Chapter 5: Lead, Follow, or Die

Tomar Donovackia burst into the corporate boardroom a few minutes after lunch had been served. About a dozen well-dressed individuals sat around the long, elegant table. Half of the board members had food in their mouths, as Tomar began to speak. He timed this quite purposefully. The board’s approval technically was required for significant undertakings, and he intended for them to rubber-stamp whatever plans he devised. He wanted them enjoying a meal and focused on listening. Too many questions would inhibit his plans for the meeting.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the board, thank you for gathering together today. I appreciate that it was on short notice and also appreciate that you all are in attendance today. Please continue to enjoy lunch. I have several items to cover today, and I will be conscientious of your time.”

Tomar moved to the head of the table. He waved his hand across the tabletop, and a small podium materialized in front of him. The other board members remained seated, with most continuing to eat, while Tomar stood over them and began his presentation. He tapped a few distinct places on the podium, and a three-dimensional representation of the galaxy rose up from the table’s center.

“My esteemed board members, we are fortunate to be one of the Eleven Corporations that hold interplanetary licenses to conduct space travel, exploration, and economic development. We all, of course, agree that this system is wise, and none of us would want to revert to the days of the Exorthium Colonial Wars.”

All of the board members nodded in agreement. They all knew their history. Shortly after space travel and the ability to build portals were discovered, Koranth and Zoranth became connected by a few portals. The expense was astronomical. Portals were constructed in a matched set on one planet. One of the portals would then be sent by spaceship to its destination on the other planet. The pair of portals enabled a person or objects to go into one portal and be immediately transported through to its other corresponding portal.

Initially, it was a social and economic boom for countries on both planets, and a few corporations profited handsomely for the massive investment required to build and operate the portals. However, a discovery of a third life-sustaining planet, Exorthium, within their solar system changed everything. Exorthium had limited life forms, as its conditions were extremely unfriendly. While humans could survive on the planet, the toxic environment would eventually kill anyone who stayed too long, but Exorthium had an abundance of mineral resources.

Even though a portal opening was circular and only four feet in diameter, it required enormous amounts of energy to operate, and corporations from both Koranth and Zoranth staked out claims on Exorthium. Massive resources poured into transporting portals, power stations, and mining equipment to the new planet. As is human nature, conflicts eventually arose, and wars began. This period of colonization had been devastating to both Koranth and Zoranth.

After nearly a hundred years, Exorthium was divided, and a peace treaty was signed. As part of the accord, the Ministry of Interplanetary Corporate Relations, known by most as “The Ministry,” was formed to create a framework for space exploration and development. The solution ultimately resulted in Eleven Corporations that held exclusive rights to “develop” any planet that they discovered, without interference from any other corporations or governments. Fifty-two planets, beyond the solar system of Koranth and Zoranth, were identified as containing life, and, amazingly, each of the worlds supported human beings at some stage of evolution and development.

Over the next few centuries, technology continued to progress, and the twin planets reveled in the ongoing affirmation that they were the most advanced civilizations in the galaxy. Each of the Eleven Corporations managed to get one portal in place on another planet.

In those early days, many lessons were learned and became standard practice. Space travel remained astronomically expensive. While Exorthium had been exploited with power stations and equipment shipped by spaceship, it was practically impossible to transport a portal, all of its equipment, and sufficient power stations outside the solar system of Koranth and Zoranth. While perhaps that model might have eventually generated a profit, there were far, far more profitable models.

By far, the best way to ensure the grandest profits from a planet was to wait for the indigenous populations to advance to a point of having a significant global infrastructure in place on their own. If a planet were allowed to develop its own global trade, then everything – power, logistics, transportation, mining, agriculture, and qualified, low-cost labor would be in place for planetary “development” to begin. The more advanced a planet, the quicker the profits would start to flow. All that was needed was to wait for the right timing to install a portal and connect it to a reliable power source.

