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The Executioner's Hammer (Part One)
When Leopold Harris arrived at work Thursday morning, he was greeted with a sight he would have never expected to see. As Second Chairman of the Board of Immaculacy, he always regarded the fifth day of the week a decidedly slow one, hardly remarkable in any respect. His plan was to stroll leisurely to his office, giving a quick nod of his head as a greeting to Lola, his faithful secretary, and to relax at his desk for a few hours, sampling whatever bland pastries and cheap novelties were sent as encouragement from various families--all, of course, shipping these pitiful gifts--tragically pathetic, groveling pleas for clemency at that--in hopes of generating a pardon for whatever son, sister, or uncle would face him today--and sipping his black coffee until it was time for the day’s load of trials to commence.
He had gone as far as stepping through the door, untouched coffee in hand, before encountering the very thing that halted him in his tracks, the very thing he had, through his many years as Second Chairman, contemplated with nightmarish fantasies, that filled him with utter horror. His peers--his lesser partners, equals, and superiors, collectively known as the Grand Assembly--had gathered in the lobby, awaiting his arrival. He said nothing, but stare wide-eyed at the somber group, immediately understanding, and simultaneously dreading, his fate. Gregory Marx, the oldest of the members, and, undoubtedly, the one who had served longest, spoke first.
“Harris…” he said, not a hint of emotion brightening his dull voice, “Come. To the chambers, all.” He gestured to a large, steel door, a door Harris himself had walked through many times before--but as a judge, never a lowly accused.
Harris looked nervously around the room, eyes flitting from face to cold, blank face--searching desperately for solace, for one hint of sympathy or faith in the pale visages of so many he had considered friends.
His eyes set finally on Marx, Head of the Grand Assembly. He smiled, anxiously. Marx did not acknowledge this. Harris gulped and shifted his gaze to the portentous entryway. He began to walk. The door seemed to increase in size with each step, and, by the time he had reached it, grew so large that it had become quite menacing, looming ominously over him, waiting to swallow its next victim.
He pushed it open, and walked inside.
The Grand Assembly followed summarily. All were seated, completely filling the many rows and levels of metal chairs provided for presiding Assembly members. Marx had found his way to the very center of crowd, perched contentedly on the edge of, undoubtedly, the most important seat of the bunch--he rested upon what was referred to as the Grand Throne--which, ironically, was hardly throne-like at all, as it was only distinguishable from the rest of the perfectly uniform chairs in that it was a trifle larger. He gestured to a lonely gray chair, positioned directly in front of this mass of stolid faces. Tentatively, quaking--and, thus, accidentally revealing a snatch of his true trepidation-- Harris crept towards it and sat. Marx cleared his throat. The slight cough echoed through the spacious room, increasing in volume as it went. The silence that followed its abrupt halting was almost deafening.
“Harris, our old chum…” Marx continued icily, perhaps attempting to appear genial--though his tone massively contradicted this--by tossing into his speech a small signal of possible friendship--a word, that, despite his better judgment, sparked in Harris a tiny flicker of hope--“Do you know what the meaning of this…” he gestured to the masses around him, “the purpose of our… little congregation here? A meeting in this… fashion?” He was cold, but his ineloquence hinted at anxiety. Harris did not infer this. He instead simply nodded, swallowing hard, his powers of observation clouded by his troubled mindset. A small smile traced the edges of Marx’s colorless lips.
“Good… Good…” he said, placing one cold, pale hand over the other, “That saves quite a bit of time, I would think… Don’t you think so, Robertson?” He turned to the gaunt, mousy-looking man sitting stiffly next to him. Robertson, eyeing the suffering Harris with a minute, ravening twinkle of malice--comparatively similar to the gaze of a hungry cat upon a crippled bird--quickly agreed.
“Well, then… shall we begin? I suppose we might as well delve right into the review of his file. Could you fetch that, Robertson?
