Author : Bob Newbell

“And let all men and women present be witnesses,” the Legate was saying, “that what we now do we do without hatred and with a heavy heart. We act in the name of retribution, not revenge. We act in the name of justice…”

The Legate’s voice droned on. It was the same boilerplate men had been telling themselves for centuries right before they killed a man. They don’t say it to make killing easier. Killing is easy. That’s the trouble. They say it to convince themselves that it’s not. They’re pretending that when they blow me out of this airlock in a minute they’ll be heartbroken that they’ve put a murderer to death. They won’t be. But they have to try to prove to themselves that they’re civilized.

“Does the prisoner have anything to say before the sentence is imposed?”

What is there to say? I’m guilty. I said so at the court-martial. One of the fastest courts-martial on record. Commander Richman had made it his personal mission to make my life a living hell from the moment I set foot on this ship. He’d go out of his way to publicly humiliate me. If some other crewman screwed up, he’d blame me for some reason. Even the other officers noticed it. One day Richman decided to chew me out while I was working on the auxiliary fusion reactor’s control rod assembly. I apparently snapped. I abruptly noticed he’d stopped talking. I also noticed he had a hafnium diboride control rod embedded in his skull. My hand was clenched around the other end of the rod. I recall two other crewman who had also been working on the reactor looking at me, both of them frozen with shock. I remember dropping the rod and saying, “You guys wanna call security? Or should I?” I wasn’t sorry for what I did. I’m still not sorry. I shake my head at the Legate.

The inner airlock door slides closed. I hear the bolts lock into position. I can see through the window in the inner airlock door that the Legate is still talking. I can’t hear a word he’s saying. Through the window in the outer airlock door I see a field of stars. It’s amazing how appealing it looks. It’s as if you could just open the door and float out there unprotected and bask in the glory of the cosmos. In nearly 400 years of space travel, more than one person has died trying to do just that.

The lights in the airlock go out. The stars seem even more appealing. But it’s an illusion. A siren’s song for the 24th century. Red lights come on and the airlock’s decompression alarm starts squealing. I’ll remain conscious for about five or ten seconds. They say don’t try to hold your breath. It’ll just rupture your lungs. Your blood won’t boil and you don’t quickly freeze solid, though. It takes a good minute, minute and a half to die from space exposure. Maybe the explosive decompression will hurl me forward before the door completely opens and the impact will kill me or knock me out.

Spacing isn’t a pleasant way to die. But there are worse ways to check out. This beats eventually lying in a nursing home bed decrepit and demented for a decade. A moment before I hear the outer airlock bolts shoot back, I turn around, flip the Legate and the other observers a bird with each hand, and smile. The airlock door snaps open. The ship seems to bound away from me. I have no regrets.

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