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I AM READY. I step into the room, armed not with a gun or a knife, but with the plan I made the night before. Tobias said that stage three is about mental preparation—coming up with strategies to overcome my fears.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
I wish I knew what order the fears will come in. I bounce on the balls of my feet as I wait for the first fear to appear. I am already short of breath.
The ground beneath me changes. Grass rises from the concrete and sways in a wind I cannot feel. A green sky replaces the exposed pipes above me. I listen for the birds and feel my fear as a distant thing, a hammering heart and a squeezed chest, but not something that exists in my mind. Tobias told me to figure out what this simulation means. He was right; it isn’t about the birds. It’s about control.
Wings flap next to my ear, and the crow’s talons dig into my shoulder.
This time, I do not hit the bird as hard as I can. I crouch, listening to the thunder of wings behind me, and run my hand through the grass, just above the ground. What combats powerlessness? Power. And the first time I felt powerful in the Dauntless compound was when I was holding a gun.
A lump forms in my throat and I want the talons off. The bird squawks and my stomach clenches, but then I feel something hard and metal in the grass. My gun.
I point the gun at the bird on my shoulder, and it detaches from my shirt in an explosion of blood and feathers. I spin on my heel, aiming the gun at the sky, and see the cloud of dark feathers descending. I squeeze the trigger, firing again and again into the sea of birds above me, watching their dark bodies drop to the grass.
As I aim and shoot, I feel the same rush of power I felt the first time I held a gun. My heart stops racing and the field, gun, and birds fade away. I stand in the dark again.
I shift my weight, and something squeaks beneath my foot. I crouch down and slide my hand along a cold, smooth panel—glass. I press my hands to glass on either side of my body. The tank again. I am not afraid of drowning. This is not about the water; it is about my inability to escape the tank. It is about weakness. I just have to convince myself that I am strong enough to break the glass.
The blue lights come on, and water slips over the floor, but I don’t let the simulation get that far. I slam my palm against the wall in front of me, expecting the pane to break.
My hand bounces off, causing no damage.
My heartbeat speeds up. What if what worked in the first simulation doesn’t work here? What if I can’t break the glass unless I’m under duress? The water laps over my ankles, flowing faster by the second. I have to calm down. Calm down and focus. I lean against the wall behind me and kick as hard as I can. And again. My toes throb, but nothing happens.
I have another option. I can wait for water to fill the tank—and it’s already at my knees—and try to calm down as I drown. I brace myself against the wall, shaking my head. No. I can’t let myself drown. I can’t.
I ball my hands up into fists and pound on the wall. I am stronger than the glass. The glass is as thin as newly frozen ice. My mind will make it so. I close my eyes. The glass is ice. The glass is ice. The glass is—
The glass shatters under my hand, and water spills onto the floor. And then the dark returns.
I shake out my hands. That should have been an easy obstacle to overcome. I’ve faced it before in simulations. I can’t afford to lose time like that again.
What feels like a solid wall hits me from the side, forcing the air from my lungs, and I fall hard, gasping. I can’t swim; I’ve only seen bodies of water this large, this powerful, in pictures. Beneath me is a rock with a jagged edge, slick with water. The water pulls at my legs, and I cling to the rock, tasting salt on my lips. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a dark sky and a blood-red moon.
Another wave hits, slamming against my back. I hit my chin against the stone and wince. The sea is cold, but my blood is hot, running down my neck. I stretch my arm and find the edge of the rock. The water pulls at my legs with irresistible force. I cling as hard as I can, but I am not strong enough—the water pulls me and the wave throws my body back. It flings my legs over my head and my arms to each side, and I collide with the stone, my back pressed against it, water gushing over my face. My lungs scream for air. I twist and grab the edge of the rock, pulling myself above the water. I gasp, and another wave hits me, this one harder than the first, but I have a better hold.
I must not really be afraid of the water. I must be afraid of being out of control. To face it, I have to regain control.
With a scream of frustration, I throw my hand forward and find a hole in the rock. My arms shake violently as I drag myself forward, and I pull my feet up under me before the wave can take me with it. Once my feet are free, I get up and throw my body into a run, into a sprint, my feet quick on the stone, the red moon in front of me, the ocean gone.
Then everything is gone, and my body is still. Too still.
I try to move my arms, but they are bound tightly to my sides. I look down and see rope wrapped around my chest, my arms, my legs. A stack of logs rises around my feet, and I see a pole behind me. I am high above the ground.
