“What the hell is going on?” the boy next to me shouts.
I just shake my head and keep running. I am breathless when we reach the first floor, and the Dauntless burst through the exit. Outside, the air is crisp and cold and the sky is orange from the setting sun. It reflects off the black glass of the Hub.
The Dauntless sprawl across the street, blocking the path of a bus, and I sprint to catch up to the back of the crowd. My confusion dissipates as I run. I have not run anywhere in a long time. Abnegation discourages anything done strictly for my own enjoyment, and that is what this is: my lungs burning, my muscles aching, the fierce pleasure of a flat-out sprint. I follow the Dauntless down the street and around the corner and hear a familiar sound: the train horn.
“Oh no,” mumbles the Erudite boy. “Are we supposed to hop on that thing?”
“Yes,” I say, breathless.
It is good that I spent so much time watching the Dauntless arrive at school. The crowd spreads out in a long line. The train glides toward us on steel rails, its light flashing, its horn blaring. The door of each car is open, waiting for the Dauntless to pile in, and they do, group by group, until only the new initiates are left. The Dauntless-born initiates are used to doing this by now, so in a second it’s just faction transfers left.
I step forward with a few others and start jogging. We run with the car for a few steps and then throw ourselves sideways. I’m not as tall or as strong as some of them, so I can’t pull myself into the car. I cling to a handle next to the doorway, my shoulder slamming into the car. My arms shake, and finally a Candor girl grabs me and pulls me in. Gasping, I thank her.
I hear a shout and look over my shoulder. A short Erudite boy with red hair pumps his arms as he tries to catch up to the train. An Erudite girl by the door reaches out to grab the boy’s hand, straining, but he is too far behind. He falls to his knees next to the tracks as we sail away, and puts his head in his hands.
I feel uneasy. He just failed Dauntless initiation. He is factionless now. It could happen at any moment.
“You all right?” the Candor girl who helped me asks briskly. She is tall, with dark brown skin and short hair. Pretty.
“I’m Christina,” she says, offering me her hand.
I haven’t shaken a hand in a long time either. The Abnegation greeted one another by bowing heads, a sign of respect. I take her hand, uncertainly, and shake it twice, hoping I didn’t squeeze too hard or not hard enough.
“Beatrice,” I say.
“Do you know where we’re going?” She has to shout over the wind, which blows harder through the open doors by the second. The train is picking up speed. I sit down. It will be easier to keep my balance if I’m low to the ground. She raises an eyebrow at me.
“A fast train means wind,” I say. “Wind means falling out. Get down.”
Christina sits next to me, inching back to lean against the wall.
“I guess we’re going to Dauntless headquarters,” I say, “but I don’t know where that is.”
“Does anyone?” She shakes her head, grinning. “It’s like they just popped out of a hole in the ground or something.”
Then the wind rushes through the car, and the other faction transfers, hit with bursts of air, fall on top of one another. I watch Christina laugh without hearing her and manage a smile.
Over my left shoulder, orange light from the setting sun reflects off the glass buildings, and I can faintly see the rows of gray houses that used to be my home.
It’s Caleb’s turn to make dinner tonight. Who will take his place—my mother or my father? And when they clear out his room, what will they discover? I imagine books jammed between the dresser and the wall, books under his mattress. The Erudite thirst for knowledge filling all the hidden places in his room. Did he always know that he would choose Erudite? And if he did, how did I not notice?
What a good actor he was. The thought makes me sick to my stomach, because even though I left them too, at least I was no good at pretending. At least they all knew that I wasn’t selfless.
I close my eyes and picture my mother and father sitting at the dinner table in silence. Is it a lingering hint of selflessness that makes my throat tighten at the thought of them, or is it selfishness, because I know I will never be their daughter again?
“They’re jumping off!”
I lift my head. My neck aches. I have been curled up with my back against the wall for at least a half hour, listening to the roaring wind and watching the city smear past us. I sit forward. The train has slowed down in the past few minutes, and I see that the boy who shouted is right: The Dauntless in the cars ahead of us are jumping out as the train passes a rooftop. The tracks are seven stories up.
