“What’s that for?” Tris says.
“It’s what will enable us to read your genes,” Matthew says. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Tris says, but she’s still tense. “I just . . . don’t like to be injected with strange substances.”
Matthew nods. “I swear it’s just going to read your genes. That’s all it does. Nita can vouch for it.”
“Okay,” Tris says. “But . . . can I do it to myself?”
“Sure,” Nita says. She prepares the syringe, filling it with whatever they intend to inject us with, and offers it to Tris.
“I’ll give you the simplified explanation of how this works,” Matthew says as Nita brushes Tris’s arm with antiseptic. The smell is sour, and it nips at the inside of my nose.
“The fluid is packed with microcomputers. They are designed to detect specific genetic markers and transmit the data to a computer. It will take them about an hour to give me as much information as I need, though it would take them much longer to read all your genetic material, obviously.”
Tris sticks the needle into her arm and presses the plunger.
Nita beckons my arm forward and drags the orange-stained gauze over my skin. The fluid in the syringe is silver-gray, like fish scales, and as it flows into me through the needle, I imagine the microscopic technology chewing through my body, reading me and analyzing me. Beside me, Tris holds a cotton ball to her pricked skin and offers me a small smile.
“What are the . . . microcomputers?” Matthew nods, and I continue. “What are they looking for, exactly?”
“Well, when our predecessors at the Bureau inserted ‘corrected’ genes into your ancestors, they also included a genetic tracker, which is basically something that shows us that a person has achieved genetic healing. In this case, the genetic tracker is awareness during simulations—it’s something we can easily test for, which shows us if your genes are healed or not. That’s one of the reasons why everyone in the city has to take the aptitude test at sixteen—if they’re aware during the test, that shows us that they might have healed genes.”
I add the aptitude test to a mental list of things that were once so important to me, cast aside because it was just a ruse to get these people the information or result they wanted.
I can’t believe that awareness during simulations, something that made me feel powerful and unique, something Jeanine and the Erudite killed people for, is actually just a sign of genetic healing to these people. Like a special code word, telling them I’m in their genetically healed society.
Matthew continues, “The only problem with the genetic tracker is that being aware during simulations and resisting serums doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is Divergent, it’s just a strong correlation. Sometimes people will be aware during simulations or be able to resist serums even if they still have damaged genes.” He shrugs. “That’s why I’m interested in your genes, Tobias. I’m curious to see if you’re actually Divergent, or if your simulation awareness just makes it look like you are.”
Nita, who is clearing the counter, presses her lips together like she is holding words inside her mouth. I feel suddenly uneasy. There’s a chance I’m not actually Divergent?
“All that’s left is to sit and wait,” Matthew says. “I’m going to go get breakfast. Do either of you want something to eat?”
Tris and I both shake our heads.
“I’ll be back soon. Nita, keep them company, would you?”
Matthew leaves without waiting for Nita’s response, and Tris sits on the examination table, the paper crinkling beneath her and tearing where her leg hangs over the edge. Nita puts her hands in her jumpsuit pockets and looks at us. Her eyes are dark, with the same sheen as a puddle of oil beneath a leaking engine. She hands me a cotton ball, and I press it to the bubble of blood inside my elbow.
“So you came from a city experiment,” says Tris. “How long have you been here?”
“Since the Indianapolis experiment was disbanded, which was about eight years ago. I could have integrated into the greater population, outside the experiments, but that felt too overwhelming.” Nita leans against the counter. “So I volunteered to come here. I used to be a janitor. I’m moving through the ranks, I guess.”
She says it with a certain amount of bitterness. I suspect that here, as in Dauntless, there is a limit to her climb through the ranks, and she is reaching it earlier than she would like to. The same way I did, when I chose my job in the control room.
“And your city, it didn’t have factions?” Tris says.
“No, it was the control group—it helped them to figure out that the factions were actually effective by comparison. It had a lot of rules, though—curfew, wake-up times, safety regulations. No weapons allowed. Stuff like that.”
“What happened?” I say, and a moment later I wish I hadn’t asked, because the corners of Nita’s mouth turn down, like the memory hangs heavy from each side.
“Well, a few of the people inside still knew how to make weapons. They made a bomb—you know, an explosive—and set it off in the government building,” she says. “Lots of people died. And after that, the Bureau decided our experiment was a failure. They erased the memories of the bombers and relocated the rest of us. I’m one of the only ones who wanted to come here.”
“I’m sorry,” Tris says softly. Sometimes I still forget to look for the gentler parts of her. For so long all I saw was the strength, standing out like the wiry muscles in her arms or the black ink marking her collarbone with flight.
“It’s all right. It’s not like you guys don’t know about stuff like this,” says Nita. “With what Jeanine Matthews did, and all.”
“Why haven’t they shut our city down?” Tris says. “The same way they did to yours?”
“They might still shut it down,” says Nita. “But I think the Chicago experiment, in particular, has been a success for so long that they’ll be a little reluctant to just ditch it now. It was the first one with factions.”