People creep out of the shadows, and their faces are familiar. They are the initiates, carrying torches, and Peter is at the front of the pack. His eyes look like black pits, and he wears a smirk that spreads too wide across his face, forcing wrinkles into his cheeks. A laugh starts somewhere in the center of the crowd and rises as voice after voice joins it. Cackling is all I hear.
As the cackling grows louder, Peter lowers his torch to the wood, and flames leap up near the ground. They flicker at the edges of each log and then creep over the bark. I don’t struggle against the ropes, as I did the first time I faced this fear. Instead I close my eyes and gulp as much air as I can. This is a simulation. It can’t hurt me. The heat from the flames rises around me. I shake my head.
“Smell that, Stiff?” Peter says, his voice louder than even the cackling.
“No,” I say. The flames are getting higher.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
He sniffs. “That’s the smell of your burning flesh. ”
When I open my eyes, my vision is blurry with tears.
“Know what I smell?” My voice strains to be louder than the laughter all around me, the laughter that oppresses me as much as the heat. My arms twitch, and I want to fight against the ropes, but I won’t, I won’t struggle pointlessly, I won’t panic.
I stare through the flames at Peter, the heat bringing blood to the surface of my skin, flowing through me, melting the toes of my shoes.
“I smell rain,” I say.
Thunder roars above my head, and I scream as a flame touches my fingertips and pain shrieks over my skin. I tilt my head back and focus on the clouds gathering above my head, heavy with rain, dark with rain. A line of lightning sprawls over the sky and I feel the first drop on my forehead. Faster, faster! The drop rolls down the side of my nose, and the second drop hits my shoulder, so big it feels like it’s made of ice or rock instead of water.
Sheets of rain fall around me, and I hear sizzling over the laughter. I smile, relieved, as the rain puts out the fire and soothes the burns on my hands. The ropes fall away, and I push my hands through my hair.
I wish I was like Tobias and had only four fears to face, but I am not that fearless.
I smooth my shirt down, and when I look up, I stand in my bedroom in the Abnegation sector of the city. I have never faced this fear before. The lights are off, but the room is lit by the moonlight coming through the windows. One of my walls is covered with mirrors. I turn toward it, confused. That isn’t right. I am not allowed to have mirrors.
I look at the reflection in the mirror: my wide eyes, the bed with the gray sheets pulled taut, the dresser that holds my clothes, the bookcase, the bare walls. My eyes skip to the window behind me.
And to the man standing just outside.
Cold drops down my spine like a bead of sweat, and my body goes rigid. I recognize him. He is the man with the scarred face from the aptitude test. He wears black and he stands still as a statue. I blink, and two men appear at his left and right, just as still as he is, but their faces are featureless—skin-covered skulls.
I whip my body around, and they stand in my room. I press my shoulders to the mirror.
For a moment, the room is silent, and then fists pound against my window, not just two or four or six, but dozens of fists with dozens of fingers, slamming into the glass. The noise vibrates in my rib cage, it is so loud, and then the scarred man and his two companions begin to walk with slow, careful movements toward me.
They are here to take me, like Peter and Drew and Al; to kill me. I know it.
Simulation. This is a simulation. My heart hammering in my chest, I press my palm to the glass behind me and slide it to the left. It is not a mirror but a closet door. I tell myself where the weapon will be. It will be hanging against the right wall, just inches away from my hand. I don’t shift my eyes from the scarred man, but I find the gun with my fingertips and wrap my hand around the handle.
I bite my lip and fire at the scarred man. I don’t wait to see if the bullet hits him—I aim at each featureless man in turn, as fast as I can. My lip aches from biting it so hard. The pounding on the window stops, but a screeching sound replaces it, and the fists turn into hands with bent fingers, scratching at the glass, fighting to get in. The glass creaks under the pressure of their hands, and then cracks, and then shatters.
I don’t have enough bullets in my gun.
Pale bodies—human bodies, but mangled, arms bent at odd angles, too-wide mouths with needle teeth, empty eye sockets—topple into my bedroom, one after the other, and scramble to their feet, scramble toward me. I pull back into the closet and shut the door in front of me. A solution. I need a solution. I sink into a crouch and press the side of the gun to my head. I can’t fight them off. I can’t fight them off, so I have to calm down. The fear landscape will register my slowing heartbeat and my even breath and it will move on to the next obstacle.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
I sit down on the floor of the closet. The wall behind me creaks. I hear pounding—the fists are at it again, hitting the closet door—but I turn and peer through the dark at the panel behind me. It is not a wall but another door. I fumble to push it aside and reveal the upstairs hallway. Smiling, I crawl through the hole and stand. I smell something baking. I am at home.
