trying to claw my eyes out keeps flashing in my mind, causing my heart rate to spike again and again.
“Is the serum still in effect?” I say, clenching my teeth. “Making me panic?”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“No, it should have gone dormant when you exited the simulation,” he says. “Why?”
I shake my hands, which are tingling, like they’re going numb. I shake my head. It wasn’t real, I tell myself. Let it go.
“Sometimes the simulation causes lingering panic, depending on what you see in it,” Amarsays. “Let me walk you back to the dormitory.”
“No.” I shake my head. “I’ll be fine.”
He gives me a hard look.
“It wasn’t a request,” he says. He gets up and opens a door behind the chair. I follow him down a short, dark hallway and into the stone corridors that lead back to the transfer dormitory. The air is cool there, and moist, from being underground. I hear our footsteps echo, and my own breaths, but nothing else.
I think I see something—movement—on my left, and I flinch away from it, pulling back against the wall. Amar stops me, putting his hands on my shoulders so I have to look at his face.
“Hey,” he says. “Get it together, Four.”
I nod, heat rushing into my face. I feel a deep twinge of shame in my stomach. I am supposed to be Dauntless. I am not supposed to be afraid of monster Marcuses creeping up on me in the dark. I lean against the stone wall and take a deep breath.
“Can I ask you something?” Amar says. I cringe, thinking he’s going to ask me about my father, but he doesn’t. “How did you get out of that hallway?”
“I opened a door,” I say.
“Was there a door behind you the whole time? Is there one in your old house?”
I shake my head.
Amar’s usually amiable face is serious. “So you created one out of nowhere?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Simulations are all in your head. So my head made a door so I could get out. All I had to do was concentrate.”
“Strange,” he says.
“Most initiates can’t make something impossible happen in these simulations, because unlike in the fear landscape, they don’t recognize that they are in a simulation,” he says. “And they don’t get out of simulations that fast, as a result.”
I feel my pulse in my throat. I didn’t realize these simulations were supposed to be different from the fear landscape—I thought everyone was aware of this simulation while they were in it. But judging by what Amar is saying, this was supposed to be like the aptitude test, and before the aptitude test, my father warned me against my simulation awareness, coached me to hide it. I still remember how insistent he was, how tense his voice was and how he grabbed my arm a little too hard.
At the time, I thought that he would never speak that way unless he was worried about me. Worried for my safety.
Was he just being paranoid, or is there still something dangerous about being aware during simulations?
“I was like you,” Amar says quietly. “I could change the simulations. I just thought I was the only one.”
I want to tell him to keep it to himself, to protect his secrets. But the Dauntless don’t care about secrets the way the Abnegation do, with their tight-lipped smiles and identical, orderly houses.
Amar is giving me a strange look—eager, like he expects something from me. I shift, uncomfortable.
“It’s probably not something you should brag about,” Amar says. “The Dauntless are all about conformity, just like every other faction. It’s just not as obvious here.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“It’s probably just a fluke,” I say. “I couldn’t do that during my aptitude test. Next time I’ll probably be more normal.”
“Right.” He doesn’t sound convinced. “Well, next time, try not to do anything impossible, all right? Just face your fear in a logical way, a way that would always make sense to you whether you were aware or not.”
“Okay,” I say.
“You’re okay now, right? You can get back to the dorms on your own?”
I want to say that I could always get back to the dormitory on my own; I never needed him to take me there. But I just nod again. He claps me on the shoulder, good-naturedly, and walks back to the simulation room.
I can’t help but think that my father wouldn’t have warned me against displaying my simulation awareness just because of faction norms. He scolded me for embarrassing him in front of the Abnegation all the time, but he had never hissed warnings in my ears or taught me how to avoid a misstep before. He never stared at me, wide-eyed, until I promised to do as he said.
It feels strange, to know that he must have been trying to protect me. Like he’s not quite the monster I imagine, the one I see in my worst nightmares.
As I start toward the dorms, I hear something at the end of the hallway we just walked down—something like quiet, shuffling footsteps, moving in the opposite direction.
Shauna runs up to me in the cafeteria at dinner and punches me hard in the arm. She’s wearing a smile so wide it looks like it’s cutting into her cheeks. There’s some swelling just beneath her right eye—she’ll have a black eye later.
“I won!” she says. “I did what you said—got her right in the jaw within the first sixty seconds, and it totally threw her off her game. She still hit me in the eye because I let my guard down, but after that I pummeled her. She has a bloody nose. It was awesome.”
I grin. I’m surprised by how satisfying it is, to teach someone how to do something and then to hear that it actually worked.
“Well done,” I say.