I take the cotton ball away from my arm. There is a tiny red dot where the needle went in, but it isn’t bleeding anymore.
“I like to think I would have chosen Dauntless,” says Nita. “But I don’t think I would have had the stomach for it.”
“You’d be surprised what you have the stomach for, when you have to,” Tris says.
I feel a pang in the middle of my chest. She’s right. Desperation can make a person do surprising things. We would both know.
Matthew returns right at the hour mark, and he sits at the computer for a long time after that, his eyes flicking back and forth as he reads the screen. A few times he makes a revelatory noise, a “hmm!” or an “ah!” The longer he waits to tell us something, anything, the more tense my muscles become, until my shoulders feel like they are made of stone instead of flesh. Finally he looks up and turns the screen around so we can see what’s on it.
“This program helps us to interpret the data in an understandable way. What you see here is a simplified depiction of a particular DNA sequence in Tris’s genetic material,” he says.
The picture on the screen is a complicated mass of lines and numbers, with certain parts selected in yellow and red. I can’t make any sense of the picture beyond that—it is above my level of comprehension.
“These selections here suggest healed genes. We wouldn’t see them if the genes were damaged.” He taps certain parts of the screen. I don’t understand what he’s pointing at, but he doesn’t seem to notice, caught up in his own explanation. “These selections over here indicate that the program also found the genetic tracker, the simulation awareness. The combination of healed genes and simulation awareness genes is just what I expected to see from a Divergent. Now, this is the strange part.”
He touches the screen again, and the screen changes, but it remains just as confusing, a web of lines, tangled threads of numbers.
“This is the map of Tobias’s genes,” Matthew says. “As you can see, he
has the right genetic components for simulation awareness, but he doesn’t have the same ‘healed’ genes that Tris does.”
My throat is dry, and I feel like I’ve been given bad news, but I still haven’t entirely grasped what that bad news is.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“It means,” Matthew says, “that you are not Divergent. Your genes are still damaged, but you have a genetic anomaly that allows you to be aware during simulations anyway. You have, in other words, the appearance of a Divergent without actually being one.”
I process the information slowly, piece by piece. I’m not Divergent. I’m not like Tris. I’m genetically damaged.
The word “damaged” sinks inside me like it’s made of lead. I guess I always knew there was something wrong with me, but I thought it was because of my father, or my mother, and the pain they bequeathed to me like a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation. And this means that the one good thing my father had—his Divergence—didn’t reach me.
I don’t look at Tris—I can’t bear it. Instead I look at Nita. Her expression is hard, almost angry.
“Matthew,” she says. “Don’t you want to take this data to your lab to analyze?”
“Well, I was planning on discussing it with our subjects here,” Matthew says.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tris says, sharp as a blade.
Matthew says something I don’t really hear; I’m listening to the thump of my heart. He taps the screen again, and the picture of my DNA disappears, so the screen is blank, just glass. He leaves, instructing us to visit his lab if we want more information, and Tris, Nita, and I stand in the room in silence.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Tris says firmly. “Okay?”
“You don’t get to tell me it’s not a big deal!” I say, louder than I mean to be.
Nita busies herself at the counter, making sure the containers there are lined up, though they haven’t moved since we first came in.
“Yeah, I do!” Tris exclaims. “You’re the same person you were five minutes ago and four months ago and eighteen years ago! This doesn’t change anything about you.”
I hear something in her words that’s right, but it’s hard to believe her right now.
“So you’re telling me this affects nothing,” I say. “The truth affects nothing.”
“What truth?” she says. “These people tell you there’s something wrong with your genes, and you just believe it?”
“It was right there.” I gesture to the screen. “You saw it.”
“I also see you,” she says fiercely, her hand closing around my arm. “And I know who you are.”
I shake my head. I still can’t look at her, can’t look at anything in particular. “I . . . need to take a walk. I’ll see you later.”
I walk out, and some of the pressure inside me releases as soon as I’m not in that room anymore. I walk down the cramped hallway that presses against me like an exhale, and into the sunlit halls beyond it. The sky is bright blue now. I hear footsteps behind me, but they’re too heavy to belong to Tris.
“Hey.” Nita twists her foot, making it squeak against the tile. “No pressure, but I’d like to talk to you about all this . . . genetic-damage stuff. If you’re interested, meet me here tonight at nine. And . . . no offense to your girl or anything, but you might not want to bring her.”
“Why?” I say.
“She’s a GP—genetically pure. So she can’t understand that—well, it’s hard to explain. Just trust me, okay? She’s better off staying away for a little while.”
“Okay.” Nita nods. “Gotta go.”
I watch her run back toward the gene therapy room, and then I keep walking. I don’t know where I’m going, exactly, just that when I walk, the frenzy of information I’ve learned in the past day stops moving quite so fast, stops shouting quite so loud inside my head.
I DON’T GO after him, because I don’t know what to say.
When I found out I was Divergent, I thought of it as a secret power that no one else possessed, something that made me different, better, stronger. Now, after comparing my DNA to Tobias’s on a computer screen, I realize that “Divergent” doesn’t mean as much as I thought it did. It’s just a word for a particular sequence in my DNA, like a word for all people with brown eyes or blond hair.
