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Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

I TAKE THE photograph from my pocket. The man in front of me—David—is in it, next to my mother, his face a little smoother, his middle a little trimmer.

I cover my mother’s face with my fingertip. All the hope growing inside me has withered. If my mother, or my father, or my friends were still alive, they would have been waiting by the doors for our arrival. I should have known better than to think what happened with Amar—whatever it was—could happen again.

“My name is David. As Zoe probably told you already, I am the leader of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare. I’m going to do my best to explain things,” David says. “The first thing you should know is that the information Edith Prior gave you is only partly true. ”

At the name “Prior” his eyes settle on me. My body shakes with anticipation—ever since I saw that video I’ve been desperate for answers, and I’m about to get them.

“She provided only as much information as you needed to meet the goals of our experiments,” says David. “And in many cases, that meant oversimplifying, omitting, and even outright falsehood. Now that you are here, there is no need for any of those things. ”

“You all keep talking about ‘experiments,’” Tobias says. “What experiments?”

“Yes, well, I was getting to that. ” David looks at Amar. “Where did they start when they explained it to you?”

“Doesn’t matter where you start. You can’t make it easier to take,” Amar says, picking at his cuticles.

David considers this for a moment, then clears his throat.

“A long time ago, the United States government—”

“The united what?” Uriah asks.

“It’s a country,” says Amar. “A large one. It has specific borders and its own governing body, and we’re in the middle of it right now. We can talk about it later. Go ahead, sir. ”

David presses his thumb into his palm and massages his hand, clearly disconcerted by all the interruptions.

He begins again:

“A few centuries ago, the government of this country became interested in enforcing certain desirable behaviors in its citizens. There had been studies that indicated that violent tendencies could be partially traced to a person’s genes—a gene called ‘the murder gene’ was the first of these, but there were quite a few more, genetic predispositions toward cowardice, dishonesty, low intelligence—all the qualities, in other words, that ultimately contribute to a broken society. ”

We were taught that the factions were formed to solve a problem, the problem of our flawed natures. Apparently the people David is describing, whoever they were, believed in that problem too.

I know so little about genetics—just what I can see passed down from parent to child, in my face and in friends’ faces. I can’t imagine isolating a gene for murder, or cowardice, or dishonesty. Those things seem too nebulous to have a concrete location in a person’s body. But I’m not a scientist.

“Obviously there are quite a few factors that determine personality, including a person’s upbringing and experiences,” David continues, “but despite the peace and prosperity that had reigned in this country for nearly a century, it seemed advantageous to our ancestors to reduce the risk of these undesirable qualities showing up in our population by correcting them. In other words, by editing humanity.

“That’s how the genetic manipulation experiment was born. It takes several generations for any kind of genetic manipulation to manifest, but people were selected from the general population in large numbers, according to their backgrounds or behavior, and they were given the option to give a gift to our future generations, a genetic alteration that would make their descendants just a little bit better. ”

I look around at the others. Peter’s mouth is puckered with disdain. Caleb is scowling. Cara’s mouth has fallen open, like she is hungry for answers and intends to eat them from the air. Christina just looks skeptical, one eyebrow raised, and Tobias is staring at his shoes.

I feel like I am not hearing anything new—just the same philosophy that spawned the factions, driving people to manipulate their genes instead of separating into virtue-based groups. I understand it. On some level I even agree with it. But I don’t know how it relates to us, here, now.

“But when the genetic manipulations began to take effect, the alterations had disastrous consequences. As it turns out, the attempt had resulted not in corrected genes, but in damaged ones,” David says. “Take away someone’s fear, or low intelligence, or dishonesty . . . and you take away their compassion. Take away someone’s aggression and you take away their motivation, or their ability to assert themselves. Take away their selfishness and you take away their sense of self-preservation. If you think about it, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. ”

I tick off each quality in my mind as he says it—fear, low intelligence, dishonesty, aggression, selfishness. He is talking about the factions. And he’s right to say that every faction loses something when it gains a virtue: the Dauntless, brave but cruel; the Erudite, intelligent but vain; the Amity, peaceful but passive; the Candor, honest but inconsiderate; the Abnegation, selfless but stifling.

“Humanity has never been perfect, but the genetic alterations made it worse than it had ever been before. This manifested itself in what we call the Purity War. A civil war, waged by those with damaged genes, against the government and everyone with pure genes. The Purity War caused a level of destruction formerly unheard of on American soil, eliminating almost half of the country’s population. ”

“The visual is up,” says one of the people at a desk in the control room.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

A map appears on the screen above David’s head. It is an unfamiliar shape, so I’m not sure what it’s supposed to represent, but it is covered with patches of pink, red, and dark-crimson lights.

