Location: Aurum System, Gold Technologies Corporate Territory, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The transition of the carrier group back into normal space was so smooth, Ben didn’t even feel it. He was fast asleep on the bed, Jacobi tucked into his side. It was beyond spacious for a ship, especially a warship, with smart sheets so intelligent they practically read your mind. And the thread count . . . it was literally like sleeping on a piece of heaven.
None of that made the circumstances any different. It didn’t change that Ben felt like a prisoner on this boat. It didn’t change that he wasn’t able to do his job as the fleet rep to Gold Technologies, and it didn’t change the fact that something didn’t pass the smell test. It sure as shit didn’t come close to changing the face his father had left half his children behind on a planet under siege. Something was going on. He needed to find out what.
The soft lighting in the room gradually brightened, and his eyes snapped open. Jacobi continued to lay there asleep, so he careful extracted his arm from beneath her head and headed for the door. It whooshed open silently as he approached it.
“Curtis,” Ben stated neutrally, as his father’s personal security guard stood waiting on the opposite side.
“Mr. Gold would like to see you on the bridge,” replied the former SEAL as he stood aside and extended an arm.
<Let’s see what the asshole has to say for himself.> Ben simmered at the thought of his father, so there was no telling what he’d do when he was face to face with the man. The betrayal he felt was all too real.
Displays on the bulkheads showed their current destination at several light minutes from Aurum, but with the system saturated with next-gen buoys, they had instantaneous comms with the entire system.
The Gold Family had discovered, invested, and built Aurum as the capital of their corporate empire over the last two centuries. It had started before Thomas Gold became the CEO, but he was the man who’d made the dream a reality. Aurum itself was one of the few better-than-Earth worlds humanity had come across. Gravity was a few percentage points less than Earth, which made it easier on the bodies of humans, but not enough that it could lead to health or developmental problems. The planet also had a much more favorable tilt, and its position from the star at the center of the system was perfect. There were slight variations, so the planet technically had seasons, but everything was comfortable year-round. In addition to the corporate citizens, Aurum also saw an abundance of wealthy retirees that immigrated with their riches. It also helped that planetary laws were geared toward rewarding hard-working individuals, not to mention the paradigm-shifting technology that was being created and implemented there before anywhere else. Everything from consumer electronics to revolutionized healthcare was available on the Aurum market before anyone else. Protection was also not an issue. The Commonwealth kept a force in place, for which they paid a pretty penny to rent space at the local docks and shipyards, and then there was the corporate security fleet.
Beyond the planet Aurum itself, the system held two other inhabitable worlds. Neither was as well-suited as Aurum, but terraforming had made them just as livable as most colony worlds, and better than the rotting cesspool that Earth had become. Oro and Gull sat before and after Aurum in the system orbit, and each had hundreds of millions of citizens participating in the system economy. As a first-rate system, Aurum had everything, including a metal-rich asteroid belt beyond Gull that was still producing plentiful yields after two hundred years of mining. Those metals helped propel the systems infrastructure, Gull helped refine them, Aurum helped use them, and Oro had a large agricultural sector. The system had been perfectly planned and established to be everything the Gold Family wanted in a home system.
Ben quickly reviewed information in his head as they marched onto the bridge. It had been a long time since he’d been on Aurum; before the arrival of Hegemony tech. He was sure things had changed a little.
As expected, the bridge was alive with activity, and at the center of the whirlwind stood his father. The screens surrounded him again, but a hand jutted out from them and summoned him like a loyal hound. Ben’s eyes scanned the area as he moved, and they popped a little out of his skull with what he was seeing.
Portalling locations were highlighted across the system, and unending traffic seemed to be streaming out of them. As he watched, a pair of escort destroyers popped out of a point on the other side of Oro with a multi-million-ton cargo vessel between them. That thing could be carrying anything from food to medicine, but whatever it was, it probably ran into the nine figures in terms of profit margins.
Civilian and merchant marine traffic was unlike anything he’d ever seen outside Sol or New Washington, and so was military traffic. Ben saw not one, not two, but eight carrier groups in orbit or patrolling the system. Coupled with the onesies and twosomes assigned to merchant protection, there were close to three hundred warships in system, and that didn’t count the three squadrons of Commonwealth battleships and their escorts that were docked in the shipyard around one of Aurum’s two moons.
“Benjamin,” Thomas waved him through the shield of holos and into the digital sanctum. Some of the floating images showed economic data, several showed the individual system marketplaces. You could tell who didn’t know Sol was under siege because their numbers were still in the green, and Thomas was taking brutal advantage of that to pull, relocate, or more wisely, invest.
