Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The head of the long table was the place to be, but Ben wanted to be anywhere else. The elite of New Savannah sat around him, talking like a group of old friends, and discussing items trivially that affected the lives of millions of people. As a ship’s captain, Ben was used to making critical decisions that affected others, but he’d never heard it discussed so… nonchalantly.
“Labor contracts are wrapping up.” A bald man with sharp brown eyes was saying at his spot across for Ben and two chairs down. Since modern technology had eliminated baldness, the man’s lack of hair was a choice, not biologically predetermined. “We were able to talk down cost of living increases, but we had to give extra vacation days.”
“Readiness is at an all-time high,” the man directly across from Ben, in a black uniform with red trim, stated to the man sitting between him and Thomas Gold.
Thomas was politely listening, but Ben could tell his father’s situational awareness was finely tuned to everything around him. “Military strategy isn’t much of my forte, gentlemen. My son would know more about that.” Thomas passed the conversation off to Ben, who suddenly found himself staring at two of the most powerful men in the system. “Ben, you’ve met New Savannah’s Governor, The Honorable John Willoughby, and the head of the New Savannah militia, Admiral Mark Danvers.”
“I haven’t had the pleasure yet.” Ben nodded respectfully to both men, because reaching across the table to shake hands was bad etiquette.
“We prefer system defense force to militia, Mr. Gold,” ADM Danvers replied as he returned Ben’s nod. “Militia sounds like a junior league collection of weekend warriors. The New Savannah System Defense Force (NSSDF) has an infantry component of two hundred and fifty thousand men, and a fleet service of twice that split between a squadron of battleships, two cruiser squadrons, and a flotilla of destroyers and gunboats to help with commerce protection.”
The ADM was clearly proud of his spacers and soldiers, and he should be. Ben hadn’t seen a lot of defense forces in person, but he’d read statistics, and had access to the readiness reports like any other ship’s captain. The NSSDF was one of the better ones in the Core Worlds. Too many of the planets close to Earth or New Washington, especially when they weren’t near Blockie space, thought they were untouchable, and let their security lapse with the hopes that the Commonwealth Fleet would pick up the slack. Despite the fleet’s massive tonnage, and always growing number of ships, the galaxy was infinitely bigger. The Fleet wouldn’t be everywhere at once, and with the current war on two fronts, that was truer than ever. Some systems were finally starting to see that, and were quickly trying to arm themselves, but it wasn’t that easy. It took time to properly train soldiers and spacers, and even more to get a ship’s crew to gel and be effective in combat.
On the bright side, many soldiers and spacers who were looking at getting out of the Commonwealth Fleet, and were looking for something more stable, were finding a lot of work to pick up their former occupations in service to a single system. In several of those instances as well, corporations were stepping in to pick up the slack. Cue, the woman sitting next to Ben.
“New Savannah has a top of the line defense force, Admiral, and Blacktide greatly values the cross training opportunities we’ve had between our ships, but I for one have been dying to talk to the Hero of New Lancashire.”
Ben was thankful that the other dinner conversations covered the groan that escaped his lips, but RADM Stillwater’s scoff and eye roll weren’t as subtle.
“I’m no hero.” Ben waved off the praise.
“Of course you are,” Vanessa pushed. “Because of your actions seventy five thousand people were extracted off New Lancashire before the Windsor’s Fleet took the planet. I’d say that is pretty heroic.”
“Yeah right,” this time the RADM’s scowl wasn’t even slightly hidden. His thoughts on Ben’s actions were loud and clear.
“Still,” Ben had to stop from glaring at the RADM, “I was just doing my job. I had information, and had witnessed firsthand, what the enemy was capable of. I passed that information along to my commander, and allowed them to make the decisions regarding Fleet actions. However, with that knowledge, I was not going to allow the corporate assets I did have authority over to be destroyed. My orders to Gold’s Carrier Group was to help the people I knew were going to need help, and even with that assistance, we still didn’t get everyone out.”
“Regardless,” ADM Danvers waved away Ben’s modesty, “I’ve seen those sensor recordings, and I’ve been privy to after action reports of the Windsor’s more recent raids. You did the right thing Lieutenant Commander.”
“Thank you, sir.” Despite himself, Ben smiled.
<Maybe there’s a slot for me in the NSSDF if I get the boot from the Fleet and don’t want to go corporate quite yet.>
“Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, and people love to Monday morning quarterback split second decisions.” Thomas reentered the conversation. “But I happen to know for a fact that people are starting to come around to the fact that you did the right thing, and I’m sure they’ll want you to continue to be involved in actions against the Kingdom of Windsor, since you have some of the most experience dealing with them diplomatically and militarily.” Thomas Gold said it all while casually taking bites of his main entree, but to Ben, it was a wild departure from the norm.
Since before Ben could remember, his father had wanted him in the business, not serving in the fleet. There was a reason that had changed, and the reason would have something to do with the benefit of Gold Technologies and the Gold family.
“Personally, I think what you did was very brave.” Vanessa threw in her two cents, but Ben was so preoccupied trying to figure out his father’s motive, he nearly missed her hand settling on his thigh. The key word was almost. Ben was distracted, not dead.
“Oh…ummm…” Ben nearly choked on his drink, coughed repeatedly, and successfully splattered bourbon down the front of his CMUs. “Shit.” He cursed under his breath, but it gave him an excuse to get up. “Excuse me gentlemen.”
