Day 67 of the 186th Generation
Our chances were slim.
With each minute, our chances improved, but only slightly.
She was dumb enough to tell someone she was pregnant. And that someone had been a Sentry. She didn’t share much, but I guessed from her tone it was the father of the baby. She was already nervous about being pregnant, but on top of that was the pain of being betrayed.
I was trying to find some sympathy for her, but I had none right now. When we were out of danger, I could empathize a little better. My anxiety was peaked, and my body was struggling with the exhaustion from hunger and stress.
We had a great cover for now. We looked like we were party hopping on a Friday night. With the kind of money she had on her, that would never have been implausible.
But the tension was also increasingly physical. She had already had some acute pains she couldn’t describe. She had shortness of breath and was sweating at one point.
I had attached the MCU twice already. Her blood pressure and heart rate was up, and her amino acts were spiking.
She kept repeating under her breath, “I can’t believe he didn’t help me.”
With each episode, I felt more helpless.
I had taken her phone and turned it off when we had gotten to the border, mostly so she would stop watching it for him to message her.
I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, but a part of me wanted to scream defiantly and silence any hope that remained in her. But I couldn’t. She was too fragile.
She kept falling.
She kept shaking.
I checked in. I called for an EE at the first station.
I kept her talking. About anything. But for some reason, we started talking about everything she had never gotten to talk about: praying and painting pictures of what she thought heaven looked like. Books. Drawings on sewer walls she once saw. A candle she once lit. She had grown up in a different world, where talking about such things was punishable by the law: where God was a sin.
After that, she mostly just said words in Elite language I could barely recognize. They were mostly sad musings.
The only thing that silenced her were the occasional sirens.
She had concluded the worst.
“He must have told them.”
“We don’t know that,” I assured her, silently cursing her betrayer.
“Are they following us?”
She continued to ask, to freeze, to analyze every sound.
It was causing her anxiety, which only added to her condition.
I didn’t even know what condition that was.
I kept attaching the MCU, but the baby was fine. I didn’t know what to give her because I didn’t know what was wrong.
She was crying. She wouldn’t stop.
I kept talking about the future. About her playing with her daughter, holding her daughter, feeding her daughter, watching her daughter take her first steps.
I almost choked on some words at one point. Her being able to have those things would be her only hope, things that I would never have. I spoke all the hope in the world, as much as it hurt me.
But it didn’t work.
We had barely made it two miles when she collapsed. I had checked her again.
My mind was racing.
Hypertension or preeclampsia. No.
Low Amniotic fluid. No.
I held her head. I was barely able to talk to her because my mind kept racing. It didn’t make any sense.
But it did. She kept repeating, “I can’t believe he didn’t help me.”
“Emmy. I’ve got you. I can save you. Remember? I’m saving you. One more time.”
I gave her a shot. It equalized her blood pressure for a second, but then it dropped.
Way too low.
I was searching my bag as she started to seize. I kept shouting things at her. I didn’t even know if she could hear me.
I finally stopped looking. Stopped searching. Stopped hoping.
I would have given anything for her to find her hope now.
She was talking to herself again.
“Such a small chance for happiness. So small.”
“Please, Emmy,” I whispered, my voice hoarse from screaming for her to keep breathing. “I need to save you one more time. I told you…you could trust me.”
“I do,” she spoke weakly, her gaze stuck on some point behind me.
“Please. You can’t die.”
“Then make sure I don’t. Tell me the story that they never let us hear. Tell me I’m going to live forever.”
I kept speaking, words I barely remember. She prayed what might have been gibberish, but I think God heard her. If God ever heard anyone, it was her.
The baby was starting to be distressed. But if I did a C-Section, she would die.
I was trying to pry my eyes off the monitor so I could look at her.
“I trust you,” she choked out. “No matter what. Save me one more time.”
“I will,” I said, grazing her forehead while I stared at the monitor.
“I know you will.” Her voice was no more than a breath. It made me hold mine.
