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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

TOBIAS

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

IT’S STRANGE TO see people you don’t know well in the morning, with sleepy eyes and pillow creases in their cheeks; to know that Christina is cheerful in the morning, and Peter wakes up with his hair perfectly flat, but Cara communicates only through a series of grunts, inching her way, limb by limb, toward coffee.

The first thing I do is shower and change into the clothes they provided for us, which aren’t much different from the clothes I am accustomed to, but all the colors are mixed together like they don’t mean anything to the people here, and they probably don’t. I wear a black shirt and blue jeans and try to convince myself that it feels normal, that I feel normal, that I am adapting.

My father’s trial is today. I haven’t decided if I’m going to watch it or not.

When I return, Tris is already fully dressed, perched on the edge of one of the cots, like she’s ready to leap to her feet at any moment. Just like Evelyn.

I grab a muffin from the tray of breakfast food that someone brought us, and sit across from her. “Good morning. You were up early. ”

“Yeah,” she says, scooting her foot forward so it’s wedged between mine. “Zoe found me at that big sculpture thing this morning—David had something to show me. ” She picks up the glass screen resting on the cot beside her. It glows when she touches it, showing a document. “It’s my mother’s file. She wrote a journal—a small one, from the look of it, but still. ” She shifts like she’s uncomfortable. “I haven’t looked at it much yet. ”

“So,” I say, “why aren’t you reading it?”

“I don’t know. ” She puts it down, and the screen turns off automatically. “I think I’m afraid of it. ”

Abnegation children rarely know their parents in any significant way, because Abnegationparents never reveal themselves the way other parents do when their children grow to a particular age. They keep themselves wrapped in gray cloth armor and selfless acts, convinced that to share is to be self-indulgent. This is not just a piece of Tris’s mother, recovered; it’s one of the first and last honest glimpses Tris will ever get of who Natalie Prior was.

I understand, then, why she holds it like it’s a magical object, something that could disappear in a moment. And why she wants to leave it undiscovered for a while, which is the same way I feel about my father’s trial. It could tell her something she doesn’t want to know.

I follow her eyes across the room to where Caleb sits, chewing on a bite of cereal—morosely, like a pouting child.

“Are you going to show it to him?” I say.

She doesn’t respond.

“Usually I don’t advocate giving him anything,” I say. “But in this case . . . this doesn’t really just belong to you. ”

“I know that,” she says, a little tersely. “Of course I’ll show it to him. But I think I want to be alone with it first. ”

I can’t argue with that. Most of my life has been spent keeping information close, turning it over and over in my mind. The impulse to share anything is a new one, the impulse to hide as natural as breathing.

She sighs, then breaks a piece off the muffin in my hand. I flick her fingers as she pulls away. “Hey. There are plenty more just five feet to your right. ”

“Then you shouldn’t be so worried about losing some of yours,” she says, grinning.

“Fair enough. ”

She pulls me toward her by the front of my shirt and kisses me. I slip my hand under her chin and hold her still as I kiss her back.

Then I notice that she’s stealing another pinch of muffin, and I pull away, glaring at her.

“Seriously,” I say. “I’ll get you one from that table. It’ll only take me a second. ”

She grins. “So, there’s something I wanted to ask you. Would you be up for undergoing a little genetic test this morning?”

The phrase “a little genetic test” strikes me as an oxymoron.

“Why?” I say. Asking to see my genes feels a little like asking me to strip down.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“Well, this guy I met—Matthew is his name—works in one of the labs here, and he says they would be interested in looking at our genetic material for research,” she says. “And he asked about you, specifically, because you’re sort of an anomaly. ”

“Anomaly?”

“Apparently you display some Divergent characteristics and you don’t display others,” she says. “I don’t know. He’s just curious about it. You don’t have to do it. ”

The air around my head feels warmer and heavier. To alleviate the discomfort I touch the back of my neck, scratching at my hairline.

Sometime in the next hour or so, Marcus and Evelyn will be on the screens. Suddenly I know that I can’t watch.

So even though I don’t really want to let a stranger examine the puzzle pieces that make up my existence, I say, “Sure. I’ll do it. ”

“Great,” she says, and she eats another pinch of my muffin. A piece of hair falls into her eyes, and I am brushing it back before she even notices it. She covers my hand with her own, which is warm and strong, and the corners of her mouth curl into a smile.