“I couldn’t have done it without your help,” she says. Her smile changes, softens, less giddy and more sincere. She stands on her tiptoes and kisses my cheek.
I stare at her as she pulls away. She laughs and drags me toward the table where Zeke and some of the other Dauntless-born initiates sit. My problem, I realize, isn’t that I’m a Stiff, it’s that I don’t know what these gestures of affection mean to the Dauntless. Shauna is pretty, and funny, and in Abnegation I would go over to her house for dinner with her family if I was interested in her, I would find out what volunteering project she was working on and insinuate myself into it. In Dauntless I have no idea how to go about that, or how to know if I even like her that way.
I decide not to let it distract me, at least not now. I get a plate of food and sit down to eat it, listening to the others talk and laugh together. Everyone congratulates Shauna on her win, and they point out the girl she beat up, sitting at one of the other tables, her face still swollen. At the end of the meal, when I’m poking at a piece of chocolate cake with my fork, a pair of Erudite women walk into the room.
It takes a lot to make the Dauntless go quiet. Even the sudden appearance of the Erudite doesn’t quite do it—there are still mutters everywhere, like the distant sound of running footsteps. But gradually, as the Erudite sit down with Max and nothing else happens, conversations pick up again. I don’t participate in them. I keep stabbing the cake with the fork tines, watching.
Max stands and approaches Amar. They have a tense conversation between the tables, and then they start walking in my direction. Toward me.
Amar beckons to me. I leave my almost-empty tray behind.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“You and I have been called in for an evaluation,” Amar says. His perpetually smiling mouth is now a flat line, his animated voice a monotone.
“Evaluation?” I say.
Max smiles at me, a little. “Your fear simulation results were a little abnormal. Our Erudite friends behind us—” I look over his shoulder at the Erudite women. With a start, I realize that one of them is Jeanine Matthews, representative of Erudite. She’s dressed in a crisp blue suit, with a pair of spectacles dangling from a chain around her neck, a symbol of Erudite vanity pushed so far as to be illogical. Max continues, “Will observe another simulation to make sure that the abnormal result wasn’t an error in the simulation program. Amar will take you all to the fear simulation room now.”
I feel my father’s fingers clamped around my arm, hear his hissing voice, warning me not to do anything strange in my aptitude test simulation. I feel tingling in my palms, the sign that I’m about to panic. I can’t speak, so I just look at Max, and then at Amar, and nod. I don’t know what it means, to be aware during a simulation, but I know it can’t be good. I know that Jeanine Matthews would never come here just to observe my simulation if something wasn’t seriously wrong with me.
We walk to the fear simulation room without speaking, Jeanine and her assistant—I’m assuming—talking quietly behind us. Amar opens the door and lets us file in.
“I’ll go get the extra equipment so you can observe,” Amar says. “Be right back.”
Jeanine paces around the room with a thoughtful expression. I’m wary of her, as all Abnegation are, taught to distrust Erudite vanity, Erudite greed. It occurs to me, though, as I watch her, that what I was taught might not be right. The Erudite woman who taught me how to take apart a computer when I was volunteering in the computer labs at school wasn’t greedy or vain; maybe Jeanine Matthews isn’t, either.
“You were logged into the system as ‘Four,’” Jeanine says after a few seconds. She stops pacing, folding her hands in front of her. “Which I found perplexing. Why do you not go by ‘Tobias’ here?”
She already knows who I am. Well, of course she does. She knows everything, doesn’t she? I feel like my insides are shriveling up, collapsing into each other. She knows my name, she knows my father, and if she’s seen one of my fear simulations, she knows some of the darkest parts of me, too. Her clear, almost watery eyes touch mine, and I look away.
“I wanted a clean slate,” I say.
She nods. “I can appreciate that. Especially given what you’ve gone through.”
She sounds almost … gentle. I bristle at her tone, staring her straight in the face. “I’m fine,” I say coldly.
“Of course you are.” She smiles a little.
Amar wheels a cart into the room. It carries more wires, electrodes, computer parts. I know what I’m supposed to do; I sit down in the reclining chair and put my arms on the armrests as the others hook themselves up to the simulation. Amar approaches me with a needle, and I stay still as it pinches my throat.
I close my eyes, and the world falls away again.
When I open my eyes, I am standing on the roof of an impossibly high building, right near the ledge. Beneath me is the hard pavement, the streets all empty, no one around to help me down. Wind buffets me from all angles, and I tilt back, falling on my back on the gravel roof.
I don’t even like being up here, seeing the wide, empty sky around me, reminding me that I am at the tallest point in the city. I remember that Jeanine Matthews is watching; I throw myself against the door to the roof, trying to pull it open as I form a strategy. My usual way to face this fear would be to leap off the ledge of the building, knowing that it’s just a simulation and I won’t actually die. But someone else in this simulation would never do that; they would find a safe way to get down.
