Day 364 of the 186th Generation
People thought I was angry all the time, but I wasn’t.
I let it go.
I breathed it in.
Anger was air. It was something I was used to breathing it in and letting it out.
But now… I had breathed out.
I was still angry.
And so was George.
“How could you have done this? How could you have not told me?” I shouted.
George looked up from the supply basket. He looked almost intimidating, and it reminded me that, as my trainer, he could order me to do anything and never needed an explanation. Ever.
He picked up the glove. He looked at the basket again. He pushed it away from him.
It was still disorganized.
Today was the day he was supposed to be cleaning and organizing for the next Protector.
Only there was no point. I would be his next Protector.
He threw the glove at the mat where I was. “I’m sorry. Are we supposed to communicate important details? I missed that. Especially when you, as a Protector, are supposed to inform me you want to serve a repeat year before signing your papers.”
He was right, and it burned. It’s why he had defaulted to making me do meaningless exercises.
“Get up,” George said, as I was midway through a push up. I stood up quickly, my eyes ahead, hoping habit would help me not have another outburst.
His voice sounded controlled and short. I could tell he was holding back his emotions better than I was. He opened his mouth to speak to me and then shut it again. Instead, he said, “Sit-ups. Again. Go.”
This would be my fifth set.
“How many?” I asked robotically.
“As many as it takes for me to know that you’ll live through next year.”
I moved down to the mat. I performed the first five as if they were effortless, even though my muscles were screaming.
“Hannah…” I squeezed my elbows to my knees. “Approved… the form. And….you knew….. this was coming.”
I had finished another twenty sit-ups by the time he finally spoke.
“I didn’t want you to make the final decision yet. I wanted you to wait a few days to rest. Until after you’ve seen Caleigh.”
“Don’t use her to manipulate me!” I shouted, getting up from the mat again. “Don’t you dare!”
He closed his eyes, dropping another glove to the mat.
“Brie, I want you to survive this.”
“Then make me better. Make me stronger. One reason why I signed up is because of Heather, but it’s not out of guilt. I want to be a better Protector this year. I can be strong enough for that. Do you believe me?”
“Almost,” he sighed again. “I almost believe you. Except you don’t want to be stronger. This won’t work if you can’t…”
He had paused. But I was impatient. “Can’t what?”
He snapped back quickly. “Sleep without nightmares. Take two deep breaths in a row. Like hold a position of stability… It’s been more than five months since Heather, of you still sinking back into panic attacks. I will not approve you otherwise and remember I have the power to deem you psychologically unfit. In front of the Council, before Eldridge names you in two days!”
I sighed. He was right. He usually was. My mental and emotional stability wouldn’t pass any psych test right now.
“Please don’t,” I begged him. “Please.”
“Trust me, then,” he said, defensively. “Trust me that if you stay, I want to help. Unless you’d rather…unless Hannah thinks…”
But my anger left. Vanished. Instantly. I paused, got up, and stepped forward.
“Did Hannah say that I wanted Avery as my trainer?”
He didn’t look up at me.
I sighed. “I’ve rarely disagreed with her. But I don’t want Avery as my trainer. She wanted me to switch. She’s been pressuring me. She hoped to use it as a wedge to pull us apart.”
George paused. He looked at me suspiciously. “So, you didn’t want to switch trainers?”
“As much as you tell me I shouldn’t be serving a second year—”
He interrupted quickly. “Which you shouldn’t.”
“And as much as I want you to stop lecturing me that I have so much more to do with my life and I should retire—”
“Which you should.”
“And as much as I hate my mistakes, I’d rather regret them than be proud of them, which is what Avery and Hannah want…”
He didn’t interrupt. There was no retort or movement. He just stared ahead, as if seeing the truth behind Hannah’s lie.
I took a breath, and then kept my voice steady, so he knew I wasn’t lying. “I still put your name down, George, not Avery’s. Even with Hannah breathing down my neck,” I said.
And in a rare moment of peace and solidarity, he looked at me as if he was the proudest, he had ever been.
Then it vanished. My voice rose again. “But then you had to mess it up! After all that loyalty, you chose another trainer for me, anyway!”
George put his hands up from trying to organize the gloves again. “For the third time, Collin is shadowing me, not you. I thought you liked Collin.”
“I don’t… not like him!” I said, “But he’s new, he’s inexperienced and he’s… you know how weird he can be!”
George was readjusting the gloves and mats in the box again.
“How do you know that?”
I sighed. “The techs know everything.”
George rolled his eyes and said, “Speaking of techs…”
I heard Sam’s voice from behind me. “Are you two still yelling, then?”
I whipped around to look at him. He froze instantly. George said a casual, “yes, of course we are”, from behind me.
“Okay, I’ll try again in five minutes,” Sam said. He turned, putting the bag back on his shoulder, and ran out of the Circle.
I sighed. “I don’t know why it can’t just be us.”
George put the mat on the top of the box. “One, it’s already been just the two of us. And it has barely worked.”