My eyes were still on the monitor, even while holding her head.
Her head went limp.
There was a flat line.
I almost screamed, but then I remembered someone might be tracking us, if the sirens were an indictation.
The baby’s heart rate was already dropping.
She was gone.
I didn’t take more than a second to feel her death hit me. I couldn’t let it. I breathed deep and ragged. Determined.
She trusted me that I was going to save her.
So I would.
I would save the last part of her that was still alive.
I ripped open the blue canvas. Within seconds, the incision was made.
I prayed when I saw the blue. I was more desperate for God to be real than I ever imagined I would be.
I cleared the passages, using the sinus passage clearer.
She started to move. She started to struggle.
I couldn’t listen to the silence around me, the peaceful backdrop of the forest. I cursed the silence and begged God for some kind of life.
Some sign of life. A cry.
“Please,” I said, now feeling the tears roll down.
Then I heard it. Loud. Piercing.
I worked to clean her, trying to rub her feet as much possible. I could barely see because I was crying, so I stopped. I had to keep her alive, and that had to be more important than any emotion I had to feel. I cursed my emotions, wondering if I had made a mistake that had killed the child’s mother. I was ashamed that even while thinking it, my pride was hurt.
Pride. Pride was her the reason for her exile.
Pride was her death sentence.
I reached out to close her eyes. I was hovering there above her eyes. I was praying they would know why she died when the EE came.
I checked my MCU to see when they would be arriving as I swaddled the baby.
That was when it started beeping.
I pushed through my muddied thoughts, desperate for a reason why anyone would be calling me. But I couldn’t think of one.
“George? Why are you on my MCU?”
“Because your phone was off. We could tell. Where are you?”
“I’m in the woods. I’m a few miles away from the Q station, but I need the EE to come here.”
“That’s not going to happen, Brie.”
The way he said it sent a chill up my spine.
“George, what’s going on?”
“There was a breach. A few minutes ago. We know you were on your way back. Your phone was off. They may be tracking you. Dump the phone, run forl…T-90. It’s only four miles away. We’ll be there in an hour. I know you have a Vessel…”
The rest of his words fell away.
I didn’t have a Vessel anymore.
He was talking. I wasn’t really listening anymore. I had to tell him, spit it out before I couldn’t say it, before the weight of my failure or the fire of my anger crushed me. I think I interrupted him mid-sentence.
“I don’t have a Vessel.” There was a silence on the other end. “She died, George. The baby made it. I have her. I have her, but the−”
But there was no way I was going to cry now. The urgency to breathe, to survive took over.
“You can’t stay there,” he said urgently. “You have to ditch the phone. Ditch it there. They’ll find the body, and they’ll take care of it. I know it’s not what you want, but..”
“No, they’ll bury her. She’s a Citizen.”
“She’s a Citizen?”
It wasn’t until he asked me in the curious tone that I wondered what he was implying.
Had I been the breach? Had she been betraying me all this time?
Everything in my body rejected that, as my mind raced backwards through my memories.
“She saw me check in. She noticed.”
“Did she have her phone?” Georg asked.
My mind raced back again, but then I felt it in my pocket.
“No, I still have her phone. I followed protocol and took it, right after we met. But she told someone…she told someone she was pregnant. She was scared of the sirens.”
“Okay, then you’re not the breach. Move that fear from your mind. If you have her phone, there’s no way that it was her. Look, maybe you should just stay there…”
He trailed off. Sam was yelling something in the background. By the time George got back on the phone, the tone of his voice had changed dramatically. It was dark and hushed.
“Brie, did you say you have her phone?”
“The breach and the people chasing you are unrelated. They reported her missing. An hour ago. They’ve been pinging her phone. It’s off, but they can still locate it. There’s a squad that just pulled up by the border to look for her about twenty minutes ago! But because of the breach, the unit is armed. Heavily.”
He meant to panic me into motion. I knew that. Some part of me knew that.
