Vindictive whispers came from the audience behind Jacob. He looked to Tiffany for support, who rubbed the back of her neck while shaking her head. When it was read aloud in front of an audience, it sounded terrible.

Angela let her tablet drop to the desk in front of her with a clatter. "Pushing women. How barbaric."

Jacob had his explanation ready. All Angela needed to do was ask.

"I believe I missed the point you were trying to convey, Jacob," Angela said.

Stammering would only serve to make him look weaker. Jacob took a deep breath and tried to steady himself. Though he could feel his hands shaking, he managed to keep his voice steady by speaking slowly. "It is about not giving up. It is meant to be inspiring."

Angela pinched the bridge of her nose. "Did it occur to you that there were at least a thousand other ways you could have said this without wishing violence on women?"

"I am not wishing violence on women!" Jacob said, louder than he intended.

Tiffany put a hand on his hip and gave it a squeeze.

"Are we supposed to pretend that nobody trips?" Jacob demanded.

Tiffany whispered through clenched teeth, "Enough!"

Jacob grabbed her hand and shoved it into her gut. "Because I have. When I was a kid. The story is based on a personal experience. My mother said something like what I put down towards the end and it has always stuck with me. It's my favorite memory of her. I made sure to share it at her retirement party before she was ushered through the other side of the veil. I figured it would be a benefit to society if I shared it with everyone. Maybe I could have worded it differently, but I figured people would remember it better if it was a little unsettling."

Angela picked up her tablet and remained silent while she worked with it. Jacob figured she was stalling to aggravate him.

"Tiffany," Angela began, "I see from your notes that you recommend reeducation for Jacob. Do you still stand by that decision?"

Tiffany straightened up, aiming for perfect posture. "Yes."

"I think he's a little too far gone for that, don't you?"

"The new process is said to be far more effective and it would be a shame to lose him."

"Why would it be a shame, Tiffany?"

Jacob watched Tiffany's face lose some color. The ire was on her now, for some reason.

"Electricians with his qualifications are not exactly common," Tiffany replied.

"I think we could survive without this one. Why would you argue with me? Did you like his story?"

Tiffany swayed. She looked like she was almost going to pass out. Jacob leaned away from her and stared at his hands. She didn't need to feel like she needed to save him at her own expense.

"No, it was horrific, but he still deserves another chance."

"Were you aware this is quite a common crime, Tiffany?" Angela asked. "In fact, at least twenty people have been arrested for this same thing in the past month. Imagine how many more keep getting away with it."

"I'd say our justice system is working fine if we were able to catch that many. Given time, I don't doubt we will apprehend the rest."

Angela's neck started turning red. "And should all of them be reeducated, even though it is less of a burden on society to exterminate them?"

"If - " Tiffany caught herself trying to straighten her uniform out again and grabbed the edge of the desk with both hands. "If we keep killing the criminals we catch, we eventually will not have a society for them to burden."

Jacob wanted to interject to take the blame off Tiffany. His intervention might do more harm than good. This was a sick test between her and Angela. She seemed to be passing, which didn't bring him any comfort since everything he thought he had known had been proven to be wrong.

Angela rolled her eyes. "Very well. He will be reeducated. In the meantime, your home will be searched immediately, Tiffany. I do hope you have nothing to hide. Jacob, you owe Tiffany a debt that you can never repay. That will be the least of your concerns going forward. I am stripping you of all eligibility to provide companionship to a woman or facilitating the motherhood of a woman since there will never be a way to truly tell if you have completely recovered. It seems the woman who currently has you officially listed as her companion took quite a fancy to you. Before she turned you in, that is."

A bucket of ice had been thrown in his face. Sarah. Evidently, her loyalty to the government came first. It only made sense.

"You will still be responsible for maintaining the lifestyle she shared with you, so a portion of your salary will be added to her account at the end of every month." She was smiling. Her voice had gained a chipper quality. Angela relished in how easily she could destroy him. "You will be assigned a new job in a different sector after you have gone through rehabilitation since your current career wasn't stimulating enough for you. In time, you might be able to regain some of your status if you work hard enough and maintain a positive attitude. Be sure to always be on your best behavior since you will be continuously monitored. If any part of your recovery proves to be unsatisfactory, we will need to consider other methods. Enjoy the life you are privileged to remain living."

After smashing her hammer down on the gavel once with all her might, she jumped out of her seat and entered her office in a huff. Chatter filled the room. Jacob didn't sigh in relief. His victory had come at a substantial cost. Without the ability to provide companionship or facilitate motherhood, he would only be worth his labor in the eyes of society.

"That went about as well as it could have," Tiffany said.

Her composure was unusual. The police would be in her house while she was at work within the hour, going through all her possessions.

