Colonel Smith was worried. Very worried. More than worried, he was scared out of his mind.
His staff was way behind schedule; the rocket was supposed to have been launched a month earlier, but glitch after glitch kept it on the ground. Washington had given him until today to get it on its way, but there was still a minor fuel leak. Leak or no leak, it was do or die... literally. Washington had made it clear to him that not only was failure unacceptable, it would cost Smith his life, and cost it in a very unpleasant way. He paced nervously as the countdown played out over the loudspeakers.
"T minus five minutes," the loudspeakers spoke.
Johnson was watching from Mars, glad Zales hadn't given him the task of watching that disgusting pair, Washington and Ford. Just thinking about those two monsters made his stomach queasy. "Forget those two and watch your screens," he told himself.
The Sargent came in, having been busy briefing the Lieutenant about the latest pending launch. "How's the countdown, George?" Zales asked.
"Five minutes to go, Sarge. What did Maris say? Are we going to shoot it down?"
"The Lieutenant says 'no'. The rest went around the sun and are streaking towards Saturn, and he says they're probably following the rest of the fleet. He says the technical problems probably kept it from launching when the rest of the fleet took off, but if the rest were just a distraction while this one attacked we can knock it down from our post at the Earthian Lagrange point.
"How many Venusians are on that rickety thing, Johnson?"
"Galaxy, that's as big a force as our entire military."
"Damn," said Johnson. "Of course, their weapons are no match for ours, if they're on their way here they're on their way to their executions."
"T minus one minute," the screen said.
Smith was still pacing nervously, trembling a little, sweat running down his cheek.
"T minus thirty." a plume of smoke wafted from the bottom of the rocket.
"T minus ten... nine... eight... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one... ignition... liftoff. We have liftoff." The rocket moved gracefully off the launch pad as Smith heaved a sigh of relief.
The rocket exploded in a huge fireball, and the building shook violently from the Venusshaking blast.
Smith unholstered his revolver, put the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. Blood and brains splattered everywhere.
Zales laughed. "I feel sorry for the poor slob that's second in command!" he said.
"I don't get it, Sarge," said Johnson. "Why did he do that?"
"Better than crucifixion," Zales said.
"They'd crucify him for failure?"
"No, they'd crucify him for sabotage."
"They'd think he did it on purpose?"
"No, but that's what the propaganda would be. Don't want the populace to know they're launching junk."
On Venus, Lieutenant Colonel Donnoly was injecting himself with a strong narcotic. As the rush went up his spine he knew he would never wake up â" which was the whole point of the injection. Someone was going to be tortured to death, and it wasn't going to be him.
Washington and Ford were watching the liftoff and explosion from the palace. "Sabotage!" they both said in unison. Washington picked up his talker. "Rocket base Argo, base security," he said into the device.
"Security, Ogden here. How can I help you?"
"This is General Washington, Ogden. I want all flightline, liftoff, and mechanical personnel arrested, as well as the highest ranking officer on the base."
"Yyes sir, General. Right away! Is that all, sir?" he asked, trembling."
"Yes, Colonel. That is all."
Lieutenant Colonel Ogden pulled out his pistol and put the barrel in his mouth. Smith and Donnoly were surely dead, and he wasn't about to take responsibility for this clusterfuck of a snafu.
Zales leaned back and laughed. "My kind of enemy!"
"Huh?" said Johnson.
"The best kind. They save us a lot of ammo doing our jobs for us. Why don't you get us some coffee, Johnson, I'll watch your screens. I'm enjoying this!"