I look at Nicole. She’s sitting at a table near the tray return and laughing at someone else’s joke again. Maybe Zeke’s right—maybe it’s not that big a deal, and maybe this is another way that I can unlearn my Abnegation past and learn to embrace my Dauntless future. And besides—she’s pretty.
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll go. But if you make some kind of joke about hand holding, I’m going to break your nose.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
When I get back to my apartment that night, it still smells like dust and a hint of mold. I turn on one of the lamps, and a glimmer of light reflects off the countertop. I run my hand over it, and a small piece of glass pricks my finger, making it bleed. I pinch it between my fingertips and carry it to the trash can, which I put a bag in this morning. But resting at the bottom of the bag now is a pile of shards in the shape of a drinking glass.
I haven’t used one of those yet.
A shiver goes down my spine, and I scan the rest of the apartment for signs of disruption. The sheets aren’t rumpled, none of the drawers are open, none of the chairs seem to have moved. But I would know if I had broken a glass that morning.
So who was in my apartment?
I don’t know why, but the first thing my hands find in the morning when I stumble into the bathroom is the set of hair clippers I got with my Dauntless credits yesterday. And then while I’m still blinking the clouds from my eyes, I turn them on and touch them to my head the way I’ve done since I was young. I bend my ear forward to protect it from the blades; I know just how to twist and shift so that I can see as much of the back of my head as possible. The ritual calms my nerves, makes me feel focused and steady. I brush the trimmed hairs from my shoulders and neck and sweep them into the wastebasket.
It’s an Abnegation morning. A quick shower, a plain breakfast, a clean house. Except I’m wearing Dauntless black, boots and pants and shirt and jacket. I avoid looking in the mirror on my way out, and it makes me grit my teeth, knowing how deep these Stiff roots go, and how hard it will be to excise them from my mind, as tangled up in everything as they are. I left that place out of fear and defiance, and that will make it harder to assimilate than anyone knows, harder than if I had actually chosen Dauntless for the right reasons.
I walk quickly toward the Pit, emerging through an arch halfway up the wall. I stay away from the edge of the path, though Dauntless children, shrieking with laughter, sometimes run right along it, and I should be braver than they are. I’m not sure bravery is something you acquire more of with age, like wisdom—but maybe here, in Dauntless, bravery is the highest form of wisdom, the acknowledgment that life can and should be lived without fear.
It’s the first time I’ve found myself being thoughtful about Dauntless life, so I hold on to the thought as I ascend the paths around the Pit. I reach the staircase that hangs from the glass ceiling and keep my eyes up, away from the space opening up beneath me, so I don’t start to panic. But my heart is pounding by the time I reach the top anyway; I can feel it even in my throat. Max said his office was on the tenth floor, so I ride the elevator up with a group of Dauntless going to work. They don’t all seem to know one another, unlike the Abnegation—it’s not as important to them to memorize names and faces and needs and wants, so maybe they just keep to their friends and families, forming rich but separate communities within their faction. Like the one I’m forming myself.
When I reach the tenth floor, I’m not sure where to go, but then I spot a dark head turning a corner in front of me. Eric. I follow him, partly because he probably knows where he’s going, but partly because I want to know what he’s doing even if he’s not going to the same place I am. But when I turn the corner, I see Max standing in a conference room that has glass walls, surrounded by young Dauntless. The oldest one is maybe twenty, and the youngest is probably not much older than I am. Max sees me through the glass and motions for me to come in. Eric sits close to him—Suck-up, I think—but I sit at the other end of the table, between a girl with a ring through her nostrils and a boy whose hair is such a bright shade of green I can’t look straight at him. I feel plain by comparison—I may have gotten Dauntless flames tattooed on my side during initiation, but it’s not like they’re on display.
“I think everyone is here, so let’s get started.” Max closes the door to the conference room and stands before us. He looks strange in such an ordinary environment, like he’s here to break all the glass and cause chaos rather than lead this meeting. “You’re all here because you’ve shown potential, first, but also because you’ve displayed enthusiasm for our faction and its future.” I don’t know how I’ve done that. “Our city is changing, faster now than ever before, and in order to keep up with it, we’ll have to change, too. We’ll have to become stronger, braver, better than we are now. And among you are the people who can get us there, but we’ll have to figure out who they are. We’ll be doing a combination of instruction and skills tests for the next several months, to teach you what you’ll need to know if you make it through this program, but also to see how quickly you learn.” That sounds a little like something the Erudite would value, not the Dauntless—strange.
“The first thing you’ll do is fill out this info sheet,” he says, and I almost laugh. There’s something ridiculous about a tough, hardened Dauntless warrior with a stack of papers he calls “info sheets,” but of course some things have to be ordinary, because it’s more efficient that way. He sends the stack around the table, along with a bundle of pens. “All this will do is tell us more about you and give us a starting point by which to measure your progress. So it’s in your best interest to be honest, and not to make yourself sound better than you are.”
