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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

TRIS

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

DAVID SUMMONS ME to his office the next day, and I am afraid that he remembers how I used him as a shield when I was backing away from the Weapons Lab, how I pointed a gun at his head and said I didn’t care if he lived or died.

Zoe meets me in the hotel lobby and leads me through the main hallway and down another one, long and narrow, with windows on my right that show the small fleet of airplanes perched in rows on the concrete. Light snow touches the glass, an early taste of winter, and melts within seconds.

I sneak looks at her as we walk, hoping to see what she is like when she doesn’t think anyone is watching, but she seems just the same as always—chipper, but businesslike. Like the attack never happened.

“He’ll be in a wheelchair,” she says when we reach the end of the narrow hallway. “It’s best not to make a big deal of it. He doesn’t like to be pitied. ”

“I don’t pity him. ” I struggle to keep the anger out of my voice. It would make her suspicious. “He’s not the first person to ever be hit with a bullet. ”

“I always forget that you have seen far more violence than we have,” Zoe says, and she scans her card at the next security barrier we reach. I stare through the glass at the guards on the other side—they stand erect, their guns at their shoulders, facing forward. I get the sense they have to stand that way all day.

I feel heavy and achy, like my muscles are communicating a deeper, emotional pain. Uriah is still in a coma. I still can’t look at Tobias when I see him in the dormitory, in the cafeteria, in the hallway, without seeing the exploded wall next to Uriah’s head. I’m not sure when, or if, anything will ever get better, not sure if these wounds are the kind that can heal.

We walk past the guards, and the tile turns to wood beneath my feet. Small paintings with gilded frames line the walls, and just outside David’s office is a pedestal with a bouquet of flowers on it. They are small touches, but the effect is that I feel like my clothes are smudged with dirt.

Zoe knocks, and a voice within calls out, “Come in!”

She opens the door for me but doesn’t follow me in. David’s office is spacious and warm, the walls lined with books where they are not lined with windows. On the left side is a desk with glass screens suspended above it, and on the right side is a small laboratory with wood furnishings instead of metal ones.

David sits in a wheelchair, his legs covered in a stiff material—to keep the bones in place so they can heal, I assume. He looks pale and wan, but healthy enough. Though I know that he had something to do with the attack simulation, and with all those deaths, I find it difficult to pair those actions with the man I see in front of me. I wonder if this is how it is with all evil men, that to someone, they look just like good men, talk like good men, are just as likable as good men.

“Tris. ” He pushes himself toward me and presses one of my hands between his. I keep my hand firmly in his, though his skin feels dry as paper and I am repulsed by him.

“You are so very brave,” he says, and then he releases my hand. “How are your injuries?”

I shrug. “I’ve had worse. How are yours?”

“It will take me some time to walk again, but they’re confident that I will. Some of our people are developing sophisticated leg braces anyway, so I can be their first test case if I have to,” he says, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Could you push me behind the desk again? I am still having trouble steering. ”

I do, guiding his stiff legs under the tabletop and letting the rest of him follow. When I’m sure he’s positioned correctly, I sit in the chair across from him and try to smile. In order to find some way to avenge my parents, I need to keep his trust and his fondness for me intact. And I won’t do that with a scowl.

“I asked you to come here mostly so that I could thank you,” he says. “I can’t think of many young people who would have come after me instead of running for cover, or who would have been able to save this compound the way you did. ”

I think of pressing a gun to his head and threatening his life, and swallow hard.

“You and the people you came with have been in a regrettable state of flux since your arrival,” he says. “We aren’t quite sure what to do with all of you, to be honest, and I’m sure you don’t know what to do with yourselves, but I have thought of something I would like you to do. I am the official leader of this compound, but apart from that, we have a similar system of governance to the Abnegation, so I am advised by a small group of councilors. I would like you to begin training for that position. ”

My hands tighten around the armrests.

“You see, we are going to need to make some changes around here now that we have been attacked,” he says. “We are going to have to take a stronger stand for our cause. And I think you know how to do that. ”

I can’t argue with that.

“What . . . ” I clear my throat. “What would training for that entail?”