Once a portal was in place and operational, the first wave to pass through would be Corporate military. These military organizations were magnificently efficient at moving troops and gear through the small openings. Offensive and defensive weapons systems had been specially designed to be transported through the small portal openings. Within a day of a portal’s activation, the military could establish a sizable contingent on the targeted planet, with a nearly unassailable capability to defending the portal from any army or weapons that had been developed on that distant planet by its own people. Within two weeks, a force would be assembled planet-side that would be ready to invade and dominate any location on the planet.

However, after an initial show of military might, most planets simply began shipping whatever the Corporation wanted to the portal. Moving product through efficiently and the occasional demonstration of force were often all that was required to reap enormous profits.

One of the biggest challenges was getting the timing right. If a Corporation invaded too early, then a planet’s power generating facilities, global logistics infrastructure, and its manufacturing, mining, and agricultural capabilities might be too limited to support the demands of the Corporation. Reasonable profits might be impossible, or at best, highly challenging to generate.

If a Corporation invaded too late, an indigenous population might have developed their own advanced technologies, including weaponry and monitoring systems. The probability of this happening was significantly increased if the scientists on a foreign planet discovered the scientific principles underlying the abilities of any Transprophetic

Given the changes that occurred on Koranth and Zoranth when the science behind the Transprophetics was understood, no Corporation was willing to risk a planet discovering what was scientifically possible until the Corporation was firmly in control of the planet and its resources. As populations were monitored, this hypothesis became accepted fact: Transprophetics would transform any world, giving it the capability to resist development by a Corporation. Over the centuries, the standard operating procedure for planetary development became monitoring a planet’s infrastructure and trade development, while at the same time, watching for Transprophetics.

However, one of the massive challenges was simply monitoring a planet. Space travel to any distant planet consumed enormous resources. Any interplanetary journey took well over a year, and until a portal was opened, the trip was a one-way adventure for its crew members. In addition to that challenge, intergalactic communication remained practically impossible. The early explorers of Koranth and Zoranth figured out how to move physically across the galaxy faster than the speed of light. However, a method of communicating beyond the speed of light remained impossible.

All things considered, a corporation would launch an exploratory mission to a planet about once every 20 to 40 years, sending crews with more frequency as a planet neared its optimum point of profitability. The spaceships that carried those crews to the distant planets also contained a much smaller, unmanned return vessel that would send back artifacts, media, products, and crew reports. The most critical item contained within these reports was the assessment of whether or not a planet was primed for invasion and development.

Tomar paused for a moment, looking around the room, as the board members nodded in agreement. A few shoved more food into their mouths or sipped their drinks as he continued his presentation.

“As would be expected of someone of my status and capabilities, I did not just take over this corporation to milk the existing profits of our two open portals. I am here to lead this Corporation to a bigger and brighter future, with an absolute dedication to the creation of ever bigger and brighter profits.”

A few of the board members immediately raised their glasses to chorus a healthy, “Here! Here! To Tomar!” A smile crept across Tomar’s face, as he gestured appreciatively to those members who had first raised their glasses.

He continued, “We face a serious challenge right now, as the four remaining planets to which we hold a license are not ready for portalization and development. One of these planets has a population barely capable of using metals. One seems to be suffering from a nearly global viral plague. And the final two worlds remain mired in their own industrial revolutions. We must begin to seek out other options if we are to significantly improve the profits of this corporation.

“Since the formation of the Ministry of Interplanetary Corporate Relations, many assumptions have become facts in the minds of the people of Koranth and Zoranth. However, we are now mired with a system that is completely antiquated and does not serve the purposes of those leaders who would seek to maximize the opportunities that our advanced civilization should be reaping.”

One of the board members who was paying close attention interjected, “My esteemed Chairman, you certainly cannot be considering the folly of using a portal to transport an additional portal—can you?” Immediately, a grumble arose among the board members.

“Please, please, I am absolutely not suggesting something as dangerous, illegal, and as radical as that,” replied Tomar.

“Well, we simply cannot go about trying to portalize a planet too early. The investment is absolutely ridiculous to bring a bunch of natives up to the level to which we can reasonably profit!” another member added.

