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TOBIASWatch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
TRIS AND I meet Nita in the hotel lobby after midnight, among the potted plants with their unfurling flowers, a tame wilderness. When Nita sees Tris at my side, her face tightens like she just tasted something bitter.
“You promised you wouldn’t tell her,” she says, pointing at me. “What happened to protecting her?”
“I changed my mind,” I say.
Tris laughs, harshly. “That’s what you told him, that he would be protecting me? That’s a pretty skillful manipulation. Well done. ”
I raise my eyebrows at her. I never thought of it as a manipulation, and that scares me a little. I can usually rely on myself to see a person’s ulterior motives, or to invent them in my mind, but I was so used to my desire to protect Tris, especially after almost losing her, that I didn’t even think twice.
Or I was so used to lying instead of telling difficult truths that I welcomed the chance to deceive her.
“It wasn’t a manipulation, it was the truth. ” Nita doesn’t look angry anymore, just tired, her hand sliding over her face and then smoothing back her hair. She isn’t defensive, which means she might be telling the truth. “You could be arrested just for knowing what you know and not reporting it. I thought it would be better to avoid that. ”
“Well, too late,” I say. “Tris is coming. Is that a problem?”
“I would rather have both of you than neither of you, and I’m sure that’s the implied ultimatum,” Nita says, rolling her eyes. “Let’s go. ”
Tris, Nita, and I walk back through the silent, still compound to the laboratories where Nita works. None of us speaks, and I am conscious of every squeak of my shoes, every voice in the distance, every snap of every closing door. I feel like we’re doing something forbidden, though technically we aren’t. Not yet, anyway.
Nita stops by the door to the laboratories and scans her card. We follow her past the gene therapy room where I saw a map of my genetic code, farther into the heart of the compound than I have been yet. It’s dark and grim back here, and clumps of dust dance over the floor when we walk past.
Nita pushes another door open with her shoulder, and we walk into a storage room. Dull metal drawers cover the walls, labeled with paper numbers, the ink worn off with time. In the center of the room is a lab table with a computer and a microscope, and a young man with slicked-back blond hair.
“Tobias, Tris, this is my friend Reggie,” Nita says. “He’s also a GD. ”
“Nice to meet you,” Reggie says with a smile. He shakes Tris’s hand, then mine, his grip firm.
“Let’s show them the slides first,” Nita says.
Reggie taps the computer screen and beckons us closer. “Not gonna bite. ”
Tris and I exchange a glance, then stand behind Reggie at the table to see the screen. Pictures start flashing on it, one after another. They’re in grayscale and look grainy and distorted—they must be very old. It takes me only a few seconds to realize that they are photographs of suffering: narrow, pinched children with huge eyes, ditches full of bodies, huge mounds of burning papers.
The photographs move so fast, like book pages fluttering in the breeze, that I get only impressions of horrors. Then I turn my face away, unable to look any longer. I feel a deep silence grow inside me.
At first, when I look at Tris, her expression is like still water—like the images we just saw caused no ripples. But then her mouth quivers, and she presses her lips together to disguise it.
“Look at these weapons. ” Reggie brings up a photograph with a man in uniform holding a gun and points. “That kind of gun is incredibly old. The guns used in the Purity War were much more advanced. Even the Bureau would agree with that. It’s gotta be from a really old conflict. Which must have been waged by genetically pure people, since genetic manipulation didn’t exist back then. ”
“How do you hide a war?” I say.
“People are isolated, starving,” Nita says quietly. “They know only what they’re taught, they see only the information that’s made available to them. And who controls all that? The government. ”
“Okay. ” Tris’s head bobs, and she’s talking too fast, nervous. “So they’re lying about your—our history. That doesn’t mean they’re the enemy, it just means they’re a group of grossly misinformed people trying to . . . better the world. In an ill-advised way. ”
Nita and Reggie glance at each other.
“That’s the thing,” Nita says. “They’re hurting people. ”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
She puts her hand on the counter and leans into it, leans toward us, and again I see the revolutionary building strength inside her, taking over the parts of her that are young woman and GD and laboratory worker.
“When the Abnegation wanted to reveal the great truth of their world sooner than they were supposed to,” she says slowly, “and Jeanine wanted to stifle them . . . the Bureau was all too happy to provide her with an incredibly advanced simulation serum—the attack simulation that enslaved the minds of the Dauntless, that resulted in the destruction of Abnegation. ”
I take a moment to let that sink in.
“That can’t be true,” I say. “Jeanine told me that the highest proportion of Divergent—the genetically pure—in any faction was in Abnegation. You just said the Bureau values the genetically pure enough to send someone in to save them; why would they help Jeanine kill them?”
