1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47
I FORGOT MY watch.
Minutes or hours later, when the panic subsides, that is what I most regret. Not coming here in the first place—that seemed like an obvious choice—but my bare wrist, which makes it impossible for me to know how long I have been sitting in this room. My back aches, which is some indication, but it is not definite enough.
After a while I get up and pace, stretching my arms above my head. I hesitate to do anything while the cameras are there, but they can’t learn anything by watching me touch my toes.
The thought makes my hands tremble, but I don’t try to push it from my mind. Instead I tell myself that I am Dauntless and I am no stranger to fear. I will die in this place. Perhaps soon. Those are the facts.
But there are other ways to think of it. Soon I will honor my parents by dying as they died. And if all they believed about death was true, soon I will join them in whatever comes next.
I shake my hands as I pace. They’re still trembling. I want to know what time it is. I arrived a little after midnight. It must be early in the morning by now, maybe 4:00, or 5:00. Or maybe it hasn’t been that long, and only seems that way because I haven’t been doing anything.
The door opens, and at last I stand face-to-face with my enemy and her Dauntless guards.
“Hello, Beatrice,” Jeanine says. She wears Erudite blue and Erudite spectacles and an Erudite look of superiority that I was taught by my father to hate. “I thought you might be the one who came. ”
But I don’t feel hate when I look at her. I don’t feel anything at all, even though I know she’s responsible for countless deaths, including Marlene’s. The deaths exist in my mind as a string of meaningless equations, and I stand frozen, unable to solve them.
“Hello, Jeanine,” I say, because it is the only thing that comes to mind.
I look from Jeanine’s watery gray eyes to the Dauntless who flank her. Peter stands at her right shoulder, and a woman with lines on either side of her mouth stands at her left. Behind her is a bald man with sharp planes in his skull. I frown.
How does Peter find himself in such a prestigious position, as Jeanine Matthews’s bodyguard? Where is the logic in that?
“I’d like to know what time it is,” I say.
“Would you,” she says. “That’s interesting. ”
I should have known she wouldn’t tell me. Every piece of information she receives factors into her strategy, and she won’t tell me what time it is unless she decides that providing the information is more useful than withholding it.
“I’m sure my Dauntless companions are disappointed,” she says, “that you have not tried to claw my eyes out yet. ”
“That would be stupid. ”
“True. But in keeping with your ‘act first, think second’ behavioral trend. ”
“I’m sixteen. ” I purse my lips. “I change. ”
“How refreshing. ” She has a way of flattening even those phrases that should have inflection built into them. “Let’s go on a little tour, shall we?”
She steps back and gestures toward the doorway. The last thing I want to do is walk out of this room and toward an uncertain destination, but I don’t hesitate. I walk out, the severe-looking Dauntless woman in front of me. Peter follows me soon afterward.
The hallway is long and pale. We turn a corner and walk down a second one exactly like the first.
Two more hallways follow. I am so disoriented I could never find my way back. But then my surroundings change—the white tunnel opens to a large room where Erudite men and women in long blue jackets stand behind tables, some holding tools, some mixing multicolored liquids, some staring at computer screens. If I had to guess, I would say they are mixing simulation serum, but I hesitate to confine Erudite’s work to simulations alone.
Most of them stop to watch us as we walk down the center aisle. Or rather, they watch me. Some of them whisper, but most remain silent. It is so quiet here.
I follow the Dauntless traitor woman through a doorway, and stop so abruptly Peter runs into me.
This room is just as large as the last one, but there is only one thing in it: a large metal table with a machine next to it. A machine I vaguely recognize as a heart monitor. And dangling above it, a camera. I shudder without meaning to. Because I know what this is.
“I am very pleased that you, in particular, are here,” says Jeanine. She walks past me and perches on the table, her fingers curled around the edge.
“I am pleased, of course, because of your aptitude test results. ” Her blond hair, pulled tight to her skull, reflects the light, catches my attention.
“Even among the Divergent, you are somewhat of an oddity, because you have aptitude for three factions. Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. ”
“How . . . ” My voice croaks. I push the question out. “How do you know that?”
