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"The rules are simple." The obese Magistrate's line of thought was cut off as he let off a series of throaty coughs, where thick red globs flew from his mouth into his outstretched handkerchief. One of the formally dressed medical personnel stepped forward with a small trash can and replaced the fine silk cloth with a clean one.
Ferdinand glared angrily at those little handkerchiefs. Each one was worth more than everything he ate in almost two solid weeks, and this was the tenth one the man had thrown away within the short time him and his fellow inmates had been gathered here. There were many in the gathered crowd who would kill just to get ahold of one of those.
The Magistrate took a few moments to recover, finally dragging is immense body upright to stare at the endless rows gathered before him. "Now, where was I?"
An assistant leaned forward and spoke quietly into his ear. The Magistrate waved him off after a couple of moments and brought the small microphone closer to his mouth. "Yes, well, as I said: the rules are simple. They had to be for scum like you to understand." He let out a booming chuckle that his advisors and assistants immediately took up, careful not to offend him by not laughing.
"Two of you will be taken at random and placed in the chamber you see before you." Ferdinand bitterly imagined the spectacle it would take for the magistrate to lean forward and see the chamber itself. He’d probably have a heart attack. “The chamber itself, is used for incinerations. I am told it can grow to more than one million degrees celsius in less than ten seconds, hot enough to kill you in less than three. The chamber is divided into two sides, in each side is a button. Press the button and the incinerator in the opposite side will be activated, killing the person in the other side. Once one of the buttons is pressed, the other will be locked in place.”
“So here is our challenge for you.” Ferdinand and the other inmates leaned forward, listening closely. He didn't like the direction this was going. So much for a vacation to finally get some fresh air. “If both men can refrain from pressing the button for five minutes, you both will go free, your criminal records still intact but closed to the public eye, your property given back to you.”
“However, should one man press the button, he will go free, and take both his and the property of the other man, and your record fully expunged.” The inmates gathered started to look excitedly at each other. Redemption, freedom, everything forgiven; it was, simply put, a dream come true. And all they had to do, was kill someone they didn't even know? Be careful boy Ferdinand’s father’s voice came back to him. Anything that sounds too good to be true, usually is.
Ferdinand himself wasn't entirely sure how he felt about it. He had been imprisoned five years ago for armed robbery of a government official. The one time he didn't have a partner to watch his back, he had been caught. But now, he had a chance to change all of that, but it was at a price he wasn’t sure if he could bring himself to pay. He had found a sort of religion in prison, started to reform his life. To kill someone though.
He knew the others weren't likely to hesitate. Why would they? They didn't know him. Many of them were murderers anyways.
The Magistrate continued. “Simply put, we have to many of you vermin to keep imprisoned. You are a drain on our revenue that needs to be taken care of quickly and efficiently. So, we are making a pardon for you. If you can be trusting enough in the other man, then you will go free. If you are willing to get rid of a criminal for us though, we will let you go, in many cases make you rich, and completely absolve you of your crimes.”
An assistant brought forward a golden bell and a small hammer, handing them both to the Magistrate. “Let the games,” he took the hammer dramatically and hit the bell, the sharp sound ringing out across the crowded room, “Begin!”
A number suddenly appeared on the inside of his hand cuff, letting off a light ping. The number six was illuminated in blue. The first two people survived, despite what he thought would happen between the two homicidal maniacs put into the box.
They were the only ones he saw survive. The next five had someone press the button, the third group lasting just four seconds, a number he attributed to the amount of time it took the inmate to reach the button and press it.
There was no windows, something he was infinitely grateful for, but a small pillar of black smoke rose into the air when that side of the incinerator was purged.
All of a sudden, the shackles unlocked and Ferdinand found a guard standing over him, a large caliber rifle cradled in his arms. Ferdinand got up, reality suddenly hitting him. It was now. He might die. He might have to kill someone. He might go free. But it was happening. Now.
He was lead up to the front of the room, his mind aimlessly wandering to admire the swooping architecture of the domed building. He hadn't really taken the time to notice it before. He realized he should have.
The four inches of solid metal clanged shut behind him, the lock grinding into place. There wasn’t any smells in the entire room, something he was surprised about. There was a short table in the middle of the room, and a small, innocent looking button in the center. Next to the button was a small screen, encased in some sort of glass that must have had a very high melting point.
On the screen, there was a picture of a man he didn't know, a line of slow moving words moving up the screen, the long list of crimes this man had done. He was elderly now, but once he had went on a long crime spree, killing people, robbing stores, banks. The list went on and on.
He deserved to die. Ferdinand couldn't let such a man out on the streets. It should be an easy choice. All he had on his soul was robbery. He could live, he could find peace. He could go home, find that girl he had promised to come home to. It would be easy. Just one little tap.
And it was right then that he knew.
He couldn't do it.
But the other man obviously didn’t have the similar qualms, and the last thing Ferdinand thought, was that the room felt a little hot.