Peter sat in his cell awaiting his execution. Electrical and plasma burns blistered his arms, legs, and torso. Grime and grit were visible in his thin blonde hair, and on his pale skin. Down the corridor, Peter could hear a guard’s boots striking the concrete. The boots headed his way. When the guard arrived at his cell, Peter noticed that the guard’s dark-gray protective suit was mundane compared to his menacing crimson helmet. His helmet was completely enclosed with empty black eye ports covering the identity of the man inside. “Pick your last meal from this menu,” the guard, Officer Farrows, sternly commanded Peter. His last breakfast. Peter’s execution was set by Judge Millhood for noon today, Friday, April 14, 2090. Officer Farrows, exasperated by Peter’s delayed response, bellowed through his microphone, “You’re going to die hungry if you don’t tell me which meal you want. You have three seconds.” Peter calmly replied, “I’m not hungry. Maybe you should consider your hunger instead?” “Die hungry then, you dirty piece of filth!” screamed Officer Farrows. “Why should I care about you anyway? We’ll soon dispose of you for what you did.”
Farrows marched off to report to Commander Young that Peter refused his last meal and that the rest of the preparations could proceed. After some time had passed from Peter’s encounter with Officer Farrows, the hour was near. It was eleven forty-five in the morning, fifteen minutes prior to Peter’s execution. The solitary confinement door raised upward and slammed into its overhead compartment. A squad of five guards, including Officer Farrows, stood in two-by-two formation with Commander Young front and center. Commander Young summoned Peter to walk backward toward the door with his hands behind his back. He then ordered him to kneel. Commander Young put magna cuffs on, immobilizing Peter’s hands, elbows, and shoulders rigidly behind his back. Commander Young ordered, “Offender, stand and face me.” As the commander turned around and began to march to the front of the rectangular formation, he directed, “Move forward and stay in the center of my men. One wrong move and we will shoot you. Squad, right face. Squad, forward march.” The guards used the utmost caution as they never broke formation and tightly held their rifles at their outer shoulders, away from the offender. They were stoic and intimidating. The guards couldn’t afford to bring their emotions to work on death row since the Commonwealth forbid it. The rules stated that they couldn’t show any degree of compassion for or sympathy with the offenders that they lead to their deaths. Besides, it was the guards’s opinions that the offenders housed at their facility didn’t deserve the delight of a smile or the sympathy of a tear before they expired. Peter was no different. Peter was expressionless. No fear. No anger. He marched along with great difficulty because of exhaustion, and incessant leg and back pain. Peter struggled to pick up each foot. He struggled as if wading through a boggy marsh. No two steps were the same and there was terrible resistance to move from within the beaten parts of his small-framed body. Over the course of Peter’s short incarceration at Omega 21 Detention Center, his extreme torment brought him near his breaking point.
The dark hallway they walked ended in a sleek, crimson door that opened with their arrival. Once the squad was inside, the door shut and the elevator moved down quickly to the sixth underground level. As they exited the elevator, Peter saw the Provincial Political Affairs Council sitting at a long marble table on a grand steel floor under the vast ceiling. They were surrounded by monumental pillars and ornate busts of various world leaders. Above the balcony, extending just below the ceiling and flowing down was a massive Unified People’s Commonwealth flag. Peter had seen the flag in his school, grocery markets, technology dispensaries, and his family members’s home. Within the center of the flag lay the most preeminent and ubiquitous symbol on earth—the Great Seal. It lay within the white flag delineated by shades of gray, red, and yellow. The emblem had two layers, an outer hexagonal ring and an inner bottom-heavy diamond. The diamond held a vertical line stretching from top to bottom and had two lines reaching from its near middle and extending to the two bottom corners. The Great Seal within the flag ostensibly represented equality, stability, and unity on earth in a way that no other symbol in the history of humanity had yet achieved. Following the most destructive conflagration of all time, the Unified People’s Commonwealth emerged as the sanctuary for humanity, but for Peter, the Great Seal of the Commonwealth represented the abhorrence for mercy and the perversion of justice on a world scale. As Peter proceeded into the execution chamber, accompanied by the squad of guards, he saw his aunt and uncle. He knew that this would be the last time that he would lay eyes on them. If only he could hug them. If only he could feel the warmth of their embrace. The execution chamber was certainly not the sort of place to find either form of affection. Peter’s aunt and uncle, both fifty-eight years old, were the only guests present to view the execution. They sat in the front row near the execution gallery. On the wall far behind Peter’s relatives were visual data collectors that would relay the execution to parts of the world as deemed necessary for teaching and propaganda purposes. Unfortunately for Peter, because of the severity of his crimes and the rapidity of his conviction and sentencing, a quick death meant that others could not make it in time for their goodbyes. In front of Peter stood a titanium table shaped like an arrowhead, with the base of the table