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“THE FIRST THING you will learn today is how to shoot a gun. The second thing is how to win a fight. ” Four presses a gun into my palm without looking at me and keeps walking. “Thankfully, if you are here, you already know how to get on and off a moving train, so I don’t need to teach you that. ”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
I shouldn’t be surprised that the Dauntless expect us to hit the ground running, but I anticipated more than six hours of rest before the running began. My body is still heavy from sleep.
“Initiation is divided into three stages. We will measure your progress and rank you according to your performance in each stage. The stages are not weighed equally in determining your final rank, so it is possible, though difficult, to drastically improve your rank over time. ”
I stare at the weapon in my hand. Never in my life did I expect to hold a gun, let alone fire one. It feels dangerous to me, as if just by touching it, I could hurt someone.
“We believe that preparation eradicates cowardice, which we define as the failure to act in the midst of fear,” says Four. “Therefore each stage of initiation is intended to prepare you in a different way. The first stage is primarily physical; the second, primarily emotional; the third, primarily mental. ”
“But what…” Peter yawns through his words. “What does firing a gun have to do with…bravery?”
Four flips the gun in his hand, presses the barrel to Peter’s forehead, and clicks a bullet into place. Peter freezes with his lips parted, the yawn dead in his mouth.
“Wake. Up,” Four snaps. “You are holding a loaded gun, you idiot. Act like it. ”
He lowers the gun. Once the immediate threat is gone, Peter’s green eyes harden. I’m surprised he can stop himself from responding, after speaking his mind all his life in Candor, but he does, his cheeks red.
“And to answer your question…you are far less likely to soil your pants and cry for your mother if you’re prepared to defend yourself. ” Four stops walking at the end of the row and turns on his heel. “This is also information you may need later in stage one. So, watch me. ”
He faces the wall with the targets on it—one square of plywood with three red circles on it for each of us. He stands with his feet apart, holds the gun in both hands, and fires. The bang is so loud it hurts my ears. I crane my neck to look at the target. The bullet went through the middle circle.
I turn to my own target. My family would never approve of me firing a gun. They would say that guns are used for self-defense, if not violence, and therefore they are self-serving.
I push my family from my mind, set my feet shoulder-width apart, and delicately wrap both hands around the handle of the gun. It’s heavy and hard to lift away from my body, but I want it to be as far from my face as possible. I squeeze the trigger, hesitantly at first and then harder, cringing away from the gun. The sound hurts my ears and the recoil sends my hands back, toward my nose. I stumble, pressing my hand to the wall behind me for balance. I don’t know where my bullet went, but I know it’s not near the target.
I fire again and again and again, and none of the bullets come close.
“Statistically speaking,” the Erudite boy next to me—his name is Will—says, grinning at me, “you should have hit the target at least once by now, even by accident. ” He is blond, with shaggy hair and a crease between his eyebrows.
“Is that so,” I say without inflection.
“Yeah,” he says. “I think you’re actually defying nature. ”
I grit my teeth and turn toward the target, resolving to at least stand still. If I can’t master the first task they give us, how will I ever make it through stage one?
I squeeze the trigger, hard, and this time I’m ready for the recoil. It makes my hands jump back, but my feet stay planted. A bullet hole appears at the edge of the target, and I raise an eyebrow at Will.
“So you see, I’m right. The stats don’t lie,” he says.
I smile a little.
It takes me five rounds to hit the middle of the target, and when I do, a rush of energy goes through me. I am awake, my eyes wide open, my hands warm. I lower the gun. There is power in controlling something that can do so much damage—in controlling something, period.
Maybe I do belong here.
By the time we break for lunch, my arms throb from holding up the gun and my fingers are hard to straighten. I massage them on my way to the dining hall. Christina invites Al to sit with us. Every time I look at him, I hear his sobs again, so I try not to look at him.
