The old woman lay upon the steel platform. Her eyes, the lids cut away, stared upward at the black metal netting and the stark sky beyond. More was missing than just the eyelids. Her limbs, hair, teeth, intestines, and most of her skin had been removed, to be taken home, after her descension, by the toolmakers, weavers, ornamentors, butchers, and clothiers, respectively. It was rare that they received the chance to work with such abundant supplies: infants, often too weak to live, provided them with their usual materials.
The People, all forty-nine of them, now that the ancient was dead, stood in a circle around the Great Pipe, waiting in silence. There was a collective gasp and shudder when the first of the horizontal doors slid open, dropping the remains six feet down onto the next portal. The first door closed again, and the next one opened. So it went on, door after door opening and closing again, and every time the sound came, thud, thud, thud, as the body, still in possession of its sacred eyes and brain, fell deeper and deeper away. Every time, the People shivered. Finally, there was a splash, and then nothing.
The People looked at each other. Everywhere, the eyes that met were the same tint. Everywhere, the same color of sparse hair moved slightly in the breeze above the same shape of face.
The People had filed inside the Temple, a chamber so vast that, packed close together, all the People could fit inside. They faced the Wall of the Picture, where, upon a cracked gray background, the parents of their parents of their parents had painted the Sacred Pair, the man and woman who had given life to fifty children and enjoined them to forever breed and carry on, painted them with the stuff of their own bodies, urine, spit, faeces, and blood. They were holy.
Before the Wall sat Priest. He was fourteen years old and had no other name. He was bald, blind, half-deaf, toothless, and a twisted cripple. His voice was a screech that, to the People with their sensitive ears, almost hurt to listen to. He was worshiped. He was greatest.
He spoke to them, this day, about the dead woman, who would have lived too long. It was good that she had been prevented. Soon, Priest would call on a couple to breed a replacement. The sacred number of fifty must not be incomplete for too long, because it was the number of the Sacred Pair.
Priest’s white eyes bulged out farther and farther as he spoke, and his words became thicker and less distinct. When he had spoken of Them, Priest fell into holy convulsions, as he always did. His shrieks became louder and louder, till the People could feel them in their bones. They closed their eyes. Priest thrashed wilder and wilder, knocking against the floor, until his head cracked against the Wall, and he fell down, twitching. The sermon was finished.
The People got up and filed out of the Temple, each pair returning to its chamber built against the Wall of the World, passing through the Fungus Garden on the way. There was much to be done before the fleshy materials began to rot. It was good.
The day had been good.
Their World was the Glory.