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I CRAWL ACROSS my mattress and heave a sigh. It has been two days since my fight with Peter, and my bruises are turning purple-blue. I have gotten used to aching every time I move, so now I move better, but I am still far from healed.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
Even though I am still injured, I had to fight again today. Luckily this time, I was paired against Myra, who couldn’t throw a good punch if someone was controlling her arm for her. I got a good hit in during the first two minutes. She fell down and was too dizzy to get back up. I should feel triumphant, but there is no triumph in punching a girl like Myra.
The second I touch my head to the pillow, the door to the dormitory opens, and people stream into the room with flashlights. I sit up, almost hitting my head on the bed frame above me, and squint through the dark to see what’s going on.
“Everybody up!” someone roars. A flashlight shines behind his head, making the rings in his ears glint. Eric. Surrounding him are other Dauntless, some of whom I have seen in the Pit, some of whom I have never seen before. Four stands among them.
His eyes shift to mine and stay there. I stare back and forget that all around me the transfers are getting out of bed.
“Did you go deaf, Stiff?” demands Eric. I snap out of my daze and slide out from beneath the blankets. I am glad I sleep fully clothed, because Christina stands next to our bunk wearing only a T-shirt, her long legs bare. She folds her arms and stares at Eric. I wish, suddenly, that I could stare so boldly at someone with hardly any clothes on, but I would never be able to do that.
“You have five minutes to get dressed and meet us by the tracks,” says Eric. “We’re going on another field trip. ”
I shove my feet into shoes and sprint, wincing, behind Christina on the way to the train. A drop of sweat rolls down the back of my neck as we run up the paths along the walls of the Pit, pushing past members on our way up. They don’t seem surprised to see us. I wonder how many frantic, running people they see on a weekly basis.
We make it to the tracks just behind the Dauntless-born initiates. Next to the tracks is a black pile. I make out a cluster of long gun barrels and trigger guards.
“Are we going to shoot something?” Christina hisses in my ear.
Next to the pile are boxes of what looks like ammunition. I inch closer to read one of the boxes. Written on it is “PAINTBALLS. ”
I’ve never heard of them before, but the name is self-explanatory. I laugh.
“Everyone grab a gun!” shouts Eric.
We rush toward the pile. I am the closest to it, so I snatch the first gun I can find, which is heavy, but not too heavy for me to lift, and grab a box of paintballs. I shove the box in my pocket and sling the gun across my back so the strap crosses my chest.
“Time estimate?” Eric asks Four.
Four checks his watch. “Any minute now. How long is it going to take you to memorize the train schedule?”
“Why should I, when I have you to remind me of it?” says Eric, shoving Four’s shoulder.
A circle of light appears on my left, far away. It grows larger as it comes closer, shining against the side of Four’s face, creating a shadow in the faint hollow beneath his cheekbone.
He is the first to get on the train, and I run after him, not waiting for Christina or Will or Al to follow me. Four turns around as I fall into stride next to the car and holds out a hand. I grab his arm, and he pulls me in. Even the muscles in his forearm are taut, defined.
I let go quickly, without looking at him, and sit down on the other side of the car.
Once everyone is in, Four speaks up.
“We’ll be dividing into two teams to play capture the flag. Each team will have an even mix of members, Dauntless-born initiates, and transfers. One team will get off first and find a place to hide their flag. Then the second team will get off and do the same. ” The car sways, and Four grabs the side of the doorway for balance. “This is a Dauntless tradition, so I suggest you take it seriously. ”
“What do we get if we win?” someone shouts.
“Sounds like the kind of question someone not from Dauntless would ask,” says Four, raising an eyebrow. “You get to win, of course. ”
“Four and I will be your team captains,” says Eric. He looks at Four. “Let’s divide up transfers first, shall we?”
I tilt my head back. If they’re picking us, I will be chosen last; I can feel it.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“You go first,” Four says.
