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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

TOBIAS

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

I STAND ON the edge of the truck bed, holding the structure that supports the cloth cover. I want this new reality to be a simulation that I could manipulate if I could only make sense of it. But it’s not, and I can’t make sense of it.

Amar is alive.

“Adapt!” was one of his favorite commands during my initiation. Sometimes he yelled it so often that I would dream it; it woke me like an alarm clock, requiring more of me than I could provide. Adapt. Adapt faster, adapt better, adapt to things that no man should have to.

Like this: leaving a wholly formed world and discovering another one.

Or this: discovering that your dead friend is actually alive and driving the truck you’re riding in.

Tris sits behind me, on the bench that wraps around the truck bed, the creased photo in her hands. Her fingers hover over her mother’s face, almost touching it but not quite. Christina sits on one side of her, and Caleb is on the other. She must be letting him stay just to see the photograph; her entire body recoils from him, pressing into Christina’s side.

“That’s your mom?” Christina says.

Tris and Caleb both nod.

“She’s so young there. Pretty, too,” Christina adds.

“Yes she is. Was, I mean. ”

I expect Tris to sound sad as she replies, like she’s aching at the memory of her mother’s fading beauty. Instead her voice is nervous, her lips pursed in anticipation. I hope that she isn’t brewing false hope.

“Let me see it,” Caleb says, stretching his hand out to his sister.

Silently, and without really looking at him, she passes him the photograph.

I turn back to the world we are driving away from—the end of the train tracks. The huge expanses of field. And in the distance, the Hub, barely visible in the haze that covers the city’s skyline. It’s a strange feeling, seeing it from this place, like I can still touch it if I stretch my hand far enough, though I have traveled so far away from it.

Peter moves toward the edge of the truck bed next to me, holding the canvas to steady himself. The train tracks curve away from us now, and I can’t see the fields anymore. The walls on either side of us gradually disappear as the land flattens out, and I see buildings everywhere, some small, like the Abnegation houses, and some wide, like city buildings turned on their sides.

Trees, overgrown and huge, grow beyond the cement fixtures intended to keep them enclosed, their roots sprawling over the pavement. Perched on the edge of one rooftop is a row of black birds like the ones tattooed on Tris’s collarbone. As the truck passes, they squawk and scatter into the air.

This is a wild world.

Just like that, it is too much for me to bear, and I have to back up and sit on one of the benches. I cradle my head in my hands, keeping my eyes shut so I can’t take in any new information. I feel Tris’s strong arm across my back, pulling me sideways into her narrow frame. My hands are numb.

“Just focus on what’s right here, right now,” Cara says from across the truck. “Like how the truck is moving. It’ll help. ”

I try it. I think about how hard the bench is beneath me and how the truck always vibrates, even on flat ground, buzzing in my bones. I detect its tiny movements left and right, forward and back, and absorb each bounce as it rolls over the rails. I focus until everything goes dark around us, and I don’t feel the passage of time or the panic of discovery, I feel only our movement over the earth.

“You should probably look around now,” Tris says, and she sounds weak.

Christina and Uriah stand where I stood, peering around the edge of the canvas wall. I look over their shoulders to see what we’re driving toward. There is a tall fence stretching wide across the landscape, which looks empty compared to the densely packed buildings I saw before I sat down. The fence has vertical black bars with pointed ends that bend outward, as if to skewer anyone who might try to climb over it.

A few feet past it is another fence, this one chain-link, like the one around the city, with barbedwire looped over the top. I hear a loud buzz coming from the second fence, an electric charge. People walk the space between them, carrying guns that look a little like our paintball guns, but far more lethal, powerful pieces of machinery.

sign on the first fence reads BUREAU OF GENETIC WELFARE.

I hear Amar’s voice, speaking to the armed guards, but I don’t know what he’s saying. A gate in the first fence opens to admit us, and then a gate in the second. Beyond the two fences is . . . order.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

As far as I can see, there are low buildings separated by trimmed grass and fledgling trees. The roads that connect them are well maintained and well marked, with arrows pointing to various destinations: GREENHOUSES, straight ahead; SECURITY OUTPOST, left; OFFICERS’ RESIDENCES, right; COMPOUND MAIN, straight ahead.

I get up and lean around the truck to see the compound, half my body hanging over the road. The Bureau of Genetic Welfare isn’t tall, but it’s still huge, wider than I can see, a mammoth of glass and steel and concrete. Behind the compound are a few tall towers with bulges at the top—I don’t know why, but I think of the control room when I see them, and wonder if that’s what they are.

Aside from the guards between the fences, there are few people outside. Those who are stop to watch us, but we drive away so quickly I don’t see their expressions.

The truck stops before a set of double doors, and Peter is the first to jump down. The rest of us spill out on the pavement behind him, and we are shoulder to shoulder, standing so close I can hear how fast everyone is breathing. In the city we were divided by faction, by age, by history, but here all those divisions fall away. We are all we have.

“Here we go,” mutters Tris, as Zoe and Amar approach.

Here we go, I say to myself.

“Welcome to the compound,” says Zoe. “This building used to be O’Hare Airport, one of the busiest airports in the country. Now it’s the headquarters of the Bureau of Genetic Welfare—or just the Bureau, as we call it around here. It’s an agency of the United States government. ”

I feel my face going slack. I know all the words she’s saying—except I’m not sure what an “airport” or “united states” is—but they don’t make sense to me all together. I’m not the only one who looks confused—Peter raises both eyebrows as if asking a question.

