The vitrifiers position me on the table, the striated steel cold against my skin. An acrid scent lingers in the tiled room, a vestige of a thousand other treatments.
“You have had surgery.” Minister Krasell casts his eyes over my body thoughtfully, pursing his mealworm lips. Dry fingers trace the scar on my chest.
“Yes,” I say. “Heart surgery. Bypass.”
The fingers flutter away. “It is extremely rare for a citizen to volunteer for the Wall, Mister Vess. Usually even the most devout need more… encouragement.”
I nod in understanding. “The gods call me,” I lie. “I belong in the Glass. I know it might be hard for those whose faith is lacking to appreciate.”
Minister Krasell pulls his mouth into a tight smile. “You understand the stages? Desiccation, glazing, mounting. Several days of solidification before the vitrification process is complete. We try to make it quick, of course, but some pain is inevitable.”
“Such is life!” I offer a grin, which falls on barren ground. I scrub it away. “Our suffering shows the gods we love them.” Lines I have rehearsed many times in my mind.
“And yet you are unknown to us. You have no past record of devotion, of sacrifice. It is odd.”
I stay silent. To speak might invite more questions. Instead, I listen to my heart and its flurrying rhythm. Will it to keep going.
The Minister hesitates for a long moment, then turns away. “But the Wall must progress, for our divine glory and that of the city.” He motions to his assistants. “Prepare him for drying.”
Masked figures step forward, tubes and syringes in hand.
The autocarriage rumbles through the plaza, past the crowd of citizens talking and praying before the shimmering mass of the Great Glass Wall. For over a mile it stretches, high as ten souls, and so thick five could walk abreast along its top.
I can’t move, my body tight, foetal, dry skin burning in the breeze atop the carriage. The novices sitting to either side of me do not talk, but gaze reverently on the Wall as it passes. From it erupt the forms of those vitrified to its surface, from base to top, every few paces. Thousands of people. And in front stand the armed guards to keep the holy edifice safe from those who lack faith.
My neck cannot move, but my eyes lift to Lensa as I pass. Her small image is half-way up, amidst the larger shapes of men and women I do not know. She is easy to miss. It had taken me weeks of searching to find her. My daughter. Lost. Taken. Sold.
A glass statue to bear witness to a world of sin.
We stop close; just a few meters beyond her, where the Wall is still smooth. I am glad. Progress has indeed been slow. The city’s homeless, its convicts, its orphans have already been incorporated. Now additions are few and far between, and the citizens ask questions in quiet, private rooms.
I am lifted from the carriage and seated on a platform suspended from a gantry above. The novices take their positions to either side of me, and we are raised slowly, past the arranged bodies of men and women at the base. Only three pass, and then we stop. The novices take their gas burners and begin the process of melting the surface where I will rest as I become one with the Wall. It takes some time. I shiver in the wind and stench of burning glass, and watch the crowd. The crowd watches me.
It burns when they push me back into the glass, such that it clogs my ears but leaves my face exposed. I imagine how much worse it would have been for Lensa, scared and alone.
I console myself with the knowledge that the man who took her, who sold her to the Ministry, is dead. Never to be found. It is some small comfort that I have no business left unfinished with this world.
The novices cover me with the gelatinous tar they have been layering on my skin for two days, though this time they apply it generously, so thickly that my eyes and nose are smothered for a time.
The world beyond my skin becomes unreal to me.
In the night above the city, I wait.
It is like drowning, I imagine. The world is a blur. My breath is pinched. My lungs harden. It will not be long now before all breath stops, and I will die. It is what I am waiting for.
When I am done, the arrest mechanism on the device attached to my heart will fail. The chirurgeons who performed the operation said the blast radius would be modest, a dozen meters at most. It will be enough.
Lensa does not belong in the glass, any more than I do. Soon we will be free of it. Whatever comes next, we will see it together.
I wait. And I am certain she waits for me, too.
Rob Francis is an academic and writer based in London. He started to write speculative fiction in 2014 and since then has had around twenty stories published in various online magazines and anthologies, including SQ Mag, SpeckLit, Theme of Absence, Broadswords and Blasters, You Are Here: Tales of Cartographic Wonders, and right here at Every Day Fiction.