Eric shrugs. “Edward. ”
Four leans against the door frame and nods. The moonlight makes his eyes bright. He scans the group of transfer initiates briefly, without calculation, and says, “I want the Stiff. ”
A faint undercurrent of laughter fills the car. Heat rushes into my cheeks. I don’t know whether to be angry at the people laughing at me or flattered by the fact that he chose me first.
“Got something to prove?” asks Eric, with his trademark smirk. “Or are you just picking the weak ones so that if you lose, you’ll have someone to blame it on?”
Four shrugs. “Something like that. ”
Angry. I should definitely be angry. I scowl at my hands. Whatever Four’s strategy is, it’s based on the idea that I am weaker than the other initiates. And it gives me a bitter taste in my mouth. I have to prove him wrong—I have to.
“Your turn,” says Four.
That throws a wrench in his strategy. Christina is not one of the weak ones. What exactly is he doing?
“Will,” says Four, biting his thumbnail.
“Last one left is Myra. So she’s with me,” says Eric. “Dauntless-born initiates next. ”
I stop listening once they’re finished with us. If Four isn’t trying to prove something by choosing the weak, what is he doing? I look at each person he chooses. What do we have in common?
Once they’re halfway through the Dauntless-born initiates, I have an idea of what it is. With the exception of Will and a couple of the others, we all share the same body type: narrow shoulders, small frames. All the people on Eric’s team are broad and strong. Just yesterday, Four told me I was fast. We will all be faster than Eric’s team, which will probably be good for capture the flag—I haven’t played before, but I know it’s a game of speed rather than brute force. I cover a smile with my hand. Eric is more ruthless than Four, but Four is smarter.
They finish choosing teams, and Eric smirks at Four.
“Your team can get off second,” says Eric.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Don’t do me any favors,” Four replies. He smiles a little. “You know I don’t need them to win. ”
“No, I know that you’ll lose no matter when you get off,” says Eric, biting down briefly on one of the rings in his lip. “Take your scrawny team and get off first, then. ”
We all stand up. Al gives me a forlorn look, and I smile back in what I hope is a reassuring way. If any of the four of us had to end up on the same team as Eric, Peter, and Molly, at least it was him. They usually leave him alone.
The train is about to dip to the ground. I am determined to land on my feet.
Just before I jump, someone shoves my shoulder, and I almost topple out of the train car. I don’t look back to see who it is—Molly, Drew, or Peter, it doesn’t matter which one. Before they can try it again, I jump. This time I am ready for the momentum the train gives me, and I run a few steps to diffuse it but keep my balance. Fierce pleasure courses through me and I smile. It’s a small accomplishment, but it makes me feel Dauntless.
One of the Dauntless-born initiates touches Four’s shoulder and asks, “When your team won, where did you put the flag?”
“Telling you wouldn’t really be in the spirit of the exercise, Marlene,” he says coolly.
“Come on, Four,” she whines. She gives him a flirtatious smile. He brushes her hand off his arm, and for some reason, I find myself grinning.
“Navy Pier,” another Dauntless-born initiate calls out. He is tall, with brown skin and dark eyes. Handsome. “My brother was on the winning team. They kept the flag at the carousel. ”
“Let’s go there, then,” suggests Will.
No one objects, so we walk east, toward the marsh that was once a lake. When I was young, I tried to imagine what it would look like as a lake, with no fence built into the mud to keep the city safe. But it is difficult to imagine that much water in one place.
“We’re close to Erudite headquarters, right?” asks Christina, bumping Will’s shoulder with her own.
“Yeah. It’s south of here,” he says. He looks over his shoulder, and for a second his expression is full of longing. Then it’s gone.
I am less than a mile away from my brother. It has been a week since we were that close together. I shake my head a little to get the thought out of my mind. I can’t think about him today, when I have to focus on making it through stage one. I can’t think about him any day.
We walk across the bridge. We still need the bridges because the mud beneath them is too wet to walk on. I wonder how long it’s been since the river dried up.
Once we cross the bridge, the city changes. Behind us, most of the buildings were in use, and even if they weren’t, they looked well-tended. In front of us is a sea of crumbling concrete and broken glass. The silence of this part of the city is eerie; it feels like a nightmare. It’s hard to see where I’m going, because it’s after midnight and all the city lights are off.