having two parallel holding straps. Each of the two sides had one holding strap. Finally, at the top of the table was a larger holding strap, with two thin electronic interface panels above. This will be the fixture on which Peter will take his final breath. Commander Young veered out of formation to address Peter’s aunt and uncle as well as the Provincial Political Affairs Council upon their high and majestic balcony. “Attention all present in the Omega 21 Detention Center execution chamber. Peter Barclay stands before you guilty of infractions that have warranted his execution on this day, Friday, April 14, in the year 2090, at twelve in the afternoon, in accordance with global law and as sentenced by a judicial magistrate held in high esteem by the Unified People’s Commonwealth. The offender’s infractions include: primary involvement in activities that may lead to civil insurrection, defamation of the supreme authority of the Unified People’s Commonwealth Premier and his High Council, as well as public display of intolerant activities and symbols, and an attempt to proselytize with forbidden ideas. Next of kin to the offender, do you have any words for the offender?” Peter’s uncle, Jim, barely able to clear his throat, stood up to his full, but short height and found the strength to utter, “I love you, Peter. I would gladly trade places with you right now—but I can’t. You have been such a blessing and such a great joy to all of us.” Jim paused for several gasps with tears rolling down his cheeks, knelt down to face Peter and said, “I hope that we will meet again someday and I will look forward to that day.” Melissa, Peter’s aunt, stood trembling with despair and was only able to whimper, “You’ve made your uncle and me into so much more than we should have been. You’ve opened our eyes to see what our world really is. I love you so much! Goodbye, Peter. Goodbye, my wonderful nephew.” Overcome by distress, Melissa needed Jim’s guidance back to her chair. Jim and Melissa sat and wept, embracing one another as they attempted to prepare to watch their nephew die. “Ready the offender,” Commander Young ordered. Peter’s magna cuffs were removed, and he was escorted to the table. Peter, following the command, laid down on the table’s cold and unforgiving surface, only to find himself staring up at the equally unwelcoming appearance and texture of the ceiling within the execution gallery. Each guard stationed at all four points of the table secured the holding straps until snug on Peter’s emaciated and battered body. Peter winced in pain as several of the straps clamped down on the wounds and blisters on his arms and legs. The guards, still with their crimson helmets donned and in their gray uniforms, performed their duties void of any human emotions. Another guard, Officer Hajo, said, “Suck it up, offender. You’ll be dead soon, anyways.” Officer Farrows, responsible for strapping Peter’s left wrist down to the table, looked over and couldn’t help but notice that Peter was looking straight into his eyes. Through the black-tinted ballistic facial shielding embedded within his combat helmet, Officer Farrows felt a deep and profound presence penetrate his mind. Peter continued to beam his focus at Officer Farrows, who at this moment in time had begun to resist his own emotional sentiment. Peter conveyed a message just under his breath. “Tanner. Tanner Farrows. I know you remember me. Please say hello to your daughter for me. Let her know that I’ll be okay. You both should know that I am glad to lay down my life today.” Dumbfounded by Peter’s words, Farrows looked away and carried on with his duties. Peter continued to gaze at Farrows with a friendly grin, extended the courtesy over Farrows’s right and left shoulders as if seeing something unbeknownst to anyone else, and then turned his head to look up toward the ceiling. Commander Young finished the restraining procedure by clasping the crescent-shaped, galvanized titanium immobilizer over Peter’s abdomen. Peter now lay completely still, seemingly lifeless with both wrists, both ankles, forehead, and his abdomen anchored to the execution table. A motor began to hum its rumbling sound, like that of a turbine on a small hovership. The table that Peter lay on began to move. Peter’s arms, which were at his sides, now began to move outward away from his body. The slow, mechanical animation kept at its steady, continuous pace until Peter’s arms locked into place at ninety degree angles. Now that the segmented, icy platform became the immovable resting place for Peter, he sweat from his palms and forehead in anticipation of what was to come. Peter’s unkempt blonde hair acted as a sponge, absorbing the ever-cooling perspiration along his hairline. Directly looking up from the table, Peter saw nothing but concrete and steel, and the interspersed flickers of fluorescent lights in orderly rows every ten feet or so. Melissa and Jim sat in their chairs, uneasy and still in disbelief with all that was taking place and the terror wrought upon them by the presence of the guards. They continued to hold each other, viscerally agonized by the horror ensuing in front of them. Jim noticed the council members on the balcony peering down at Peter with their noses slightly tipped up and contempt visible in their eyes. The time was now 11:56 a.m. Peter heard a mechanical door open a short distance behind his head but was unable to see that another guard had entered the execution chamber. This guard had no name visible on his suit. The unknown individual wore a shimmering black suit with a vibrant yellow shade lining the crevices between its numerous interlocking parts. The Great Seal was placed in the center of his chest, as well as his back. The Great Seal represented the ultimate