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TOBIASWatch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
THAT NIGHT WHEN my head hits the pillow, heavy with thoughts, I hear something crinkle beneath my cheek. A note under my pillowcase.
Meet me outside the hotel entrance at eleven. I need to talk to you.
I look at Tris’s cot. She’s sprawled on her back, and there is a piece of hair covering her nose and mouth that shifts with each exhale. I don’t want to wake her, but I feel strange, going to meet a girl in the middle of the night without telling her about it. Especially now that we’re trying so hard to be honest with each other.
I check my watch. It’s ten to eleven.
Nita’s just a friend. You can tell Tris tomorrow. It might be urgent.
I push the blankets back and shove my feet into my shoes—I sleep in my clothes these days. I pass Peter’s cot, then Uriah’s. The top of a flask peeks out from beneath Uriah’s pillow. I pinch it between my fingers and carry it toward the door, where I slide it under the pillow on one of the empty cots. I haven’t been looking after him as well as I promised Zeke I would.
Once I’m in the hallway, I tie my shoes and smooth my hair down. I stopped cutting it like the Abnegation when I wanted the Dauntless to see me as a potential leader, but I miss the ritual of the old way, the buzz of the clippers and the careful movements of my hands, knowing more by touch than by sight. When I was young, my father used to do it, in the hallway on the top floor of our Abnegation house. He was always too careless with the blade, and scraped the back of my neck, or nicked my ear. But he never complained about having to cut my hair for me. That’s something, I guess.
Nita is tapping her foot. This time she wears a white short-sleeved shirt, her hair pulled back. She smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes.
“You look worried,” I say.
“That’s because I am,” she answers. “Come on, there’s a place I’ve been wanting to show you. ”
She leads me down dim hallways, empty except for the occasional janitor. They all seem to know Nita—they wave at her, or smile. She puts her hands in her pockets, guiding her eyes carefully away from mine every time we happen to look at each other.
We go through a door without a security sensor to keep it locked. The room beyond it is a wide circle with a chandelier marking its center with dangling glass. The floors are polished wood, dark, and the walls, covered in sheets of bronze, gleam where the light touches them. There are names inscribed on the bronze panels, dozens of names.
Nita stands beneath the glass chandelier and holds her arms out, wide, to encompass the room in her gesture.
“These are the Chicago family trees,” she says. “Your family trees. ”
I move closer to one of the walls and read through the names, searching for one that looks familiar. At the end, I find one: Uriah Pedrad and Ezekiel Pedrad. Next to each name is a small “DD,” and there is a dot next to Uriah’s name, and it looks freshly carved. Marking him as Divergent, probably.
“Do you know where mine is?” I say.
She crosses the room and touches one of the panels. “The generations are matrilineal. That’s why Jeanine’s records said Tris was ‘second generation’—because her mother came from outside the city. I’m not sure how Jeanine knew that, but I guess we’ll never find out. ”
I approach the panel that bears my name with trepidation, though I’m not sure what I have to fear from seeing my name and my parents’ names carved into bronze. I see a vertical line connecting Kristin Johnson to Evelyn Johnson, and a horizontal one connecting Evelyn Johnson to Marcus Eaton. Below the two names is just one: Tobias Eaton. The small letters beside my name are “AD,” and there’s a dot there too, though I now know I’m not actually Divergent.
“The first letter is your faction of origin,” she says, “and the second is your faction of choice. They thought that keeping track of the factions would help them trace the path of the genes. ”
My mother’s letters: “EAF. ” The “F” is for “factionless,” I assume.
My father’s letters: “AA,” with a dot.
I touch the line connecting me to them, and the line connecting Evelyn to her parents, and the line connecting them to their parents, all the way back through eight generations, counting my own. This is a map of what I’ve always known, that I am tied to them, bound forever to this empty inheritance no matter how far I run.
