I FIRST STARTED writing Divergent from the perspective of Tobias Eaton, a boy from Abnegation with peculiar tension with his father who longed for freedom from his faction. I reached a standstill at thirty pages because the narrator wasn’t quite right for the story I wanted to tell; four years later, when I picked up the story again, I found the right character to drive it, this time a girl from Abnegation who wanted to find out what she was made of. But Tobias never disappeared—he entered the story as Four, Tris’s instructor, friend, boyfriend, and equal. He has always been a character I was interested in exploring further because of the way he came alive for me every time he was on the page. He is powerful for me largely because of the way he continues to overcome adversity, even managing, on several occasions, to flourish in it.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
The first three stories, “The Transfer,” “The Initiate,” and “The Son,” take place before he ever meets Tris, following his path from Abnegation to Dauntless as he earns his own strength. In the last, “The Traitor,” which overlaps chronologically with the middle of Divergent, he meets Tris. I wanted very much to include the moment when they meet, but unfortunately, it didn’t fit into the story’s timeline—you can find it instead at the back of this book.
The series follows Tris from the moment she seized control of her own life and identity; and with these stories, we can follow Four as he does the same. And the rest, as they say, is history.
I EMERGE FROM the simulation with a yell. My lip stings, and when I take my hand away from it, there is blood on my fingertips. I must have bitten it during the test.
The Dauntless woman administering my aptitude test—Tori, she said her name was—gives me a strange look as she pulls her black hair back and ties it in a knot. Her arms are marked up and down with ink, flames and rays of light and hawk wings.
“When you were in the simulation … were you aware that it wasn’t real?” Tori says to me as she turns off the machine. She sounds and looks casual, but it’s a studied casualness, learned from years of practice. I know it when I see it. I always do.
Suddenly I’m aware of my own heartbeat. This is what my father said would happen. He told me that they would ask me if I was aware during the simulation, and he told me what to say when they did.
“No,” I say. “If I was, do you think I would have chewed through my lip?”
Tori studies me for a few seconds, then bites down on the ring in her lip before she says, “Congratulations. Your result was textbook Abnegation.”
I nod, but the word “Abnegation” feels like a noose wrapped around my throat.
“Aren’t you pleased?” she says.
“My faction members will be.”
“I didn’t ask about them, I asked about you.” Tori’s mouth and eyes turn down at the corners like they bear little weights. Like she’s sad about something. “This is a safe room. You can say whatever you want here.”
I knew what my choices in the aptitude test would add up to before I arrived at school this morning. I chose food over a weapon. I threw myself in the path of the dog to save the little girl. I knew that after I made those choices, the test would end and I would receive Abnegation as a result. And I don’t know that I would have made different choices if my father hadn’t coached me, hadn’t controlled every part of my aptitude test from afar. So what was I expecting? What faction did I want?
Any of them. Any of them but Abnegation.
“I’m pleased,” I say firmly. I don’t care what she says—this isn’t a safe room. There are no safe rooms, no safe truths, no safe secrets to tell.
I can still feel the dog’s teeth closing around my arm, tearing my skin. I nod to Tori and start toward the door, but just before I leave, her hand closes around my elbow.
“You’re the one who has to live with your choice,” she says. “Everyone else will get over it, move on, no matter what you decide. But you never will.”
I open the door and walk out.
I return to the cafeteria and sit down at the Abnegation table, among the people who barely know me. My father doesn’t permit me to come to most community events. He claims that I’ll cause a disruption, that I’ll do something to hurt his reputation. I don’t care. I’m happier in my room, in the silent house, than surrounded by the deferential, apologetic Abnegation.
The consequence of my constant absence, though, is that the other Abnegation are wary of me, convinced there’s something wrong with me, that I’m ill or immoral or strange. Even those willing to nod at me in greeting don’t quite meet my eyes.
I sit with my hands clenching my knees, watching the other tables, while the other students finish their aptitude tests. The Erudite table is covered in reading material, but they aren’t all studying—they’re just making a show of it, trading conversation instead of ideas, their eyes snapping back to the words every time they think someone’s watching them. The Candor are talking loudly, as always. The Amity are laughing, smiling, pulling food from their pockets and passing it around. The Dauntless are raucous and loud, slung over the tables and chairs, leaning on one another and poking one another and teasing.
I wanted any other faction. Any other faction but mine, where everyone has already decided that I am not worth their attention.