The door opens, admitting a young man with slanted, angular eyes and black hair. I recognize him immediately as George Wu, Tori’s younger brother. “Georgie” was the name she called him.

He smiles a giddy smile, and I feel the urge to back away, to put more space between me and his impending grief.

“I just got back,” he says, breathless. “They told me my sister set out with you guys, and—”

Tris and I exchange a troubled look. All around us, the others are noticing George by the door and going quiet, the same kind of quiet you hear at an Abnegation funeral. Even Peter, who I would expect to crave other people’s pain, looks bewildered, shifting his hands from his waist to his pockets and back again.

“And . . . ” George begins again. “Why are you all looking at me like that?”

Cara steps forward, about to bear the bad news, but I can’t imagine Cara sharing it well, so I get up, talking over her.

“Your sister did leave with us,” I say. “But we were attacked by the factionless, and she . . . didn’t make it. ”

There is so much that phrase doesn’t say—how quick it was, and the sound of her body hitting the earth, and the chaos of everyone running into the night, stumbling over the grass. I didn’t go back for her. I should have—of all the people in our party, I knew Tori best, knew how tightly her hands squeezed the tattoo needle and how her laugh sounded rough, like it had been scraped with sandpaper.

George touches the wall behind him for stability. “What?”

“She gave her life defending us,” Tris says with surprising gentleness. “Without her, none of us would have made it out. ”

“She’s . . . dead?” George says weakly. He leans his entire body into the wall, and his shoulders sag.

I see Amar in the hallway, a piece of toast in his hand and a smile quickly fading from his face. He sets the toast down on a table by the door.

“I tried to find you earlier to tell you,” Amar says.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

Last night Amar said George’s name so casually, I didn’t think they really knew each other. Apparently they do.

George’s eyes turn glassy, and Amar pulls him into an embrace with one arm. George’s fingers are bent at harsh angles into Amar’s shirt, the knuckles white with tension. I don’t hear him cry, and maybe he doesn’t, maybe all he needs to do is hold on to something. I have only hazy memories of my own grief over my mother, when I thought she was dead—just the feeling that I was separate from everything around me, and this constant sensation of needing to swallow something. I don’t know what it’s like for other people.

Eventually, Amar leads George out of the room, and I watch them walk down the hallway side by side, talking in low voices.

I barely remember that I agreed to participate in a genetic test until someone else appears at the door to the dormitory—a boy, or not really a boy, since he looks about as old as I am. He waves to Tris.

“Oh, that’s Matthew,” she says. “I guess we should get going. ”

She takes my hand and leads me toward the doorway. Somehow I missed her mentioning that “Matthew” wasn’t a crusty old scientist. Or maybe she didn’t mention it at all.

Don’t be stupid, I think.

Matthew sticks out his hand. “Hi. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Matthew. ”

“Tobias,” I say, because “Four” sounds strange here, where people would never identify themselves by how many fears they have. “You too. ”

“So let’s go to the labs, I guess,” he says. “They’re this way. ”

The compound is thick with people this morning, all dressed in green or dark blue uniforms that pool around the ankles or stop several inches above the shoe, depending on the height of the person. The compound is full of open areas that branch off the major hallways, like chambers of a heart, each marked with a letter and a number, and the people seem to be moving between them, some carrying glass devices like the one Tris brought back this morning, some empty-handed.

“What’s with the numbers?” says Tris. “Just a way of labeling each area?”

“They used to be gates,” says Matthew. “Meaning that each one has a door and a walkway that led to a particular airplane going to a particular destination. When they converted the airport into the compound, they ripped out all the chairs people used to wait for their flights in and replaced them with lab equipment, mostly taken from schools in the city. This area of the compound is basically a giant laboratory. ”

“What are they working on? I thought you were just observing the experiments,” I say, watching a woman rush from one side of the hallway to the other with a screen balanced on both palms like an offering. Beams of light stretch across the polished tile, slanting through the ceiling windows. Through the windows everything looks peaceful, every blade of grass trimmed and the wild trees swaying in the distance, and it’s hard to imagine that people are destroying one another out there because of “damaged genes” or living under Evelyn’s strict rules in the city we left.

