Location: New York City, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The docking ramp at the Gold penthouse in New York’s upper-city wasn’t anything more than a ten meter walkway extending from the apartment’s balcony. Geoffrey brought the air car into a hover above the docking square; which was large enough to fit two air-cars snuggly side-by-side. The family butler kept the engine running as Ben stepped out of the car and into the open air.
The gust of wind that hit him was thin, cold, and crisp. Most of that had to do with the atmospheric cleaner hovering less than a hundred meters above the top of the tower. One of the benefits of living in the upper-city was the cleaner air content; and one of the downsides was being one wrong step away from a long fall. The drop was long enough that if someone saw you fall they could call the police and the NYPD would probably catch you before you hit the ground.
That’s what you called a quick response time.
The cold, thin air burned Ben’s lungs as he took his first steps toward the balcony door. The ten meter walkway after the docking square had two railings to stop anyone from walking over the edge accidentally. Ben wasn’t afraid of heights, but this was the second time in a few hours that he’d been confronted by nothing more than open air. It had him rattled slightly.
<And you’re going to be commanding a gunboat in a few months.> Ben shook his head as he crossed the short space, silently thanking god for the anti-grav generator holding everything up.
Ben pushed the balcony door open. It was unlocked because this was the upper-city, and anyone stupid enough to try anything illegal up here was smart enough to know that no one would catch them if they accidentally tripped off a balcony or docking square. Of course, plenty of illegal activity occurred in the upper-city, but most of that was simple interstellar business.
A small vestibule separated the balcony from the apartment interior. It served a dual purpose. The first was to keep the cold out, because when you were three kilometers up the air was always cold. The second was a security buffer, which was why Ben came face to face with another familiar family employee.
“Hey, Curtis,” Ben greeted as he shut the door behind him.
Curtis was Ben’s father’s personal bodyguard, and the only person Ben had ever met who was bigger than he was. “Hello, Lieutenant.”
Curtis had a rough accent, Boston metropolis, and he didn’t use the “master” or “lord” titles that Geoffrey did. Curtis was former military, and he addressed Ben as such. Ben didn’t know too much about Curtis, but what he did know fit with the aura of imminent violence that the large man had around him. Curtis had been a Fleet SEAL before going private sector. One of the things brought over from the old United States Navy; SEALs were experts in demolition, sabotage, reconnaissance, and spaceborne insertion. They were some of the toughest SOBs in the entire fleet, and were the premiere unit in the Commonwealth Special Operations Command (SOCOM). To have a SEAL as a personal bodyguard meant you had a lot of pull; which was exactly what Ben needed from his father.
Curtis waved a meter long wand over Ben. It scanned his GIC to make sure it was Ben, but it also compared other bio-identifiers that were on record. It scanned for weapons, biological, chemical, and nanotech agents, as well as exotic particles. Ben was unarmed and didn’t have anything on him, so Curtis let him pass with a, “Have a good night, Sir.”
The inner door of the vestibule opened and deposited Ben right in the middle of the wealth and opulence you could only expect from some of the richest people in the galaxy.
The Mona Lisa sat in a spot of prominence next to the closet meant for visitors’ coats. It was still singed and blacked from the burning of Paris during the Last Terran War, but that only made it more desirable. Other impressive art, old and new, tastefully decorated the room. The domestic help moved with a practiced precision throughout the penthouse; cleaning, organizing, cooking, and attending to the Gold family’s every need. After living alone with no one but Geoffrey and his studies to keep him company, suddenly having a horde of domestic help was a little overwhelming.
“Benjamin!” A pleasant voice cut through the organized chaos in surprise. “We weren’t expecting you.”
Miranda Gold, wife number two of Gold Technologies President and CEO Thomas Gold, glowed with excitement at the sight of her firstborn child. Like the rest of the Gold’s she had blue specks in her eyes and golden hair. She looked to be in her early thirties but was actually eighty-eight. Her skin was flawless, her smile was warm, and there was genuine love in her sparkling green eyes. Ben might not get along with his father, but he loved his mother.
“Hey, Mom!” Miranda was more than sixty centimeters shorter than her huge son, so when she hugged him she was hugging his waist. Her slender arms couldn’t even reach completely around him.
By night Miranda was a blue-blooded socialite, but during the day she was a high-powered attorney with a reputation for doing pro bono work. In many cases she filled in as a public defender when she saw injustice. You could do that when your name was on the door of a big firm; a firm that also happened to handle Gold Technologies legal troubles on Earth.
Ben always felt he got his need to do something more than sit around a penthouse and spend money from his mother.
“Oh my God! Is that Benny? Are pigs flying, because I did not see this coming?” Another voice cut through the penthouse, a much less pleasant voice.
Dillon Gold was the oldest of the four Gold children, and Miranda was not his mother. Dillon’s mother, Thomas Gold’s first wife Martha, had been a housewife who supported her husband and two children as they expanded the family business across the cosmos. Ultimately, she didn’t like the man that the cut-throat intergalactic business community turned her husband into. She got a planet in the divorce…literally.
