After being processed, Jacob found himself in his own cell instead of sharing a cage with other vagrants. The cell wasn't much bigger than Sarah's bedroom, which struck him as odd since he had figured it would be smaller. The concrete walls were painted blue while the floor had been left untouched. A cot on a rusty frame that reeked of something Jacob had to ignore and a toilet with a sink built into it were his only amenities. He could hear the ambience of the jail through the barred window on his door, which included the former inhabitant of his cell hurling obscenities at him from down the hall where everyone else was kept together. Five deputies passed by and the insults finally stopped before discipline was administered.
The outfit they had given Jacob to wear was made of a heavy material that made him sweat. His cell was muggy enough on its own. He'd be covered in sweat at work if he hadn't been taken into custody, but it wouldn't have been anywhere near as uncomfortable. He figured the water from the sink might provide some temporary relief, but it came out warm.
Jacob sat on the edge of his cot, trying to remain completely still to keep himself from sweating further. Waiting was far more excruciating than he had anticipated. He had already finished crying, which he had muffled by directing his sobs into his cot. If his explanation couldn't save him from being executed, he was already dead. It hadn't taken him long to perfect it. All they had to do was ask, and he would do his best to persuade them to take his side.
They would reeducate him. Somehow. They had already given him his own cell. Perhaps they felt sorry for him. It wasn't pleasant, but it would save his life. At least, that's what he had to keep telling himself to not lose all hope.
A nagging problem continued to steal what little optimism he had managed to muster. He had no idea what it meant to be reeducated. Jacob hadn't ever met anyone who had gone through the process. His status had been too high. He didn't work with people who troubled the government. It wasn't a topic that was discussed during lunch. He did know they were put into their own class and supervised by case workers who made sure they didn't relapse. Some had even managed to move up a few ranks, but they never got back to where they were before they broke the law. They had been allowed to live. It was only fair.
A knock on the door startled him enough to draw a gasp from his mouth. The lock turned over with an audible click and the door groaned in protest as it opened. A deputy and the officer who had arrested him stepped in. He now carried a holstered taser while the deputy sported the assault rifle he had seen earlier.
The officer crossed his arms. "Get up and keep your hands in front of you."
Jacob did as he was told. He winced as the officer placed a pair of cold metal cuffs around his wrists. The deputy motioned for him to follow the officer and fell in behind him. They stopped for a moment to close his cell before continuing.
"You're going to meet with a court clerk," the officer said without looking back at him as they walked. "She will be able to help you come to certain decisions more easily. It's the best you're going to get since nobody else has agreed to help you."
Another stop was made inside a room designed as a checkpoint to ensure that nobody escaped. Two guards armed with shotguns kept watch above the room. Jacob spotted an opening large enough for them to aim down and shoot him if needed. The atmosphere of the jail changed beyond the checkpoint. As with all buildings maintained by the government, the police station was kept as clean and sterile as a hospital, at least on the side not housing inmates. They kept the air cool, causing Jacob's outfit to cling to him uncomfortably.
They led him through the same hallway he had gone down when he had been processed. The officer opened an unmarked door and gestured for Jacob to step inside. A bespectacled woman wearing a gray business suit with a lavender dress shirt sat at the opposite end of the table. She looked up from her tablet as Jacob entered. He had seen the look she gave him on his mother's face whenever he had been caught doing something wrong. Pity. Jacob sat down in the chair across from her and pulled at his outfit to keep it from kissing his chest.
The woman put her tablet down on the desk. She leaned forward, cupping her hands together and letting them rest in front of her. "Hello, Jacob. I'm Tiffany Moyer. It is only fair for you to be given the opportunity to review your options before you face judgement, and I have volunteered to help you with that. Are you able to see my tablet?"
There was a pause, so Jacob believed she was looking for an audible answer. "Yes, I can."
"Good. I am recording our conversation." She looked at the officer. "We should allow him some good faith. Would you wait outside?"
"Are you sure you want to be alone in a room with him?" the officer asked.
"I am," Tiffany replied. She waited until they had left before continuing. "You are in a dire situation, Jacob. It would be best for you to admit your guilt."
"If I do that, what happens next?"
"In three days, you will appear before the judge in court. I will be there with you to make sure you conduct yourself properly and provide any guidance you might need. The judge will go over everything we have discussed before they arrive. You might be asked a few additional questions and the judge will then make their decision of how your punishment should be handled. It should not take more than thirty minutes."
After almost twenty-seven years, a half of an hour was all it would take to ruin him.
"What are the odds I get to remain alive if I admit guilt?"
Tiffany shrugged. "I can't make you any promises. It will depend on the judge. As I'm sure you're aware, extermination is always an option, but it has been used a lot less lately. The government needs its workers. Relapses are down and many individuals who were formerly thought of as undesirables are happy, productive members of our society."
She spoke about his life effortlessly with words he never imagined would be used to describe it. An undesirable fit for extermination. To her credit, she had kept it professional and had ended her statement on a positive note.
"So, if they don't elect to dispose of me, they will choose to reeducate me. Right?" Jacob waited for Tiffany to nod before continuing. "What exactly is reeducation?"
"It's separating those who have issues identifying with the core values our government has instilled on us from the rest of the population until they are no longer considered a threat to the wellbeing of our society."
A textbook definition. Jacob sighed. "I know that already. Have you ever spoken with anyone who has gone through it?"
"I'm afraid not. I only know that they are looked after by our government and the case workers assigned to them. I would assume it isn't a pleasant process since it is considered a form of punishment."
"You probably haven't ever spoken to a case worker either, have you?"
