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makes his way down the hallway, then beckons to us from the door, without a word. We follow him back to his office, which I recognize from yesterday’s footage of his meeting with Jeanine Matthews. I use my memory of that conversation to steel myself against what’s coming next.

“So.” Max folds his hands on his desk, and again I’m struck by how strange it is to see him in such a clean, formal environment. He belongs in a training room, hitting a bag, or next to the Pit, leaning over the railing. Not sitting at a low wooden table surrounded by paper.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

I look out the windows of the Pire at the Dauntless sector of the city. A few yards away I can see the edge of the hole I jumped into when I first chose Dauntless, and the rooftop that I stood on just before that. I chose Dauntless, I told my mother yesterday. That’s where I belong.

Is that really true?

“Eric, let’s begin with you,” Max says. “Do you have ideas for what might be good for Dauntless, moving forward?”

“I do.” Eric sits up. “I think we need to make some changes, and I think they should start during initiation.”

“What kind of changes do you have in mind?”

“Dauntless has always embraced a spirit of competition,” Eric says. “Competition makes us better; it brings out the best, strongest parts of us. I think initiation should foster that sense of competition more than it currently does, so that it produces the best initiates possible. Right now initiates are competing only against the system, striving for a particular score in order to move forward. I think they should be competing against each other for spots in Dauntless.”

I can’t help it; I turn and stare at him. A limited number of spots? In a faction? After just two weeks of initiation training?

“And if they don’t get a spot?”

“They become factionless,” Eric says. I swallow a derisive laugh. Eric continues, “If we believe that Dauntless truly is the superior faction to join, that its aims are more important than the aims of other factions, then becoming one of us should be an honor and a privilege, not a right.”

“Are you kidding?” I say, unable to contain myself any longer. “People choose a faction because they value the same things that faction values, not because they’re already proficient in what a faction teaches. You’d be kicking people out of Dauntless just for not being strong enough to jump on a train or win a fight. You would favor the big, strong, and reckless more than the small, smart, and brave—you wouldn’t be improving Dauntless at all.”

“I’m sure the small, smart ones would be better off in Erudite, or as little gray-clad Stiffs,” Eric says with a wry smile. “And I don’t think you’re giving our potential new Dauntless members enough credit, Four. This system would favor only the most determined.”

I glance at Max. I expect him to look unimpressed by Eric’s plan, but he doesn’t. He’s leaning forward, focused on Eric’s pierced face like something about it has inspired him.

“This is an interesting debate,” Max says. “Four, how would you improve Dauntless, if not by making initiation more competitive?”

I shake my head, looking out the window again. You aren’t one of those mindless, danger-seeking fools, my mother said to me. But those are the people Eric wants in Dauntless: mindless, danger-seeking fools. If Eric is one of Jeanine Matthew’s lackeys, then why would Jeanine encourage him to propose this kind of plan?

Oh. Because mindless, danger-seeking fools are easier to control, easier to manipulate. Obviously.

“I would improve Dauntless by fostering true bravery instead of stupidity and brutality,” I say. “Take out the knife throwing. Prepare people physically and mentally to defend the weak against the strong. That’s what our manifesto encourages—ordinary acts of bravery. I think we should return to that.”

“And then we can all hold hands and sing a song together, right?” Eric rolls his eyes. “You want to turn Dauntless into Amity.”

“No,” I say. “I want to make sure we still know how to think for ourselves, think about more than the next surge of adrenaline. Or just think, period. That way we can’t be taken over or … controlled from the outside.”

“Sounds a little Erudite to me,” Eric says.

“The ability to think isn’t exclusive to Erudite,” I snap. “The ability to think in stressful situations is what the fear simulations are supposed to develop.”

“All right, all right,” Max says, holding up his hands. He looks troubled. “Four, I’m sorry to say this, but you sound a little paranoid. Who would take us over, or try to control us? The factions have coexisted peacefully for longer than you’ve been alive, there’s no reason that’s going to change now.”

I open my mouth to tell him he’s wrong, that the second he let Jeanine Matthews get involved in the affairs of our faction, the second he let her plant Erudite-loyal transfers into our initiation program, the second he started consulting with her on who to appoint as the next Dauntless leader, he compromised the system of checks and balances that has allowed us to coexistpeacefully for so long. But then I realize that to tell him those things would be to accuse him of treason, and to reveal just how much I know.

