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THE SERUM WEARS off five hours later, when the sun is just beginning to set. Tobias shut me in my room for the rest of the day, checking on me every hour. This time when he comes in, I am sitting on the bed, glaring at the wall.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
“Thank God,” he says, pressing his forehead to the door. “I was beginning to think it would never wear off and I would have to leave you here to . . . smell flowers, or whatever you wanted to do while you were on that stuff. ”
“I’ll kill them,” I say. “I will kill them. ”
“Don’t bother. We’re leaving soon anyway,” he says, closing the door behind him. He takes the hard drive from his back pocket. “I thought we could hide this behind your dresser. ”
“That’s where it was before. ”
“Yeah, and that’s why Peter won’t look for it here again. ” Tobias pulls the dresser away from the wall with one hand and wedges the hard drive behind it with the other.
“Why couldn’t I fight the peace serum?” I say. “If my brain is weird enough to resist the simulation serum, why not this one?”
“I don’t know, really,” he says. He drops down next to me on the bed, jostling the mattress. “Maybe in order to fight off a serum, you have to want to. ”
“Well, obviously I wanted to,” I say, frustrated, but without conviction. Did I want to? Or was it nice to forget about anger, forget about pain, forget about everything for a few hours?
“Sometimes,” he says, sliding his arm across my shoulders, “people just want to be happy, even if it’s not real. ”
He’s right. Even now, this peace between us comes from not talking about things—about Will, or my parents, or me almost shooting him in the head, or Marcus. But I do not dare to disturb it with the truth, because I am too busy clinging to it for support.
“You might be right,” I say quietly.
“Are you conceding?” he says, his mouth falling open with mock surprise. “Seems like that serum did you some good after all. . . . ”
I shove him as hard as I can. “Take that back. Take it back now. ”
“Okay, okay!” He puts up his hands. “It’s just . . . I’m not very nice either, you know. That’s why I like you so—”
“Out!” I shout, pointing at the door.
Laughing to himself, Tobias kisses my cheek and leaves the room.
That evening, I am too embarrassed by what happened to go to dinner, so I spend the time in the branches of an apple tree at the far end of the orchard, picking ripe apples. I climb as high as I dare to get them, muscles burning. I have discovered that sitting still leaves little spaces for the grief to get in, so I stay busy.
I am wiping my forehead with the hem of my shirt, standing on a branch, when I hear the sound. It is faint, at first, joining the buzz of cicadas. I stand still to listen, and after a moment, I realize what it is: cars.
The Amity own about a dozen trucks that they use for transporting goods, but they only do that on weekends. The back of my neck tingles. If it isn’t the Amity, it’s probably the Erudite. But I have to be sure.
I grab the branch above me with both hands, but pull myself up with only my left arm. I’m surprised I’m still able to do that. I stand hunched, twigs and leaves tangled in my hair. A few apples fall to the ground when I shift my weight. Apple trees aren’t very tall; I may not be able to see far enough.
I use the nearby branches as steps, with my hands to steady me, twisting and leaning around the tree’s maze. I remember climbing the Ferris wheel on the pier, my muscles shaking, my hands throbbing. I am wounded now, but stronger, and the climbing feels easier.
The branches get thinner, weaker. I lick my lips and look at the next one. I need to climb as high as possible, but the branch I’m aiming for is short and looks pliable. I put my foot on it, testing its strength. It bends, but holds. I start to lift myself up, to put the other foot down, and the branch snaps.
I gasp as I fall back, seizing the tree trunk at the last second. This will have to be high enough. I stand on my tiptoes and squint in the direction of the sound.
At first I see nothing but a stretch of farmland, a strip of empty ground, the fence, and the fields and beginnings of buildings that lie beyond it. But approaching the gate are a few moving specks—silver, when the light catches them. Cars with black roofs—solar panels, which means only one thing. Erudite.
A breath hisses between my teeth. I don’t allow myself to think; I just put one foot down, then the other, so fast that bark peels off the branches and drifts toward the ground. As soon as my feet touch the earth, I run.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
I count the rows of trees as I pass them. Seven, eight. The branches dip low, and I pass just beneath them. Nine, ten. I hold my right arm against my chest as I sprint faster, the bullet wound in my shoulder throbbing with each footstep. Eleven, twelve.
