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“Firme el formulario en las líneas 3, 5, 18 y 23. Esta última declaración está finalizando el acuerdo que a cambio de un mes de servicio en pruebas científicas para la Fundación, será liberado de su condena a muerte. Recuerda que el trabajo que estás haciendo aquí beneficiará al mundo", dijo el asistente legal de aspecto seco y aburrido, pero de alguna manera familiar, mientras sacaba un trozo de papel.

“Y mientras haga este mes de…pruebas científicas para la humanidad, ¿seré libre? ¿Sin preguntas?” Contesté, algo vacilante.

“Siempre y cuando no divulgue ninguna información obtenida durante las pruebas, puede volver a su vida previa al encarcelamiento sin ninguna penalización. No se le reembolsará por este período de tiempo en el encarcelamiento o las pruebas", respondió el asistente legal. Dio unos golpecitos a su bolígrafo con impaciencia.

"Bueno, cualquier cosa es mejor que esto, ¿verdad?", Le respondí. "Solo quiero decir, gracias por esta oportunidad." En un impulso, agarré la mano del hombre y la sacudí con fuerza.

Sus ojos se abrieron con sorpresa, como si realmente me notara por primera vez. Cuando se encontró con mis ojos, de repente apartó la mirada rápidamente, como si viera algo en mis ojos. "No hay problema señor. Espero que esta sea una relación mutuamente rentable", respondió, como si estuviera distraído. Él miró hacia otro lado con una mirada de disgusto en su rostro.

Cuando los guardias comenzaron a sacarme de la habitación, comencé a pensar en silencio para mí mismo.

Un mes no era demasiado largo. Yo podría hacer eso. Podré ver a mi familia pronto.

¿Cierto?


"Abre la puerta, entra y recorre el camino. ¿Entendido?" El investigador, con impaciencia, golpeó su pluma.

"¿Y estás diciendo que la llave…cambia lo que hay detrás de la puerta?" Vanki le preguntó al médico, escéptico.

"Sí. Solo camina por el sendero, y estarás bien." El investigador respondió. "Entra rápido, sin embargo. Nunca antes hemos probado esto con varias personas."

Miré a Ramírez. Se encogió de hombros mientras los guardias nos guiaban hacia la puerta que conducía a la cámara de descontaminación. Tyler recibió la llave. Lo insertó en la puerta, algo vacilante.

Giró la llave y abrió la puerta. Lo que nos recibió no fueron las paredes y el equipo estériles de la cámara de descontaminación, sino una escena de bosque brumoso.

Todos retrocedimos en shock.

"Jesús, realmente funcionó", respiró Ramírez. "¿Qué demonios es esto?"

Me quedé en shock. En realidad funcionó. "¿E-es esta magia o algo así?"

Se encendió una voz sobre el sistema de megafonía. "Personal de Clase-D, por favor ingrese al bosque."

Nos agarramos las manos unos a otros, según las instrucciones, y rápidamente entramos a la puerta. Se cerró de golpe detrás de nosotros tan pronto como Ramírez, llevando la retaguardia, logró pasar.

Encendimos nuestras linternas y comenzamos a caminar por el sendero.

"¿Qué demonios es este lugar? Esto es espeluznante como la mierda, hombre." Vanki dijo, mientras lideraba el grupo.

"No se hombre. Solo pasemos por este lugar. Cuanto antes terminen los 30 días, mejor, en lo que a mí respecta", respondió Tyler.

Mientras caminábamos por el bosque, una voz resonó sobre la radio enganchada al cinturón de Vanki. "Personal de Clase-D, ¿informan algún cambio en la salud o el estado de ánimo?"

"No, doctor, me siento bastante bien", respondió Vanki.

"Por favor proceda según lo planeado."

La niebla espeluznante pareció invadirnos mientras seguíamos el camino a través del bosque. El cielo nocturno oscuro se extendía una y otra vez, envolviéndonos en su abrazo misterioso y premonitorio.

"NO me gusta la sensación de este lugar. ¿Dónde estamos, incluso?" Me estremecí, mirando alrededor.

"No se parece a ningún lugar del que haya oído hablar. Me preocupa más cómo llegamos aquí." Murmuró Vanki.

De repente, pensé que escuché algo en el bosque. "¿Ustedes escucharon eso?"

Ramírez se congeló. "Sí. Parecía un animal."

Todos nos detuvimos. Balanceé mi linterna por el bosque. No revelo nada más que la extensión enmarañada de árboles y maleza.

"Estás escuchando cosas. Es fácil volverse paranoico aquí, supongo", dijo Tyler.

"Podría haber jurado que escuché algo", respondí.

Seguimos por el camino. Me mantuve alerta.

Entonces, escuché el sonido nuevamente.

"¡Ahí está otra vez! Esta vez sonó más cerca, lo juro", insistí.

"Yo también lo escucho, muchachos. Me estoy volviendo loco", tragó Ramírez.

"¿Estás seguro de que es-" comenzó Vanki.

De repente, escuchamos un rugido estremecedor, cuando algo salió disparado del bosque hacia nosotros.