“Jeanine was wrong,” Tris says distantly. “Evelyn said so. The highest proportion of Divergent was among the factionless, not Abnegation. ”
I turn to Nita.
“I still don’t see why they would risk that many Divergent,” I say. “I need evidence. ”
“Why do you think we came here?” Nita switches on another set of lights that illuminate the drawers, and paces along the left wall. “It took me a long time to get clearance to go in here,” she says. “Even longer to acquire the knowledge to understand what I saw. I had help from one of the GPs, actually. A sympathizer. ”
Her hand hovers over one of the low drawers. From it she takes a vial of orange liquid.
“Look familiar?” she asks me.
I try to remember the shot they gave me before the attack simulation began, right before the final round of Tris’s initiation. Max did it, inserted the needle into the side of my neck as I had done myself dozens of times. Right before he did the glass vial caught the light, and it was orange, just like whatever Nita is holding.
“The colors match,” I say. “So?”
Nita carries the vial to the microscope. Reggie takes a slide from a tray near the computer and, using a dropper, puts two drops of the orange liquid in its center, then seals the liquid in place with a second slide. As he places it on the microscope, his fingers are careful but certain; they are the movements of someone who has performed the same action hundreds of times.
Reggie taps the computer screen a few times, opening a program called “MicroScan. ”
“This information is free and available to anyone who knows how to use this equipment and has the system password, which the GP sympathizer graciously gave me,” Nita says. “So in other words, it’s not all that hard to access, but no one would think to examine it very closely. And GDs don’t have system passwords, so it’s not like we would have known about it. This storage room is for obsolete experiments—failures, or outdated developments, or useless things. ”
She looks through the microscope, using a knob on the side to focus the lens.
“Go ahead,” she says.
Reggie presses a button on the computer, and paragraphs of text appear under the “MicroScan” bar at the top of the screen. He points to a paragraph in the middle of the page, and I read it.
“‘Simulation Serum v4. 2. Coordinates a large number of targets. Transmits signals over long distances. Hallucinogen from original formula not included—simulated reality is predetermined by program master. ’”
That’s it.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
That’s the attack simulation serum.
“Now why would the Bureau have this unless they had developed it?” Nita says. “They were the ones who put the serums into the experiments, but they usually left the serums alone, let the city residents develop them further. If Jeanine was the one who developed it, they wouldn’t have stolen it from her. If it’s here, it’s because they made it. ”
I stare at the illuminated slide in the microscope, at the orange droplet swimming in the eyepiece, and release a shaky breath.
Tris says, breathless, “Why?”
“Abnegation was about to reveal the truth to everyone inside the city. And you’ve seen what’s happened now that the city knows the truth: Evelyn is effectively a dictator, the factionless are squashing the faction members, and I’m sure the factions will rise up against them sooner or later. Many people will die. Telling the truth risks the safety of the experiment, no question,” Nita says. “So a few months ago, when the Abnegation were on the verge of causing that destruction and instability by revealing Edith Prior’s video to your city, the Bureau probably thought, better that the Abnegation should suffer a great loss—even at the expense of several Divergent—than the whole city suffer a great loss. Better to end the lives of the Abnegation than to risk the experiment. So they reached out to someone who they knew would agree with them. Jeanine Matthews. ”
Her words surround me and bury themselves inside me.
I set my hands on the lab table, letting it cool my palms, and look at my distorted reflection in the brushed metal. I may have hated my father for most of my life, but I never hated his faction. Abnegation’s quiet, their community, their routine, always seemed good to me. And now most of those kind, giving people are dead. Murdered, at the hands of the Dauntless, at the urging of Jeanine, with the power of the Bureau to back her.
Tris’s mother and father were among them.
Tris stands so still, her hands dangling limply, turning red with the flush of her blood.
“This is the problem with their blind commitment to these experiments,” Nita says next to us, as if sliding the words into the empty spaces of our minds. “The Bureau values the experiments above GD lives. It’s obvious. And now, things could get even worse. ”
“Worse?” I say. “Worse than killing most of the Abnegation? How?”
“The government has been threatening to shut down the experiments for almost a year now,” Nita says. “The experiments keep falling apart because the communities can’t live in peace, and David keeps finding ways to restore peace just in the nick of time. And if anything else goes wrong in Chicago, he can do it again. He can reset all the experiments at any time. ”
“Reset them,” I say.
“With the Abnegation memory serum,” Reggie says. “Well, really, it’s the Bureau’s memory serum. Every man, woman, and child will have to begin again. ”
Nita says tersely, “Their entire lives erased, against their will, for the sake of solving a genetic damage ‘problem’ that doesn’t actually exist. These people have the power to do that. And no one should have that power. ”
I remember the thought I had, after Johanna told me about the Amity administering the memory serum to Dauntless patrols—that when you take a person’s memories, you change who they are.
