“This is my favorite spot,” Soren said, stepping out of the building and into the sprawling courtyard. She led Glass into the trees, among the orchard. “I come here to think. And to talk.”

Soren smiled at Glass in an encouraging way, as if to say that Glass should start this conversation. So she blurted the first question on her mind.

“Why did you pick me as your maid?”

Soren brightened. “Because you ask questions like that. You have an honest heart and a bold mouth. But more than that…” She turned away, peering up at the light filtering from between the branches of the trees. “I like the way your mind works.”

Glass fought an incredulous laugh. In her entire life, no one but Luke had ever paid her that compliment.

“Some people look at the world and see only what they can take from it. What they can reap, steal, carry away.” Soren’s smile dropped as her expression grew thoughtful. “That’s useful, of course. That’s what we value in our raiders. But leaders need something more than that. They need to look around them and see what they can provide for others.” She motioned around her, her eyes glittering with mirth. “Like a field for planting, for example. Or an orchard.”

Glass felt her cheeks growing warm. “I don’t know why I said all that.”

“You said it because it’s true.” Soren smiled at her. “Your suggestions were wise, Glass. And, as it turns out, you were right.” Her smile widened, her face lit by a sudden ray of pink dawn light. “Earth has spoken to us. She wishes us to remain here. We’ll build our hearths for the winter, and when the spring comes”—she squeezed Glass’s shoulder and stepped away—“we’ll plant.”

Glass stared at her, unsure how to respond. Part of her was desperate for the Protectors to leave, to go somewhere far away, where they could never hurt the Colonists or the Earthborns again. She wanted to go home to Luke. But another part of her wasn’t ready to leave Soren and the way she made Glass feel when she smiled at her. Useful. Wanted. Valuable.

“We’ve stopped before, you know,” Soren said, her voice dropping low. “When I joined the Protectors as a girl, we lived far to the west. We’ve stopped twice since then, once for each generation, and now it’s time to plant again.”


Glass’s mind swirled with unasked questions: What does planting have to do with generations? Where in the west did you live? Why did you join them? But the question that rose to her mouth was, “Soren, why did you take us from our camp? Why not everyone?”

Soren stopped strolling, her hand slowly reaching for a low branch laden with plums. She touched the fruit gently, with just the tips of her fingers. “Earth has Her own rhythms, you’ll learn, Glass. It is not just foolish to ignore them; it is a great sin. And on Earth, there are takers and there are Protectors. We must stop the takers from harming Earth any more than they already have, while encouraging potential Protectors to bloom. Look at this plum. It’s beautiful. It’s alive. Growing and perfect, like all of the new members of our community.”

Glass’s breath caught, listening to the wonderment in Soren’s voice, watching the light dancing over the older woman’s face. The High Protector’s hair was loose and graying slightly, but there was something so beautiful and relaxed about her, like she was just one of the trees in the forest, swaying with them, reaching toward the dawn’s glow.

“Mother!” A young voice broke through the orchard’s quiet. Glass turned to see an out-of-breath preteen boy racing to greet Soren. “The men are back from the south. It was a success.”

“Earth be good!” Soren kissed the top of the boy’s head and he beamed.

“Blessings, Mother,” he said, blinking up at her.

“Blessings, Callum,” she answered back. Whether Soren was his real mother or not, she certainly played the role well. “I’ll be with them in just a moment.”

The boy sprinted away to deliver her message, and Soren turned to Glass.

“I’ll head straight to the barracks,” Soren said, pressing her hand to Glass’s wrist. “You go take some time for yourself. Explore a little and see what ideas pop up.”

As Glass watched Soren’s graceful figure walking away, another image seemed to take her place: a blond woman staring into the artificially lit mirror on Phoenix, her hair carefully curled and coiled, her gown cut low, her smile brittle, her eyes forever guarded.

What would my mother think of these people? Glass wondered. And what would Soren think of her?

Soren would think she was a taker, Glass realized. And she might have been right. Glass’s mother had loved her daughter, and would’ve done anything for her, but she’d also spent her life manipulating people to get what she wanted, from extra credits at the Exchange, to endless power rations for their apartment. Glass’s skin prickled as she remembered the coy glances her mother directed toward Vice Chancellor Rhodes, and the hungry, possessive looks she received in turn.

Glass peered up at the trees, touching a dangling plum with the tip of one careful finger.

Protector. After everything Soren said, it didn’t sound half as ominous anymore.





It was their third day at the Stone and their training sessions showed no sign of stopping. But this morning, instead of running around the track just inside of the walls, the Protectors had taken them out into the woods for what they were calling “active” training. At the moment, Wells was high in a tree, squinting into the darkness of the forest as a thickly muscled Protector walked beneath him, carrying a gun.

The wind blew, shaking the tree. Wells clung to the branch and exhaled slowly, silently, not moving. He waited. The Protector marched closer, keeping to the path Wells had dug through the undergrowth, a subtle trap to lure him in. The man kept going, heedless, until he was mere seconds from passing directly underneath. Three… two…

Wells dropped, landing on the Protector’s back, one arm snatching the gun out of the startled man’s fingers, the other around his neck, elbow tightening and tightening. The man kicked but Wells held on, teeth gritted, sweat dripping from his forehead.

The thunder of sprinting footsteps made his eyes fly up. Two other Protectors approached—fast. Wells spun his captive around, loosened his grip enough to flip and cock the gun, and trained the weapon on the new arrivals.

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