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He walks away, and I mumble, “So I’m told.”

I look over the control room. It’s almost empty—on Visiting Day, only a few people are required to work, and it’s usually the oldest ones. Gus is hunched over his screen. Two others flank him, scanning through footage with their headphones half on, half off. And then there’s me.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

I type in a command, calling up the footage I saved last week. It shows Max in his office, sitting at his computer. He pokes at the keys with an index finger, hunting for the right ones for several seconds between jabs. Not many of the Dauntless know how to type properly, especially Max, who I’m told spent most of his Dauntless time patrolling the factionless sector with a gun at his side—he must not have anticipated that he would ever need to use a computer. I lean close to the screen to make sure that the numbers I took down earlier are accurate. If they are, I have Max’s account password written on a piece of paper in my pocket.

Ever since I realized that Max was working closely with Jeanine Matthews, and began to suspect that they had something to do with Amar’s death, I’ve been looking for a way to investigate further. When I saw him type in his password the other day, I found one.

084628. Yes, the numbers look right. I call up the live security footage again, and cycle through the camera feeds until I find the ones that show Max’s office and the hallway beyond it. Then I type the command to take the footage of Max’s office out of the rotation, so Gus and the others won’t see it; it will only play on my screen. The footage from the whole city is always divided by however many people are in the control room, so we aren’t all looking at the same feeds. We’re only supposed to pull footage from the general rotation like that for a few seconds at a time, if we need a closer look at something, but hopefully this won’t take me long. I slip out of the room and walk toward the elevators.

This level of the Pire is almost empty—everyone is gone. That will make it easier for me to do what I have to do. I ride the elevator up to the tenth floor, and walk purposefully toward Max’s office. I’ve found that when you’re sneaking around, it’s best not to look like you’re sneaking around. I tap the flash drive in my pocket as I walk, and turn the corner toward Max’s office.

I nudge the door open with my shoe—earlier today, after I was sure he had gone to the Pit to start Visiting Day preparations, I’d crept up here and taped the lock. I close the door quietly behind me, not turning on the lights, and crouch next to his desk. I don’t want to move the chair to sit in it; I don’t want him to see that anything about this room has changed when he gets back.

The screen prompts me for a password. My mouth feels dry. I take the paper from my pocket and press it flat to the desk top while I type it in. 084628.

The screen shifts. I can’t believe it worked.

Hurry. If Gus discovers that I’m gone, that I’m in here, I don’t know what I’ll say, what excuse I could possibly give that would sound reasonable. I insert the flash drive and transfer the program I put there earlier. I asked Lauren, one of the Dauntless technical staff and my fellow initiation instructor, for a program that would make one computer mirror another, under the pretense that I wanted to prank Zeke when we’re at work. She was happy to help—another thing I’ve discovered is that the Dauntless are always up for a prank, and rarely looking for a lie.

With a few simple keystrokes, the program is installed and buried somewhere in Max’s computer that I’m sure he would never bother to access. I put the flash drive back in my pocket, along with the piece of paper with his password on it, and leave the office without getting my fingerprints on the glass part of the door.

That was easy, I think, as I walk toward the elevators again. According to my watch, it only took me five minutes. I can claim that I was on a bathroom break if anyone asks.

But when I get back to the control room, Gus is standing at my computer, staring at my screen.

I freeze. How long has he been there? Did he see me break into Max’s office?

“Four,” Gus says, sounding grave. “Why did you isolate this footage? You’re not supposed to take feeds out of rotation, you know that.”

“I …” Lie! Lie now! “I thought I saw something,” I finish lamely. “We’re allowed to isolate footage if we see something out of the ordinary.”

Gus moves toward me.

“So,” he says, “then why did I just see you on this screen coming out of that same hallway?”

He points to the hallway on my screen. My throat tightens.

“I thought I saw something, and I went upstairs to investigate it,” I say. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to move around.”

He stares at me, chewing the inside of his cheek. I don’t move. I don’t look away.

“If you ever see something out of the ordinary again, you follow the protocol. You report it to your supervisor, who is … who, again?”

“You,” I say, sighing a little. I don’t like to be patronized.

“Correct. I see you can keep up,” he says. “Honestly, Four, after over a year of working here there shouldn’t be so many irregularities in your job performance. We have very clear rules, and all you have to do is follow them. This is your last warning. Okay?”