I feel unsettled, staring at the sheet of paper. I fill out my name—which is the first question—and my age—the second. The third asks for my faction of origin, and the fourth asks for my number of fears. The fifth asks what those fears are.
I’m not sure how to describe them. The first two are easy—heights, confinement—but the next one? And what am I supposed to write about my father, that I’m afraid of Marcus Eaton? Eventually I scribble losing control for my third fear and physical threats in confined spaces for my fourth, knowing that that’s far from true.
But the next few questions are strange, confusing. They’re statements, trickily worded, that I’m supposed to agree or disagree with. It’s okay to steal if it’s to help someone else. Well, that’s easy enough—agree. Some people are more deserving of rewards than others. Maybe. It depends on the rewards. Power should be given only to those who earn it. Difficult circumstances form stronger people. You don’t know how strong a person really is until they’re tested. I glance around the table at the others. Some people seem puzzled, but no one looks the way I feel—disturbed, almost afraid to circle an answer beneath each statement.
I don’t know what to do, so I circle “agree” for each one and pass my sheet back with everyone else’s.
Zeke and his date, Maria, are pressed up against a wall in a hallway next to the Pit. I can see their silhouettes from here. It looks like they’re still just as pressed-up-against-each-other as they were five minutes ago when they first went back there, giggling like idiots the whole time. I cross my arms and look back at Nicole.
“So,” I say.
“So,” she says, tipping forward onto the balls of her feet and back onto her heels again. “This is a little awkward, right?”
“Yeah,” I say, relieved. “It is.”
“How long have you been friends with Zeke?” she says. “I haven’t seen you around much.”
“A few weeks,” I say. “We met during initiation.”
“Oh,” she says. “Were you a transfer?”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Um …” I don’t want to admit that I transferred from Abnegation, partly because whenever I admit that, people start thinking I’m uptight, and partly because I don’t like to toss out hints about my parentage when I can avoid it. I decide to lie. “No, just … kept to myself before then, I guess.”
“Oh.” She narrows her eyes a little. “You must have been really good at it.”
“One of my specialties,” I say. “How long have you been friends with Maria?”
“Since we were kids. She could trip and fall and land on a date with someone,” Nicole says. “Others of us aren’t as talented.”
“Yeah.” I shake my head. “Zeke had to push me into this a little.”
“Really.” Nicole raises an eyebrow. “Did he at least show you what you were in for?”
She points at herself.
“Um, yeah,” I say. “I wasn’t sure if you were my type, but I thought maybe—”
“Not your type.” She sounds cold, suddenly. I try to backtrack.
“I mean, I don’t think that’s that important,” I say. “Personality is much more important than—”
“Than my unsatisfactory looks?” She raises both eyebrows.
“That’s not what I said,” I say. “I’m … really terrible at this.”
“Yeah,” she says. “You are.”
She grabs the small black bag that was resting against her feet and tucks it under her arm. “Tell Maria I had to go home early.”
She stalks away from the railing and disappears into one of the paths next to the Pit. I sigh and look at Zeke and Maria again. I can tell by the faint movements I’m able to detect that they haven’t slowed down at all. I tap my fingers against the railing. Now that our double date has become an awkward, triangle-shaped date, it must be all right for me to leave.
I spot Shauna coming out of the cafeteria and wave to her.
“Isn’t tonight your big date night with Ezekiel?” she says.
“Ezekiel,” I say, cringing. “I forgot that was his whole name. Yeah, my date just stormed off.”
“Good one,” she says, laughing. “What’d you last, ten minutes?”
“Five,” I say, and I find myself laughing, too. “Apparently I’m insensitive.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“No,” she says with mock surprise. “You? But you’re so sentimental and sweet!”
“Funny,” I say. “Where’s Lynn?”
“She started arguing with Hector. Our little brother,” she says. “And I’ve been listening to them do that for, oh, my whole life. So I left. I thought I’d go to the training room, get some exercise in. Want to go?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Let’s go.”
We head toward the training room, but then I realize that we have to walk down the same hallway that Zeke and Maria currently occupy to get there. I try to stop Shauna with a hand, but I’m too late—she sees their two bodies pressed together, her eyes wide. She pauses for a moment, and I hear smacking noises I wish I hadn’t heard. Then she moves down the hallway again, walking so fast I have to jog to catch up to her.
“Training room,” she says.
When we get there, she starts immediately on the punching bag, and I’ve never seen her hit so hard before.