I evaluate my options. I can try to get this door open, but there are no tools that will help me do that around here, just the gravel roof and the door and the sky. I can’t create a tool to get through the door, because that’s exactly the kind of simulation manipulation that Jeanine is probably looking for. I back up, kicking the door hard with my heel, and it doesn’t budge.
My heart pounding in my throat, I walk to the ledge again. Instead of looking all the way down at the minuscule sidewalks beneath me, I look at the building itself. There are windows with ledges beneath me, hundreds of them. The fastest way down, the most Dauntless way, is to scale the side of the building.
I put my face in my hands. I know this isn’t real, but it feels real, the wind whistling in my ears, crisp and cool, the concrete rough beneath my hands, the sound of the gravel scattered by my shoes. I put one leg over the ledge, shuddering, and turn to face the building as I lower myself down, one leg at a time, until I’m hanging by my fingertips from the ledge.
Panic bubbles up inside me, and I scream into my teeth. Oh God. I hate heights—I hate them. I blink tears from my eyes, internally blaming them on the wind, and feel with my toes for the window ledge beneath me. Finding it, I feel for the top of the window with one hand, and press up to keep my balance as I lower myself onto the balls of my feet on the windowsill below me.
My body tilts back, over the empty space, and I scream again, clenching my teeth so hard they squeak.
I have to do that again. And again. And again.
I bend, holding the top of the window with one hand and the bottom with the other. When I have a good grip, I slide my toes down the side of the building, listening to them scrape on the stone, and let myself dangle again.
This time, when I let myself drop onto the other ledge, I don’t hold on hard enough with my hands. I lose my footing on the windowsill and tip back. I scramble, scratching at the concrete building with my fingertips, but it’s too late; I plummet, and another scream rises up inside me, tearing from my throat. I could create a net beneath me; I could create a rope in the air to save me—no, I shouldn’t create anything or they will know what I can do.
I let myself fall. I let myself die.
I wake with pain—created by my mind—singing in every part of my body, screaming, my eyes blurry with tears and terror. I jerk forward, gasping. My body is shaking; I’m ashamed to be acting this way with this audience, but I know that it’s a good thing. It will show them that I’m not special—I’m just another reckless Dauntless who thought he could scale a building and failed.
“Interesting,” Jeanine says, and I can barely hear her over my own breathing. “I never tire of seeing inside a person’s mind—every detail suggests so much.”
I put my legs—still shaking—over the edge of the chair and plant my feet on the ground.
“You did well,” Amar says. “Your climbing skills are maybe a little wanting, but you still got out of the simulation quickly, like last time.”
He smiles at me. I must have succeeded at pretending to be normal, because he doesn’t look worried anymore.
“Well, it appears that your abnormal test result was a program error. We will have to investigate the simulation program to find the flaw,” Jeanine says. “Now, Amar. I’d like to see one of your fear simulations, if you wouldn’t mind obliging.”
“Mine? Why mine?”
Jeanine’s mild smile doesn’t change. “Our information suggests that you were not alarmed by Tobias’s abnormal result—that you were quite familiar with it, in fact. So I would like to see if that familiarity comes from experience.”
“Your information,” Amar says. “Information from where?”
“An initiate came forward to express his concerns for your and Tobias’s well-being,” Jeanine says. “I would like to respect his privacy. Tobias, you may leave now. Thank you for your assistance.”
I look at Amar. He nods a little. I push myself to my feet, still a little unsteady, and walk out, leaving the door cracked open so I can stay and eavesdrop. But as soon as I’m in the hallway, Jeanine’s assistant pushes the door shut, and I can’t hear anything behind it, even when I press my ear to it.
An initiate came forward to express his concerns—and I’m sure I know who that initiate is. Our only former Erudite: Eric.
For a week, it seems that nothing will come of Jeanine Matthews’s visit. All the initiates, Dauntless-born and transfer alike, go through fear simulations every day, and every day, I allow myself to be consumed by my own fears: heights, confinement, violence, Marcus. Sometimes they blur together, Marcus at the top of tall buildings, violence in confined spaces. I always wake half-delirious, shaking, embarrassed that even though I am the initiate with only four fears, I am also the one who can’t dispel them when the simulations are done. They creep up on me when I least expect them, filling my sleep with nightmares and my waking with shudders and paranoia. I grind my teeth, I jump at small noises, my hands go numb without warning. I worry that I will go insane before initiation is done.
“You okay?” Zeke asks me at breakfast one morning. “You look … exhausted.”
