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The Executioner   By:

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This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction April 1956. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

THE executioner

[Illustration: Illustrated by Kelly Freas ]

The vote was three to two for death! Jacques had no choice. He was a public servant with a duty....

BY FRANK RILEY

"... Continued fair weather and the unusual circumstances of the execution promise a turn away crowd of more than 100,000 spectators by Court time. All unreserved tent space has been sold out for several days. Next news at...."

[Illustration]

Sir Jacques de Carougne, Lord High Executioner for the Seventh Judicial District, spun the dial on the instrument panel of his single seater rocket, but the vidcasts were over for another hour. He cursed, without too much vigor, and wished he had troubled to look at a vidcast or faxpaper during his vacation. But then he shrugged his massive shoulders.

What did it matter? After a thousand executions, everything was instinct and reflex. Some died hard; some died easy. Some fell to their knees, too paralyzed with fear to fire their own shots. Others fought daringly, even with a degree of skill, but always the end was the same: A broken body bleeding and twitching in the dust; the blood happy spectators shrieking in the ecstacy of release from the humdrum of their pushbutton lives; the flowers, the scented kerchiefs and the shreds of torn garments showered on him by screaming women, who always seemed to find him more satisfactory in the arena than in his tent.

As the skyline of New Chicago shimmered into view, Jacques flipped on the 'copter mechanism. His air speed braked, and the needle nosed little craft drifted lazily down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, then veered westward over the tinted glass rooftops of the spotless city.

Jacques stared glumly down at the city that had been so much a part of his life, from the long ago years of his training and youth to the professional years of his most famous executions.

Farther to the west, out beyond the eternally green landscaping and the precise, functional homes of the residential suburbs, Jacques saw the crude stone parapets of the Chauvency judicial arena, surrounded by acre after acre of colorful tents and pavilions.

His powerful, jutting nose wrinkled with disgust, but his eyes widened at the number of tents. There must indeed be something unusual about today's execution. He hadn't worked before that big a crowd for years. The Federal Bureau of Internal Tranquility should be happy about this one!

Jacques sighed, still struggling against the despondency that had been within him since the vacation interlude with the brunette government worker in Curaçao had ended as unsatisfactorily as all the rest. Someday it would be his body bleeding in the dust, smashed at last by the soft nosed bullets from Le Pistolet du Mort. Then the flowers and adulation would go to the condemned man, and the Bureau would add his name to the plaque at the base of the towering statue on the Washington Mall. So be it. He had played a long roll of the dice, and the stakes had been high. But if only once, just once before it ended....

The bell on his instrument panel told him that the servo pilot in the tower below had taken over for the landing. He sniffed with disgust again, but this time the disgust was for himself. God, but he was in a foul humor today! He released the controls and stared at his strong hands, grimly admiring them. There was still speed as well as strength in these fingers. His lips twisted into a thin smile, cold and confident. Whoever he was to meet at joute à l'outrance, let him try to match twenty years of training and skill!

His rocket cradled with scarcely a jar into the small landing space at the north end of the arena, between the two replicas of 15th century towers, reproduced so faithfully by 22nd century technicians. Jacques squeezed his huge frame through the door of the small craft and looked dourly around... Continue reading book >>




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