Max looks at me, and I read disappointment in his face. I know that he likes me—likes me more than Eric, at least. But my mother was right yesterday—Max doesn’t want someone like me, someone who can think for himself, develop his own agenda. He wants someone like Eric, who will help him establish the new Dauntless agenda, who will be easy to manipulate simply because he’s still under the thumb of Jeanine Matthews, someone with whom Max is closely aligned.

My mother presented me with two options yesterday: be a pawn of Dauntless, or become factionless. But there’s a third option: to be neither. To align myself with no one in particular. To live under the radar, and free. That’s what I really want—to shed all the people who want to form and shape me, one by one, and learn instead to form and shape myself.

“To be honest, sir, I don’t think this is the right place for me,” I say calmly. “I told you when you first asked me that I’d like to be an instructor, and I think I’m realizing more and more that that’s where I belong.”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

“Eric, will you excuse us, please?” Max says. Eric, barely able to suppress his glee, nods and leaves. I don’t watch him go, but I would bet all my Dauntless credits that there’s a little skip in his step as he walks down the hallway.

Max gets up and sits next to me, in the chair Eric just vacated.

“I hope you’re not saying this because I accused you of being paranoid,” Max says. “I was just concerned about you. I feared that the pressure was getting to you, making you stop thinking straight. I still think you’re a strong candidate for leadership. You fit the right profile, you’ve demonstrated proficiency with everything we’ve taught you—and beyond that, quite frankly, you’re more likable than some of our other promising candidates, which is important in a close working environment.”

“Thank you,” I say. “But you’re right, the pressure is getting to me. And the pressure if I was actually a leader would be much worse.”

Max nods sadly. “Well.” He nods again. “If you’d like to be an initiation instructor, I will arrange that for you. But that’s seasonal work—where would you like to be placed for the rest of the year?”

“I was thinking maybe the control room,” I say. “I’ve discovered that I enjoy working with computers. I don’t think I would enjoy patrolling nearly as much.”

“Okay,” Max says. “Consider it done. Thank you for being honest with me.”

I get up, and all I feel is relief. He seems concerned, sympathetic. Not suspicious of me or my motives or my paranoia.

“If you ever change your mind,” Max says, “please don’t hesitate to tell me. We could always use someone like you.”

“Thank you,” I say, and even though he’s the worst faction traitor of anyone I’ve met, and probably responsible at least in part for Amar’s death, I can’t help but feel a little grateful to him for letting me go so easily.

+++

Eric is waiting for me around the corner. As I try to walk past him, he grabs my arm.

“Careful, Eaton,” he murmurs. “If anything about my involvement with Erudite escapes you, you won’t like what happens to you.”

“You won’t like what happens to you, either, if you ever call me by that name again.”

“Soon I’m going to be one of your leaders,” Eric says, smirking. “And believe me, I am going to keep a very, very close eye on you and how well you implement my new training methods.”

“He doesn’t like you, you know that?” I say. “Max, I mean. He’d rather have anyone else but you. He’s not going to give you more than an inch in any direction. So good luck with your short leash.”

I wrench my arm from his grasp and walk toward the elevators.

+++

“Man,” Shauna says. “That is a bad day.”

“Yeah.”

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

She and I are sitting next to the chasm with our feet over the edge. I rest my head against the bars of the metal barrier that’s keeping us from falling to our deaths, and feel the spray of water against my ankles as one of the larger waves hits a wall.

I told her about my departure from leadership training, and Eric’s threat, but I didn’t tell her about my mother. How do you tell someone that your mother came back from the dead?

All my life, someone has been trying to control me. Marcus was the tyrant of our house, and nothing happened without his permission. And then Max wanted to recruit me as his Dauntless yes-man. And even my mother had a plan for me, for me to join up with her when I reached a certain age to work against the faction system that she has a vendetta against, for whatever reason. And just when I thought that I had escaped control altogether, Eric swooped in to remind me that if he became a Dauntless leader, he would be watching me.

All I have, I realize, are the small moments of rebellion I’m able to manage, just like when I was in Abnegation, collecting objects I found on the street. The tattoo that Tori is drawing on my back, the one that might declare me to be Divergent, is one of those moments. I’ll have to keep looking for more of them, more brief moments of freedom in a world that refuses to allow it.

“Where’s Zeke?” I say.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I haven’t wanted to hang out with him much recently.”

I look sideways at her. “You could just tell him that you like him, you know. I honestly don’t think he has a clue.”

