By the time Christina comes back, a muffin in each hand, I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, staring at my untied shoes. I will have to bend over to tie them. It will hurt when I bend over.
But Christina just passes me a muffin and crouches in front of me to tie my shoes. Gratitude surges in my chest, warm and a little like an ache. Maybe there is some Abnegation in everyone, even if they don’t know it.
Well, in everyone but Peter.
“Thank you,” I say.
“Well, we would never get there on time if you had to tie them yourself,” she says. “Come on. You can eat and walk at the same time, right?”
We walk fast toward the Pit. The muffin is banana-flavored, with walnuts. My mother baked bread like this once to give to the factionless, but I never got to try it. I was too old for coddling at that point. I ignore the pinch in my stomach that comes every time I think of my mother and half walk, half jog after Christina, who forgets that her legs are longer than mine.
We climb the steps from the Pit to the glass building above it and run to the exit. Every thump of my feet sends pain through my ribs, but I ignore it. We make it to the tracks just as the train arrives, its horn blaring.
“What took you so long?” Will shouts over the horn.
“Stumpy Legs over here turned into an old lady overnight,” says Christina.
“Oh, shut up.” I’m only half kidding.
Four stands at the front of the pack, so close to the tracks that if he shifted even an inch forward, the train would take his nose with it. He steps back to let some of the others get on first. Will hoists himself into the car with some difficulty, landing first on his stomach and then dragging his legs in behind him. Four grabs the handle on the side of the car and pulls himself in smoothly, like he doesn’t have more than six feet of body to work with.
I jog next to the car, wincing, then grit my teeth and grab the handle on the side. This is going to hurt.
Al grabs me under each arm and lifts me easily into the car. Pain shoots through my side, but it only lasts for a second. I see Peter behind him, and my cheeks get warm. Al was trying to be nice, so I smile at him, but I wish people didn’t want to be so nice. As if Peter didn’t have enough ammunition already.
“Feeling okay there?” Peter says, giving me a look of mock sympathy—his lips turned down, his arched eyebrows pulled in. “Or are you a little…Stiff?”
He bursts into laughter at his joke, and Molly and Drew join in. Molly has an ugly laugh, all snorting and shaking shoulders, and Drew’s is silent, so it almost looks like he’s in pain.
“We are all awed by your incredible wit,” says Will.
“Yeah, are you sure you don’t belong with the Erudite, Peter?” Christina adds. “I hear they don’t object to sissies.”
Four, standing in the doorway, speaks before Peter can retort. “Am I going to have to listen to your bickering all the way to the fence?”
Everyone gets quiet, and Four turns back to the car’s opening. He holds the handles on either side, his arms stretching wide, and leans forward so his body is mostly outside the car, though his feet stay planted inside. The wind presses his shirt to his chest. I try to look past him at what we’re passing—a sea of crumbling, abandoned buildings that get smaller as we go.
Every few seconds, though, my eyes shift back to Four. I don’t know what I expect to see, or what I want to see, if anything. But I do it without thinking.
I ask Christina, “What do you think is out there?” I nod to the doorway. “I mean, beyond the fence.”
She shrugs. “A bunch of farms, I guess.”
“Yeah, but I mean…past the farms. What are we guarding the city from?”
She wiggles her fingers at me. “Monsters!”
I roll my eyes.
“We didn’t even have guards near the fence until five years ago,” says Will. “Don’t you remember when Dauntless police used to patrol the factionless sector?”
“Yes,” I say. I also remember that my father was one of the people who voted to get the Dauntless out of the factionless sector of the city. He said the poor didn’t need policing; they needed help, and we could give it to them. But I would rather not mention that now, or here. It’s one of the many things Erudite gives as evidence of Abnegation’s incompetence.
“Oh, right,” he says. “I bet you saw them all the time.”
“Why do you say that?” I ask, a little too sharply. I don’t want to be associated too closely with the factionless.
