Location: New York City, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Are you sure I’m allowed to go to this?” Commander Wythe asked for the fifth time. Although, she preferred to be called Sarah on this occasion.
“Of course.” Ben smiled across the back of the luxurious air-limo at her. “Do not let the name of the event fool you.”
A week ago, Ben had invited his mentor, and the woman he had a slight crush on, to be his plus one at the Gold Family Veteran’s Day Celebration. She’d accepted without hesitation, which Ben took as a good sign.
Now, the battle-hardened commander was second guessing herself.
“It has nothing to do with family.” Ben explained. “It is an event that is part party, part meet and greet, part charity, and part excuse for my father to lord his wealth and reputation over everyone’s heads.”
That got a laugh out of his date.
“Ok.” She took a deep breath and smoothed the edges of her uniformed skirt. “I just haven’t celebrated a Veteran’s Day outside a veteran’s hall in a long time.”
Ben’s experience was the exact opposite.
He knew that veteran’s halls were gathering places for veterans partially subsidized by the Ministry of War and the rest by private donations. He had given generously since joining the navy to the halls in New York and London, but he’d never actually been in one before; especially on Veteran’s Day. When he celebrated at all he felt obligated to attend his family’s event.
Veteran’s Day post-expansion was very different from pre-expansion. Before the Last Terran War, Veteran’s Day had been celebrated on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in commemoration of the end of the First Great War. Sadly, World War I didn’t hold a candle to the Last Terran War.
When the dust cleared, the atmospheric scrubbers started to clear away the fallout, and the modern starfaring nations picked themselves back up the holiday was changed. Instead of occurring on November eleventh, Veteran’s Day now took place on June nineteenth. The eve of the most devastating war humanity had ever experienced. Even the various interstellar conflicts between the Commonwealth and Eastern Block didn’t compare.
Veteran’s Day was also a Commonwealth recognized holiday, which gave Ben and Sarah the day off, and led to them sitting in traffic above the Atlantic about fifty miles from New York’s Upper City. It was a good thing that the air-limo was stocked with a full bar. In typical military tradition, Sarah and Ben had started to drink the moment they felt the limo come to a hover, and Geoffrey began his apologetic litany for the unavoidable event.
It gave them a chance to talk.
“You have spent most of your holidays in a hall?” Ben was intrigued.
“Yeah.” Sarah took a sip of her top-shelf whiskey and practically purred. “New Washington has the best. They’ve got food, enough booze to drown a battleship crew, and free VR entertainment.” She giggled at a memory.
Ben smiled too. It was nice to see a different side of the commander who constantly schooled him in VR scenarios and set near impossible standards.
“A lot of the people use it for porn, but most are smart enough to clear the cache before the next person comes in.” She laughed, and it sounded like spring church bells. “And that’s how I found out a retired captain had a particular fetish, which I was then able to leverage for a letter of recommendation that got me my first XO slot.”
“No, you did not.” Ben laughed along with her. “That sounds like a violation of our warrior ethos Commander Wythe.” He leaned back and sipped his own ridiculously expensive scotch.
“That’s the game.” Sarah replied, her eyes twinkling mischievously. “But I can’t lecture you about it. You’ve already got a command at your age and rank.” She motioned to the red stripe on his formal uniform. “I should probably be taking notes.”
Unlike the CMUs that soldiers and spacers routinely wore as their daily uniform, tonight’s events called for something a lot more formal. Most service members didn’t even bother purchasing the expensive and antiquated formal dress-blue uniform because unless you were flag rank or a very senior NCO the chances you’d ever wear one were slim to none. Dress CMUs usually cut it for everyone else. Ben knew from previous parties that his father and the guests expected formal military dress. Luckily, Sarah had a set and had it up to standard.
The formal uniforms were a throwback to a long-lost age of military decorum. The modern uniform was smart and digitized. Service members didn’t need to spend hours making sure their uniform was perfect when they needed to be thinking about winning wars against a trained and determined enemy. Now, all you had to do was stick CMUs to your body and stand there. It was that simple.
The formal uniform was made of modern fabric, but it wasn’t smart. For males, it consisted of navy blue trousers with rank stripes, a white dress shirt, a bow tie, and a navy-blue jacket. For females, it was the same except the trousers were a knee length skirt. Both uniforms replaced the CMU boots with shiny black dress shoes.
