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THE NEXT ROOM is more like a hallway: it is wide, but not deep, with blue tile, blue walls, and a blue ceiling, all the same shade. Everything glows, but I can’t tell where the light is coming from.
At first I don’t see any doors, but once my eyes adjust to the shock of color, I see a rectangle in the wall to my left, and another one in the wall to my right. Just two doors.
“We have to split up,” I say. “We don’t have time to try each one together. ”
“Which one do you want?” Marcus says.
“Right,” I say. “Wait, no. Left. ”
“Fine. I will go right. ”
“If I’m the one who finds the computer,” I say, “what should I look for?”
“If you find the computer, you will find Jeanine. I assume you know a few ways to coerce her into doing what you want. She is not, after all, accustomed to pain,” he says.
I nod. We walk at the same pace toward our respective doors. A moment ago I would have said that separating from Marcus would be a relief. But going on alone is its own burden. What if I can’t get through the security measures Jeanine undoubtedly has in place to keep out intruders? What if, if I somehow manage to get through them, I can’t find the right file?
I put my hand on the door handle. There doesn’t seem to be a lock. When Tori said there were insane security measures, I thought she meant eye scanners and passwords and locks, but so far, everything has been open.
Why does that worry me?
I open my door, and Marcus opens his. We share a look. I walk into the next room.
The room, like the hallway outside, is blue, though here it is clear where the light is coming from. It glows from the center of every panel, ceiling, floor, and walls.
Once the door closes behind me, I hear a thud like a dead bolt shifting into place. I grab the door handle again and push down as hard as I can, but it doesn’t budge. I am trapped.
Small, piercing lights come at me from all angles. My eyelids aren’t enough to block them, so I have to press my palms over my eye sockets.
I hear a calm, feminine voice:
“Beatrice Prior, second generation. Faction of origin: Abnegation. Selected faction: Dauntless. Confirmed Divergent. ”
How does this room know who I am?
And what does “second generation” mean?
“Status: Intruder. ”
I hear a click, and pull my fingers apart just enough to see if the lights are gone. They aren’t, but fixtures in the ceiling spray tinted vapor. Instinctively I clap my hand over my mouth. In seconds I stare through a blue fog. And then I stare at nothing.
I now stand in darkness so complete that when I hold my hand in front of my nose, I can’t even see its silhouette. I should walk forward and search for a door on the other side of the room, but I am afraid to move—who knows what would happen to me here if I did?
Then the lights lift, and I stand in the Dauntless training room, in the circle in which we used to spar. I have so many mixed memories of this circle, some triumphant, like beating Molly, and some haunting—Peter punching me until I fell unconscious. I sniff, and the air smells the same, like sweat and dust.
Across the circle is a blue door that doesn’t belong there. I frown at it.
“Intruder,” the voice says, and now it sounds like Jeanine, but that could be my imagination. “You have five minutes to reach the blue door before the poison will kick in. ”
But I know what she said. Poison. Five minutes. I shouldn’t be surprised; this is Jeanine’s work, just as empty of conscience as she is. My body shudders, and I wonder if that is the poison, if the poison is already shutting down my brain.
Focus. I can’t get out; I have to move forward, or . . .
Or nothing. I have to move forward.
I start toward the door, and someone appears in my path. She is short, thin, and blond, with dark circles under her eyes. She is me.
A reflection? I wave at her to see if she will mirror me. She doesn’t.
“Hello,” I say. She doesn’t answer. I didn’t really think she would.
What is this? I swallow hard to pop my ears, which feel like they are stuffed with cotton. If Jeanine designed this, it is probably a test of intelligence or logic, which means I will have to think clearly, which means I will have to calm down. I clasp my hands over my chest and press down, hoping the pressure will make me feel safe, like an embrace.
I step to the right to get a better angle on the door, and my double hops to the side, her shoes scraping the dirt, to block my way again.
I think I know what will happen if I start toward the door, but I have to try. I break into a run, intending to swerve around her, but she is ready for me: she grabs my wounded shoulder and wrenches me to the side. I scream so loud it scrapes my throat; I feel like knives are stabbing deeper and deeper into my right side. As I begin to sink to my knees, she kicks me in the stomach and I sprawl across the floor, inhaling dust.