“Okay,” I say. I’ve been chastised a few times for pulling feeds out of rotation to watch meetings with Jeanine Matthews and Max, or with Max and Eric. It never gave me any useful information, and I almost always got caught.

“Good.” His voice lightens up a little. “Good luck with the initiates. You got transfers again this year?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Lauren gets the Dauntless-borns.”

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“Ah, too bad. I was hoping you would get to know my little sister,” Gus says. “If I were you, I’d go do something to wind down. We’re fine in here. Just let that footage loose before you go.”

He walks back to his computer, and I unclench my jaw. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it. My face throbbing, I shut down my computer and leave the control room. I can’t believe I got away with it.

Now, with this program installed on Max’s computer, I can go through every single one of his files from the relative privacy of the control room. I can find out exactly what he and Jeanine Matthews are up to.

+++

That night I dream that I’m walking through the hallways of the Pire, and I’m alone, but the corridors don’t end, and the view from the windows doesn’t change, lofted train tracks curving into tall buildings, the sun buried in clouds. I feel like I’m walking for hours, and when I wake with a start, it’s like I never slept at all.

Then I hear a knock, and a voice shouting, “Open up!”

This feels more like a nightmare than the tedium I just escaped—I’m sure it’s Dauntless soldiers coming to my door because they found out I’m Divergent, or that I’m spying on Max, or that I’ve been in touch with my factionless mother in the past year. All things that say “faction traitor.”

Dauntless soldiers coming to kill me—but as I walk to the door, I realize that if they were going to do that, they wouldn’t make so much noise in the hallway. And besides, that’s Zeke’s voice.

“Zeke,” I say when I open the door. “What’s your problem? It’s the middle of the night.”

There’s a line of sweat on his forehead, and he’s out of breath. He must have run here.

“I was working the night shift in the control room,” Zeke says. “Something happened in the transfer dorm.”

For some reason, my first thought is her, her wide eyes staring at me from the recesses of my memory.

“What?” I say. “To who?”

“Walk and talk,” Zeke says.

I put on my shoes and pull on my jacket and follow him down the hall.

“The Erudite guy. Blond,” Zeke says.

I have to suppress a sigh of relief. It’s not her. Nothing happened to her. “Will?”

“No, the other one.”

“Edward.”

“Yeah, Edward. He was attacked. Stabbed.”

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“Dead?”

“Alive. Got hit in the eye.”

I stop. “In the eye?”

Zeke nods.

“Who did you tell?”

“Night supervisor. He went to tell Eric, Eric said he would handle it.”

“Sure he will.” I veer to the right, away from the transfer dormitory.

“Where are you going?” Zeke says.

“Edward’s already in the infirmary?” I walk backward as I talk.

Zeke nods.

I say, “Then I’m going to see Max.”

+++

The Dauntless compound isn’t so large that I don’t know where people live. Max’s apartment is buried deep in the underground corridors of the compound, near a back door that opens up right next to the train tracks outside. I march toward it, following the blue emergency lamps run by our solar generator.

I pound on the metal door with my fist, waking Max the same way Zeke woke me. He yanks the door open a few seconds later, his feet bare and his eyes wild.

“What happened?” he says.

“One of my initiates was stabbed in the eye,” I say.

“And you came here? Didn’t someone inform Eric?”

“Yeah. That’s what I want to talk to you about. Mind if I come in?”

I don’t wait for an answer—I brush past him and walk into his living room. He flips on the lights, displaying the messiest living space I’ve ever seen, used cups and plates strewn across the coffee table, all the couch cushions in disarray, the floor gray with dust.

“I want initiation to go back to what it was before Eric made it more competitive,” I say, “and I want him out of my training room.”

“You don’t really think it’s Eric’s fault that an initiate got hurt,” Max says, crossing his arms. “Or that you’re in any position to make demands.”

“Yes, it’s his fault, of course it’s his fault!” I say, louder than I mean to be. “If they weren’t all fighting for one of ten slots, they wouldn’t be so desperate they’re ready to attack each other! He has them wound up so tight, of course they’re bound to explode eventually!”

Max is quiet. He looks annoyed, but he isn’t calling me ridiculous, which is a start.

“You don’t think the initiate who did the attacking should be held responsible?” Max says. “You don’t think he or she is the one to blame, instead of Eric?”

