Allegiant


  When I reach the fields that separate the city from the outside world, I press down the accelerator. The truck crushes dying grass and snow beneath its tires, and soon the ground turns to the pavement in the Abnegation sector, and I barely feel the passage of time. The streets are all the same, but my hands and feet know where to go, even if my mind doesn’t bother to guide them. I pull up to the house near the stop sign, with the cracked front walk.

  My house.

  I walk through the front door and up the stairs, still with that muffled feeling in my ears, like I am drifting far away from the world. People talk about the pain of grief, but I don’t know what they mean. To me, grief is a devastating numbness, every sensation dulled.

  I press my palm to the panel covering the mirror upstairs, and push it aside. Though the light of sunset is orange, creeping across the floor and illuminating my face from below, I have never looked paler; the circles under my eyes have never been more pronounced. I have spent the past few days somewhere between sleeping and waking, not quite able to manage either extreme.

  I plug the hair clippers into the outlet near the mirror. The right guard is already in place, so all I have to do is run it through my hair, bending my ears down to protect them from the blade, turning my head to check the back of my neck for places I might have missed. The shorn hair falls on my feet and shoulders, itching whatever bare skin it finds. I run my hand over my head to make sure it’s even, but I don’t need to check, not really. I learned to do this myself when I was young.

  I spend a lot of time brushing it from my shoulders and feet, then sweeping it into a dustpan. When I finish, I stand in front of the mirror again, and I can see the edges of my tattoo, the Dauntless flame.

  I take the vial of memory serum from my pocket. I know that one vial will erase most of my life, but it will target memories, not facts. I will still know how to write, how to speak, how to put together a computer, because that data was stored in different parts of my brain. But I won’t remember anything else.

  The experiment is over. Johanna successfully negotiated with the government—David’s superiors—to allow the former faction members to stay in the city, provided they are self-sufficient, submit to the government’s authority, and allow outsiders to come in and join them, making Chicago just another metropolitan area, like Milwaukee. The Bureau, once in charge of the experiment, will now keep order in Chicago’s city limits.

  It will be the only metropolitan area in the country governed by people who don’t believe in genetic damage. A kind of paradise. Matthew told me he hopes people from the fringe will trickle in to fill all the empty spaces, and find there a life more prosperous than the one they left.

  All that I want is to become someone new. In this case, Tobias Johnson, son of Evelyn Johnson. Tobias Johnson may have lived a dull and empty life, but he is at least a whole person, not this fragment of a person that I am, too damaged by pain to become anything useful.

  “Matthew told me you stole some of the memory serum and a truck,” says a voice at the end of the hallway. Christina’s. “I have to say, I didn’t really believe him.”

  I must not have heard her enter the house through the muffle. Even her voice sounds like it is traveling through water to reach my ears, and it takes me a few seconds to make sense of what she says. When I do, I look at her and say, “Then why did you come, if you didn’t believe him?”

  “Just in case,” she says, starting toward me. “Plus, I wanted to see the city one more time before it all changes. Give me that vial, Tobias.”

  “No.” I fold my fingers over it to protect it from her. “This is my decision, not yours.”

  Her dark eyes widen, and her face is radiant with sunlight. It makes every strand of her thick, dark hair gleam orange like it’s on fire.

  “This is not your decision,” she says. “This is the decision of a coward, and you’re a lot of things, Four, but not a coward. Never.”

  “Maybe I am now,” I answer passively. “Things have changed. I’m all right with it.”

  “No, you’re not.”

  I feel so exhausted all I can do is roll my eyes.

  “You can’t become a person she would hate,” Christina says, quietly this time. “And she would have hated this.”

  Anger stampedes through me, hot and lively, and the muffled feeling around my ears falls away, making even this quiet Abnegation street sound loud. I shudder with the force of it.

  “Shut up!” I yell. “Shut up! You don’t know what she would hate; you didn’t know her, you—”

  “I know enough!” she snaps. “I know she wouldn’t want you to erase her from your memory like she didn’t even matter to you!”