“This is our country before the Purity War,” David says. “And this is after—”

The lights start to recede, the patches shrinking like puddles of water drying in the sun. Then I realize that the red lights were people—people, disappearing, their lights going out. I stare at the screen, unable to wrap my mind around such a substantial loss.

David continues, “When the war was finally over, the people demanded a permanent solutionto the genetic problem. And that is why the Bureau of Genetic Welfare was formed. Armed with all the scientific knowledge at our government’s disposal, our predecessors designed experiments to restore humanity to its genetically pure state.

“They called for genetically damaged individuals to come forward so that the Bureau could alter their genes. The Bureau then placed them in secure environments to settle in for the long haul, equipped with basic versions of the serums to help them control their society. They would wait for the passage of time—for the generations to pass, for each one to produce more genetically healed humans. Or, as you currently know them . . . the Divergent. ”

Ever since Tori told me the word for what I am—Divergent—I have wanted to know what it means. And here is the simplest answer I have received: “Divergent” means that my genes are healed. Pure. Whole. I should feel relieved to know the real answer at last. But I just feel like something is off, itching in the back of my mind.

I thought that “Divergent” explained everything that I am and everything that I could be. Maybe I was wrong.

I am starting to feel short of breath as the revelations begin to work their way into my mind and heart, as David peels the layers of lies and secrets away. I touch my chest to feel my heartbeat, to try to steady myself.

“Your city is one of those experiments for genetic healing, and by far the most successful one, because of the behavioral modification portion. The factions, that is. ” David smiles at us, like it’s something we should be proud of, but I am not proud. They created us, they shaped our world, they told us what to believe.

If they told us what to believe, and we didn’t come to it on our own, is it still true? I press my hand harder against my chest. Steady.

“The factions were our predecessors’ attempt to incorporate a ‘nurture’ element to the experiment—they discovered that mere genetic correction was not enough to change the way people behaved. A new social order, combined with the genetic modification, was determined to be the most complete solution to the behavioral problems that the genetic damage had created. ” David’s smile fades as he looks around at all of us. I don’t know what he expected—for us to smile back? He continues, “The factions were later introduced to most of our other experiments, three of which are currently active. We have gone to great lengths to protect you, observe you, and learn from you. ”

Cara runs her hands over her hair, as if checking for loose strands. Finding none, she says, “So when Edith Prior said we were supposed to determine the cause of Divergence and come out and help you, that was . . . ”

“‘Divergent’ is the name we decided to give to those who have reached the desired level of genetic healing,” says David. “We wanted to make sure that the leaders of your city valued them. We didn’t expect the leader of Erudite to start hunting them down—or for the Abnegationto even tell her what they were—and contrary to what Edith Prior said, we never really intended for you to send a Divergent army out to us. We don’t, after all, truly need your help. We just need your healed genes to remain intact and to be passed on to future generations. ”

“So what you’re saying is that if we’re not Divergent, we’re damaged,” Caleb says. His voice is shaking. I never thought I would see Caleb on the verge of tears because of something like this, but he is.

Steady, I tell myself again, and take another deep, slow breath.

“Genetically damaged, yes,” says David. “However, we were surprised to discover that the behavioral modification component of our city’s experiment was quite effective—up until recently, it actually helped quite a bit with the behavioral problems that made the genetic manipulation so problematic to begin with. So generally, you would not be able to tell whether a person’s genes were damaged or healed from their behavior. ”

“I’m smart,” Caleb says. “So you’re saying that because my ancestors were altered to be smart, I, their descendant, can’t be fully compassionate. I, and every other genetically damaged person, am limited by my damaged genes. And the Divergent are not. ”

“Well,” says David, lifting a shoulder. “Think about it. ”

Caleb looks at me for the first time in days, and I stare back. Is that the explanation for Caleb’s betrayal—his damaged genes? Like a disease that he can’t heal, and can’t control? It doesn’t seem right.

“Genes aren’t everything,” Amar says. “People, even genetically damaged people, make choices. That’s what matters. ”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

I think of my father, a born Erudite, not Divergent; a man who could not help but be smart, choosing Abnegation, engaging in a lifelong struggle against his own nature, and ultimately fulfilling it. A man warring with himself, just as I war with myself.

That internal war doesn’t seem like a product of genetic damage—it seems completely, purely human.

I look at Tobias. He is so washed out, so slouched, he looks like he might pass out. He’s not alone in his reaction: Christina, Peter, Uriah, and Caleb all look stunned. Cara has the hem of her shirt pinched between her fingers, and she is moving her thumb over the fabric, frowning.

“This is a lot to process,” says David.

That is an understatement.

Beside me, Christina snorts.

“And you’ve all been up all night,” David finishes, like there was no interruption. “So I’ll show you to a place where you can get some rest and food. ”

“Wait,” I say. I think of the photograph in my pocket, and how Zoe knew my name when she gave it to me. I think of what David said, about observing us and learning from us. I think of the rows of screens, blank, right in front of me. “You said you’ve been observing us. How?”

