The Executioner, p.1Frank Riley
Produced by Greg Weeks and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from If Worlds of Science Fiction April 1956.Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyrighton this publication was renewed.
_Illustrated by Kelly Freas_]
_The vote was three to two for death! Jacques had no choice. He was apublic servant with a duty...._
BY FRANK RILEY
"... Continued fair weather and the unusual circumstances of theexecution promise a turn-away crowd of more than 100,000 spectatorsby Court time. All unreserved tent space has been sold out forseveral days. Next news at...."
Sir Jacques de Carougne, Lord High Executioner for the Seventh JudicialDistrict, spun the dial on the instrument panel of his single-seaterrocket, but the vidcasts were over for another hour. He cursed, withouttoo much vigor, and wished he had troubled to look at a vidcast orfaxpaper during his vacation. But then he shrugged his massiveshoulders.
What did it matter? After a thousand executions, everything was instinctand 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 brokenbody bleeding and twitching in the dust; the blood-happy spectatorsshrieking in the ecstacy of release from the humdrum of their pushbuttonlives; the flowers, the scented kerchiefs and the shreds of torngarments showered on him by screaming women, who always seemed to findhim more satisfactory in the arena than in his tent.
As the skyline of New Chicago shimmered into view, Jacques flipped onthe 'copter mechanism. His air speed braked, and the needle-nosed littlecraft drifted lazily down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, thenveered westward over the tinted glass rooftops of the spotless city.
Jacques stared glumly down at the city that had been so much a part ofhis life, from the long-ago years of his training and youth to theprofessional years of his most famous executions.
Farther to the west, out beyond the eternally green landscaping and theprecise, functional homes of the residential suburbs, Jacques saw thecrude stone parapets of the Chauvency judicial arena, surrounded by acreafter acre of colorful tents and pavilions.
His powerful, jutting nose wrinkled with disgust, but his eyes widenedat the number of tents. There must indeed be something unusual abouttoday's execution. He hadn't worked before that big a crowd for years.The Federal Bureau of Internal Tranquility should be happy about thisone!
Jacques sighed, still struggling against the despondency that had beenwithin him since the vacation interlude with the brunette governmentworker in Curacao had ended as unsatisfactorily as all the rest. Somedayit would be his body bleeding in the dust, smashed at last by thesoft-nosed bullets from Le Pistolet du Mort. Then the flowers andadulation would go to the condemned man, and the Bureau would add hisname to the plaque at the base of the towering statue on the WashingtonMall. So be it. He had played a long roll of the dice, and the stakeshad been high. But if only once, just once before it ended....
The bell on his instrument panel told him that the servo-pilot in thetower below had taken over for the landing. He sniffed with disgustagain, but this time the disgust was for himself. God, but he was in afoul humor today! He released the controls and stared at his stronghands, grimly admiring them. There was still speed as well as strengthin these fingers. His lips twisted into a thin smile, cold andconfident. Whoever he was to meet at joute a l'outrance, let him try tomatch twenty years of training and skill!
His rocket cradled with scarcely a jar into the small landing space atthe north end of the arena, between the two replicas of 15th centurytowers, reproduced so faithfully by 22nd century technicians. Jacquessqueezed his huge frame through the door of the small craft and lookeddourly around. A squire, in scarlet leggings and tunic, his long blackwig slightly askew, came running toward him and knelt three paces away,as prescribed by the Judicial Code of Heraldry.
"Oh, sire!" he panted, "Thanks be that ye have arrived! The hour is wellpast noonday, and we had begun to fear...."
"Time enough," Jacques growled. He gestured impatiently, and the squireclambered to his feet, bowing again.
"This way, your Lordship!"
The squire led him to the lower room in the north tower. It was theusual room of monastic simplicity--whitewashed stone walls, a singlewindow, two wooden benches and a low couch on which his garments for theoccasion had been carefully arrayed. After the execution, he would bemoved to his black silk tent in the center of the camping grounds.
While the squire fluttered around him, eager to be of help, Jacquesremoved his short-sleeved dacron shirt, kicked off his sandals andstepped out of the comfortable shorts he always wore for traveling. Thesquire gaped with awe at the sight of his muscular body.
"M'Lord, truly thou art a powerful man!"
Jacques looked down at him with mixed contempt and amusement. The squirewas a thin, pale little man, with the pinched look of nearsightednessabout his eyes. His wig and tunic were much too big for him.
"What do you do, Squire?" Jacques inquired, not unkindly.
The man looked hurt, as if the question reflected somehow on his abilityto serve as a squire to the Lord High Executioner.
"Computer development," he muttered. "Resonating pentode circuits." Thenhe drew himself up defensively, with not a little pride. "But I placedat the top of the list in the Bureau's test for squires!"
"That's fine," Jacques commented drily. "Now hurry, let's see what youlearned...."
"Dress him handsomely, Squire!" boomed a taunting voice from thedoorway. "Our Lord High Executioner faces a rare challenge this day!"
Jacques recognized the voice of Guy de Archambault, the Court Bailiff,whose bilious nose he intended to grind into the dust one of these finedays. But his anger at the Bailiff's intrusion was overbalanced bycuriosity.
"What's all the excitement about?" he demanded. "Who's on the docket,anyway?"
The Bailiff grinned mockingly.
"Forsooth, M'Lord, restrain thy impatience! In the Court's good timewilt ye learn...."
"Oh, knock off that drivel, will you! Court's not in session yet...."
The Bailiff's huge belly shook with laughter.
"Have it your own way, Jacques, m'boy! But in any vernacular themeaning's the same--you're in for quite a surprise, if rumor has itright!"
"Out with it, then! I can see you've been waiting to tell me."
The grin broadened on the Bailiff's puffy lips.
"You can bet your last sou on that! It would have broken my heart not tobe the first to tell you...."
Jacques took a threatening step toward him.
"I'll break more than your heart if you don't answer my question...."
"Patience, pa--Oh, all right!" the Bailiff hastily interrupted himselfas Jacques took another step in his direction. "You've got a woman toshoot down this time--and that's just half the story!"
Jacques' craggy features hardened into immobility.
"What's the rest of it, fool?"
"There's gossip going around that she's a page out of your past--maybeseveral pages, or even a whole chapter!"
Jacques leaped the rest of the distance to the door and grabbed theBailiff by his lace collar, twisting it until his round, fat cheeksswelled and reddened.
"Who is it?"
Jacques thumped his head against the side of the doorway.
"I told you to knock off that drivel."
"But--but that's all I know--I swear it! I just got here this morning,too, and took a quick peek at the calendar when I heard all the rumorsout among the tents...!"
"M'Lord," he jibed, breathing heavily, "there's also a rumor that youhave no stomach for executing any woman. Can that be true?"
Jacques only scowled in reply, but he knew that _this_ rumor, at least,was true. The last woman had been back in the Fifth Judicial District. Aflint-faced murderess with the shoulders of a man. But the horror offiring the coup du mort into her naked, contorted body still came backto haunt his dreams. For weeks afterwards he hadn't been able to touchthe women who came so eagerly to his tent during the wild executionnight Festivals.
The Bailiff's coarse voice continued to prod at him:
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