But it froze me.
“You need to run, Brie. We can get you if you’re by the station in an hour. We’re sending all shuttles out. Brie?”
His voice sounded so desperate in the end, I had to answer.
But I was interrupted by Sam’s voice in the background.
“Confirmed. Celia’s down. I repeat. Celia’s on 90th Street and down.”
George continued, “I can’t contact you again. I’ll see you soon. With the baby.”
“Confirmed, Elianna’s down,” Joel shouted in the distance.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
I had to use the muscles to push out my chest so the air would flor into it, forcing the air in and out of my lungs.
Pushing the fear out.
“That’s enough breathing,” I said, filtering out the fear in my voice.
“There’s the soldier in you. Now run. And if you ever slow down, look at the baby. You’ll never stop running if you’re looking at her. And I know it.”
He was right.
I ran. I ran as fast as I could with the baby and my pack.
But I was doing the math in my head. There was an armada behind me. My EE wouldn’t get there in time.
With no chance of living, I ran.
I had already failed.
I wasn’t going to be a legend after all. The weight of every death, every pain flooded me and wouldn’t let go. It pressed against my chest, pushing out the air I desperately needed out.
I kept up the pace I knew I’d have to make, but eventually I was wheezing, the arm that was cradling the baby was stiff and sore from cramping.
It felt futile. It hurt.
I heard a shuttle in the distance. I heard yelling. They had found her.
I was only two miles out.
I was almost at the station.
But my EE was still twenty minutes away, unless they’d have someone there earlier. They’d never make it in time. They might not even risk sending someone out.
I clung to her. This one small chance of life we had in the forest.
Small. In the forest.
And then I knew her name.
“I’m sorry, Caleigh. That you’ll never see her. That you’ll never know anything more than these few breaths in this one hour as your whole life. Your life…”
She squirmed as I trailed off, maybe from hearing my voice, but then fell back asleep.
Sleeping. Calm. Breathing.
Eldridge’s words came back to me.
I needed to focus. Not on the war or on any of my future missions, or the mother or the death swirling around me or the helplessness I felt. I had one life in my hands.
I may have failed everyone else, even her mother, but I hadn’t failed her yet.
And I wouldn’t stop trying now.
Every thorn and bush, knot from a root that stood against me in the first twenty minutes was nothing compared to my determination to overcome it. No doubt or fear had a chance.
I was going to save her one more time.
I had made it to the station in 40 minutes.
The station that was empty.
I had begun to hear their shuttle rev in the distance. They were probably trying to determine whether to pursue me or not. If they were revving it, they were preparing for a longer travel distance in the woods or they were trying to intimidate me.
Which meant that they had discovered my trail, and were going to pursue me.
But then I heard another shuttle.
It made every prayer I silently screamed to heaven worth the effort.
The shuttle stopped right in front of me, and Patterson opened the side door.
“Luke? I need−”
He got out quickly, holding my shoulders up. My arms were exhausted. I didn’t realize they were shaking.
He held them for a few seconds until they weren’t.
“You’re okay.” I heard him say, “Thank God” under his breath. He held me for a few more seconds before pulling away. I heard Avery in the background. He was keying something in instead of on the radio. They probably didn’t want anyone to pick up any chatter, so we were using code instead of talking. Even if the Republic tried to decode the message Avery was sending right now, we’d be home by the time they figured it out.
“Get in,” Patterson said, nodding behind him.
He helped me up onto the shuttle. I wasn’t letting go of the baby to put her in the shuttle cradle. He didn’t seem surprised by that.
I was more surprised that he wasn’t getting back in.
He had a weapon. He was swinging another one over his shoulder.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
I turned to Avery who was driving. He was looking at Patterson in a strange way.
The way George looked at me when I was about to go out for a mission.
I looked back at Patterson. His brown eyes seemed darker than ever.
“What are you doing?” I asked. My voice cracked because I hadn’t used it since I had talked to Caleigh.
