“Everyone knows Four,” she says. “We were initiates together. I was bad at fighting, so he taught me every night after everyone was asleep.” She scratches the back of her neck, her expression suddenly serious. “Nice of him.”
She gets up and stands behind the members sitting in the doorway. In a second, her serious expression is gone, but I still feel rattled by what she said, half confused by the idea of Four being “nice” and half wanting to punch her for no apparent reason.
“Here we go!” shouts Shauna. The train doesn’t slow down, but she throws herself out of the car. The other members follow her, a stream of black-clothed, pierced people not much older than I am. I stand in the doorway next to Uriah. The train is going much faster than it has every other time I’ve jumped, but I can’t lose my nerve now, in front of all these members. So I jump, hitting the ground hard and stumbling forward a few steps before I regain my balance.
Uriah and I jog to catch up to the members, along with the other initiates, who barely look in my direction.
I look around as I walk. The Hub is behind us, black against the clouds, but the buildings around me are dark and silent. That means we must be north of the bridge, where the city is abandoned.
We turn a corner and spread out as we walk down Michigan Avenue. South of the bridge, Michigan Avenue is a busy street, crawling with people, but here it is bare.
As soon as I lift my eyes to scan the buildings, I know where we’re going: the empty Hancock building, a black pillar with crisscrossed girders, the tallest building north of the bridge.
But what are we going to do? Climb it?
As we get closer, the members start to run, and Uriah and I sprint to catch them. Jostling one another with their elbows, they push through a set of doors at the building’s base. The glass in one of them is broken, so it is just a frame. I step through it instead of opening it and follow the members through an eerie, dark entryway, crunching broken glass beneath my feet.
I expect us to go up the stairs, but we stop at the elevator bank.
“Do the elevators work?” I ask Uriah, as quietly as I can.
“Sure they do,” says Zeke, rolling his eyes. “You think I’m stupid enough not to come here early and turn on the emergency generator?”
“Yeah,” says Uriah. “I kinda do.”
Zeke glares at his brother, then puts him in a headlock and rubs his knuckles into Uriah’s skull. Zeke may be smaller than Uriah, but he must be stronger. Or at least faster. Uriah smacks him in the side, and he lets go.
I grin at the sight of Uriah’s disheveled hair, and the elevator doors open. We pile in, members in one and initiates in the other. A girl with a shaved head stomps on my toes on the way in and doesn’t apologize. I grab my foot, wincing, and consider kicking her in the shins. Uriah stares at his reflection in the elevator doors and pats his hair down.
“What floor?” the girl with the shaved head says.
“One hundred,” I say.
“How would you know that?”
“Lynn, come on,” says Uriah. “Be nice.”
“We’re in a one-hundred-story abandoned building with some Dauntless,” I retort. “Why don’t you know that?”
She doesn’t respond. She just jams her thumb into the right button.
The elevator zooms upward so fast my stomach sinks and my ears pop. I grab a railing at the side of the elevator, watching the numbers climb. We pass twenty, and thirty, and Uriah’s hair is finally smooth. Fifty, sixty, and my toes are done throbbing. Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, and the elevator comes to a stop at one hundred. I’m glad we didn’t take the stairs.
“I wonder how we’ll get to the roof from…” Uriah’s voice trails off.
A strong wind hits me, pushing my hair across my face. There is a gaping hole in the ceiling of the hundredth floor. Zeke props an aluminum ladder against its edge and starts to climb. The ladder creaks and sways beneath his feet, but he keeps climbing, whistling as he does. When he reaches the roof, he turns around and holds the top of the ladder for the next person.
Part of me wonders if this is a suicide mission disguised as a game.
It isn’t the first time I’ve wondered that since the Choosing Ceremony.
I climb the ladder after Uriah. It reminds me of climbing the rungs on the Ferris wheel with Four close at my heels. I remember his fingers on my hip again, how they kept me from falling, and I almost miss a step on the ladder. Stupid.
Biting my lip, I make it to the top and stand on the roof of the Hancock building.
