Bella had lived a distinguished life. She had always tried to do the right thing, attending demonstrations, writing provocative articles for high-profile media outlets, and putting all her spare energy into setting the world right on social media. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, she had been at the forefront of movements which proudly declared themselves to be working for greater justice in society. By the middle of that century, in an utterly changed world, she had made an established name for herself as one of the most tireless warriors for the cause. By the time she officially died in 2071, she was selected, as a mark of respect for her virtuous actions, to be one of the first ‘Glasses’.
Her still-breathing body was surgically stripped down to the barest of essentials, connected to the most advanced life support machine ever devised, and encased in a coffin made of industrial-strength, one-way glass. The only recognizable part of her, had anyone been able to break into her coffin, which had been ceremonially set into the wall of the Island Province’s Instruction Headquarters (the only surviving media outlet), was her face. Behind this, her brain still operated, and below it, a prosthetic body had been built to hold her remains in place and store the biotechnological guts which kept them going. She had consciousness and an ability to see the post-2071 world through the walls of her tomb, an honour which she had gladly accepted when it had been proposed to her. The idea in her mind, and everyone else’s, was that as a reward for her life of benevolent sacrifice, she should be allowed to see and hear how her goodness lived after her, and how the world, improved so much through her actions, moved ever closer towards harmony and perfection.
What was now happening, on the night of October the thirty-first 2120, therefore came as something of a shock, even if she had sensed a slightly changed atmosphere for a couple of years prior to it. The streets were filled with protestors, masked in black and orange, several holding banners which she could not quite decipher. There were shouts and screams, gunshots, broken glass, flames and acrid smoke. The protestors moved in bands of varying numbers… Sometimes, a whole group filled the main square outside the Instruction Headquarters, and at others only a handful ran through it, clearly on their way, quite urgently it seemed, somewhere else.
Yet, some of them deliberately headed to that square, and even to Bella’s coffin. As she watched through its glass, a band of masked youths approached it, and by the light of a flaming torch they carried read the name ‘BELLICOSE VANES’. A few of them spat at it. One had a can of paint and sprayed four letters onto the surface of the glass, which she read ҘꓘOW. They knew who she was, that she was in there, and could see and hear them.
“Leitch!” Another person struck the glass with the length of scrap metal he carried, but the glass had been made to be unbreakable. The group moved on, perhaps, Bella thought, to attack another of the coffins, which had all been positioned in equally prominent public locations, as monuments to activists such as herself.
She could not speak, but even if she could, she felt, at this moment, that she would have had to remain silent. Her thoughts raced with confused and dismayed questions. As the first tear rolled down her desiccated cheek, she began to feel the beginnings of a vague remorse for how she had spent her life, and how she had wasted so much of it judging those who had lived before her. Memories of acts, of which she had before felt proud, now returned with a feeling of shame. She had never behaved so distastefully as the youths she had just seen, but in her time, she had certainly felt the same impulse which inspired them. All those citizens of the past, with their sins… Perhaps they too had virtues, she now thought. Perhaps they had lived trying to do the right thing, just as she had. If they had lived when she did, she now realised, they would now be in her position. Feeling the same emotions, and silently, helplessly weeping, she thought: have I failed? Why would her memorial be defiled by the descendants of people she had spent her life trying to help?
Even if she could see no answer to this question, there came, through the stained, defaced glass, a brief glint of hopefulness and insight. Time, she reflected, now in her nascent wisdom, was the great judge. All she had to do was lie there and wait for another century, endure the storm of hatred, and then there would be a new political fad, another major shift in opinion, another new set of certainties… All she had to do was wait.
Then another tear fell, and although without vocal cords, she let out a silent scream that only she could hear. She only wished that Hell existed, and that her howls of torment could be heard. For whatever happened in the world she now saw, and would see eternally, there would never be anything she could do about it.
Illustration by Liam Callebout