“What does it look like?” he said, still not looking at me. ”I’m covering your exit. They’re going to come after the shuttle or send a search party. I’m going to make you make it back safely.”
“Then who is going to get you back to−”
The look in his eyes stopped my words dead.
“I’ll be fine. I’m armed.”
He put his hand over my mouth, his fingers shaking, but his palm was firm. I had almost killed him faster by giving up our location.
I always tried to hide my emotions, but now I wish he could see the desperation in my eyes.
His eyes were clear now. He whispered, “You got to stay quiet. You’ll be going a little slower so the reverb and sounds from the engines won’t give our location away. But you have to be quiet.”
He removed his hand, looking pained as he said, “And I don’t want to waste my death any more than you do. You keep going, Protector. And have enough faith that this will work.”
I swallowed. I bit my lip. It hurt.
“Avery? You have your orders.”
“Yes, sir. I…”
“Can we all pretend I’ll make it and save the goodbyes? Drive low, okay.”
Avery forced a smile. “I will. Trust me, I will.”
Patterson looked at me one more time before sliding the door shut. Avery locked in in a second.
We slowly pulled away. He was already pulling up brush to camouflage himself better.
I didn’t speak for minutes. We were two miles away before I said anything.
I just wanted silence to save him, and us.
“Yeah?” he whispered. He must have been thinking the same thing.
“I need…food. The baby will be hungry soon. Usually the med team has it ready. I’m out of water so I can’t mix the milk cubes I have−”
“I’ve got a med pack. Bottle is in the front pocket.”
The silence overtook again. I hated that my breathing was so ragged that it’s sound seemed to be filling the whole cabin space.
“Where are you going?” I said, noticing that he wasn’t going the usual way. Caleigh stirred enough for me to try to feed her. She was resisting.
“They’ll hear us, through the gorge. If I stay on the mountain, they’ll be able to pinpoint the sound. They’ll aim for the mountains, but if they don’t know the path, they’ll never catch up. It’s just a diversion so they don’t find Patterson in the valley.”
“How…why did you leave him there?” I said, some anger making my voice stronger.
“He knows what he’s doing. Besides, we’re at a level Beta because of the breach. As a senior trainer, his authority is matched with Hannah’s. An order from him is the same as an order from Hannah.”
I think I knew that or had heard it at one time.
Caleigh was finally drinking when I asked, “How many?”
Avery’s breath changed, dripping with anger and sorrow.
“Five. Five that we know of.”
I didn’t say anything a few minutes out after that. He was the one that finally spoke.
“What’s the baby’s name?”
“Small one? That’s fitting, I guess.”
“In their language, it would mean out of the forest.”
“I’m guessing the Vessel didn’t name her then?”
Avery’s emotional limit was worse than mine sometimes.
“No, she died before…”
I stopped, before my voice shook, which he would definitely count as a weakness. And I needed to be strong for him right now. Not just to show off for him, but to show him I could be sensitive and not be a jerk about it.
He must have known what I was thinking, because he said, “I’m sorry, Brie. I have to stay focused on the facts.”
I wondered then, although I hadn’t asked about who had died. But his Protector had to be safe for him to be out in the field. It was a rule, so trainers in the field weren’t emotionally compromised.
“Is Ella okay then?”
“Yeah, Ella was in Zone 3. She got back the day after you left with a Vessel only a few months along. She was barely off the compound. She’s held up in a station, underground. That’s actually who I’m contacting. They’re relaying my messages back to Central.”
“That’s brilliant. They’ll be looking for any object directly communicating with Central.”
“Well, it wasn’t her idea.”
“Who was she with?”
“She was with Priscilla and Liam, that new student intern. He was supposed to be on a little tiny field trip from the Academy to check out a Q stations software. It was his idea to relay the messages. Priscilla’s re-encrypting, and then sending it to Central.”
“What about Tara?” I asked, knowing that if Patterson was out, she had to be accounted for.
