Here's my entry to the Christmas GC for the Insurgency! A special, Part 20.5 in Season 3 of my series! Please comment, rate and enjoy!
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31st December 2096: Present Day
Location: Regentis Town Hall
The sound of gently lilting classical music drifted over me, as I checked my reflection in a glass cabinet and straightened out my bow tie.
I wasn't used to dressing this smartly and the tightness of the tie around my neck was already starting to irritate me.
With a sigh, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be wearing it for the next several hours. My only comfort was that I knew everybody else would be dressed just as ridiculously and would likely also be itching to get back into some comfy clothes! Although, that being said, I was under the impression that most of the people who'd be attending the Governor's New Year's Eve ball would all be dignitaries or at least people of importance from all over the system. So they'd all be used to wearing stuffy, tight clothes and being posh and civilised.
Oh well. At least Riley would be there. She'd said I looked rather handsome in my suit, so at least I had that going for me! We'd decided that it would be best if we didn't arrive at the event together, otherwise people might begin to suspect something was going on between us and so Riley had gone on ahead, leaving me to arrive alone.
As I turned and headed along the corridor towards the Grand Ballroom, where Judas' bash was being held, I prepared myself both mentally and physically for what was about to come.
After everything I'd been through, all the battles, all the fights and skirmishes, a simple formal ball scared me the most!
I turned a corner and headed towards a large door flanked by two Imperium soldiers and a smartly dressed Chetinuek. On my own, walking towards them, I couldn't help but feel intimidated, however, I just took a deep breath and carried on heading towards the music.
Chetinuek: "Your name, please, sir?"
Tank: "Chain Rockwell." I announced and he scanned though a data pad list. Moments later he smiled and stood aside.
Chetinuek: "Welcome, Mr. Rockwell. I hope you have a pleasant evening."
I thanked him as the two guards heaved the doors open and then I walked through them.
I'd never been in the Grand Ballroom before and so I was rather stunned by its magnificence.
The huge, circular room was located at the very top of the Town Hall, up in its dome, and offered stunning views out over Regentis in every direction.
The room itself was painted a brilliant white and boasted fantastically detailed carvings, especially in the domed ceiling. Large, circular pillars ran around the circumference of the hall and a glass doorway leading out onto a small balcony, was situated between each pair. It was a stunningly beautiful room, matching the High Priestess's Throne room in Měilswán on Fuyoria.
Judas: "Tank!" The Governor of Qoter greeted upon spotting me standing alone in the doorway. He strode briskly over to me, a huge grin on his face and a glass of wine in his hand. "I'm so glad you could make it!" He beamed as, using his free hand, he shook mine rather vigorously. It appeared that the good Governor had already had a few drinks!
Tank: "This place is amazing!" I commented as my gaze turned to the room's current occupants. Dignitaries, royalty and high - rollers from all over the system were mingling. Chatting, drinking laughing - generally having a good time.
There was an open area in the middle of the room where a handful of couples were dancing to the gently wafting music that the live orchestra were playing from a small, raised stage at the other side of the room.
Others were gathered at a buffet bar off to one side, taking their fill in free food - as if they weren't rich enough to buy their own!
Judas: "It is rather grand isn't it!" He agreed. "Still, it does the job!" He laughed and I nodded with a smile.
Tank: "It sure does!"
As we spoke, I continued to visually scan the room. I was looking for Riley. She'd seen me in my suit, but I hadn't been allowed to see her in her gown. She'd said she wasn't very confident about it and I joked that it seemed like a wedding! The fact I wasn't allowed to see her in her dress before the big day!
I couldn't see her yet, but I did spot the Archmage over at the buffet bar, which meant that the rest of the gang would be here as well.
I excused myself from the Governor, telling him I'd chat more in a bit and then headed over to the buffet. Eris was in the middle of a conversation with a dignitary I didn't recognise, but she saw me coming and waved me over with a smile.
Eris: "Excuse me, Senator." She asked, ending her previous discussion and then gave me a hug. "How are you?"
Tank: "Great, thanks. You?"
Eris: "I'm good, thank you. Care for a dance?" She inquired.
Tank: "Oh, I'm not much of a dancer!" I responded with a laugh.
Eris: "Good. Neither am I." Eris replied, but nonetheless grabbed my hand and escorted me onto the dance floor in the centre of the room.
Tank: "I really have no idea how to dance!" I insisted, feeling rather awkward.
