Slice of Life
rating: +358+x

“Hello, and welcome to Spicy Crust Pizzeria. How can I help you to… oh shit.”

Tyrone, formerly D-23545, was rendered speechless by the sight of the ageing, ragged man standing across the counter from him. He looked older than Tyrone knew him to be, like the ten years that had passed since they last met had somehow made do for thirty. Ill-groomed, ill-dressed and ill-shaven, eyes heavy and sunken, bloodshot from a chronic dearth of sleep. His cheeks were hollow and gaunt, to the point of near starvation. Tyrone didn’t know exactly what the past decade had been like for this man, but he did know that he was the cause of it.

“Hey Mr. Clines, what are you doing out here?” he murmured so softly it was barely audible. The man just shook his head in disgust.

“Heard you were out of prison. I had to see it for myself,” he sneered.

“Yeah. I’m out.”

“How is that possible? You were serving twenty-five to life. You shouldn’t even be eligible for parole for fifteen years! Did you break out?”

“No man, this is all legit. They let me out early. Good behaviour, and all that.”

“Horseshit. You’re a fucking kid killer, they don’t just let -”

“It was manslaughter, actually. I didn’t mean to… look, I can’t say much about it, but I cut a deal, alright?”

“What sort of deal gets a piece of shit like you out of prison fifteen years early?” Clines demanded, disgusted with the injustice that the man who had killed his child was now free.

Tyrone had to suppress an urge to smirk at the irony of it. Many times during his decade of service to the Foundation, he and his fellow D-Class had often debated the ethics of what the Foundation was using them for. Never once did any of them claim that the fact they were getting time off their sentences might be the unethical part.

“I literally can’t say much,” Tyrone said truthfully, his implanted memetic compulsions preventing him from speaking of the anomalous to civilians. “But there are some people who need convicts to do some shitty, high-risk work for them. You do the work, you get time off your sentence. It’s kind of fucked up, yeah, but you keep your end of the bargain, they keep theirs. I’m in a half-way house now, here as part of a work-release program.”

“How wonderful for you,” Clines sneered. Tyrone quickly glanced down to see that Mr. Clines was fingering something in his pocket.

“You got a piece on you Mr. Clines?” he asked calmly as he surreptitiously hit the silent alarm.

“Do you really think you deserve to be free, after what you did?” Clines asked, his voice cracking as he held back hot tears. “You killed her, took her life, and you were supposed to pay with yours! Every day until you die, rotting away in prison, and some government assholes decided that because you did some dirty work for them ten years is good enough? Do you know what I would give for ten more years with her? Do you think that what you did is worth anywhere near the life you took?”

Tyrone’s first instinct was to say ‘of course not’, but then he thought of everything he had been through in the past ten years. All the extra-dimensional and anomalous locations he had explored, all the magic objects he had interacted with, all the monsters he had fought and ran from and stared down, and all the other D-class who hadn’t been as lucky as him.

“I… you know what? Yeah, I do actually. I accept that I got your daughter killed, but it wasn’t murder, and I’ve lived with that guilt every day for the past ten years and I’ll live with it every day until I die. But during the past ten years, I’ve almost died myself, more than once! I’ve risked my life, and the work I was doing saved more lives than I can count. That sounds like the scales of justice are balanced to me.”

“You really think that?” Clines asked, eyeing the security camera and the customers and employees who were staring at them while giving them a wide berth. He knew that if he shot Tyrone he’d be convicted of murder himself. He just hadn’t decided if that was worth it or not. “This hole you’ve left inside me and everyone else who cared about her hasn’t been filled. There’s nothing, nothing, you can do that will ever bring her back. No amount of lives you save can ever make up for the life you took!”

Again, the irony was almost funny. The Foundation always justified what they did through cold utilitarianism. Tyrone had even known a researcher who had estimated the ratio of babies the Foundation fed to demons to the number of people saved by doing so. He kept that ratio pinned to his work tablet, as a constant reminder that what they were doing was, according to some ethic systems at least, good.

That researcher had still hanged himself.

Was this really how it was going to end? After ten years, surviving everything the Foundation had put him through, he was going to be murdered working the cash register at a pizzeria? Was Clines right? Maybe. He did have a point after all; saving the living can’t bring back the dead.

“Mr. Clines, you’re right that nothing I’ve done will bring your daughter back, but killing me won’t fix that either. You shoot me, she’s still dead, you take my place in prison with that hole inside you still there, and my mother who's so happy to have me back after ten years will feel just as bad as you do now. Is that what you want to do? The lives I saved may not do you any good, but it sure stopped a hell of a lot of people from feeling what you do. If you really don't think that's worth anything, and that making my mother as miserable as you are now will make your burden easier to bear, then take your shot man. I won’t stop you. Otherwise, either order something or get out of the way. I recommend the Mozza sticks.”

After a moment of hesitation, Clines pulled out his gun - but holding it by the barrel instead of the grip. He placed it on the counter.

"I'm going to leave that here. I don't trust myself with it. I shouldn't even have it."

"This country, right?" Tyrone smirked, desperate to break the tension. "Man, you look like hell. If you need help I can -"

"You can help me by keeping yourself out of trouble. Best of luck to you, Tyrone."

"Take care of yourself Mr. Clines."

Throwing up his hood, Clines ran past the bystanders and out the front door. Tyrone handed the gun to his supervisor, but remained at his post.

"Ladies and Gentleman, I'm sorry you had to see that. My supervisor here is going to be handing out free pizza coupons as compensation for your disturbance."

"Dude, that was awesome!" a teenage boy swooned. "How'd you keep your cool when you knew that guy could've shot you at any second?"

Tyrone laughed, the answer being all too obvious.

"Kid, in the service I was in, the first thing everyone learned was 'Don't Blink'."

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