Object 283

The Holder of Labor

In any city, in any country, find any refinery or factory and seek out the foreman. Pull him away from his labors and yell over the machinery that you seek "The Holder of Labor". If he looks confused, leave the site at your own pace; you are in no danger until the next time you dare seek this Object. Otherwise, he will sigh with bone-deep weariness and pull you along at a run. No matter the conditions when you arrived, the sky will begin to cloud into a toxic brown, lit by a constellation of burning flares. Breathing will become difficult, and you will dodge sudden gouts of sparks or steam from the machinery, but continue along at his breakneck pace, or the equipment will exact its revenge for your laziness.

After hours of flat-out running, the foreman will hurl you into a tiny caged elevator that descends with a grinding ponderousness. You will have plenty of time to stare at the machinery that now surrounds you, stretching in every direction through a murky brown lit by a raw electricity and warning flashes. Molten metal pours in rivers, then waterfalls, as mile-high pistons stamp loud enough to knock your feet from the floor. The air becomes stifling and toxic, burning your lungs as much as your skin.

The views become increasingly hellish during the day of descent. The cage grows scalding, then red-hot around you; the only possible relief is in water hissing down from above, but one contaminated drop will leave you retching until your life's blood drains away. Gears the size of aircraft carriers clash in the distance, lit only by the glow of friction, as people fall into their meshing teeth from hoppers. The factory drinks entire seas to cool itself, devouring a hundred million worlds and burning them all in a testament to its own idiot strength.

When the elevator stops at last, you must move quickly, for like the ocean depths, this abyss has its own predators. The machines here aren't fed nearly as often. Run through the dark, and pray that no ocean of ash swallows you, though it would be preferable by far to being caught by whining saws and stray wires, dragged in to be threshed through a grinding engine for all eternity. Run through the black maze for as long as it takes until you see a set of fuses, big as you are, burning in the hostile dark. Each has a spare below it. All you have to do is wrestle each one free and slide the spare in before the machines find you. The fuses are hot enough that the glass is soggy, of course. And the fuses don't like being moved; they'll call for help. So work. Work until your skeleton shows in the blisters.

Should you manage this impossible task, the fuses will explode. One fuse, in particular, will lob a metal filament straight past you. You must snatch it from the air, grinding it deep into the charcoal that was your flesh until the pain shocks you home again, healed and weary at the ungodliest hour.

The wire snarled around your fingers is Object 283 of 2538. You didn't even get an answer out of this one; nobody ever said hard work got you anywhere.