“All in good time,” she says. “From your results I have determined that you are one of the strongest Divergent, which I say not to compliment you but to explain my purpose. If I am to develop a simulation that cannot be thwarted by the Divergent mind, I must study the strongest Divergent mind in order to shore up all weaknesses in the technology. Understand?”
I don’t respond. I am still staring at the heart monitor next to the table.
“Therefore, for as long as possible, my fellow scientists and I will be studying you. ” She smiles a little. “And then, at the conclusion of my study, you will be executed. ”
I knew that. I knew it, so why do my knees feel weak, why is my stomach writhing, why?
“That execution will take place here. ” She runs her fingertips over the table beneath her. “On this table. I thought it would be interesting to show it to you. ”
She wants to study my response. I barely breathe. I used to think that cruelty required malice, but that is not true. Jeanine has no reason to act out of malice. But she is cruel because she doesn’t care what she does, as long as it fascinates her. I may as well be a puzzle or a broken machine she wants to fix. She will break open my skull just to see the inner workings of my brain; I will die here, and that will be the merciful thing.
“I knew what would happen when I came here,” I say. “It’s just a table. And I’d like to go back to my room now. ”
I don’t really comprehend time’s passing, at least not in the way that I used to, when time was available to me. So when the door opens again and Peter walks into my cell, I don’t know how much time has gone by, only that I am exhausted.
“Let’s go, Stiff,” he says.
“I’m not Abnegation. ” I stretch my arms above my head so they brush against the wall. “And now that you’re an Erudite lackey, you can’t call me ‘Stiff. ’ It’s inaccurate. ”
“I said, let’s go. ”
“What, no snide comments?” I look up at him with mock surprise. “No ‘You’re an idiot for coming here; your brain must be deficient as well as Divergent’?”
“That really goes without saying, doesn’t it?” he says. “You can either get up or I can drag you down the hallway. Your choice. ”
I feel calmer. Peter is always mean to me; this is familiar.
I stand and walk out of the room. I notice as I walk that Peter’s arm, the one I shot, is no longer in a sling.
“Did they fix up your bullet wound?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Now you’ll need to find a different weakness to exploit. Too bad I’m fresh out of them. ” He grabs my good arm and walks faster, pulling me along beside him. “We’re late. ”
Despite the length and emptiness of the hallway, our footsteps don’t echo much. I feel like someone put their hands over my ears and I only just noticed it. I try to keep track of the hallways we walk down, but I lose count after a while. We reach the end of one and turn left, into a dim room that reminds me of an aquarium. One of the walls is made of one-way glass—reflective on my side, but I’m sure it’s transparent on the other side.
A large machine stands on the other side, with a man-sized tray coming out of it. I recognize it from my Faction History textbook, the unit on Erudite and medicine. An MRI machine. It will take pictures of my brain.
Something sparks inside me. It’s been so long since I felt it that I barely recognize it at first. Curiosity.
A voice—Jeanine’s voice—speaks over an intercom.
“Lie down, Beatrice. ”
I look at the man-sized tray that will slide me into the machine.
She sighs. “If you don’t do it yourself, we have ways of making you. ”
Peter is standing behind me. Even with an injured arm, he was stronger than me. I imagine his hands on me, wrestling me toward the tray, shoving me against the metal, pulling the straps that dangle from the tray across my body, too tightly.
“Let’s make a deal,” I say. “If I cooperate, I get to see the scan. ”
“You will cooperate whether you want to or not. ”
I hold up a finger. “That’s not true. ”
I look at the mirror. It’s not so difficult to pretend that I’m speaking to Jeanine when I speak to my own reflection. My hair is blond like hers; we are both pale and stern-looking. The thought is so disturbing to me that I lose my train of thought for a few seconds, and instead stand with my finger in the air in silence.
I am pale-skinned, pale-haired, and cold. I am curious about the pictures of my brain. I am like Jeanine. And I can either despise it, attack it, eradicate it . . . or I can use it.
“That’s not true,” I repeat. “No matter how many restraints you use, you can’t keep me as still as I need to be for the pictures to be clear. ” I clear my throat. “I want to see the scans. You’re going to kill me anyway, so does it really matter how much I know about my own brain before you do?”