The wind is so powerful I hear and feel nothing else. I have to lean against Uriah to keep from falling over. At first, all I see is the marsh, wide and brown and everywhere, touching the horizon, devoid of life. In the other direction is the city, and in many ways it is the same, lifeless and with limits I do not know.
Uriah points to something. Attached to one of the poles on top of the tower is a steel cable as thick as my wrist. On the ground is a pile of black slings made of tough fabric, large enough to hold a human being. Zeke grabs one and attaches it to a pulley that hangs from the steel cable.
I follow the cable down, over the cluster of buildings and along Lake Shore Drive. I don’t know where it ends. One thing is clear, though: If I go through with this, I’ll find out.
We’re going to slide down a steel cable in a black sling from one thousand feet up.
“Oh my God,” says Uriah.
All I can do is nod.
Shauna is the first person to get in the sling. She wriggles forward on her stomach until most of her body is supported by black fabric. Then Zeke pulls a strap across her shoulders, the small of her back, and the top of her thighs. He pulls her, in the sling, to the edge of the building and counts down from five. Shauna gives a thumbs-up as he shoves her forward, into nothingness.
Lynn gasps as Shauna hurtles toward the ground at a steep incline, headfirst. I push past her to see better. Shauna stays secure in the sling for as long as I can see her, and then she’s too far away, just a black speck over Lake Shore Drive.
The members whoop and pump their fists and form a line, sometimes shoving one another out of the way to get a better place. Somehow I am the first initiate in line, right in front of Uriah. Only seven people stand between me and the zip line.
Still, there is a part of me that groans, I have to wait for seven people? It is a strange blend of terror and eagerness, unfamiliar until now.
The next member, a young-looking boy with hair down to his shoulders, jumps into the sling on his back instead of his stomach. He stretches his arms wide as Zeke shoves him down the steel cable.
None of the members seem at all afraid. They act like they have done this a thousand times before, and maybe they have. But when I look over my shoulder, I see that most of the initiates look pale or worried, even if they talk excitedly to one another. What happens between initiation and membership that transforms panic into delight? Or do people just get better at hiding their fear?
Three people in front of me. Another sling; a member gets in feet-first and crosses her arms over her chest. Two people. A tall, thick boy jumps up and down like a child before climbing into the sling and lets out a high screech as he disappears, making the girl in front of me laugh. One person.
She hops into the sling face-first and keeps her hands in front of her as Zeke tightens her straps. And then it’s my turn.
I shudder as Zeke hangs my sling from the cable. I try to climb in, but I have trouble; my hands are shaking too badly.
“Don’t worry,” Zeke says right next to my ear. He takes my arm and helps me get in, facedown.
The straps tighten around my midsection, and Zeke slides me forward, to the edge of the roof. I stare down the building’s steel girders and black windows, all the way to the cracked sidewalk. I am a fool for doing this. And a fool for enjoying the feeling of my heart slamming against my sternum and sweat gathering in the lines of my palms.
“Ready, Stiff?” Zeke smirks down at me. “I have to say, I’m impressed that you aren’t screaming and crying right now.”
“I told you,” Uriah says. “She’s Dauntless through and through. Now get on with it.”
“Careful, brother, or I might not tighten your straps enough,” Zeke says. He smacks his knee. “And then, splat!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Uriah says. “And then our mother would boil you alive.”
Hearing him talk about his mother, about his intact family, makes my chest hurt for a second, like someone pierced it with a needle.
“Only if she found out.” Zeke tugs on the pulley attached to the steel cable. It holds, which is fortunate, because if it breaks, my death will be swift and certain. He looks down at me and says, “Ready, set, g—”
Before he can finish the word “go,” he releases the sling and I forget him, I forget Uriah, and family, and all the things that could malfunction and lead to my death. I hear metal sliding against metal and feel wind so intense it forces tears into my eyes as I hurtle toward the ground.
I feel like I am without substance, without weight. Ahead of me the marsh looks huge, its patches of brown spreading farther than I can see, even up this high. The air is so cold and so fast that it hurts my face. I pick up speed and a shout of exhilaration rises within me, stopped only by the wind that fills my mouth the second my lips part.