“Some of them are doing that. Everything that they notice in all the remaining experiments has to be recorded and analyzed, so that requires a lot of manpower. But some of them are also working on better ways to treat the genetic damage, or developing the serums for our own use instead of the experiments’ use—dozens of projects. All you have to do is come up with an idea, gather a team together, and propose it to the council that runs the compound under David. They usually approve anything that isn’t too risky. ”

“Yeah,” says Tris. “Wouldn’t want to take any risks. ”

She rolls her eyes a little.

“They have a good reason for their endeavors,” Matthew says. “Before the factions were introduced, and the serums with them, the experiments all used to be under near-constant assault from within. The serums help the people in the experiment to keep things under control, especially the memory serum. Well, I guess no one’s working on that right now—it’s in the Weapons Lab. ”

“Weapons Lab. ” He says the words like they’re fragile in his mouth. Sacred words.

“So the Bureau gave us the serums, in the beginning,” Tris says.

“Yes,” he says. “And then the Erudite continued to work on them, to perfect them. Including your brother. To be honest, we got some of our serum developments from them, by observing them in the control room. Only they didn’t do much with the memory serum—the Abnegationserum. We did a lot more with that, since it’s our greatest weapon. ”

“A weapon,” Tris repeats.

“Well, it arms the cities against their own rebellions, for one thing—erase people’s memories and there’s no need to kill them; they just forget what they were fighting about. And we can also use it against rebels from the fringe, which is about an hour from here. Sometimes fringe dwellers try to raid, and the memory serum stops them without killing them. ”

“That’s . . . ” I start.

“Still kind of awful?” Matthew supplies. “Yes, it is. But the higher-ups here think of it as our life support, our breathing machine. Here we are. ”

I raise my eyebrows. He just spoke out against his own leaders so casually I almost missed it. I wonder if that’s the kind of place this is—where dissent can be expressed in public, in the middle of a normal conversation, instead of in secret spaces, with hushed voices.

He scans his card at a heavy door on our left, and we walk down another hallway, this one narrow and lit with pale, fluorescent light. He stops at a door marked GENE THERAPY ROOM 1. Inside, a girl with light brown skin and a green jumpsuit is replacing the paper that covers the exam table.

“This is Juanita, the lab technician. Juanita, this is—”

“Yeah, I know who they are,” she says, smiling. Out of the corner of my eye I see Tris stiffen, chafing against the reminder that our lives have been on camera. But she doesn’t say anything about it.

The girl offers me her hand. “Matthew’s supervisor is the only person who calls me Juanita. Except Matthew, apparently. I’m Nita. You’ll need two tests prepared?”

Matthew nods.

“I’ll get them. ” She opens a set of cabinets across the room and starts pulling things out. All of them are encased in plastic and paper and have white labels. The room is full of the sound of crinkling and ripping.

“How do you guys like it here so far?” she asks us.

“It’s been an adjustment,” I say.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. ” Nita smiles at me. “I came from one of the other experiments—the one in Indianapolis, the one that failed. Oh, you don’t know where Indianapolis is, do you? It’s not far from here. Less than an hour by plane. ” She pauses. “That won’t mean anything to you either. You know what? It’s not important. ”

She takes a syringe and needle from its plastic-paper wrapping, and Tris tenses.

“What’s that for?” Tris says.

“It’s what will enable us to read your genes,” Matthew says. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Tris says, but she’s still tense. “I just . . . don’t like to be injected with strange substances. ”

Matthew nods. “I swear it’s just going to read your genes. That’s all it does. Nita can vouch for it. ”

Nita nods.

“Okay,” Tris says. “But . . . can I do it to myself?”

“Sure,” Nita says. She prepares the syringe, filling it with whatever they intend to inject us with, and offers it to Tris.

“I’ll give you the simplified explanation of how this works,” Matthew says as Nita brushes Tris’s arm with antiseptic. The smell is sour, and it nips at the inside of my nose.

“The fluid is packed with microcomputers. They are designed to detect specific genetic markers and transmit the data to a computer. It will take them about an hour to give me as much information as I need, though it would take them much longer to read all your genetic material, obviously. ”

Tris sticks the needle into her arm and presses the plunger.

Nita beckons my arm forward and drags the orange-stained gauze over my skin. The fluid in the syringe is silver-gray, like fish scales, and as it flows into me through the needle, I imagine the microscopic technology chewing through my body, reading me and analyzing me. Beside me, Tris holds a cotton ball to her pricked skin and offers me a small smile.

“What are the . . . microcomputers?” Matthew nods, and I continue. “What are they looking for, exactly?”