Marlene takes out a flashlight and shines it at the street in front of us.
“Scared of the dark, Mar?” the dark-eyed Dauntless-born initiate teases.
“If you want to step on broken glass, Uriah, be my guest,” she snaps. But she turns it off anyway.
I have realized that part of being Dauntless is being willing to make things more difficult for yourself in order to be self-sufficient. There’s nothing especially brave about wandering dark streets with no flashlight, but we are not supposed to need help, even from light. We are supposed to be capable of anything.
I like that. Because there might come a day when there is no flashlight, there is no gun, there is no guiding hand. And I want to be ready for it.
The buildings end just before the marsh. A strip of land juts out into the marsh, and rising from it is a giant white wheel with dozens of red passenger cars dangling from it at regular intervals. The Ferris wheel.
“Think about it. People used to ride that thing. For fun,” says Will, shaking his head.
“They must have been Dauntless,” I say.
“Yeah, but a lame version of Dauntless. ” Christina laughs. “A Dauntless Ferris wheel wouldn’t have cars. You would just hang on tight with your hands, and good luck to you. ”
We walk down the side of the pier. All the buildings on my left are empty, their signs torn down and their windows closed, but it is a clean kind of emptiness. Whoever left these places left them by choice and at their leisure. Some places in the city are not like that.
“Dare you to jump into the marsh,” says Christina to Will.
“You first. ”
We reach the carousel. Some of the horses are scratched and weathered, their tails broken off or their saddles chipped. Four takes the flag out of his pocket.
“In ten minutes, the other team will pick their location,” he says. “I suggest you take this time to formulate a strategy. We may not be Erudite, but mental preparedness is one aspect of your Dauntless training. Arguably, it is the most important aspect. ”
He is right about that. What good is a prepared body if you have a scattered mind?
Will takes the flag from Four.
“Some people should stay here and guard, and some people should go out and scout the other team’s location,” Will says.
“Yeah? You think?” Marlene plucks the flag from Will’s fingers. “Who put you in charge, transfer?”
“No one,” says Will. “But someone’s got to do it. ”
“Maybe we should develop a more defensive strategy. Wait for them to come to us, then take them out,” suggests Christina.
“That’s the sissy way out,” Uriah says. “I vote we go all out. Hide the flag well enough that they can’t find it. ”
Everyone bursts into the conversation at once, their voices louder with each passing second. Christina defends Will’s plan; the Dauntless-born initiates vote for offense; everyone argues about who should make the decision. Four sits down on the edge of the carousel, leaning against a plastic horse’s foot. His eyes lift to the sky, where there are no stars, only a round moon peeking through a thin layer of clouds. The muscles in his arms are relaxed; his hand rests on the back of his neck. He looks almost comfortable, holding that gun to his shoulder.
I close my eyes briefly. Why does he distract me so easily? I need to focus.
What would I say if I could shout above the sniping behind me? We can’t act until we know where the other team is. They could be anywhere within a two-mile radius, although I can rule out the empty marsh as an option. The best way to find them is not to argue about how to search for them, or how many to send out in a search party.
It’s to climb as high as possible.
I look over my shoulder to make sure no one is watching. None of them look at me, so I walk toward the Ferris wheel with light, quiet footsteps, pressing my gun to my back with one hand to keep it from making noise.
When I stare up at the Ferris wheel from the ground, my throat feels tighter. It is taller than I thought, so tall I can barely see the cars swinging at the top. The only good thing about its height is that it is built to support weight. If I climb it, it won’t collapse beneath me.
My heart pumps faster. Will I really risk my life for this—to win a game the Dauntless like to play?
It’s so dark I can barely see them, but when I stare at the huge, rusted supports holding the wheel in place, I see the rungs of a ladder. Each support is only as wide as my shoulders, and there are no railings to hold me in, but climbing a ladder is better than climbing the spokes of the wheel.