“While I appreciate you showing me this,” I say, and I feel sad, and tired, “I’m not sure why it had to happen in the middle of the night. ”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“I thought you might want to see it. And I had something I wanted to talk to you about. ”
“More reassurance that my limitations don’t define me?” I shake my head. “No thanks, I’ve had enough of that. ”
“No,” she says. “But I’m glad you said that. ”
She leans against the panel, covering Evelyn’s name with her shoulder. I step back, not wanting to be so close to her that I can see the ring of lighter brown around her pupils.
“That conversation I had with you last night, about genetic damage . . . it was actually a test. I wanted to see how you would react to what I said about damaged genes, so I would know whether I could trust you or not,” she says. “If you accepted what I said about your limitations, the answer would have been no. ” She slides a little closer to me, so her shoulder covers Marcus’s name too. “See, I’m not really on board with being classified as ‘damaged. ’”
I think of the way she spat out the explanation of the tattoo of broken glass on her back like it was poison.
My heart starts to beat harder, so I can feel my pulse in my throat. Bitterness has replaced the good humor in her voice, and her eyes have lost their warmth. I am afraid of her, afraid of what she says—and thrilled by it too, because it means I don’t have to accept that I am smaller than I once believed.
“I take it you aren’t on board with it either,” she says.
“No. I’m not. ”
“There are a lot of secrets in this place,” she says. “One of them is that, to them, a GD is expendable. Another is that some of us are not just going to sit back and take it. ”
“What do you mean, expendable?” I say.
“The crimes they have committed against people like us are serious,” Nita says. “And hidden. I can show you evidence, but that will have to come later. For now, what I can tell you is that we’re working against the Bureau, for good reasons, and we want you with us. ”
I narrow my eyes. “Why? What is it you want from me, exactly?”
“Right now I want to offer you an opportunity to see what the world is like outside the compound. ”
“And what you get in return is . . . ?”
“Your protection,” she says. “I’m going to a dangerous place, and I can’t tell anyone else from the Bureau about it. You’re an outsider, which means it’s safer for me to trust you, and I know you know how to defend yourself. And if you come with me, I’ll show you that evidence you want to see. ”
She touches her heart, lightly, as if swearing on it. My skepticism is strong, but my curiosity is stronger. It’s not hard for me to believe that the Bureau would do bad things, because every government I’ve ever known has done bad things, even the Abnegation oligarchy, of which my father was the head. And even beyond that reasonable suspicion, I have brewing inside me the desperate hope that I am not damaged, that I am worth more than the corrected genes I pass on to any children I might have.
So I decide to go along with this. For now.
“Fine,” I say.
“First,” she says, “before I show you anything, you have to accept that you won’t be able to tell anyone—even Tris—about what you see. Are you all right with that?”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“She’s trustworthy, you know. ” I promised Tris I wouldn’t keep secrets from her anymore. I shouldn’t get into situations where I’ll have to do it again. “Why can’t I tell her?”
“I’m not saying she isn’t trustworthy. It’s just that she doesn’t have the skill set we need, and we don’t want to put anyone at risk that we don’t have to. See, the Bureau doesn’t want us to organize. If we believe we’re not ‘damaged,’ then we’re saying that everything they’re doing—the experiments, the genetic alterations, all of it—is a waste of time. And no one wants to hear that their life’s work is a sham. ”
I know all about that—it’s like finding out that the factions are an artificial system, designed by scientists to keep us under control for as long as possible.
She pulls away from the wall, and then she says the only thing she could possibly say to make me agree:
“If you tell her, you would be depriving her of the choice I’m giving you now. You would force her to become a coconspirator. By keeping this from her, you would be protecting her. ”
I run my fingers over my name, carved into the metal panel, Tobias Eaton. These are my genes, this is my mess. I don’t want to pull Tris into it.
“All right,” I say. “Show me. ”
I watch her flashlight beam bob up and down with her footsteps. We just retrieved a bag from a mop closet down the hall—she was ready for this. She leads me deep into the underground hallways of the compound, past the place where the GDs gather, to a corridor where the electricity no longer flows. At a certain place she crouches and slides her hand along the ground until her fingers reach a latch. She hands me the flashlight and pulls back the latch, lifting a door from the tile.