All the other screens had people on them. Many were in suits, and were likely major department heads or large shareholders, but several were in uniforms; either corporate security or Commonwealth CMUs.
Ben gave the RADM in Commonwealth CMUs a long look before pulling his gaze back to his father. The older Gold gripped Ben’s shoulder like an old friend and pushed him to the center of the circle.
“Tell them the situation in Sol. As the fleet’s representative, everyone deserved to hear it from you.” The words seemed innocent enough, but nothing was innocent with Thomas Gold.
Ben still had to do his duty, and he detailed the invasion force, the annihilation of Second Fleet, the destruction of Mars, the refugee fleet’s attempted evacuation, and the siege of humanity’s homeworld. He didn’t embellish, because that was the only thing he imagined his father wanted, but there was no need to expand the truth. The situation had been dire when they left, and had likely only gotten worse.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Commander,” with Ben’s piece done, Thomas gently nudged him out of the way. “There you have it,” the man looked genuinely sad as he faced the audience. “I hope that confirmed the situation to your satisfaction Rear Admiral.”
<He’s the real focus of this briefing,> Ben surmised, and tried to figure out his father’s bigger play.
“We’re at a crossroads my friend. Earth itself is under invasion. A combined force of the Commonwealth, Blockies, and Euros was not able to stem the tide. Four fleets,” Thomas held up his fingers and waved them in front of the screens, “could not stop the onslaught. Almost two thousand ships, many capital ships, could not hold back a token force of the enemy.”
Ben wouldn’t call the two hundred plus hulking vessels the enemy put into the field a token force, but the disparity in numbers was frightening.
“We need to do better, no, we have to do better if we want to survive. I am doing my part,” Thomas put his hand on his heart. “My shipyards are turning out new vessels daily. I’ve improved our tactics, our technology, and our trade relations with the Hegemony. We’re even working to upgrade the upgrades with our own touch of humanity. We are doing better than everyone else,” he paused dramatically, “this is the time.”
The statement had a wide array of reactions. Many nodded and even looked eager. Some looked skeptical, including the RADM, and one or two outright shook their heads.
“To do this we need to be united in common cause and principle,” Thomas continued. “Together we will rise, but divided, we will fall. Without unity, our carcasses will be picked apart by the sharks. We must be strong.”
He must have sent something to the audience, because they all looked away from their screens to review. “Our lawyers need to review this,” was the gist of all their replies.
“You have forty-eight hours,” Thomas replied. “I look forward to seeing you and starting our mutually beneficial future together.”
Screens began to wink off until only the RADM remained. Ben didn’t know him, or anything about him. He looked competent, but competence could be sculpted onto a man’s face, and reinforced with a little confidence and charisma. That didn’t mean he knew his asshole from a hole in the ground.
“Is this really it?” there was a tinge of fear in the RADM’s voice.
“It looks like it,” Thomas sighed dramatically. “I wouldn’t do this if I saw another way, but you’ve seen the sensor records from all my ships. You heard the words of your own fleet rep. Things are as bad as you think, and its likely they’re even worse than that now.”
The RADM rubbed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “You know what they’ll do to me . . .”
“Nothing,” Thomas answered immediately with passion. “You will be praised for your foresight and revered by who truly matters: your men; who saw you put their lives and well-being first and foremost.”
That seemed to soothe the RADM’s nerves, and elevated Ben’s opinion of him. He could get behind a man who valued the lives and well-being of his subordinates.
“When do you want me to implement order six-six-seven?” the RADM asked. Ben scanned his memory but knew nothing of such an order.
“What is your readiness status?” Thomas inquired.
“We’re at eighty-three percent, and should be one hundred in the next nine days,” the RADM answered.
“Everyone has two days to review the course of action before they’ll arrive on planet. Take the time to push as far ahead as possible. We’ll make the decision then.”
“Yes,” the RADM’s looked distracted now as he mentally went through a checklist of what he needed to do to get to one hundred percent readiness. “I’ll talk to you in two days.” The picture cut out, leaving Ben and his father alone in a bubble of data.
“Thank you, Benjamin. That is all,” screens vanished to form a door with Curtis waiting on the other side. The bodyguard escorted Ben back to the stateroom where his mother and Jacobi were now wide awake.
“What happened?” they both jumped on him when the door snapped shut.
“Honestly,” he was still trying to collect his thoughts. “I have no idea.”