“Ah. Many thanks. Now then…
“Before we begin, I must remind you about your file. Remember, Harris, this is everything you’ve ever accomplished in our Grand Assembly--and I mean everything. You cannot hide from the file, my friend--and perhaps, we will find, that the reason for this very meeting lies within.” He grimaced and opened the silver folder, it glinting dully in the overly bright fluorescent lights.
“Here we are--your first completed responsibility--March 26, 3258. Peoples’ County of the United State, Board of Immaculacy Building. Form A223-9898-0001. Lobby for execution. Board Member hearing: Harris, Leopold. Person in Question: Mathers, John, Identification Number 465-2121-8809. Accusation: “PIQ (465-2121-8809), found, by Peoples’ County of the United State, guilty of obsolesce.” Verdict: Response A4--Guilty of charge. Subject executed.” Marx shuffled the large stack of papers, licked his thin, white lips, and continued.
“March 31, 3258. Peoples’ County of the United State, Board of Immaculacy Building. Form A223-9898-0002. Lobby for execution. Board Member hearing: Harris, Leopold. Person in Question: Hoffman, Alexander, Identification Number 687-4563-0921. Accusation: “PIQ (687-4563-0921) found, by Peoples‘ County of the United State, guilty of treason, against the True Virtues of Immaculacy.” Verdict: Response A4--Guilty of charge. Subject executed.
“April 2, 3258. Peoples’ County of the United State, Board of Immaculacy Building. Form A223-9898-0003. Lobby for execution…” The monotonous droning went on and on, seemingly without end. Harris sat, in silent agony, quivering before the sea of solemn, pallid faces, the miasma of chilling blasé. His mind slowly began to wander as he, helpless in every respect, remain awkwardly perched on the small, isolated metal chair.
He began to reminisce about his years within the Board. Perhaps revisiting fairly pleasant memories was simply a subconscious mechanism to distract him from the true horror unfolding--whatever it was, he was thankful for it, anyhow.
On his very first day--very first day--March 26, 3258--he was greeted warmly, patted on the back, and handed the case of the undesirable John Mathers. John, a filthy derelict, was, according to his charge, “guilty of obsolesce”--but only for the reason that all people of his shockingly low caliber, all of the dregs of society, were found to be completely unnecessary--and therefore, deserving of execution.
Mathers had been escorted into the courtroom by the strongest and most fearsome of all the Immaculate Guard. The man was clearly intoxicated--belching loudly, cursing violently, spitting on the polished marble floors with undeserved impunity. He had struggled and broken free, been shot with a taser, stunned, successfully restrained, and led to the very chair Harris was seated in now. There, Harris himself, at that time seated in Marx‘s Grand Throne, had attempted to hear Mathers’ case. Of course, as he soon realized, he would hardly need to listen to the bum’s lukewarm pleas at all--the result of this particular indictment, as all others preceding it, had already been decided--against the PIQ, as always, no matter what the circumstance. Harris had been sitting nervously, simultaneously fumbling with his PIQ’s information and trying to listen to the man’s weak appeal for a pardon. That was when Marx, observing the first responsibility of the anxious neophyte, had leaned over and enlightened him--“Don‘t worry, Leopold,” he had whispered (he called all first-day rookies by their proper names), “The decision has been made for you.” A paper was slid into Harris’ view that read simply “A4”. A few moments later, Harris struck his brass gavel against the counter, signifying the hearing‘s end, and delivered the appropriate verdict. He had interrupted John Mathers’ half-hearted spiel. Deviating from his tepid behavior throughout the trial, upon hearing the crash of the instrument--the sound that symbolized not only the trial’s end, but his own--the disgusting derelict promptly dissolved. He was dragged away, having abandoned useless fighting for useless sobbing. After absently watching the spectacle for a few moments, Marx had turned to Harris and smiled appreciatively, admiring him for his coldness and, as he put it, “unfaltering tenacity in the pursuit of immaculacy.” Harris had received a pat on the back for that day.