Held secure by the straps, I throw my arms out to the side and imagine that I am flying. I plunge toward the street, which is cracked and patchy and follows perfectly the curve of the marsh. I can imagine, up here, how the marsh looked when it was full of water, like liquid steel as it reflected the color of the sky.
My heart beats so hard it hurts, and I can’t scream and I can’t breathe, but I also feel everything, every vein and every fiber, every bone and every nerve, all awake and buzzing in my body as if charged with electricity. I am pure adrenaline.
The ground grows and bulges beneath me, and I can see the tiny people standing on the pavement below. I should scream, like any rational human being would, but when I open my mouth again, I just crow with joy. I yell louder, and the figures on the ground pump their fists and yell back, but they are so far away I can barely hear them.
I look down and the ground smears beneath me, all gray and white and black, glass and pavement and steel. Tendrils of wind, soft as hair, wrap around my fingers and push my arms back. I try to pull my arms to my chest again, but I am not strong enough. The ground grows bigger and bigger.
I don’t slow down for another minute at least but sail parallel to the ground, like a bird.
When I slow down, I run my fingers over my hair. The wind teased it into knots. I hang about twenty feet above the ground, but that height seems like nothing now. I reach behind me and work to undo the straps holding me in. My fingers shake, but I still manage to loosen them. A crowd of members stands below. They grasp one another’s arms, forming a net of limbs beneath me.
In order to get down, I have to trust them to catch me. I have to accept that these people are mine, and I am theirs. It is a braver act than sliding down the zip line.
I wriggle forward and fall. I hit their arms hard. Wrist bones and forearms press into my back, and then palms wrap around my arms and pull me to my feet. I don’t know which hands hold me and which hands don’t; I see grins and hear laughter.
“What’d you think?” Shauna says, clapping me on the shoulder.
“Um…” All the members stare at me. They look as windblown as I feel, the frenzy of adrenaline in their eyes and their hair askew. I know why my father said the Dauntless were a pack of madmen. He didn’t—couldn’t—understand the kind of camaraderie that forms only after you’ve all risked your lives together.
“When can I go again?” I say. My smile stretches wide enough to show teeth, and when they laugh, I laugh. I think of climbing the stairs with the Abnegation, our feet finding the same rhythm, all of us the same. This isn’t like that. We are not the same. But we are, somehow, one.
I look toward the Hancock building, which is so far from where I stand that I can’t see the people on its roof.
“Look! There he is!” someone says, pointing over my shoulder. I follow the pointed finger toward a small dark shape sliding down the steel wire. A few seconds later I hear a bloodcurdling scream.
“I bet he’ll cry.”
“Zeke’s brother, cry? No way. He would get punched so hard.”
“His arms are flailing!”
“He sounds like a strangled cat,” I say. Everyone laughs again. I feel a twinge of guilt for teasing Uriah when he can’t hear me, but I would have said the same thing if he were standing here. I hope.
When Uriah finally comes to a stop, I follow the members to meet him. We line up beneath him and thrust our arms into the space between us. Shauna clamps a hand around my elbow. I grab another arm—I’m not sure who it belongs to, there are too many tangled hands—and look up at her.
“Pretty sure we can’t call you ‘Stiff’ anymore,” Shauna says. She nods. “Tris.”
I still smell like wind when I walk into the cafeteria that evening. For the second after I walk in, I stand among a crowd of Dauntless, and I feel like one of them. Then Shauna waves to me and the crowd breaks apart, and I walk toward the table where Christina, Al, and Will sit, gaping at me.
I didn’t think about them when I accepted Uriah’s invitation. In a way, it is satisfying to see stunned looks on their faces. But I don’t want them to be upset with me either.
“Where were you?” asks Christina. “What were you doing with them?”
“Uriah…you know, the Dauntless-born who was on our capture the flag team?” I say. “He was leaving with some of the members and he begged them to let me come along. They didn’t really want me there. Some girl named Lynn stepped on me.”
“They may not have wanted you there then,” says Will quietly, “but they seem to like you now.”