“She was at Central. Celia was hit. They have footage that one other was as well. The rest was chatter that Joel got over channels. We got descriptions. That’s all.”
His voice was shaking by the time he ended, but it wasn’t in sadness.
“I hate them. I can’t hate them enough to make it matter. One day, we’ll fight back. Until then, my hate is useless.”
I’d normally agree with him. I did agree with him. Except Caleigh had been worth it.
She was beautiful.
I knew that. But I couldn’t say that.
It was like I told Eldridge: I wasn’t a poet. I couldn’t pretend. I couldn’t care. Not even if I wanted to.
I was a soldier.
I put Caleigh down. She was still sleeping, peacefully, but I couldn’t feel her peace. That peace wanted to tell me that I had succeeded somehow. I didn’t want to feel that way. I delved into the failure and fear from the death surrounding me. I needed it to fuel me so I could fight the war.
I put her down because I couldn’t wait to hate them again.
I moved the front seat, with him still clutching the wheel.
“She secure back there?” he asked.
“Yes, and sleeping. Do you need me to run point? Scan for communications?” I asked.
“Well, I’m good for now. You can scan though, might be a good idea. Maybe try to set off a low level jam of their comms if you see them coming.”
I nodded. “Don’t worry, Avery. We’ll fight back. And we’ll win.”
Avery smirked. The shuttle went just a little faster.
Fear and pain didn’t stand a chance.
Anger was always strong enough to burn them out.
It burned everything out.
By the time we’d arrived, Caliegh had woken up. She had cried. I had to hold her, and the hope seeped back in. Her life seeped back in. I found myself fighting my own thoughts.
I hated thinking. I just wanted to do something.
I didn’t put her down again. She needed to be fed, and the anger boiling in the front seat that was usually my solution to all of my problems was only making me stir-crazy.
Someone else was down. They confirmed Vanessa was down on 30th.
Six of us in one night.
There was a beep on the comm. We were almost there.
“Avery? Where’s Patterson?”
Avery didn’t answer right away. George answered the silence.
“He didn’t…did he stay?”
“He was armed. He ordered me to get Brie and get out.”
“Is she okay? Is the baby okay?”
“Yeah, just hungry…and fussy…and crying like a baby. At least it’s got healthy lungs, right?”
He was already slowing down in front of the service entrance. I prepared to let her go.
I had to remind myself I was angry, that I was furious, that I was going to get revenge.
I kept forgetting every time I held her.
The door slid open. I held her out. And she was gone.
The Med team was rushing to monitor her. They asked me in detail what had happened to the mother, but I had the time on our tediously long journey back to write it down all the pertinent details.
Dr. Swanson’s assistant glanced at it, then flipped the page.
“Looks like this is what we need. Glad to have her safe at least.”
“Yeah. Her mother’s name was Emmy, by the way.”
“Did she name her?”
“I did. Caleigh.”
“Calegih it is. Did you want to say goodbye.”
“I did,” I said as I nodded, smiling slightly.
It fooled the poor med tech and her assistant who smiled knowingly back at me.
The truth was I couldn’t hold her again. I knew the next time I did, I’d cry.
I turned away. Avery was nodding to the door. We went down the long service hallway in silence. Finally, we came out near Central.
There were a few moments in training that despite all appearances of professionalism and the calm exterior of trainers, I knew George was proud of me.
This wasn’t that. This wasn’t the brief hug from a friend.
This was the hug from a brother who was proud of me.
It was still brief. He pulled away to grab my shoulders. He took a quick assessment from my posture and my face.
“You’re okay. You know that, right?”
I didn’t answer. I hadn’t actually thought of the answer to that question. I didn’t care. Because…
“She died.” It was all I could say in response.
“I know. It happens. You know that. We’ll talk. We’re going to go upstairs.”
“But my debrief. Is it−?”