When I reach the thirteenth row, I throw my body to the right, down one of the aisles. The trees are close together in the thirteenth row. Their branches grow into one another, creating a maze of leaves and twigs and apples.
My lungs sting from a lack of oxygen, but I am not far from the end of the orchard. Sweat runs into my eyebrows. I reach the dining hall and throw open the door, shoving my way through a group of Amity men, and he is there; Tobias sits at one end of the cafeteria with Peter and Caleb and Susan. I can barely see them between the spots on my vision, but Tobias touches my shoulder.
“Erudite,” is all I manage to say.
“Coming here?” he says.
“Do we have time to run?”
I am not sure about that.
By now, the Abnegation at the other end of the table are paying attention. They gather around us.
“Why do we need to run?” says Susan. “The Amity established this place as a safe house. No conflict allowed. ”
“The Amity will have trouble enforcing that policy,” says Marcus. “How do you stop conflict without conflict?”
“But we can’t leave,” Peter says. “We don’t have time. They’ll see us. ”
“Tris has a gun,” Tobias says. “We can try to fight our way out. ”
He starts toward the dormitory.
“Wait,” I say. “I have an idea. ” I scan the crowd of Abnegation. “Disguises. The Erudite don’t know for sure that we’re still here. We can pretend to be Amity. ”
“Those of us who aren’t dressed like the Amity should go to the dormitories, then,” Marcus says. “The rest of you, put your hair down; try to mimic their behavior. ”
The Abnegation who are dressed in gray leave the dining hall in a pack and cross the courtyard to the guests’ dormitory. Once inside, I run to my bedroom, get on my hands and knees, and reach under the mattress for the gun.
I feel around for a few seconds before I find it, and when I do, my throat pinches, and I can’t swallow. I don’t want to touch the gun. I don’t want to touch it again.
Come on, Tris. I shove the gun under the waistband of my red pants. It is lucky they are so baggy. I notice the vials of healing salve and pain medicine on the bedside table and shove them in my pocket, just in case we do manage to escape.Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)
Then I reach behind the dresser for the hard drive.
If the Erudite catch us—which is likely—they will search us, and I don’t want to just hand over the attack simulation again. But this hard drive also contains the surveillance footage from the attack. The record of our losses. Of my parents’ deaths. The only piece of them I have left. And because the Abnegation don’t take photographs, the only documentation I have of how they looked.
Years from now, when my memories begin to fade, what will I have to remind me of what they looked like? Their faces will change in my mind. I will never see them again.
Don’t be stupid. It’s not important.
I squeeze the hard drive so tightly it hurts.
Then why does it feel so important?
“Don’t be stupid,” I say aloud. I grit my teeth and grab the lamp from my bedside table. I yank the plug from the socket, throw the lampshade onto the bed, and crouch over the hard drive. Blinking tears from my eyes, I slam the base of the lamp into it, creating a dent.
I bring the lamp down again, and again, and again, until the hard drive cracks and pieces of it spread across the floor. Then I kick the shards under the dresser, put the lamp back, and walk into the hallway, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand.
A few minutes later, a small crowd of gray-clad men and women—and Peter—stand in the hallway, sorting through stacks of clothes.
“Tris,” says Caleb. “You’re still wearing gray. ”
I pinch my father’s shirt, and hesitate.
“It’s Dad’s,” I say. If I change out of it, I will have to leave it behind. I bite my lip so that the pain will steady me. I have to get rid of it. It’s just a shirt. That’s all it is.
“I’ll put it on under mine,” Caleb says. “They’ll never see it. ”
I nod and grab a red shirt from the dwindling pile of clothes. It is large enough to conceal the bulge of the gun. I duck into a nearby room to change, and hand off the gray shirt to Caleb when I get to the hallway. The door is open, and through it I see Tobias stuffing Abnegation clothes into the trash bin.
“Do you think the Amity will lie for us?” I ask him, leaning out the open doorway.
“To prevent conflict?” Tobias nods. “Absolutely. ”
He wears a red collared shirt and a pair of jeans that are fraying at the knee. The combination looks ridiculous on him.
“Nice shirt,” I say.
He wrinkles his nose at me. “It was the only thing that covered up the neck tattoo, okay?”