Eris: "Don't worry. Just hold on and waft about a bit." She instructed.
Tank: "Nice. Should I not be asking Mr. Arathon's permission?" I joked as Eris placed my right hand on her waist and held the left out to the side.
Eris: "If you can find him." She replied with a smirk. "How was your Christmas? "
Tank: "It was... nice." I replied, thinking of the right word. "A little odd, but nice."
I had spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day with Riley and her dad, Alberto, at his house. It had been pleasant enough, but it had just been a bit strange spending the time with my girlfriend's dad! I had loved spending so long with Riley though. With her work and my careering around the system, we got to see very little of each other, so having three full days in a row together had been great!
Of course, we'd had to come up with a cover story to tell Judas though, as he still had no idea about the two of us. I must admit, I was surprised at how long we'd managed to keep it a secret from him, however, we weren't planning on telling him yet. Neither of us had told any of Eris’ lot either but I was pretty sure that they knew. Eris, at least.
The Archmage smirked at my comment about the period being 'nice'.
Eris: "Good. I'm glad you had a nice time."
Tank: "What about you guys?" I asked in return. "Is everybody here?"
Eris: "It was lovely thank you. Considering it was only my second one ever, it was still rather special! And yes, they are. Somewhere, anyway!" She laughed, looking around at the crowd of people.
Throughout our exchange we had continued to waft from side to side in time with the music, doing our best to look like we knew what we were doing. At one point I stepped on Eris’ toes and apologised, but she brushed it off as nothing.
Eris: "So where's Riley at?" She asked.
Tank: "Uh, I don't know." I replied, trying to act like I didn't know why she was asking, but the Archmage gave me a look that read 'Seriously? You know I know you better than that!'
I smirked sheepishly.
Tank: "I actually don't know. She's here somewhere though." I responded and Eris nodded.
At this point, Commander Ferris from Knightborn, or at least what was left of it stepped up beside us. I remembered my conversation with Dustin a few months ago, during which he'd told me not to trust Ferris.
I knew that he wasn't what he appeared to be and I knew that Eris didn't trust him either. However, he was a high - ranking officer of the Galactic Imperium and as such, commanded respect.
Com. Ferris: "Archmage. May I?" He inquired and with a polite smile to the Commander and a nod to me, Eris agreed. I stepped back, the Commander took my place and they began to dance.
As I walked away, Eris sent me a mental message,
Eris: 'Great...' I couldn't help but chuckle out loud.
I weaved my way through the crowd, heading vaguely in the direction of the bar, still keeping my eyes peeled for Riley, when, at last, I spotted her.
She was stunning. Wearing a floor - length, flowing, white gown, her arms bare and her hair tied back in an intricate bun, she was the picture of elegance. A far cry from her usual office blouse and trousers!
Tank: "Wow..." I breathed aloud, stopping in my tracks. Riley saw me and beamed a slightly nervous smile. We walked towards eachother and met on the dance floor.
Tank: "You look amazing." I commented, desperately resisting the urge to hold her in my arms and kiss her.
Riley: "Thanks." She replied bashfully. "You look rather dapper yourself!"
Tank: "Thanks. Well, this is all rather fancy, isn't it!" I stated, looking around.
Riley: "Just a little!" She joked and as she did, a thought struck me.
In another life, a parallel universe if such things existed, I would have grown up amongst such elegance. If my parents had not been murdered, I would be used to all this finery and glamour, I would feel a lot more at ease.
However, life had ripped that away from me, and as such, I felt rather awkward in my suit and tie!
Riley: "Did you have a nice Christmas?" She asked, keeping up our pretense.
Tank: "It was lovely thanks. I really enjoyed myself."
Riley: "Good." She replied with a warm smile. Then, she looked over my shoulder and flashed another smile at Judas as he joined us.
Judas: "There you are, you amazing person, you!" He beamed and put an arm around her shoulder. "How are you this fine evening?" He grinned as they kissed each other's cheeks in greeting. As they did, a little knot formed in my stomach.
Riley: "I'm perfect, thank you." She replied. "You've pulled off a wonderful party, Judas. It's lovely."
Judas: "It's great, isn't it! I wasn't sure what the band would be like, but they're on fire!"
Tank: "They are good." I agreed.
There was a momentary pause while we all soaked up the atmosphere, before Judas spoke again.