The idea of leaping out of a moving train onto a rooftop, knowing there is a gap between the edge of the roof and the edge of the track, makes me want to throw up. I push myself up and stumble to the opposite side of the car, where the other faction transfers stand in a line.
“We have to jump off too, then,” a Candor girl says. She has a large nose and crooked teeth.
“Great,” a Candor boy replies, “because that makes perfect sense, Molly. Leap off a train onto a roof.”
“This is kind of what we signed up for, Peter,” the girl points out.
“Well, I’m not doing it,” says an Amity boy behind me. He has olive skin and wears a brown shirt—he is the only transfer from Amity. His cheeks shine with tears.
“You’ve got to,” Christina says, “or you fail. Come on, it’ll be all right.”
“No, it won’t! I’d rather be factionless than dead!” The Amity boy shakes his head. He sounds panicky. He keeps shaking his head and staring at the rooftop, which is getting closer by the second.
I don’t agree with him. I would rather be dead than empty, like the factionless.
“You can’t force him,” I say, glancing at Christina. Her brown eyes are wide, and she presses her lips together so hard they change color. She offers me her hand.
“Here,” she says. I raise an eyebrow at her hand, about to say that I don’t need help, but she adds, “I just…can’t do it unless someone drags me.”
I take her hand and we stand at the edge of the car. As it passes the roof, I count, “One…two…three!”
On three we launch off the train car. A weightless moment, and then my feet slam into solid ground and pain prickles through my shins. The jarring landing sends me sprawling on the rooftop, gravel under my cheek. I release Christina’s hand. She’s laughing.
“That was fun,” she says.
Christina will fit in with Dauntless thrill seekers. I brush grains of rock from my cheek. All the initiates except the Amity boy made it onto the roof, with varying levels of success. The Candor girl with crooked teeth, Molly, holds her ankle, wincing, and Peter, the Candor boy with shiny hair, grins proudly—he must have landed on his feet.
Then I hear a wail. I turn my head, searching for the source of the sound. A Dauntless girl stands at the edge of the roof, staring at the ground below, screaming. Behind her a Dauntless boy holds her at the waist to keep her from falling off.
“Rita,” he says. “Rita, calm down. Rita—”
I stand and look over the edge. There is a body on the pavement below us; a girl, her arms and legs bent at awkward angles, her hair spread in a fan around her head. My stomach sinks and I stare at the railroad tracks. Not everyone made it. And even the Dauntless aren’t safe.
Rita sinks to her knees, sobbing. I turn away. The longer I watch her, the more likely I am to cry, and I can’t cry in front of these people.
I tell myself, as sternly as possible, that is how things work here. We do dangerous things and people die. People die, and we move on to the next dangerous thing. The sooner that lesson sinks in, the better chance I have at surviving initiation.
I’m no longer sure that I will survive initiation.
I tell myself I will count to three, and when I’m done, I will move on. One. I picture the girl’s body on the pavement, and a shudder goes through me. Two. I hear Rita’s sobs and the murmured reassurance of the boy behind her. Three.
My lips pursed, I walk away from Rita and the roof’s edge.
My elbow stings. I pull my sleeve up to examine it, my hand shaking. Some of the skin is peeling off, but it isn’t bleeding.
“Ooh. Scandalous! A Stiff’s flashing some skin!”
I lift my head. “Stiff” is slang for Abnegation, and I’m the only one here. Peter points at me, smirking. I hear laughter. My cheeks heat up, and I let my sleeve fall.
“Listen up! My name is Max! I am one of the leaders of your new faction!” shouts a man at the other end of the roof. He is older than the others, with deep creases in his dark skin and gray hair at his temples, and he stands on the ledge like it’s a sidewalk. Like someone didn’t just fall to her death from it. “Several stories below us is the members’ entrance to our compound. If you can’t muster the will to jump off, you don’t belong here. Our initiates have the privilege of going first.”
“You want us to jump off a ledge?” asks an Erudite girl. She is a few inches taller than I am, with mousy brown hair and big lips. Her mouth hangs open.
I don’t know why it shocks her.
