Crucible

Ignus aurum probat

I.

Nico Valentin knew he should be in prison. Instead orange rind sunrays wrestled with his shadow as cigarette ash dripped at his feet. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke, it came out clearly and without hesitation. "I want to go home."

"Home?" The voice is cold and mechanical. It sounds like the voice of a machine.

"Yes," Nico said. "My home."

The voice laughs. "Nico, you forsook home quite a long time ago."

"No!" Nico cried. "It's not my fault! I just...I don't know what happened..."

"You're a lost cause," the voice says. "Your mind has been warped by your environment. You can never return home."

"What do you mean? What's wrong with me?"

"Nothing. Nothing is wrong with you. You are simply different than most people. Your brain was designed for one thing: survival. You won't fit in anywhere. You'll be consigned to the trash heap of society."

Nico is quiet as he smokes his cigarette.

"You should have known this would happen to you," the voice continues.