Allegiant


  I am starting to feel short of breath as the revelations begin to work their way into my mind and heart, as David peels the layers of lies and secrets away. I touch my chest to feel my heartbeat, to try to steady myself.

  “Your city is one of those experiments for genetic healing, and by far the most successful one, because of the behavioral modification portion. The factions, that is.” David smiles at us, like it’s something we should be proud of, but I am not proud. They created us, they shaped our world, they told us what to believe.

  If they told us what to believe, and we didn’t come to it on our own, is it still true? I press my hand harder against my chest. Steady.

  “The factions were our predecessors’ attempt to incorporate a ‘nurture’ element to the experiment—they discovered that mere genetic correction was not enough to change the way people behaved. A new social order, combined with the genetic modification, was determined to be the most complete solution to the behavioral problems that the genetic damage had created.” David’s smile fades as he looks around at all of us. I don’t know what he expected—for us to smile back? He continues, “The factions were later introduced to most of our other experiments, three of which are currently active. We have gone to great lengths to protect you, observe you, and learn from you.”

  Cara runs her hands over her hair, as if checking for loose strands. Finding none, she says, “So when Edith Prior said we were supposed to determine the cause of Divergence and come out and help you, that was . . .”

  “‘Divergent’ is the name we decided to give to those who have reached the desired level of genetic healing,” says David. “We wanted to make sure that the leaders of your city valued them. We didn’t expect the leader of Erudite to start hunting them down—or for the Abnegation to even tell her what they were—and contrary to what Edith Prior said, we never really intended for you to send a Divergent army out to us. We don’t, after all, truly need your help. We just need your healed genes to remain intact and to be passed on to future generations.”

  “So what you’re saying is that if we’re not Divergent, we’re damaged,” Caleb says. His voice is shaking. I never thought I would see Caleb on the verge of tears because of something like this, but he is.

  Steady, I tell myself again, and take another deep, slow breath.

  “Genetically damaged, yes,” says David. “However, we were surprised to discover that the behavioral modification component of our city’s experiment was quite effective—up until recently, it actually helped quite a bit with the behavioral problems that made the genetic manipulation so problematic to begin with. So generally, you would not be able to tell whether a person’s genes were damaged or healed from their behavior.”

  “I’m smart,” Caleb says. “So you’re saying that because my ancestors were altered to be smart, I, their descendant, can’t be fully compassionate. I, and every other genetically damaged person, am limited by my damaged genes. And the Divergent are not.”

  “Well,” says David, lifting a shoulder. “Think about it.”

  Caleb looks at me for the first time in days, and I stare back. Is that the explanation for Caleb’s betrayal—his damaged genes? Like a disease that he can’t heal, and can’t control? It doesn’t seem right.

  “Genes aren’t everything,” Amar says. “People, even genetically damaged people, make choices. That’s what matters.”

  I think of my father, a born Erudite, not Divergent; a man who could not help but be smart, choosing Abnegation, engaging in a lifelong struggle against his own nature, and ultimately fulfilling it. A man warring with himself, just as I war with myself.

  That internal war doesn’t seem like a product of genetic damage—it seems completely, purely human.

  I look at Tobias. He is so washed out, so slouched, he looks like he might pass out. He’s not alone in his reaction: Christina, Peter, Uriah, and Caleb all look stunned. Cara has the hem of her shirt pinched between her fingers, and she is moving her thumb over the fabric, frowning.

  “This is a lot to process,” says David.

  That is an understatement.

  Beside me, Christina snorts.

  “And you’ve all been up all night,” David finishes, like there was no interruption. “So I’ll show you to a place where you can get some rest and food.”

  “Wait,” I say. I think of the photograph in my pocket, and how Zoe knew my name when she gave it to me. I think of what David said, about observing us and learning from us. I think of the rows of screens, blank, right in front of me. “You said you’ve been observing us. How?”

  Zoe purses her lips. David nods to one of the people at the desks behind him. All at once, all the screens turn on, each of them showing footage from different cameras. On the ones nearest to me, I see Dauntless headquarters. The Merciless Mart. Millennium Park. The Hancock building. The Hub.

  “You’ve always known that the Dauntless observe the city with security cameras,” David says. “Well, we have access to those cameras too.”

  They’ve been watching us.

