I've been toying around with a magic system for a book in the distant future. This story focuses on a character 'blessed' with two Gifts. The first is empathy, an ability that usually allows the Gifted to share the emotions, or even thoughts, of other living things.
The protagonists second Gift is physiotheurgy - which usually only increases a person's understanding of their physical body, allowing them to optimize it and become faster and stronger than average.
When Gifts mix however, they can become strange cocktails borrowing a little of each power. In Scott's case, this allows him to feel the physical sensations of those around him. Not good news when you work at an abattoir.
Hook entered flesh and the resulting squeal was like a cheese grater against Scott’s skin. Even though it was the pig’s flesh that had been pierced, and not his, the pain was shared. As his father pulled backwards on the hook, freeing the stuck pig from the chute, Scott cried out, his thigh and buttocks spasming. He tried to stay standing, but as the pain grew unbearable he sunk to one knee.
“Scott?” his father asked, letting out a growl of frustration. “If you’re going to take over this business you’re going to have to grow a pair. Get up.”
Scott was pulled to his feet, wincing past tears. He knew from experience the pain would persist as long as the pig was nearby. Trying to keep his breathing even he stood tall, willing himself not to waver and staring his father in the eye with all the pride a thirteen-year-old boy could muster.
“Sorry Dad, but isn’t there a gentler way to get them out of the chute?”
Bob Ogsten regarded his son, shaking his head. He wasn’t a cruel man, though his temper could get out of hand when the shop wasn’t doing well. He scratched his goatee, noting the five o’clock shadow around it for later.
“There are, but they take time.” His face softened and he rested his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I know it’s hard at first, but there are quotas to fill. And besides, they’ll be past pain soon enough.”
“Can we kill it then?” Scott asked, eyes not leaving the pig. “There’s no point in drawing this out.”
His father raised his eyebrows. He didn’t understand. Scott didn’t have any problem slaughtering the animals, he actually preferred them dead. At least then he had his body to himself. The feelings of fear, and pain, and dirt could be put to bed. It was the treatment before the slaughter that bothered him. The abuse the animals could suffer in the name of expediency.
When men did this job too long, they could get weird with the animals. Taking out their own frustrations on the poor creatures with blows and kicks whenever they thought Bob wasn’t looking. Once, Scott had even felt a sheep being buggered, though he never figured out who or where the deed was done. It was hard not to feel personally attacked each time these things happened around him. It was a strange, second-party sort of rape.
Scott did his best to avoid Ogsten Meats Slaughter House all together, but his father would have no truck with that. It was a family business, passed down from generation to generation since the first open market in Upper Canada. As the only child it would be his one day.
He’d tried to tell his father about sharing the animal’s experiences, but he had thought Scott was being metaphoric and called him a pussy. Scott didn’t take it personally, but he didn’t bother to bring it up again. His mother would have understood. She had a Gift too – she handed down physiotheurgy to him – though it was a craps shoot as to where he got the Gift of empathy. But she was dead, so nothing doing.
They led the pig, a bit more gently this time, through to the press, pinning the animal in place between to large, rubber-padded walls. The pressure calmed it, and its squeals of pain became quick, discomforted grunts. Its leg was still burning at Scott, making him limp.
“You okay?” his father asked, nodding towards his uneven stride.
“Mhm, must have pulled something.”
His father fiddled with the dials on the electric pig stunner while Scott hosed down the hog. They used pneumatic captive bolt stun guns for the other animals, but pigs needed electrocuting to keep their meat from pitting. When Bob was ready, Scott moved away from the pig.
The stunner was a rod, capped in two metal spikes several inches from each other. Without ceremony, Bob Ogsten placed the metal prongs on either side of the hog’s neck, just below the ears, and pressed the button on the handle. As the pig briefly seized Scott’s muscles cramped up, black spots appearing in his vision. Then the pig slumped down, and the pain in his leg was instantly gone.
The pig wasn’t dead, only insensible, but that was enough to free Scott. They’d hang the beast by its ankles and let its blood, but neither Scott, nor the pig would have to feel that part.