I am still in that position—crouched by the wall, my head in my hands—when Amar nudges me with his foot.
“Get up, Stiff,” he says, not unkindly. “It’s almost time to jump.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Jump?” I say.
“Yeah.” He smirks. “This train stops for no one.”
I press myself up. The fabric I wrapped around my hand is soaked through with red. Tori stands right behind me and pushes me toward the doorway.
“Let the initiate off first!” she shouts.
“What are you doing?” I demand, scowling at her.
“I’m doing you a favor!” she answers, and she shoves me toward the opening again. The other Dauntless step back for me, each one of them grinning like I’m a meal. I shuffle toward the edge, grabbing the handle so hard the tips of my fingers start to go numb. I see where I’m supposed to jump—up ahead, the tracks hug the roof of a building and then turn. The gap looks small from here, but as the train gets closer, it seems larger and larger, and my imminent death seems more and more likely.
My entire body shakes as the Dauntless in the cars ahead of us make the jump. None of them miss the roof, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be the first. I pry my fingers from the handle and stare at the rooftop and push off as hard as I can.
The impact shudders through me, and I fall forward onto my hands and knees, the gravel on the roof digging into my wounded palm. I stare at my fingers. I feel like time just lurched forward, the actual jump disappearing from sight and memory.
“Damn,” someone behind me says. “I was hoping we would get to scrape some Stiff pancake off the pavement later.”
I glare at the ground and sit back on my heels. The roof is tilting and bobbing beneath me—I didn’t know a person could be dizzy with fear.
Still, I know I just passed two initiation tests: I got on a moving train, and I made it to the roof. Now the question is, how do the Dauntless get off the roof?
A moment later Amar steps up on the ledge, and I have my answer:
They’re going to make us jump.
I close my eyes and pretend that I’m not here, kneeling on this gravel with these insane ink-marked people surrounding me. I came here to escape, but this is not an escape, it’s just a different kind of torture and it’s too late to get out of it. My only hope, then, is to survive it.
“Welcome to Dauntless!” Amar shouts. “Where you either face your fears and try not to die in the process, or you leave a coward. We’ve got a record low of faction transfers this year, unsurprisingly.”
The Dauntless around Amar punch the air and whoop, bearing the fact that no one wants to join them as a banner of pride.
“The only way to get into the Dauntless compound from this rooftop is to jump off this ledge,” Amar says, opening his arms wide to indicate the empty space around him. He tilts back on his heels and waves his arms around, like he’s about to fall, then catches himself and grins. I pull a deep breath in through my nose and hold it.
“As usual, I offer the opportunity to go first to our initiates, Dauntless-born or not.” He hops down from the ledge and gestures to it, eyebrows raised.
The cluster of young Dauntless near the roof exchange looks. Standing off to the side are the Erudite boy from before, an Amity girl, two Candor boys, and a Candor girl. There are only six of us.
One of the Dauntless steps up, a dark-skinned boy who beckons cheers from his friends with his hands.
“Go, Zeke!” one of the girls shouts.
Zeke hops onto the ledge but misjudges the jump and tips forward right away, losing his balance. He yells something unintelligible and disappears. The Candor girl nearby gasps, covering her mouth with one hand, but Zeke’s Dauntless friends burst into laughter. I don’t think that was the dramatic, heroic moment he had in mind.
Amar, grinning, gestures to the ledge again. The Dauntless-borns line up behind it, and so do the Erudite boy and the Amity girl. I know I have to join them, I have to jump, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it. I move toward the line, stiff like my joints are rusted bolts. Amar looks at his watch and cues each jumper at thirty-second intervals.
The line is shrinking, dissolving.
Suddenly it’s gone, and I am all that is left. I step onto the ledge and wait for Amar’s cue. The sun is setting behind the buildings in the distance, their jagged line unfamiliar from this angle. The light glows gold near the horizon, and wind rushes up the side of the building, lifting my clothes away from my body.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Go ahead,” Amar says.
I close my eyes, and I’m frozen; I can’t even push myself off the roof. All I can do is tilt and fall. My stomach drops and my limbs fumble in the air for something, anything to hold on to, but there is nothing, only the drop, the air, the frantic search for the ground.
Then I hit a net.
It curls around me, wrapping me in strong threads. Hands beckon to me from the edge. I hook my fingers in the net and pull myself toward them. I land on my feet on a wooden platform, and a man with dark brown skin and bruised knuckles grins at me. Max.
“The Stiff!” He claps me on the back, making me flinch. “Nice to see you made it this far. Go join your fellow initiates. Amar will be down in a second, I’m sure.”
