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TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATERWatch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
EVELYN STANDS at the place where two worlds meet. Tire tracks are worn into the ground now, from the frequent coming and going of people from the fringe moving in and out, or people from the former Bureau compound commuting back and forth. Her bag rests against her leg, in one of the wells in the earth. She lifts a hand to greet me when I’m close.
When she gets into the truck, she kisses my cheek, and I let her. I feel a smile creep across my face, and I let it stay there.
“Welcome back,” I say.
The agreement, when I offered it to her more than two years ago, and when she made it again with Johanna shortly after, was that she would leave the city. Now, so much has changed in Chicago that I don’t see the harm in her coming back, and neither does she. Though two years have passed, she looks younger, her face fuller and her smile wider. The time away has done her good.
“How are you?” she says.
“I’m . . . okay,” I say. “We’re scattering her ashes today. ”
I glance at the urn perched on the backseat like another passenger. For a long time I left Tris’s ashes in the Bureau morgue, not sure what kind of funeral she would want, and not sure I could make it through one. But today would be Choosing Day, if we still had factions, and it’s time to take a step forward, even if it’s a small one.
Evelyn puts a hand on my shoulder and looks out at the fields. The crops that were once isolated to the areas around Amity headquarters have spread, and continue to spread through all the grassy spaces around the city. Sometimes I miss the desolate, empty land. But right now I don’t mind driving through the rows and rows of corn or wheat. I see people among the plants, checking the soil with handheld devices designed by former Bureau scientists. They wear red and blue and green and purple.
“What’s it like, living without factions?” Evelyn says.
“It’s very ordinary,” I say. I smile at her. “You’ll love it. ”
I take Evelyn to my apartment just north of the river. It’s on one of the lower floors, but through the abundant windows I can see a wide stretch of buildings. I was one of the first settlers in the new Chicago, so I got to choose where I lived. Zeke, Shauna, Christina, Amar, and George opted to live in the higher floors of the Hancock building, and Caleb and Cara both moved back to the apartments near Millennium Park, but I came here because it was beautiful, and because it was nowhere near either of my old homes.
“My neighbor is a history expert, he came from the fringe,” I say as I search my pockets for my keys. “He calls Chicago ‘the fourth city’—because it was destroyed by fire, ages ago, and then again by the Purity War, and now we’re on the fourth attempt at settlement here. ”
“The fourth city,” Evelyn says as I push the door open. “I like it. ”
There’s hardly any furniture inside, just a couch and a table, some chairs, a kitchen. Sunlight winks in the windows of the building across the marshy river. Some of the former Bureau scientists are trying to restore the river and the lake to their former glory, but it will be a while. Change, like healing, takes time.
Evelyn drops her bag on the couch. “Thank you for letting me stay with you for a little while. I promise I’ll find another place soon. ”
“No problem,” I say. I feel nervous about her being here, poking through my meager possessions, shuffling down my hallways, but we can’t stay distant forever. Not when I promised her that I would try to bridge this gap between us.
“George says he needs some help training a police force,” Evelyn says. “You didn’t offer?”
“No,” I say. “I told you, I’m done with guns. ”
“That’s right. You’re using your words now,” Evelyn says, wrinkling her nose. “I don’t trust politicians, you know. ”
“You’ll trust me, because I’m your son,” I say. “Anyway, I’m not a politician. Not yet, anyway. Just an assistant. ”
She sits at the table and looks around, twitchy and spry, like a cat.
“Do you know where your father is?” she says.
I shrug. “Someone told me he left. I didn’t ask where he went. ”
She rests her chin on her hand. “There’s nothing you wanted to say to him? Nothing at all?”
“No,” I say. I twirl my keys around my finger. “I just wanted to leave him behind me, where he belongs. ”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
Two years ago, when I stood across from him in the park with the snow falling all around us, I realized that just as attacking him in front of the Dauntless in the Merciless Mart didn’t make me feel better about the pain he caused me, yelling at him or insulting him wouldn’t either. There was only one option left, and it was letting go.
Evelyn gives me a strange, searching look, then crosses the room and opens the bag she left on the couch. She takes out an object made of blue glass. It looks like falling water, suspended in time.
I remember when she gave it to me. I was young, but not too young to realize that it was a forbidden object in the Abnegation faction, a useless and therefore a self-indulgent one. I asked her what purpose it served, and she told me, It doesn’t do anything obvious. But it might be able to do something in here. Then she touched her hand to her heart. Beautiful things sometimes do.