Taking a deep breath, I watch my house fade. I forgot, for a second, that I was in Dauntless headquarters.
And then Tobias is standing in front of me.
But I’m not afraid of Tobias. I look over my shoulder. Maybe there’s something behind me that I’m supposed to focus on. But no—behind me is just a four-poster bed.
Tobias walks toward me, slowly.
What’s going on?
I stare up at him, paralyzed. He smiles down at me. That smile looks kind. Familiar.
He presses his mouth to mine, and my lips part. I thought it would be impossible to forget I was in a simulation. I was wrong; he makes everything else disintegrate.
His fingers find my jacket zipper and pull it down in one slow swipe until the zipper detaches. He tugs the jacket from my shoulders.
Oh, is all I can think, as he kisses me again. Oh.
My fear is being with him. I have been wary of affection all my life, but I didn’t know how deep that wariness went.
But this obstacle doesn’t feel the same as the others. It is a different kind of fear—nervous panic rather than blind terror.
He slides his hands down my arms and then squeezes my hips, his fingers sliding over the skin just above my belt, and I shiver.
I gently push him back and press my hands to my forehead. I have been attacked by crows and men with grotesque faces; I have been set on fire by the boy who almost threw me off a ledge; I have almost drowned—twice—and this is what I can’t cope with? This is the fear I have no solutions for—a boy I like, who wants to…have sex with me?
Simulation Tobias kisses my neck.
I try to think. I have to face the fear. I have to take control of the situation and find a way to make it less frightening.
I look Simulation Tobias in the eye and say sternly, “I am not going to sleep with you in a hallucination. Okay?”
Then I grab him by his shoulders and turn us around, pushing him against the bedpost. I feel something other than fear—a prickle in my stomach, a bubble of laughter. I press against him and kiss him, my hands wrapping around his arms. He feels strong. He feels…good.
And he’s gone.
I laugh into my hand until my face gets hot. I must be the only initiate with this fear.
A trigger clicks in my ear.
I almost forgot about this one. I feel the heft of a gun in my hand and curl my fingers around it, slipping my index finger over the trigger. A spotlight shines from the ceiling, its source unknown, and standing in the center of its circle of light are my mother, my father, and my brother.
“Do it,” hisses a voice next to me. It is female, but harsh, like it’s cluttered with rocks and broken glass. It sounds like Jeanine.
The barrel of a gun presses to my temple, a cold circle against my skin. The cold travels across my body, making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I wipe my sweaty palm on my pants and look at the woman through the corner of my eye. It is Jeanine. Her glasses are askew, and her eyes are empty of feeling.
My worst fear: that my family will die, and that I will be responsible.
“Do it,” she says again, more insistent this time. “Do it or I’ll kill you. ”
I stare at Caleb. He nods, his eyebrows tugged in, sympathetic. “Go ahead, Tris,” he says softly. “I understand. It’s okay. ”
My eyes burn. “No,” I say, my throat so tight it aches. I shake my head.
“I’ll give you ten seconds!” the woman shouts. “Ten! Nine!”
My eyes skip from my brother to my father. The last time I saw him, he gave me a look of contempt, but now his eyes are wide and soft. I have never seen him wear that expression in real life.
“Tris,” he says. “You have no other option. ”
“Tris,” my mother says. She smiles. She has a sweet smile. “We love you. ”
“Shut up!” I shout, holding up the gun. I can do it. I can shoot them. They understand. They’re asking me to. They wouldn’t want me to sacrifice myself for them. They aren’t even real. This is all a simulation.
It isn’t real. It doesn’t mean anything. My brother’s kind eyes feel like two drills boring a hole in my head. My sweat makes the gun slippery.
I have no other option. I close my eyes. Think. I have to think. The urgency making my heart race depends on one thing, and one thing only: the threat to my life.
What did Tobias tell me? Selflessness and bravery aren’t that different.
I release the trigger of my gun and drop it. Before I can lose my nerve, I turn and press my forehead to the barrel of the gun behind me.
Shoot me instead.
I hear a click, and a bang.
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