Behind him is a dark tunnel with rock walls. The Dauntless compound is underground—I assumed it would be dangling from a high building from a series of flimsy ropes, a manifestation of my worst nightmares.
I try to walk down the steps and over to the other transfers. My legs seem to be working again. The Amity girl smiles at me. “That was surprisingly fun,” she says. “I’m Mia. You okay?”
“It looks like he’s trying not to throw up,” one of the Candor boys says.
“Just let it happen, man,” the other Candor boy adds. “We’d love to see a show.”
My response comes out of nowhere. “Shut up,” I snap.
To my surprise, they do. I guess they haven’t been told to shut up by many of the Abnegation.
A few seconds later, I see Amar rolling over the edge of the net. He descends the steps, looking wild and rumpled and ready for the next insane stunt. He beckons all the initiates closer to him, and we gather at the opening of the yawning tunnel in a semicircle.
Amar brings his hands together in front of him.
“My name is Amar,” he says. “I’m your initiation instructor. I grew up here, and three years ago, I passed initiation with flying colors, which means I get to be in charge of the newcomers for as long as I want. Lucky you.
“Dauntless-borns and transfers do most physical training separately, so that the Dauntless-borns don’t break the transfers in half right away—” At this, the Dauntless-borns on the other side of the semicircle grin. “But we’re trying something different this year. The Dauntless leaders and I want to see if knowing your fears before you begin training will better prepare you for the rest of initiation. So before we even let you into the dining hall to have dinner, we’re going to do some self-discovery. Follow me.”
“What if I don’t want to discover myself?” Zeke asks.
All Amar has to do is look at him for him to sink back into the group of Dauntless-borns again. Amar is like no one I’ve ever met—affable one minute and stern the next, and sometimes both at once.
He leads the way down the tunnel, then stops at a door built into the wall and shoves it open with his shoulder. We follow him into a dank room with a giant window in the back wall. Above us the fluorescent lights flicker and twitch, and Amar busies himself at a machine that looks a lot like the one used to administer my aptitude test. I hear a dripping sound—water from the ceiling is leaking into a puddle in the corner.
Another large, empty room stretches out beyond the window. There are cameras in each corner—are there cameras all over the Dauntless compound?
“This is the fear landscape room,” Amar announces without looking up. “A fear landscape is a simulation in which you confront your worst fears.”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
Arranged on the table next to the machine is a line of syringes. They look sinister to me in the flickering light, like they might as well be instruments of torture, knives and blades and hot pokers.
“How is that possible?” the Erudite boy says. “You don’t know our worst fears.”
“Eric, right?” Amar says. “You’re correct, I don’t know your worst fears, but the serum I am going to inject you with will stimulate the parts of your brain that process fear, and you will come up with the simulation obstacles yourself, so to speak. In this simulation, unlike in the aptitude test simulation, you will be aware that what you are seeing is not real. Meanwhile, I will be in this room, controlling the simulation, and I get to tell the program embedded in the simulation serum to move on to the next obstacle once your heart rate reaches a particular level—once you calm down, in other words, or face your fear in a significant way. When you run out of fears, the program will terminate and you will ‘wake up’ in that room again with a greater awareness of your own fears.”
He picks up one of the syringes and beckons to Eric.
“Allow me to satisfy your Erudite curiosity,” he says. “You get to go first.”
“But,” Amar says smoothly, “I am your initiation instructor, and it’s in your best interest to do as I say.”
Eric stands still for a moment, then removes his blue jacket, folds it in half, and drapes it over the back of a chair. His movements are slow and deliberate—designed, I suspect, to irritate Amar as much as possible. Eric approaches Amar, who sticks the needle almost savagely into the side of Eric’s neck. Then he steers Eric toward the next room.
Once Eric is standing in the middle of the room behind the glass, Amar attaches himself to the simulation machine with electrodes and presses something on the computer screen behind it to start the program.
Eric is still, his hands by his sides. He stares at us through the window, and a moment later, though he hasn’t moved, it looks like he’s staring at something else, like the simulation has begun. But he doesn’t scream or thrash or cry, like I would expect of someone who is staring down his worst fears. His heart rate, recorded on the monitor in front of Amar, rises and rises, like a bird taking flight.
He’s afraid. He’s afraid, but he’s not even moving.
“What’s going on?” Mia asks me. “Is the serum working?”
I watch Eric take a deep breath into his gut and release it through his nose. His body shakes, shivers, like the ground is rumbling beneath him, but his breaths are slow and even, his muscles clenching and then relaxing every few seconds, like he keeps tensing up by accident and then correcting his mistake. I watch his heart rate on the monitor in front of Amar, watch it slow down more and more until Amar taps the screen, forcing the program to move on.
