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THE PAIN SUBSIDES to a dull ache. I slide my hand under my jacket and feel for the wound.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
I’m not bleeding. But the force of the gunshot knocked me down, so I had to have been hit with something. I run my fingers over my shoulder, and feel a hard bump where the skin used to be smooth.
I hear a crack against the floor next to my face, and a metal cylinder about the size of my hand rolls to a stop against my head. Before I can move it, white smoke sprays out of both ends. I cough, and throw it away from me, deeper into the lobby. It isn’t the only cylinder, though—they are everywhere, filling the room with smoke that does not burn or sting. In fact, it only obscures my view for a few seconds before evaporating completely.
What was the point of that?
Lying on the floor all around me are Dauntless soldiers with their eyes closed. I frown as I look Uriah up and down—he doesn’t seem to be bleeding. I see no wound near his vital organs, which means he isn’t dead. So what knocked him unconscious? I look over my left shoulder, where Lynn fell in a strange, half-curled position. She’s also unconscious.
The Dauntless traitors walk into the lobby, their guns held up. I decide to do what I always do when I’m not sure what’s going on: I act like everyone else. I let my head drop and close my eyes. My heart pounds as the Dauntless’s footsteps come closer, and closer, squeaking on the marble floors. I bite my tongue to suppress a cry of pain as one of them steps on my hand.
“Not sure why we can’t just shoot them all in the head,” one of them says. “If there’s no army, we win. ”
“Now, Bob, we can’t just kill everyone,” a cold voice says.
The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I would know that voice anywhere. It belongs to Eric, leader of the Dauntless.
“No people means no one left to create prosperous conditions,” Eric continues. “Anyway, it’s not your job to ask questions. ” He raises his voice. “Half in the elevators, half in the stairwells, left and right! Go!”
There’s a gun a few feet to my left. If I opened my eyes, I could grab it and fire at him before he knew what hit him. But there’s no guarantee I would be able to touch it without panicking again.
I wait until I hear the last footstep disappear behind an elevator door or into a stairwell before opening my eyes. Everyone in the lobby appears to be unconscious. Whatever they gassed us with, it had to be simulation-inducing or I wouldn’t be the only one awake. It doesn’t make any sense—it doesn’t follow the simulation rules I’m familiar with—but I don’t have time to think it through.
I grab my knife and get up, trying to ignore the ache in my shoulder. I run over to one of the dead Dauntless traitors near the doorway. She was middle-aged; there are hints of gray in her dark hair. I try not to look at the bullet wound in her head, but the dim light glows on what looks like bone, and I gag.
Think. I don’t care who she was, or what her name was, or how old she was. I care only about the blue armband she wears. I have to focus on that. I try to hook my finger around the fabric, but it doesn’t come loose. It appears to be attached to her black jacket. I will have to take that, too.
I unzip my jacket and toss it over her face so I don’t have to look at her. Then I unzip her jacket and pull it, first from her left arm, and then from her right arm, gritting my teeth as I slide it from beneath her heavy body.
“Tris!” someone says. I turn around, jacket in one hand, knife in the other. I put the knife away—the invading Dauntless weren’t carrying them, and I don’t want to be conspicuous.
Uriah stands behind me.
“Divergent?” I ask him. There is no time to be shocked.
“Yeah,” he says.
“Get a jacket,” I say.
He crouches next to one of the other Dauntless traitors, this one young, not even old enough to be a Dauntless member. I flinch at the sight of his death-pale face. Someone so young shouldn’t be dead; shouldn’t even have been here in the first place.
My face hot with anger, I shrug the woman’s jacket on. Uriah pulls his own jacket on, his mouth pinched.
“They’re the only ones who are dead,” he says quietly. “Something about that seem wrong to you?”
“They must have known we would shoot at them, but they came anyway,” I say. “Questions later. We have to get up there. ”
“Up there? Why?” he says. “We should get out of here. ”
“You want to run away before you know what’s going on?” I scowl at him. “Before the Dauntless upstairs know what hit them?”Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“What if someone recognizes us?”
I shrug. “We just have to hope they won’t. ”
I sprint toward the stairwell, and he follows me. As soon as my foot touches the first stair, I wonder what on earth I intend to do. There are bound to be more of the Divergent in this building, but will they know what they are? Will they know to hide? And what do I expect to gain from submerging myself in an army of Dauntless traitors?
