Commander Shakastan Zuaberi stood up smartly, as he climbed out of the tube. He’d ridden through the accursed things many times and was well versed on how many people would vomit and be weak after being transmitted from one end of the galaxy to another. He was no different. Traveling between portals in the tubes was miserable, but as he stood up, his iron will commanded his body to ignore the effects.

The Wooranti Portal on the planet of Aechmea had been in place for well over a decade, and the infrastructure had been built out as magnificently as any portal on Koranth or Zoranth. Today, Commander Shakastan Zuaberi stepped onto the first-class platform and declined the employee’s offering of a shot of Coronit to calm his nerves. Usually, he would be stepping out into the military transport facility, which was far less posh than this facility.

He pushed a junior officer, who looked lost in the elegant surroundings, out of the way, and strode back to the tube that was arriving directly behind his. As the hatch on the tube popped open, Commander Zuaberi held his hand out, locking it with Tomar Donovackia’s. He helped the Chairman out of the tube.

Tomar released a loud laugh. “You bastard! You look as if you actually enjoy having your soul sucked through space on these damn tubes!”

Commander Zuaberi chuckled in response, “No, sir, I’ll be much happier to be on my spaceship traveling through space without feeling like I’m being pulled inside out.”

Tomar Donovackia threw back the shot of Coronit, enjoying the stinging sensation as it moved down his throat. “Every portal offers a different shot when you arrive,” noted Tomar. “This Coronit they serve here is a bit harsh, but I like the aftertaste.”

Tomar stood for a few more minutes, letting his body recover from the tube ride. Through the decades he’d taken thousands of trips to dozens of planets. In his mind, they were all his planets, and he was about to have another one. He loved this part – launching the mission that would invade another planet so that he could begin to “develop” it.

His research department had scoured the reports and artifacts sent back from Earth. The planet had an ample and widely varied supply of products, and an infrastructure to support global trade. In addition to the profit that would be made from Earth’s products, it was simply exciting to try new things. He looked forward to products called coffee, chocolate, beef, truffles, mangos, chicken, and potato chips. Over the last decade, he’d created new revenue streams – planetary tourism and planetary settlement. He’d launched more portals to every planet and even connected distant planets with portals that didn’t lead to Koranth or Zoranth. When he had taken over the Corporation, distant planets were only suppliers of products. He had changed everything. Trade flowed in every direction, and he had a little piece of it all. Of course, all of that meant an enormous expansion of his military machine.

He kept an iron-like grip on the Corporation and his military. On distant planets, he’d meddled more and more with the politics and governments, and in many cases, he simply installed his own government. The Donovackia Corporation had become the quintessential essence of business perfection – and it was all his.

Commander Zuaberi and Chairman Donovackia boarded a shuttle and settled in for the long ride to the Marator Space Station, orbiting the planet. The days of launching a deep space mission from a planet’s surface were long gone. Various parts of a spaceship were ferried through the portals from Koranth and Zoranth, where shuttles would take them to orbiting space stations for assembly.

Only a few decades before, a single ship would leave Koranth with a portal, and that one ship would slip into a planet and power up the portal. Now, a portal might come from Koranth to a planet like Aechmea on a single spaceship, but the invasion was different. A dozen ships could be built on Aechmea to accompany the portal-carrying ship from Koranth. Additionally, a matched set of portals might be built on Aechmea, with one portal staying on Aechmea and another being installed on another planet. For the last two decades, Tomar had developed a network of portals between planets.

For this next invasion, which was, of course, still called “planetary development,” eight ships, in addition to the portal-carrying ship from Koranth, were being prepared.

The Marator Space Station was, for all practical purposes, a city in space. “It makes me feel as if I am a boy again,” Tomar remarked, as he looked out the window of the shuttle. “Every time I travel to one of my space stations, the sense of wonder and exploration explodes inside of me. It is such a thrill to know there is so much still to be discovered and conquered.”

“Yes, sir,” Commander Zuaberi agreed. “It is impossible not to be awed and excited as you step into the station and see the activity and preparation.”

“And, how goes the preparation?” asked Tomar.

“Right on schedule. We are two days from launching,” replied Commander Zuaberi.

“Outstanding!” proclaimed Tomar. “I am eager to review the final preparations and give my send-off speech.”

The shuttle landed in the open bay, and the force field closed behind it. Tomar marched onto the landing zone, eager to begin his tour and confer with the invasion force commanders. As with each previous invasion, this one was bigger and grander than the one before it. Part of the fleet would begin attacking one part of a planet while the portal-carrying ship slipped onto the new world to install the portal. It was a simple matter of distraction. Once the portal was established, the Donovackia military machine would pour through the portal like water.

An entire landing bay had been converted into a banquet hall for the final night before the fleet departed. Tomar had decided that he would address all of the soldiers who were part of the invasion and have a grand feast. Food and drink were served, and speeches were made, with Tomar addressing the invasionary force with his usual flare and circumstance. The atmosphere was like a festival, with everyone having a grand time on the evening before the fleet would leave to invade the planet called Earth.

A recent book that he had read from another planet had convinced Tomar that he should occasionally mingle with his soldiers, even though he found them to be terribly common. After the meal and the speeches, many of the soldiers stayed to enjoy a final round of Coronit or other beverage.

As Tomar and Commander Zuaberi approached the expansive bar that had been set up for the event, Tomar grabbed the Commander’s arm.

“Lords of the Fourth System!” declared Tomar quietly pointing to one of the soldiers, “That man is freakishly gigantic!”

“Yes, he does catch the attention of those who see him,” replied the Commander. “He’s a bit of a unique case. It took him many, many years to qualify for the program, but he is one of the many prisoners that converted his containment sentence to military service.”

“Now that I look at him, he is a bit older. And what is his role in this mission?” asked Tomar.

“He is simply part of the defensive detachment that will protect the portal. Often we need to subdue the locals without revealing any advanced weaponry while we get the portal up and running.”

“I can completely see how a man like that would be useful,” Tomar agreed. “I would be absolutely frightened to face that man in any type of confrontational situation.”

“Yes, indeed,” replied Commander Zuaberi. “I pity any man on Earth that has to face Jackos the Giant.”

• • •

Chapter 44 Spirit of the Wayah, Chapter 1

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