All awards were actual medals which had to be spaced appropriately according to a regulation most didn’t even know existed. Name plates and unit designators were also present.
Sarah made the uniform look good. Not only because she was an attractive, fit woman, but also because she’d actually done things. She had a respectable row of medals over her left breast. The only thing Ben had that distinguished him as mildly important was the red command stripe. He only had a few medals, which looked insignificant next to the accomplished commanders.
Then again, they’d both be put to shame when they finally made it to the party.
The air-limo lurched and they began to accelerate enough that liquid almost sloshed out of Ben’s glass.
“They’ve opened up a VIP lane, Master Gold.” Geoffrey announced from the front.
<About time.> Ben thought as he looked out his window and saw the rear thrusters from a swarm of Spyder Assault Shuttles.
There were people far more important than a lowly lieutenant commander and commander attending the event.
The event itself was taking place at one of the large reception halls in the Upper City. Usually, these venues were used for stockholders’ meetings, corporate retreats, or any number of high priced gatherings. Tonight, the docking platform was draped in the blue and gold of the Commonwealth Armed Forces. Flags stood everywhere blowing in the wind, including several flags with the four or five golden stripes of admirals. Those flags went with those officers everywhere.
Sarah saw those flags, her eyes bugged out, and she quickly downed the last of her drink. “Don’t let me drink anymore for a little while.” She gripped his arm hard as they exited their limo.
Photographers from various news outlets snapped photos of everyone coming and going from the event. Ben wasn’t sure what they’d use the pictures for. It could be just another fluff piece or more likely an anti-elite indictment. Either way, a good picture would sell subscriptions.
“Are there always this many people?” Sarah’s eyes continued to bulge as they walked with a small crowd into a main hall that could fill thousands.
Expensive, hovering crystal chandeliers bounced light throughout the room. Rare and expensive artwork, donated by the wealthy attendees, adorned the gold-plated walls. The place was gaudy and lavished to the extreme. Ben didn’t like it, but he expected it.
“Benjamin!” A voice called out from nearby and a crowd parted to let the matriarch of the family through.
“Hello, mother.” Ben kissed Miranda Gold on her cheek.
“I’m so glad you could make it.” She held him at arm’s length and then turned to Sarah. “And who have you brought with you?” She smiled in a way that only a mother without grandchildren could.
“Mother, this is Commander Sarah Wythe. Sarah, this is my mother, Miranda Gold.”
Sarah had a solid fifteen centimeters on the shorter woman, but Miranda was clearly the dominant personality. You could see it in the body language. Sarah automatically deferred to Miranda. It was animalistic in nature.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Sarah.”
“No, I can’t believe I’m meeting you.” Sarah practically blabbered. “I’ve been following your career for years. The case you argued before Earth’s Supreme Court about employee benefits rights was incredible.”
Miranda’s smile brightened the room. “Thank you. I didn’t know anybody read or listened to those things.”
“I work in personnel, Ma’am.” Sarah regained control after her fan-girl gushing. “It’s always a good idea to keep up with what’s going on in the civilian world and how that might impact our talent management.”
“Very true.” Miranda gave Ben a sidelong look that said, <I approve.>
Which was something a young man didn’t want to see from his mother on something that wasn’t really a date.
“We’ll have to catch up and talk more. It was a pleasure to meet you, Sarah. Now I need to go make the rounds.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Sarah bounced up and down on her toes. Then she turned on Ben and looked like she was going to smack him in the arm. “You never told me that Miranda Gold was your mother.”
“You never asked.” Ben didn’t really know what to say. “And it’s all in my file.”
She ignored his excuse and continued to survey the hall.
“Shall we?” Ben extended his arm for her to take and started to expertly weave her through the crowd of social elites.
The trick to impressing these people was always remembering who they were and have a quick one-liner to say about them. PADs made it easy to do this, but making sure that person didn’t see you were looking at your PAD to remember them was the trick. Being in the military always helped with this. Since Ben was slated for deployment he’d been on the list to get upgraded to a sub-dermal PAD.
The upgrade, which didn’t interfere with the use of a standard polyplast PAD, turned Ben’s forearm into a biological screen. When wearing his CMUs the data would be transmitted through the smart fabric. In the formal dress uniform a quick watch-checking motion and Ben was able to get the approaching socialites information.
“Benny, you made it!” The voice immediately grated on Ben’s nerves.
“Are we really going to do this here.” Another voice drawled.
