The obstacle won’t be comfortable for me, but because I have been able to manipulate every simulation, not just this one, and because I have already gone through Tobias’s landscape, I am not apprehensive as Lauren inserts the needle into my neck.
Then the scenery changes and the kidnapping begins. The ground turns into grass beneath my feet, and hands clamp around my arms, over my mouth. It is too dark to see.
I stand next to the chasm. I hear the roar of the water. I scream into the hand that covers my mouth and thrash to free myself, but the arms are too strong; my kidnappers are too strong. The image of myself falling into darkness flashes into my mind, the same image that I now carry with me in my nightmares. I scream again; I scream until my throat hurts and I squeeze hot tears from my eyes.
I knew they would come back for me; I knew they would try again. The first time was not enough. I scream again—not for help, because no one will help me, but because that’s what you do when you’re about to die and you can’t stop it.
“Stop,” a stern voice says.
The hands disappear, and the lights come on. I stand on cement in the fear landscape room. My body shakes, and I drop to my knees, pressing my hands to my face. I just failed. I lost all logic, I lost all sense. Lauren’s fear transformed into one of my own.
And everyone saw me. Tobias saw me.
I hear footsteps. Tobias marches toward me and wrenches me to my feet.
“What the hell was that, Stiff?”
“I…” My breath comes in a hiccup. “I didn’t—”
“Get yourself together! This is pathetic.”
Something within me snaps. My tears stop. Heat races through my body, driving the weakness out of me, and I smack him so hard my knuckles burn with the impact. He stares at me, one side of his face bright with blush-blood, and I stare back.
“Shut up,” I say. I yank my arm from his grasp and walk out of the room.
I PULL MY jacket tight around my shoulders. I haven’t been outside in a long time. The sun shines pale against my face, and I watch my breaths form in the air.
At least I accomplished one thing: I convinced Peter and his friends that I’m no longer a threat. I just have to make sure that tomorrow, when I go through my own fear landscape, I prove them wrong. Yesterday failure seemed impossible. Today I’m not sure.
I slide my hands through my hair. The impulse to cry is gone. I braid my hair and tie it with the rubber band around my wrist. I feel more like myself. That is all I need: to remember who I am. And I am someone who does not let inconsequential things like boys and near-death experiences stop her.
I laugh, shaking my head. Am I?
I hear the train horn. The train tracks loop around the Dauntless compound and then continue farther than I can see. Where do they begin? Where do they end? What is the world like beyond them? I walk toward them.
I want to go home, but I can’t. Eric warned us not to appear too attached to our parents on Visiting Day, so visiting home would be betraying the Dauntless, and I can’t afford to do that. Eric did not tell us we couldn’t visit people in factions other than the ones we came from, though, and my mother did tell me to visit Caleb.
I know I’m not allowed to leave without supervision, but I can’t stop myself. I walk faster and faster, until I’m sprinting. Pumping my arms, I run alongside the last car until I can grab the handle and swing myself in, wincing as pain darts through my sore body.
Once in the car, I lie on my back next to the door and watch the Dauntless compound disappear behind me. I don’t want to go back, but choosing to quit, to be factionless, would be the bravest thing I have ever done, and today I feel like a coward.
The air rushes over my body and twists around my fingers. I let my hand trail over the edge of the car so it presses against the wind. I can’t go home, but I can find part of it. Caleb has a place in every memory of my childhood; he is part of my foundation.
The train slows as it reaches the heart of the city, and I sit up to watch the smaller buildings grow into larger buildings. The Erudite live in large stone buildings that overlook the marsh. I hold the handle and lean out just enough to see where the tracks go. They dip down to street level just before they bend to travel east. I breathe in the smell of wet pavement and marsh air.
The train dips and slows, and I jump. My legs shudder with the force of my landing, and I run a few steps to regain my balance. I walk down the middle of the street, heading south, toward the marsh. The empty land stretches as far as I can see, a brown plane colliding with the horizon.