I lean my head into my hands. But these people still think it means something—they still think it means I’m healed in a way that Tobias is not. And they want me to just trust that, believe it.
Well, I don’t. And I’m not sure why Tobias does—why he’s so eager to believe that he is damaged.
I don’t want to think about it anymore. I leave the gene therapy room just as Nita is walking back to it.
“What did you say to him?” I say.
She’s pretty. Tall but not too tall, thin but not too thin, her skin rich with color.
“I just made sure he knew where he was going,” she says. “It’s a confusing place.”
“It certainly is.” I start toward—well, I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s away from Nita, the pretty girl who talks to my boyfriend when I’m not there. Then again, it’s not like it was a long conversation.
I spot Zoe at the end of the hallway, and she waves me toward her. She looks more relaxed now than she did earlier this morning, her forehead smooth instead of creased, her hair loose over her shoulders. She shoves her hands into the pockets of her jumpsuit.
“I just told the others,” she says. “We’ve scheduled a plane ride in two hours for those who want to go. Are you up for it?”
Fear and excitement squirm together in my stomach, just like they did before I was strapped in on the zip line atop the Hancock building. I imagine hurtling into the air in a car with wings, the energy of the engine and the rush of wind through all the spaces in the walls and the possibility, however slight, that something will fail and I will plummet to my death.
“Yes,” I say.
“We’re meeting at gate B14. Follow the signs!” She flashes a smile as she leaves.
I look through the windows above me. The sky is clear and pale, the same color as my own eyes. There is a kind of inevitability in it, like it has always been waiting for me, maybe because I relish height while others fear it, or maybe because once you have seen the things that I have seen, there is only one frontier left to explore, and it is above.
The metal stairs leading down to the pavement screech with each of my footsteps. I have to tilt my head back to look at the airplane, which is bigger than I expected it to be, and silver-white. Just below the wing is a huge cylinder with spinning blades inside it. I imagine the blades sucking me in and spitting me out the other side, and shudder a little.
“How can something that big stay in the sky?” Uriah says from behind me.
I shake my head. I don’t know, and I don’t want to think about it. I follow Zoe up another set of stairs, this one connected to a hole in the side of the plane. My hand shakes when I grab the railing, and I look over my shoulder one last time, to check if Tobias caught up to us. He isn’t there. I haven’t seen him since the genetic test.
I duck when I go through the hole, though it’s taller than my head. Inside the airplane are rows and rows of seats covered in ripped, fraying blue fabric. I choose one near the front, next to a window. A metal bar pushes against my spine. It feels like a chair skeleton with barely any flesh to support it.
Cara sits behind me, and Peter and Caleb move toward the back of the plane and sit near each other, next to the window. I didn’t know they were friends. It seems fitting, given how despicable they both are.
“How old is this thing?” I ask Zoe, who stands near the front.
“Pretty old,” she says. “But we’ve completely redone the important stuff. It’s a nice size for what we need.”
sp; “What do you use it for?”
“Surveillance missions, mostly. We like to keep an eye on what’s happening in the fringe, in case it threatens what’s happening in here.” Zoe pauses. “The fringe is a large, sort of chaotic place between Chicago and the nearest government-regulated metropolitan area, Milwaukee, which is about a three-hour drive from here.”
I would like to ask what exactly is happening in the fringe, but Uriah and Christina sit in the seats next to me, and the moment is lost. Uriah puts an armrest down between us and leans over me to look out the window.
“If the Dauntless knew about this, everyone would be getting in line to learn how to drive it,” he says. “Including me.”
“No, they would be strapping themselves to the wings.” Christina pokes his arm. “Don’t you know your own faction?”
Uriah pokes her cheek in response, then turns back to the window again.
“Have either of you seen Tobias lately?” I say.
“No, haven’t seen him,” Christina says. “Everything okay?”
Before I can answer, an older woman with lines around her mouth stands in the aisle between the rows of seats and claps her hands.
“My name is Karen, and I’ll be flying this plane today!” she announces. “It may seem frightening, but remember: The odds of us crashing are actually much lower than the odds of a car crash.”
“So are the odds of survival if we do crash,” Uriah mutters, but he’s grinning. His dark eyes are alert, and he looks giddy, like a child. I haven’t seen him this way since Marlene died. He’s handsome again.
Karen disappears into the front of the plane, and Zoe sits across the aisle from Christina, twisting around to call out instructions like “Buckle your seat belts!” and “Don’t stand up until we’ve reached our cruising altitude!” I’m not sure what cruising altitude is, and she doesn’t explain it, in true Zoe fashion. It was almost a miracle that she remembered to explain the fringe earlier.
The plane starts to move backward, and I’m surprised by how smooth it feels, like we’re already floating over the ground. Then it turns and glides over the pavement, which is painted with dozens of lines and symbols. My heart beats faster the farther we go away from the compound, and then Karen’s voice speaks through an intercom: “Prepare for takeoff.”