I move my peas around with my fork, and my thoughts drift back to the aptitude tests. When Tori warned me that being Divergent was dangerous, I felt like it was branded on my face, and if I so much as turned the wrong way, someone would see it. So far it hasn’t been a problem, but that doesn’t make me feel safe. What if I let my guard down and something terrible happens?
“Oh, come on. You don’t remember me?” Christina asks Al as she makes a sandwich. “We were in Math together just a few days ago. And I am not a quiet person. ”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“I slept through Math most of the time,” Al replies. “It was first hour!”
What if the danger doesn’t come soon—what if it strikes years from now and I never see it coming?
“Tris,” says Christina. She snaps her fingers in front of my face. “You in there?”
“What? What is it?”
“I asked if you remember ever taking a class with me,” she says. “I mean, no offense, but I probably wouldn’t remember if you did. All the Abnegation looked the same to me. I mean, they still do, but now you’re not one of them. ”
I stare at her. As if I need her to remind me.
“Sorry, am I being rude?” she asks. “I’m used to just saying whatever is on my mind. Mom used to say that politeness is deception in pretty packaging. ”
“I think that’s why our factions don’t usually associate with each other,” I say, with a short laugh. Candor and Abnegation don’t hate each other the way Erudite and Abnegation do, but they avoid each other. Candor’s real problem is with Amity. Those who seek peace above all else, they say, will always deceive to keep the water calm.
“Can I sit here?” says Will, tapping the table with his finger.
“What, you don’t want to hang out with your Erudite buddies?” says Christina.
“They aren’t my buddies,” says Will, setting his plate down. “Just because we were in the same faction doesn’t mean we get along. Plus, Edward and Myra are dating, and I would rather not be the third wheel. ”
Edward and Myra, the other Erudite transfers, sit two tables away, so close they bump elbows as they cut their food. Myra pauses to kiss Edward. I watch them carefully. I’ve only seen a few kisses in my life.
Edward turns his head and presses his lips to Myra’s. Air hisses between my teeth, and I look away. Part of me waits for them to be scolded. Another part wonders, with a touch of desperation, what it would feel like to have someone’s lips against mine.
“Do they have to be so public?” I say.
“She just kissed him. ” Al frowns at me. When he frowns, his thick eyebrows touch his eyelashes. “It’s not like they’re stripping naked. ”
“A kiss is not something you do in public. ”
Al, Will, and Christina all give me the same knowing smile.
“What?” I say.
“Your Abnegation is showing,” says Christina. “The rest of us are all right with a little affection in public. ”
“Oh. ” I shrug. “Well…I guess I’ll have to get over it, then. ”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Or you can stay frigid,” says Will, his green eyes glinting with mischief. “You know. If you want. ”
Christina throws a roll at him. He catches it and bites it.
“Don’t be mean to her,” she says. “Frigidity is in her nature. Sort of like being a know-it-all is in yours. ”
“I am not frigid!” I exclaim.
“Don’t worry about it,” says Will. “It’s endearing. Look, you’re all red. ”
The comment only makes my face hotter. Everyone else chuckles. I force a laugh and, after a few seconds, it comes naturally.
It feels good to laugh again.
After lunch, Four leads us to a new room. It’s huge, with a wood floor that is cracked and creaky and has a large circle painted in the middle. On the left wall is a green board—a chalkboard. My Lower Levels teacher used one, but I haven’t seen one since then. Maybe it has something to do with Dauntless priorities: training comes first, technology comes second.
Our names are written on the board in alphabetical order. Hanging at three-foot intervals along one end of the room are faded black punching bags.
We line up behind them and Four stands in the middle, where we can all see him.
“As I said this morning,” says Four, “next you will learn how to fight. The purpose of this is to prepare you to act; to prepare your body to respond to threats and challenges—which you will need, if you intend to survive life as a Dauntless. ”
I can’t even think of life as a Dauntless. All I can think about is making it through initiation.