I grab a rung. It’s rusty and thin and feels like it might crumble in my hands. I put my weight on the lowest rung to test it and jump to make sure it will hold me up. The movement hurts my ribs, and I wince.
“Tris,” a low voice says behind me. I don’t know why it doesn’t startle me. Maybe because I am becoming Dauntless, and mental readiness is something I am supposed to develop. Maybe because his voice is low and smooth and almost soothing. Whatever the reason, I look over my shoulder. Four stands behind me with his gun slung across his back, just like mine.
“Yes?” I say.
“I came to find out what you think you’re doing. ”
“I’m seeking higher ground,” I say. “I don’t think I’m doing anything. ”
I see his smile in the dark. “All right. I’m coming. ”
I pause a second. He doesn’t look at me the way Will, Christina, and Al sometimes do—like I am too small and too weak to be of any use, and they pity me for it. But if he insists on coming with me, it is probably because he doubts me.
“I’ll be fine,” I say.
“Undoubtedly,” he replies. I don’t hear the sarcasm, but I know it’s there. It has to be.
I climb, and when I’m a few feet off the ground, he comes after me. He moves faster than I do, and soon his hands find the rungs that my feet leave.
“So tell me…,” he says quietly as we climb. He sounds breathless. “What do you think the purpose of this exercise is? The game, I mean, not the climbing. ”
I stare down at the pavement. It seems far away now, but I’m not even a third of the way up. Above me is a platform, just below the center of the wheel. That’s my destination. I don’t even think about how I will climb back down. The breeze that brushed my cheeks earlier now presses against my side. The higher we go, the stronger it will get. I need to be ready.
“Learning about strategy,” I say. “Teamwork, maybe. ”
“Teamwork,” he repeats. A laugh hitches in his throat. It sounds like a panicked breath.
“Maybe not,” I say. “Teamwork doesn’t seem to be a Dauntless priority. ”
The wind is stronger now. I press closer to the white support so I don’t fall, but that makes it hard to climb. Below me the carousel looks small. I can barely see my team under the awning. Some of them are missing—a search party must have left.
Four says, “It’s supposed to be a priority. It used to be. ”
But I’m not really listening, because the height is dizzying. My hands ache from holding the rungs, and my legs are shaking, but I’m not sure why. It isn’t the height that scares me—the height makes me feel alive with energy, every organ and vessel and muscle in my body singing at the same pitch.
Then I realize what it is. It’s him. Something about him makes me feel like I am about to fall. Or turn to liquid. Or burst into flames.
My hand almost misses the next rung.
“Now tell me…,” he says through a bursting breath, “what do you think learning strategy has to do with…bravery?”
The question reminds me that he is my instructor, and I am supposed to learn something from this. A cloud passes over the moon, and the light shifts across my hands.
“It…it prepares you to act,” I say finally. “You learn strategy so you can use it. ” I hear him breathing behind me, loud and fast. “Are you all right, Four?”
“Are you human, Tris? Being up this high…” He gulps for air. “It doesn’t scare you at all?”
I look over my shoulder at the ground. If I fall now, I will die. But I don’t think I will fall.
A gust of air presses against my left side, throwing my body weight to the right. I gasp and cling to the rungs, my balance shifting. Four’s cold hand clamps around one of my hips, one of his fingers finding a strip of bare skin just under the hem of my T-shirt. He squeezes, steadying me and pushing me gently to the left, restoring my balance.
Now I can’t breathe. I pause, staring at my hands, my mouth dry. I feel the ghost of where his hand was, his fingers long and narrow.
“You okay?” he asks quietly.
“Yes,” I say, my voice strained.
I keep climbing, silently, until I reach the platform. Judging by the blunted ends of metal rods, it used to have railings, but it doesn’t anymore. I sit down and scoot to the end of it so Four has somewhere to sit. Without thinking, I put my legs over the side. Four, however, crouches and presses his back to the metal support, breathing heavily.
“You’re afraid of heights,” I say. “How do you survive in the Dauntless compound?”