Jacob felt partially responsible for the impromptu raid since it had to do with how she had stood up for him. "I'm sorry that they're going to search your house."

"Don't be, it isn't your fault," Tiffany said. She leaned in closer to speak with him using a lower tone. "She wants you dead, Jacob. The police will be looking for a way to discredit me, which will give her all the reason she needs to reverse her decision. It won't happen, though. I am a loyal citizen."

A wave of pain curled up inside his stomach and slammed against the bottom of his belly. "I think I'm going to be sick."

She took the hint like someone with experience. "Got it, let's go."

Tiffany helped him up and led him out of the courtroom. Jacob's escorts followed them as they went to the end of the hall where the restrooms were. Tiffany entered the men's room with him, which drew looks from the occupants. The back stall was occupied, so Jacob ambled over to the sink and discarded his expired gruel.

It wasn't a pleasant moment, but Jacob had to cherish it. He was out of his cell and his fate hadn't yet arrived. Being ill while a woman rubbed his back in a fully occupied public restroom would wind up being the height of his next six months.

Jacob turned on the sink and cleaned his face, hiding his tears. "I can't believe she turned me in."

"Your companion?" Tiffany asked, receiving a nod. "All of us have to be vigilant, Jacob. Society collapsed once. It could do it again, however unlikely it may seem."

Her statement drew looks from the man washing his hands in the sink to Jacob's right and the two deputies standing in the open doorway. She was trying to comfort him by indirectly expressing disdain for his predicament. It was a fleeting gesture. The laws he had violated would not remain the way they were forever, but they would be in effect for longer than Jacob had left.

Tiffany gathered a few paper towels and handed them to him when he was ready to dry off. His body felt heavier than normal as he made his way back to the staircase. Each step was one step closer to the cell. Much to his surprise, Tiffany remained a member of his entourage the whole way.

Once the door was locked, she stood in front of the barred window. "It should only take a few days until you are sent off to be rehabilitated. Don't let this ruin you, all right?"

Jacob tried to give her a genuine smile. "I'll manage."

"I hope you will," Tiffany said. "Goodbye, Jacob."

"See you around."

X

Some of his teammates were complaining about the weather as they hauled away debris. Jacob smiled to himself. People were meant to enjoy being outside. Besides, the hard part was done already. There were no more bodies to dispose of.

He only had to worry about the nagging pain in his head. It worked as an alarm, reminding him to take his medications. His backpack wasn't far off. Jacob hurried towards it as a series of visions flashed inside of his mind. A room full of doctors. The needle in his arm. Pressure in his head that levelled off. They were simply memories of a reoccurring nightmare.

He swallowed two pills dry. Now that the medicine was in his system, he felt relieved. There was much work left to be done. He couldn't slouch. Everything needed to be rebuilt. Jacob sometimes caught himself trying to envision just how much more ruins were left. Someone had once given him an estimation, but it struck him as so abstract that he didn't need to be concerned with it.

Jacob tripped over a piece of rubble, falling forward on his knees. Laughter could be heard from the same voices who were whining earlier. He was a clutz, but they weren't any better. In fact, they were worse. Jacob had made it a point to remember they had both had little accidents at least six times in the past day. Or two. This would be his third in four days. Or perhaps six. It didn't matter.

His knees hurt. Something was wrong. Jacob checked and discovered he had landed on broken glass. A trip to the medic would be in order. The officer wouldn't like it, but that was okay.

Blood had been drawn, but there wasn't a lot of it.

Why are you crying, Jacob?

Jacob scooted away from the glass, put his back up against what was left of a wall, and scratched his ears. He could hear the voice in the center of his head. It was so loud it seemed like somebody was in front of him, but nobody was.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It won't do you any good.

Now his ears were ringing and his vision blurred. He would need to tell the doctor about this. Someone was already heading his way. They had seen him fall. It wasn't an officer, though. Or a doctor. But it could have been either of them. They just weren't dressed like they were supposed to be. That could happen.

Jacob felt water streaming down his face. He rubbed at his eyes. Tears. They didn't need to see him like this. He needed another pill. That made three. Or four. It was a lot. He'd had a lot lately, which was a shame.

The doctor would help him.

He waved at the man coming towards him. Some people were yelling for some reason. Jacob spotted a rifle in the hands of the approaching individual. Plenty of people he had seen carried those. They were dressed a lot better when they did.

A fresh burst of pain behind his right eye prompted him to shove two of his fingers into its socket. With the one eye he still had open, he watched the man raise his rifle.

Don't let this ruin you, all right?

Author's Note: Though published in 2021, this story has been sitting around unpublished since 2018. I gave it one more look before deciding to share it with everyone. Thank you for your interest in it.