“Though it might seem strange, it’s important for high-level Dauntless to understand how a few programs work,” Max says. “The surveillance program in the control room is an obvious one—a Dauntless leader will sometimes have to monitor the things happening in the faction. Then there’s the simulation programs, which you have to understand in order to evaluate Dauntless initiates. Also the currency tracking program, which keeps commerce in our faction running smoothly, among others. Some of these programs are pretty sophisticated, which means you’ll have to be able to learn computer skills easily, if you don’t already have them. That’s what we’ll be doing today.”
He gestures to the woman standing at his left shoulder. I recognize her from the game of Dare. She’s young, with purple streaks in her short hair and more piercings than I can easily count.
“Lauren here will be teaching you some of the basics, and then we’ll test you,” Max says. “Lauren is one of our initiation instructors, but in her downtime she works as a computer technician in Dauntless headquarters. It’s a little Erudite of her, but we’ll let it slide for the sake of convenience.”
Max winks at her, and she grins.
“Go ahead,” he says. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
Max leaves, and Lauren claps her hands together.
“Right,” she says. “Today we’re going to talk about how programming works. Those of you who already have some experience with this, please feel free to tune out. The rest of you better keep focused because I’m not going to repeat myself. Learning this stuff is like learning a language—it’s not enough to memorize the words; you also have to understand the rules and why they work the way they do.”
When I was younger, I volunteered in the computer labs in the Upper Levels building to meet my faction-mandated volunteer hours—and to get out of the house—and I learned how to take a computer apart and put it back together. But I never learned about this. The next hour passes in a blur of technical terms I can barely keep up with. I try to jot some notes on a piece of scrap paper I found on the floor, but she’s moving so fast it’s hard for my hand to keep up with my ears, so I abandon the effort after a few minutes and just try to pay attention. She shows examples of what she’s talking about on a screen at the front of the room, and it’s hard not to be distracted by the view from the windows behind her—from this angle, the Pire displays the city’s skyline, the prongs of the Hub piercing the sky, the marsh peeking from between the glimmering buildings.
I’m not the only one who seems overwhelmed—the other candidates lean over to one another to whisper frantically, asking for definitions they missed. Eric, however, sits comfortably in his chair, drawing on the back of his hand. Smirking. I recognize that smirk. Of course he already knows all this stuff. He must have learned it in Erudite, probably when he was a child, or else he wouldn’t look quite so smug.
Before I can really register the passage of time, Lauren is pressing a button for the display screen to withdraw into the ceiling.
“On the desktop of your computer, you’ll find a file marked ‘Programming Test,’” she says. “Open it. It will take you to a timed exam. You’ll go through a series of small programs and mark the errors you find that are causing them to malfunction. They might be really big things, like the order of the code, or really small things, like a misplaced word or marking. You don’t have to fix them right now, but you do have to be able to spot them. There will be one error per program. Go.”
Everyone starts frantically tapping at their screens. Eric leans over to me and says, “Did your Stiff house even have a computer, Four?”
“No,” I say.
“Well, you see, this is how you open a file,” he says with an exaggerated tap on the file on his screen. “See, it looks like paper, but it’s really just a picture on a screen—you know what a screen is, right?”
“Shut up,” I say as I open the test.
I stare at the first program. It’s like learning a language, I say to myself. Everything has to start in the right order and finish in the reverse order. Just make sure that everything is in the right place.
I don’t start at the beginning of the code and make my way down—instead, I look for the innermost kernel of code inside all the wrappers. There, I notice that the line of code finishes in the wrong place. I mark the spot and press the arrow button that will allow me to continue the exam if I’m right. The screen changes, presenting me with a new program.
I raise my eyebrows. I must have absorbed more than I thought.
I start the next one in the same way, moving from the center of the code to the outside, checking the top of the program with the bottom, paying attention to quotation marks and periods and backslashes. Looking for code errors is strangely soothing, just a way of making sure that the world is still in the same order it’s supposed to be, and as long as it is, everything will run smoothly.
I forget about all the people around me, even about the skyline beyond us, about what finishing this exam will mean. I just focus on what’s in front of me, on the tangle of words on my screen. I notice that Eric finishes first, long before anyone else looks ready to complete their exam, but I try not to let it worry me. Even when he decides to stay next to me and look over my shoulder as I work.
Finally I touch the arrow button and a new image pops up. EXAM COMPLETE, it says.
“Good job,” Lauren says, when she comes by to check my screen. “You’re the third one to finish.”
I turn toward Eric.
“Wait,” I say. “Weren’t you about to explain what a screen was? Obviously I have no computer skills at all, so I really need your help.”
He glowers at me, and I grin.
My apartment door is open when I return. Just an inch, but I know I closed it before I left. I nudge it open with the toe of my shoe and enter with a pounding heart, expecting to find an intruder rifling through my things, though I’m not sure who—one of Jeanine’s lackeys, searching for evidence that I’m different in the same way Amar was, maybe, or Eric, looking for a way to ambush me. But the apartment is empty and unchanged.