“Just be nice, Dillion.” A third chimed in.
Suddenly, Ben found himself surrounded by the rest of the Gold children. Dillion stood there smirking like an idiot. Lillian looked bored and slightly drunk with her silver skin gleaming, and Hope looked defensive. She didn’t want the family gathering turning ugly right away.
“Always nice to see you, Dillion.” It took everything Ben had to take the high road.
“Lillian, Hope.” He gave his sister and half-sister kisses on the cheek, and pulled Hope in for a long hug. “Everyone, this is Commander Sarah Wythe. Sarah, this is my sister Hope, my half-sister Lillian, and my half-brother Dillion.”
“How did Benny get such a gorgeous date?” Dillion smirked, taking Sarah’s hand and brushing his lips against it.
Thankfully, Sarah didn’t seem the least bit interested in the guy kissing her hand.
“Lieutenant Commander Gold and I know each other from work,” she replied, turning her attention to Hope and Lillian. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Dillion got the clue quickly that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with Sarah, so he disappeared into the crowd to annoy someone else. Surprisingly, she hit it off quickly with Lillian and Hope. Apparently, Sarah had a deeper fashion knowledge than Ben thought possible from anyone who knew the specifications of a battlecruiser by memory. Sarah was also honestly interested in the new education initiative Hope was helping the family business with.
Both of his sisters gave him the same approving glance that their mother had.
“Benjamin.” His father seemed to appear out of thin air, which was an accomplishment since Curtis was his constant shadow and was even bigger than Ben.
“Father.” Their greeting was stiff. They hadn’t talked since their agreement was made several months ago.
“Please come with me. There is someone I’d like you to meet.”
Ben knew better than to make a scene, so he quickly excused himself and followed his father to a small gathering of men in navy-blue uniforms.
“Good evening, gentlemen.” Thomas Gold called out.
The group turned and Ben recognized Rear Admiral Helms, now a Rear Admiral promotable. Ben’s father’s leverage was enough to get the man the votes he needed to get his fifth stripe. Helms gave Ben a brief nod.
The small group consisted of the senior staff of First Fleet and its commander, Admiral Duvall.
“Gentlemen, this is my son. Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold.”
Ben felt like his head was on the chopping block, and his father had purposefully put it there.
The Rear Admirals and Admiral scrutinized him like a piece of livestock before Helms finally saved him. “Offering up your youngest son as the sacrificial lamb for the sake of a conversation starter. I’d hate to ever negotiate against you, Thomas.” That got the group laughing, and took the attention away from Ben.
“Can’t a father want his son to meet the boss. I’m told a junior officer rarely gets to make an impression on a flag officer.”
“That’s true.” Admiral Duvall spoke up and silenced his staff. “It’s nice to meet you Lieutenant Commander. You’re dismissed.”
“Yes, Sir.” Ben had to remind himself not to salute and did a perfect about-face and marched away from the senior fleet brass in the Sol System.
<I am going to kill him.> Ben fumed as he made his way over to the bar.
Things could have been a lot worse if he wasn’t shipping out to a whole different fleet soon. Admiral Duvall was an old school hardass known for not liking the thing Ben’s father had just done. There was no question that Thomas Gold knew that, which meant he was making sure to cut any strings to the fleet Ben might have once their deal was complete. Thomas wanted his son with Gold Technologies when this was all over, and he was willing to piss off a full admiral to do it.
<I cannot wait to get out of here.> Ben accepted the scotch and whiskey he’d ordered and headed back to where he’d left Sarah.
She wasn’t there when he arrived.
“Hope, where is Sarah?”
“Out on the veranda,” she replied, pointing across the room.
Ben carved a path through the party’s attendees to get to the French double-doors. The veranda was still crowded, but it was cool and had clean air thanks to the scrubber and AC dedicated specifically to this space. It was as lavishly decorated as the rest of the hall, so they couldn’t have it smelling like a sewer.
He found Sarah leaning against a wrought-iron railing and looking out over the Upper City.
“Hey.” He handed her the whiskey and joined her. “It’s a great view.” He stated when the silence became awkward. “I always loved the view when…”
“Oh shut up.” She silenced him by grabbing the front of his jacket, pulling him in close, and kissing him.
Ben didn’t even think. He kissed her back.
Military standards, societal implications, their working relationship; he ignored them all because he’d wanted to do this for a very long time.