The People Who Could Not Kill

A conscience can be a terrible thing, especially if it works.

That was the kind Grimes had. So I wasn't too surprised when he told me he had decided to stay on Paradise IV when we had completed our survey and were ready to lift off.

Not that anyone, except himself, blamed him for killing the native. As the ship's Security Officer, it was his job to protect the crew. How could he have known that the primitive humanoids were culturally incapable of hostile actions? What he had taken for a violent attack was just their traditional welcoming ceremony.

The simple-hearted natives quickly forgot the incident and entertained us with their carefree hospitality, which happily included sharing their women. Only Grimes refrained from the festivities, brooding guiltily alone in his cabin. Finally he told me of his decision. He hoped to pay for his offense by spending the rest of his life serving the natives in any way he could.

I hated to lose him, and of course I could have ordered him to stay aboard. But I owed him too many favors and, besides, he was due for retirement soon. I did try to talk him out of it, pointing out that he would be hopelessly isolated from his own kind out there on the edge of the galaxy, where even our Exploration Corps ships rarely called.

But Grimes was determined, and I suspected ulterior motive for his plan. Throughout his long career as a space soldier he had lived under the constant threat of violent danger, which had often and unexpectedly become reality. Now he was tired of fighting and he had found the kind of gentle, peaceful society that we all dream of at least once during our turbulent lives. I couldn't blame him -- in fact I envied him -- for wanting to stay.

So I gave him his discharge and wished him luck. The last I saw of him -- on one of my view screens as we lifted -- he was waving farewell with a lovely native girl on his arm and a look of deep contentment in his weary eyes.

I thought about Grimes often in the following years, wondering how he had made out in his adopted homeland. But nearly a half-century passed before duty again took me to Paradise IV. He had been dead for many years by then, but several elderly natives revered his memory and told me of his great works.

The tribal leaders had quickly found a job suitable to Grimes' special talents. I was shocked by their choice, but on reflection I saw the inescapable logic of it. After all, what position could he have been offered by a people strongly conditioned against homicide but still plagued by the hatreds, jealousies, frustrations and other violence-breeding emotions common to all intelligent beings -- except that of Executioner?

And of course his conscience wouldn't let him refuse the duty. They say he hardly had an idle moment all during his stay on Paradise IV.