“Please, my dear board members,” Tomar stated firmly, regaining the board’s attention, “we all are very aware of what has been tried – and the disastrous results. I do not intend to head down either of those paths.”

On two separate occasions, Corporations believed that they had solved the challenges of bringing one portal through to another portal. The effort resulted in explosions of gigantic proportions. Hundreds of thousands had been killed by the blasts. The Ministry expressly forbade any Corporation from even beginning experimentation projects designed to use a portal to transport another portal. More than once, a planet had been portalized too soon and nearly bankrupted those Corporations that had been overly eager to “develop” it.

Tomar paused again for a few moments to let the board’s attention resettle on him.

“I am suggesting something altogether different. For the last few hundred years, we have all lived in a world of regulations, assumptions, and, frankly – a world of lazy arrogance! We have long thought of the Ministry of Interplanetary Corporate Relations as an organization that brings chaos under control and helps maintain our profits. I challenge that this is no longer true!

“A few hundred years after the Exorthium Colonial Wars, the Ministry granted the Eleven Corporations the licenses to explore space and control the portals. The number eleven has no significance in any religion, business text, or any other place other than we have always had eleven Corporations. We’ve blindly assumed that eleven is the perfect number – that some balance of power or some control exists in eleven. The Ministry has even bailed out Corporations when they have absolutely failed. The assumption of “eleven” has led to stagnation, lack of innovation, and most importantly – an absolute stranglehold on profitability. The time has come to leave those false assumptions behind.”

Tomar stopped speaking and let his gaze wander around the room. As he expected, some of the board members, especially those whom he had been unable to replace, had either a look of indignation or of shock. Society long ago seemed content with the concept of The Ministry of Interplanetary Corporate Relations and the Eleven Corporations. The Ministry was a five-member committee made up of two members from Koranth and two from Zoranth. They were elected on an eight-year, rotating basis. A fifth member, the Chief Executive of the Ministry, was elected every eleven years and could come from either Koranth or Zoranth.

The Ministry was actually something of a point of pride among the people of the two planets. It was the only place that the two worlds worked in harmony with one another. On each planet, governments continued to quarrel, with occasional wars, trade disputes, and the like, but the Ministry remained strong.

The boardroom stayed quiet for a few moments. One of the members, whose face had shown a bit of shock, rose to his feet. He was an older gentleman, with a few extra pounds on his body. A sense of relief swept across the faces of those members who had been shocked and concerned by Tomar’s statement. All eyes in the room turned to Greylorent Lamrainkia, as he spread his arms in a grandfatherly fashion. “My friends and colleagues, we are part of a wonderfully profitable system that has handsomely lined the pockets of our family and friends. Our new Chairman, young as he may be, means no disrespect to the system we have in place.”

Tomar looked at the man with the respect that was expected. Greylorent Lamrainkia was a man of high standing and had been on the board longer than any other member. His position was nearly unassailable, and the members of the board whom Tomar had not replaced, looked to him for leadership. He had attempted to stop Tomar Donovackia’s takeover, and some members of the board expected that he would maneuver a change soon that would oust Mr. Donovackia.

Everyone’s eyes shifted back to Tomar, who acknowledged Greylorent with a nod of his head. It appeared as if Tomar was encouraging him to continue. The gesture further emboldened Greylorent, so he proceeded. “Our Chairman is young and has much to learn about leading one of the Eleven. I am of certainty, that with our wise guidance, this young gentleman will be successful.”

Tomar’s face continued to display what appeared to be respect, but inside he was almost giddy with excitement. He was watching this pompous, arrogant buffoon swell himself up even further than expected. Tomar practically wanted to dance but remained deferent to the older board member as he continued to pontificate.

“As we all know,” proclaimed Greylorent, “our Chairman has adeptly positioned himself to run this fine Corporation, with the support of its board. WE, the board, have the final say on the overall strategy and direction of the Corporation. Our collective decision-making power is what controls this company. The Chairman simply sits in the seat at the head of the table and recommends directions that we might consider.”