"No. If it's what the judge decides, you'll be made to work just as you have been doing all your life in whatever job you are assigned. While you're busy being productive, you will come to understand the severity of your crime and through your suffering you will atone for it."
Jacob shook his head. "Why is this being taken so seriously? It's almost as if I've tried to kill someone."
Tiffany tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "I didn't mean to give you that impression. Violence in any form is not tolerated. I am sure you believe you have a good reason for what you have done, but it doesn't change anything. The characters artists use in literature are merely extensions of people they have met in real life or people they would like to meet. You could have had anything happen to the character you have chosen to call Anna, but you opted for violence. I don't know who you based her on, but you have indirectly wished harm on them. You'd be in far less trouble if you had kept her from getting hurt. It would have read less like a power fantasy that way."
"That's ridiculous," Jacob said. "Have you read Jill Went by Margaret Harrell?"
"Yes, I'm familiar with that series."
"Do you know how many terrible things Harrell puts Jill through? She can't decide what she wants at the supermarket. She can't choose between the two men in her life. She must buy sunglasses to keep the sun out of her eyes. Harm has been done to her. Why isn't she on the other side of the building where they keep the female inmates?"
"All of that was approved by a committee of editors. Those editors are aware of how psychologically damaging it can be to be reminded of stress while we are attempting to relax. They're vetted by the government and they can spend as much as half a year analyzing the material they are given. If they have determined the content is safe, we know it is. You can't tell me you figured they would have approved of your story."
"Maybe if I had been given a chance to explain myself."
"I don't believe you're listening to me. Violence is not acceptable. It was even against a woman. As a man, you can't claim ignorance. You know how awful that is. Even if all the rules against that were momentarily pushed to the side, you would still be guilty of producing obscene content and writing fiction without a license. We would be like we were before our grand unification if we tolerated such things."
Jacob prepared to argue with her, but stopped himself. Tiffany couldn't be persuaded otherwise. And she was right. In her own way. The pride Jacob felt for his story diminished. Decisions that had seemed so grand to him before were now revealed to be outrageously inappropriate.
Tiffany sighed and scooted forward in her seat. "Look. I've been doing this and nothing else since I was assigned to this career during selection. I've dealt with many dissidents. All of you have the same thing in common. You are not able to think like the rest of us, but that's okay. The government wants you to be a healthy citizen. Now more than ever. It will be very difficult to change the way you view our world, but they will do their best to help you."
"So long as they don't kill me."
She recoiled, having been struck off guard by his remark. "Yes, well, as I said before, that's not likely. You seem to have some remorse for what you did. If it were up to me, I'd keep you with the rest of us."
"I sure do hope the judge feels the same way," Jacob said, immediately regretting his sarcasm.
"If they don't, you will exit our world feeling at peace with yourself. It's fairer than the archaic methods we can't allow ourselves to forget."
A moment of silence passed as Jacob felt the weight of his mistakes crushing him. There was nothing else to be said. If Tiffany could not be convinced to see his side of the matter, he didn't see how he could have any luck against a judge.
"You could always let me go," Jacob offered hopefully without thinking. "I'll even burn the story if that would make everyone feel better. It would be so simple to pretend this never happened."
"You're harboring thoughts of violence against women," Tiffany said.
Jacob scoffed. "Come on, Tiffany. Am I the only person in the whole wide world who is?"
"Unfortunately, you are not. I can only hope those among us who do will reveal themselves through some mistake before being given the opportunity to act on their desires. Also, I can understand why you just challenged me in the manner you did, so I won't claim harassment. However, if you speak that way in court, you're going to end up in a spot I think both of us would prefer you avoid."
Harassment. As if the content of his story wasn't enough to condemn him. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I'm just looking for a way to lessen the seriousness of this crime." In doing so, he had nearly proved her right.
"I accept your apology, Jacob, but there is nothing you can do to make light of this."
"Fine. I'll follow your advice and plead guilty."
The legs of the chair screeched against the floor as Tiffany got up from her seat and walked over to Jacob with the tablet in her hand. She stood beside him for a moment while she brought up the screen she had in mind. Tiffany sat the tablet down in front of him. With a click of her tongue, she retrieved the stylus she had forgotten to give him and placed it next to the device.
Jacob brought his bound hands to the table. Despite the shackles on his wrists, he was able to pick up the stylus and hold it in his fingers. At the top of the tablet in bold letters was 'Admission of Guilt'. A large box requested his signature.
"Remember, this is permanent. I must stress that. It wouldn't be fair otherwise. Once you sign this, you are guilty. Period."
Jacob endeavored to retain some of his dignity by attempting to produce a legible signature. It was an effort made in vain. "Nothing about any of this is fair."
Tiffany put her hand on his shoulder. "Jacob, you cannot allow yourself to think that. It will not serve you well in front of the judge. All of this has been more than fair. The only reason I agreed to help you was because it was in the best interests of fairness. If it weren't for me, you would be facing this alone if an officer didn't agree to advise you." She leaned in next to her ear to finish her statement at a lower volume. "And as much of an asset as our enforcers are to the government, they have been known to trick people into making poor decisions."
Jacob caught a whiff of her perfume. Lavender. Like her shirt. It was the best he'd be getting for the rest of his life. He had to enjoy it. "Thank you for agreeing to help me."
Tiffany returned the stylus to the pocket she had retrieved it from and saved Jacob's signature to the legal document they had been working with. "You're welcome. I'll see you again in a few days. Do not get any foolish ideas."
He smirked. It was far too late to be saying that.