: I am being reckless. I will probably gain nothing. I will probably die.
And more disturbing still: I don’t really care.
“They’ll work their way upward,” I say between breaths. “So you should . . . go to the third floor. Tell them to . . . evacuate. Quietly. ”
“Where are you going, then?”
“Floor two,” I say. I shove my shoulder into the second-floor door. I know what to do on the second floor: look for the Divergent.
As I walk down the hallway, stepping over unconscious people dressed in black and white, I think of a verse of the song Candor children used to sing when they thought no one could hear them:
Dauntless is the cruelest of the five
They tear each other to pieces. . . .
It has never seemed truer to me than now, watching Dauntless traitors induce a sleeping simulation that is not so different from the one that forced them to kill members of Abnegationnot a month ago.
We are the only faction that could divide like this. Amity would not allow a schism; no one in Abnegation would be so selfish; Candor would argue until they found a common solution; and even Erudite would never do something so illogical. We really are the cruelest faction.
I step over a draped arm and a woman with her mouth hanging open, and hum the beginning of the next verse of the song under my breath.
Erudite is the coldest of the five
Knowledge is a costly thing. . . .
I wonder when Jeanine realized that Erudite and Dauntless would make a deadly combination. Ruthlessness and cold logic, it seems, can accomplish almost anything, including putting one and a half factions to sleep.
I scan faces and bodies as I walk, searching for irregular breaths, flickering eyelids, anything to suggest that the people lying on the ground are just pretending to be unconscious. So far, all the breathing is even and all the eyelids are still. Maybe none of the Candor are Divergent.
“Eric!” I hear someone shout from down the hall. I hold my breath as he walks right toward me. I try not to move. If I move, he’ll look at me, and he’ll recognize me, I know it. I look down, and tense so hard I tremble. Don’t look at me don’t look at me don’t look at me . . .
Eric strides past me and down the hallway to my left. I should continue my search as quickly as possible, but curiosity urges me forward, toward whoever called for Eric. The shout sounded urgent.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
When I lift my eyes, I see a Dauntless soldier standing over a kneeling woman. She wears a white blouse and a black skirt, and has her hands behind her head. Eric’s smile looks greedy even in profile.
“Divergent,” he says. “Well done. Bring her to the elevator bank. We’ll decide which ones to kill and which ones to bring back later. ”
The Dauntless soldier grabs the woman by the ponytail and starts toward the elevator bank, dragging her behind him. She shrieks, and then scrambles to her feet, bent over. I try to swallow but it feels like I have a wad of cotton balls in my throat.
Eric continues down the hallway, away from me, and I try not to stare as the Candor woman stumbles past me, her hair still trapped in the fist of the Dauntless soldier. By now I know how terror works: I let it control me for a few seconds, and then force myself to act.
One . . . two . . . three . . .
I start forward with a new sense of purpose. Watching each person to see if they’re awake is taking too much time. The next unconscious person I come across, I step hard on their pinkie finger. No response, not even a twitch. I step over them and find the next person’s finger, pressing hard with the toe of my shoe. No response there either.
I hear someone else shout, “Got one!” from a distant hallway and start to feel frantic. I hop over fallen man after fallen woman, over children and teenagers and the elderly, stepping on fingers or stomachs or ankles, searching for signs of pain. I barely see their faces after a while, but still I get no response. I am playing hide-and-seek with the Divergent, but I’m not the only person who’s “it. ”
And then it happens. I step on a Candor girl’s pinkie, and her face twitches. Just a little—an impressive attempt at concealing the pain—but enough to catch my attention.
I look over my shoulder to see if anyone is near me, but they’ve all moved on from this central hallway. I check for the nearest stairwell—there’s one just ten feet away, down a side hallway to my right. I crouch next to the girl’s head.
“Hey, kid,” I say as quietly as I can. “It’s okay. I’m not one of them. ”
Her eyes open, just a little.
“There’s a staircase about three yards away,” I say. “I’ll tell you when no one is watching, and then you have to run, understand?”
I stand and turn in a slow circle. A Dauntless traitor to my left is looking away, nudging a limp Dauntless with her foot. Two Dauntless traitors behind me are laughing about something. One in front of me is spacing out in my direction, but then he lifts his head and starts down the hallway again, away from me.
