Day 12 of 187th Generation

Any confidence I had in Collin was fading quickly. As I sat “meditating”, I only had two thoughts to meditate on: This was pointless, and I wanted to hit him. Hard.

I had done some of the strangest exercises of my life, from laying flat down on my abdomen and pulling back my shoulders and back until my hands and legs lifted off the ground, to hovering my knees off the mat and pulling my arms until my hands could touch my knees. I felt like a demented chicken half the time.

Collin was trying to say they were core exercises. Whatever that meant.

“I know what my core is, Collin,” I said, despite being ordered to stay silent. “I’ve never done this before.”

“I know. No one here has ever done it before.”


He opened his eyes. His peaceful expression disappeared. 

“Brie, you’re supposed to be meditating and closing your eyes. And… being silent and finding… a sense of peace.”

“Yeah, none of those things are happening right now,” I said. “Tell me why I’m doing this, because I’ve never had to balance on only one leg and one arm before.”

He gave me a knowing look, and I rolled my eyes, but then closed them. Silence followed, but my breath was still tense.

“Okay,” he whispered. “Since it’s distracting you so much… the exercises are from the Republic.”

“What?” My eyes shot open again. 

He opened his and glared.

“Closed. Got it,” I said, settling back into my position. I whispered, “Why am I doing these stupid things?”

“You’ll see.”

“That’s not an answer,” I snapped back.

“No, it’s just not the answer you want.”

I took a sharp intake of breath, but then let it go. 

“Alright, new question. What do you expect me to be able to do?”

He spoke in a normal tone. “Be flexible in different ways and hold your posture differently. Use your upper abs to help your posture and movements. And release your anger. Not be haunted by the next decision you need to make. And make a better one.”

My deep breath jolted. I cut it short to hold my breath for a moment.

“And how would you know I made a mistake?”

“Because everyone has,” Collin said. But then he added, “And the techs know everything. Joel owed me a favor, so I asked him if the rumors were true. He said they weren’t, but I could tell…”

I sighed. “Heaven help us if any of the techs are ever captured. They are the worst liars.”

“Oh yeah, they’d be goners,” he said. But then he was serious. “I’m sorry. About Heather.”

“So, assuming you found out everything, you probably think the worst of me. That I was greedy or wanting advancement or wanting to rack up numbers—”

“I think that the mission before that one left you broken. You had to watch the mother die. Caleigh was barely alive, and yes, I remembered her name. I remember every name that night,” he looked down. My face softened as I saw his hands shake.

I knew I should say something. I hated words. None came out.

Collin continued, “I was with Will, listening for any hope. But there wasn’t any for him. And then Patterson did something foolish and brave, and you barely survived. There was so much pain. Parker’s protector was injured. By the time we got there in the shuttle, we tried. I tried… I failed. It burned. But you didn’t feel it. You wanted revenge. You were looking for anger, so you adopted Avery’s, and you met Heather… and you didn’t handle—”

“I screwed up, Collin. I killed her.”

He didn’t speak for a moment, but I kept my eyes shut. I didn’t want to risk him seeing me more vulnerable than I wanted him to. 

But then he whispered, “You didn’t kill her. A Sentry did. But you didn’t make the best decision because you didn’t pause and ask the question you should have.”

“What should I have asked?”

“That’s the thing, Brie,” he said. “This isn’t school. I don’t want to give you the right answer. I want you to be able to quiet your mind, listen to the truth you know, pick a direction, and go. You can’t do that if you rush into decisions. Losing a Vessel in childbirth is a tragedy. But you didn’t mourn or deal with it. You lost, and you went out for a way to win. And you didn’t pause.”

Maybe he expected me to argue, but I didn’t. He wasn’t analyzing my poor decision; he was trying to unravel why I made it.

He had already guessed. I was angry.

Anger was my air. He knew one reason I was angry. I wasn’t going to share I had more reasons to be angry than he knew.

Because he was right: Unless I learned how to make a better decision, I would regret my anger again. 

He nodded at the paper in front of me when I opened my eyes.

“I thought I finished HistCulture.”

“I want to know how much Elite language you know,” Collin said. “Then we hit the climbing wall.”

I took the test in my hand. It felt familiar.

“Finally. Something I know how to do.”

He smirked and then placed a cup in front of me. 

“What’s this?”


“Coffee? How’d you even get it here!?”

“Don’t ask,” he said. “Drink it, one sip at a time.”

“Ugh, I’d rather do 100 push-ups.”

“I know, but I’m not asking you to do 100 push-ups. I’m asking you to drink coffee at a leisurely pace while you work. Just like an Elite or a Citizen wood in the café.

“Can’t I just take the test?”

“This is the test.”

I took the cup and drank, almost instantly reacting to the taste. 

“You didn’t use any cream?”

“Some people in the Republic don’t. They build a tolerance to it,” he said. “That face… that’s you failing this test. However…”

He pulled out a container from the box behind him, opened the cup, and poured enough cream to fill the cup until it looked like a warm brown color. 

“I won’t be that cruel this time,” he said. “There. Take a sip and don’t look like you’ve just ingested poison. We’ll start there and work our way to black.”

I grimaced as I finished my next sip. 

“So… not like that, either.”

I heard George’s voice behind me. “She needs to drink water after that. That stuff dehydrates you.”

Collin pulled a water bottle out of the box behind him, and said, “Does that mean sparing is next?”

“Yeah, gym’s ready,” said George, but he was walking slower than usual. Collin had turned back to look at me take a sip of coffee. I still winced at the taste. 

He didn’t see George wince at the pain in his side. His one knee gave way a bit. He took a few more steps and was walking normally. 

“So, is she finished yet?”

“I need another… five minutes,” I said, turning over the page. I was pretending to focus on the questions. I wanted to give George a chance to recover if he needed it.

“We have a meeting tonight. Did you get your paperwork done?” Collin said. 

“On her, yes. On you… no,” George said. “I’ll finish it later.”

Collin shrugged. “I can spar with her.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, you’ve got extra work because of my evals, and I kind of have a vested interest in you not messing them up.”

“Yeah, it’s not like his life’s work is counting on them or anything,” I said, winking, hoping to keep the conversation playful. I took another sip of coffee.   

“See, that’s better?” Collin said. “Playful banter and it only looks like half of you wants to throw the hot coffee at my face. No, really,” he turned back to George, “I’ve got it. Besides, she’s been wanting to hit me all day, probably. Those are the vibes I got.”

“Okay,” George said. “You do your papers while she’s at dinner and I’ll run her through the medical test later.” Collin nodded, his blue eyes focusing again on my HistCulture test. George looked relieved and turned to Medical. He was no longer limping and was probably happy to rest again. 

I picked up the coffee again, glad to have dodged a bullet. 

But my hand froze, the cup still inches from my mouth. 

Collin stared at George as he walked. His face was locked in concentration, serious with worry. 

He looked back at me. “Everything okay with George? I mean, as far as you know?”

“Yeah,” I said, moving the cup to my mouth, take a drink and get back to my questions. 

I was staring at the questions when I heard him sigh. 

“Nice,” he said. “Casually drinking coffee and lying. Perfect spy craft.” 

I kept writing, looking up and drinking another sip, letting it sit in my mouth a bit longer, as if I enjoyed it, while tapping my pen, ignoring that he had just called me out.

“Brie, what’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing I can tell you,” I said. 

“That’s not an answer.”“Yes, it is,” I said. “It’s just not the answer you want.”