This happens over and over again with each new fear. I count the fears as they pass in silence, ten, eleven, twelve. Then Amar taps the screen one last time, and Eric’s body relaxes. He blinks, slowly, then smirks at the window.
I notice that the Dauntless-borns, usually so quick to comment on everything, are silent. That must mean that what I’m feeling is correct—that Eric is someone to watch out for. Maybe even someone to be afraid of.
For more than an hour I watch the other initiates face their fears, running and jumping and aiming invisible guns and, in some cases, lying facedown on the floor, sobbing. Sometimes I get a sense of what they see, of the crawling, creeping fears that torment them, but most of the time the villains they’re warding off are private ones, known only to them and Amar.
I stay near the back of the room, shrinking down every time he calls on the next person. But then I’m the last one in the room, and Mia is just finishing, pulled out of her fear landscape when she’s crouching against the back wall, her head in her hands. She stands, looking worn, and shuffles out of the room without waiting for Amar to dismiss her. He glances at the last syringe on the table, then at me.
“Just you and me, Stiff,” he says. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
I stand in front of him. I barely feel the needle go in; I’ve never had a problem with shots, though some of the other initiates got teary-eyed before the injection. I walk into the next room and face the window, which looks like a mirror on this side. In the moment before the simulation takes effect, I can see myself the way the others must have seen me, slouched and buried in fabric, tall and bony and bleeding. I try to straighten up, and I’m surprised by the difference it makes, surprised by the shadow of strength I see in myself right before the room disappears.
Images fill the space in pieces, the skyline of our city, the hole in the pavement seven stories below me, the line of the ledge beneath my feet. Wind rushes up the side of the building, stronger than it was when I was here in real life, whipping my clothes so hard they snap, and pushing against me from all angles. Then the building grows with me on top of it, moving me far away from the ground. The hole seals up, and hard pavement covers it.
I cringe away from the edge, but the wind won’t let me move backward. My heart pounds harder and faster as I confront the reality of what I have to do; I have to jump again, this time not trusting that there won’t be pain when I slam into the ground.
A Stiff pancake.
I shake out my hands, squeeze my eyes shut, and scream into my teeth. Then I follow the push of the wind and I drop, fast. I hit the ground.
Searing, white-hot pain rushes through me, just for a second.
I stand up, wiping dust from my cheek, and wait for the next obstacle. I have no idea what it will be. I haven’t taken much time to consider my fears, or even what it would mean to be free from fear, to conquer it. It occurs to me that without fear, I might be strong, powerful, unstoppable. The idea seduces me for just a second before something hits my back, hard.
Then something hits my left side, and my right side, and I’m enclosed in a box large enough only for my body. Shock protects me from panic, at first, and then I breathe the close air and stare into the empty darkness, and my insides squeeze tighter and tighter. I can’t breathe anymore. I can’t breathe.
I bite down on my lip to keep from sobbing—I don’t want Amar to see me cry, don’t want him to tell the Dauntless that I’m a coward. I have to think, can’t think, through the suffocation of this box. The wall against my back here is the same as the one in my memory, from when I was young, shut in the darkness in the upstairs hallway as punishment. I was never sure when it would end, how many hours I would be stuck there with imaginary monsters creeping up on me in the dark, with the sound of my mother’s sobs leaking through the walls.
I slam my hands against the wall in front of me, again and again, then claw at it, though the splinters stab the skin under my fingernails. I put up my forearms and hit the box with the full weight of my body, again and again, closing my eyes so I can pretend I’m not in here, I’m not in here. Let me out let me out let me out let me out.
“Think it through, Stiff!” a voice shouts, and I go still. I remember that this is a simulation.
Think it through. What do I need to get out of this box? I need a tool, something stronger than I am. I nudge something with my toes and reach down to pick it up. But when I reach down, the top of the box moves with me, and I can’t straighten again. I swallow a scream and find the pointy end of a crowbar with my fingers. I wedge it between the boards that form the left corner of the box and push as hard as I can.
All the boards spring apart at once and fall on the ground around me. I breathe the fresh air, relieved.
Then a woman appears in front of me. I don’t recognize her face, and her clothes are white, not belonging to any faction. I move toward her, and a table springs up in front of me, with a gun and a bullet on it. I frown at it.
Is this a fear?
“Who are you?” I ask her, and she doesn’t answer.
It’s clear what I’m supposed to do—load the gun, fire the bullet. Dread builds inside of me, as powerful as any fear. My mouth goes dry, and I fumble for the bullet and the gun. I’ve never held a gun before, so it takes me a few seconds to figure out how to open the chamber of the pistol. In those seconds I think of the light leaving her eyes, this woman I don’t know, don’t know enough to care about her.