“Well, when our predecessors at the Bureau inserted ‘corrected’ genes into your ancestors, they also included a genetic tracker, which is basically something that shows us that a person has achieved genetic healing. In this case, the genetic tracker is awareness during simulations—it’s something we can easily test for, which shows us if your genes are healed or not. That’s one of the reasons why everyone in the city has to take the aptitude test at sixteen—if they’re aware during the test, that shows us that they might have healed genes. ”

I add the aptitude test to a mental list of things that were once so important to me, cast aside because it was just a ruse to get these people the information or result they wanted.

I can’t believe that awareness during simulations, something that made me feel powerful and unique, something Jeanine and the Erudite killed people for, is actually just a sign of genetic healing to these people. Like a special code word, telling them I’m in their genetically healed society.

Matthew continues, “The only problem with the genetic tracker is that being aware during simulations and resisting serums doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is Divergent, it’s just a strong correlation. Sometimes people will be aware during simulations or be able to resist serums even if they still have damaged genes. ” He shrugs. “That’s why I’m interested in your genes, Tobias. I’m curious to see if you’re actually Divergent, or if your simulation awareness just makes it look like you are. ”

Nita, who is clearing the counter, presses her lips together like she is holding words inside her mouth. I feel suddenly uneasy. There’s a chance I’m not actually Divergent?

“All that’s left is to sit and wait,” Matthew says. “I’m going to go get breakfast. Do either of you want something to eat?”

Tris and I both shake our heads.

“I’ll be back soon. Nita, keep them company, would you?”

Matthew leaves without waiting for Nita’s response, and Tris sits on the examination table, the paper crinkling beneath her and tearing where her leg hangs over the edge. Nita puts her hands in her jumpsuit pockets and looks at us. Her eyes are dark, with the same sheen as a puddle of oil beneath a leaking engine. She hands me a cotton ball, and I press it to the bubble of blood inside my elbow.

“So you came from a city experiment,” says Tris. “How long have you been here?”

“Since the Indianapolis experiment was disbanded, which was about eight years ago. I could have integrated into the greater population, outside the experiments, but that felt too overwhelming. ” Nita leans against the counter. “So I volunteered to come here. I used to be a janitor. I’m moving through the ranks, I guess. ”

She says it with a certain amount of bitterness. I suspect that here, as in Dauntless, there is a limit to her climb through the ranks, and she is reaching it earlier than she would like to. The same way I did, when I chose my job in the control room.

“And your city, it didn’t have factions?” Tris says.

“No, it was the control group—it helped them to figure out that the factions were actually effective by comparison. It had a lot of rules, though—curfew, wake-up times, safety regulations. No weapons allowed. Stuff like that. ”

“What happened?” I say, and a moment later I wish I hadn’t asked, because the corners of Nita’s mouth turn down, like the memory hangs heavy from each side.

“Well, a few of the people inside still knew how to make weapons. They made a bomb—you know, an explosive—and set it off in the government building,” she says. “Lots of people died. And after that, the Bureau decided our experiment was a failure. They erased the memories of the bombers and relocated the rest of us. I’m one of the only ones who wanted to come here. ”

“I’m sorry,” Tris says softly. Sometimes I still forget to look for the gentler parts of her. For so long all I saw was the strength, standing out like the wiry muscles in her arms or the black ink marking her collarbone with flight.

“It’s all right. It’s not like you guys don’t know about stuff like this,” says Nita. “With what Jeanine Matthews did, and all. ”

“Why haven’t they shut our city down?” Tris says. “The same way they did to yours?”

“They might still shut it down,” says Nita. “But I think the Chicago experiment, in particular, has been a success for so long that they’ll be a little reluctant to just ditch it now. It was the first one with factions. ”

I take the cotton ball away from my arm. There is a tiny red dot where the needle went in, but it isn’t bleeding anymore.

“I like to think I would have chosen Dauntless,” says Nita. “But I don’t think I would have had the stomach for it. ”

“You’d be surprised what you have the stomach for, when you have to,” Tris says.

I feel a pang in the middle of my chest. She’s right. Desperation can make a person do surprising things. We would both know.

Matthew returns right at the hour mark, and he sits at the computer for a long time after that, his eyes flicking back and forth as he reads the screen. A few times he makes a revelatory noise, a “hmm!” or an “ah!” The longer he waits to tell us something, anything, the more tense my muscles become, until my shoulders feel like they are made of stone instead of flesh. Finally he looks up and turns the screen around so we can see what’s on it.