I went to interrupt, but George had a point. We had just scared Sam out of my Circle for the third time today. In the last hundred days, we’d clashed and argued.
“Two, I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors about Collin or we wouldn’t be having this discussion. ”
“He’s an idealist. He’s… more concerned about a soul than muscles, or so Avery said. And yes, I agree with Avery on this one. We’re saving people, not souls.”
George took out another box of supplies, only to drop it again to face me.
“But you don’t need one more push-up to make you stronger, Brie. That’s actually the problem. You need mental strength that I can’t give you. I’m hoping Collin can. You need to be stronger in a different way. He can do that better than me. I think.”
I wanted to argue with him, but I couldn’t find the words. I hated words. I went back to doing push-ups.
He didn’t speak at first, then he said, “Brie, Heather… Caleigh’s mom… Every mistake… It didn’t happen because you were lacking in drills or fighting skills. It happened because you made the wrong choice.”
I froze in a plank, not turning my head to him this time. “But how do you think that meditating is going to help?”
“I don’t know, but it’s worth a try,” he said. “So, can you give him that? Or at least not bite his head off when he comes? It’s not like he’s incompetent.”
I swallowed my last argument, remembering the only time I’d seen Collin in a shuttle before. He had saved our lives, and I was the one who noticed how unsure of himself he was. I had asked him to be confident, despite being scared to share his idea. I bit my lip, now regretting my words a few minutes ago. He had trained for nearly a decade. He didn’t deserve my anger.
But Collin would want me to get rid of all my anger and chase butterflies in a field or something. I was afraid of getting the air kicked out of me. I needed that anger to breathe.
“What’s three?” I snapped, hoping to change the subject before George realized he was winning every argument.
“Three—” he took a sharp breath, grabbing his side.
He gazed ahead, almost as if he was focusing his attention away from his pain.
“Is that blow from Emily still bothering you?” I asked, but in my head, that spar had been three weeks earlier.
He was releasing his hands from his side, but not quickly enough.
“George, are you okay?”
He looked at me, more vulnerable than I had ever seen him.
“I don’t know. I can’t shake the pain,” he said. “It’s not an injury.”
I wanted to approach him, but there’s nothing I could do. Any medical exam I could give him, he would have already given himself.
“An ulcer?” I guessed.
“Maybe,” he winced again, taking a sharp intake of breath. His dark eyes looked more worried than I’d ever seen.
The third reason.
“Is that why you wanted Collin here?”
“Yes,” George said. “If you’re right, and Hannah wants you to switch trainers, or she wants to rein you back into the place where you are angry and wanting revenge and taking out Sentries-”
“She’s Hannah, she’s not as bad as Zander.”
“You know what I mean,” he said, quickly focusing.
“So, just to make it clear,” I said, “You don’t want me serving another year, but you’ll risk your health to stick it through so you can serve another year?”
He breathed out, in what I was sure was continued pain, because he limped a little before reaching out to grasp the box.
“See, you had a bad influence on me,” he said jokingly.
I laughed, but then shook my head. “You can’t-”
“You made a promise,” George said. “So did I. I’m getting you out of this alive. And by the way, before you’re too hard on him, remember… he has reasons, too. He has reasons he started training, finished training, missed his childhood, and risked his life already. You don’t know his reasons and trust me when I say that you can’t possibly guess them. But remember that they matter.”
George nodded, gesturing behind me.
I turned around. Collin was standing in the doorway. Liam was with him, with the same bag that Sam had earlier.
“Sam is busy now, but he said not to let Collin in until you were done yelling. Are you? Done yelling… yet?”
His voice got smaller with my annoyed glare, but I noticed Collin wasn’t nervous.
I wanted to kick him out, to say I didn’t want him here. I didn’t want the awkward meetings and explanations.
Collin reached out and touched the stone. He closed his eyes and took a breath, almost in reverence of a holy place. He then looked up at me: tentative for some reaction, yet not looking for approval.
For a moment I was blank- genuinely confused by my anger and respect. I had wanted to be angry at him, for his insecurity or for his pride, but he was neither.
I wanted my shot to be a Protector again. I wanted George to realize that.
Collin wanted his shot. He had already saved my life. He had worked for more years than I did, or ever would, to make it. And if I ruined this moment for him, I’d never forgive myself.
He started, “I guess I ask… I, Collin, would ask the first Protector of the 187th Generation if I may enter —”
But I interrupted. “You’re not in training, Collin. You’re assigned to this Circle. Don’t ask permission anymore. You’re where you’re supposed to be.”
Liam looked like he was afraid I was only playing a cruel joke, about to explode at him.
Collin looked almost taken aback, as if expected the reaction I had a few minutes earlier. He must have guessed what we were arguing about. He looked at George.
“Aren’t we?” I turned, looking at George.
George sighed, and that regret and anger finally faded. His elbow clenched his side, but he looked at me with only the pride he had earlier.
“Yes, we’re all where we’re supposed to be.”