  I lunge toward her, pinning her shoulder to the wall, and lean closer to her face.

  “If you dare suggest that again,” I say, “I’ll—”

  “You’ll what?” Christina shoves me back, hard. “Hurt me? You know, there’s a word for big, strong men who attack women, and it’s coward.”

  I remember my father’s screams filling the house, and his hand around my mother’s throat, slamming her into walls and doors. I remember watching from my doorway, my hand wrapped around the door frame. And I remember hearing quiet sobs through her bedroom door, how she locked it so I couldn’t get in.

  I step back and slump against the wall, letting my body collapse into it.

  “I’m sorry,” I say.

  “I know,” she answers.

  We stand still for a few seconds, just looking at each other. I remember hating her the first time I met her, because she was a Candor, because words just dribbled out of her mouth unchecked, careless. But over time she showed me who she really was, a forgiving friend, faithful to the truth, brave enough to take action. I can’t help but like her now, can’t help but see what Tris saw in her.

  “I know how it feels to want to forget everything,” she says. “I also know how it feels for someone you love to get killed for no reason, and to want to trade all your memories of them for just a moment’s peace.”

  She wraps her hand around mine, which is wrapped around the vial.

  “I didn’t know Will long,” she says, “but he changed my life. He changed me. And I know Tris changed you even more.”

  The hard expression she wore a moment ago melts away, and she touches my shoulders, lightly.

  “The person you became with her is worth being,” she says. “If you swallow that serum, you’ll never be able to find your way back to him.”

  The tears come again, like when I saw Tris’s body, and this time, pain comes with them, hot and sharp in my chest. I clutch the vial in my fist, desperate for the relief it offers, the protection from the pain of every memory clawing inside me like an animal.

  Christina puts her arms around my shoulders, and her embrace only makes the pain worse, because it reminds me of every time Tris’s thin arms slipped around me, uncertain at first but then stronger, more confident, more sure of herself and of me. It reminds me that no embrace will ever feel the same again, because no one will ever be like her again, because she’s gone.

  She’s gone, and crying feels so useless, so stupid, but it’s all I can do. Christina holds me upright and doesn’t say a word for a long time.

  Eventually I pull away, but her hands stay on my shoulders, warm and rough with calluses. Maybe just as skin on a hand grows tougher after pain in repetition, a person does too. But I don’t want to become a calloused man.

  There are other kinds of people in this world. There is the kind like Tris, who, after suffering and betrayal, could still find enough love to lay down her life instead of her brother’s. Or the kind like Cara, who could still forgive the person who shot her brother in the head. Or Christina, who lost friend after friend but still decided to stay open, to make new ones. Appearing in front of me is another choice, brighter and stronger than the ones I gave myself.

  My eyes opening, I offer the vial to her. She takes it and pockets it.

  “I kno
w Zeke’s still weird around you,” she says, slinging an arm across my shoulders. “But I can be your friend in the meantime. We can even exchange bracelets if you want, like the Amity girls used to.”

  “I don’t think that will be necessary.”

  We walk down the stairs and out to the street together. The sun has slipped behind the buildings of Chicago, and in the distance I hear a train rushing over the rails, but we are moving away from this place and all that it has meant to us, and that is all right.

  There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

  But sometimes it doesn’t.

  Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

  That is the sort of bravery I must have now.

  EPILOGUE

  TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER

  EVELYN STANDS at the place where two worlds meet. Tire tracks are worn into the ground now, from the frequent coming and going of people from the fringe moving in and out, or people from the former Bureau compound commuting back and forth. Her bag rests against her leg, in one of the wells in the earth. She lifts a hand to greet me when I’m close.

  When she gets into the truck, she kisses my cheek, and I let her. I feel a smile creep across my face, and I let it stay there.

  “Welcome back,” I say.