Zoe purses her lips. David nods to one of the people at the desks behind him. All at once, all the screens turn on, each of them showing footage from different cameras. On the ones nearest to me, I see Dauntless headquarters. The Merciless Mart. Millennium Park. The Hancock building. The Hub.

“You’ve always known that the Dauntless observe the city with security cameras,” David says. “Well, we have access to those cameras too. ”

They’ve been watching us.

I think about leaving.

We walk past the security checkpoint on our way to wherever David is taking us, and I think about walking through it again, picking up my gun, and running from this place where they’ve been watching me. Since I was small. My first steps, my first words, my first day of school, my first kiss.

Watching, when Peter attacked me. When my faction was put under a simulation and turned into an army. When my parents died.

What else have they seen?

The only thing that stops me from going is the photograph in my pocket. I can’t leave these people before I find out how they knew my mother.

David takes us through the compound to a carpeted area with potted plants on either side. The wallpaper is old and yellowed, peeling from the corners of the walls. We follow him into a large room with high ceilings and wood floors and lights that glow orange-yellow. There are cots arranged in two straight rows, with trunks beside them for what we brought with us, and large windows with elegant curtains on the opposite end of the room. When I get closer to them, I see that they’re worn and frayed at the edges.

David tells us that this part of the compound was a hotel, connected to the airport by a tunnel, and this room was once the ballroom. Again the words mean nothing to us, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

“This is just a temporary dwelling, of course. Once you decide what to do, we will settle you somewhere else, whether it’s in this compound or elsewhere. Zoe will ensure that you are well taken care of,” he says. “I will be back tomorrow to see how you’re all doing. ”

I look back at Tobias, who is pacing back and forth in front of the windows, gnawing on his fingernails. I never realized he had that habit. Maybe he was never distressed enough to do it before.

I could stay and try to comfort him, but I need answers about my mother, and I’m not going to wait any longer. I’m sure that Tobias, of all people, will understand. I follow David into the hallway. Just outside the room he leans against the wall and scratches the back of his neck.

“Hi,” I say. “My name is Tris. I believe you knew my mother. ”

He jumps a little, but eventually smiles at me. I cross my arms. I feel the same way I did when Peter pulled my towel away during Dauntless initiation, to be cruel: exposed, embarrassed, angry. Maybe it’s not fair to direct all of that at David, but I can’t help it. He’s the leader of this compound—of the Bureau.

“Yes, of course,” he says. “I recognize you. ”

From where? The creepy cameras that followed my every move? I pull my arms tighter across my chest.

“Right. ” I wait a beat, then say, “I need to know about my mother. Zoe gave me a picture of her, and you were standing right next to her in it, so I figured you could help. ”

“Ah,” he says. “Can I see the picture?”

I take it out of my pocket and offer it to him. He smooths it down with his fingertips, and there is a strange smile on his face as he looks at it, like he’s caressing it with his eyes. I shift my weight from one foot to the other—I feel like I’m intruding on a private moment.

“She took a trip back to us once,” he says. “Before she settled into motherhood. That’s when we took this. ”

“Back to you?” I say. “Was she one of you?”

“Yes,” David says simply, like it’s not a word that changes my entire world. “She came from this place. We sent her into the city when she was young to resolve a problem in the experiment. ”

“So she knew,” I say, and my voice shakes, but I don’t know why. “She knew about this place, and what was outside the fence. ”

David looks puzzled, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. “Well, of course. ”

The shaking moves down my arms and into my hands, and soon my entire body is shuddering, as if rejecting some kind of poison that I’ve swallowed, and the poison is knowledge, the knowledge of this place and its screens and all the lies I built my life on. “She knew you were watching us at every moment . . . watching as she died and my father died and everyone started killing each other! And did you send in someone to help her, to help me? No! No, all you did was take notes. ”

“Tris . . . ”

He tries to reach for me, and I push his hand away. “Don’t call me that. You shouldn’t know that name. You shouldn’t know anything about us. ”

Shivering, I walk back into the room.

Back inside, the others have picked their beds and put their things down. It’s just us in here, no intruders. I lean against the wall by the door and push my palms down the front of my pants to get the sweat off.

No one seems to be adjusting well. Peter lies facing the wall. Uriah and Christina sit side by side, having a conversation in low voices. Caleb is massaging his temples with his fingertips. Tobias is still pacing and gnawing on his fingernails. And Cara is on her own, dragging her hand over her face. For the first time since I met her, she looks upset, the Erudite armor gone.