Finally an Erudite woman enters the cafeteria and holds up a hand for silence. The Abnegationand Erudite quiet down right away, but it takes her shouting “Quiet!” for the Dauntless, Amity, and Candor to notice her.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“The aptitude tests are now finished,” she says. “Remember that you are not permitted to discuss your results with anyone, not even your friends or family. The Choosing Ceremony will be tomorrow at the Hub. Plan to arrive at least ten minutes before it begins. You are dismissed.”
Everyone rushes toward the doors except our table, where we wait for everyone else to leave before we even get to our feet. I know the path my fellow Abnegation will take out of here, down the hallway and out the front doors to the bus stop. They could be there for over an hour letting other people get on in front of them. I don’t think I can bear any more of this silence.
Instead of following them, I slip out a side door and into an alley next to the school. I’ve taken this route before, but usually I creep along slowly, not wanting to be seen or heard. Today all I want to do is run.
I sprint to the end of the alley and into the empty street, leaping over a sinkhole in the pavement. My loose Abnegation jacket snaps in the wind, and I peel it from my shoulders, letting it trail behind me like a flag and then letting it go. I push the sleeves of my shirt up to my elbows as I run, slowing to a jog when my body can no longer stand the sprint. It feels like the entire city is rushing past me in a blur, the buildings blending together. I hear the slap of my shoes like the sound is separate from me.
Finally I have to stop, my muscles burning. I’m in the factionless wasteland that lies between the Abnegation sector and Erudite headquarters, Candor headquarters, and our common places. At every faction meeting, our leaders, usually speaking through my father, urge us not to be afraid of the factionless, to treat them like human beings instead of broken, lost creatures. But it never occurred to me to be afraid of them.
I move to the sidewalk so I can look through the windows of the buildings. Most of the time all I see is old furniture, every room bare, bits of trash on the floor. When most of the city’s residents left—as they must have, since our current population doesn’t fill every building—they must not have left in a hurry, because the spaces they occupied are so clean. Nothing of interest remains.
When I pass one of the buildings on the corner, though, I see something inside. The room just beyond the window is as bare as any of the others I’ve walked by, but past the doorway inside I can see a single ember, a lit coal.
I frown and pause in front of the window to see if it will open. At first it won’t budge, and then I wiggle it back and forth, and it springs upward. I push my torso through first, and then my legs, toppling to the ground inside in a heap of limbs. My elbows sting as they scrape the floor.
The building smells like cooked food and smoke and sweat. I inch toward the ember, listening for voices that will warn me of a factionless presence here, but there’s only silence.
In the next room, the windows are blacked out by paint and dirt, but a little daylight makes it through them, so I can see that there are curled pallets scattered on the floor all over the room, and old cans with bits of dried food stuck inside them. In the center of the room is a small charcoal grill. Most of the coals are white, their fuel spent, but one is still lit, suggesting that whoever was here was here recently. And judging by the smell and the abundance of old cans and blankets, there were quite a few of them.
I was always taught that the factionless lived without community, isolated from one another. Now, looking at this place, I wonder why I ever believed it. What would be stopping them from forming groups, just like we have? It’s in our nature.
“What are you doing here?” a voice demands, and it travels through me like an electric shock. I wheel around and see a smudged, sallow-faced man in the next room, wiping his hands on a ragged towel.
“I was just …” I look at the grill. “I saw fire. That’s all.”
“Oh.” The man tucks the corner of the towel into his back pocket. He wears black Candor pants, patched with blue Erudite fabric, and a gray Abnegation shirt, the same as the one I’m wearing. He’s lean as a rail, but he looks strong. Strong enough to hurt me, but I don’t think he will.
“Thanks, I guess,” he says. “Nothing’s on fire here, though.”
“I can see that,” I say. “What is this place?”
“It’s my house,” he says with a cold smile. He’s missing one of his teeth. “I didn’t know I would be having guests, so I didn’t bother to tidy up.”
I look from him to the scattered cans. “You must toss and turn a lot, to require so many blankets.”
“Never met a Stiff who pried so much into other people’s business,” he says. He moves closer to me and frowns. “You look a little familiar.”
I know I can’t have met him before, not where I live, surrounded by identical houses in the most monotonous neighborhood in the city, surrounded by people in identical gray clothing with identical short hair. Then it occurs to me: hidden as my father tries to keep me, he’s still the leader of the council, one of the most prominent people in our city, and I still resemble him.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” I say in my best Abnegation voice. “I’ll be going now.”
“I do know you,” the man says. “You’re Evelyn Eaton’s son, aren’t you?”