“Of course he—she—whoever—should be held responsible,” I say. “But this never would have happened if Eric—”

“You can’t say that with any certainty,” Max says.

“I can say it with the certainty of a reasonable person.”

“I’m not reasonable?” His voice is low, dangerous, and suddenly I remember that Max is not just the Dauntless leader who likes me for some inexplicable reason—he’s the Dauntless leader who’s working closely with Jeanine Matthews, the one who appointed Eric, the one who probably had something to do with Amar’s death.

“That’s not what I meant,” I say, trying to stay calm.

“You should be careful to communicate exactly what you mean,” Max says, moving closer to me. “Or someone will start to think you’re insulting your superiors.”

I don’t respond. He moves still closer.

“Or questioning the values of your faction,” he says, and his bloodshot eyes drift to my shoulder, where the Dauntless flames of my tattoo stick out over the collar of my shirt. I have hidden the five faction symbols that cover my spine since I got them, but for some reason, at this moment, I am terrified that Max knows about them. Knows what they mean, which is that I am not a perfect Dauntless member; I am someone who believes that more than one virtue should be prized; I am Divergent.

“You had your shot to become a Dauntless leader,” Max says. “Maybe you could have avoided this incident had you not backed out like a coward. But you did. So now you have to deal with the consequences.”

His face is showing his age. It has lines it didn’t have last year, or the year before, and his skin is grayish brown, like it was dusted with ash.

“Eric is as involved in initiation as he is because you refused to follow orders last year—” Last year, in the training room, I stopped all the fights before the injuries became too severe, against Eric’s command that the fighting only stop when one person was unable to continue. I nearly lost my position as initiation instructor as a result; I would have, if Max hadn’t gotten involved.

“—and I wanted to give you another chance to make it right, with closer monitoring,” Max says. “You’re failing to do so. You’ve gone too far.”

The sweat I worked up on my way here has turned cold. He steps back and opens his door again.

“Get out of my apartment and deal with your initiates,” Max says. “Don’t let me see you step out of line again.”

“Yes, sir,” I say quietly, and I leave.

+++

I go to see Edward in the infirmary early in the morning, when the sun is rising, shining through the glass ceiling of the Pit. His head is wrapped in white bandages, and he’s not moving, not speaking. I don’t say anything to him, just sit by his head and watch the minutes tick by on the wall clock.

I’ve been an idiot. I thought I was invincible, that Max’s desire to have me as a fellow leader would never waver, that on some level he trusted me. I should have known better. All Max ever wanted was a pawn—that’s what my mother said.

I can’t be a pawn. But I’m not sure what I should be instead.

+++

The setting Tris Prior invents is eerie and almost beautiful, the sky yellow-green, yellow grass stretching for miles in every direction.

Watching someone else’s fear simulation is strange. Intimate. I don’t feel right about forcing other people to be vulnerable, even if I don’t like them. Every human being is entitled to her secrets. Watching my initiates’ fears, one after another, makes me feel like my skin has been scraped raw with sandpaper.

In Tris’s simulation, the yellow grass is perfectly still. If the air wasn’t stagnant, I would say this was a dream, not a nightmare—but still air means only one thing to me, and that is a coming storm.

A shadow moves across the grass, and a large black bird lands on her shoulder, curling its talons into her shirt. My fingertips prickle, remembering how I touched her shoulder when she walked into the simulation room, how I brushed her hair away from her neck to inject her. Stupid. Careless.

She hits the black bird, hard, and then everything happens at once. Thunder rumbles; the sky darkens, not with storm clouds, but with birds, an impossibly huge swarm of them, moving in unison like many parts of the same mind.

The sound of her scream is the worst sound in the world, desperate—she’s desperate for help and I am desperate to help her, though I know what I’m seeing isn’t real, I know it. The crows keep coming, relentless, surrounding her, burying her alive in dark feathers. She screams for help and I can’t help her and I don’t want to watch this, I don’t want to watch another second.

But then, she starts to move, shifting so she’s lying in the grass, relenting, relaxing. If she’s in pain now she doesn’t show it; she just closes her eyes and surrenders, and that is worse than her screaming for help, somehow.

Then it’s over.

She lurches forward in the metal chair, smacking at her body to get the birds off, though they’re gone. Then she curls into a ball and hides her face.

I reach out to touch her shoulder, to reassure her, and she hits my arm, hard. “Don’t touch me!”