Ben knew it was rude, but he got out of there as quickly as possible. First, to the restroom for a nano-spray that would easily remove the alcohol, and second, down to the opposite end of the table.
“How’s everyone doing?” He asked the rest of the SRRT team.
Jacobi shot him a look that said they needed to talk later. Ben had no idea if she’d been watching him or not, or if she’d seen Vanessa make a move, but he could feel it was going to be an interesting conversation. It wasn’t every day that a person met their idol, got a private dinner with them where they showed interest, and then the very next day got a pointed reminder that she was of a junior class, and got shuffled down to the end of the table while Ben got paired with a much more suitable, potential partner. Ben was not looking forward to that conversation.
“Excellent, sir.” The SGM smiled a little brighter due to the open bar.
“The food is excellent, sir.” The GYSGT seemed to be keeping pace with the NCOIC.
“Great, sir.” The SSG and SGT Sullivan didn’t have the rank to feel comfortable drinking more than one drink, so they were busy keeping an eye on the new junior NCOs.
“It’s been a great opportunity, sir.” SGT Berg’s smile was strained.
“Uh.” Cooper grumbled, while SGT Enders gave Ben a thumbs up, and Aiko just shrugged.
Ben shot the SGM a pointed glance concerning the junior NCOs, and despite the man’s situation, he got the message. Ben left the group of soldiers and sailors in the capable hands of the senior NCOs, while he went back to the head of the table. He still hadn’t talked to the Police Commissioner, the Lieutenant Governor, the party leaders in the planetary government’s legislature, or a slew of other important people. Ben made sure to fix a smile to his face when he returned, while at the same time directing it away from Vanessa. He didn’t want her getting any wrong ideas.
Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop followed the GYSGT and Eve out into the hallway. There was constant traffic with the wait staff, but no other guests were present. It was the perfect place for Cunningham to chew their asses out.
“What the hell is going on between you two?” The NCO cut to the chase.
“Nothing, Gunney.” Eve stated before Coop could open his mouth.
“Don’t blow smoke up my ass, Berg. Everyone can see something is up. Even the Lieutenant Commander saw it in the five seconds he spent with us. Now spit it out. What’s going on?”
“Sergeant Berg is being a bit of a bitch, Gunney.” Coop took his filter off.
Despite himself, Coop braced for either the Gunney or Berg to take a swing at him. Neither did, but Eve looked mad enough to.
“Berg?” Cunningham turned to Eve.
“Nothing, Gunney, just frustrated is all.” Eve looked like she was chewing nails, but held her tongue.
Coop didn’t have that talent. “Bullshit,” he called her out. “You were just laying into me about not deserving anything and putting me down. I’ve had to deal with my own shit, it might not be ranger-level shit, but I’ve had to survive, and I don’t need you shitting on me for what I’ve done since Basic.”
“Cooper, do you think you deserve to be a sergeant?” The GYSGT calmly asked the question.
“Well…” Coop pondered.
“You most certainly do not.” She finished for him. “Neither of you do. Neither of you have the time in grade requirements. Neither of you have attended the NCO academy. Neither of you know what it means to be an NCO. So, Cooper, if she’s giving you a hard time about it, it’s because she’s right. Both of you should still be enlisted.”
Eve looked vindicated for about half a second until the Gunney turned on her. “Now, for your shitty attitude, Berg. Sometimes you get shit details handed to you that you don’t like. This is not one of them. You don’t deserve to be a sergeant, but you are. There is no taking that back. You’re an NCO with a great opportunity, so embrace it. Get the experience, get the knowledge, and when you finally get to the NCO Academy you crush it. You too, Cooper. Learn from all of this. The Sergeant Major is a fucking legend, and I’ve got a few life lessons to impart myself. So soak it up like a sponge, and don’t jerk off or make excuses that will get us all killed. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Gunney.” Their reply was just short of a shout.
“Good. Now you two hash things out quickly and get back to your seats. I’m pretty sure there will be rounds of toasts to everyone and their mother coming up.” The GYSGT executed a tight about-face and strode back into the ballroom.
Eve and Coop just stared at each other for a moment. “So…” Coop broke awkward the silence. “You don’t like Aiko.”
“I don’t have any problem with Petty Officer Lee.” Eve shot back. “My problem is with you, Coop. I don’t care what you stick your dick in. I care about how reliable you are.”
“That’s not what it looks like to me. It looks like you’re jealous that I hooked up with her once upon a time, and now you’re that one that’s being unprofessional.”
“Unprofessional,” Eve hissed, and her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Like you traipsing off to shady bars with her.”
That stopped Coop clear in his tracks, and he was pretty sure he went an unhealthy shade of white at the same time. “How…?”
“Just get your shit together, Coop. You’re on an elite team now. We all need to trust you, and one of the two people flying us around. Don’t jeopardize that, or any of us, that’s my biggest problem with you.” She stopped and the two of them locked eyes. “And… maybe I think you can do better.” She said the last bit in a rush and hurried back into the ballroom.
That left Coop alone in the hallway while waiters flowed by with the evening’s dessert. He swiped a tiramisu off a passed woman’s tray, much to her distaste, but he didn’t care.
<What the hell just happened?> Coop’s mind spun as he tried to figure everything out. <Mmm that’s good.> He contemplated as he tried to figure out how Eve knew he’d gone with Aiko to the bar in the first place.