I smile nervously. I forgot about my tattoos, but the shirt hides them well enough.
The Erudite cars pull up to the compound. There are five of them, all silver with black roofs. Their engines seem to purr as the wheels bump over uneven ground. I slip just inside the building, leaving the door open behind me, and Tobias busies himself with the latch on the trash bin.
The cars all pull to a stop, and the doors pop open, revealing at least five men and women in Erudite blue.
And about fifteen in Dauntless black.
When the Dauntless come closer, I see strips of blue fabric wrapped around their arms that can only signify their allegiance to Erudite. The faction that enslaved their minds.
Tobias takes my hand and leads me into the dormitory.
“I didn’t think our faction would be that stupid,” he says. “You have the gun, right?”
“Yes,” I say. “But there’s no guarantee I can fire it with any accuracy with my left hand. ”
“You should work on that,” he says. Always an instructor.
“I will,” I say. I shake a little as I add, “If we live. ”
His hands skim my bare arms. “Just bounce a little when you walk,” he says, kissing my forehead, “and pretend you’re afraid of their guns”—another kiss between my eyebrows—“and act like the shrinking violet you could never be”—a kiss on my cheek—“and you’ll be fine. ”
“Okay,” I say. My hands tremble as I grip his shirt collar. I pull his mouth down to mine.
A bell sounds, once, twice, three times. It is a summons to the dining hall, where the Amity gather for less formal occasions than the meeting we attended. We join the crowd of Abnegation-turned-Amity.
I pull pins from Susan’s hair—the hairstyle is too severe for Amity. She gives me a small, grateful smile as her hair falls on her shoulders, the first time I have ever seen it that way. It softens her square jaw.
I am supposed to be braver than the Abnegation, but they don’t seem as worried as I am. They offer each other smiles and walk in silence—in too much silence. I wedge my way between them and jab one of the older women in the shoulder.
“Tell the kids to play tag,” I say to her.
“Tag?” she says.
“They’re acting respectful and . . . Stiff,” I say, cringing as I say the word that was my nickname in Dauntless. “And Amity kids would be causing a ruckus. Just do it, okay?”
The woman touches one Abnegation child on the shoulder and whispers something to him, and a few seconds later a small group of children run down the hallway, dodging Amity feet and yelling, “I touched you! You’re it!” “No, that was my sleeve!”
Caleb catches on, jabbing Susan in the ribs so she shrieks with laughter. I try to relax, injecting a bounce into my step as Tobias suggested, letting my arms swing as I turn corners. It is amazing how pretending to be in a different faction changes everything—even the way I walk. That must be why it’s so strange that I could easily belong in three of them.
We catch up to the Amity in front of us as we cross the courtyard to the dining hall and disperse among them. I keep Tobias in my peripheral vision, not wanting to stray too far from him. The Amity don’t ask questions; they just let us dissolve into their faction.
A pair of Dauntless traitors stand by the door to the dining hall, their guns in hand, and I stiffen. It feels real to me, suddenly, that I am unarmed and being herded into a building surrounded by Erudite and Dauntless, and if they discover me, there will be nowhere to run. They will shoot me on the spot.
I consider making a break for it. But where would I go that they could not catch me? I try to breathe normally. I am almost past them—don’t look, don’t look. A few steps away—eyes away, away.
Susan loops her arm through mine.
“I’m telling you a joke,” she says, “that you find very funny. ”
I cover my mouth with my hand and force a giggle that sounds high-pitched and foreign, but judging by the smile she gives me, it was believable. We hang on each other the way Amity girls do, glancing at the Dauntless and then giggling again. I am amazed by how I manage to do it, with the leaden feeling inside me.
“Thank you,” I mutter once we’re inside.
“You’re welcome,” she replies.
Tobias sits across from me at one of the long tables, and Susan sits next to me. The rest of the Abnegation spread throughout the room, and Caleb and Peter are a few seats down from me.
I tap my fingers on my knees as we wait for something to happen. For a long time we just sit there, and I pretend to be listening to an Amity girl telling a story on my left. But every so often I look at Tobias, and he looks back at me, like we’re passing fear back and forth between us.