“Because you had to pass the factionless sector to get to school, right?”
“What did you do, memorize a map of the city for fun?” says Christina.
“Yes,” says Will, looking puzzled. “Didn’t you?”
The train’s brakes squeal, and we all lurch forward as the car slows. I am grateful for the movement; it makes standing easier. The dilapidated buildings are gone, replaced by yellow fields and train tracks. The train stops under an awning. I lower myself to the grass, holding the handle to keep me steady.
In front of me is a chain-link fence with barbed wire strung along the top. When I walk forward, I notice that it continues farther than I can see, perpendicular to the horizon. Past the fence is a cluster of trees, most of them dead, some green. Milling around on the other side of the fence are Dauntless guards carrying guns.
“Follow me,” says Four. I stay close to Christina. I don’t want to admit it, not even to myself, but I feel calmer when I’m near her. If Peter tries to taunt me, she will defend me.
Silently I scold myself for being such a coward. Peter’s insults shouldn’t bother me, and I should focus on getting better at combat, not on how badly I did yesterday. And I should be willing, if not able, to defend myself instead of relying on other people to do it for me.
Four leads us toward the gate, which is as wide as a house and opens up to the cracked road that leads to the city. When I came here with my family as a child, we rode in a bus on that road and beyond, to Amity’s farms, where we spent the day picking tomatoes and sweating through our shirts.
Another pinch in my stomach.
“If you don’t rank in the top five at the end of initiation, you will probably end up here,” says Four as he reaches the gate. “Once you are a fence guard, there is some potential for advancement, but not much. You may be able to go on patrols beyond Amity’s farms, but—”
“Patrols for what purpose?” asks Will.
Four lifts a shoulder. “I suppose you’ll discover that if you find yourself among them. As I was saying. For the most part, those who guard the fence when they are young continue to guard the fence. If it comforts you, some of them insist that it isn’t as bad as it seems.”
“Yeah. At least we won’t be driving buses or cleaning up other people’s messes like the factionless,” Christina whispers in my ear.
“What rank were you?” Peter asks Four.
I don’t expect Four to answer, but he looks levelly at Peter and says, “I was first.”
“And you chose to do this?” Peter’s eyes are wide and round and dark green. They would look innocent to me if I didn’t know what a terrible person he is. “Why didn’t you get a government job?”
“I didn’t want one,” Four says flatly. I remember what he said on the first day, about working in the control room, where the Dauntless monitor the city’s security. It is difficult for me to imagine him there, surrounded by computers. To me he belongs in the training room.
We learned about faction jobs in school. The Dauntless have limited options. We can guard the fence or work for the security of our city. We can work in the Dauntless compound, drawing tattoos or making weapons or even fighting each other for entertainment. Or we can work for the Dauntless leaders. That sounds like my best option.
The only problem is that my rank is terrible. And I might be factionless by the end of stage one.
We stop next to the gate. A few Dauntless guards glance in our direction but not many. They are too busy pulling the doors—which are twice as tall as they are and several times wider—open to admit a truck.
The man driving wears a hat, a beard, and a smile. He stops just inside the gate and gets out. The back of the truck is open, and a few other Amity sit among the stacks of crates. I peer at the crates—they hold apples.
“Beatrice?” an Amity boy says.
My head jerks at the sound of my name. One of the Amity in the back of the truck stands. He has curly blond hair and a familiar nose, wide at the tip and narrow at the bridge. Robert. I try to remember him at the Choosing Ceremony and nothing comes to mind but the sound of my heart in my ears. Who else transferred? Did Susan? Are there any Abnegation initiates this year? If Abnegation is fizzling, it’s our fault—Robert’s and Caleb’s and mine. Mine. I push the thought from my mind.
Robert hops down from the truck. He wears a gray T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. After a second’s hesitation, he moves toward me and folds me in his arms. I stiffen. Only in Amity do people hug each other in greeting. I don’t move a muscle until he releases me.
