Behind him, the word “Dauntless” is spray-painted in red artistic lettering on a concrete wall.
“Through your simulations, we have stored data about your worst fears. The fear landscape accesses that data and presents you with a series of virtual obstacles. Some of the obstacles will be fears you previously faced in your simulations. Some may be new fears. The difference is that you are aware, in the fear landscape, that it is a simulation, so you will have all your wits about you as you go through it.”
That means that everyone will be like Divergent in the fear landscape. I don’t know if that’s a relief, because I can’t be detected, or a problem, because I won’t have the advantage.
Four continues, “The number of fears you have in your landscape varies according to how many you have.”
How many fears will I have? I think of facing the crows again and shiver, though the air is warm.
“I told you before that the third stage of initiation focuses on mental preparation,” he says. I remember when he said that. On the first day. Right before he put a gun to Peter’s head. I wish he had pulled the trigger.
“That is because it requires you to control both your emotions and your body—to combine the physical abilities you learned in stage one with the emotional mastery you learned in stage two. To keep a level head.” One of the fluorescent tubes above Four’s head twitches and flickers. Four stops scanning the crowd of initiates and focuses his stare on me.
“Next week you will go through your fear landscape as quickly as possible in front of a panel of Dauntless leaders. That will be your final test, which determines your ranking for stage three. Just as stage two of initiation is weighted more heavily than stage one, stage three is weighted heaviest of all. Understood?”
We all nod. Even Drew, who makes it look painful.
If I do well in my final test, I have a good chance of making it into the top ten and a good chance of becoming a member. Becoming Dauntless. The thought makes me almost giddy with relief.
“You can get past each obstacle in one of two ways. Either you find a way to calm down enough that the simulation registers a normal, steady heartbeat, or you find a way to face your fear, which can force the simulation to move on. One way to face a fear of drowning is to swim deeper, for example.” Four shrugs. “So I suggest that you take the next week to consider your fears and develop strategies to face them.”
“That doesn’t sound fair,” says Peter. “What if one person only has seven fears and someone else has twenty? That’s not their fault.”
Four stares at him for a few seconds and then laughs. “Do you really want to talk to me about what’s fair?”
The crowd of initiates parts to make way for him as he walks toward Peter, folds his arms, and says, in a deadly voice, “I understand why you’re worried, Peter. The events of last night certainly proved that you are a miserable coward.”
Peter stares back, expressionless.
“So now we all know,” says Four, quietly, “that you are afraid of a short, skinny girl from Abnegation.” His mouth curls in a smile.
Will puts his arm around me. Christina’s shoulders shake with suppressed laughter. And somewhere within me, I find a smile too.
When we get back to the dorm that afternoon, Al is there.
Will stands behind me and holds my shoulders—lightly, as if to remind me that he’s there. Christina edges closer to me.
Al’s eyes have shadows beneath them, and his face is swollen from crying. Pain stabs my stomach when I see him. I can’t move. The scent of lemongrass and sage, once pleasant, turns sour in my nose.
“Tris,” says Al, his voice breaking. “Can I talk to you?”
“Are you kidding?” Will squeezes my shoulders. “You don’t get to come near her ever again.”
“I won’t hurt you. I never wanted to…” Al covers his face with both hands. “I just want to say that I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don’t…I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I…please forgive me, please….”
He reaches for me like he’s going to touch my shoulder, or my hand, his face wet with tears.
Somewhere inside me is a merciful, forgiving person. Somewhere there is a girl who tries to understand what people are going through, who accepts that people do evil things and that desperation leads them to darker places than they ever imagined. I swear she exists, and she hurts for the repentant boy I see in front of me.
But if I saw her, I wouldn’t recognize her.
“Stay away from me,” I say quietly. My body feels rigid and cold, and I am not angry, I am not hurt, I am nothing. I say, my voice low, “Never come near me again.”
Our eyes meet. His are dark and glassy. I am nothing.
“If you do, I swear to God I will kill you,” I say. “You coward.”
