by Walt Staples -
Beach Ranks sneered at the old priest. “Why don’t you go rattle yer beads over my dinners? Maybe you kin resurrect their sorry butts. After all, there were only six of ‘em. It oughta be easy for you, sky pilot.”
Father Emil paid no attention and continued to whisper the Office for the Dead. He didn’t worry about its efficacy with a creature such as Beach. His job was to do the best he could. Final judgment was Someone Else’s prerogative.
Onslow, the young power engineer, grunted as he pulled tight the straps that held the reaction unit, transponder, and red and blue strobe that marked Beach as a Peacekeeper matter. He was still disgruntled that he’d been the engineer with the short straw.
Gunther, the investigating peacekeeper, stood to one side holding a piece of plastisheet. Following the procedure for execution, the charges and death sentence were burned into the sheet rather than read from a reader. Clearing his throat, he began to read the second part, “Beach Ranks, it is the order of the Tribunal that having found you guilty of six murders having aggravating circumstance, that you be taken this day at zero-hundred hours and removed permanently from contact with your fellow man. And may your god have mercy on you.”
Beach cackled, “They was good! You oughta try the other white meat sometime, Peacekeeper. Better than the cafeteria.”
Gunther remarked mildly, “I’ll accept that those are your last words,” and put the gag in place.
The peacekeeper asked Onslow, “Is the strobe and transponder armed?” When the other nodded, he turned to the assembled people—priest, engineer, and witnesses—and gestured toward the inner airlock hatch. “If you will…?”
They filed out, Onslow glancing back and Father Emil, still whispering, preceding the peacekeeper. Gunther pushed the button to close the inner hatch. He removed a lanyard with an ancient metal key from around his neck. He pushed the key into a slot on the airlock’s failsafe and looked away from the hatch window as he turned it. There was an explosive “whoof” and the safety light over the hatch turned from green directly to red without going through yellow.
As he turned the key back, the peacekeeper said in a barely audible voice, “Dear God, forgive us,” and crossed himself.