Finally Johanna walks in with an Erudite woman. Her bright blue shirt seems to glow against her skin, which is dark brown. She searches the room as she speaks to Johanna. I hold my breath as her eyes find me—and then let it out when she moves on without a moment’s hesitation. She did not recognize me.
At least, not yet.
Someone bangs on a tabletop, and the room goes quiet. This is it. This is the moment she either hands us over, or doesn’t.
“Our Erudite and Dauntless friends are looking for some people,” Johanna says. “Several members of Abnegation, three members of Dauntless, and a former Erudite initiate. ” She smiles. “In the interest of full cooperation, I told them that the people they were looking for were, in fact, here, but have since moved on. They would like permission to search the premises, which means we have to vote. Does anyone object to a search?”
The tension in her voice suggests that if anyone does object, they should keep their mouth shut. I don’t know if the Amity pick up on that kind of thing, but no one says anything. Johanna nods to the Erudite woman.
“Three of you stick around,” the woman says to the Dauntless guards clustered by the entrance. “The rest of you, search all the buildings and report back if you find anything. Go. ”
There is so much they could find. The pieces of the hard drive. Clothes I forgot to throw out. A suspicious lack of trinkets and decorations in our living spaces. I feel my pulse behind my eyes as the three Dauntless soldiers who stayed behind pace up and down the rows of tables.
The back of my neck tingles as one of them walks behind me, his footsteps loud and heavy. Not for the first time in my life, I’m glad that I’m small and plain. I don’t draw people’s eyes to me.
But Tobias does. He wears his pride in his posture, in the way his eyes claim everything they land on. That is not an Amity trait. It can only be a Dauntless one.
The Dauntless woman walking toward him looks at him right away. Her eyes narrow as she walks closer, and then stops directly behind him.
I wish the collar of his shirt were higher. I wish he didn’t have so many tattoos. I wish . . .
“Your hair is pretty short for an Amity,” she says.
. . . he did not cut his hair like the Abnegation.
“It’s hot,” he says.
The excuse might work if he knew how to deliver it, but he says it with a snap.
She stretches out her hand and, with her index finger, pulls back the collar of his shirt to see his tattoo.
And Tobias moves.
He grabs the woman’s wrist, yanking her forward so she loses her balance. She hits her head against the edge of the table and falls. Across the room, a gun goes off, someone screams, and everyone dives under the tables or crouches next to the benches.
Everyone except me. I sit where I was before the gunshot sounded, clutching the edge of the table. I know that’s where I am, but I don’t see the cafeteria anymore. I see the alley I escaped down after my mother died. I stare at the gun in my hands, at the smooth skin between Will’s eyebrows.
A small sound gurgles in my throat. It would have been a scream if my teeth had not been clamped shut. The flash of memory fades, but I still can’t move.
Tobias grabs the Dauntless woman by the back of her neck and wrenches her to her feet. He has her gun in his hand. He uses her to shield him as he fires over her right shoulder at the Dauntless soldier across the room.
“Tris!” he shouts. “A little help here?”
I pull my shirt up just far enough to reach the handle of the gun, and my fingers meet metal. It feels so cold that it hurts my fingertips, but that can’t be; it’s so hot in here. A Dauntless man at the end of the aisle aims his own revolver at me. The black spot at the end of the barrel grows around me, and I can hear my heart but nothing else.
Caleb lunges forward and grabs my gun. He holds it in both hands and fires at the knees of the Dauntless man who stands just feet away from him.
The Dauntless man screams and collapses, his hands clutching his leg, which gives Tobias the opportunity to shoot him in the head. His pain is momentary.
My entire body is trembling and I can’t stop it. Tobias still has the Dauntless woman by the throat, but this time, he aims his gun at the Erudite woman.
“Say another word,” says Tobias, “and I’ll shoot. ”
The Erudite woman’s mouth is open, but she doesn’t speak.
“Whoever’s with us should start running,” Tobias says, his voice filling the room.
All at once, the Abnegation rise from their places under tables and benches, and start toward the door. Caleb pulls me up from the bench. I start toward the door.
Then I see something. A twitch, a flicker of movement. The Erudite woman lifts a small gun, points it at a man in a yellow shirt in front of me. Instinct, not presence of mind, pushes me into a dive. My hands collide with the man, and the bullet hits the wall instead of him, instead of me.
