Tori takes my hand and presses it between her palms.
“Think about this,” she says. “These people taught you how to use a gun. They taught you how to fight. You think they’re above hurting you? Above killing you?”
She releases my hand and stands.
“I have to go or Bud will ask questions. Be careful, Tris.”
THE DOOR TO the Pit closes behind me, and I am alone. I have not walked this tunnel since the day of the Choosing Ceremony. I remember how I walked it then, my footsteps unsteady, searching for light. I walk it surefooted now. I don’t need light anymore.
It has been four days since I spoke to Tori. Since then, Erudite has released two articles about Abnegation. The first article accuses Abnegation of withholding luxuries like cars and fresh fruit from the other factions in order to force their belief in self-denial on everyone else. When I read it, I thought of Will’s sister, Cara, accusing my mother of hoarding goods.
The second article discusses the failings of choosing government officials based on their faction, asking why only people who define themselves as selfless should be in government. It promotes a return to the democratically elected political systems of the past. It makes a lot of sense, which makes me suspect it is a call for revolution wrapped in the clothing of rationality.
I reach the end of the tunnel. The net stretches across the gaping hole, just as it did when I last saw it. I climb the stairs to the wooden platform where Four pulled me to solid ground and grab the bar that the net is attached to. I would not have been able to lift my body up with just my arms when I first got here, but now I do it almost without thinking and roll into the center of the net.
Above me are the empty buildings that stand at the edge of the hole, and the sky. It is dark blue and starless. There is no moon.
The articles troubled me, but I had friends to cheer me up, and that is something. When the first one was released, Christina charmed one of the cooks in the Dauntless kitchens, and he let us try some cake batter. After the second article, Uriah and Marlene taught me a card game, and we played for two hours in the dining hall.
Tonight, though, I want to be alone. More than that, I want to remember why I came here, and why I was so determined to stay here that I would jump off a building for it, even before I knew what being Dauntless was. I work my fingers through the holes in the net beneath me.
I wanted to be like the Dauntless I saw at school. I wanted to be loud and daring and free like them. But they were not members yet; they were just playing at being Dauntless. And so was I, when I jumped off that roof. I didn’t know what fear was.
In the past four days, I faced four fears. In one I was tied to a stake and Peter set a fire beneath my feet. In another I was drowning again, this time in the middle of an ocean as the water raged around me. In the third, I watched as my family slowly bled to death. And in the fourth, I was held at gunpoint and forced to shoot them. I know what fear is now.
Wind rushes over the lip of the hole and washes over me, and I close my eyes. In my mind I stand at the edge of the roof again. I undo the buttons of my gray Abnegation shirt, exposing my arms, revealing more of my body than anyone else has ever seen. I ball the shirt up and hurl it at Peter’s chest.
I open my eyes. No, I was wrong; I didn’t jump off the roof because I wanted to be like the Dauntless. I jumped off because I already was like them, and I wanted to show myself to them. I wanted to acknowledge a part of myself that Abnegation demanded that I hide.
I stretch my hands over my head and hook them in the net again. I reach with my toes as far as I can, taking up as much of the net as possible. The night sky is empty and silent, and for the first time in four days, so is my mind.
I hold my head in my hands and breathe deeply. Today the simulation was the same as yesterday: Someone held me at gunpoint and ordered me to shoot my family. When I lift my head, I see that Four is watching me.
“I know the simulation isn’t real,” I say.
“You don’t have to explain it to me,” he replies. “You love your family. You don’t want to shoot them. Not the most unreasonable thing in the world.”
“In the simulation is the only time I get to see them,” I say. Even though he says I don’t, I feel like I have to explain why this fear is so difficult for me to face. I twist my fingers together and pull them apart. My nail beds are bitten raw—I have been chewing them as I sleep. I wake to bloody hands every morning. “I miss them. You ever just…miss your family?”
Four looks down. “No,” he says eventually. “I don’t. But that’s unusual.”