“It’s an escape tunnel,” she says. “They dug it when they first came here, so there would always be a way to escape during an emergency. ”
From her bag she takes a black tube and twists off the top. It sprays sparks of light that glow red against her skin. She releases it over the doorway and it falls several feet, leaving a streak of light on my eyelids. She sits on the edge of the hole, her backpack secure around her shoulders, and drops.
I know it’s just a short way down, but it feels like more with the space open beneath me. I sit, the silhouette of my shoes dark against the red sparks, and push myself forward.
“Interesting,” Nita says when I land. I lift up the flashlight, and she holds the flare out in front of her as we walk down the tunnel, which is just wide enough for the two of us to walk side by side, and just tall enough for me to straighten up. It smells rich and rotten, like mold and dead air. “I forgot you were afraid of heights. ”
“Well, I’m not afraid of much else,” I say.
“No need to get defensive!” She smiles. “I actually have always wanted to ask you about that. ”
I step over a puddle, the soles of my shoes gripping the gritty tunnel floor.
“Your third fear,” she says. “Shooting that woman. Who was she?”
The flare goes out, so the flashlight I’m holding is our only guide through the tunnel. I shift my arm to create more space between us, not wanting to skim her arm in the dark.
“She wasn’t anyone in particular,” I say. “The fear was shooting her. ”
“You were afraid of shooting people?”
“No,” I say. “I was afraid of my considerable capacity to kill. ”
She is silent, and so am I. That’s the first time I’ve ever said those words out loud, and now I hear how strange they are. How many young men fear that there is a monster inside them? People are supposed to fear others, not themselves. People are supposed to aspire to become their fathers, not shudder at the thought.
“I’ve always wondered what would be in my fear landscape. ” She says it in a hushed tone, like a prayer. “Sometimes I feel like there is so much to be afraid of, and sometimes I feel like there is nothing left to fear. ”
I nod, though she can’t see me, and we keep moving, the flashlight beam bouncing, our shoes scraping, the moldy air rushing toward us from whatever is on the other end.
After twenty minutes of walking, we turn a corner and I smell fresh wind, cold enough to make me shudder. I turn off the flashlight, and the moonlight at the end of the tunnel guides us to our exit.
The tunnel let us out somewhere in the wasteland we drove through to get to the compound, among the crumbling buildings and overgrown trees breaking through the pavement. Parked a few feet away is an old truck, the back covered in shredded, threadbare canvas. Nita kicks one of the tires to test it, then climbs into the driver’s seat. The keys already dangle from the ignition.
“Whose truck?” I say when I get into the passenger’s seat.
“It belongs to the people we’re going to meet. I asked them to park it here,” she says.
“And who are they?”
“Friends of mine. ”
I don’t know how she finds her way through the maze of streets before us, but she does, steering the truck around tree roots and fallen streetlights, flashing the headlights at animals that scamper at the edge of my vision.
A long-legged creature with a brown, spare body picks its way across the street ahead of us, almost as tall as the headlights. Nita eases on the brakes so she doesn’t hit it. Its ears twitch, and its dark, round eyes watch us with careful curiosity, like a child.
“Sort of beautiful, aren’t they?” she says. “Before I came here I’d never seen a deer. ”
I nod. It is elegant, but hesitant, halting.
Nita presses the horn with her fingertips, and the deer moves out of the way. We accelerate again, then reach a wide, open road suspended across the railroad tracks I once walked down to reach the compound. I see its lights up ahead, the one bright spot in this dark wasteland.
And we are traveling northeast, away from it.
It is a long time before I see electric light again. When I do, it is along a narrow, patchy street. The bulbs dangle from a cord strung along the old streetlights.
“We stop here. ” Nita jerks the wheel, pulling the truck into an alley between two brickbuildings. She takes the keys from the ignition and looks at me. “Check in the glove box. I asked them to give us weapons. ”
I open the compartment in front of me. Sitting on top of some old wrappers are two knives.
“How are you with a knife?” she says.
The Dauntless taught initiates how to throw knives even before the changes to initiation that Max made before I joined them. I never liked it, because it seemed like a way to encourage the Dauntless flair for theatrics, rather than a useful skill.