I am afraid—I am afraid of what I will be asked to do in Dauntless, of what I will want to do.
Afraid of some kind of hidden violence inside of me, wrought by my father and by the years of silence my faction forced on me.
I slide the bullet into the chamber, then hold the gun in both hands, the cut in my palm throbbing. I look at the woman’s face. Her lower lip wobbles, and her eyes fill with tears.
“I’m sorry,” I say, and I pull the trigger.
I see the dark hole the bullet creates in her body, and she falls to the floor, evaporating into a cloud of dust on contact.
But the dread doesn’t go away. I know that something’s coming; I can feel it building inside me. Marcus has not appeared yet, and he will, I know it as surely as I know my own name. Our name.
A circle of light envelops me, and at its edge, I see worn gray shoes pacing. Marcus Eaton steps into the edge of the light, but not the Marcus Eaton I know. This one has pits for eyes and a gaping black maw instead of a mouth.
Another Marcus Eaton stands beside him, and slowly, all around the circle, more and more monstrous versions of my father step forward to surround me, their yawning, toothless mouths open wide, their heads tilting at odd angles. I squeeze my hands into fists. It’s not real. It’s obviously not real.
The first Marcus undoes his belt and then slides it out from around his waist, loop by loop, and as he does, so do the other Marcuses. As they do, the belts turn into ropes made of metal, barbed at the ends. They drag their belts in lines across the floor, their oily black tongues sliding over the edges of their dark mouths. At once they draw back the metal ropes, and I scream at the top of my lungs, wrapping my arms around my head.
“This is for your own good,” the Marcuses say in metallic, united voices, like a choir.
I feel pain, tearing, ripping, shredding. I fall to my knees and squeeze my arms against my ears like they can protect me, but nothing can protect me, nothing. I scream again and again but the pain continues, and so does his voice. “I will not have self-indulgent behavior in my house!” “I did not raise my son to be a liar!”
I can’t hear, I won’t hear.
An image of the sculpture my mother gave me rises into my mind, unbidden. I see it where I placed it on my desk, and the pain starts to recede. I focus all my thoughts on it and the other objects scattered around my room, broken, the top of the trunk loose from its hinges. I remember my mother’s hands, with their slim fingers, closing the trunk and locking it and handing me the key.
One by one, the voices disappear, until there are none left.
I let my arms fall to the ground, waiting for the next obstacle. My knuckles brush the stone floor, which is cold and grainy with dirt. I hear footsteps and brace myself for what’s coming, but then I hear Amar’s voice:
“That’s it?” he says. “That’s all there is? God, Stiff.”
He stops next to me and offers me his hand. I take it and let him pull me to my feet. I don’t look at him. I don’t want to see his expression. I don’t want him to know what he knows, don’t want to become the pathetic initiate with the messed-up childhood.
“We should come up with another name for you,” he says casually. “Something tougher than ‘Stiff.’ Like ‘Blade’ or ‘Killer’ or something.”
At that I do look at him. He’s smiling a little. I do see some pity in that smile, but not as much as I thought I would.
“I wouldn’t want to tell people my name either,” he says. “Come on, let’s get some food.”
Amar walks me over to the initiates’ table once we’re in the dining hall. There are a few Dauntless already sitting at the surrounding tables, eyeing the other side of the room, where pierced and tattooed cooks are still setting out the food. The dining hall is a cavern lit from beneath by blue-white lamps, giving everything an eerie glow.
I sit down in one of the empty chairs.
“Jeez, Stiff. You look like you’re about to faint,” Eric says, and one of the Candor boys grins.
“You all made it out alive,” Amar says. “Congratulations. You made it through the first day of initiation, with varying degrees of success.” He looks at Eric. “None of you did as well as Four over here, though.”
He points at me as he speaks. I frown—four? Is he talking about my fears?
“Hey, Tori,” Amar calls over his shoulder. “You ever hear of anyone having only four fears in their fear landscape?”
“Last I heard, the record was seven or eight. Why?” Tori calls back.
“I’ve got a transfer over here with only four fears.”
Tori points at me, and Amar nods.
“That’s gotta be a new record,” Tori says.
“Well done,” Amar says to me. Then he turns and walks toward Tori’s table.
All the other initiates stare at me, wide-eyed and quiet. Before the fear landscape, I was just someone they could step on, on their way to Dauntless membership. Now I’m like Eric—someone worth watching out for, maybe even someone worth being afraid of.
Amar gave me more than a new name. He gave me power.
“What’s your real name, again? Starts with an E …?” Eric asks me, narrowing his eyes. Like he knows something but isn’t sure that now is the time to share it.
The others might remember my name too, vaguely, from the Choosing Ceremony,
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