Suddenly I don’t care what Nita’s plan is, as long as it means striking the Bureau as hard as we can. What I have learned in the past few days has made me feel like there is nothing about this place worth salvaging.
“What’s the plan?” says Tris, her voice flat, almost mechanical.
“I’ll let my friends from the fringe in through the underground tunnel,” Nita says. “Tobias, you will shut off the security system as I do, so that we aren’t caught—it’s nearly the same technology you worked with in the Dauntless control room; it should be easy for you. Then Rafi, Mary, and I will break into the Weapons Lab and steal the memory serum so the Bureau can’t use it. Reggie’s been helping behind the scenes, but he’ll be opening the tunnel for us on the day of the attack. ”
“What will you do with a bunch of memory serum?” I say.
“Destroy it,” Nita says, even-keeled.
I feel strange, empty like a deflated balloon. I don’t know what I had in mind when Nita talked about her plan, but it wasn’t this—this feels so small, so passive as an act of retaliation against the people responsible for the attack simulation, the people who told me that there was something wrong with me at my very core, in my genetic code.
“That’s all you intend to do,” Tris says, finally looking away from the microscope. She narrows her eyes at Nita. “You know that the Bureau is responsible for the murders of hundreds of people, and your plan is to . . . take away their memory serum?”
“I don’t remember inviting your critique of my plan. ”
“I’m not critiquing your plan,” Tris says. “I’m telling you I don’t believe you. You hate these people. I can tell by the way you talk about them. Whatever you intend to do, I think it’s far worse than stealing some serum. ”
“The memory serum is what they use to keep the experiments running. It’s their greatest source of power over your city, and I want to take it away. I’d say that’s a hard enough blow for now. ” Nita sounds gentle, like she’s explaining something to a child. “I never said this was all I was ever going to do. It’s not always wise to strike as hard as you can at the first opportunity. This is a long race, not a sprint. ”
Tris just shakes her head.
“Tobias, are you in?” Nita says.
I look from Tris, with her tense, stiff posture, to Nita, who is relaxed, ready. I don’t see whatever Tris sees, or hear it. And when I think about saying no, I feel like my body will collapse in on itself. I have to do something. Even if it feels small, I have to do something, and I don’t understand why Tris doesn’t feel the same desperation inside her.
“Yes,” I say. Tris turns to me, her eyes wide, incredulous. I ignore her. “I can disable the security system. I’ll need some Amity peace serum, do you have access to that?”
“I do. ” Nita smiles a little. “I’ll send you a message with the timing. Come on, Reggie. Let’s leave these two to . . . talk. ”
Reggie nods to me, and then to Tris, and then he and Nita both leave the room, easing the door closed behind them so it doesn’t make a sound.
Tris turns to me, her arms folded like two bars across her body, keeping me out.
“I can’t believe you,” she said. “She’s lying. Why can’t you see that?”
“Because it’s not there,” I say. “I can tell when someone’s lying just as well as you can. And in this situation, I think your judgment might be clouded by something else. Something like jealousy. ”
“I am not jealous!” she says, scowling at me. “I am being smart. She has something bigger planned, and if I were you, I would run far away from anyone who lies to me about what they want me to participate in. ”
“Well, you’re not me. ” I shake my head. “God, Tris. These people murdered your parents, and you’re not going to do something about it?”
“I never said I wasn’t going to do anything,” she says tersely. “But I don’t have to buy into the first plan I hear, either. ”
“You know, I brought you here because I wanted to be honest with you, not so that you could make snap judgments about people and tell me what to do!”
“Remember what happened last time you didn’t trust my ‘snap judgments’?” Tris says coldly. “You found out that I was right. I was right about Edith Prior’s video changing everything, and I was right about Evelyn, and I’m right about this. ”
“Yeah. You’re always right,” I say. “Were you right about running into dangerous situations without weapons? Were you right about lying to me and going on a death march to Erudite headquarters in the middle of the night? Or about Peter, were you right about him?”
“Don’t throw those things in my face. ” She points at me, and I feel like I’m a child getting lectured by a parent. “I never said I was perfect, but you—you can’t even see past your own desperation. You went along with Evelyn because you were desperate for a parent, and now you’re going along with this because you’re desperate not to be damaged—”
The word shivers through me.
“I am not damaged,” I say quietly. “I can’t believe you have so little faith in me that you would tell me not to trust myself. ” I shake my head. “And I don’t need your permission. ”
I start toward the door, and as my hand closes around the handle, she says, “Just leaving so that you can have the last word, that’s really mature!”
“So is being suspicious of someone’s motives just because she’s pretty,” I say. “I guess we’re even. ”
I leave the room.
I am not a desperate, unsteady child who throws his trust around. I am not damaged.
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