“Cancelled. We’re in Beta. They’re still trying to get everyone out, but sending messages one by one to every Protector is difficult and timing is difficult. Hannah’s still on point.”
George shook his head, for the first time looking past me to Avery.
“No word yet.”
Avery stopped behind me. He gave my pack to George.
“I’m heading up to Central, then. In about 17 minutes?”
But the way he said it was strange. Like it meant something else.
George answered, after looking in his peripherals.
“22 minutes, actually.”
Avery and George shook hands, with only a few people walking by to see them. I was wondering why they were talking in code. My head hurt too much to try to figure it out.
“And thank you,” George said. “For bringing her home.”
“Your welcome.” Avery pulled back his hand as he said it, placing it in his pocket. He winked at me.
I didn’t know what exactly was happening, but I knew who they were trying to save.
I hugged Avery. It might have appeared to some on-lookers like a gesture of thanks, but I did it just so I could whisper, “Bring Patterson back. Please.”
And in one movement, Avery left and went down the hall.
We began to walk.
“Is someone going to−”
“Emily said she’d cover for Avery so we can get some sleep. Everyone assumes she’s in isolation anyway.”
“How is she?” I asked, stopping for a moment to face him.
“She wasn’t−” he stopped suddenly and swallowed. “It was rough. She’s not used to losing anyone. Especially not someone who’s so highly ranked at combat. She…”
George stopped talking. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t bother to ask either.
“What else do you know?” I asked.
“That you need sleep.”
“Stop. I have a vial of 90-RT in my back pocket. Syringe and all. I really hope I don’t have to use it, but for heaven’s sake, Brie, you need sleep.”
I glared at him, but he continued. “Brie, you’re strong. But you are stronger when your mind is clear. I respect you, but everyone assumes you are going to be a mess right now. I want to prove them wrong. Help me prove them wrong. My order is that you get some sleep.”
“I need to do something,” I argued. “Don’t you know how infuriating and exhausting it is to just sitting here and−”
I stopped, even as his expression was starting to change.
Of course he knew. His eyes were red, his face pale, and his hair was disheveled and oily.
I realized how bad I must have looked, but looking at him made the last 48 hours seem even longer. No wonder he wanted me to sleep.
The truth was I wanted to stay angry, but it was draining to feel infuriated.
“Look, I’ll set an alarm for when Avery will leave. We’ll get up then. Even if he’s going alone, and even if he wouldn’t think it would make much of a difference, I’d like to pray for him.”
“Why can’t I go with him? If he’s waiting a few hours.”
“You’re a bit of a mess. And we know you want to stay in good standing with Hannah. You care what she thinks.”
“What about you? And how did you get an active shuttle code if they’re all going to be grounded soon?”
“I asked the only person who genuinely doesn’t care what Hannah thinks.”
I thought for a second before sighing. Then seeing his eyes gaze behind me, I turned around.
I saw just the tip of her flipped hair from the side of the one hallway and one brown, mischievous eye. It winked before dashing away.
“I know. It’s so strange though. Here I was, stressed and desperate for a way to save Luke. And there she was with a solution. There’s something daring yet relinquishing about putting your fate in the hands of a twelve-year-old. It feels reckless but perfect.”
“Like putting your trust in a Protector. Except…”
I had said the wrong thing. The words came out of my mouth, accusing myself.
I couldn’t say anything more. I just turned to walk upstairs. George walked silently behind me. He asked me if I wanted to talk about it.
I answered with more silence.
I told him I’d go to bed. I entered my room and fell onto the cot.
I couldn’t wait to sleep. I just wanted to fall asleep before I thought of anything else.
It almost worked. But then the images of Caleigh flew through my brain.
I once again felt mixed about Eldridge’s words about saving just one soul. Maybe he said that because it did get me home. Maybe with that logic, I could get home every time.
But it was far more painful to think of just one life, because it was harder to let go.
And I had to let her go.
Because I couldn’t love her and be angry.
And I knew that after tonight, I’d be angry forever.