“Yes,” Max says. He looks amused.
“Is there water at the bottom or something?”
“Who knows?” He raises his eyebrows.
The crowd in front of the initiates splits in half, making a wide path for us. I look around. No one looks eager to leap off the building—their eyes are everywhere but on Max. Some of them nurse minor wounds or brush gravel from their clothes. I glance at Peter. He is picking at one of his cuticles. Trying to act casual.
I am proud. It will get me into trouble someday, but today it makes me brave. I walk toward the ledge and hear snickers behind me.
Max steps aside, leaving my way clear. I walk up to the edge and look down. Wind whips through my clothes, making the fabric snap. The building I’m on forms one side of a square with three other buildings. In the center of the square is a huge hole in the concrete. I can’t see what’s at the bottom of it.
This is a scare tactic. I will land safely at the bottom. That knowledge is the only thing that helps me step onto the ledge. My teeth chatter. I can’t back down now. Not with all the people betting I’ll fail behind me. My hands fumble along the collar of my shirt and find the button that secures it shut. After a few tries, I undo the hooks from collar to hem, and pull it off my shoulders.
Beneath it, I wear a gray T-shirt. It is tighter than any other clothes I own, and no one has ever seen me in it before. I ball up my outer shirt and look over my shoulder, at Peter. I throw the ball of fabric at him as hard as I can, my jaw clenched. It hits him in the chest. He stares at me. I hear catcalls and shouts behind me.
I look at the hole again. Goose bumps rise on my pale arms, and my stomach lurches. If I don’t do it now, I won’t be able to do it at all. I swallow hard.
I don’t think. I just bend my knees and jump.
The air howls in my ears as the ground surges toward me, growing and expanding, or I surge toward the ground, my heart pounding so fast it hurts, every muscle in my body tensing as the falling sensation drags at my stomach. The hole surrounds me and I drop into darkness.
I hit something hard. It gives way beneath me and cradles my body. The impact knocks the wind out of me and I wheeze, struggling to breathe again. My arms and legs sting.
A net. There is a net at the bottom of the hole. I look up at the building and laugh, half relieved and half hysterical. My body shakes and I cover my face with my hands. I just jumped off a roof.
I have to stand on solid ground again. I see a few hands stretching out to me at the edge of the net, so I grab the first one I can reach and pull myself across. I roll off, and I would have fallen face-first onto a wood floor if he had not caught me.
“He” is the young man attached to the hand I grabbed. He has a spare upper lip and a full lower lip. His eyes are so deep-set that his eyelashes touch the skin under his eyebrows, and they are dark blue, a dreaming, sleeping, waiting color.
His hands grip my arms, but he releases me a moment after I stand upright again.
“Thank you,” I say.
We stand on a platform ten feet above the ground. Around us is an open cavern.
“Can’t believe it,” a voice says from behind him. It belongs to a dark-haired girl with three silver rings through her right eyebrow. She smirks at me. “A Stiff, the first to jump? Unheard of.”
“There’s a reason why she left them, Lauren,” he says. His voice is deep, and it rumbles. “What’s your name?”
“Um…” I don’t know why I hesitate. But “Beatrice” just doesn’t sound right anymore.
“Think about it,” he says, a faint smile curling his lips. “You don’t get to pick again.”
A new place, a new name. I can be remade here.
“Tris,” I say firmly.
“Tris,” Lauren repeats, grinning. “Make the announcement, Four.”
The boy—Four—looks over his shoulder and shouts, “First jumper—Tris!”
A crowd materializes from the darkness as my eyes adjust. They cheer and pump their fists, and then another person drops into the net. Her screams follow her down. Christina. Everyone laughs, but they follow their laughter with more cheering.
Four sets his hand on my back and says, “Welcome to Dauntless.”
WHEN ALL THE initiates stand on solid ground again, Lauren and Four lead us down a narrow tunnel. The walls are made of stone, and the ceiling slopes, so I feel like I am descending deep into the heart of the earth. The tunnel is lit at long intervals, so in the dark space between each dim lamp, I fear that I am lost until a shoulder bumps mine. In the circles of light I am safe again.