force for jurisprudence on earth, symbolized by the striking yellow coloration outlining the guard’s body. This color represented the swift punishment toward forbidden thoughts, words, and actions displayed by citizens of the world—much like lightning bolts striking down from above. The guard in black and yellow, only known in this detention center as the Venenum, was hailed as a hero for dispatching some of the world’s worst criminals. What a suitable uniform for a guard whose title means “poison” in the old language of Rome. The Venenum pulled a levitating cart with four vials of an amber solution, multiple vital sign telemetry monitors, and a syringe that appeared to have a thin tube running from its base. As the cart came closer to Peter, it became apparent to his aunt and uncle that the cart carried the instruments for their nephew’s death. The time was 11:57 a.m. The Venenum forcefully put the syringe into Peter’s arm. Not a word was said by anyone. Complete silence, just as quiet often precedes an upcoming storm. Peter’s countenance visibly reflected the level of pain he felt as the needle was inserted, although it was difficult to know whether the physical pain was most acute or the emotional pain of knowing that he was close to the end of his life. The needle was in place and the cart containing the lethal substance to be injected was behind the top of Peter’s head as he lay more still than ever. The executioner’s deep voice monotonously declared, “The offender is ready for execution.” Within moments, the table began to move again. This time, it tilted upright so that Peter’s body was moving from a horizontal position to an upright orientation. His arms were completely outstretched with palms facing outward toward the audience, which included an unknown number of people watching through the visual data collectors. His head was in place so that only his eyes could gaze into his aunt and uncle’s eyes, and at the faces of the council members above. The Venenum was directly behind Peter, and at the back of Peter’s legs were the controls and virtual screens projected atop the levitating cart. Commander Young’s squad was in formation and at attention with their weapons on their right shoulders near Peter’s right side. All the guards hidden within their suits stood facing the offender in complete uniformity. Officer Farrows stood to the left of Commander Young. Farrows slowly moved his left hand to turn his microphone off on the side of his helmet. The time was 11:59 a.m. “Offender, do you have any last words?” asked the executioner. Peter took several gulps, then took a deep breath in and said, “My dear Aunt Melissa and Uncle Jim, thank you for what you’ve done for me and taught me over the course of my time here. I’ll miss you. As for the rest of you in this room, my only hope is that you will see life more clearly and love more deeply.” He looked out and said, “I’m ready.”
The clock turned to 12:00 p.m., and the Venenum moved each of the four digitally projected bars beneath each vial all the way to the bottom, pushing all the lethal drug into Peter’s arm. Peter remained motionless, still breathing slowly and with little chest expansion. Within a few seconds, Peter’s eyes looked up as he took in a large breath of air and let it all out. He expelled his last breath from his lungs, forcing out his last chance of survival on earth, and at the same time conquered the verbal and physical venom that had been so ubiquitously forced upon him in his final days. The Venenum looked at the telemetry units and saw no signs of cardiac or neurological activity. Peter was dead. The executioner, as well as each of the members of Commander Young’s squad, put their left hand over their chest with elbows hinged as they recited, “We serve and honor the premier and his high council.” All had professed their true allegiance—all except Officer Farrows. He did put his left hand in the correct position, but did not utter the binding phrase because his microphone was off. He was still vigorously crying beneath his helmet’s face mask, observing Peter in his resting position with his head up, arms out, and feet together. As the medical team arrived for immediate retrieval of Peter’s body for disposal, Farrows, ashamed and repentant, repeated to himself, “I can’t kill another kid. Not one more, not for this. I can’t kill another kid. Not one more, not for this.” Just as the squad was about to exit the execution chamber, Commander Young received a distressing communications transmission from his superior officer, Major Hadley. “We have an unknown, previously undetected, airborne threat that has penetrated our airspace. Report to your combat stations immediately! This facility is on emergency lockdown!” As the air raid sirens in the detention center and across the greater Chicago region sounded, Commander Young, surprised and anxious, shouted to his men. “Squad, report to your combat stations now! Mr. and Mrs. Wilby, I will personally escort you to a secure location.”
Looking up toward the balcony, Commander Young noticed that the Provincial Political Affairs Council was already being hurriedly escorted by their Unified People’s Commonwealth appointed Varangian Guard unit to a safe location. Numerous explosions rocked the city’s foundation, nearly knocking the guards to the floor and teetering them out of their double-quick marching formation. “Move, move, move! We’re under attack!” Commander Young shouted. Jim and Melissa looked at each other. Still with tears in her eyes, Melissa uttered under her breath, “Peter was right. He said this might happen.” Jim replied, “You’re right, my dear—he was right. He had an understanding of the world that was well beyond us. We have to be strong now because we have a job to do.”