  I think about leaving.

  We walk past the security checkpoint on our way to wherever David is taking us, and I think about walking through it again, picking up my gun, and running from this place where they’ve been watching me. Since I was small. My first steps, my first words, my first day of school, my first kiss.

  Watching, when Peter attacked me. When my faction was put under a simulation and turned into an army. When my parents died.

  What else have they seen?

  The only thing that stops me from going is the photograph in my pocket. I can’t leave these people before I find out how they knew my mother.

  David takes us through the compound to a carpeted area with potted plants on either side. The wallpaper is old and yellowed, peeling from the corners of the walls. We follow him into a large room with high ceilings and wood floors and lights that glow orange-yellow. There are cots arranged in two straight rows, with trunks beside them for what we brought with us, and large windows with elegant curtains on the opposite end of the room. When I get closer to them, I see that they’re worn and frayed at the edges.

  David tells us that this part of the compound was a hotel, connected to the airport by a tunnel, and this room was once the ballroom. Again the words mean nothing to us, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

  “This is just a temporary dwelling, of course. Once you decide what to do, we will settle you somewhere else, whether it’s in this compound or elsewhere. Zoe will ensure that you are well taken care of,” he says. “I will be back tomorrow to see how you’re all doing.”

  I look back at Tobias, who is pacing back and forth in front of the windows, gnawing on his fingernails. I never realized he had that habit. Maybe he was never distressed enough to do it before.

  I could stay and try to comfort him, but I need answers about my mother, and I’m not going to wait any longer. I’m sure that Tobias, of all people, will understand. I follow David into the hallway. Just outside the room he leans against the wall and scratches the back of his neck.

  “Hi,” I say. “My name is Tris. I believe you knew my mother.”

  He jumps a little, but eventually smiles at me. I cross my arms. I feel the same way I did when Peter pulled my towel away during Dauntless initiation, to be cruel: exposed, embarrassed, angry. Maybe it’s not fair to direct all of that at David, but I can’t help it. He’s the leader of this compound—of the Bureau.

  “Yes, of course,” he says. “I recognize you.”

  From where? The creepy cameras that followed my every move? I pull my arms tighter across my chest.

  “Right.” I wait a beat, then say, “I need to know about my mother. Zoe gave me a picture of her, and you were standing right next to her in it, so I figured you could help.”

  “Ah,” he says. “Can I see the picture?”

  I take it out of my pocket and offer it to him. He smooths it down with his fingertips, and there is a strange smile on h
is face as he looks at it, like he’s caressing it with his eyes. I shift my weight from one foot to the other—I feel like I’m intruding on a private moment.

  “She took a trip back to us once,” he says. “Before she settled into motherhood. That’s when we took this.”

  “Back to you?” I say. “Was she one of you?”

  “Yes,” David says simply, like it’s not a word that changes my entire world. “She came from this place. We sent her into the city when she was young to resolve a problem in the experiment.”

  “So she knew,” I say, and my voice shakes, but I don’t know why. “She knew about this place, and what was outside the fence.”

  David looks puzzled, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. “Well, of course.”

  The shaking moves down my arms and into my hands, and soon my entire body is shuddering, as if rejecting some kind of poison that I’ve swallowed, and the poison is knowledge, the knowledge of this place and its screens and all the lies I built my life on. “She knew you were watching us at every moment . . . watching as she died and my father died and everyone started killing each other! And did you send in someone to help her, to help me? No! No, all you did was take notes.”

  “Tris . . .”

  He tries to reach for me, and I push his hand away. “Don’t call me that. You shouldn’t know that name. You shouldn’t know anything about us.”

  Shivering, I walk back into the room.

  Back inside, the others have picked their beds and put their things down. It’s just us in here, no intruders. I lean against the wall by the door and push my palms down the front of my pants to get the sweat off.

  No one seems to be adjusting well. Peter lies facing the wall. Uriah and Christina sit side by side, having a conversation in low voices. Caleb is massaging his temples with his fingertips. Tobias is still pacing and gnawing on his fingernails. And Cara is on her own, dragging her hand over her face. For the first time since I met her, she looks upset, the Erudite armor gone.

  I sit down across from her. “You don’t look so good.”