Judas: "Oh, I'm so glad you guys are here! It would be so boring without you! I was afraid it would just be me stuck here with all these snobs!" He commented, rather un-diplomatically, earning a disgusted look from a man stood nearby. "The three musketeers back together again!" He grinned, throwing an arm around my shoulder as well, so that he was stood between the two of us.
Tank: "Together again!" I agreed, while silently wondering just how much the Governor had had to drink.
Judas: "You know, my life used to be so boring ! Before you guys came along! In fact, I'm pretty sure life picked up around the time you joined the office, Riley!"
Riley: "Coincidence." She replied with a smile, but I could tell that it was a smile that masked how uncomfortable she was feeling.
Judas: "No, no! When you joined our office as Governor Wilson’s assistant, everything became much more bearable!" He laughed and with a polite smile, Riley slid out from under his arm. Not noticing her discomfort, it didn't bother the Governor, who's flirtatious manor, intentional or not, was starting to annoy me.
Judas: "Do you know that our Riley here does more work than anybody else in the office? She far exceeds her expected workload! She's a credit to the Senate!" He complimented.
Riley: "Thanks." She replied bluntly, now with only a slight hint of politeness.
Tank: "That's 'our Riley'." I agreed, also slipping out from under Judas's arm. "Care for a dance?" I asked, holding out a hand to Riley who looked thoroughly relieved.
Riley: "I thought you'd never ask." She replied gratefully and took my offered hand. We made our way into a more open space and began to waft in time to the music.
Riley: “He’s happy.” She muttered.
Tank: “He’s just had a few.” I replied, trying to brush it off. Truth was, I was a bit annoyed at Judas, but I knew he was just a bit drunk.
Riley: "A few too many." She muttered.
For a good minute or so, we simply wafted from side to side, gently swaying in time to the music. As we danced, I forced myself to forget my annoyance at Judas and enjoy myself. Standing here, with Riley in my arms, dancing together on the approach to midnight and the new year, it was lovely. I couldn't help but smile.
Riley "What?" She asked gently, seeing my smile.
Riley: "No, go on. Tell me."
Tank: "I'm just enjoying myself." I answered. "This is really nice."
Riley: "Just the two of us." She agreed and I nodded. "Like Christmas."
Tank: "Yeah. It's nice." I grinned and with a smile, Riley laid her head against my chest and closed her eyes.
I held her close and felt the warmth of her close against me and as we gently rocked from side to side, I couldn't imagine anything better.
On the other side of the room, the Governor of Qoter laughed a little too hard at an un-funny joke told by a Senator, before excusing himself and taking another gulp of wine. Surveying the scene before him, taking in the success of his New Year's Eve ball, he was pleased.
And then he noticed Tank and Riley.
Stood close together on the dance floor, Tank had his arms wrapped around Riley. Her head was resting on his chest and her eyes were closed in contentment. Judas frowned momentarily as a thought came to him.
Riley's lips curved upwards and Judas realised that she was wearing his best friend's smile.
I couldn't imagine a better way to bring in the new year. Dancing with the woman I loved was blissful. I chuckled gently to myself at just how perfect I felt right now.
Riley: "What?" She asked me softly, looking up into my eyes.
Tank: "I love you." I replied simply and her smile widened.
Riley: "I love you too. Or do you just say that to all the women you dance with?" She responded with a smirk.
Tank: "You'll have to ask Eris!" I laughed.
Riley: "Ooh! I haven't seen them yet tonight."
So a few minutes later, we'd meandered through the crowds until we'd finally located 'The Vindicators'.
Jay: "When you said you had a New Year's story, Jace, I was expecting something a little cheerier!" Jay remarked as we arrived, in the middle of a conversation.
Tank: "Hey guys!" I announced and we all exchanged greetings and shook hands and kissed etc.
Jay: "Have a good Christmas?"
Tank: "Yeah, it was great thanks! How about you guys?"
Jay: "It was quiet." He replied sombrely.
Caesar: "Yeah, very."
I knew it must have been a very strange time for them all. Christmas last year, there were eight of us, myself included. This year, there was just the five of them. With the deaths of Kiara and Presh' earlier in the year, plus everything going on with Kiera running away and also with Sophia, Caesar's daughter, it must have been a very different occasion to last year.
Tank: "Has there been any news about Kiera?"
Caesar: "None." He responded.
The gang had been searching for Kiera ever since she walked out on them back in August, but as of yet, they'd yet to hear anything.
Eris: "She's a grown woman. Give her time. She needs to decide her own future."
Riley: "It can't have been easy for her, losing Kiara."