For years it was a symbol of my quiet defiance, my small refusal to be an obedient, deferent Abnegation child, and a symbol of my mother’s defiance too, even though I believed she was dead. I hid it under my bed, and the day I decided to leave Abnegation, I put it on my desk so my father could see it, see my strength, and hers.
“When you were gone, this reminded me of you,” she says, clutching the glass to her stomach. “Reminded me of how brave you were, always have been. ” She smiles a little. “I thought you might keep it here. I intended it for you, after all. ”
I wouldn’t trust my voice to remain steady if I spoke, so I just smile back, and nod.
The spring air is cold but I leave the windows open in the truck, so I can feel it in my chest, so it stings my fingertips, a reminder of the lingering winter. I stop by the train platform near the Merciless Mart and take the urn out of the backseat. It’s silver and simple, no engravings. I didn’t choose it; Christina did.
I walk down the platform toward the group that has already gathered. Christina stands with Zeke and Shauna, who sits in the wheelchair with a blanket over her lap. She has a better wheelchair now, one without handles on the back, so she can maneuver it more easily. Matthew stands on the platform with his toes over the edge.
“Hi,” I say, standing at Shauna’s shoulder.
Christina smiles at me, and Zeke claps me on the shoulder.
Uriah died only days after Tris, but Zeke and Hana said their good-byes just weeks afterward, scattering his ashes in the chasm, amid the clatter of all their friends and family. We screamed his name into the echo chamber of the Pit. Still, I know that Zeke is remembering him today, just as the rest of us are, even though this last act of Dauntless bravery is for Tris.
“Got something to show you,” Shauna says, and she tosses the blanket aside, revealing complicated metal braces on her legs. They go all the way up to her hips and wrap around her belly like a cage. She smiles at me, and with a gear-grinding sound, her feet shift to the ground in front of the chair, and in fits and starts, she stands.
Despite the serious occasion, I smile.
“Well, look at that,” I say. “I’d forgotten how tall you are. ”
“Caleb and his lab buddies made them for me,” she says. “Still getting the hang of it, but they say I might be able to run someday. ”
“Nice,” I say. “Where is he, anyway?”
“He and Amar will meet us at the end of the line,” she says. “Someone has to be there to catch the first person. ”
“He’s still sort of a pansycake,” Zeke says. “But I’m coming around to him. ”
“Hm,” I say, not committing. The truth is, I’ve made my peace with Caleb, but I still can’t be around him for long. His gestures, his inflections, his manner, they are hers. They make him into just a whisper of her, and that is not enough of her, but it is also far too much.
I would say more, but the train is coming. It charges toward us on the polished rails, then squeals as it slows to a stop in front of the platform. A head leans out the window of the first car, where the controls are—it’s Cara, her hair in a tight braid.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Get on!” she says.
Shauna sits in the chair again and pushes herself through the doorway. Matthew, Christina, and Zeke follow. I get on last, offering the urn to Shauna to hold, and stand in the doorway, my hand clutching the handle. The train starts again, building speed with each second, and I hear it churning over the tracks and whistling over the rails, and I feel the power of it rising inside me. The air whips across my face and presses my clothes to my body, and I watch the city sprawl out in front of me, the buildings lit by the sun.
It’s not the same as it used to be, but I got over that a long time ago. All of us have found new places. Cara and Caleb work in the laboratories at the compound, which are now a small segment of the Department of Agriculture that works to make agriculture more efficient, capable of feeding more people. Matthew works in psychiatric research somewhere in the city—the last time I asked him, he was studying something about memory. Christina works in an office that relocates people from the fringe who want to move into the city. Zeke and Amar are policemen, and George trains the police force—Dauntless jobs, I call them. And I’m assistant to one of our city’s representatives in government: Johanna Reyes.
I stretch my arm out to grasp the other handle and lean out of the car as it turns, almost dangling over the street two stories below me. I feel a thrill in my stomach, the fear-thrill the true Dauntless love.
“Hey,” Christina says, standing beside me. “How’s your mother?”
“Fine,” I say. “We’ll see, I guess. ”
“Are you going to zip line?”
I watch the track dip down in front of us, going all the way to street level.
“Yes,” I say. “I think Tris would want me to try it at least once. ”
Saying her name still gives me a little twinge of pain, a pinch that lets me know her memory is still dear to me.