  The agreement, when I offered it to her more than two years ago, and when she made it again with Johanna shortly after, was that she would leave the city. Now, so much has changed in Chicago that I don’t see the harm in her coming back, and neither does she. Though two years have passed, she looks younger, her face fuller and her smile wider. The time away has done her good.

  “How are you?” she says.

  “I’m . . . okay,” I say. “We’re scattering her ashes today.”

  I glance at the urn perched on the backseat like another passenger. For a long time I left Tris’s ashes in the Bureau morgue, not sure what kind of funeral she would want, and not sure I could make it through one. But today would be Choosing Day, if we still had factions, and it’s time to take a step forward, even if it’s a small one.

  Evelyn puts a hand on my shoulder and looks out at the fields. The crops that were once isolated to the areas around Amity headquarters have spread, and continue to spread through all the grassy spaces around the city. Sometimes I miss the desolate, empty land. But right now I don’t mind driving through the rows and rows of corn or wheat. I see people among the plants, checking the soil with handheld devices designed by former Bureau scientists. They wear red and blue and green and purple.

  “What’s it like, living without factions?” Evelyn says.

  “It’s very ordinary,” I say. I smile at her. “You’ll love it.”

  I take Evelyn to my apartment just north of the river. It’s on one of the lower floors, but through the abundant windows I can see a wide stretch of buildings. I was one of the first settlers in the new Chicago, so I got to choose where I lived. Zeke, Shauna, Christina, Amar, and George opted to live in the higher floors of the Hancock building, and Caleb and Cara both moved back to the apartments near Millennium Park, but I came here because it was beautiful, and because it was nowhere near either of my old homes.

  “My neighbor is a history expert, he came from the fringe,” I say as I search my pockets for my keys. “He calls Chicago ‘the fourth city’—because it was destroyed by fire, ages ago, and then again by the Purity War, and now we’re on the fourth attempt at settlement here.”

  “The fourth city,” Evelyn says as I push the door open. “I like it.”

  There’s hardly any furniture inside, just a couch and a table, some chairs, a kitchen. Sunlight winks in the windows of the building across the marshy river. Some of the former Bureau scientists are trying to restore the river and the lake to their former glory, but it will be a while. Change, like healing, takes time.

  Evelyn drops her bag on the couch. “Thank you for letting me stay with you for a little while. I promise I’ll find another place soon.”

  “No problem,” I say. I feel nervous about her being here, poking through my meager possessions, shuffling down my hallways, but we can’t stay distant forever. Not when I promised her that I would try to bridge this gap between us.

  “George says he needs some help training a police force,” Evelyn says. “You didn’t offer?”

  “No,” I say. “I told you, I’m done with guns.”

  “That’s right. You’re using your words now,” Evelyn says, wrinkling her nose. “I don’t trust politicians, you know.”

  “You’ll trust me, because I’m your son,” I say. “Anyway, I’m not a politician. Not yet, anyway. Just an assistant.”

  She sits at the table and looks around, twitchy and spry, like a cat.

  “Do you know where your father is?” she says.

  I shrug. “Someone told me he left. I didn’t ask where he went.”

  She rests her chin on her hand. “There’s nothing you wanted to say to him? Nothing at all?”

  “No,” I say. I twirl my keys around my finger. “I just wanted to leave him behind me, where he belongs.”

  Two years ago, when I stood across from him in the park with the snow falling all around us, I realized that just as attacking him in front of the Dauntless in the Merciless Mart didn’t make me feel better about the pain he caused me, yelling at him or insulting him wouldn’t either. There was only one option left, and it was letting go.

  Evelyn gives me a strange, searching look, then crosses the room and opens the bag she left on the couch. She takes out an object made of blue glass. It looks like falling water, suspended in time.

  I remember when she gave it to me. I was young, but not too young to realize that it was a forbidden object in the Abnegation faction, a useless and therefore a self-indulgent one. I asked her what purpose it served, and she told me, It doesn’t do anything obvious. But it might be able to do something in here. Then she touched her hand to her heart. Beautiful things sometimes do.