Unchanged—except for the piece of paper on the table. I approach it slowly, like it might burst into flames, or dissolve into the air. There’s a message written on it in small, slanted handwriting.
On the day you hated most
At the time when she died
In the place where you first jumped on.
At first the words are nonsense to me, and I think they’re a joke, something left here to rattle me, and it worked, because I feel unsteady on my feet. I sit in one of the rickety chairs, hard, without moving my eyes from the paper. I read it over and over again, and the message starts to take shape in my mind.
In the place where you first jumped on. That must mean the train platform I ascended after I had just joined Dauntless.
At the time when she died. There’s only one “she” this could be: my mother. My mother died in the dead of night, so that by the time I awoke, her body was already gone, whisked away by my father and his Abnegation friends. Her time of death was estimated to be around two in the morning, he said.
On the day you hated most. That’s the hardest one—is it referring to a day of the year, a birthday or a holiday? None of those are coming up, and I don’t see why someone would leave a note that far in advance. It must be referring to a day of the week, but what day of the week did I hate most? That’s easy—council meeting days, because my father was out late and would return home in a foul mood. Wednesday.
Wednesday, two a.m., at the train platform near the Hub. That’s tonight. And there’s only one person in the world who would know all that information: Marcus.
I’m clutching the folded piece of paper in my fist, but I can’t feel it. My hands have been tingling and mostly numb since I first thought his name.
I left my apartment door wide open, and my shoes are untied. I move along the walls of the Pit without noticing how high up I am and run up the stairs to the Pire without even feeling tempted to look down. Zeke mentioned the control room’s location in passing a few days ago. I can only hope he’s still there now, because I’ll need his help if I want to access the footage of the hallway outside my apartment. I know where the camera is, hidden in the corner where they think no one will notice it. Well, I noticed it.
My mother used to notice things like that, too. When we walked through the Abnegation sector, just the two of us, she would point out the cameras, hidden in bubbles of dark glass or fixed to the edges of buildings. She never said anything about them, or seemed worried about them, but she always knew where they were, and when she passed them, she made a point to look directly at them, as if to say, I see you, too. So I grew up searching, scanning, watching for details in my surroundings.
I ride the elevator to the fourth floor, then follow signs for the control room. It’s down a short corridor and around the bend, the door wide open. A wall of screens greets me—a few people sit behind it, at desks, and then there are other desks along the walls where more people sit, each one with a screen of their own. The footage rotates every five seconds, showing different parts of the city—the Amity fields, the streets around the Hub, the Dauntless compound, even the Merciless Mart, with its grand lobby. I glimpse the Abnegation sector on one of the screens, then pull myself out of the daze, looking for Zeke. He’s sitting at a desk on the right wall, typing something into a dialog box on the left half of his screen while footage of the Pit plays on the right half. Everyone in the room is wearing headphones—listening, I assume, to whatever they’re supposed to be watching.
“Zeke,” I say quietly. Some of the others look at me, as if scolding me for intruding, but no one says anything.
“Hey!” he says. “I’m glad you came, I’m bored out of my—what’s wrong?”
He looks from my face to my fist, still clenched around the piece of paper. I don’t know how to explain, so I don’t try.
“I need to see footage from the hallway outside my apartment,” I say. “From the last four or so hours. Can you help?”
“Why?” Zeke says. “What happened?”
“Someone was in my place,” I say. “I want to know who it was.”
He looks around, checking to make sure no one is watching. Or listening. “Listen, I can’t do that—even we aren’t allowed to pull up specific things unless we see something weird, it’s all on a rotation—”
“You owe me a favor, remember?” I say. “I would never ask unless it was important.”
“Yeah, I know.” Zeke looks around again, then closes the dialog box he had open and opens another one. I watch the code he types in to call up the right footage, and I’m surprised to find that I understand some of it, after the day’s lesson. An image appears on the screen, of one of the Dauntless corridors near the cafeteria. He taps it, and another image replaces it, this one of the inside of the cafeteria; the next one is of the tattoo parlor, then the hospital.
He keeps scrolling through the Dauntless compound, and I watch the images as they go past, showing momentary glimpses of ordinary Dauntless life, people playing with their piercings as they wait in line for new clothing, people practicing punches in the training room. I see a flash of Max in what appears to be his office, sitting in one of the chairs, a woman sitting across from him. A woman with blond hair tied back in a tight knot. I put my hand on Zeke’s shoulder.
“Wait.” The piece of paper in my fist seems a little less urgent. “Go back.”
He does, and I confirm what I suspected: Jeanine Matthews is in Max’s office, a folder in her lap. Her clothes are perfectly pressed, her posture straight. I
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