“We will go over technique today, and tomorrow you will start to fight each other,” says Four. “So I recommend that you pay attention. Those who don’t learn fast will get hurt. ”
Four names a few different punches, demonstrating each one as he does, first against the air and then against the punching bag.
I catch on as we practice. Like with the gun, I need a few tries to figure out how to hold myself and how to move my body to make it look like his. The kicks are more difficult, though he only teaches us the basics. The punching bag stings my hands and feet, turning my skin red, and barely moves no matter how hard I hit it. All around me is the sound of skin hitting tough fabric.
Four wanders through the crowd of initiates, watching us as we go through the movements again. When he stops in front of me, my insides twist like someone’s stirring them with a fork. He stares at me, his eyes following my body from my head to my feet, not lingering anywhere—a practical, scientific gaze.
“You don’t have much muscle,” he says, “which means you’re better off using your knees and elbows. You can put more power behind them. ”
Suddenly he presses a hand to my stomach. His fingers are so long that, though the heel of his hand touches one side of my rib cage, his fingertips still touch the other side. My heart pounds so hard my chest hurts, and I stare at him, wide-eyed.
“Never forget to keep tension here,” he says in a quiet voice.
Four lifts his hand and keeps walking. I feel the pressure of his palm even after he’s gone. It’s strange, but I have to stop and breathe for a few seconds before I can keep practicing again.
When Four dismisses us for dinner, Christina nudges me with her elbow.
“I’m surprised he didn’t break you in half,” she says. She wrinkles her nose. “He scares the hell out of me. It’s that quiet voice he uses. ”
“Yeah. He’s…” I look over my shoulder at him. He is quiet, and remarkably self-possessed. But I wasn’t afraid that he would hurt me. “…definitely intimidating,” I finally say.
Al, who was in front of us, turns around once we reach the Pit and announces, “I want to get a tattoo. ”
From behind us, Will asks, “A tattoo of what?”
“I don’t know. ” Al laughs. “I just want to feel like I’ve actually left the old faction. Stop crying about it. ” When we don’t respond, he adds, “I know you’ve heard me. ”
“Yeah, learn to quiet down, will you?” Christina pokes Al’s thick arm. “I think you’re right. We’re half in, half out right now. If we want all the way in, we should look the part. ”
She gives me a look.
“No. I will not cut my hair,” I say, “or dye it a strange color. Or pierce my face. ”
“How about your bellybutton?” she says.
“Or your nipple?” Will says with a snort.
Now that training is done for the day, we can do whatever we want until it’s time to sleep. The idea makes me feel almost giddy, although that might be from fatigue.
The Pit is swarming with people. Christina announces that she and I will meet Al and Will at the tattoo parlor and drags me toward the clothing place. We stumble up the path, climbing higher above the Pit floor, scattering stones with our shoes.
“What is wrong with my clothes?” I say. “I’m not wearing gray anymore. ”
“They’re ugly and gigantic. ” She sighs. “Will you just let me help you? If you don’t like what I put you in, you never have to wear it again, I promise. ”
Ten minutes later I stand in front of a mirror in the clothing place wearing a knee-length black dress. The skirt isn’t full, but it isn’t stuck to my thighs, either—unlike the first one she picked out, which I refused. Goose bumps appear on my bare arms. She slips the tie from my hair and I shake it out of its braid so it hangs wavy over my shoulders.
Then she holds up a black pencil.
“Eyeliner,” she says.
“You aren’t going to be able to make me pretty, you know. ” I close my eyes and hold still. She runs the tip of the pencil along the line of my eyelashes. I imagine standing before my family in these clothes, and my stomach twists like I might be sick.
“Who cares about pretty? I’m going for noticeable. ”
I open my eyes and for the first time stare openly at my own reflection. My heart rate picks up as I do, like I am breaking the rules and will be scolded for it. It will be difficult to break the habits of thinking Abnegation instilled in me, like tugging a single thread from a complex work of embroidery. But I will find new habits, new thoughts, new rules. I will become something else.