The tension level in the room suddenly rose as Greylorent finished his statement. He had made it clear that he believed himself powerful enough to oppose Tomar and that he believed Tomar’s control of the Corporation was not as strong as Tomar assumed. He lowered his arms, leaning over and placing his hands on the table. He gazed about the room and in a slow, deep, commanding voice stated, “These are the facts.”

Tomar remained very calm and nearly motionless, as the eyes in the room moved from intently watching Greylorent to apprehensively staring at Tomar. He met each person’s gaze, moving from board member to board member, but skipping Greylorent. The tension soared in the room, as all members had expected a clash between the two men, but no one expected it to escalate so quickly.

“I may be young, but I am not as foolish as you,” Tomar stated as if it were an apparent fact. He tapped a few more buttons on his podium, trying not to snicker, for he knew that this was going so much better than he ever could have imagined. Over the next few minutes, Tomar brought up images of other companies, products, contracts, and people. He painted a picture of vastly overpriced, no-bid contracts going to companies that Greylorent secretly owned, of money and bribes flowing into the pockets of relatives of Greylorent, and other abuses of the man’s position on the board. His presentation was well researched and rehearsed. A few board members were visibly trying not to squirm in their seats.

During the rapid-fire presentation, Greylorent’s face vacillated between a crimson outrage and a white shade of fear. Of course, he had done all these things, as had many of the members of the board, who had not been replaced. While it may have been ethically questionable to some, it certainly wasn’t completely illegal.

As Tomar finished, Greylorent, very calmly, glared at the young Chairman. “Well, you have certainly done your homework, young man,” Greylorent drew out the word “young” to emphasize the immaturity of youth. “You are beginning to understand the more complex workings of the corporate world. I am glad that you are learning, and it is certain that my example will help you as you attempt to become a leader. Although, you are starting at a shallow point.”

Tomar could contain himself no longer, and, as a grin spread across his face, he let out a small chuckle. He made a gesture, and a door materialized across the table from Greylorent. A member of the Donovackia Corporate military stepped through the door, completely decked out in battle gear. His body was covered with a dark armor that shimmered and reflected light in multiple directions. His battle helmet completely covered his head and face. When he stepped into the room, everyone drew back in shock.

“WHAT IS THIS OUTRAGE?” demanded Greylorent, in a booming, furious voice.

Tomar snickered again. It almost sounded evil this time, and he choked it off before it did. Looking at Greylorent, he began speaking in a constrained voice. “Your abuses of power and your pompous, arrogant attitude are of minimal concern. While you probably broke many laws in what you did, I doubt that we could prove it. However, a few – other things – are provable.”

Tomar tapped again on the podium, and, in the middle of the table, a horribly disturbing three-dimensional scene appeared. It was of Greylorent, naked on top of a small female and obviously engaged in intercourse. Of the two, Greylorent was easily three times the size of the young woman. With each thrust, the woman let out a shriek that sounded like agony.

Greylorent turned a pale shade of white, as Tomar began to speak over the tortuous injury being inflicted in the scene on the table.

“One of your many enterprises includes an illegal house of prostitution, well-hidden underground here in the capital. Did you honestly think that I would not find it? You are quite a vile and cruel man. Like so many men of power, you believe yourself above everyone else and … untouchable.”

Gesturing towards the scene, Tomar continued, “You like to sample every one of your new girls, even if they resist. How many of your so-called employees truly understood what they were getting into? How many girls did you trick into lives of prostitution? How did you feel when this poor girl died beneath you? Was it remorse that guided you and the madam to dispose of the body?”

Tomar saw Greylorent’s movement. Everything was falling into place. Tomar had humiliated his overbearing, self-righteous opponent, and Tomar’s plan was playing out even more elegantly than he had hoped. One of Tomar’s agents had secretly managed to slip a heart-weakening drug to each of the last three girls that had been recruited by Greylorent’s madam. The drug failed to produce results in the first two girls, but when Greylorent went to sample the wares of the third girl, she resisted. Greylorent became aggressive and violent, forcing himself on her. Due to her struggle, in combination with the drug, the girl’s heart failed, and everything was secretly recorded for this moment. It was now playing out for the board members to witness.