Due to their unique familial relationship, Dillon and Ben had never gotten along. The older half-brother only looked like he was a couple years older than Ben, but he’d just turned sixty-three; only twenty-five years younger than his step-mother.
That was the problem with a society with cellular rejuvenation therapy. You could walk into a bar for a drink and end up hooking up with someone who was the same age as your grandfather. Humanity’s advances in medicine had led to some shuffling of society norms. A half-century age gap between couples wasn’t frowned upon anymore. Not when people could theoretically live for hundreds of years.
“Hey, Dillon,” Ben’s response was somewhere between courteous and a growl. “How are things with the business?”
Dillon had grown up in the cut-throat business world his own mother detested, and at sixty-three it had made him the VP of Gold Technologies Finance Division. It was a moderate-sized division, only handling hundreds of billions in capital; but it played to Dillon’s strengths. Everyone who was anyone knew that he had his eye on the COO position, and turning around the Finance Division was one of the last steps on his path there.
The two half-brothers shook hands. Ben wasn’t proud, but he put enough pressure into his grip to make Dillon wince. Dillon had undergone a previous version of in vitro enhancement forty years before Ben’s birth. He was taller than average at 195 centimeters, but he was razor thin; without any of the muscle mass Ben developed. It made Dillon look like some predatory creature, and if you ever got into a fencing match with the older man that became less of an analogy. Dillon was one of the only people Ben knew who could regularly beat him with a nano-blade. Thankfully, the older Gold had hung up his sword long ago.
“Business is booming, Benny.” Dillon withdrew his hand. “When are you going to stop playing soldier and start making some money?”
The only thing Ben hated more than being called Benny was that everything Dillon cared about boiled down to dollars and cents.
“When are you all going to stop measuring dicks and relax.” The third voice to join the conversation had an elitist drawl to it.
“Hey, Lillian,” Ben called over Dillon’s shoulder to his older half-sister, and the youngest of Martha Gold’s children.
Unlike Ben or Dillon, who were both driven in their own way, Lillian Gold tended to just float through life on her name. Even at forty-nine years old, and still looking like a twenty-five-year-old, Lillian hit the club scene nightly. If she had anything you could call a job it was as a promoter, and that wasn’t official. A quick photo and a two sentence pitch over her PAD on social media, and a club would see a two-hundred percent bump in business. So Lillian got to drink and party for free wherever she went.
She also tended to be a stabilizing force between the brotherly rivals.
“Ben, always good to see you.” Lillian appeared from around the corner with a cocktail in her hand, and in the most expensive clothes that money could buy.
Like her brothers, Lillian Gold had a golden mane of hair that reached all the way down to her lower back. She was an average 170 centimeters, with striking purple eyes. The eyes weren’t natural, and neither were the number of external curvaceous enhancement she’d had done to herself over the last few decades. If you had enough money you could make yourself look however you wanted, and Lillian Gold had more money than some planets.
“That is new.” Ben hugged his half-sister, and noticed the silver tinge to her skin. “Latest and greatest from New Milan.” She referenced the fashion capitol of the galaxy. “I can’t wait to get back there. Earth smells like stale farts no matter what altitude you’re at.”
“Nice to see you too,” Ben smiled, and got a pat on the head in reward. Despite her eccentricities, Ben liked his older sister.
“I’ll fix you a drink.” She did an about face with military precision, in six inch heels, and sashayed away; waving away the help who was already moving to fix the drink himself. Ben wasn’t thirsty, but he didn’t bother arguing with her; it wouldn’t have done any good.
“Hey, Ben,” the last voice to make themselves known was quiet, almost a whisper.
“Hope!” Ben couldn’t stop the smile that spread across his face. He didn’t think his little sister would be in town.
Like Ben, Hope Gold was just finishing up school. She’d received her undergraduate degree from Columbia, and then her Master’s in Education from Stanford. She already had a job lined up with Gold Technologies fledgling Education Division. Knowledge was something everyone needed, and a basic need was an industry Gold Technologies wanted to be in. They’d start with their own corporate planets, and go forward from there. It had a tremendous business potential; especially if student loans were offered through the Finance Division, but Hope wasn’t in it for the money. Ben had never seen a person work better with kids than Hope, and he knew his little sister was going to do great things.
At twenty-two; Hope had undergone the same in vitro enhancement as Ben. She’d taken more after their mother though. She had the gold hair and kind green eyes, but she was tall, a full two meters, but slender. She looked like a golden swan that everybody wanted to protect; especially her big brother.
“Hey big bro.” A little grin turned up the corners of her mouth as he grabbed her in a bone crushing hug. “It’s been a while.”
It had been a while. Ben hadn’t seen the whole family together like this since Christmas. Lillian returned with his drink, and they were settling down when the man of the hour made his entrance.
“Sell and sell now. They’re shorting the stock and I don’t want any part in it. Don’t argue just do it!” Thomas Gold cut off the call as he entered the room. A three hundred and sixty degree field of holoscreens projected themselves at eye level. Ben only got a quick look but it looked like everything from orange juice prices to the latest interstellar shipping lane updates were displayed for the corporate juggernaut to view. Once his father saw everyone seated in the cozy living room he shut down the screens and smiled.