“Now,” I say.
The girl gets up and sprints toward the door to the stairwell. I watch her until the door clicks shut, and see my reflection in one of the windows. But I’m not standing alone in a hallway of sleeping people, like I thought. Eric is standing right behind me.
I look at his reflection, and he looks back at me. I could make a break for it. If I move fast enough, he might not have the presence of mind to grab me. But I know, even as the idea occurs to me, that I won’t be able to outrun him. And I won’t be able to shoot him, because I didn’t take a gun.
I spin around, bringing my elbow up as I do, and thrust it toward Eric’s face. It catches the end of his chin, but not hard enough to do any damage. He grabs my left arm with one hand and presses a gun barrel to my forehead with the other, smiling down at me.
“I don’t understand,” he says, “how you could possibly be stupid enough to come up here with no gun. ”
“Well, I’m smart enough to do this,” I say. I stomp hard on his foot, which I fired a bullet into less than a month ago. He screams, his face contorting, and drives the heel of the gun into my jaw. I clench my teeth to suppress a groan. Blood trickles down my neck—he broke the skin.
Through all that, his grip on my arm does not loosen once. But the fact that he didn’t just shoot me in the head tells me something: He’s not allowed to kill me yet.
“I was surprised to discover you were still alive,” he says. “Considering I’m the one who told Jeanine to construct that water tank just for you. ”
I try to figure out what I can do that will be painful enough for him to release me. I’ve just decided on a hard kick to the groin when he slips behind me and grabs me by both arms, pressing against me so I can barely move my feet. His fingernails dig into my skin, and I grit my teeth, both from the pain and from the sickening feeling of his chest on my back.
“She thought studying one of the Divergent’s reaction to a real-life version of a simulation would be fascinating,” he says, and he presses me forward so I have to walk. His breath tickles my hair. “And I agreed. You see, ingenuity—one of the qualities we most value in Erudite—requires creativity. ”
He twists his hands so the calluses scrape against my arms. I shift my body slightly to the left as I walk, trying to position one of my feet between his advancing feet. I notice with fierce pleasure that he’s limping.
“Sometimes creativity seems wasteful, illogical . . . unless it’s done for a greater purpose. In this case, the accumulation of knowledge. ”
I stop walking just long enough to bring my heel up, hard, between his legs. A high-pitched cry hitches in his throat, stopped before it really began, and his hands go limp for just a moment. In that moment, I twist my body as hard as I can and break free. I don’t know where I will run, but I have to run, I have to—
He grabs my elbow, yanking me back, and pushes his thumb into the wound in my shoulder, twisting until pain makes my vision go black at the edges, and I scream at the top of my lungs.
“I thought I recalled from the footage of you in that water tank that you got shot in that shoulder,” he says. “It seems I was right. ”
My knees crumple beneath me, and he grabs my collar almost carelessly, dragging me toward the elevator bank. The fabric digs into my throat, choking me, and I stumble after him. My body throbs with lingering pain.
When we reach the elevator bank, he forces me to my knees next to the Candor woman I saw earlier. She and four others sit between the two rows of elevators, kept in place by Dauntless with guns.
“I want one gun on her at all times,” says Eric. “Not just aimed at her. On her. ”
A Dauntless man pushes a gun barrel into the back of my neck. It forms a cold circle on my skin. I lift my eyes to Eric. His face is red, his eyes watering.
“What’s the matter, Eric?” I say, raising my eyebrows. “Afraid of a little girl?”
“I’m not stupid,” he says, pushing his hands through his hair. “That little-girl act may have worked on me before, but it won’t work again. You’re the best attack dog they’ve got. ” He leans closer to me. “Which is why I’m sure you’ll be put down soon enough. ”
One of the elevator doors opens, and a Dauntless soldier shoves Uriah—whose lips are stained with blood—toward the short row of the Divergent. Uriah glances at me, but I can’t read his expression well enough to know if he succeeded or failed. If he’s here, he probably failed. Now they’ll find all the Divergent in the building, and most of us will die.
I should probably be afraid. But instead a hysterical laugh bubbles inside me, because I just remembered something:
Maybe I can’t hold a gun. But I have a knife in my back pocket.
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