Over the next few moments, the finale was going to play out perfectly. Tomar recently modified the security protocol to enable board members to come and go in the building without any security checks of their belongings or person. He had discovered that Greylorent flaunted weapons laws and carried a concealed energy blaster whenever he could. It was apparent that he was reaching for it now.

As Greylorent’s gun broke free of its concealed location under his cloak, the blast from the soldier’s weapon hit Greylorent square in the chest and neck. He slammed into his chair, rolled backward, and smashed into the wall behind him. For a brief moment, he looked stunned. Then, his head slumped forward, pulling his body to the floor.

“This meeting is now adjourned. We will continue tomorrow morning,” concluded Tomar, and, turning, he walked through a door that appeared in the wall behind him.

*****

The stunningly beautiful woman sat in his chair when Tomar returned to his office. He looked at her and then gestured for the door to close. It vanished, leaving nothing but a wall behind him. She looked directly at him and, seductively running her tongue across her lips, began laughing. A translucent monitor floated in the air above the desk. It was a live video of the boardroom, where the body of Greylorent Lamrainkia was being covered and hoisted onto a floating medical board to be taken to a morgue.

“Your script and performance today should win you an award. It was truly magnificent,” she seductively stated, smiling at Tomar.

He walked over to the table where the glass, which he had moved earlier using nothing more than the power of his mind, rested. He stared at it for a few moments. Perhaps, he should think it back to the desk. She might be impressed to discover that he was not only a ruthless, up-and-coming corporate titan, but also a Transprophetic, but he changed his mind. Perhaps, some other day when it better suited his purpose. He was feeling intensely energized. He didn’t need any tricks to get what he wanted. He was a powerful man on the rise and had just solidified his absolute control over the Corporation. He would get whatever he wanted.

Picking up the glass with his hand, he walked to his desk, placing it where a few hours before it had sat. He walked to his chair and dropped his hands onto the armrests, holding each of them tightly. He looked deeply into her eyes. She wasn’t young, but she wasn’t old either. In many ways, age seemed unable to get a firm grasp on her. She radiated a confidence that few people ever maintained for longer than a fleeting moment. Her long, black hair hung loosely and appeared to always be exactly how she wanted it. Every feature about her face was both soft and hard at the same time. She defied easy explanation. How a woman could dress in business attire and yet radiate the sensuality and sexuality as powerfully as she did intrigued and mesmerized him.

“You may be the Chief Executive Minister of the Ministry for Interplanetary Corporate Relations, but you, my dear lady, are sitting in MY chair,” Tomar told her.

She made no effort to get up; instead, she simply looked back into his eyes, as intently as he stared into hers. She gently placed her hand on his and began slowly running it up his arm, across his shoulder. Then spreading her fingers, she slid her hand to the back of his head. She closed her hand into a fist, balling up a mass of his hair, and pulled his head towards hers. Their lips locked in a violent embrace. The kiss was passionate, almost desperate, as if each were fighting for power and at the same time to be overtaken by the other.

As suddenly and as violently as she had pulled him to her, she pushed him away. He stood back up and smiled down at her. Biting her lower lip, she grabbed his belt, pulling him close again. She slowly undid the latch, unbuttoned his pants, and then grabbed a handful of fabric by each of his hips. She threw the pants down his legs, and the belt clattered on the floor. He breathed out slowly as he stood there completely exposed. She put a hand on each of his hips and pushed him away, so that he stumbled backward, with his feet tangled in his pants. His bare bottom barely caught the edge of his desk, leaving him sitting precariously. She rolled the chair quickly to him, landing each hand flat on each of his knees. She lifted her hands upward until only the tips of her fingernails were touching him, and began to run them up his legs, past his thighs and waist, under his shirt, continuing until her hands reached his chest.

The air exploded from Tomar’s lungs in a violent gasp. She was beyond anything that he had ever known. He looked down into her eyes, which were staring back into his, gleaming with a heinous tint. Her smile widened, and she opened her mouth, bending towards him to take him where every man openly, or secretly, wants to go.

• • •

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