“I’m all right,” I say with a smirk. “I never thought that skill would actually be worth anything, though. ”
“I guess the Dauntless are good for something after all . . . Four,” she says, smiling a little. She takes the larger of the two knives, and I take the smaller one.
I am tense, turning the handle in my fingers as we walk down the alley. Above me the windows flicker with a different kind of light—flames, from candles or lanterns. At one point, when I glance up, I see a curtain of hair and dark eye sockets staring back at me.
“People live here,” I say.
“This is the very edge of the fringe,” Nita says. “It’s about a two-hour drive from Milwaukee, which is a metropolitan area north of here. Yeah, people live here. These days people don’t venture too far away from cities, even if they want to live outside the government’s influence, like the people here. ”
“Why do they want to live outside the government’s influence?” I know what living outside the government is like, by watching the factionless. They were always hungry, always cold in the winter and hot in the summer, always struggling to survive. It’s not an easy life to choose—you have to have a good reason for it.
“Because they’re genetically damaged,” Nita says, glancing at me. “Genetically damaged people are technically—legally—equal to genetically pure people, but only on paper, so to speak. In reality they’re poorer, more likely to be convicted of crimes, less likely to be hired for good jobs . . . you name it, it’s a problem, and has been since the Purity War, over a century ago. For the people who live in the fringe, it seemed more appealing to opt out of society completely rather than to try to correct the problem from within, like I intend to do. ”
I think of the fragment of glass tattooed on her skin. I wonder when she got it—I wonder what put that dangerous look in her eyes, what put such drama in her speech, what made her become a revolutionary.
“How do you plan on doing that?”
She sets her jaw and says, “By taking away some of the Bureau’s power. ”
The alley opens up to a wide street. Some people prowl along the edges, but others walk right in the middle, in lurching groups, bottles swinging from their hands. Everyone I see is young—not many adults in the fringe, I guess.
I hear shouting up ahead, and glass shattering on the pavement. A crowd there stands in a circle around two punching, kicking figures.
I start toward them, but Nita grabs my arm and drags me toward one of the buildings.
“Not the time to be a hero,” she says.
We approach the door to the building on the corner. A large man stands beside it, spinning a knife in his palm. When we walk up the steps, he stops the knife and tosses it into his other hand, which is gnarled with scars.
His size, his deftness with the weapon, his scarred and dusty appearance—they are all supposed to intimidate me. But his eyes are like that deer’s eyes, large and wary and curious.
“We’re here to see Rafi,” she says. “We’re from the compound. ”
“You can go in, but your knives stay here,” the man says. His voice is higher, lighter than I expected. He could be a gentle man, maybe, if this were a different kind of place. As it is, I see that he isn’t gentle, doesn’t even know what that means.
Even though I myself have discarded any kind of softness as useless, I find myself thinking that something important is lost if this man has been forced to deny his own nature.
“Not a chance,” Nita says.
“Nita, is that you?” says a voice from inside. It is expressive, musical. The man to whom it belongs is short, with a wide smile. He comes to the doorway. “Didn’t I tell you to just let them in? Come in, come in. ”
“Hi, Rafi,” she says, her relief obvious. “Four, this is Rafi. He’s an important man in the fringe. ”
“Nice to meet you,” Rafi says, and he beckons for us to follow him.
Inside is a large, open room lit by rows of candles and lanterns. There is wooden furniture strewn everywhere, all the tables empty but one.
A woman sits in the back of the room, and Rafi slides into the chair beside her. Though they don’t look the same—she has red hair and a generous frame; his features are dark and his body, spare as wire—they have the same sort of look, like two stones hewn by the same chisel.
“Weapons on the table,” Rafi says.
This time, Nita obeys, putting her knife on the edge of the table right in front of her. She sits. I do the same. Across from us, the woman surrenders a gun.
“Who’s this?” the woman says, jerking her head toward me.
“This is my associate,” Nita says. “Four. ”
“What kind of a name is ‘Four’?” She doesn’t ask with a sneer, the way people have often asked me that question.
