When the ad had read 'Explorers wanted' Kenji hadn't expected the testing to be this rigorous. He'd prepared a fake resume of life in the special forces, complete with the contacts of various senior military officers known to have schizophrenia. He'd learned about military life from a few autobiographies, how to use some exploration tools, and even basic martial arts. He had planned, he had prepared, and now...
Well, strapped down to a hospital bed, unable to move his head while he was rushed past bustling scientists with white robes and soldiers with white masks, he felt something was off. Actually, now that he thought about it, everything was white, the tools, the plastic walls, the lights in the ceiling and even the pupils of the only person not wearing a mask. The man wore a white suit, a white tie, with alabaster hair and jet-black skin. He smiled with pristine white teeth, white wrinkles creasing his dark cheeks.
"Excuse me, what's happening?" Kenji said, the suited man, scientists, and soldiers alike ignoring him as they stared into the blinking green and red screens. Distantly an alarm rang and screams echoed. Kenji tried to look, but the straps held even his head firmly in place.
"Send him anyway, we needed one more," a woman with a tired tone says, the wheels of the hospital bed screeching along as Kenji entered a room filled with a gigantic machine of floating steel and spinning tubes to form what looked like a giant metallic head surrounded by hundreds of waving snakes. Someone else was wheeled out, going the other way. A brute of a man, grey skin constructed of nothing but scars and muscle, his eyes wide open and grey, his mouth frozen mid-scream.
Kenji blinked, finally realising the man had been turned to stone.
"Stop, I don't want to go anymore. J-just, let me go back to my desk job!"
Kenji didn't have a desk job, but he thought it would make him sound better.
"Prepare the Medusa, we found a replacement," another man said in a neutral tone, ignoring Kenji's pleading.
"This is actually a raid, you're all under arrest," Kenji said, deadly serious, "failing to release an undercover officer is a criminal offence! Let me go and I shall look into your case favourably."
No one so much as looked in his direction. Kenji was confident he was a great actor, so he realised they must already know about his perpetually unemployed status. Other than the occasional gaming competition of course. And a little swindling on the side, a cheeky amount, real slap on the wrist kind of stuff.
Wheeled in, Kenji was placed in a circle of people who looked liked they routinely had their mugshots placed in the news. In fact, Kenji recognised a man with a snake tattoo curled around his face, the side of his head a twisted mess of burnt skin. Wasn't he the one the police caught for setting fire to hospitals in America? The reporters on TV had called him 'Dr Pyro', Kenji was sure of it.
"Actually that was a joke," Kenji says with a great smile, his best, as his bed was fixed to the floor.
"Just wanted to brighten up the place. Now, how about letting me go and we can talk about this?" Kenji was ignored, the scientists and their soldiers retreating out of the room as heavy blast doors descended after them.
To his left was a haunting remnant of a woman who might have been beautiful before acid had melted the top of her head and part of her face. The gorgeous almond eyes beneath the horror seemed utterly empty of emotion. Yet when she turned to look right into Kenji and fluttered those long eyelashes ever so slowly, he froze. That blank look, it was the exact same as 'Soulless', the woman responsible for poisoning all those politicians in India. She was supposed to be in a maximum-security prison, wasn't she? Kenji remembered his online gaming buddies laughing about it.
"I'm really rich you know!" Kenji calls to the people looking through windows above the blast door, the glass tinted blue, turning the people to mere shadows, except for one white-toothed smile in a jet-black face that stood out just fine. "My parents will pay whatever you want! You can look up our company, it's called Illiad Pty Ltd!"
"Waste of time. Your capitalist wiles will not work, pig. These are the people who print your dollars, trading back their own paper is a terrible idea," Cackled a bastard to his right, his Russian accent so thick Kenji had trouble understanding him.
Turning with gritted teeth, Kenji found an old man grinning at him, the hammer and sickle branded into his wrinkled head. Kenji knew for certain who this geezer was, his group of communist restorationists was the one that had shot up that airport in Russia. Not only that, he had several of his cult members seize planes, and had them fly into various banks throughout Moscow. Didn't Putin execute him for that?
"What did they put you in for?" The old communists said.
"What do you mean? I answered a local ad, they said they were trialling a VR game and wanted 'adventurers'," Kenji said, trying to wriggle free. "Aren't you that Russian terrorist? The one in the news?"
"Da. Worst of worst they call me, but after going into capitalist prison I know I am far from that. I am number 17 of all 18 here," the grandpa laughs, "Why are you here wage slave? Do tell the true reason, Krakov loves good story."
Krakov...Krakov Stanovich. Kenji remembered his name now, the guy who convinced one hundred and eighty-two people to die for him. Convinced them that he was their glorious supreme leader. And he was only number 17? Thinking fast, Kenji calculated this room would fit about...18 people in beds like his, arranged as they were.
"I used to make LSD, a third of the world's supply. Then one day I put poison in a huge batch of the stuff, a slow-acting one. 180,000 people around the world died from my little lab, the local governments chalking it up to 'overdoses'," Kenji said with his best evil grin. It was false, completely untrue. But Kenji had always been like that, trying to blend in, even when he really shouldn't. Because if he was going to be playing a game with these guys, he didn't want to be seen as an easy target.
And if there was one thing Kenji new, it was how to beat others in a game of bluffs.
He'd just get this over and done with as quickly as possible. And avoid getting caught out and tortured by the criminals while he was at it, seeing as the scientists were pretty uninterested in letting him go.
"JUST CHECKING," Kenji yelled, "CAN YOU LET ME OUT-"
The straps surged with electricity and Kenji screamed. In a blur, he looked to the side, where the Indian girl stared right back. For a flicker, her eyes don't seem so hollow. Deep as caverns sure, but near their deepest depth, Kenji thought he saw- a needle plunged into his head and pierced his brain. Kenji screamed.
And continued to scream as he was sucked out of his body. For a moment he saw his body turn to stone behind him, as he was dragged into a vortex of stars along with seventeen other souls.
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