“Why do you want to see them so badly?” she says.
“Surely you, of all people, understand. I have equal aptitude for Erudite as I do for Dauntless and Abnegation, after all. ”
“All right. You can see them. Lie down. ”
I walk over to the tray and lie down. The metal feels like ice. The tray slides back, and I am inside the machine. I stare up at whiteness. When I was young, I thought that was what heaven would be like, all white light and nothing else. Now I know that can’t be true, because white light is menacing.
I hear thumping, and I close my eyes as I remember one of the obstacles in my fear landscape, the fists pounding against my windows and the sightless men trying to kidnap me. I pretend the pounding is a heartbeat, a drumbeat. The river crashing against the walls of the chasm in the Dauntless compound. Feet stamping at the end-of-initiation ceremony. Feet pounding on the staircase after the Choosing Ceremony.
I don’t know how much time has passed when the thumping stops and the tray slides back. I sit up and rub my neck with my fingertips.
The door opens, revealing Peter in the hallway. He beckons to me. “Come on. You can go see the scans now. ”
I hop down from the tray and walk toward him. When we’re in the hallway, he shakes his head at me.
“I don’t know how you manage to always get what you want. ”
“Yeah, because I wanted to get myself into a cell in Erudite headquarters. I wanted to be executed. ”
I sound cavalier, like executions are something I face on a regular basis. But forming my lips around the word “executed” makes me shudder. I pretend I’m cold, squeezing my arms with my hands.
“Didn’t you, though?” he says. “I mean, you did come here of your own free will. That’s not what I call a good survival instinct. ”
He types in a series of numbers on a keypad outside the next door, and it opens. I enter the room on the other side of the mirror. It’s full of screens and light, reflecting off the glass in the Erudites’ spectacles. Across the room, another door clicks shut. There is an empty chair behind one of the screens, still turning. Someone just left.
Peter stands too close behind me—ready to grab me if I decide to attack anyone. But I won’t attack anyone. How far could I get if I did? Down one hallway, or two? And then I would be lost. I couldn’t get out of here even if there weren’t guards stopping me from leaving.
“Put them up there,” says Jeanine, pointing toward the large screen on the left wall. One of the Erudite scientists taps his own computer screen, and an image appears on the left wall. An image of my brain.
I don’t know what I’m looking at, exactly. I know what a brain looks like, and generally what each region of it does, but I don’t know how mine compares to others. Jeanine taps her chin and stares for what feels like a long time.
Finally she says, “Someone instruct Ms. Prior as to what the prefrontal cortex does. ”
“It’s the region of the brain behind the forehead, so to speak,” one of the scientists says. She doesn’t look much older than I am, and wears large round glasses that make her eyes look bigger. “It’s responsible for organizing your thoughts and actions to attain your goals. ”
“Correct,” Jeanine says. “Now someone tell me what they observe about Ms. Prior’s lateral prefrontal cortex. ”
“It’s large,” another scientist—this one a man with thinning hair—says.
“Specificity,” says Jeanine. Like she’s chastising him.
I am in a classroom, I realize, because every room with more than one Erudite in it is a classroom. And among them, Jeanine is their most valued teacher. They all stare at her with wide eyes and eager, open mouths, waiting to impress her.
“It’s much larger than average,” the man with thinning hair corrects himself.
“Better. ” Jeanine tilts her head. “In fact, it is one of the largest lateral prefrontal cortexes I’ve ever seen. Yet the orbitofrontal cortex is remarkably small. What do these two facts indicate?”
“The orbitofrontal cortex is the reward center of the brain. Those who exhibit reward-seeking behavior have a large orbitofrontal cortex,” someone says. “That means that Ms. Prior engages in very little reward-seeking behavior. ”
“Not just that. ” Jeanine smiles a little. Blue light from the screens makes her cheekbones and forehead brighter but casts shadows in her eye sockets. “It does not merely indicate something about her behavior, but about her desires. She is not reward motivated. Yet she is extremely good at directing her thoughts and actions toward her goals. This explains both her tendency toward harmful-but-selfless behavior and, perhaps, her ability to wriggle out of simulations. How does this change our approach to the new simulation serum?”