I turn left. The Erudite buildings loom above me, dark and unfamiliar. How will I find Caleb here?
The Erudite keep records; it’s in their nature. They must keep records of their initiates. Someone has access to those records; I just have to find them. I scan the buildings. Logically speaking, the central building should be the most important one. I may as well start there.
The faction members are milling around everywhere. Erudite faction norms dictate that a faction member must wear at least one blue article of clothing at a time, because blue causes the body to release calming chemicals, and “a calm mind is a clear mind.” The color has also come to signify their faction. It seems impossibly bright to me now. I have grown used to dim lighting and dark clothing.
I expect to weave through the crowd, dodging elbows and muttering “excuse me” the way I always do, but there is no need. Becoming Dauntless has made me noticeable. The crowd parts for me, and their eyes cling to me as I pass. I pull the rubber band from my hair and shake it from its knot before I walk through the front doors.
I stand just inside the entrance and tilt my head back. The room is huge, silent, and smells like dust-covered pages. The wood-paneled floor creaks beneath my feet. Bookcases line the walls on either side of me, but they seem to be decorative more than anything, because computers occupy the tables in the center of the room, and no one is reading. They stare at screens with tense eyes, focused.
I should have known that the main Erudite building would be a library. A portrait on the opposite wall catches my attention. It is twice my height and four times my width and depicts an attractive woman with watery gray eyes and spectacles—Jeanine. Heat licks my throat at the sight of her. Because she is Erudite’s representative, she is the one who released that report about my father. I have disliked her since my father’s dinner-table rants began, but now I hate her.
Beneath her is a large plaque that reads KNOWLEDGE LEADS TO PROSPERITY.
Prosperity. To me the word has a negative connotation. Abnegation uses it to describe self-indulgence.
How could Caleb have chosen to be one of these people? The things they do, the things they want, it’s all wrong. But he probably thinks the same of the Dauntless.
I walk up to the desk just beneath Jeanine’s portrait. The young man sitting behind it doesn’t look up as he says, “How can I help you?”
“I am looking for someone,” I say. “His name is Caleb. Do you know where I can find him?”
“I am not permitted to give out personal information,” he replies blandly, as he jabs at the screen in front of him.
“He’s my brother.”
“I am not permi—”
I slam my palm on the desk in front of him, and he jerks out of his daze, staring at me over his spectacles. Heads turn in my direction.
“I said.” My voice is terse. “I am looking for someone. He’s an initiate. Can you at least tell me where I can find them?”
“Beatrice?” a voice behind me says.
I turn, and Caleb stands behind me, a book in hand. His hair has grown out so it flips at his ears, and he wears a blue T-shirt and a pair of rectangular glasses. Even though he looks different and I’m not allowed to love him anymore, I run at him as fast as I can and throw my arms around his shoulders.
“You have a tattoo,” he says, his voice muffled.
“You have glasses,” I say. I pull back and narrow my eyes. “Your vision is perfect, Caleb, what are you doing?”
“Um…” He glances at the tables around us. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
We exit the building and cross the street. I have to jog to keep up with him. Across from Erudite headquarters is what used to be a park. Now we just call it “Millenium,” and it is a stretch of bare land and several rusted metal sculptures—one an abstract, plated mammoth, another shaped like a lima bean that dwarfs me in size.
We stop on the concrete around the metal bean, where the Erudite sit in small groups with newspapers or books. He takes off his glasses and shoves them in his pocket, then runs a hand through his hair, his eyes skipping over mine nervously. Like he’s ashamed. Maybe I should be too. I’m tattooed, loose-haired, and wearing tight clothes. But I’m just not.
“What are you doing here?” he says.
“I wanted to go home,” I say, “and you were the closest thing I could think of.”
He presses his lips together.
“Don’t look so pleased to see me,” I add.
“Hey,” he says, setting his hands on my shoulders. “I’m thrilled to see you, okay? It’s just that this isn’t allowed. There are rules.”