“This program helps us to interpret the data in an understandable way. What you see here is a simplified depiction of a particular DNA sequence in Tris’s genetic material,” he says.

The picture on the screen is a complicated mass of lines and numbers, with certain parts selected in yellow and red. I can’t make any sense of the picture beyond that—it is above my level of comprehension.

“These selections here suggest healed genes. We wouldn’t see them if the genes were damaged. ” He taps certain parts of the screen. I don’t understand what he’s pointing at, but he doesn’t seem to notice, caught up in his own explanation. “These selections over here indicate that the program also found the genetic tracker, the simulation awareness. The combination of healed genes and simulation awareness genes is just what I expected to see from a Divergent. Now, this is the strange part. ”

He touches the screen again, and the screen changes, but it remains just as confusing, a web of lines, tangled threads of numbers.

“This is the map of Tobias’s genes,” Matthew says. “As you can see, he has the right genetic components for simulation awareness, but he doesn’t have the same ‘healed’ genes that Tris does. ”

My throat is dry, and I feel like I’ve been given bad news, but I still haven’t entirely grasped what that bad news is.

“What does that mean?” I ask.

“It means,” Matthew says, “that you are not Divergent. Your genes are still damaged, but you have a genetic anomaly that allows you to be aware during simulations anyway. You have, in other words, the appearance of a Divergent without actually being one. ”

I process the information slowly, piece by piece. I’m not Divergent. I’m not like Tris. I’m genetically damaged.

The word “damaged” sinks inside me like it’s made of lead. I guess I always knew there was something wrong with me, but I thought it was because of my father, or my mother, and the pain they bequeathed to me like a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation. And this means that the one good thing my father had—his Divergence—didn’t reach me.

I don’t look at Tris—I can’t bear it. Instead I look at Nita. Her expression is hard, almost angry.

“Matthew,” she says. “Don’t you want to take this data to your lab to analyze?”

“Well, I was planning on discussing it with our subjects here,” Matthew says.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tris says, sharp as a blade.

Matthew says something I don’t really hear; I’m listening to the thump of my heart. He taps the screen again, and the picture of my DNA disappears, so the screen is blank, just glass. He leaves, instructing us to visit his lab if we want more information, and Tris, Nita, and I stand in the room in silence.

“It’s not that big a deal,” Tris says firmly. “Okay?”

“You don’t get to tell me it’s not a big deal!” I say, louder than I mean to be.

Nita busies herself at the counter, making sure the containers there are lined up, though they haven’t moved since we first came in.

“Yeah, I do!” Tris exclaims. “You’re the same person you were five minutes ago and four months ago and eighteen years ago! This doesn’t change anything about you. ”

I hear something in her words that’s right, but it’s hard to believe her right now.

“So you’re telling me this affects nothing,” I say. “The truth affects nothing. ”

“What truth?” she says. “These people tell you there’s something wrong with your genes, and you just believe it?”

“It was right there. ” I gesture to the screen. “You saw it. ”

“I also see you,” she says fiercely, her hand closing around my arm. “And I know who you are. ”

I shake my head. I still can’t look at her, can’t look at anything in particular. “I . . . need to take a walk. I’ll see you later. ”

“Tobias, wait—”

I walk out, and some of the pressure inside me releases as soon as I’m not in that room anymore. I walk down the cramped hallway that presses against me like an exhale, and into the sunlit halls beyond it. The sky is bright blue now. I hear footsteps behind me, but they’re too heavy to belong to Tris.

“Hey. ” Nita twists her foot, making it squeak against the tile. “No pressure, but I’d like to talk to you about all this . . . genetic-damage stuff. If you’re interested, meet me here tonight at nine. And . . . no offense to your girl or anything, but you might not want to bring her. ”

“Why?” I say.

“She’s a GP—genetically pure. So she can’t understand that—well, it’s hard to explain. Just trust me, okay? She’s better off staying away for a little while. ”

“Okay. ”

“Okay. ” Nita nods. “Gotta go. ”

I watch her run back toward the gene therapy room, and then I keep walking. I don’t know where I’m going, exactly, just that when I walk, the frenzy of information I’ve learned in the past day stops moving quite so fast, stops shouting quite so loud inside my head.

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