I stiffen at her name. It’s been years since I heard it, because my father won’t speak it, won’t even acknowledge it if he hears it. To be connected to her again, even just in facial resemblance, feels strange, like putting on an old piece of clothing that doesn’t quite fit anymore.
“How did you know her?” He must have known her well, to see her in my face, which is paler than hers, the eyes blue instead of dark brown. Most people didn’t look closely enough to see all the things we had in common: our long fingers, our hooked noses, our straight, frowned eyebrows.
He hesitates a little. “She volunteered with the Abnegation sometimes. Handing out food and blankets and clothes. Had a memorable face. Plus, she was married to a council leader. Didn’t everyone know her?”
Sometimes I know people are lying just because of the way the words feel when they press into me, uncomfortable and wrong, the way an Erudite feels when she reads a grammatically incorrect sentence. However he knew my mother, it’s not because she handed him a can of soup once. But I’m so thirsty to hear more about her that I don’t press the issue.
“She died, did you know?” I say. “Years ago.”
“No, I didn’t know.” His mouth slants a little at one corner. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
I feel strange, standing in this dank place that smells like live bodies and smoke, among these empty cans that suggest poverty and the failure to fit in. But there is something appealing about it here too, a freedom, a refusal to belong to these arbitrary categories we’ve made for ourselves.
“Your Choosing must be coming up tomorrow, for you to look so worried,” the man says. “What faction did you get?”
“I’m not supposed to tell anyone,” I say automatically.
“I’m not anyone,” he says. “I’m nobody. That’s what being factionless is.”
I still don’t say anything. The prohibition against sharing my aptitude test result, or any of my other secrets, is set firmly in the mold that makes me and remakes me daily. It’s impossible to change now.
“Ah, a rule follower,” he says, like he’s disappointed. “Your mother said to me once that she felt like inertia had carried her to Abnegation. It was the path of least resistance.” He shrugs. “Trust me when I tell you, Eaton boy, that resisting is worth doing.”
I feel a rush of anger. He shouldn’t be telling me about my mother like she belongs to him and not to me, shouldn’t be making me question everything I remember about her just because she may or may not have served him food once. He shouldn’t be telling me anything at all—he’s nobody, factionless, separate, nothing.
“Yeah?” I say. “Look where resisting got you. Living out of cans in broken-down buildings. Doesn’t sound so great to me.” I start toward the doorway the man emerged from. I know I’ll find an alley door somewhere back there; I don’t care where as long as I can get out of here quickly.
I pick a path across the floor, careful not to step on any of the blankets. When I reach the hallway, the man says, “I’d rather eat out of a can than be strangled by a faction.”
I don’t look back.
When I get home, I sit on the front step and take deep breaths of the cool spring air for a few minutes.
My mother was the one who taught me to steal moments like these, moments of freedom, though she didn’t know it. I watched her take them, slipping out the door after dark when my father was asleep, creeping back home when sunlight was just appearing behind the buildings. She took them even when she was with us, standing over the sink with her eyes closed, so distant from the present that she didn’t even hear me when I spoke to her.
But I learned something else from watching her too, which is that the free moments always have to end.
I get up, brushing flecks of cement from my gray slacks, and push the door open. My father sits in the easy chair in the living room, surrounded by paperwork. I pull up straight, tall, so that he can’t scold me for slouching. I move toward the stairs. Maybe he will let me go to my room unnoticed.
“Tell me about your aptitude test,” he says, and he points at the sofa for me to sit.
I cross the room, stepping carefully over a stack of papers on the carpet, and sit where he points, right on the edge of the cushion so I can stand up quickly.
“Well?” He removes his glasses and looks at me expectantly. I hear tension in his voice, the kind that only develops after a difficult day at work. I should be careful. “What was your result?”
I don’t even think about refusing to tell him. “Abnegation.”
“And nothing else?”
I frown. “No, of course not.”
“Don’t give me that look,” he says, and my frown disappears. “Nothing strange happened with your test?”
During my test, I knew where I was—I knew that while I felt like I was standing in the cafeteria of my secondary school, I was actually lying prostrate on a chair in the aptitude test room, my body connected to a machine by a series of wires. That was strange. But I don’t want to talk to him about it now, not when I can see the stress brewing inside him like a storm.
“No,” I say.
“Don’t lie to me,” he says, and he seizes my arm, his fingers tight like a vise. I don’t look at him.
“I’m not,” I say. “I got Abnegation, just as expected. The woman barely looked at me on my way out of the room. I promise.”