In my dream, my mother says my name. She beckons to me, and I cross the kitchen to stand beside her. She points to the pot on the stove, and I lift the lid to peek inside. The beady eye of a crow stares back at me, its wing feathers pressed to the side of the pot, its fat body covered with boiling water.
“Dinner,” she says.
“Tris!” I hear again. I open my eyes. Christina stands next to my bed, her cheeks streaked with mascara-tinted tears.
“It’s Al,” she says. “Come on.”
Some of the other initiates are awake, and some aren’t. Christina grabs my hand and pulls me out of the dormitory. I run barefoot over the stone floor, blinking clouds from my eyes, my limbs still heavy with sleep. Something terrible has happened. I feel it with every thump of my heart. It’s Al.
We run across the Pit floor, and then Christina stops. A crowd has gathered around the ledge, but everyone stands a few feet from one another, so there is enough space for me to maneuver past Christina and around a tall, middle-aged man to the front.
Two men stand next to the ledge, hoisting something up with ropes. They both grunt from the effort, heaving their weight back so the ropes slide over the railing, and then reaching forward to grab again. A huge, dark shape appears above the ledge, and a few Dauntless rush forward to help the two men haul it over.
The shape falls with a thud on the Pit floor. A pale arm, swollen with water, flops onto the stone. A body. Christina pulls herself tight to my side, clinging to my arm. She turns her head into my shoulder and sobs, but I can’t look away. A few of the men turn the body over, and the head flops to the side.
The eyes are open and empty. Dark. Doll’s eyes. And the nose has a high arch, a narrow bridge, a round tip. The lips are blue. The face itself is something other than human, half corpse and half creature. My lungs burn; my next breath rattles on the way in. Al.
“One of the initiates,” says someone behind me. “What happened?”
“Same thing that happens every year,” someone else replies. “He pitched himself over the ledge.”
“Don’t be so morbid. Could have been an accident.”
“They found him in the middle of the chasm. You think he tripped over his shoelace and…whoopsies, just stumbled fifteen feet forward?”
Christina’s hands get tighter and tighter around my arm. I should tell her to let go of me; it’s starting to hurt. Someone kneels next to Al’s face and pushes his eyelids shut. Trying to make it look like he’s sleeping, maybe. Stupid. Why do people want to pretend that death is sleep? It isn’t. It isn’t.
Something inside me collapses. My chest is so tight, suffocating, can’t breathe. I sink to the ground, dragging Christina down with me. The stone is rough under my knees. I hear something, a memory of sound. Al’s sobs; his screams at night. Should have known. Still can’t breathe. I press both palms to my chest and rock back and forth to free the tension in my chest.
When I blink, I see the top of Al’s head as he carries me on his back to the dining hall. I feel the bounce of his footsteps. He is big and warm and clumsy. No, was. That is death—shifting from “is” to “was.”
I wheeze. Someone has brought a large black bag to put the body in. I can tell that it will be too small. A laugh rises in my throat and flops from my mouth, strained and gurgling. Al’s too big for the body bag; what a tragedy. Halfway through the laugh, I clamp my mouth shut, and it sounds more like a groan. I pull my arm free and stand, leaving Christina on the ground. I run.
“Here you go,” Tori says. She hands me a steaming mug that smells like peppermint. I hold it with both hands, my fingers prickling with warmth.
She sits down across from me. When it comes to funerals, the Dauntless don’t waste any time. Tori said they want to acknowledge death as soon as it happens. There are no people in the front room of the tattoo parlor, but the Pit is crawling with people, most of them drunk. I don’t know why that surprises me.
At home, a funeral is a somber occasion. Everyone gathers to support the deceased’s family, and no one has idle hands, but there is no laughter, or shouting, or joking. And the Abnegation don’t drink alcohol, so everyone is sober. It makes sense that funerals would be the opposite here.
“Drink it,” she says. “It will make you feel better, I promise.”
“I don’t think tea is the solution,” I say slowly. But I sip it anyway. It warms my mouth and my throat and trickles into my stomach. I didn’t realize how deeply cold I was until I wasn’t anymore.