“I ignore my fear,” he says. “When I make decisions, I pretend it doesn’t exist. ”
I stare at him for a second. I can’t help it. To me there’s a difference between not being afraid and acting in spite of fear, as he does.
I have been staring at him too long.
“What?” he says quietly.
I look away from him and toward the city. I have to focus. I climbed up here for a reason.
The city is pitch-black, but even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to see very far. A building stands in my way.
“We’re not high enough,” I say. I look up. Above me is a tangle of white bars, the wheel’s scaffolding. If I climb carefully, I can wedge my feet between the supports and the crossbars and stay secure. Or as secure as possible.
“I’m going to climb,” I say, standing up. I grab one of the bars above my head and pull myself up. Shooting pains go through my bruised sides, but I ignore them.
“For God’s sake, Stiff,” he says.
“You don’t have to follow me,” I say, staring at the maze of bars above me. I shove my foot onto the place where two bars cross and push myself up, grabbing another bar in the process. I sway for a second, my heart beating so hard I can’t feel anything else. Every thought I have condenses into that heartbeat, moving at the same rhythm.
“Yes, I do,” he says.
This is crazy, and I know it. A fraction of an inch of mistake, half a second of hesitation, and my life is over. Heat tears through my chest, and I smile as I grab the next bar. I pull myself up, my arms shaking, and force my leg under me so I’m standing on another bar. When I feel steady, I look down at Four. But instead of seeing him, I see straight to the ground.
I can’t breathe.
I imagine my body plummeting, smacking into the bars as it falls down, and my limbs at broken angles on the pavement, just like Rita’s sister when she didn’t make it onto the roof. Four grabs a bar with each hand and pulls himself up, easy, like he’s sitting up in bed. But he is not comfortable or natural here—every muscle in his arm stands out. It is a stupid thing for me to think when I am one hundred feet off the ground.
I grab another bar, find another place to wedge my foot. When I look at the city again, the building isn’t in my way. I’m high enough to see the skyline. Most of the buildings are black against a navy sky, but the red lights at the top of the Hub are lit up. They blink half as fast as my heartbeat.
Beneath the buildings, the streets look like tunnels. For a few seconds I see only a dark blanket over the land in front of me, just faint differences between building and sky and street and ground. Then I see a tiny pulsing light on the ground.
“See that?” I say, pointing.
Four stops climbing when he’s right behind me and looks over my shoulder, his chin next to my head. His breaths flutter against my ear, and I feel shaky again, like I did when I was climbing the ladder.
“Yeah,” he says. A smile spreads over his face.
“It’s coming from the park at the end of the pier,” he says. “Figures. It’s surrounded by open space, but the trees provide some camouflage. Obviously not enough. ”
“Okay,” I say. I look over my shoulder at him. We are so close I forget where I am; instead I notice that the corners of his mouth turn down naturally, just like mine, and that he has a scar on his chin.
“Um,” I say. I clear my throat. “Start climbing down. I’ll follow you. ”
Four nods and steps down. His leg is so long that he finds a place for his foot easily and guides his body between the bars. Even in darkness, I see that his hands are bright red and shaking.
I step down with one foot, pressing my weight into one of the crossbars. The bar creaks beneath me and comes loose, clattering against half a dozen bars on the way down and bouncing on the pavement. I’m dangling from the scaffolding with my toes swinging in midair. A strangled gasp escapes me.
I try to find another place to put my foot, but the nearest foothold is a few feet away, farther than I can stretch. My hands are sweaty. I remember wiping them on my slacks before the Choosing Ceremony, before the aptitude test, before every important moment, and suppress a scream. I will slip. I will slip.
“Hold on!” he shouts. “Just hold on, I have an idea. ”
He keeps climbing down. He’s moving in the wrong direction; he should be coming toward me, not going away from me. I stare at my hands, which are wrapped around the narrow bar so tightly my knuckles are white. My fingers are dark red, almost purple. They won’t last long.
I won’t last long.
I squeeze my eyes shut. Better not to look. Better to pretend that none of this exists. I hear Four’s sneakers squeak against metal and rapid footsteps on ladder rungs.