Caesar: "It wasn't. She held it together as long as she could, but she's only human."
Riley nodded sadly in understanding. She didn't know them all as well as I did, but she could still sympathize.
Tank: "What about Sophia? Any leads on where Rat took her?"
Caesar shook his head sadly.
Jace: "Again, nothing." He responded.
At that moment the band stopped playing and there was a loud popping sound - someone tapping on a microphone.
Judas: "Ladies and gentlemen!" The Governor's voice boomed and everybody looked around to see Judas stood behind a microphone atop a small stage at the other side of the room. "Thank you!" He beamed down at us all as the room fell silent to listen. "Thank you all so much for coming to my New Year's ball! I hope you're all enjoying the food, drink and entertainment as much as I am!"
There was a smattering of applause, laughter and murmurs of agreement.
Judas had removed his tie and loosened his shirt now, looking far more casual than the Governor of the entire planet should do, but that was what made him popular. He was an ordinary guy. Just a normal person with a big job.
Judas: "Now, I believe we have just a few minutes to go before we welcome in the new year. But before we do, I wanted to say a few words."
The little remaining chatter that there had been died down so that the room was silent.
Judas: "This year has been hard. On everybody." He began, addressing the gathered crowd and at this point I also noticed the TV cameras pointing at him - his speech must have been being broadcast live across the planet.
Judas: "This year, we've really been pushed to our limits. We've faced more trials and tribulations than anybody should face in a lifetime. The truce with Pax Aurelia was broken, forcing us back into a war that we didn't chose to be a part of. Knightborn, Argyle, Tarhaven: all gone. And Illbliss: Badly damaged. All as part of the ongoing reign of terror by Aurelia. We took small consolation in the fact that James Corvin, their founder, had been killed, but that seems to have halted nothing. We've had planet-wide power cuts. Junk robots attacking people at random. More recently, the Collective's drone soldiers have turned against both them and us and have been targeting civilians. I'd also just like to take this chance to publicly thank her grace, the Archmage, for her continued support in the matter and the tireless effort they are putting into bringing the drones back under control."
Eris smiled and raised her glass to Judas in appreciation.
Judas: "ROBKAT Engineering Systems have been almost destroyed, leaving our ships with virtually nowhere to go if in need of repairs." Judas continued.
Judas: "We had the rise of The Followers of the Universe and our already war - ravaged moon, Etrion, had to endure the tyranny of an evil Collective ambassador. And not only that, but we must remember that it is not just Qoter that has suffered. Other planets across the system and also in System 55, have suffered too. Earth saw the bombing of a peaceful remembrance service for those who died during The Collective war. D-12, the fatal virus, created as a potential cure for Ossillium poisoning, was leaked onto the black market as a weapon. Millions of innocent men, women and children were uprooted from their homes on Flouron and have had to seek sanctuary across the stars, some of whom are now living in poverty in refugee camps here on Qoter.”
Judas: “This year," He continued. "Has been probably the worst in living memory. And that’s saying something, considering the atrocities and events of recent years.”
There were murmurs of agreement from the gathered crowd.
Judas: “But tonight, here, now, we stand on the brink of a new year. A year that will hopefully bring us peace and justice. A new year that we hope will treat us better than 2096 has.” There was a small round of applause at this, before Judas carried on.
Judas: “But to ensure that it does, we, all of us here, must make sure that we do our part. This war that still rages, a war that has cost God knows how many lives and caused destruction and terror beyond belief, is on us. It represents a failure to listen! We may not have started it, but we have failed to help stop it.
So this coming year, in 2097, let us all do our part to bring peace to this system! I’ve had enough fighting for a lifetime! It’s time to end it! We’re not all soldiers. We can’t all fight our way to victory. But we can damned well talk our way there! Diplomats, politicians, senators! It’s our responsibility! We have to end this!”
As the Governor spoke, the applause grew louder and louder until he had to conclude because he could no longer talk over the thunderous sound. I looked around the gathered crowd, all nodding and clapping in agreement and I remembered why Judas had been voted in as Governor of Qoter. He really was a charismatic leader. One who could inspire hope in others, even when there was little to be found.
After a minute, the applause died down and Governor Boan continued.
Judas: “But we must also remember, that it is not just the war that is a threat – not just Aurelia. Every day, out there – somewhere, be it near, far, or even in this very room…”
As he spoke, Judas’s gaze met mine for a second and I flashed him an encouraging smile, however, it was not returned and then his gaze moved on. I frowned momentarily but thought nothing more of it.