“The kind you get inside the city experiment,” Nita says. “For having only four fears. ”
It occurs to me that she might have introduced me by that name just to have an opportunity to share where I’m from. Does it give her some kind of leverage? Does it make me more trustworthy to these people?
“Interesting. ” The woman taps the table with her index finger. “Well, Four, my name is Mary. ”
“Mary and Rafi lead the Midwest branch of a GD rebel group,” Nita says.
“Calling it a ‘group’ makes us sound like old ladies playing cards,” Rafi says smoothly. “We’re more of an uprising. Our reach stretches across the country—there’s a group for every metropolitan area that exists, and regional overseers for the Midwest, South, and East. ”
“Is there a West?” I say.
“Not anymore,” Nita says quietly. “The terrain was too difficult to navigate and the cities too spread out for it to be sensible to live there after the war. Now it’s wild country. ”
“So it’s true what they say,” Mary says, her eyes catching the light like slivers of glass as she looks at me. “The people in the city experiments really don’t know what’s outside. ”
“Of course it’s true, why would they?” Nita says.
Fatigue, a weight behind my eyes, creeps up on me suddenly. I have been a part of too many uprisings in my short life. The factionless, and now this GD one, apparently.
“Not to cut the pleasantries short,” Mary says, “but we shouldn’t spend much time here. We can’t keep people out for long before they come sniffing around. ”
“Right,” Nita says. She looks at me. “Four, can you make sure nothing’s happening outside? I need to talk to Mary and Rafi privately for a little while. ”
If we were alone, I would ask why I can’t be here when she talks to them, or why she bothered to bring me in when I could have stood guard outside the whole time. I guess I haven’t actually agreed to help her yet, and she must have wanted them to meet me for some reason. So I just get up, taking my knife with me, and walk to the door where Rafi’s guard watches the street.
The fight across the street has died down. A lone figure lies on the pavement. For a moment I think it’s still moving, but then I realize that’s because someone is rifling through its pockets. It’s not a figure—it’s a body.
“Dead?” I say, and the word is just an exhale.
“Yep. If you can’t defend yourself here, you won’t last a night. ”
“Why do people come here, then?” I frown. “Why don’t they just go back to the cities?”
He’s quiet for so long that I think he must not have heard my question. I watch the thief turn the dead person’s pockets inside out and abandon the body, slipping into one of the nearby buildings. Finally, Rafi’s guard speaks:
“Here, there’s a chance that if you die, someone will care. Like Rafi, or one of the other leaders,” the guard says. “In the cities, if you get killed, definitely no one will give a damn, not if you’re a GD. The worst crime I’ve ever seen a GP get charged with for killing a GD was ‘manslaughter. ’ Bullshit. ”
“It means the crime is deemed an accident,” Rafi’s smooth, lilting voice says behind me. “Or at least not as severe as, say, first-degree murder. Officially, of course, we’re all to be treated the same, yes? But that is rarely put into practice. ”
He stands beside me, his arms folded. I see, when I look at him, a king surveying his own kingdom, which he believes is beautiful. I look out at the street, at the broken pavement and the limp body with its turned-out pockets and the windows flickering with firelight, and I know the beauty he sees is just freedom—freedom to be seen as a whole man instead of a damaged one.
I saw that freedom, once, when Evelyn beckoned to me from among the factionless, called me out of my faction to become a more complete person. But it was a lie.
“You’re from Chicago?” Rafi says to me.
I nod, still looking at the dark street.
“And now that you are out? How does the world seem to you?” he says.
“Mostly the same,” I say. “People are just divided by different things, fighting different wars. ”
Nita’s footsteps creak on the floorboards inside, and when I turn she is standing right behind me, her hands buried in her pockets.
“Thanks for arranging this,” Nita says, nodding to Rafi. “It’s time for us to go. ”
We make our way down the street again, and when I turn to look at Rafi, he has his hand up, waving good-bye.