  For years it was a symbol of my quiet defiance, my small refusal to be an obedient, deferent Abnegation child, and a symbol of my mother’s defiance too, even though I believed she was dead. I hid it under my bed, and the day I decided to leave Abnegation, I put it on my desk so my father could see it, see my strength, and hers.

  “When you were gone, this reminded me of you,” she says, clutching the glass to her stomach. “Reminded me of how brave you were, always have been.” She smiles a little. “I thought you might keep it here. I intended it for you, after all.”

  I wouldn’t trust my voice to remain steady if I spoke, so I just smile back, and nod.

  The spring air is cold but I leave the windows open in the truck, so I can feel it in my chest, so it stings my fingertips, a reminder of the lingering winter. I stop by the train platform near the Merciless Mart and take the urn out of the backseat. It’s silver and simple, no engravings. I didn’t choose it; Christina did.

  I walk down the platform toward the group that has already gathered. Christina stands with Zeke and Shauna, who sits in the wheelchair with a blanket over her lap. She has a better wheelchair now, one without handles on the back, so she can maneuver it more easily. Matthew stands on the platform with his toes over the edge.

  “Hi,” I say, standing at Shauna’s shoulder.

  Christina smiles at me, and Zeke claps me on the shoulder.

  Uriah died only days after Tris, but Zeke and Hana said their good-byes just weeks afterward, scattering his ashes in the chasm, amid the clatter of all their friends and family. We screamed his name into the echo chamber of the Pit. Still, I know that Zeke is remembering him today, just as the rest of us are, even though this last act of Dauntless bravery is for Tris.

>   “Got something to show you,” Shauna says, and she tosses the blanket aside, revealing complicated metal braces on her legs. They go all the way up to her hips and wrap around her belly like a cage. She smiles at me, and with a gear-grinding sound, her feet shift to the ground in front of the chair, and in fits and starts, she stands.

  Despite the serious occasion, I smile.

  “Well, look at that,” I say. “I’d forgotten how tall you are.”

  “Caleb and his lab buddies made them for me,” she says. “Still getting the hang of it, but they say I might be able to run someday.”

  “Nice,” I say. “Where is he, anyway?”

  “He and Amar will meet us at the end of the line,” she says. “Someone has to be there to catch the first person.”

  “He’s still sort of a pansycake,” Zeke says. “But I’m coming around to him.”

  “Hm,” I say, not committing. The truth is, I’ve made my peace with Caleb, but I still can’t be around him for long. His gestures, his inflections, his manner, they are hers. They make him into just a whisper of her, and that is not enough of her, but it is also far too much.

  I would say more, but the train is coming. It charges toward us on the polished rails, then squeals as it slows to a stop in front of the platform. A head leans out the window of the first car, where the controls are—it’s Cara, her hair in a tight braid.

  “Get on!” she says.

  Shauna sits in the chair again and pushes herself through the doorway. Matthew, Christina, and Zeke follow. I get on last, offering the urn to Shauna to hold, and stand in the doorway, my hand clutching the handle. The train starts again, building speed with each second, and I hear it churning over the tracks and whistling over the rails, and I feel the power of it rising inside me. The air whips across my face and presses my clothes to my body, and I watch the city sprawl out in front of me, the buildings lit by the sun.

  It’s not the same as it used to be, but I got over that a long time ago. All of us have found new places. Cara and Caleb work in the laboratories at the compound, which are now a small segment of the Department of Agriculture that works to make agriculture more efficient, capable of feeding more people. Matthew works in psychiatric research somewhere in the city—the last time I asked him, he was studying something about memory. Christina works in an office that relocates people from the fringe who want to move into the city. Zeke and Amar are policemen, and George trains the police force—Dauntless jobs, I call them. And I’m assistant to one of our city’s representatives in government: Johanna Reyes.