It is unusual, so unusual it distracts me from the memory of holding a gun to Caleb’s chest. What was his family like that he no longer cares about them?
I pause with my hand on the doorknob and look back at him.
Are you like me? I ask him silently. Are you Divergent?
Even thinking the word feels dangerous. His eyes hold mine, and as the silent seconds pass, he looks less and less stern. I hear my heartbeat. I have been looking at him too long, but then, he has been looking back, and I feel like we are both trying to say something the other can’t hear, though I could be imagining it. Too long—and now, even longer, my heart even louder, his tranquil eyes swallowing me whole.
I push the door open and hurry down the hallway.
I shouldn’t be so easily distracted by him. I shouldn’t be able to think of anything but initiation. The simulations should disturb me more; they should break my mind, as they have been doing to most of the other initiates. Drew doesn’t sleep—he just stares at the wall, curled in a ball. Al screams every night from his nightmares and cries into his pillow. My nightmares and chewed fingernails pale by comparison.
Al’s screams wake me every time, and I stare at the springs above me and wonder what on earth is wrong with me, that I still feel strong when everyone else is breaking down. Is it being Divergent that makes me steady, or is it something else?
When I get back to the dormitory, I expect to find the same thing I found the day before: a few initiates lying on beds or staring at nothing. Instead they stand in a group on the other end of the room. Eric is in front of them with a chalkboard in his hands, which is facing the other way, so I can’t see what’s written on it. I stand next to Will.
“What’s going on?” I whisper. I hope it isn’t another article, because I’m not sure I can handle any more hostility directed at me.
“Rankings for stage two,” he says.
“I thought there weren’t any cuts after stage two,” I hiss.
“There aren’t. It’s just a progress report, sort of.”
The sight of the board makes me feel uneasy, like something is swimming in my stomach. Eric lifts the board above his head and hangs it on the nail. When he steps aside, the room falls silent, and I crane my neck to see what it says.
My name is in the first slot.
Heads turn in my direction. I follow the list down. Christina and Will are seventh and ninth, respectively. Peter is second, but when I look at the time listed by his name, I realize that the margin between us is conspicuously wide.
Peter’s average simulation time is eight minutes. Mine is two minutes, forty-five seconds.
“Nice job, Tris,” Will says quietly.
I nod, still staring at the board. I should be pleased that I am ranked first, but I know what that means. If Peter and his friends hated me before, they will despise me now. Now I am Edward. It could be my eye next. Or worse.
I search for Al’s name and find it in the last slot. The crowd of initiates breaks up slowly, leaving just me, Peter, Will, and Al standing there. I want to console Al. To tell him that the only reason that I’m doing well is that there’s something different about my brain.
Peter turns slowly, every limb infused with tension. A glare would have been less threatening than the look he gives me—a look of pure hatred. He walks toward his bunk, but at the last second, he whips around and shoves me against a wall, a hand on each of my shoulders.
“I will not be outranked by a Stiff,” he hisses, his face so close to mine I can smell his stale breath. “How did you do it, huh? How the hell did you do it?”
He pulls me forward a few inches and then slams me against the wall again. I clench my teeth to keep from crying out, though pain from the impact went all the way down my spine. Will grabs Peter by his shirt collar and drags him away from me.
“Leave her alone,” he says. “Only a coward bullies a little girl.”
“A little girl?” scoffs Peter, throwing off Will’s hand. “Are you blind, or just stupid? She’s going to edge you out of the rankings and out of Dauntless, and you’re going to get nothing, all because she knows how to manipulate people and you don’t. So when you realize that she’s out to ruin us all, you let me know.”
Peter storms out of the dormitory. Molly and Drew follow him, looks of disgust on their faces.
“Thanks,” I say, nodding to Will.
“Is he right?” Will asks quietly. “Are you trying to manipulate us?”