“That’s obvious,” she says, snorting. “But what if this is what he wants—to just bounce around from girl to girl for a while? I don’t want to be one of those girls he bounces to.”

“I seriously doubt you would be,” I say, “but fair enough.”

We sit quietly for a few seconds, both of us staring down at the raging water below.

“You’ll be a good instructor,” she says. “You were really good at teaching me.”

“Thanks.”

“There you are,” Zeke says from behind us. He’s carrying a large bottle full of some kind of brown liquid, holding it by the neck. “Come on. I found something.”

Shauna and I look at each other and shrug, then follow him to the doors on the other side of the Pit, the ones we first went through after jumping into the net. But instead of leading us toward the net, he takes us through another door—the lock is taped down with duct tape—and down a pitch-black corridor and a flight of stairs.

“Should be coming up—ouch!”

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were stopping,” Shauna says.

“Hold on, almost got it—”

He opens a door, letting faint light in so we can see where we are. We’re on the other side of the chasm, several feet above the water. Above us, the Pit seems to go on forever, and the people milling around near the railing are small and dark, impossible to distinguish from this distance.

I laugh. Zeke just led us into another small moment of rebellion, probably without meaning to.

“How did you find this place?” Shauna says with obvious wonder as she jumps down onto one of the lower rocks. Now that I’m here, I see a path that would carry us up and across the wall, if we wanted to walk to the other side of the chasm.

“That girl Maria,” Zeke says. “Her mom works in chasm maintenance. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but apparently there is.”

“You still seeing her?” Shauna asks, trying to be casual.

“Nah,” Zeke says. “Every time I was with her I just kept getting the itch to be with friends instead. That’s not a good sign, right?”

“No,” Shauna agrees, and she seems more cheerful than before.

I lower myself more carefully onto the rock Shauna is standing on. Zeke sits next to her, opening his bottle and passing it around.

“I heard you’re out of the running,” Zeke says when he passes it to me. “Thought you might need a drink.”

“Yeah,” I say, and then I take a swig.

“Consider this act of public drunkenness a big—” He makes an obscene gesture toward the glass ceiling above the Pit. “You know, to Max and Eric.”

And Evelyn, I think, as I take another swallow.

“I’ll be working in the control room when I’m not training initiates,” I say.

“Awesome,” Zeke says. “It’ll be good to have a friend in there. Right now no one talks to me.”

“Sounds like me in my old faction,” I say with a laugh. “Imagine an entire lunch period in which no one even looks at you.”

“Ouch,” Zeke says. “Well, I bet you’re glad to be here now, then.”

I take the bottle from him again, drink another mouthful of stinging, burning alcohol, and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. “Yeah,” I say. “I am.”

If the factions are deteriorating, as my mother would have me believe, this is not a bad place to watch them fall apart. At least here I have friends to keep me company while it happens.

+++

It’s just after dark, and I have my hood up to hide my face as I run through the factionless area of the city, right by the border it shares with the Abnegation sector. I had to go to the school to get my bearings, but now I remember where I am, and where I ran, that day that I barged into a factionless warehouse in search of a dying ember.

I reach the door I walked through when I exited, and tap on it with my first knuckle. I can hear voices just beyond it and smell food coming from one of the open windows, where smoke from the fire within is leaking into the alley. Footsteps, as someone comes to see what the knocking is about.

This time the man is wearing a red Amity shirt and black Dauntless pants. He still has a towel tucked into his back pocket, the same as the last time I spoke to him. He opens the door just enough to look at me, and no farther.

“Well, look who made a change,” he said, eyeing my Dauntless clothes. “To what do I owe this visit? Did you miss my charming company?”

“You knew my mother was alive when you met me,” I say. “That’s how you recognized me, because you’ve spent time with her. That’s how you knew what she said about inertia carrying her to Abnegation.”

“Yeah,” the man said. “Didn’t think it was my business to be the one to tell you she was still alive. You here to demand an apology, or something?”

“No,” I say. “I’m here to hand off a message. You’ll give it to her?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll be seeing her in the next couple days.”

I reach into my pocket and take out a folded piece of paper. I offer it to him.

“Go ahead and read it, I don’t care,” I say. “And thanks.”

“No problem,” he says. “Want to come in? You’re starting to seem more like one of us than one of them, Eaton.”

I shake my head.

I make my way back down the alley, and before I turn the corner, I see him opening up the note to read what it says.

Evelyn,

Someday. Not yet.