That, I realize as I clutch my stomach, is exactly what I would have done if I had been in her position. Which means that in order to defeat her, I have to think of a way to defeat myself. And how can I be a better fighter than myself, if she knows the same strategies I know, and is exactly as resourceful and clever as I am?
She starts toward me again, so I scramble to my feet and try to put aside the pain in my shoulder. My heart beats faster. I want to punch her, but she gets there first. I duck at the last second, and her fist hits my ear, knocking me off balance.
I back up a few steps, hoping that she won’t pursue me, but she does. She comes at me again, this time seizing my shoulders and pulling me down, toward her bent knee.
I put my hands up, between my stomach and her knee, and push as hard as I can. She was not expecting that; she stumbles back, but doesn’t fall.
I run at her, and as the desire to kick her slips into my mind, I realize that it is also her desire. I twist away from her foot.
The second I want something, she also wants it. She and I can only be, at best, at a standstill—but I need to beat her to get through the door. To survive.
I try to think it through, but she is coming at me again, her forehead tightened into a scowl of concentration. She grabs my arm, and I grab hers, so that we are clutched forearm to forearm.
At the same time, we yank our elbows back and thrust them forward. I lean in at the last second, and my elbow smashes into her teeth.
Both of us cry out. Blood spills over her lip, and runs down my forearm. She grits her teeth and yells, diving at me, stronger than I anticipated.
Her weight knocks me down. She pins me to the floor with her knees and tries to punch my face, but I cross my arms in front of me. Her fists hit my arms instead, each one like a stone striking my skin.
With a heavy exhale, I grab at one of her wrists, and I notice that spots are dancing at the corners of my eyes. Poison.
As she struggles to free herself, I bring my knee up to my chest. Then I push her back, grunting with effort, until I can press my foot to her stomach. I kick her, my face boiling hot.
The logical puzzle: In a fight between two perfect equals, how can one win?
The answer: One can’t.
She pushes herself to her feet and wipes the blood from her lip.
Therefore: we must not be perfectly equal. So what is different about us?
She walks toward me again, but I need more time to think, so for every step she takes forward, I take back. The room sways, and then twists, and I lurch to the side, brushing my fingertips on the ground to steady myself.
What is different about us? We have the same mass, skill level, patterns of thinking . . .
I see the door over her shoulder, and I realize: We have different goals. I have to get through that door. She has to protect it. But even in a simulation, there is no way she is as desperate as I am.
I sprint toward the edge of the circle, where there is a table. A moment ago, it was empty, but I know the rules of simulations and how to control them. A gun appears on it as soon as I think it.
I slam into the table, the spots crowding my view of it. I don’t even feel pain when I collide with it. I feel my heartbeat in my face, like my heart has detached from its moorings in my chest and begun to migrate to my brain.
Across the room, a gun appears on the ground before my double. We both reach for our weapons.
I feel the weight of the gun, and its smoothness, and I forget about her; I forget about the poison; I forget about everything.
My throat constricts, and I feel like there is a hand around it, tightening. My head throbs from the sudden loss of air, and I feel my heartbeat everywhere, everywhere.
Across the room, it’s no longer my double who stands between me and my goal; it’s Will. No, no. It can’t be Will. I force myself to breathe in. The poison is cutting off oxygen to my brain. He is just a hallucination within a simulation. I exhale in a sob.
For a moment I see my double again, holding the gun but visibly shuddering, the weapon as far out from her body as she can possibly hold it. She is as weak as I am. No, not as weak, because she is not going blind and losing air, but almost as weak, almost.
Then Will is back, his eyes simulation-dead, his hair a yellow halo around his head. Brickbuildings loom from each side, but behind him is the door, the door that separates me from my father and brother.
No, no, it is the door that separates me from Jeanine and my goal.
I have to get through that door. I have to.
I lift the gun, though it hurts my shoulder to do it, and wrap one hand around the other to steady it.
“I . . . ” I choke, and tears smear my cheeks, run into my mouth. I taste salt. “I’m sorry. ”
And I do the one thing my double is unable to do, because she is not desperate enough: