“Good thing Williams isn't here tonight,” O'Brien said.
“Why's that?” Johnson asked.
“I have ten clams in the pool. If he lasts two more days then hacks, I'll win the pot!”
“What pot? How come I never got in on it?”
“See McDaniels, you may still be able to get in, I don't know. Just don't let that gunghole Zales hear about it or we'll all go on report for gambling on duty.”
Johnson grinned. “On duty? I don't see you holding any money!”
O'Brien laughed. “Yeah, well, we'd get out of it but then Maris would have to have a say, and I don't know how the Lieutenant would react. So keep it under your shoe, OK?
“Anyway,” he continued, “Just see McDaniels.”
The screen was instructive. “Yep, he'd hack tonight, all right – Ford's bar hopping,” O'Brien said. “Ten clams says it won't be ten minutes before we see brainy Venusians.”
Johnson gave him a quizzical look. “Brainy how?”
“Brainy as in brains all over the walls.”
Johnson laughed. “Nope, not gonna take that bet!”
“Wise,” said O'Brien, laughing even louder than Johnson. “He just killed some guy that was only just standing there.
On screen, Washington holstered his pistol as the Venusian's headless corpse hit the floor, twitching and flailing and squirting blood all over the room and not being the least bit polite at all, making such a nasty mess and not saying “Hark!” and all that.
The bartender yelled “Hark!” The patrons echoed “Hark!”
“That's better,” Washington grumbled.
“Galaxy,” O'Brien swore in disgust. “Uh, oh...”
A Venusian in the back of the tavern had a gun in his hand.
“BOOM!” it roared as Washington's coat sparked and the man next to him fell, clutching his side. The man who had fired the pistol screamed “That was my brother you killed, you son of a bitch!”
“OW!” Yelled Washington, the bullet having ricocheted off his carbon fiber suit, hitting the man who was now laying on the floor bleeding. Washington whirled around, his own gun in his hand. The man who had shot him aimed and shot again, the bullet again ricocheting and hitting a different patron, who also fell to the floor bleeding.
Washington adjusted a control on his gun, pulled its trigger, and the would-be assassin fell to the ground, screaming in agony from his third degree burns.
“Security!” Washington ordered. “Chain him in the dungeon. He's to be crucified in the morning and his family is to all be publicly beheaded as he's forced to watch before he's nailed up. Keep that damned traitor alive!
“Now,” he said, turning back to the bar. “Another! Make it a double! And one for this poor fellow laying here bleeding... oh, never mind, he's dead.”
“Oh, for Mars' sake!” O'Brien said, frowning in disgust. “I'd rather clean toilets with my hands than watch this shit.”
Johnson laughed. “That's what Zales said about reading your reports!”
“Funny,” replied O'Brien sarcastically. “Ha ha. I'll bet he hangs on every word of yours,” he said.
Washington finished his drink, left the bar, and got into his limousine. “Boeing, Building F-74.”
“Yes, sir,” said the driver.”
“Oh, hell,” said O'Brien. “This is really not good. Washington never goes anywhere but home after bar hopping. I'd better watch this close.”
“Hey, Greg!” he said to Johnson, “Keep an eye out, something's up.”
“What's up, Larry?” Johnson answered. “They assigned Ford to me, and he's sleeping.”
“Washington's going to a rocket facility after bar hopping. He's up to something.”
“A rocket facility? After bar hopping?”
“Phobos phobia yeah, twentieth facility in a week. I wonder what that crazy ghoul has up his sleeve?”
“Sarge!” said Johnson. “You're early.”
“I had a funny feeling something was up,” the Sargent said.
“Something is,” O'Brien reported. “I don't know what, though. Washington's in another spaceport.”
“No idea yet what's up?” asked Zales.
“Negative, Sarge. It's almost like he thinks the Shambler is watching him!”
“Shambler? What's that?” Johnson asked.
“It's from a Venusian folk tale they scare their kids with at bedtime,” the Sargent answered. “It's about a big, scary monster that rips children apart with its razor sharp claws and eats them. It's meant to keep them from killing their siblings. ‘Do you want the Shambler's claws to visit you tonight?’ they'll say when the kid acts up. There's even a nursery rhyme about him. Listen to this:
You better watch out,
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Shambler's Claws are coming around.
He's smacking his lips
You better be nice,
Or he'll eat you up like a big bowl of rice.
Shambler's Claws are coming around,
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good or you'll be cake!
“No kiddin'?” said Johnson. “Nasty bastards! They do this to their kids? Galaxy!”
“They're certainly not the winners of the parents of the week contest” said O'Brien.
“No kiddin',” Johnson repeated. “Where did you hear it?”
“Watching the screens,” Zales said. O'Brien nodded in agreement and said “That's not the worst thing they do to their kids, either. Hey, Sarge, are you stayin'?”
“Might as well, why?”
“Mind if I go home? I mean if you can relieve me...”
“Yeah, O'Brien, I guess. Had enough of Washington, have you? Sure, go on.”
“Thanks, Sarge. See ya!”
Johnson said “Can I...”
“Nope,” answered Zales.
“Why not, Sarge? You let...”
“There's only one of me. If there were a dozen I wouldn't need you guys.”
“Mind if I ask a personal question, Sarge?”
Zales snickered. “You can ask.”
“Well... well, Sarge, sorry, but why are you so gung-ho?”
Zales smiled. “Long story.”
“I got time.”
“Oh. Sorry, Sarge.”
“Don't mention it.”
After work, Zales glowered as he rode his floater home. He would never let anyone know his family secret, the secret he always tried to forget, the secret that Johnson had forced into his thoughts: Angela Picard was his paternal great grandfather.
Angela Picard, the traitor who had cost so many lives a century earlier.
The Sargent had changed his name from Picard to Zales at a young age, and never spoke of his family to anyone.
Nobody hated the Venusians more than Zales.