The heart of the kiln glowed white in two thousand degree heat. A man stood in front with a metal tube inserted into it, rolling it, picking up glass. He wore dark glasses over his prescription glasses, and watched the material accumulate, his face starting to sweat. He pulled out the glob of glass. He was joined by a woman, his daughter, similarly dressed, who placed a graphite paddle under the glass to support it. They walked together to an almost complete figure made of glass.
The man pressed the end of the glob to the shoulder of the figure. The woman pressed the paddle to that contact point, and the man pulled the metal tube away, extruding the glass. He pulled up and around and back, drawing out a length of two feet. He walked back to the side and the woman pressed a kevlar gloved finger at the midway point of the extruded glass, and it bent. The man rested the end of the glass against the wrist of the figure and the woman gently pressed the parts together with the paddle. Then she reached into her leather apron for her diamond shears and snipped the glass free of the metal tube.
They both stood back, exhausted from their night's work. The figure was made entirely of clear glass and rested on a metal frame--legs and spine and arms. The glass itself mimicked tendons and muscles. There was a blown skull with delicate work made of the facial muscles.
"It's a reasonable likeness," said the woman.
"It will do," said the man.
"There must be four hundred pounds of glass at least in that," she said.
"Almost as much as he weighs in real life," said the man. They both chuckled.
"Sadly, I think he'd get a kick out of seeing himself this way," said the woman. "Such a narcissist."
"Oh, but what a burden it is to be emperor," said the man teasingly. "There is so much to do! To control millions of lives, to say what can and cannot be done, to decide what can't be read or seen, to fix the daily prices of food and fuel, to decide who goes to prison or the..."
The man wrinkled up his face and started to cry. His daughter put her arm around him and hugged him.
"We will find her again one day, father. I don't believe she is dead."
"But the labor camps--no one survives more than a year or two." He choked back his tears and wiped his face. "We'd better get on with it."
The woman went to the work bench and picked up a wreath made of straw. She placed it on the head of the figure and stepped back.
"We crown you in the likeness of the emperor," said the man solemnly, "and condemn you to be bound to him forever. Your muscles will be his muscles. Your bones will be his bones. Your pain will be his pain," he paused, hesitated, then, "his voice will be your voice."
The man nodded to his daughter. She lit a blowtorch and touched the flame to the straw crown. It immediately burst into deep red flames that rose six feet into the air. The figure screamed without moving its mouth. She moved the blowtorch down across the figure's chest--there came guttural shouts, then wailing. She moved back, exchanging a glance with her father.
"I think it's working," she said.
The figure sobbed and cried out, "help! Help! What's happening?! It hurts! It burns!"
The man went to his bench and picked up a sledge hammer with exhausted arms. He dragged it back towards the figure, and with an angry grimace he swung up the hammer and landed a blow on the head. The glass shattered towards the kiln and the burning crown fell onto the neck. The screaming of the figure stopped.
The man looked at his daughter, then handed her the sledge hammer. He walked back to the bench and sat down. He put his head in his hands. His daughter picked up the hammer and smashed it into the chest of the figure. The arms separated and fell, shattering on the cement floor. She aimed for the abdomen and pulverized it. Only the legs remained. She raised the hammer up and served a blow directly down on the left leg, leaving a pile of glass dust. She repeated it with the other leg. She dropped the hammer. She smiled broadly, even gleefully.
She walked over to her father and placed her gloved had at the back of his head.
"It's done," she said.
"It's an evil thing we did," he replied.
"It was necessary."
"It won't bring her back. No magic can do that."
"It will save others from her fate."
"Will it?" He raised his head. "Someone equally bad will replace him. Maybe worse."
"Maybe not. But at least he suffered." She looked at the shards and dust of glass spread across the floor of the glassworks. "I should sweep it up."