“I don’t care,” I say. “I don’t care, okay?”
“Maybe you should.” His voice is gentle; he wears his look of disapproval. “If it were me, I wouldn’t want to get in trouble with your faction.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
I know exactly what it means. He sees my faction as the cruelest of the five, and nothing more.
“I just don’t want you to get hurt. You don’t have to be so angry with me,” he says, tilting his head. “What happened to you in there?”
“Nothing. Nothing happened to me.” I close my eyes and rub the back of my neck with one hand. Even if I could explain everything to him, I wouldn’t want to. I can’t even summon the will to think about it.
“You think…” He looks at his shoes. “You think you made the right choice?”
“I don’t think there was one,” I say. “How about you?”
He looks around. People stare at us as they walk past. His eyes skip over their faces. He’s still nervous, but maybe it’s not because of how he looks, or because of me. Maybe it’s them. I grab his arm and pull him under the arch of the metal bean. We walk beneath its hollow underbelly. I see my reflection everywhere, warped by the curve of the walls, broken by patches of rust and grime.
“What’s going on?” I say, folding my arms. I didn’t notice the dark circles under his eyes before. “What’s wrong?”
Caleb presses a palm to the metal wall. In his reflection, his head is small and pressed in on one side, and his arm looks like it is bending backward. My reflection, however, looks small and squat.
“Something big is happening, Beatrice. Something is wrong.” His eyes are wide and glassy. “I don’t know what it is, but people keep rushing around, talking quietly, and Jeanine gives speeches about how corrupt Abnegation is all the time, almost every day.”
“Do you believe her?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t…” He shakes his head. “I don’t know what to believe.”
“Yes, you do,” I say sternly. “You know who our parents are. You know who our friends are. Susan’s dad, you think he’s corrupt?”
“How much do I know? How much did they allow me to know? We weren’t allowed to ask questions, Beatrice; we weren’t allowed to know things! And here…” He looks up, and in the flat circle of mirror right above us, I see our tiny figures, the size of fingernails. That, I think, is our true reflection; it is as small as we actually are. He continues, “Here, information is free, it’s always available.”
“This isn’t Candor. There are liars here, Caleb. There are people who are so smart they know how to manipulate you.”
“Don’t you think I would know if I was being manipulated?”
“If they’re as smart as you think, then no. I don’t think you would know.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, shaking his head.
“Yeah. How could I possibly know what a corrupt faction looks like? I’m just training to be Dauntless, for God’s sake,” I say. “At least I know what I’m a part of, Caleb. You are choosing to ignore what we’ve known all our lives—these people are arrogant and greedy and they will lead you nowhere.”
His voice hardens. “I think you should go, Beatrice.”
“With pleasure,” I say. “Oh, and not that it will matter to you, but Mom told me to tell you to research the simulation serum.”
“You saw her?” He looks hurt. “Why didn’t she—”
“Because,” I say. “The Erudite don’t let the Abnegation into their compound anymore. Wasn’t that information available to you?”
I push past him, walking away from the mirror cave and the sculpture, and start down the sidewalk. I should never have left. The Dauntless compound sounds like home now—at least there, I know exactly where I stand, which is on unstable ground.
The crowd on the sidewalk thins, and I look up to see why. Standing a few yards in front of me are two Erudite men with their arms folded.
“Excuse me,” one of them says. “You’ll have to come with us.”
One man walks so close behind me that I feel his breath against the back of my head. The other man leads me into the library and down three hallways to an elevator. Beyond the library the floors change from wood to white tile, and the walls glow like the ceiling of the aptitude test room. The glow bounces off the silver elevator doors, and I squint so I can see.
I try to stay calm. I ask myself questions from Dauntless training. What do you do if someone attacks you from behind? I envision thrusting my elbow back into a stomach or a groin. I imagine running. I wish I had a gun. These are Dauntless thoughts, and they have become mine.