"Mornin' Wilson. How are you feeling today?"
"I'm fine. Got pretty hungry by last night."
"I hope you didn't eat much this morning."
Wilson laughed. "I skipped breakfast. I'm starving, but I'll bet I won't be the least bit hungry in a while. Those people are sickening. Literally sickening. I can't understand how they can keep their society together."
Zales chuckled. "You call that a âsociety'?"
"No, what I mean is, how does Washington get away with it?"
"He pretty much owns the planet."
"Yeah, I know, but I would think that somebody in that bar would have stood up for himself rather than having his head explode, or cut off with that gaudy sword. I can't understand why he's never been assassinated."
"What would you prefer, a quick, relatively painless death, or death by torture? Have you seen the skeletons hanging on crosses around the palace?"
"Yeah, those Venusians have a funny sense of deco-ration."
"They're not just decoration, they're warnings. Those are Venusians who attempted either assassination, or revolt. Crucifixion is the most painful way to kill someone. Nails driven into the hands and feet go through areas with little blood flow, but lots of nerves. And they can hang there, in pain from the nails through all those nerves, pain in their chests from the attempt to breathe normally, without food and without water for days until they actually die. With the Venusians it takes longer because of the drugs. And not only do the drugs make them take longer to die, they're engineered in such a way that the drugs themselves introduce even more pain, and deplete the brain of serotonin.
"And they're pre-tortured before the crucifixion. Then there's the civil aspect," he continued. "They're hated. People throw rotten vegetables and feces and urine and other things, the nastier the better. If they actually kill the poor bastard hanging up their by, say, throwing a rock, penalties are pretty severe. They want them to suffer, suffering like you or I could never imagine, for as long as possible.
"The populace doesn't have weapons as good as them. You saw how Washington cut heads off with his sword? Normal Venusians don't have swords like that; Washington's sword would slice right through a civilian sword. Civilians' swords probably wouldn't even behead you. The non-military people don't have microwave pistols, all they have is pellets propelled by a chemical explosion. They can be deadly if the victim doesn't get medical help fast, but any soldier shot by one would be fine later, even though the poor moron that shot him wouldn't."
"Wow," said Wilson.
"Yeah, wow," agreed Zales. "Anyway, it's about time for the shift to start. When you get to your workstation, you'll have it a little easier than yesterday. You don't have to watch Ford or Washington. I'm assigning you a couple of rocket facilities, nobody should have to watch the horror you saw yesterday every single day, it would drive a man insane."
"Don't mention it. Uh, have a bag handy just in case, the rest of those bastards can be pretty nasty, too."
Wilson sauntered over to his workstation, ready to relieve O'Brien. "Hey, John, bad night?"
"Not really," O'Brien said. "Actually it was a light shift, Washington only killed one guy. How are you feeling today? You looked pretty damned pale yesterday."
Wilson blushed. "Yeah, well, I didn't expect necrophilia. I can't figure out why he shot her, aren't those bozos always trying to procreate?"
"Well, yeah, but the same thing had happened a week earlier with the same woman, that's where she got the blaster. Washington gave it to her as a gift. He killed her because she wasn't faithful, Washington doesn't want to be cuckolded."
"Ain't like Washington's faithful."
"Of course not. He doesn't have to be, he's dictator. He wants to spread his semen to as many women as possible. And he can, because he runs the world."
"I still don't get how their society doesn't fall apart. Where does the food come from? The machinery? The power generation?"
"Most of it is automated. I mean, how many farmers do we have on Mars? We have one guy who directs everything, and the machines do the rest. Same on Venus. Hell, we gave them most of that automation. Then there's their prisoners, as violent as they are and as overpopulated as Venus is, if they didn't need workers, every unlawful act would be a capital offense."
"Isn't the Sarge going home?"
"Are you kidding me? He's the most gung-ho guy in the Martian army!" O'Brien said. "Suits me, he actually likes watching the screens and I hate it. If he went home I'd have to. Can't for the life of me figure out why his wife doesn't leave him, he's here more than home."
"Maybe him not being there much is what keeps it together. I hear Zales wants to jus nuke Venus and be done with it.
"Yeah, but it isn't up to the military, it's up to the government psychologists. One of them explained why we couldn't once, but it didn't make much sense to me."
"Me, either. Oh crap, look at that! I'd better keep a closer look at this screen."
"I thought you just had a rocket facility? Not much going on."
"No, but I have to watch it, anyway. Five screens worth. And it looks like Washington showed up."
On Williams' screen, Washington was speaking to his underling in the facility. "This is top secret. You are to discuss this with no one, not even General Ford. Got it?"
"Yes, sir. What are my orders sir?"
"Get another warship ready."
"Yes sir," said the underling. Where are we sending it?"
"Not yet, Colonel, this is strictly on a need to know basis. We think there are spies. Now, dismissed!"
"Yes sir," said the Colonel, saluting.
"Damn," said Obrien, still standing by Wilson's screen. "I thought we might learn something!"
Wilson sighed. "That ain't my kind o' luck. I never catch a break!