Judas: “People are plotting against us. Trying to take things away from us.”
Judas: (Continued:) “You don’t know who they are. Or where they will strike.”
Judas: (cont.) “But just know that they are out there. The galaxy is full of evil and we must do our utmost to bring it to justice.”
Judas: (cont.) “We, ourselves, must strive to be the good that this galaxy so desperately needs. To both be good and do good. For the sake of the galaxy.”
Judas: (cont.) “However, we must also not lose sight of those closest to us; those we hold dear. Whilst the galaxy may be full of evil, it is also full of love.”
Judas: (cont.) “We all have friends, family, people we care about. Either here with us tonight, or somewhere, out there in the system. This coming year, make an effort.” He implored. “Tell them how much they mean to you.”
Judas: (cont.) “Because thanks to the evil-doers, you never know when it may be your last chance. Take every opportunity. Not just with love, but with life in general. Take nothing for granted and push yourself daily.”
Judas: (cont.) “Make yourself the best possible you that you can be. Remember your worth and your value and treat yourself with respect, just as you should treat others. If everybody had a little more respect for one another, then the world would be a much nicer place.”
Judas: (cont.) “Everybody has a story. Everybody has a life. Everybody has their own set of beliefs, rules and habits. And everybody must remember that everybody is entitled to these. Who are you to force your ways upon others? Just because you believe something to be right, does not mean that others must believe the same. Do not try and brainwash others into following your path. Every single person has a right to choose.”
Judas: (cont.) “So look after one another. Please. I beg you. If everybody looked up from their datapads once in a while and saw the world around them, saw what life has come to… if everybody just cared a little more. About themselves… about others. Then that would be a great many of our problems solved.”
Now there came another loud round of applause and the Governor paused with a sad smile that slowly grew into one of hope and joy.
Judas: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the midnight bells are almost ringing. The new year is almost upon us. Somewhere, out there,” he gestured to a window on the far side of the room. “a ship is setting sail. Somewhere, there’s a new-born baby crying. Somewhere, two lovers are saying farewell. Life.” He continued dramatically. “Life goes on. Despite all of the tragedies of the past year, life finds a way.” He said quietly, before picking up the wine glass that he’d set down on the podium.
Judas: “So now I’m singing Hallelujah and I’m saying Amen.” He beamed, his glass raised in a toast and all over the room, myself included, every single person lifted their glass to the air. “Let us toast! To new beginnings! Raise up your glasses with me and say; ‘To all of our tomorrows!”
The room chorused the sentence.
Judas: “For what was yesterday.”
Again, everybody repeated him. Judas smiled broadly and drank from his glass, just as outside, the first notes of a melody, played by a giant clock tower nearby, began to play, preparing for the chimes that would welcome in the new year. Everybody drank from their glasses and around the edges of the room, waiters opened up the glass doors, allowing full access onto the balcony.
Judas: “Let’s hope tomorrow finds us.” He concluded slightly sombrely. “And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s New Year’s Day! Please, join me on the balcony and welcome in 2097. Thank you!”
As the clock finished it’s tune and prepared for the first chime, the crowd made its way outside and onto the circular balcony that encompassed the entire room.
I stood with Riley beside me. With all the crowds, we were fairly sure nobody would see us holding hands. Eris stood on my other side, arm in arm with Jay, and surrounding them were Caesar, Basher and Jace. As the first chime struck, fireworks began launching.
As the first explosions thundered before us, I glanced around, trying to spot Judas, to invite him over to join us – but he was nowhere to be seen. I frowned as I visually scanned what I could see of the room and the balconies opposite, but I couldn’t find him anywhere.
I turned back again and gave Riley’s hand a squeeze. She smiled up at me and then we both turned and watched the fireworks. Looking out over Regentis, staring at the Senate building opposite, as the brightly coloured explosions lit up the midnight sky and the clock continued chiming, I smiled to myself.
It was a new year. A new beginning.
It was 2097.
The set for when Tank first comes in. Turns out I didn't take any other behind the scenes pictures for this one!
As my series is going to be jumping around though time, I will include a date on each episode and add it to the timeline at the end of each episode so that you can follow it.
An awesome episode to end/ start the year. It's always great to have episodes like these in between the action, just times where everyone's hanging out and talking without some life or death battle going on :D Thanks for Uek's reference as well, and you've got me on tenterhooks for 2097!