"¿QUÉ MIERDA ES ESO?" Ramírez gritó. Lo ignoré cuando rompimos para salir corriendo.

Corrimos por el bosque, tan rápido como pudimos, ignorando los otros sonidos y rugidos que provenían del bosque. Mientras seguíamos corriendo, la cosa seguía rugiendo y persiguiéndonos. De repente, una ruptura a través de la niebla reveló una puerta idéntica a la que entramos.

"¡Ahí está la puerta! ¡Date prisa! ¡Ramírez!" Vanki gritó.

Ramírez gritó cuando tropezó y cayó al suelo. Me detuve por un momento, pero Vanki me agarró del brazo.

"Demasiado tarde hombre, ¡tenemos que irnos!" Gritó en mi cara.

"Pero, Ramírez-"

"¡Demasiado tarde hombre!"

"Help! Jesus fucking Christ, help me, I think my ankle's twisted. Oh god, oh god, oh god." Ramirez sobbed, as he tried to crawl closer to us.

Tyler jammed the key in the door, tears streaming down his face. He threw it open, revealing the decontamination chamber.

"OH FUCK IT'S GETTING CLOSER! HELP! HELP ME GUYS! I DON'T WANNA DIE!" Ramirez screamed at us, his voice breaking as he sobbed helplessly.

Vanki pushed me in, as the three of us made it through the door. As he slammed it shut, I heard a new scream from Ramirez. The last look that I saw of him was his outstretched hand, reaching towards us.

The guards took us back to our cell. We trudged along silently. They pushed us into our cell and slammed the door shut.

Tyler climbed up into his bed and faced the wall. Vanki stood, facing the wall. I was stretched on my bed. The bunk above me was conspicuously empty.

Vanki suddenly kicked the wall. "What the fuck was that?"

"I don't know man, I don't know," Tyler said, in between sobs.

"I've been through some rough shit before, but nothing like this. What the fuck have we gotten ourselves into?" Vanki sighed, as he sat down, putting his head in his hands.

I spoke up.

“You know, we signed those forms. They have to let us go. It’s all been recorded. They can’t go back on their word now. It's only a month.” I offered, somewhat hopefully.

The glares from Tyler and Vanki were all I needed to see to gauge what they thought of that.

But, it was recorded. They had to let us go.

Right?


As the guards opened the doors and chambers leading to the testing chamber, we stood around in our bulky heat-resistant suits. They were tough to move in, and that was compounded by the huge blast-shields and fire extinguishers that we were also forced to carry. Tyler carried a large container of gasoline on his back. Vanki and I flanked him.

“Remember, go in, drop the fuel, and get out. Stay too long, and we can’t guarantee your safety,” the guard reminded us.

“Since when have you bastards ever guaranteed our safety?” Vanki shot back.

The guard narrowed his eyes at us, but said nothing. Finally, a green light flickered on above us, and the guard slammed the button.

“Go, go, go!” He yelled at us.

We began to jog through the last chamber. Vanki and I brought up the front as Tyler jogged closely behind. The bulky suits were hard to run in, and I almost tripped a few times.

It became unbearably hot as we suddenly found ourselves in a small, humid room. In an offset alcove, a flame seemed to flicker at our appearance.

Quickly, we stopped and faced the flame. Tyler quickly took off the container of gasoline on his back, and placed it on the ground. Seeing the pack, the flame flickered again, and began to race towards it.

“Let’s get out of here!” Vanki yelled, as we suddenly turned around. I nodded, and we began to run out.

However, as we turned to run, we heard a yelp behind us. Turning around, I saw Tyler trip and fall to the ground, tripping on the bulky suit. At the same time, the flame reached the gasoline container, and suddenly exploded into a much larger form. It seemed to pounce on Tyler with glee.

Tyler screamed.

The suit began to melt, as the flame hungrily attacked it. The overhead sprinklers exploded into action, drenching the flame with water, as we were suddenly jolted by the abrupt change.

We unleashed the fire extinguishers on the flame, which hissed and crackled, as it was driven back to its alcove. We grabbed Tyler and dragged him out of the chamber.

As we made our way out, I heard Tyler moan. Glancing down, I almost puked. The entire lower half of the suit was a melted slag-like mess. Tyler kept moaning, and it sounded like he was crying too. Vanki glanced down and winced, his face turning white.

"Hold on, Tyler, just hold on. We'll get you to a doctor, just hold on buddy." I reassured Tyler. He only moaned louder in response.

"Guys…I-I can't feel my legs. I can't feel much guys. W-why does it hurt?" Tyler whispered.

"It's okay, you're going to be alright. Just…just hold on, okay?" I replied, biting my lip.

"I don't want to hurt anymore," Tyler whimpered.

Finally, we cleared the last containment chamber, and dragged what was left of Tyler through the door. A team of doctors swarmed us as we passed through. Vanki and I tried to ease Tyler out of the suit, but he kept screaming whenever we tried to pull him out. The slag of the suit had melted to portions of his body, and we couldn't get him out easily.

The guards grabbed us before we could keep helping, and forced us to take off the heat-resistant suits, before they yanked us back to our cell, without a word.