“It should suppress some, but not all, of the activity in the prefrontal cortex,” the scientist with the round glasses says.
“Precisely,” says Jeanine. She finally looks at me, her eyes gleaming with delight. “Then that is how we will proceed. Did this satisfy my end of our agreement, Ms. Prior?”
My mouth is dry, so it’s difficult to swallow.
And what happens if they suppress the activity in my prefrontal cortex—if they damage my ability to make decisions? What if this serum works, and I become a slave to the simulations like everyone else? What if I forget reality entirely?
I did not know that my entire personality, my entire being, could be discarded as the byproduct of my anatomy. What if I really am just someone with a large prefrontal cortex . . . and nothing more?
“Yes,” I say. “It did. ”
In silence Peter and I make our way back to my room. We turn left, and a group of people stands at the other end of the hallway. It is the longest of the corridors we will travel through, but that distance shrinks when I see him.
Held at either arm by a Dauntless traitor, a gun aimed at the back of his skull.
Tobias, blood trailing down the side of his face and marking his white shirt with red; Tobias, fellow Divergent, standing in the mouth of this furnace in which I will burn.
Peter’s hands clamp around my shoulders, holding me in place.
“Tobias,” I say, and it sounds like a gasp.
The Dauntless traitor with the gun presses Tobias toward me. Peter tries to push me forward too, but my feet remain planted. I came here so that no one else would die. I came here to protect as many people as I could. And I care more about Tobias’s safety than anyone else’s. So why am I here, if he’s here? What’s the point?
“What did you do?” I mumble. He is just a few feet away from me now, but not close enough to hear me. As he passes me he stretches out his hand. He wraps it around my palm and squeezes. Squeezes, then lets go. His eyes are bloodshot; he is pale.
“What did you do?” This time the question tears from my throat like a growl.
I throw myself toward him, struggling against Peter’s grip, though his hands chafe.
“What did you do?” I scream.
“You die, I die too. ” Tobias looks over his shoulder at me. “I asked you not to do this. You made your decision. These are the repercussions. ”
He disappears around the corner. The last I see of him and the Dauntless traitors leading him is the gleam of the gun barrel and blood on the back of his earlobe from an injury I didn’t see before.
All the life goes out of me as soon as he’s gone. I stop struggling and let Peter’s hands push me toward my cell. I slump to the ground as soon as I walk in, waiting for the door to slide shut to signify Peter’s departure, but it doesn’t.
“Why did he come here?” Peter says.
I glance at him.
“Because he’s an idiot. ”
“Well, yeah. ”
I rest my head against the wall.
“Did he think he could rescue you?” Peter snorts a little. “Sounds like a Stiff-born thing to do. ”
“I don’t think so,” I say. If Tobias intended to rescue me, he would have thought it through; he would have brought others. He would not have burst into Erudite headquarters alone.
Tears well up in my eyes, and I don’t try to blink them away. Instead I stare through them and watch my surroundings smear together. A few days ago I would never have cried in front of Peter, but I don’t care anymore. He is the least of all my enemies.
“I think he came to die with me,” I say. I clamp my hand over my mouth to stifle a sob. If I can keep breathing, I can stop crying. I didn’t need or want him to die with me. I wanted to keep him safe. What an idiot, I think, but my heart isn’t in it.
“That’s ridiculous,” he says. “That doesn’t make any sense. He’s eighteen; he’ll find another girlfriend once you’re dead. And he’s stupid if he doesn’t know that. ”
Tears run down my cheeks, hot at first and then cold. I close my eyes. “If you think that’s what it’s about . . . ” I swallow another sob. “. . . you’re the stupid one. ”
“Yeah. Whatever. ”
His shoes squeak as he turns away. About to leave.
“Wait!” I look up at his blurry silhouette, unable to make out his face. “What will they do to him? The same thing they’re doing to me?”
“I don’t know. ”
“Can you find out?” I wipe my cheeks with the heels of my hands, frustrated. “Can you at least find out if he’s all right?”
He says, “Why would I do that? Why would I do anything for you?”
A moment later I hear the door slide shut.