“Sorry,” she says. “I keep forgetting how little you all know. ”

“I believe it’s your fault if we don’t know anything, not ours,” Peter points out.

“I should rephrase. ” Zoe smiles gently. “I keep forgetting how little information we provided you with. An airport is a hub for air travel, and—”

“Air travel?” says Christina, incredulous.

“One of the technological developments that wasn’t necessary for us to know about when we were inside the city was air travel,” says Amar. “It’s safe, fast, and amazing. ”

“Wow,” says Tris.

She looks excited. I, however, think of speeding through the air, high above the compound, and feel like I might throw up.

“Anyway. When the experiments were first developed, the airport was converted into this compound so that we could monitor the experiments from a distance,” Zoe says. “I’m going to walk you to the control room to meet David, the leader of the Bureau. You will see a lot of things you don’t understand, but it may be best to get some preliminary explanations before you start asking me about them. So take note of the things you want to learn more about, and feel free to ask me or Amar later. ”

She starts toward the entrance, and the doors part for her, pulled open by two armed guardswho smile in greeting as she passes them. The contrast between the friendly greeting and the weapons propped against their shoulders is almost humorous. The guns are huge, and I wonder how they feel to shoot, if you can feel the deadly power in them just by curling your finger around the trigger.

Cool air rushes over my face as I walk into the compound. Windows arch high above my head, letting in pale light, but that is the most appealing part about the place—the tile floor is dull with dirt and age, and the walls are gray and blank. Ahead of us is a sea of people and machinery, with a sign over it that says SECURITY CHECKPOINT. I don’t understand why they need so much security if they’re already protected by two layers of fence, one of which is electrified, and a few layers of guards, but this is not my world to question.

No, this is not my world at all.

Tris touches my shoulder and points down the long entryway. “Look at that. ”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

Standing at the far end of the room, outside the security checkpoint, is a huge block of stone with a glass apparatus suspended above it. It’s a clear example of the things we will see here that we don’t understand. I also don’t understand the hunger in Tris’s eyes, devouring everything around us as if it alone can sustain her. Sometimes I feel like we are the same, but sometimes, like right now, I feel the separation between our personalities like I’ve just run into a wall.

Christina says something to Tris, and they both grin. Everything I hear is muffled and distorted.

“Are you all right?” Cara asks me.

“Yeah,” I say automatically.

“You know, it would be perfectly logical for you to be panicking right now,” she says. “No need to continually insist upon your unshakable masculinity. ”

“My . . . what?”

She smiles, and I realize that she was joking.

All the people at the security checkpoint step aside, forming a tunnel for us to walk through. Ahead of us, Zoe announces, “Weapons are not allowed inside this facility, but if you leave them at the security checkpoint you can pick them up as you exit, if you choose to do so. After you drop them off, we’ll go through the scanners and be on our way. ”

“That woman is irritating,” Cara says.

“What?” I say. “Why?”

“She can’t separate herself from her own knowledge,” she says as she draws her weapon. “She keeps saying things like they’re obvious when they are not, in fact, obvious. ”

“You’re right,” I say without conviction. “That is irritating. ”

Ahead of me, I see Zoe putting her gun into a gray container and then walking into a scanner—it is a man-sized box with a tunnel through the middle, just wide enough for a body. I draw my own gun, which is heavy with unused bullets, and put it in the container the security guard holds out to me, where all the others’ guns are.

I watch Zoe go through the scanner, then Amar, Peter, Caleb, Cara, and Christina. As I stand at the edge of it, at the walls that will squeeze my body between them, I feel the beginnings of panic again, the numb hands and the tight chest. The scanner reminds me of the wooden box that traps me in my fear landscape, squeezing my bones together.

I cannot, will not panic here.

I force my feet to move into the scanner, and stand in the middle, where all the others stood. I hear something moving in the walls on either side of me, and then there’s a high-pitched beep. I shudder, and all I can see is the guard’s hand, motioning me forward.

It is now okay to escape.

I stumble out of the scanner, and the air opens up around me. Cara gives me a pointed look, but doesn’t say anything.

When Tris takes my hand after going through the scanner herself, I barely feel it. I remember going through my fear landscape with her, our bodies pressed together in the wooden box that enclosed us, my palm against her chest, feeling her heartbeat. It’s enough to ground me in reality again.

Once Uriah is through, Zoe waves us forward again.

Beyond the security checkpoint, the facility is not as dingy as it was before. The floors are still tile, but they are polished to perfection, and there are windows everywhere. Down one long hallway I see rows of lab tables and computers, and it reminds me of Erudite headquarters, but it’s brighter here, and nothing seems to be hidden.

Zoe leads us down a darker passageway on the right. As we walk past people, they stop to watch, and I feel their eyes on me like little beams of heat, making me warm from throat to cheeks.

We walk for a long time, deeper into the compound, and then Zoe stops, facing us.

Behind her is a large circle of blank screens, like moths circling a flame. People within the circle sit at low desks, typing furiously on still more screens, these ones facing out instead of in. It’s a control room, but it’s out in the open, and I’m not sure what they’re observing here, since all the screens are dark. Clustered around the screens that face in are chairs and benches and tables, like people gather here to watch at their leisure.

A few feet in front of the control room is an older man wearing a smile and a dark blue uniform, just like all the others. When he sees us approaching, he spreads his hands as if to welcome us. David, I assume.

“This,” the man says, “is what we’ve waited for since the very beginning. ”

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