“‘Better’ is the word I used. Not ‘good.’” She smiles at me, but the corners of her eyes don’t crinkle like they usually do. “I don’t think ‘good’ will happen for a while.”
I bite my lip. “How long…” I struggle for the right words. “How long did it take for you to be okay again, after your brother…”
“Don’t know.” She shakes her head. “Some days I feel like I’m still not okay. Some days I feel fine. Happy, even. It took me a few years to stop plotting revenge, though.”
“Why did you stop?” I ask.
Her eyes go vacant as she stares at the wall behind me. She taps her fingers against her leg for a few seconds and then says, “I don’t think of it as stopping. More like I’m…waiting for my opportunity.”
She comes out of her daze and checks her watch.
“Time to go,” she says.
I pour the rest of my tea down the sink. When I lift my hand from the mug, I realize that I’m shaking. Not good. My hands usually shake before I start to cry, and I can’t cry in front of everyone.
I follow Tori out of the tattoo place and down the path to the Pit floor. All the people that were milling around earlier are gathered by the ledge now, and the air smells potently of alcohol. The woman in front of me lurches to the right, losing her balance, and then erupts into giggles as she falls against the man next to her. Tori grabs my arm and steers me away.
I find Uriah, Will, and Christina standing among the other initiates. Christina’s eyes are swollen. Uriah is holding a silver flask. He offers it to me. I shake my head.
“Surprise, surprise,” says Molly from behind me. She nudges Peter with her elbow. “Once a Stiff, always a Stiff.”
I should ignore her. Her opinions shouldn’t matter to me.
“I read an interesting article today,” she says, leaning closer to my ear. “Something about your dad, and the real reason you left your old faction.”
Defending myself isn’t the most important thing on my mind. But it is the easiest one to address.
I twist, and my fist connects with her jaw. My knuckles sting from the impact. I don’t remember deciding to punch her. I don’t remember forming a fist.
She lunges at me, her hands outstretched, but she doesn’t get far. Will grabs her collar and pulls her back. He looks from her to me and says, “Quit it. Both of you.”
Part of me wishes that he hadn’t stopped her. A fight would be a welcome distraction, especially now that Eric is climbing onto a box next to the railing. I face him, crossing my arms to keep myself steady. I wonder what he’ll say.
In Abnegation no one has committed suicide in recent memory, but the faction’s stance on it is clear: Suicide, to them, is an act of selfishness. Someone who is truly selfless does not think of himself often enough to desire death. No one would say that aloud, if it happened, but everyone would think it.
“Quiet down, everyone!” shouts Eric. Someone hits what sounds like a gong, and the shouts gradually stop, though the mutters don’t. Eric says, “Thank you. As you know, we’re here because Albert, an initiate, jumped into the chasm last night.”
The mutters stop too, leaving just the rush of water in the chasm.
“We do not know why,” says Eric, “and it would be easy to mourn the loss of him tonight. But we did not choose a life of ease when we became Dauntless. And the truth of it is…” Eric smiles. If I didn’t know him, I would think that smile is genuine. But I do know him. “The truth is, Albert is now exploring an unknown, uncertain place. He leaped into vicious waters to get there. Who among us is brave enough to venture into that darkness without knowing what lies beyond it? Albert was not yet one of our members, but we can be assured that he was one of our bravest!”
A cry rises from the center of the crowd, and a whoop. The Dauntless cheer at varying pitches, high and low, bright and deep. Their roar mimics the roar of the water. Christina takes the flask from Uriah and drinks. Will slides his arm around her shoulders and pulls her to his side. Voices fill my ears.
“We will celebrate him now, and remember him always!” yells Eric. Someone hands him a dark bottle, and he lifts it. “To Albert the Courageous!”
“To Albert!” shouts the crowd. Arms lift all around me, and the Dauntless chant his name. “Albert! Al-bert! Al-bert!” They chant until his name no longer sounds like his name. It sounds like the primal scream of an ancient race.