“It’s over,” I say, wincing—she punches harder than she realizes. I ignore the pain and run a hand over her hair, because I’m stupid, and inappropriate, and stupid …

“Tris.”

She just shifts back and forth, soothing herself.

“Tris, I’m going to take you back to the dorms, okay?”

“No! They can’t see me … not like this …”

This is what Eric’s new system creates: A brave human being has just defeated one of her worst fears in less than five minutes, an ordeal that takes most people at least twice that time, but she’s terrified to go back into the hallway, to be seen as weak or vulnerable in any way. Tris is Dauntless, plain and simple, but this faction isn’t really Dauntless anymore.

“Oh, calm down,” I say, more irritable than I mean to be. “I’ll take you out the back door.”

“I don’t need you to …” I can see her hands trembling even as she shrugs off my offer.

“Nonsense,” I say. I take her arm and help her to her feet. She wipes her eyes as I move toward the back door. Amar once took me through this door, tried to walk me back to the dormitory even when I didn’t want him to, the way she probably doesn’t want me to now. How is it possible to live the same story twice, from different vantage points?

She yanks her arm from mine, and turns on me. “Why did you do that to me? What was the point of that, huh? I wasn’t aware that when I chose Dauntless, I was signing up for weeks of torture!”

If she was anyone else, any of the other initiates, I would have yelled at her for insubordination a dozen times by now. I would have felt threatened by her constant assaults against my character, and tried to squelch her uprisings with cruelty, the way I did to Christina on the first day of initiation. But Tris earned my respect when she jumped first, into the net; when she challenged me at her first meal; when she wasn’t deterred by my unpleasant responses to questions; when she spoke up for Al and stared me right in the eye as I threw knives at her. She’s not my subordinate, couldn’t possibly be.

“Did you think overcoming cowardice would be easy?” I say.

“That isn’t overcoming cowardice! Cowardice is how you decide to be in real life, and in real life, I am not getting pecked to death by crows, Four!”

She starts to cry, but I’m too struck by what she just said to feel uncomfortable with her tears. She’s not learning the lessons Eric wants her to learn. She’s learning different things, wiser ones.

“I want to go home,” she says.

I know where the cameras are in this hallway. I hope none of them have picked up on what she just said.

“Learning how to think in the midst of fear is a lesson that everyone, even your Stiff family, needs to learn,” I say. I doubt a lot of things about Dauntless initiation, but the fear simulations aren’t one of them; they are the most straightforward way for a person to engage their own fears and conquer them, far more straightforward than the knife throwing or the fighting. “That’s what we’re trying to teach you. If you can’t learn it, you’ll need to get the hell out of here, because we won’t want you.”

I’m hard on her because I know she can handle it. And also because I don’t know any other way to be.

“I’m trying. But I failed. I’m failing.”

I almost feel like laughing. “How long do you think you spent in that hallucination, Tris?”

“I don’t know. A half hour?”

“Three minutes,” I say. “You got out three times faster than any of the other initiates. Whatever you are, you’re not a failure.”

You might be Divergent, I think. But she didn’t do anything to change the simulation, so maybe she’s not. Maybe she’s just that brave.

I smile at her. “Tomorrow you’ll be better at this. You’ll see.”

“Tomorrow?”

She’s calmer now. I touch her back, right beneath her shoulders.

“What was your first hallucination?” she asks me.

“It wasn’t a ‘what’ so much as a ‘who.’” As I’m saying it, I think I should have just told her the first obstacle in my fear landscape, fear of heights, though it’s not exactly what she’s asking about. When I’m around her I can’t control what I say the way I do around other people. I say vague things because that’s as close as I can get to stopping myself from saying anything, my mind addled by the feeling of her body through her shirt. “It’s not important.”

“And are you over that fear now?”

“Not yet.” We’re at the dormitory door. The walk has never gone by so quickly. I put my hands in my pockets so I don’t do anything stupid with them again. “I may never be.”

“So they don’t go away?”

“Sometimes they do. And sometimes new fears replace them. But becoming fearless isn’t the point. That’s impossible. It’s learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, that’s the point.”

She nods. I don’t know what she came here for, but if I had to guess, it would be that she chose Dauntless for its freedom. Abnegation would have stifled the spark in her until it died out. Dauntless, for all its faults, has kindled the spark into a flame.

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