After the second case, he was rewarded with a slight promotion in the Grand Assembly. After that, his own cubicle. Then, an office--a desk--a computer--a bronze plaque bearing his name--the prizes were essentially pouring in.
Not all new members were treated as such. Marx had taken a liking to Harris--and, because of his position as Head of the Grand Assembly, he was free to pamper his pet without consequence.
In the first twenty-something years Harris had labored directly under the Grand Assembly, Marx became more than a deliverer of prizes--he acted as somewhat of a father figure, forever guiding the rookie along--picking him up and dusting him off, so to speak, for each failure, and encouraging and, of course, congratulating for every achievement. They were quite a happy pair.
Then came another Thursday--a different, questionably better Thursday--February 22, 3282. The day of release for Form A223-9898-1657, as it would eventually be read aloud at this hearing--the day Lola Pratt stumbled into his own chamber.
She was staggering about erratically, heavily intoxicated--but beautiful, marvelously beautiful all the same, with wavy blonde hair and large, thoughtful brown eyes. For the first time in his life, he found himself queerly attracted to this PIQ--something completely unheard of among the members of the Grand Assembly.
He suddenly wished to touch her in some way--to stroke a pink cheek, to run a hand through her flowing golden locks. Trying to purge himself of his alien urges, he focused his eyes on the dull papers of the file, rather than the face of the gorgeous, drunkenly blathering woman before him--however, he quickly lost his concentration and soon found himself gazing at her again. She, even in her tipsy haze, saw and acknowledged his admiring eyes with a knowing wink--he nearly swooned. Never before had he experienced or understood the societal pleasures he was deprived of, namely those relating to the mysterious feminine sex--and the sole inkling of insight into this obscure subject was provided by an, allegedly, very senile grandfather, who, years ago, at the ripe age of two hundred and thirty four, had decided to enlighten his youngest grandson about the lovely things of the past that he would most likely never encounter.
Grandfather. The face and words of the wrinkled old man flooded Harris’ mind. He suddenly recalled, with astounding clarity, the very lecture that now gave such beautiful meaning to the human female, as well as his own pitiful existence.
“The greatest joy of all men, my child,” the old man had mused, fond, but, at the same time, a mite wistful, “can be found and felt through the love of a woman. That is the true purpose of life--to love and be loved. No feeling can compare to love. That, son, surely is Heaven on Earth.
“You know, things weren’t always like this, boy. When I was about your age, women wore dresses--do you know what a dress is?”--young Leopold had shaken his head, replying in the negative, but his grandfather had continued the speech without elaborating on it further--“Dresses and skirts… Nobody wore these… jumpsuits like we do now.
“I know, I know. They’re called “Grand Apparel”, “Grand Garb”, “Grand Something-or-other”--“Grand Hogwash” is more like it! Back in my day, we could wear colors! Colors and patterns, Leopold--ain’t that something? Colors and patterns--stripes and polka dots--whatever you wanted, you could wear. Anything, anytime, anywhere.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a beautiful society.
“Houses could have colors too, Leo--not everything was made of this dull grey metal. Clothes could be more than black and buildings could be more than steel. What vibrant lives we all led, I realize now!
“You poor, wretched creature. You’ve nothing to compare it to.
“Well, my dear child, even if they’ve robbed us of color, they cannot rob us of emotion. I know they’re trying--this is why I’ve got to teach you now. All your brothers and sisters--they don’t understand. They won’t have me! They say ‘Grandfather, you’re bitter and senile, and a detriment to the spread of immaculacy.’ They love this Grand Assembly! They adore their bleak and colorless lives!” He, overly excited, had begun to wheeze. Here he took a moment to collect himself, but promptly continued as his tired lungs recovered.
“I cannot let you turn out that way, Leo. I don’t know how much this little speech will affect you, but I can pray you’ll take this words to heart, or remember them for a time when you’d understand.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret, son.” The thought of knowing something his siblings did not somewhat enticed the young Harris, and so, eagerly, he tried to absorb what next his grandfather proclaimed.