“Four!” I yell. Maybe he left. Maybe he abandoned me. Maybe this is a test of my strength, of my bravery. I breathe in my nose and out my mouth. I count my breaths to calm down. One, two. In, out. Come on, Four is all I can think. Come on, do something.
Then I hear something wheeze and creak. The bar I’m holding shudders, and I scream through my clenched teeth as I fight to keep my grip.
The wheel is moving.
Air wraps around my ankles and wrists as the wind gushes up, like a geyser. I open my eyes. I’m moving—toward the ground. I laugh, giddy with hysteria as the ground comes closer and closer. But I’m picking up speed. If I don’t drop at the right time, the moving cars and metal scaffolding will drag at my body and carry me with them, and then I will really die.
Every muscle in my body tenses as I hurtle toward the ground. When I can see the cracks in the sidewalk, I drop, and my body slams into the ground, feet first. My legs collapse beneath me and I pull my arms in, rolling as fast as I can to the side. The cement scrapes my face, and I turn just in time to see a car bearing down on me, like a giant shoe about to crush me. I roll again, and the bottom of the car skims my shoulder.
I press my palms to my face. I don’t try to get up. If I did, I’m sure I would just fall back down. I hear footsteps, and Four’s hands wrap around my wrists. I let him pry my hands from my eyes.
He encloses one of my hands perfectly between two of his. The warmth of his skin overwhelms the ache in my fingers from holding the bars.
“You all right?” he asks, pressing our hands together.
He starts to laugh.
After a second, I laugh too. With my free hand, I push myself to a sitting position. I am aware of how little space there is between us—six inches at most. That space feels charged with electricity. I feel like it should be smaller.
He stands, pulling me up with him. The wheel is still moving, creating a wind that tosses my hair back.
“You could have told me that the Ferris wheel still worked,” I say. I try to sound casual. “We wouldn’t have had to climb in the first place. ”
“I would have, if I had known,” he says. “Couldn’t just let you hang there, so I took a risk. Come on, time to get their flag. ”
Four hesitates for a moment and then takes my arm, his fingertips pressing to the inside of my elbow. In other factions, he would give me time to recover, but he is Dauntless, so he smiles at me and starts toward the carousel, where our team members guard our flag. And I half run, half limp beside him. I still feel weak, but my mind is awake, especially with his hand on me.
Christina is perched on one of the horses, her long legs crossed and her hand around the pole holding the plastic animal upright. Our flag is behind her, a glowing triangle in the dark. Three Dauntless-born initiates stand among the other worn and dirty animals. One of them has his hand on a horse’s head, and a scratched horse eye stares at me between his fingers. Sitting on the edge of the carousel is an older Dauntless, scratching her quadruple-pierced eyebrow with her thumb.
“Where’d the others go?” asks Four.
He looks as excited as I feel, his eyes wide with energy.
“Did you guys turn on the wheel?” the older girl says. “What the hell are you thinking? You might as well have just shouted ‘Here we are! Come and get us!’” She shakes her head. “If I lose again this year, the shame will be unbearable. Three years in a row?”
“The wheel doesn’t matter,” says Four. “We know where they are. ”
“We?” says Christina, looking from Four to me.
“Yes, while the rest of you were twiddling your thumbs, Tris climbed the Ferris wheel to look for the other team,” he says.
“What do we do now, then?” asks one of the Dauntless-born initiates through a yawn.
Four looks at me. Slowly the eyes of the other initiates, including Christina, migrate from him to me. I tense my shoulders, about to shrug and say I don’t know, and then an image of the pier stretching out beneath me comes into my mind. I have an idea.
“Split in half,” I say. “Four of us go to the right side of the pier, three to the left. The other team is in the park at the end of the pier, so the group of four will charge as the group of three sneaks behind the other team to get the flag. ”
Christina looks at me like she no longer recognizes me. I don’t blame her.
“Sounds good,” says the older girl, clapping her hands together. “Let’s get this night over with, shall we?”
