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The Execution
Shinichi Hoshi

English translation from Japanese by Oliver Staples 


It was hot, but not unbearably so. The man found himself thirsty and looked at the silver ball lying near him. The silver ball was glowing quietly in the sunlight. 




The old fear that crime would increase as civilizations became more technologically advanced had become reality. Glittering buildings made from light metals; the chaotic webbing of wiring for automatic machinery; electronic components of all sizes. Yet crime happened all over. Murder, robbery, property damage, assault—not to mention the countless cases of petty thievery. It was strange to witness bloody crimes arise out of cities filled to the brim with the impartial Boolean logic of computers. 

Of course, sound measures were taken. Speedy trials were established through the use of electronic brains. A single trial machine acted as prosecutor, lawyer, and judge, an improvement upon the years-long trials of the past. Sentences were handed down the day after arrest, and were severe. The sentence had to be severe, for it was issued before the impression of the tragic victim had faded away.

 Sympathy for the victims. This simple popular demand led to heavier and heavier sentences. Like clockwork, the rewiring of the court-machine was altered to hand out more severe sentences. Moreover, having almost wiped out organised religion, the only deterrent to crime were these sentences. And what is a penalty if not more painful than the suffering caused by the crime itself?




Finally, humanity added the final page to its history of executions—the idea was to use the red planet. There had been a great deal of excitement about the planet for some time after the first exploratory rockets landed. Academic discoveries, new industrial resources, sightseeing trips. But after all profitable resources were looted, and all was said and done, the planet had lost its meaning. People realised that they wanted to rebirth paradise on Earth rather than to continue expanding into endless space. The planet was transformed into a place of execution. Criminals were transported by a spaceship, then transferred to a small spacecraft, and finally dropped off with a parachute, each carrying a silver ball with them. 

The ball was a machine—known as the artificial cactus—that powerfully condensed the water vapour molecules in the atmosphere. It was an indispensable device for those travelling on this planet. Yet, all products of humankind are double-edged. This silver sphere that the man carried, along with every other person on this planet, is now an intricate machinery of execution. Its original function of dispensing a small amount of water is still present. Now, if the button is pressed more than a certain number of times, a tiny atomic bomb inside the device detonates with an effective radius of some 30 meters. No one was told how many times it took for the bomb to explode. 




Thirst. With less oxygen in the air than on earth, the man had to breathe more, and the low humidity was robbing his body of moisture with each breath. I need to drink. Thirst was describable only as having hot salt stuffed in the back of the nose and throat. Rays of light from the sinking sun, travelling across the red, lifeless dunes and past the ruins of early pioneers lit his face up in a deep red. His thirst awakened fiercely. Glancing at the ball, he could see that it too was burning a bright red. 

He entered one of the ruined houses with a bedroom intact. He lay back on the bed and glanced at the sphere.

I am going to bed. Do you want to wash your face?

No way, he thought. Showering and rinsing before bed, habits he had grown tired of on earth played their role as a sobering reminder of his life on this planet. There was a weak moonlight, but it did not shine on him. The man looked out the window at the sky. The stars were shining, and among them was a blue star—the only one that could not be seen on earth.

Earth, the blue star; blue is the colour of the ocean, and earth is a planet of water. He wanted to jump into the sea. Rain. No long rains, no unexpected evening showers, no terrible storms, nothing like that on this red planet. Or snow, ice. The north pole and the south pole. Here, there was no way to tell which was which. 

Water on this planet was already gone. The ice at the poles had been broken down and turned into oxygen, and scattered in the atmosphere. Hydrogen was depleted as an energy source. In the pioneering days, oxygen was the top priority for production. The water here remains in the air in insignificant amounts, occasionally enough to form clouds, but never enough for rain. Even the silver balls could no longer be made. The catalyst inside needed an element only found on earth.

Damn the earth. He cursed earth and the civilization that had brought him to this desolate place. He wanted to focus his hatred on that blue planet, even if it was useless. But he could not, because blue reminded him of water, rain, snow, mist, spray, and streams—all kinds of abundant water. 

Was this all part of a calculated execution? Earth remained silent and continued to glimmer quietly and peacefully. With each criminal with enough resolve to commit crimes exiled, earth became increasingly peaceful. He knew that no matter how long he stared, that planet couldn't wage war on itself, and suddenly light itself up ablaze. 




A long time passed. A never-ending, endless repetition of the same. It was the perfect punishment, carried out by the mechanical civilization he rebelled against. 

More time passed. He thought he was going crazy, and he longed for it. But that too could not happen either, or there was nothing he could do about it.

Another long, long time. Finally, he screamed.

A scream. He finished screaming as if he were letting out everything inside of him, all his frustrations on earth, all his pains on this planet, all at once. He then noticed that his surroundings had changed a little. Somehow, everything was washed away. He looked at the ball. The sphere had regained its expression and was more harmonious than he had ever seen it.

You are awake. It is all the same, don't you think?

What is the same? Oh, right. He knew right away. This was the same as life on earth. Death could appear at any moment. Every day, moment by moment, people produce the cause of their demise, reeling in the one certainty in their lives. The silver sphere here is small and is always there. On earth, it is massive, and no one pays attention to it. That was the only difference. Why didn't he notice this before?

You finally realised. 

The sphere seemed to smile gently at him. 




He walked into the bathroom. Taking off his spoiled clothes, he sat down in the bath huddling the sphere, and started pressing the button again and again. He opened the blinds and the doors to let air through and let the water slowly accumulate in the bath.

At last, payback to earth, he thought. Water began to form waves and finally toppled the rims. He hugged the sphere. Finally liberated from the long, grey passage of time. Is this what it is like to be God cast out from earth?

Then, he felt a sudden glow in front of his eyes.


Shinichi Hoshi, The Execution, 新潮文庫, 1972.

Shinichi Hoshi (1926-1997) was a Japanese science fiction writer, fondly known as the ‘God of short-shorts’. Originally trained as a chemist, he would publish over 1000 short sci-fi works over his lifetime. In many of his works, his uniquely transparent gaze, sympathetic to the human condition, aids to reveal the relation of machines and human beings. This piece, in particular, deals with themes of self-examination, automation, and interstellar travel. Is it a startling image of a dystopian machine-society? Or a humanist redemption story? 




Original text in Japanese







































星新一 (1972).処刑 新潮文庫

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