Christina watches the rails ahead of us and leans her shoulder into mine, just for a few seconds. “I think you’re right. ”
My memories of Tris, some of the most powerful memories I have, have dulled with time, as memories do, and they no longer sting as they used to. Sometimes I actually enjoy going over them in my mind, though not often. Sometimes I go over them with Christina, and she listens better than I expected her to, Candor smart-mouth that she is.
Cara guides the train to a stop, and I hop onto the platform. At the top of the stairs Shauna gets out of the chair and works her way down the steps with the braces, one at a time. Matthew and I carry her empty chair after her, which is cumbersome and heavy, but not impossible to manage.
“Any updates from Peter?” I ask Matthew as we reach the bottom of the stairs.
After Peter emerged from the memory serum haze, some of the sharper, harsher aspects of his personality returned, though not all of them. I lost touch with him after that. I don’t hate him anymore, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him.
“He’s in Milwaukee,” Matthew says. “I don’t know what he’s doing, though. ”
“He’s working in an office somewhere,” Cara says from the bottom of the stairs. She has the urn cradled in her arms, taken from Shauna’s lap on the way off the train. “I think it’s good for him. ”
“I always thought he would go join the GD rebels in the fringe,” Zeke says. “Shows you what I know. ”
“He’s different now,” Cara says with a shrug.
There are still GD rebels in the fringe who believe that another war is the only way to get the change we want. I fall more on the side that wants to work for change without violence. I’ve had enough violence to last me a lifetime, and I bear it still, not in scars on my skin but in the memories that rise up in my mind when I least want them to, my father’s fist colliding with my jaw, my gun raised to execute Eric, the Abnegation bodies sprawled across the streets of my old home.
We walk the streets to the zip line. The factions are gone, but this part of the city has more Dauntless than any other, recognizable still by their pierced faces and tattooed skin, though no longer by the colors they wear, which are sometimes garish. Some wander the sidewalks with us, but most are at work—everyone in Chicago is required to work if they’re able.
Ahead of me I see the Hancock building bending into the sky, its base wider than its top. The black girders chase one another up to the roof, crossing, tightening, and expanding. I haven’t been this close in a long time.
We enter the lobby, with its gleaming, polished floors and its walls smeared with bright Dauntless graffiti, left here by the building’s residents as a kind of relic. This is a Dauntless place, because they are the ones who embraced it, for its height and, a part of me also suspects, for its loneliness. The Dauntless liked to fill empty spaces with their noise. It’s something I liked about them.
Zeke jabs the elevator button with his index finger. We pile in, and Cara presses number 99.
I close my eyes as the elevator surges upward. I can almost see the space opening up beneath my feet, a shaft of darkness, and only a foot of solid ground between me and the sinking, dropping, plummeting. The elevator shudders as it stops, and I cling to the wall to steady myself as the doors open.
Zeke touches my shoulder. “Don’t worry, man. We did this all the time, remember?”
I nod. Air rushes through the gap in the ceiling, and above me is the sky, bright blue. I shuffle with the others toward the ladder, too numb with fear to make my feet move any faster.
I find the ladder with my fingertips and focus on one rung at a time. Above me, Shauna maneuvers awkwardly up the ladder, using mostly the strength of her arms.
I asked Tori once, while I was getting the symbols tattooed on my back, if she thought we were the last people left in the world. Maybe, was all she said. I don’t think she liked to think about it. But up here, on the roof, it is possible to believe that we are the last people left anywhere.
I stare at the buildings along the marsh front, and my chest tightens, squeezes, like it’s about to collapse into itself.
Zeke runs across the roof to the zip line and attaches one of the man-sized slings to the steel cable. He locks it so it won’t slide down, and looks at the group of us expectantly.
“Christina,” he says. “It’s all you. ”
Christina stands near the sling, tapping her chin with a finger.
“What do you think? Face-up or backward?”
“Backward,” Matthew says. “I wanted to go face-up so I don’t wet my pants, and I don’t want you copying me. ”
“Going face-up will only make that more likely to happen, you know,” Christina says. “So go ahead and do it so I can start calling you Wetpants. ”
Christina gets in the sling feet-first, belly down, so she’ll watch the building get smaller as she travels. I shudder.