My eyes were blue before, but a dull, grayish blue—the eyeliner makes them piercing. With my hair framing my face, my features look softer and fuller. I am not pretty—my eyes are too big and my nose is too long—but I can see that Christina is right. My face is noticeable.
Looking at myself now isn’t like seeing myself for the first time; it’s like seeing someone else for the first time. Beatrice was a girl I saw in stolen moments at the mirror, who kept quiet at the dinner table. This is someone whose eyes claim mine and don’t release me; this is Tris.
“See?” she says. “You’re…striking. ”
Under the circumstances, it’s the best compliment she could have given me. I smile at her in the mirror.
“You like it?” she says.
“Yeah. ” I nod. “I look like…a different person. ”
She laughs. “That a good thing or a bad thing?”
I look at myself head-on again. For the first time, the idea of leaving my Abnegation identity behind doesn’t make me nervous; it gives me hope.
“A good thing. ” I shake my head. “Sorry, I’ve just never been allowed to stare at my reflection for this long. ”
“Really?” Christina shakes her head. “Abnegation is a strange faction, I have to tell you. ”
“Let’s go watch Al get tattooed,” I say. Despite the fact that I have left my old faction behind, I don’t want to criticize it yet.
At home, my mother and I picked up nearly identical stacks of clothing every six months or so. It’s easy to allocate resources when everyone gets the same thing, but everything is more varied at the Dauntless compound. Every Dauntless gets a certain amount of points to spend per month, and the dress costs one of them.
Christina and I race down the narrow path to the tattoo place. When we get there, Al is sitting in the chair already, and a small, narrow man with more ink than bare skin is drawing a spider on his arm.
Will and Christina flip through books of pictures, elbowing each other when they find a good one. When they sit next to each other, I notice how opposite they are, Christina dark and lean, Will pale and solid, but alike in their easy smiles.
I wander around the room, looking at the artwork on the walls. These days, the only artists are in Amity. Abnegation sees art as impractical, and its appreciation as time that could be spent serving others, so though I have seen works of art in textbooks, I have never been in a decorated room before. It makes the air feel close and warm, and I could get lost here for hours without noticing. I skim the wall with my fingertips. A picture of a hawk on one wall reminds me of Tori’s tattoo. Beneath it is a sketch of a bird in flight.
“It’s a raven,” a voice behind me says. “Pretty, right?”
I turn to see Tori standing there. I feel like I am back in the aptitude test room, with the mirrors all around me and the wires connected to my forehead. I didn’t expect to see her again.
“Well, hello there. ” She smiles. “Never thought I would see you again. Beatrice, is it?”
“Tris, actually,” I say. “Do you work here?”
“I do. I just took a break to administer the tests. Most of the time I’m here. ” She taps her chin. “I recognize that name. You were the first jumper, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was. ”
“Well done. ”
“Thanks. ” I touch the sketch of the bird. “Listen—I need to talk to you about…” I glance over at Will and Christina. I can’t corner Tori now; they’ll ask questions. “…something. Sometime. ”
“I am not sure that would be wise,” she says quietly. “I helped you as much as I could, and now you will have to go it alone. ”
I purse my lips. She has answers; I know she does. If she won’t give them to me now, I will have to find a way to make her tell me some other time.
“Want a tattoo?” she says.
The bird sketch holds my attention. I never intended to get pierced or tattooed when I came here. I know that if I do, it will place another wedge between me and my family that I can never remove. And if my life here continues as it has been, it may soon be the least of the wedges between us.
But I understand now what Tori said about her tattoo representing a fear she overcame—a reminder of where she was, as well as a reminder of where she is now. Maybe there is a way to honor my old life as I embrace my new one.
“Yes,” I say. “Three of these flying birds. ”
I touch my collarbone, marking the path of their flight—toward my heart. One for each member of the family I left behind.
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