He releases me. My skin pulses from where he gripped it.
“Good,” he says. “I’m sure you have some thinking to do. You should go to your room.”
I get up and cross the room again, relieved.
“Oh,” he says. “Some of my fellow council members are coming over tonight, so you should eat dinner early.”
Before the sun goes down, I snatch food from the cupboards and the refrigerator: two dinner rolls and raw carrots with the greens still attached, a hunk of cheese and an apple, leftover chicken without any seasoning on it. The food all tastes the same, like dust and paste. I keep my eyes fixed on the door so I don’t collide with my father’s coworkers. He wouldn’t like it if I was still down here when they came.
I am finishing off a glass of water when the first council member appears on the doorstep, and I hurry through the living room before my father reaches the door. He waits with his hand on the knob, his eyebrows raised at me as I slip around the banister. He points up the stairs and I climb them, fast, as he opens the door.
“Hello, Marcus.” I recognize the voice as Andrew Prior’s. He’s one of my father’s closest friends at work, which means nothing, because no one really knows my father. Not even me.
From the top of the stairs I look down at Andrew. He’s wiping his shoes on the mat. I see him and his family sometimes, a perfect Abnegation unit, Natalie and Andrew, and the son and daughter—not twins, but both two years younger than I am in school—all walking sedately down the sidewalk and bobbing their heads at passersby. Natalie organizes all the factionless volunteer efforts among the Abnegation—my mother must have known her, though she rarely attended Abnegation social events, preferring to keep her secrets like I keep mine, hidden away in this house.
Andrew meets my eyes, and I rush down the hallway to my bedroom, closing the door behind me.
To all appearances, my room is as sparse and clean as every other Abnegation room. My gray sheets and blankets are tucked tightly around the thin mattress, and my schoolbooks are stacked in a perfect tower on my plywood desk. A small dresser that contains several identical sets of clothing stands next to the small window, which lets in only the barest sliver of sunlight in the evenings. Through it I can see the house next door, which is just the same as the one I’m in, except five feet to the east.
I know how inertia carried my mother to Abnegation, if indeed that man was speaking the truth about what she’d told him. I can see it happening to me, too, tomorrow when I stand among the bowls of faction elements with a knife in my hand. There are four factions I don’t know or trust, with practices I don’t understand, and only one that is familiar, predictable, comprehensible. If choosing Abnegation won’t lead me to a life of ecstatic happiness, at least it will lead me to a comfortable place.
I sit on the edge of the bed. No, it won’t, I think, and then I swallow the thought down, because I know where it comes from: the childish part of me that is afraid of the man holding court in the living room. The man whose knuckles I know better than his embrace.
I make sure the door is closed and wedge the desk chair under the knob just in case. Then I crouch next to the bed and reach under it to the trunk I keep there.
My mother gave it to me when I was young, and told my father it was for spare blankets, that she had found it in an alley somewhere. But when she put it in my room, she didn’t fill it with spare blankets. She closed my door and touched her fingers to her lips and set it on my bed to open it.
Inside the unlocked trunk was a blue sculpture. It looked like falling water, but it was really glass, perfectly clear, polished, flawless.
“What does it do?” I asked her at the time.
“It doesn’t do anything obvious,” she said, and she smiled, but the smile was tight, like she was afraid of something. “But it might be able to do something in here.” She tapped her chest, right over the sternum. “Beautiful things sometimes do.”
Since then I have filled the trunk with objects that others would call useless: old spectacles without glass in them, fragments of discarded motherboards, spark plugs, stripped wires, the broken neck of a green bottle, a rusted knife blade. I don’t know if my mother would have called them beautiful, or even if I would, but each of them struck me the same way that sculpture did, as secret things, and valuable ones, if only because they were so overlooked.
Instead of thinking about my aptitude test result, I pick up each object and turn it in my hands so I’ve memorized every part of every one.
I wake with a start to Marcus’s footsteps in the hallway just outside the bedroom. I’m lying on the bed with the objects strewn on the mattress around me. His footsteps are slowing down as he comes closer to the door, and I pick up the spark plugs and motherboard pieces and wires and throw them back into the trunk and lock it, stowing the key in my pocket. I realize at the last second, as the doorknob starts to move, that the sculpture is still out, so I shove it under the pillow and slide the trunk under the bed.
Then I dive toward the chair and pull it from under the knob so my father can enter.
When he does, he eyes the chair in my hands with suspicion.
“What was that doing over here?” he says. “Are you trying to keep me out?”
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