I sit down across from her. “You don’t look so good. ”

Her hair, usually smooth and perfect in its knot, is disheveled. She glowers at me. “That’s kind of you to say. ”

“Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean it that way. ”

“I know. ” She sighs. “I’m . . . I’m an Erudite, you know. ”

I smile a little. “Yeah, I know. ”

“No. ” Cara shakes her head. “It’s the only thing I am. Erudite. And now they’ve told me that’s the result of some kind of flaw in my genetics . . . and that the factions themselves are just a mental prison to keep us under control. Just like Evelyn Johnson and the factionless said. ” She pauses. “So why form the Allegiant? Why bother to come out here?”

I didn’t realize how much Cara had already cleaved to the idea of being an Allegiant, loyal to the faction system, loyal to our founders. For me it was just a temporary identity, powerful because it could get me out of the city. For her the attachment must have been much deeper.

“It’s still good that we came out here,” I say. “We found out the truth. That’s not valuable to you?”

“Of course it is,” Cara says softly. “But it means I need other words for what I am. ”

Just after my mother died, I grabbed hold of my Divergence like it was a hand outstretched to save me. I needed that word to tell me who I was when everything else was coming apart around me. But now I’m wondering if I need it anymore, if we ever really need these words, “Dauntless,” “Erudite,” “Divergent,” “Allegiant,” or if we can just be friends or lovers or siblings, defined instead by the choices we make and the love and loyalty that binds us.

“Better check on him,” Cara says, nodding to Tobias.

“Yeah,” I say.

I cross the room and stand in front of the windows, staring at what we can see of the compound, which is just more of the same glass and steel, pavement and grass and fences. When he sees me, he stops pacing and stands next to me instead.

“You all right?” I say to him.

“Yeah. ” He sits on the windowsill, facing me, so we’re at eye level. “I mean, no, not really. Right now I’m just thinking about how meaningless it all was. The faction system, I mean. ”

He rubs the back of his neck, and I wonder if he’s thinking about the tattoos on his back.

“We put everything we had into it,” he says. “All of us. Even if we didn’t realize we were doing it. ”

“That’s what you’re thinking about?” I raise my eyebrows. “Tobias, they were watching us. Everything that happened, everything we did. They didn’t intervene, they just invaded our privacy. Constantly. ”

He rubs his temple with his fingertips. “I guess. That’s not what’s bothering me, though. ”

I must give him an incredulous look without meaning to, because he shakes his head. “Tris, I worked in the Dauntless control room. There were cameras everywhere, all the time. I tried to warn you that people were watching you during your initiation, remember?”

I remember his eyes shifting to the ceiling, to the corner. His cryptic warnings, hissed between his teeth. I never realized he was warning me about cameras—it just never occurred to me before.

“It used to bother me,” he says. “But I got over it a long time ago. We always thought we were on our own, and now it turns out we were right—they left us on our own. That’s just the way it is. ”

“I guess I don’t accept that,” I say. “If you see someone in trouble, you should help them. Experiment or not. And . . . God. ” I cringe. “All the things they saw. ”

He smiles at me, a little.

“What?” I demand.

“I was just thinking of some of the things they saw,” he says, putting his hand on my waist. I glare at him for a moment, but I can’t sustain it, not with him grinning at me like that. Not knowing that he’s trying to make me feel better. I smile a little.

I sit next to him on the windowsill, my hands wedged between my legs and the wood. “You know, the Bureau setting up the factions is not much different than what we thought happened: A long time ago, a group of people decided that the faction system would be the best way to live—or the way to get people to live the best lives they could. ”

He doesn’t respond at first, just chews on the inside of his lip and looks at our feet, side by side on the floor. My toes brush the ground, not quite reaching it.

“That helps, actually,” he says. “But there’s so much that was a lie, it’s hard to figure out what was true, what was real, what matters. ”

I take his hand, slipping my fingers between his. He touches his forehead to mine.

I catch myself thinking, Thank God for this, out of habit, and then I understand what he’s so concerned about. What if my parents’ God, their whole belief system, is just something concocted by a bunch of scientists to keep us under control? And not just their beliefs about God and whatever else is out there, but about right and wrong, about selflessness? Do all those things have to change because we know how our world was made?

I don’t know.

The thought rattles me. So I kiss him—slowly, so I can feel the warmth of his mouth and the gentle pressure and his breaths as we pull away.

“Why is it,” I say, “that we always find ourselves surrounded by people?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe because we’re stupid. ”

I laugh, and it’s laughter, not light, that casts out the darkness building within me, that reminds me I am still alive, even in this strange place where everything I’ve ever known is coming apart. I know some things—I know that I’m not alone, that I have friends, that I’m in love. I know where I came from. I know that I don’t want to die, and for me, that’s something—more than I could have said a few weeks ago.

That night we push our cots just a little closer together, and look into each other’s eyes in the moments before we fall asleep. When he finally drifts off, our fingers are twisted together in the space between the beds.

I smile a little, and let myself go too.

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