As we were forced back to our cell, we heard screams coming from the nearby medical wing. It sounded like Tyler.

I went back to my chamber with Vanki. He walked over to our toilet, fell to his knees, and vomited.

Later, a notice came to us that Tyler had been terminated to "put him out of his pain."

Only 20 more days. They had to let us go.

Right?


"You will enter the room, and open the door on the western wall. You will see two other personnel who are identical to the two of you. Until one entire set of personnel has been terminated, the door will not open. Use whatever means necessary to terminate the other set of personnel," the researcher read off of his paper. "Got it? Good."

The door was swung open, and Vanki and I were roughly shoved in. I glanced around the room, looking for anything that we could use as weapons.

I spied a bottle of beer in the fridge. Grabbing it by the neck, I smashed the end. An impromptu knife was better than nothing. Vanki picked up another bottle as well.

We stood in front of the marked door on the western wall. I glanced at Vanki, who looked back at me.

"When we open that door, roll up both of your sleeves, so we know who's who. Otherwise, we could kill each other by accident," Vanki told me. I nodded at him.

For another moment, we simply stared at the foreboding door.

"You ready?" He asked.

I sighed. "Yeah. Let's do this."

Vanki nodded, and he threw open the door. While doing so, we both rolled up both of our sleeves quickly.

Looking across the gap at us were two identical copies of us, also holding smashed bottles. They had kept their sleeves long. For a surreal moment, both sets of us simply stared at each other in pure shock.

Then, Vanki broke the silence by screaming and lunging at his twin.

I snapped out of the momentary pause, and dodged to the side as my twin came at me with a jab. I slashed at him with my bottle, but he ducked underneath it. Suddenly, he came at me with a tackle.

I fell to the ground with a heavy "oof" as the air was driven out of my lungs. The bottle came out of my hand as I did so, falling to the ground and shattering. I rolled over, putting my twin on the bottom. As I began to punch my twin, I heard a scream of pain.

Glancing over in distraction, I saw that Vanki had stabbed his twin in the stomach. The wounded twin was lying on the ground, grimacing. Vanki kicked him in the face.

That moment of distraction proved enough for my twin to throw me off. Before I could react, he drove his fist through my stomach. I doubled over, falling to the ground. My twin jumped on me, and wrapped his hands around my neck.

"I'm sorry, man. I gotta do this. We have a family to get back to, you know," my twin grimaced, as he tightened his grip.

I flailed around, trying to throw his grip. My twin seemed to know what he was doing though, and he only tightened the pressure. I tried to gasp for air, but I got nothing. I was starting to see spots in my vision, and everything began to turn blurry.

Then, the pressure vanished. I gasped for air, and saw Vanki throwing my twin off. They rolled through, over into the other room. As they scrabbled for better positioning, I saw Vanki gain the upper hand, as he smashed my twin's head against the corner of the table several times, and then finish it off with a stomp on his head.

The battered body of my twin slumped, as the blood began to pool. Vanki was breathing raggedly, and he unsteadily stood up. As I got up, I tried to move over to him. I was too late to warn him when his twin came up.

"Vanki! Watch out!" I cried, a moment too late. His eyes widened in alarm, as he began to turn around.

Vanki's twin grabbed Vanki, and slit his throat with the smashed bottle. Gurgling, Vanki hit the ground, as his blood began gushing out of the severed arteries.

I screamed, and ran forward, tackling Vanki's twin. I grabbed a shard of broken glass, and ripped it sideways across the twin's throat.

When I left the room, the guards took me back to the facility. I went back to my cell, alone.

I curled up into a ball on my bed.

Tears began to stream down my face. Everyone was gone. I was all alone.

10 more days. I only needed to survive for ten more days.

Right?


“Congratulations for your service. You have officially served for a month, and are free to go. Just one thing though," the researcher said to me.

"What the hell do you assholes want? Haven't I done enough for you?" I shot back, bitterly remembering what I had seen over the course of this month.

"Relax. We just need to do one more physical, in order to examine the lasting effects of the objects that you've been exposed to. Take this pill, it's for the PET scan." The doctor handed me a small blue pill.

I popped it in my mouth, and swigged it down with a gulp of water. As I jumped up onto the examination table, I began to think of my family.

It had been so long since I had seen them. Emily would be…5 now? And Tim would be just entering third grade. God, I missed them so much.

I was going to see them soon.

I was going to se-


“Sign the form on lines 3, 5, 18, and 23. This last statement is finalizing the agreement that in return for a month of service in scientific testing for the Foundation, you will be released from your death row sentencing. Remember that the work that you're doing here will benefit the world,” the dry, bored looking, yet somehow familiar legal assistant stated, as he droned off a piece of paper.

I signed the form. What did I have to lose? As I stood up, I grabbed the legal assistant's hand and shook it. It seemed like the right thing to do.

“I just want to thank you for this opportunity that you’re giving me.” I said, earnestly thanking him.

He only looked away in response. “I hope that we have a mutually profitable relationship, sir.”

As the guards led me to a waiting van, I began to quietly think to myself.

It was only a month. 30 days wasn't much. I could see my family soon.

Right?

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