I can’t watch. I close my eyes as Christina travels farther and farther away, and even as Matthew, and then Shauna, do the same thing. I can hear their cries of joy, like birdcalls, on the wind.
“Your turn, Four,” says Zeke.
I shake my head.
“Come on,” Cara says. “Better to get it over with, right?”
“No,” I say. “You go. Please. ”
She offers me the urn, then takes a deep breath. I hold the urn against my stomach. The metal is warm from where so many people have touched it. Cara climbs into the sling, unsteady, and Zeke straps her in. She crosses her arms over her chest, and he sends her out, over Lake Shore Drive, over the city. I don’t hear anything from her, not even a gasp.
Then it’s just Zeke and me left, staring at each other.
“I don’t think I can do it,” I say, and though my voice is steady, my body is shaking.
“Of course you can,” he says. “You’re Four, Dauntless legend! You can face anything. ”
I cross my arms and inch closer to the edge of the roof. Even though I’m several feet away, I feel my body pitching over the edge, and I shake my head again, and again, and again.
“Hey. ” Zeke puts his hands on my shoulders. “This isn’t about you, remember? It’s about her. Doing something she would have liked to do, something she would have been proud of you for doing. Right?”
That’s it. I can’t avoid this, I can’t back out now, not when I still remember her smile as she climbed the Ferris wheel with me, or the hard set of her jaw as she faced fear after fear in the simulations.
“How did she get in?”
“Face-first,” Zeke says.
“All right. ” I hand him the urn. “Put this behind me, okay? And open up the top. ”
I climb into the sling, my hands shaking so much I can barely grip the sides. Zeke tightens the straps across my back and legs, then wedges the urn behind me, facing out, so the ashes will spread. I stare down Lake Shore Drive, swallowing bile, and start to slide.
Suddenly I want to take it back, but it’s too late, I am already diving toward the ground. I’m screaming so loud, I want to cover my own ears. I feel the scream living inside me, filling my chest, throat, and head.
The wind stings my eyes but I force them open, and in my moment of blind panic I understand why she did it this way, face-first—it was because it made her feel like she was flying, like she was a bird.
I can still feel the emptiness beneath me, and it is like the emptiness inside me, like a mouth about to swallow me.
I realize, then, that I have stopped moving. The last bits of ash float on the wind like gray snowflakes, and then disappear.
The ground is only a few feet below me, close enough to jump down. The others have gathered there in a circle, their arms clasped to form a net of bone and muscle to catch me in. I press my face to the sling and laugh.
I toss the empty urn down to them, then twist my arms behind my back to undo the straps holding me in. I drop into my friends’ arms like a stone. They catch me, their bones pinching at my back and legs, and lower me to the ground.
There is an awkward silence as I stare at the Hancock building in wonder, and no one knows what to say. Caleb smiles at me, cautious.
Christina blinks tears from her eyes and says, “Oh! Zeke’s on his way. ”
Zeke is hurtling toward us in a black sling. At first it looks like a dot, then a blob, and then a person swathed in black. He crows with joy as he eases to a stop, and I reach across to grab Amar’s forearm. On my other side, I grasp a pale arm that belongs to Cara. She smiles at me, and there is some sadness in her smile.
Zeke’s shoulder hits our arms, hard, and he smiles wildly as he lets us cradle him like a child.
“That was nice. Want to go again, Four?” he says.
I don’t hesitate before answering. “Absolutely not. ”
We walk back to the train in a loose cluster. Shauna walks with her braces, Zeke pushing the empty wheelchair, and exchanges small talk with Amar. Matthew, Cara, and Caleb walk together, talking about something that has them all excited, kindred spirits that they are. Christina sidles up next to me and puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Happy Choosing Day,” she says. “I’m going to ask you how you really are. And you’re going to give me an honest answer. ”
We talk like this sometimes, giving each other orders. Somehow she has become one of the best friends I have, despite our frequent bickering.
“I’m all right,” I say. “It’s hard. It always will be. ”
“I know,” she says.
We walk at the back of the group, past the still-abandoned buildings with their dark windows, over the bridge that spans the river-marsh.
“Yeah, sometimes life really sucks,” she says. “But you know what I’m holding on for?”
I raise my eyebrows.
She raises hers, too, mimicking me.
“The moments that don’t suck,” she says. “The trick is to notice them when they come around. ”
Then she smiles, and I smile back, and we climb the stairs to the train platform side by side.
Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage.
But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.
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