“General, in less than one month, the Donovackia Corporation will launch this vessel into space,” Tomar Donovackia declared, as he looked down onto the gigantic spaceship that sat in the middle of an even more enormous building. General Swinton Chaldea stood beside him on the walkway that circled twenty stories above the vast open space of the building.

The Donovackia Corporation launch complex was not quite as big as the portal complexes and adjoining facilities that linked various planets together, but it still was the size of a small city, with dozens of buildings and tens of thousands of people working towards getting the crew and the ship ready for the one-way trip to Earth.

The men began walking back to the bank of offices and meeting rooms that hung in one corner of the enormous space, much like an insect nest. Tomar loved spending time in these offices, looking down on all of the activity. This would be the first of many space launches, and, over the last few months, he had become more involved with the process. His first priority was the overall health and growth of the corporation, but this launch was an intense passion.

“Is Commander Conall Bornani living up to your expectations, sir?” asked the General.

“Exceedingly! Thank you for putting him at the top of the list. I believe he can handle the delicate and difficult challenges that face the crew in the next few years,” Tomar answered.

“If I may ask, sir, what do you think the chances are that this ‘Earth’ is ready for development?”

“Good question,” responded Tomar, “and one I have asked myself and dozens of others, over and over, for two years now. The truth is that we don’t know and won’t know until the return vessel comes back. The likelihood is not good. They only harnessed the atom about forty years ago. The last mission revealed no Transprophetics. The best guess is that it will probably be another 20 to 40 years before Earth is ready.”

“Excuse me for asking, sir, but why not wait another 15 to 20 years?”

“General Chaldea, it is, of course, because of the less public aspects of the exploratory mission. When a crew finds a planet not yet ready, they stay. Everyone knows this. What is less common knowledge is that every crew member, civilian and military, is extensively trained to hunt and kill Transprophetics. No matter what stage a planet is in, in terms of economic and technological development, we must keep them from advancing as they would with the discovery and scientific validation of a Transprophetic. We want a planet to build out infrastructure, technology, and global trade on the most massive scale possible, without risking our capability to invade and dominate.”

“Of course, sir,” the General agreed. He knew all this but struggled to make small talk with the most powerful man on two worlds. Tomar was intimidating, and it had been hours since the General had a chance to relax – with his secret friend. Beginning to feel frayed, he needed a little help to stay balanced and focused.

As they walked into the entryway of the hanging bank of offices and conference rooms, the shrill voice of Ionia Villegas broke the General’s concentration on that clear liquid that he loved so much. “Just the two gentlemen that I was looking forward to seeing!” The General wanted so badly to grab the woman, walk back out to the walkway, and toss her to her death. They exchanged pleasantries and headed into a conference room.

“General, did our dear Chairman tell you that we would be meeting today?” asked Ionia to the General.

“Ionia,” interjected Tomar, “the General and I have been deeply immersed in critical matters today. I simply forgot to tell him that we would be getting together.”

The General worked to keep the bile from running up into his mouth. He hated this woman but greatly respected Tomar. What on earth could the two of them have to talk to him about together? Tomar got things done. Ionia Villegas simply meddled, annoying everyone with her social and environmental fixations.

“General,” Tomar began as they all sat down. “My military has been expanding at an enormous pace, as you well know. Our normal recruiting efforts are not keeping up, even when we factor in the addition of the Stameyerson Corporation and the Kathor Corporation’s militaries. We need more bodies, faster.”

“Yes,” interjected Ionia. “And the pilot program that you and I have begun, General, has already produced results. It’s time to expand it exponentially!”

The General looked at the both of them, trying to muffle and disguise the shock of what he was hearing. He couldn’t believe that the Chairman could buy into the crap that this horrid woman was hawking. She would ruin the military with vagrants and criminals.

“One of the twenty pilot subjects is back in jail,” the General noted. “He couldn’t seem to control his desire to steal and brutalize others.”

“Yes, but eighteen have completed their secondary training and have been permanently placed,” Tomar responded. “The economics are also good. We buy these kids from the justice processing companies or the containment companies at a factored discount to what the companies would get from the government over time. We’ve worked a deal with various governments to repay that discount with an added margin to more than cover any training that we provide. Everybody wins.”

A smile washed over both Tomar and Ionia’s faces. The General forced a smile to appear on his face, despite his disgust. These scumbags that Tomar and Ionia wanted in his military were people who had screwed up in life. Why should they be allowed in society?

“To make this even better,” Tomar continued, “the Ministry’s military is also growing at a terrific pace. Because we have the best training infrastructure in the galaxy, we’ve struck an agreement with the Ministry’s military to provide trained soldiers for its infantry and transportation units. We make a profit on buying the bodies out of the justice and containment facilities and training them, and then we make another round of profit selling them to the Ministry. We have to source more bodies, and this will be an excellent source.”

The General’s mind went into overdrive. He had to sink this plan. How could he have let it come this far? “We still have one test pilot subject who has not completed his training,” the General blurted out.

“Yes, my dear Kadamba Vorhoor,” Ionia added, “that boy is absolutely proving the value of this program. In a few months, he’ll graduate from our military’s Elite Forces training. My nephew would be so proud. He was right. The boy deserved another shot at life.”

Tomar laid out his vision for the military’s recruiting expansion, including a healthy budget to begin buying candidates out of the justice processing companies and containment companies. The General had no choice but to pretend that he was on-board with the programs. Inside, he felt himself growing angrier and angrier.

• • •

Chapter 25 Chapter 27

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