—4

P.S. I’m glad you’re not dead.

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER Visiting Day.

Two years ago, when I was an initiate, I pretended my own Visiting Day didn’t exist, holed up in the training room with a punching bag. I was there for so long that I smelled the dust-sweat for days afterward. Last year, the first year I taught initiates, I did the same thing, though Zeke and Shauna both invited me to spend the day with their families instead.

This year I have more important things to do than punch a bag and mope about my family dysfunction. I’m going to the control room.

I walk through the Pit, dodging tearful reunions and shrieks of laughter. Families can always come together on Visiting Day, even if they’re from different factions, but over time, they usually stop coming. “Faction before blood,” after all. Most of the mixed clothing I see belongs to transfer families: Will’s Erudite sister is dressed in light blue, Peter’s Candor parents are in black and white. For a moment I watch his parents, and wonder if they made him into the person he is. But most of the time, people aren’t that easy to explain, I guess.

I’m supposed to be on a mission, but I pause next to the chasm, pressing into the railing. Bits of paper float in the water. Now that I know where the steps cut into the stone in the opposite wall are, I can see them right away, and the hidden doorway that leads to them. I smile a little, thinking of the nights I’ve spent on those rocks with Zeke or Shauna, sometimes talking and sometimes just sitting and listening to the water move.

I hear footsteps approaching, and look over my shoulder. Tris is walking toward me, tucked under the gray-clad arm of an Abnegation woman. Natalie Prior. I stiffen, suddenly desperate to escape—what if Natalie knows who I am, where I came from? What if she lets it slip, here, surrounded by all these people?

She can’t possibly recognize me. I don’t look anything like the boy she knew, lanky and slouched and buried in fabric.

When she’s close enough, she extends her hand. “Hello, my name is Natalie. I’m Beatrice’s mother.”

Beatrice. That name is so wrong for her.

I clasp Natalie’s hand and shake it. I’ve never been fond of Dauntless hand-shaking. It’s too unpredictable—you never know how tightly to squeeze, how many times to shake.

“Four,” I say. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Four,” Natalie says, and she smiles. “Is that a nickname?”

“Yes,” I say. I change the subject. “Your daughter is doing well here. I’ve been overseeing her training.”

“That’s good to hear,” she says. “I know a few things about Dauntless initiation, and I was worried about her.”

I glance at Tris. There’s color in her cheeks—she looks happy, like seeing her mother is doing her some good. For the first time I fully appreciate how much she’s changed since I first saw her, tumbling onto the wooden platform, fragile-looking, like the impact with the net should have shattered her. She doesn’t look fragile anymore, with the shadows of bruises on her face and a new stability in the way she stands, like she’s ready for anything.

“You shouldn’t worry,” I say to Natalie.

Tris looks away. I think she’s still angry with me for the way I nicked her ear with that knife. I guess I don’t really blame her.

“You look familiar for some reason, Four,” Natalie says. I would think her comment was lighthearted if not for the way she’s looking at me, like she’s pinning me down.

“I can’t imagine why,” I say, as coldly as I can manage. “I don’t make a habit of associating with the Abnegation.”

She doesn’t react the way I expect her to, with surprise or fear or anger. She just laughs. “Few people do, these days. I don’t take it personally.”

If she does recognize me, she doesn’t seem eager to say so. I try to relax.

“Well, I’ll leave you to your reunion,” I say.

+++

On my screen, the security footage switches from the lobby of the Pire to the hole hemmed in by four buildings, the initiate entrance to Dauntless. A crowd is gathered around the hole, climbing in and out of it, I assume to test the net.

“Not into Visiting Day?” My supervisor, Gus, stands at my shoulder, sipping from a mug of coffee. He’s not that old, but there’s a bald spot at the crown of his head. He keeps the rest of his hair short, even shorter than mine. His earlobes are stretched around wide discs. “I didn’t think I’d see you again until initiation was over.”

“Figured I might as well do something productive.”

On my screen, everyone crawls out of the hole and stands aside, their backs against one of the buildings. A dark figure inches toward the edge of the roof high above the hole, runs a few steps, and jumps off. My stomach drops like I’m the one falling, and the figure disappears beneath the pavement. I’ll never get used to seeing that.

“They seem to be having a good time,” Gus says, sipping his coffee again. “Well, you’re always welcome to work when you’re not scheduled to, but it’s not a crime to go have some mindless fun, Four.”

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