief defense contractor to the Commonwealth, was one of the pioneering companies in the field of nanites, and had a sizeable corporate security fleet protecting their even larger merchant marine. If a rear admiral looking for promotion could offer good relations with a corporate power like Gold Technologies, then he’d have that something special.
<And then there is the quid pro quo.> Ben knew Helms was willing to scratch a mere Lieutenant’s back to get what he wanted; so there was no question that Ben’s father would benefit from the arrangement.
That was the linchpin in Ben’s developing argument. If his father backed Rear Admiral Helms then everyone won. Ben got his dream, his father got whatever he and Helms agreed to, and Helms got a fifth gold stripe and command of a fleet, one of the most powerful military forces in the galaxy.
Hopefully that would be enough.
Ben spent the forty minute flight across the Atlantic fine tuning what he was going to say. Sooner than he would have liked the lights of New York City appeared on the horizon. London might be the Commonwealth capitol of Earth, but New York City had been an economic and cultural capital long before the Commonwealth was even a thought in a politician’s head.
<Home sweet home.> This was the city that Ben had grown up in, and despite where he currently spent most of his time, nothing could ever really compare to the Big Apple.
The city that never slept was over eight hundred years old now, and you could see that history in the urban planning. There were thirty million people crammed onto the island of Manhattan, and since they’d expanded to the edge of the island long before the Expansion, the only place to go was up.
New York City was divided into three tiers with the top tier half a kilometer taller than the capital building in London. At the bottom was the low-city. This was everything pre-Last Terran War. You could feel the weight of that great war in the buildings and the perpetual fog that divided the low-city from the mid-city. The mid-city was all about rebirth and the renaissance brought about by the first wave of expansion. This was where most of the city lived. This was the home of the middle class, and the working class who’d worked hard and saved for their future.
The mid-city was built right on top of the low city. It took full advantage of the scientific leaps in anti-grav technology; leaps that Gold Technologies had been a part of. The low-city was the feet of New York, the mid-city was the heart and body, and the high-city was the mind. The high-city is where high society lived, the place where everyone had blue in their eyes, and the place where forgers of empires slept.
“It’s a layer cake,” Ben’s older brother, Dillon, had waxed poetically in an air-car once when Ben was ten. “People in the low-city are born into shit. They go out into the world and they take more shit. People in the mid-city have climbed high and they take less shit. But the upper-city, where we live, we’re up in the rarified atmosphere where people don’t even remember what shit smells like; even if it’s our own.”
As crude as the statement was, truer words had never been spoken. Ben understood that now.
The air-car slid up to the docking ramp outside the Gold residence on one of the highest peaks of the three kilometer high buildings in the upper-city. “We’ve arrived, Master Gold.” Geoffrey was as stoic and proper as always. “Good luck.”
“Thank you, Geoffrey. I won’t be long.” Ben had no intention of spending all evening with his family. He had more important things to do tonight.