“Put the gun down,” says Tobias, pointing his revolver at the Erudite woman. “I have very good aim, and I’m betting that you don’t. ”
I blink a few times to get the blurriness out of my eyes. Peter stares back at me. I just saved his life. He does not thank me, and I don’t acknowledge him.
The Erudite woman drops her gun. Together Peter and I walk toward the door. Tobias follows us, walking backward so he can keep his gun on the Erudite woman. At the last second before he passes through the threshold, he slams the door between him and her.
And we all run.
We sprint down the center aisle of the orchard in a breathless pack. The night air is heavy as a blanket and smells like rain. Shouts follow us. Car doors slam. I run faster than I can possibly run, like I’m breathing adrenaline instead of air. The purr of engines chases me into the trees. Tobias’s hand closes around mine.
We run through a cornfield in a long line. By then, the cars have caught up to us. The headlights creep through the tall stalks, illuminating a leaf here, an ear of corn there.
“Split up!” someone yells, and it sounds like Marcus.
We divide and spread through the field like spilling water. I grab Caleb’s arm. I hear Susan gasping behind Caleb.
We crash over cornstalks. The heavy leaves cut my cheeks and arms. I stare between Tobias’s shoulder blades as we run. I hear a heavy thump and a scream. There are screams everywhere, to my left, to my right. Gunshots. The Abnegation are dying again, dying like they were when I pretended to be under the simulation. And all I’m doing is running.
Finally we reach the fence. Tobias runs along it, pushing it until he finds a hole. He holds the chain links back so Caleb, Susan, and I can crawl through. Before we start running again, I stop and look back at the cornfield we just left. I see headlights distantly glowing. But I don’t hear anything.
“Where are the others?” whispers Susan.
I say, “Gone. ”
Susan sobs. Tobias pulls me to his side roughly, and starts forward. My face burns with shallow cuts from the corn leaves, but my eyes are dry. The Abnegation deaths are just another weight I am unable to set down.
We stay away from the dirt road the Erudite and Dauntless took to get to the Amity compound, following the train tracks toward the city. There is nowhere to hide out here, no trees or buildings that can shield us, but it doesn’t matter. The Erudite can’t drive through the fence anyway, and it will take them a while to reach the gate.
“I have to . . . stop . . . ” says Susan from somewhere in the darkness behind me.
We stop. Susan collapses to the ground, crying, and Caleb crouches next to her. Tobias and I look toward the city, which is still illuminated, because it’s not midnight yet. I want to feel something. Fear, anger, grief. But I don’t. All I feel is the need to keep moving.
Tobias turns toward me.
“What was that, Tris?” he says.
“What?” I say, and I am ashamed of how weak my voice sounds. I don’t know whether he’s talking about Peter or what came before or something else.
“You froze! Someone was about to kill you and you just sat there!” He is yelling now. “I thought I could rely on you at least to save your own life!”
“Hey!” says Caleb. “Give her a break, all right?”
“No,” says Tobias, staring at me. “She doesn’t need a break. ” His voice softens. “What happened?”
He still believes that I am strong. Strong enough that I don’t need his sympathy. I used to think he was right, but now I am not sure. I clear my throat.
“I panicked,” I say. “It won’t happen again. ”
He raises an eyebrow.
“It won’t,” I say again, louder this time.
“Okay. ” He looks unconvinced. “We have to get somewhere safe. They’ll regroup and start looking for us. ”
“You think they care that much about us?” I say.
“Us, yes,” he says. “We were probably the only ones they were really after, apart from Marcus, who is most likely dead. ”
I don’t know how I expected him to say it—with relief, maybe, because Marcus, his father and the menace of his life, is finally gone. Or with pain and sadness, because his father might have been killed, and sometimes grief doesn’t make much sense. But he says it like it’s just a fact, like the direction we’re moving or the time of day.
“Tobias . . . ” I start to say, but then I realize I don’t know what comes after it.
“Time to go,” Tobias says over his shoulder.
Caleb coaxes Susan to her feet. She moves only with the help of his arm across her back, pressing her forward.
I didn’t realize until that moment that Dauntless initiation had taught me an important lesson: how to keep going.
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