“How on earth would I do that?” I scowl at him. “I’m just doing the best I can, like anyone else.”
“I don’t know.” He shrugs a little. “By acting weak so we pity you? And then acting tough to psyche us out?”
“Psyche you out?” I repeat. “I’m your friend. I wouldn’t do that.”
He doesn’t say anything. I can tell he doesn’t believe me—not quite.
“Don’t be an idiot, Will,” says Christina, hopping down from her bunk. She looks at me without sympathy and adds, “She’s not acting.”
Christina turns and leaves, without banging the door shut. Will follows. I am alone in the room with Al. The first and the last.
Al has never looked small before, but he does now, with his shoulders slumped and his body collapsing on itself like crumpled paper. He sits down on the edge of his bed.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
“Sure,” he says.
His face is bright red. I look away. Asking him was just a formality. Anyone with eyes could see that Al is not all right.
“It’s not over,” I say. “You can improve your rank if you…”
My voice trails off when he looks up at me. I don’t even know what I would say to him if I finished my sentence. There is no strategy for stage two. It reaches deep into the heart of who we are and tests whatever courage is there.
“See?” he says. “It’s not that simple.”
“I know it’s not.”
“I don’t think you do,” he says, shaking his head. His chin wobbles. “For you it’s easy. All of this is easy.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yeah, it is.” He closes his eyes. “You aren’t helping me by pretending it isn’t. I don’t—I’m not sure you can help me at all.”
I feel like I just walked into a downpour, and all my clothes are heavy with water; like I am heavy and awkward and useless. I don’t know if he means that no one can help him, or if I, specifically, can’t help him, but I would not be okay with either interpretation. I want to help him. I am powerless to do so.
“I…,” I start to say, meaning to apologize, but for what? For being more Dauntless than he is? For not knowing what to say?
“I just…” The tears that have been gathering in his eyes spill over, wetting his cheeks. “…want to be alone.”
I nod and turn away from him. Leaving him is not a good idea, but I can’t stop myself. The door clicks into place behind me, and I keep walking.
I walk past the drinking fountain and through the tunnels that seemed endless the day I got here but now barely register in my mind. This is not the first time I have failed my family since I got here, but for some reason, it feels that way. Every other time I failed, I knew what to do but chose not to do it. This time, I did not know what to do. Have I lost the ability to see what people need? Have I lost part of myself?
I keep walking.
I somehow find the hallway I sat in the day Edward left. I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t feel like I have much of a choice. I close my eyes and pay attention to the cold stone beneath me and breathe the musty underground air.
“Tris!” someone calls from the end of the hallway. Uriah jogs toward me. Behind him are Lynn and Marlene. Lynn is holding a muffin.
“Thought I would find you here.” He crouches near my feet. “I heard you got ranked first.”
“So you just wanted to congratulate me?” I smirk. “Well, thanks.”
“Someone should,” he says. “And I figured your friends might not be so congratulatory, since their ranks aren’t as high. So quit moping and come with us. I’m going to shoot a muffin off Marlene’s head.”
The idea is so ridiculous I can’t stop myself from laughing. I get up and follow Uriah to the end of the hallway, where Marlene and Lynn are waiting. Lynn narrows her eyes at me, but Marlene grins.
“Why aren’t you out celebrating?” she asks. “You’re practically guaranteed a top ten spot if you keep it up.”
“She’s too Dauntless for the other transfers,” Uriah says.
“And too Abnegation to ‘celebrate,’” remarks Lynn.
I ignore her. “Why are you shooting a muffin off Marlene’s head?”
“She bet me I couldn’t aim well enough to hit a small object from one hundred feet,” Uriah explains. “I bet her she didn’t have the guts to stand there as I tried. It works out well, really.”
The training room where I first fired a gun is not far from my hidden hallway. We get there in under a minute, and Uriah flips on a light switch. It looks the same as the last time I was there: targets on one end of the room, a table with guns on the other.