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NOT TEN SECONDS after we choose our new leaders, something rings—one long pulse, two short ones. I move toward the sound, my right ear toward the wall, and find a speaker suspended from the ceiling. There is another one across the room.
Then Jack Kang’s voice speaks all around us.
“Attention all occupants of Candor headquarters. A few hours ago I met with a representative of Jeanine Matthews. He reminded me that we Candor are in a weak position, dependent on Erudite for our survival, and told me that if I intend to keep my faction free, I will have to meet a few demands. ”
I stare up at the speaker, stunned. I shouldn’t be surprised that the leader of Candor is this forthright, but I wasn’t expecting a public announcement.
“In order to comply with these demands, I ask that everyone make their way to the Gathering Place to report whether you have an implant or not,” he says. “The Erudite have also ordered all Divergent to be turned over to Erudite. I do not know for what purpose. ”
He sounds listless. Defeated. Well, he is defeated, I think. Because he was too weak to fight back.
One thing Dauntless knows that Candor does not is how to fight even when fighting seems useless.
Sometimes I feel like I am collecting the lessons each faction has to teach me, and storing them in my mind like a guidebook for moving through the world. There is always something to learn, always something that is important to understand.
Jack Kang’s announcement ends with the same three rings it started with. The Dauntless rush through the room, throwing their things into bags. A few young Dauntless men cut the sheet away from the door, screaming something about Eric. Someone’s elbow presses me to a wall, and I just stand and watch the pandemonium intensify.
On the other hand, one thing Candor knows that Dauntless does not is how not to get carried away.
The Dauntless stand in a semicircle around the interrogation chair, where Eric now sits. He looks more dead than alive. He is slumped in the chair, sweat shining on his pale forehead. He stares at Tobias with his head tilted down, so his eyelashes blend into his eyebrows. I try to keep my eyes on him, but his smile—how the piercings pull wide when his lips spread—is almost too awful to take.
“Would you like me to tell you your crimes?” says Tori. “Or would you like to list them yourself?”
Rain sprays against the side of the building and streams down the walls. We stand in the interrogation room, on the top floor of the Merciless Mart. The afternoon storm is louder here. Every crack of thunder and flash of lightning makes the back of my neck prickle, as if electricity is dancing over my skin.
I like the smell of wet pavement. It is faint here, but once this is done, all the Dauntless will storm down the stairs and leave the Merciless Mart behind, and wet pavement will be the only thing I smell.
We have our bags with us. Mine is a sack made of a sheet and some rope. It contains my clothes and a spare pair of shoes. I wear the jacket I stole from the Dauntless traitor—I want Eric to see it if he looks at me.
Eric scans the crowd for a few seconds, and then his eyes settle on me. He laces his fingers and sets them—gingerly—on his stomach. “I’d like her to list them. Since she’s the one who stabbed me, clearly she is familiar with them. ”
I don’t know what game he’s playing, or what the point of rattling me is, especially now, before his execution. He seems arrogant, but I notice that his fingers tremble when he moves them. Even Eric must be afraid of death.
“Leave her out of this,” says Tobias.
“Why? Because you’re doing her?” Eric smirks. “Oh wait, I forgot. Stiffs don’t do that sort of thing. They just tie each other’s shoes and cut each other’s hair. ”
Tobias’s expression does not change. I think I understand: Eric doesn’t really care about me. But he knows exactly where to hit Tobias, and how hard. And one of the places to hit Tobias the hardest is to hit me.
This is what I wanted most to avoid: for my rises and falls to become Tobias’s rises and falls. That’s why I can’t let him step in to defend me now.
“I want her to list them,” repeats Eric.
I say, as evenly as possible:
“You conspired with Erudite. You are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Abnegation. ” As I go on, I can’t keep my voice steady anymore; I start to spit out the words like venom. “You betrayed Dauntless. You shot a child in the head. You are a ridiculous plaything of Jeanine Matthews. ”
His smile fades.
“Do I deserve to die?” he says.
Tobias opens his mouth to interrupt. But I respond before he can.
“Fair enough. ” His dark eyes are empty, like pits, like starless nights. “But do you have the right to decide that, Beatrice Prior? Like you decided the fate of that other boy—what was his name? Will?”
I don’t answer. I hear my father asking me, “What makes you think you have the right to shoot someone?” as we fought our way to the control room in Dauntless headquarters. He told me there is a right way to do something, and I needed to figure it out. I feel something in my throat, like a ball of wax, so thick I can barely swallow, barely breathe.
“You have committed every crime that warrants execution among the Dauntless,” says Tobias. “We have the right to execute you, under the laws of Dauntless. ”
He crouches by the three guns on the floor near Eric’s feet. One by one, he empties the chambers of bullets. They almost jingle as they hit the floor, and then roll, coming to rest against the toes of Tobias’s shoes. He picks up the middle gun and puts a bullet into the first slot.
Then he moves the three guns on the floor, around and around, until my eyes can’t follow the middle gun anymore. I lose track of which one holds the bullet. He picks up the guns and offers one to Tori, and another one to Harrison.
I try to think of the attack simulation, and what it did to the Abnegation. All the gray-clothed innocents lying dead on the street. There weren’t even enough Abnegation left to take care of the bodies, so most of them are probably still there. And that would not have been possible without Eric.
I think of the Candor boy, shot without a second’s hesitation, how stiff he was as he hit the ground next to me.
Maybe we are not the ones deciding if Eric lives or dies. Maybe he is the one who decided that, when he did all those terrible things.
But it’s still hard to breathe.
I look at him without malice, without hatred, and without fear. The rings in his face shine, and a lock of dirty hair falls into his eyes.
“Wait,” he says. “I have a request. ”
“We don’t take requests from criminals,” says Tori. She’s standing on one leg, and has been for the past few minutes. She sounds tired—she probably wants to get this over with so she can sit down again. To her this execution is just an inconvenience.
“I am a leader of Dauntless,” he says. “And all I want is for Four to be the one who fires that bullet. ”
“Why?” Tobias says.
“So you can live with the guilt,” Eric replies. “Of knowing that you usurped me and then shot me in the head. ”
I think I understand. He wants to see people break—has always wanted to, ever since he set up the camera in my execution room when I nearly drowned, and probably long before then. And he believes that if Tobias has to kill him, he will see that before he dies.
“There won’t be any guilt,” says Tobias.
“Then you’ll have no problem doing it. ” Eric smiles again.
Tobias picks up one of the bullets.
“Tell me,” says Eric quietly, “because I’ve always wondered. Is it your daddy who shows up in every fear landscape you’ve ever gone through?”
Tobias puts the bullet into an empty chamber without looking up.
“You didn’t like that question?” Eric says. “What, afraid the Dauntless are going to change their minds about you? Realize that even though you’ve only got four fears, you’re still a coward?”
He straightens in the chair and puts his hands on the armrests.
Tobias holds his gun out from his left shoulder.
“Eric,” he says, “be brave. ”
He squeezes the trigger.
I shut my eyes.