“I’m fine,” I say, harsher than I mean to be.
“Oh, clearly,” Zeke says, grinning. “It’s okay to not be okay, you know.”
“Yeah, right,” I say, and I force myself to finish my food, even though it all tastes like dust to me, these days. If I have to feel like I’m losing my mind, I’m at least putting on weight—muscle, mostly. It’s strange to take up so much space just by existing when I used to disappear so easily. It makes me feel just a little stronger, a little more stable.
Zeke and I put our trays away. When we’re on our way out to the Pit, Zeke’s little brother—Uriah is his name, I remember—runs up to us. He’s taller than Zeke already, with a bandage behind his ear that covers up a fresh tattoo. Usually he looks like he’s constantly on the verge of making a joke, but not right now. Right now he just looks stunned.
“Amar,” he says, a little breathless. “Amar is …” He shakes his head. “Amar is dead.”
I laugh a little. Distantly I’m aware that that’s not an appropriate reaction, but I can’t help it. “What? What do you mean, he’s dead?”
“A Dauntless woman found a body on the ground near the Pire early this morning,” Uriah says. “They just identified it. It was Amar. He … he must have …”
“Jumped?” Zeke says.
“Or fell, no one knows,” Uriah says.
I move toward the paths climbing the walls of the Pit. Usually I almost press my body to the wall when I do this, afraid of the height, but this time I don’t even think about what’s below me. I brush past running, shrieking children and the people going into shops, coming out of them. I climb the staircase that dangles from the glass ceiling.
A crowd is gathered in the lobby of the Pire. I elbow my way through it. Some people curse at me, or elbow me back, but I don’t really notice. I make my way to the edge of the room, to the glass walls above the streets that surround the Dauntless compound. Out there, there’s an area sectioned off with tape, and a streak of dark red on the pavement.
I stare at the streak for a long time, until I feel myself comprehending that that streak comes from Amar’s blood, from his body colliding with the ground.
Then I walk away.
I didn’t know Amar well enough to feel grief, in the way I’ve taught myself to think of it. Grief was what I felt after my mother’s death, a weight that made it impossible to move through each day. I remember stopping in the middle of simple tasks to rest, and forgetting to start them again, or waking up in the middle of the night with tears on my face.
I don’t carry Amar’s loss like that. I find myself feeling it every now and then, when I remember how he gave me my name, how he protected me when he didn’t even know me. But most of the time I just feel angry. His death had something to do with Jeanine Matthews and the evaluation of his fear simulation, I know it. And that means that whatever happened is also Eric’s responsibility, because he overheard our conversation and told his former faction leader about it.
They killed Amar, the Erudite. But everyone thinks that he jumped, or fell. It’s something a Dauntless would do.
The Dauntless have a memorial service for him that evening. Everyone is drunk by late afternoon. We gather by the chasm, and Zeke passes me a cup of dark liquid, and I swallow it all without thinking. As the liquid calm moves through me, I sway a little on my feet and pass the empty cup back to him.
“Yeah, that seems about right,” Zeke says, staring into the empty cup. “I’m going to get some more.”
I nod and listen to the roar of the chasm. Jeanine Matthews seemed to accept that my own abnormal results were just a problem with the program, but what if that was just an act? What if she comes after me the way she came after Amar? I try to push the thought down where I won’t find it again.
A dark, scarred hand falls on my shoulder, and Max stands beside me.
“You all right, Four?” he says.
“Yeah,” I say, and it’s true, I am all right. I am all right because I’m still on my feet and I’m not yet slurring my words.
“I know Amar took a particular interest in you. I think he saw strong potential.” Max smiles a little.
“I didn’t really know him,” I say.
“He was always a little troubled, a little unbalanced. Not like the rest of the initiates in his class,” Max says. “I think losing his grandparents really took a toll on him. Or maybe the problem was deeper … I don’t know. It could be that he’s better off this way.”
“Better off dead?” I say, scowling at him.
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” Max says. “But here in Dauntless, we encourage our members to choose their own paths through life. If this is what he chose … so much the better.” He puts his hand on my shoulder again. “Depending on how you do in your final examination tomorrow, you and I should talk about the future you’d like to have here in Dauntless. You’re by far our most promising initiate, despite your background.”
I just keep staring at him. I don’t even understand what he’s saying, or why he’s saying it here, at Amar’s memorial service. Is he trying to recruit me? For what?
Zeke returns with two cups, and Max melts into the crowd like nothing ever happened. One of Amar’s friends stands on a chair and shouts something meaningless about Amar being brave enough to explore the unknown.
Everyone lifts their glasses and chants his name. Amar, Amar, Amar. They say
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