His own smile fades when he looks at me again. “Beatrice, what happened to you? What happened to your face?”
“Nothing,” I say. “Just training. Nothing.”
“Beatrice?” demands a nasal voice next to me. Molly folds her arms and laughs. “Is that your real name, Stiff?”
I glance at her. “What did you think Tris was short for?”
“Oh, I don’t know…weakling?” She touches her chin. If her chin was bigger, it might balance out her nose, but it is weak and almost recedes into her neck. “Oh wait, that doesn’t start with Tris. My mistake.”
“There’s no need to antagonize her,” Robert says softly. “I’m Robert, and you are?”
“Someone who doesn’t care what your name is,” she says. “Why don’t you get back in your truck? We’re not supposed to fraternize with other faction members.”
“Why don’t you get away from us?” I snap.
“Right. Wouldn’t want to get between you and your boyfriend,” she says. She walks away smiling.
Robert gives me a sad look. “They don’t seem like nice people.”
“Some of them aren’t.”
“You could go home, you know. I’m sure Abnegation would make an exception for you.”
“What makes you think I want to go home?” I ask, my cheeks hot. “You think I can’t handle this or something?”
“It’s not that.” He shakes his head. “It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you shouldn’t have to. You should be happy.”
“This is what I chose. This is it.” I look over Robert’s shoulder. The Dauntless guards seem to have finished examining the truck. The bearded man gets back into the driver’s seat and closes the door behind him. “Besides, Robert. The goal of my life isn’t just…to be happy.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier if it was, though?” he says.
Before I can answer, he touches my shoulder and turns toward the truck. A girl in the back has a banjo on her lap. She starts to strum it as Robert hoists himself inside, and the truck starts forward, carrying the banjo sounds and her warbling voice away from us.
Robert waves to me, and again I see another possible life in my mind’s eye. I see myself in the back of the truck, singing with the girl, though I’ve never sung before, laughing when I am off-key, climbing trees to pick the apples, always peaceful and always safe.
The Dauntless guards close the gate and lock it behind them. The lock is on the outside. I bite my lip. Why would they lock the gate from the outside and not the inside? It almost seems like they don’t want to keep something out; they want to keep us in.
I push the thought out of my head. That makes no sense.
Four steps away from the fence, where he was talking to a female Dauntless guard with a gun balanced on her shoulder a moment before. “I am worried that you have a knack for making unwise decisions,” he says when he’s a foot away from me.
I cross my arms. “It was a two-minute conversation.”
“I don’t think a smaller time frame makes it any less unwise.” He furrows his eyebrows and touches the corner of my bruised eye with his fingertips. My head jerks back, but he doesn’t take his hand away. Instead he tilts his head and sighs. “You know, if you could just learn to attack first, you might do better.”
“Attack first?” I say. “How will that help?”
“You’re fast. If you can get a few good hits in before they know what’s going on, you could win.” He shrugs, and his hand falls.
“I’m surprised you know that,” I say quietly, “since you left halfway through my one and only fight.”
“It wasn’t something I wanted to watch,” he says.
What’s that supposed to mean?
He clears his throat. “Looks like the next train is here. Time to go, Tris.”
I CRAWL ACROSS my mattress and heave a sigh. It has been two days since my fight with Peter, and my bruises are turning purple-blue. I have gotten used to aching every time I move, so now I move better, but I am still far from healed.
Even though I am still injured, I had to fight again today. Luckily this time, I was paired against Myra, who couldn’t throw a good punch if someone was controlling her arm for her. I got a good hit in during the first two minutes. She fell down and was too dizzy to get back up. I should feel triumphant, but there is no triumph in punching a girl like Myra.
The second I touch my head to the pillow, the door to the dormitory opens, and people stream into the room with flashlights. I sit up, almost hitting my head on the bed frame above me, and squint through the dark to see what’s going on.