Cold Metal and Sacrifice
rating: +18+x

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Your burden is too great to fail now.

The first thing you feel is the burning of your flesh. It does not burn as one's skin does when placed upon heated machinery or a glowing burner. Instead, it burns with an uncharacteristic evenesss. You know the searing penetrates through your skin, slowly cooking your flesh, your organs, and even your bones. And yet the pain is uncharacteristically dull. You are still in full control of your faculties, a surprise to yourself, and what onlookers remain, both spiritual and physical.

The worst is yet to come.

You take a shaky step forward, your burden weighing heavy on your back. You have been chosen, for reasons far beyond your comprehension, and you must carry out your task. It is your sworn duty. The false vigor of prayers and litanies seeps from your body and soul as does oil from a rusted machine. You wonder why you are even here. Is there not a better way? Lead is such a heavy metal. It seems to grow heavier the longer you remain in its presence.

Don't falter now.

It burns hotter now. What they don't tell you about these burns is the way in which they affect your senses. In your eye socket, the sensor which supplements your failing vision is peppered with inexplicable pinpricks of light. Stars, constellations, even, in this darkened hallway. It would be beautiful if not for its agony. Your legs, long since replaced with mechanical constructs, spasm ever so slightly. Temperature warnings blare. The air feels just as cool as ever.

Fifty paces left.

Sickness wells in your throat. Your rebreather stops you from vomiting, leaving you no choice but choke it back down. The taste of metal does not go away. Your legs, if you could ever truly call them yours, do not obey you, they have developed a mind of their own. Sparking, screaming, they spasm and flail for a few short seconds until they go dead completely. The sesation of the cold metal floor is indescribable on your tattered arms. There is naught to do but crawl.

Steel yourself. He protects.

Ragged breath after ragged breath. It's all you can muster.

It's a wonder you're still alive. The cold glass vials of unidentified medicine strapped to your body slowly pumping in a freezing concoction of liquid directly into your veins are keeping you ambulatory, you believe. Maybe it's just a placebo, designed to make you feel better. You have no way of knowing, and soon, it won't matter at all. Being eaten alive is a truly odd feeling.

Pull yourself along.

Maybe eaten is the wrong word. To be eaten is to be consumed, and you are not being consumed. You are still whole, in one piece. What you are is rearranged. The fire you carry on your back has seen fit to rearrange you in its own vision, the unseeing design of a consistent, repetitive wave. It's fate, you think. What governs your fate now is the way electrons bounce from atom to atom, carrying with them the messages of all that they have claimed before you. To call it agony is a misnomer, for agony is a temporary state. This is all you ever have been, and all you ever will be. Your life before now has been stolen from you, as you are no longer what you used to be. Your rearrangement progresses.

Almost there.

Your arms move on their own, allowing your mind to wander. You think back to when you were a young child, and still living with your mother. She was one of the foundry workers at the planetary manufacturing facility, and headed up the pouring of rolls the size of small starships. But when she came home, she was always willing to show you what she had made and how she did it. She had a miniature foundry in the backyard. It was a modest thing, with a small furnace, polished graphite crucibles, and a healthy reserve of molding sand. During lazy summer afternoons, you learned how to create the vacuous spaces in the hardened sand where one day metal would find its home, you learned the principles of metal purifying and alloying, but the one thing you shied away from was the actual pouring of the metal. The crucible was far too hot and the metal far too volatile to ever allow you to deem it safe enough to try. But, inexplicably, one day, for reasons you cannot quite recall, you had volunteered to pour the molten metal into its resting place. As you lifted the crucible out of the roiling flame of the furnace below you, the radiated heat began to take its toll on your body. The skin on your arms, though clad in protective gear, felt at first hot, then blazing, then agonizing to your young brain. It was as if someone had held a lighter to every exposed square inch of skin, and held it there. You began to pour the molten copper into the mold. The first puff of smoke emerged out of the riser, followed by jets of flame. The heat on your skin had far surpassed unbearable, but when you begged for release, the voice of your mother echoed in your ears.

"Keep pouring. Now that you've started, you have to see it through."

And so, you kept pouring. The pain only got worse as you continued, and seconds dragged into what felt like hours. But, like all things, this passed. When the metal ran dry and the mold was full, molten copper peeking over the edge of the risers like a timid mole, you could set the crucible down on its stand and pull away from the oppressive heat. The cool air had never felt better to you.

You have to see it through.

You are once again splayed out on the metal floor. You look down. Your arms have ceased to be recognizable as human, if they ever were in the first place. They more closely resemble the flayed carcass of a jungle beast, skin long since sloughed off. You do not remember when it happened. Probably for the better. The pain has reached unprecedented levels, surprising even yourself as your shredded nervous system still screams with the death throes of all those millions of cells ripped apart and rearranged into something grotesque by the heat emanating from the coffin on your back. You wonder how pain of this caliber has become mundane already. You continue on.

You've made it.

You hoist yourself up on your ravaged arms, detaching your molten burden from your back. It feels so warm simply to be in its presence, yet when a hand is placed upon it, it remains ice cold. With the last of your strength, you remove the contents of the coffin. The stars in your vision are blinding now, and you feebly feel around for a receptacle. Your skinless hands hold no sensation but agony within them now, though, and you resort to blindly forcing the capsule into the wall until it slots into place. You close your eyes, but the pinpricks of light remain.

You exhale.

You do not live long enough to see the jet of flame incinerate your body and the lead coffin which you bore on your back in the last of your moments.

You do not live long enough to see a man peering through a leaded glass window scoff, a number on a fuel monitoring console tick up by one digit, and another body sent into the room to die the same death you did.

You're not sure if it would have been a comfort or a horror to you.

You're not sure it would have mattered.

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