Christina joins me in the group going to the right, along with Uriah, whose smile looks white against his skin’s bronze. I didn’t notice before, but he has a tattoo of a snake behind his ear. I stare at its tail curling around his earlobe for a moment, but then Christina starts running and I have to follow her.
I have to run twice as fast to match my short strides to her long ones. As I run, I realize that only one of us will get to touch the flag, and it won’t matter that it was my plan and my information that got us to it if I’m not the one who grabs it. Though I can hardly breathe as it is, I run faster, and I’m on Christina’s heels. I pull my gun around my body, holding my finger over the trigger.
my mouth shut to keep my loud breaths in. We slow down so our footsteps aren’t as loud, and I look for the blinking light again. Now that I’m on the ground, it’s bigger and easier to see. I point, and Christina nods, leading the way toward it.
Then I hear a chorus of yells, so loud they make me jump. I hear puffs of air as paintballs go flying and splats as they find their targets. Our team has charged, the other team runs to meet us, and the flag is almost unguarded. Uriah takes aim and shoots the last guard in the thigh. The guard, a short girl with purple hair, throws her gun to the ground in a tantrum.
I sprint to catch up to Christina. The flag hangs from a tree branch, high above my head. I reach for it, and so does Christina.
“Come on, Tris,” she says. “You’re already the hero of the day. And you know you can’t reach it anyway. ”
She gives me a patronizing look, the way people sometimes look at children when they act too adult, and snatches the flag from the branch. Without looking at me, she turns and gives a whoop of victory. Uriah’s voice joins hers and then I hear a chorus of yells in the distance.
Uriah claps my shoulder, and I try to forget about the look Christina gave me. Maybe she’s right; I’ve already proved myself today. I do not want to be greedy; I do not want to be like Eric, terrified of other people’s strength.
The shouts of triumph become infectious, and I lift my voice to join in, running toward my teammates. Christina holds the flag up high, and everyone clusters around her, grabbing her arm to lift the flag even higher. I can’t reach her, so I stand off to the side, grinning.
A hand touches my shoulder.
“Well done,” Four says quietly.
“I can’t believe I missed it!” Will says again, shaking his head. Wind coming through the doorway of the train car blows his hair in every direction.
“You were performing the very important job of staying out of our way,” says Christina, beaming.
Al groans. “Why did I have to be on the other team?”
“Because life’s not fair, Albert. And the world is conspiring against you,” says Will. “Hey, can I see the flag again?”
Peter, Molly, and Drew sit across from the members in the corner. Their chests and backs are splattered with blue and pink paint, and they look dejected. They speak quietly, sneaking looks at the rest of us, especially Christina. That is the benefit of not holding the flag right now—I am no one’s target. Or at least, no more than usual.
“So you climbed the Ferris wheel, huh,” says Uriah. He stumbles across the car and sits next to me. Marlene, the girl with the flirty smile, follows him.
“Yes,” I say.
“Pretty smart of you. Like…Erudite smart,” Marlene says. “I’m Marlene. ”
“Tris,” I say. At home, being compared to an Erudite would be an insult, but she says it like a compliment.
“Yeah, I know who you are,” she says. “The first jumper tends to stick in your head. ”
It has been years since I jumped off a building in my Abnegation uniform; it has been decades.
Uriah takes one of the paintballs from his gun and squeezes it between his thumb and index finger. The train lurches to the left, and Uriah falls against me, his fingers pinching the paintball until a stream of pink, foul-smelling paint sprays on my face.
Marlene collapses in giggles. I wipe some of the paint from my face, slowly, and then smear it on his cheek. The scent of fish oil wafts through the train car.
“Ew!” He squeezes the ball at me again, but the opening is at the wrong angle, and the paint sprays into his mouth instead. He coughs and makes exaggerated gagging sounds.
I wipe my face with my sleeve, laughing so hard my stomach hurts.
If my entire life is like this, loud laughter and bold action and the kind of exhaustion you feel after a hard but satisfying day, I will be content. As Uriah scrapes his tongue with his fingertips, I realize that all I have to do is get through initiation, and that life will be mine.
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