Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“We’re going to be late,” Coop grumbled from the passenger seat as he changed.
Aiko had seen him naked, so he wasn’t worried about that, but people might peep in from passing cars, and Aiko’s vehicle was old enough it didn’t have auto-tint on the windows.
“No we aren’t,” Aiko replied, with a barely contained eye roll, that lingered for a second on his junk.
Everything at the seedy bar had gone off without a hitch, but on the way back toward the defense complex they hit traffic. Traffic wouldn’t have been surprising, but this traffic was heading in the wrong direction. Neither Aiko nor Coop had planned for this when they went out to make a few grand. The consequence of that was going to be the SGM’s wrath if they were late to Gold’s shindig.
“We’re going to be late.” Coop repeated himself when they sat idle for five whole minutes.
“Stop being a pussy!” Aiko snapped and glared. “I’m sorry if we’re going to be late for your girlfriend’s little party.”
Coop’s mouth opened, but he couldn’t think of what to say. <Talk about waiting for the right moment to bring up a sensitive topic.> He wisely didn’t say that out loud.
“She’s not my girlfriend.” Coop knew he sounded like a thirteen year old when saying it, but he had nothing better that wouldn’t get him punched in the nuts.
“Don’t lie to me.” Aiko’s voice dropped to a deadly octave. “We’ve been through a lot of shit, and are going to go through even more. I’m not a blind idiot, so don’t treat me like one.”
Coop thought he heard a twinge of hurt in her voice, but the look on her face dispelled that thought. “She’s not my girlfriend,” he repeated with conviction. “We did it six months ago after Basic, but we aren’t a couple.”
“You could have fooled me.” Aiko gave him one last glare and turned her attention back to the road.
Coop tried in vain to reengage her in conversation, but she wasn’t having any of it. All of this was catching him totally off guard. He’d seen her shrug off a whole lot worse than this with nothing but a haughty smile. Hell, he’d been pretty sure she knew he was sleeping around on New Lancashire while they were boning. Now, all of a sudden, she met one of his exes, who wasn’t really even an ex, and she was all bent out of shape. <Women?> He didn’t have any other explanation for it.
Traffic continued all the way to the defense complex, and they soon saw why. “Is that a valet stand?” They were the first words Aiko spoke since the fight.
Sure enough, a small contingent of attractive men and women in black slacks, white shirts, and black vests with the Gold Technologies insignia on the left breast were scanning GICs and taking hover cars to park somewhere on the base.
<If I boosted one of those I’d be set for the year.> Coop watched as some of the latest model luxury brands stopped at the stand, and expensively dressed couples emerged.
“Son of a bitch,” Aiko’s curse brought him out of a small daydream of him driving the latest Porsche through New Savannah’s evening breeze, with the air whipping through his hair, and a beautiful girl in the passenger seat. The woman in his mind’s eye looked like a blend of Eve and Aiko, which wasn’t helping his case with the woman in the driver’s seat. “All the spots are taken.” She let fly a string of curse words as she wove through the lot.
“Just take it to the valet stand, my treat.” Coop hoped the offer might start to repair whatever rift he’d unknowingly created with Aiko, but she just grunted and got back into line.
“Welcome to the Gold Technologies Election Day Soiree,” the man who stepped up to Aiko’s side door smiled like he was about to get laid for the first time. His smile only faltered slightly when he saw the car was a junker and had two people in casual clothes in it.
“Thanks,” Aiko got out and tossed him the keys.
“Don’t scratch the paint or she’ll rip your dick off.” Coop tipped the guy a ten dollar chip. “You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.” He made sure the guy knew the gravity of the situation before following her toward the large building at the center of the complex.
“How much did you tip?” Aiko walked close enough to him that it said she might be thinking about forgiving him.
“Ten bucks,” Coop’s grin was cut short when her fist hit him in the kidney. “What the hell?!”
“Ten dollars. I’ll be lucky to get my car back with its tires still attached!” she fumed.
“What did I do?” Coop called after her.
She didn’t answer, but he was pretty sure ten bucks wasn’t doing the trick, which blew his mind, because the number of cars he saw times ten would net those workers a chunk of cash for doing nothing more than parking cars. In Coop’s mind, that was more than adequate compensation.
<Only one way to find out.> Coop dropped back a little to the elderly couple walking behind him. They had blue specks in their eyes, and hair that had gone all white, which meant they were probably closing in on their mid-one hundreds, maybe even two hundred.
“Hey, buddy, what did you tip?” Coop’s question took the man by surprise.
“What…how…” he blubbered for a second while his wife looked around like she wanted to call security.
“This isn’t complex math, how much did you tip the valet guy?” Coop frowned with impatience, and the man relented.