As we walk back to the truck, I hear screams again, but this time they are the screams of a child. I walk past snuffling, whimpering sounds and think of when I was younger, crouched in my bedroom, wiping my nose on one of my sleeves. My mother used to scrub the cuffs with a sponge before throwing them in the wash. She never said anything about it.
When I get into the truck, I already feel numb to this place and its pain, and I am ready to get back to the dream of the compound, the warmth and the light and the feeling of safety.
“I’m having trouble understanding why this place is preferable to city life,” I say.
“I’ve only been to a city that wasn’t an experiment once,” Nita says. “There’s electricity, but it’s on a ration system—each family only gets so many hours a day. Same with water. And there’s a lot of crime, which is blamed on genetic damage. There are police, too, but they can only do so much. ”
“So the Bureau compound,” I say. “It’s easily the best place to live, then. ”
“In terms of resources, yes,” Nita says. “But the same social system that exists in the cities also exists in the compound; it’s just a little harder to see. ”
I watch the fringe disappear in the rearview mirror, distinct from the abandoned buildings around it only by that string of electric lights draped over the narrow street.
We drive past dark houses with boarded-up windows, and I try to imagine them clean and polished, as they must have been at some point in the past. They have fenced-in yards that must have once been trim and green, windows that must once have glowed in the evenings. I imagine that the lives lived here were peaceful ones, quiet ones.
“What did you come out here to talk to them about, exactly?” I say.
“I came out here to solidify our plans,” Nita says. I notice, in the glow of the dashboard light, that there are a few cuts on her lower lip, like she has spent too much time biting it. “And I wanted them to meet you, to put a face on the people inside the faction experiments. Mary used to be suspicious that people like you were actually colluding with the government, which of course isn’t true. Rafi, though . . . he was the first person to give me proof that the Bureau, the government, was lying to us about our history. ”
She pauses after she says it, like that will help me to feel the weight of it, but I don’t need time or silence or space to believe her. I have been lied to by my government for my entire life.
“The Bureau talks about this golden age of humanity before the genetic manipulations in which everyone was genetically pure and everything was peaceful,” Nita says. “But Rafi showed me old photographs of war. ”
I wait a beat. “So?”
“So?” Nita demands, incredulous. “If genetically pure people caused war and total devastation in the past at the same magnitude that genetically damaged people supposedly do now, then what’s the basis for thinking that we need to spend so many resources and so much time working to correct genetic damage? What’s the use of the experiments at all, except to convince the right people that the government is doing something to make all our lives better, even though it’s not?”
The truth changes everything—isn’t that why Tris was so desperate to get the Edith Prior video shown that she allied herself with my father to do it? She knew that the truth, whatever it was, would change our struggle, would shift our priorities forever. And here, now, a lie has changed the struggle, a lie has shifted priorities forever. Instead of working against the poverty or crime that have run rampant over this country, these people have chosen to work against genetic damage.
“Why? Why spend so much time and energy fighting something that isn’t really a problem?” I demand, suddenly frustrated.
“Well, the people fighting it now probably fight it because they have been taught that it is a problem. That’s another thing that Rafi showed me—examples of the propaganda the government released about genetic damage,” Nita says. “But initially? I don’t know. It’s probably a dozen things. Prejudice against GDs? Control, maybe? Control the genetically damaged population by teaching them that there’s something wrong with them, and control the genetically pure population by teaching them that they’re healed and whole? These things don’t happen overnight, and they don’t happen for just one reason. ”
I lean the side of my head against the cold window and close my eyes. There is too much information buzzing in my brain to focus on any single part of it, so I give up trying and let myself drift off.
By the time we make it back through the tunnel and I find my bed, the sun is about to rise, and Tris’s arm is hanging over the edge of her bed again, her fingertips brushing the floor.
I sit down across from her, for a moment watching her sleeping face and thinking of what we agreed, that night in Millennium Park: no more lies. She promised me, and I promised her. And if I don’t tell her about what I heard and saw tonight, I will be going back on that promise. And for what? To protect her? For Nita, a girl I barely know?
I brush her hair away from her face, gently, so I don’t wake her.
She doesn’t need my protection. She’s strong enough on her own.
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