“Attending our meetings, for one thing,” he says, “and learning the ins and outs of our compound—how we function, from top to bottom, our history, our values, and so on. I can’t allow you to be a part of the council in any official capacity at such a young age, and there is a track you must follow—assisting one of the current council members—but I am inviting you to travel down the road, if you would like to. ”

His eyes, not his voice, ask me the question.

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The councilors are probably the same people who authorized the attack simulation and ensured that it was passed on to Jeanine at the right time. And he wants me to sit among them, learn to become them. Even though I can taste bile in the back of my mouth, I have no trouble answering.

“Of course,” I say, and smile. “I would be honored. ”

If someone offers you an opportunity to get closer to your enemy, you always take it. I know that without having learned it from anyone.

He must believe my smile, because he grins.

“I thought you would say yes,” he says. “It’s something I wanted your mother to do with me, before she volunteered to enter the city. But I think she had fallen in love with the place from afar and couldn’t resist it. ”

“Fallen in love . . . with the city?” I say. “No accounting for taste, I suppose. ”

It’s just a joke, but my heart isn’t in it. Still, David laughs, and I know I’ve said the right thing.

“You were . . . close with my mother, while she was here?” I say. “I’ve been reading her journal, but she’s not very wordy. ”

“No, she wouldn’t be, would she? Natalie was always very straightforward. Yes, we were close, your mother and I. ” His voice softens when he talks about her—he is no longer the toughened leader of this compound, but an old man, reflecting on some fonder past.

The past that happened before he got her killed.

“We had a similar history. I was also plucked right out of the damaged world as a child . . . my parents were severely dysfunctional people who were both taken to prison when I was young. Rather than succumbing to an adoption system overburdened with orphans, my siblings and I ran to the fringe—the same place where your mother also took refuge, years later—and only I came out of there alive. ”

I don’t know what to say to that—I don’t know what to do with the sympathy growing within me, for a man I know has done terrible things. I just stare at my hands, and I imagine that my insides are liquid metal hardening in the air, taking a shape they will never leave again.

“You’ll have to go out there with our patrols tomorrow. You can see the fringe for yourself,” he says. “It’s something that’s important for a future council member to see. ”

“I’d be very interested,” I say.

“Lovely. Well, I hate to end our time together, but I have quite a bit of work to catch up on,” he says. “I’ll have someone notify you about the patrols, and our first council meeting is on Friday at ten in the morning, so I’ll be seeing you soon. ”

I feel frantic—I didn’t ask him what I wanted to ask him. I don’t think there was ever an opportunity. It’s too late now, anyway. I get up and move toward the doorway, but then he speaks again.

“Tris, I feel like I should be open with you, if we are to trust each other,” he says.

For the first time since I’ve met him, David looks almost . . . afraid. His eyes are wide open, like a child’s. But a moment later, the expression is gone.

“I may have been under the influence of a serum cocktail at the time,” he says, “but I know what you said to them to keep them from shooting at us. I know you told them you would kill me to protect what was in the Weapons Lab. ”

My throat feels so tight I can hardly breathe.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“Don’t be alarmed,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons why I offered you this opportunity. ”

“W-why?”

“You demonstrated the quality I most need in my advisers,” he says. “Which is the ability to make sacrifices for the greater good. If we are going to win this fight against genetic damage, if we are going to save the experiments from being shut down, we will need to make sacrifices. You understand that, don’t you?”

I feel a flash of anger and force myself to nod. Nita already told us that the experiments were in danger of being disbanded, so I am not surprised to hear it’s true. But David’s desperation to save his life’s work doesn’t excuse killing off a faction, my faction.

For a moment I stand with my hand on the doorknob, trying to gather myself together, and then I decide to take a risk.

“What would have happened, if they had set off another explosion to get into the Weapons Lab?” I say. “Nita said it would trigger a backup security measure if they did, but it seemed like the most obvious solution to their problem, to me. ”

“A serum would have been released into the air . . . one that masks could not have protected against, because it is absorbed into the skin,” says David. “One that even the genetically pure cannot fight off. I don’t know how Nita knows about it, since it’s not supposed to be public knowledge, but I suppose we’ll find out some other time. ”

“What does the serum do?”

His smile turns into a grimace. “Let’s just say it’s bad enough that Nita would rather be in prison for the rest of her life than come into contact with it. ”

He’s right. He doesn’t have to say anything more.

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