“Two hundred,” he stated.
“What the fuck!” Coop couldn’t help himself. He’d been solidly laid for half that amount. “I’m in the wrong business.” He shook his head and left the elderly couple to mumble to themselves about riff-raff or whatever the hell rich people did.
By the time Coop reached the front door Aiko was already inside. If he was honest with himself, he preferred it that way. Eve might not be his girlfriend, but he didn’t want to show up with Aiko like she was his girlfriend. They were more fuckbuddies than in a relationship, that term was strictly reserved for business. Coop’s head hurt just thinking about it, so he didn’t. He followed the throng of people entering the front doors. Instead of heading in the direction of the lift that would take them down to the lab where Argo was getting an upgrade, he went the opposite direction. He didn’t make it halfway down the hallway before coming to a halt. People were lined up at the door, and some loud old guy was shouting out their names before they entered the room.
<I thought this was supposed to be a small get together?> Evidentially, a Gold’s idea of a small get together was a few hundred of the planet’s elite gathered in a ballroom that looked like it belonged in a castle. <Where did this room come from?> Coop had been in this building a few times. He’d even been down in this area before, but he’d never seen a room this big and filled with this much crap. It was even more impressive since he was pretty sure Thomas Gold decided yesterday to throw this party, and everyone on the planet had bent over backward to attend.
Coop was so busy taking in the spectacle that he missed stepping up in front of the old guy at the entrance. “Sergeant Mark Cooper, United Commonwealth of Colonies Infantry.” The man announced in a voice way too powerful for his body.
A light smattering of applause swept through the room. Apparently, it was nice to clap for people. Coop gave a half-hearted wave, but his full attention was pulled to what was at the center of the room. Surrounded by people, and nearly the entire diameter of the large room, was a table hovering just off the ground. Hundreds of seats surrounded the table; where silverware made of gold, authentic crystal cups, and gold-rimmed plates threated to crush even the best anti-grav systems.
Coop ignored the people and went right to the table. He really wanted to see if it was real gold, but a hand grabbed his shoulder before he could pick up a knife.
“Cooper, come over here.” Lieutenant Commander Gold steered him toward the SRRT team that was huddled in a corner, clearly not knowing what to do. Even the SGM looked out of place in all of this opulence.
Coop smiled in Eve’s direction, but got a neutral glance. That was an improvement. Unfortunately, Aiko also saw it, and her neutral glance turned into a glower. <So much for that threesome.> Coop just shook his head and went to stand in the corner with everyone else.
Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben made sure to arrive at the party early. It was standard operating procedure for one of his father’s get togethers. He always played them off like they were nothing, but they usually cost millions of dollars, and drew a planet’s most privileged like moths to a flame. It was how Thomas Gold showed dominance. He acted like the party was nothing at all, while to everyone else it was the social engagement of the year.
“Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold, United Commonwealth of Colonies Fleet, Gold Technologies.” Ben couldn’t help but roll his eyes as the man with a truly powerful voice announced his presence like it was medieval Europe.
There were only about two dozen people present, but all of them turned toward to entryway at the mention of the Gold name.
“Lieutenant Jacobi Wentworth, United Commonwealth of Colonies Infantry.” Since Jacobi was on his arm, she drew a lot of attention as well.
“Just keep walking. Don’t get tied down in conversation with anyone, just say your hellos and keep moving. What is it you grunts say: shoot, move and communicate? The same principle applies here.”
“Who knew infantry tactics and elite socialization had so much in common,” she joked as she waved at a few people looking to intercept them, but kept moving. “Where are we going?”
“Where does anyone go to make dull conversation bearable? . . . The bar.” Ben’s long stride didn’t falter as he approached his destination.
The bar in question went the width of the room and was manned by nearly a dozen smartly-dressed, attractive bartenders. Ben took a seat in the far corner, so he could see the entirety of the room, and ordered drinks.
“Oh my god!” Jacobi exclaimed after taking a sip of her drink. “This is the best Cosmo I’ve ever tasted.”
“Only top shelf from dad…speaking of.” Ben righted himself and mentally prepared.
“Benjamin!” His father called out as he led a young woman toward them. “There you are.”
“Here I am.” Ben smiled more for the sake of the woman than his father.
“I’d like to introduce you to Doctor Vanessa Black. Dr. Black, my youngest son, Benjamin.” Then, like the wind, Thomas dissolved into the background to mingle.
<Seriously.> Ben kept a smile on his face, but inside he was steaming. His father only ever introduced people to him for two reasons. The first was related to business, which meant, despite Ben’s insistence, his father was trying to drag him more into Gold Technologies’ operations. The second was even worse then the first. Vanessa Black was an attractive woman, which made it a distinct possibility that he was trying to arrange something between his son and her, despite Jacobi standing right next to him.
“Vanessa Black, of Blacktide Armaments?” Surprisingly, it was Jacobi who broke the ice.
“Yes,” Vanessa smiled back, but Ben thought there might be a little something extra concealed on her face. “My father is the CEO, I’m just the planetary manager here on New Savannah. We are the most productive planet in the company, but daddy didn’t want to bring me right on at corporate. He always said field experience is important.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Now Jacobi was smiling. “Ranges and field problems can only do so much to train you, but nothing really compares to actual combat.” Now, Ben was pretty sure Jacobi’s face was concealing more than she was saying.
The conversation between the two women was nothing but cordial, but Ben had the feeling more was going on than he suspected. “So, Vanessa, how did you gain the vote?” It was a common question to ask on Election Day, and since it was an Election Day party, Ben thought it was appropriate.
“I got it for doing five years with Doctors without Borders. I split the time between the contested systems between the Maccabees and New Caliphate, the natural disaster back in the Canberra System in 2422, and a year on New Sparta tending to whoever the City States would let us.” Vanessa smiled back at Jacobi, and Ben was certain something unsaid was passing between the two women.
“That must have been interesting.” Ben smiled and took a deep pull of his drink.
“It was interesting and rewarding. After getting my MD from Harvard Medical School on Earth, and MBA from New Capitol University on New Washington, I needed to gain some experience. Like you said, Lieutenant, school and training can only do so much.”
Jacobi just nodded and took a healthy sip of her own drink.
“Between you and me,” Vanessa leaned in closer. “I think your father wants to make some sort of deal with Blacktide. I don’t know what yet, but I think half of this party is to show off for me and the few members of the board who could make it.”
Ben had read up on the major players in the New Savannah system before arriving so he would be prepared for conversations like this. That was something positive his father had drilled into him since childhood. Blacktide Armaments was nowhere near the size of Gold Technologies. It still had government contracts creating some shipboard weaponry, but its money maker was in security. It had filled the niche of protecting small and medium sized shipping companies for over a century. Some independent systems even supplemented their militia forces with Blacktide’s corporate fleet. As with any corporation of a particular size, Blacktide was also in other avenues of business, but its name was primarily linked to its ability to project its corporate forces anywhere at any time to meet their client’s needs. Whether that client was a regional warlord who wanted to conquer an embattled planet, or a church group on missionary work that wanted protection, it didn’t matter to Blacktide. Ben had several gigabytes of bad press that the company got itself into once every decade, but being able to point to someone like Vanessa as an example of their moral compass was an important tool in the company’s kit.
<And with the new technology the Hegemony is bringing in, dad wants to gobble up that market share.> Ben thought through the situation.
“Vanessa, to be honest, my father doesn’t do deals. He does acquisitions.” Ben didn’t feel like he needed to keep his hypothesis a secret, and judging by the look on her face, Ben wasn’t the only one who’d come to that conclusion.
“Blacktide didn’t meet the threshold to do business with the Hegemony, but Gold Technologies did. If we sell to your father for a handsome price, and stock options, we’ll be getting in with Gold right before it explodes with new tech. Gold is already one of the biggest companies in the galaxy, if you add new contracts with the aliens to that, it’s going to be catapulted to the biggest. I’m willing to get in on that.”
<Oh no!> That’s when it hit Ben. His father had introduced him to the very beautiful, very connected, and very single Vanessa Black for not one of his usual reasons, but both. He wanted Blacktide Armaments, and he wanted a firm alliance between two corporate families: the Gold’s and the Black’s.
He looked at Jacobi, who looked like she’d tasted something sour, and then he looked at Vanessa, who was smiling in apparent victory. On the scales by which the people with blue in their eyes judged themselves, Vanessa checked off all the boxes: successful corporate family, all the right enhancements, all the right schools, all the right degrees, and all the right career experiences. Jacobi on the other hand, was a mere infantry LT, with a Bachelor’s degree, no family wealth, and no corporate experience. In Vanessa’s, and Ben’s father’s eyes, Jacobi might be a good hiring opportunity, but she was not girlfriend or marriage material.
“Sergeant Mark Cooper, United Commonwealth of Colonies Infantry.” Ben hadn’t noticed the ballroom start to fill up since the start of their conversation, but he heard the announcer loud and clear.
“Excuse us, Vanessa, that’s one of our soldiers that we need to go wrangle.” Ben remained polite as he grabbed Jacobi’s hand and dragged her away from the bar and toward Coop, who looked suddenly very interested in the silverware.
Ben quickly scooped him up and took him to where the rest of the SRRT was huddled. In this crowd there was safety in numbers.