  Her hair, usually smooth and perfect in its knot, is disheveled. She glowers at me. “That’s kind of you to say.”

  “Sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

  “I know.” She sighs. “I’m . . . I’m an Erudite, you know.”

  I smile a little. “Yeah, I know.”

  “No.” Cara shakes her head. “It’s the only thing I am. Erudite. And now they’ve told me that’s the result of some kind of flaw in my genetics . . . and that the factions themselves are just a mental prison to keep us under control. Just like Evelyn Johnson and the factionless said.” She pauses. “So why form the Allegiant? Why bother to come out here?”

  I didn’t realize how much Cara had already cleaved to the idea of being an Allegiant, loyal to the faction system, loyal to our founders. For me it was just a temporary identity, powerful because it could get me out of the city. For her the attachment must have been much deeper.

  “It’s still good that we came out here,” I say. “We found out the truth. That’s not valuable to you?”

  “Of course it is,” Cara says softly. “But it means I need other words for what I am.”

  Just after my mother died, I grabbed hold of my Divergence like it was a hand outstretched to save me. I needed that word to tell me who I was when everything else was coming apart around me. But now I’m wondering if I need it anymore, if we ever really need these words, “Dauntless,” “Erudite,” “Divergent,” “Allegiant,” or if we can just be friends or lovers or siblings, defined instead by the choices we make and the love and loyalty that binds us.

  “Better check on him,” Cara says, nodding to Tobias.

  “Yeah,” I say.

  I cross the room and stand in front of the windows, staring at what we can see of the compound, which is just more of the same glass and steel, pavement and grass and fences. When he sees me, he stops pacing and stands next to me instead.

  “You all right?” I say to him.

  “Yeah.” He sits on the windowsill, facing me, so we’re at eye level. “I mean, no, not really. Right now I’m just thinking about how meaningless it all was. The faction system, I mean.”

  He rubs the back of his neck, and I wonder if he’s thinking about the tattoos on his back.

  “We put everything we had into it,” he says. “All of us. Even if we didn’t realize we were doing it.”

  “That’s what you’re thinking about?” I raise my eyebrows. “Tobias, they were watching us. Everything that happened, everything we did. They didn’t intervene, they just invaded our privacy. Constantly.”

  He rubs his temple with his fingertips. “I guess. That’s not what’s bothering me, though.”

  I must give him an incredulous look without meaning to, because he shakes his head. “Tris, I worked in the Dauntless control room. There were cameras everywhere, all the time. I tried to warn you that people were watching you during your initiation, remember?”

  I remember his eyes shifting to the ceiling, to the corner. His cryptic warnings, hissed between his teeth. I never realized he was warning me about cameras—it just never occurred to me before.

  “It used to bother me,” he says. “But I got over it a long time ago. We always thought we were on our own, and now it turns out we were right—they left us on our own. That’s just the way it is.”

  “I guess I don’t accept that,” I say. “If you see someone in trouble, you should help them. Experiment or not. And . . . God.” I cringe. “All the things they saw.”

  He smiles at me, a little.

  “What?” I demand.

  “I was just thinking of some of the things they saw,” he says, putting his hand on my waist. I glare at him for a moment, but I can’t sustain it, not with him grinning at me like that. Not knowing that he’s trying to make me feel better. I smile a little.

  I sit next to him on the windowsill, my hands wedged between my legs and the wood. “You know, the Bureau setting up the factions is not much different than what we thought happened: A long time ago, a group of people decided that the faction system would be the best way to live—or the way to get people to live the best lives they could.”

  He doesn’t respond at first, just chews on the inside of his lip and looks at our feet, side by side on the floor. My toes brush the ground, not quite reaching it.

  “That helps, actually,” he says. “But there’s so much that was a lie, it’s hard to figure out what was true, what was real, what matters.”

  I take his hand, slipping my fingers between his. He touches his forehead to mine.

  I catch myself thinking, Thank God for this, out of habit, and then I understand what he’s so concerned about. What if my parents’ God, their whole belief system, is just something concocted by a bunch of scientists to keep us under control? And not just their beliefs about God and whatever else is out there, but about right and wrong, about selflessness? Do all those things have to change because we know how our world was made?

  I don’t know.

  The thought rattles me. So I kiss him—slowly, so I can feel the warmth of his mouth and the gentle pressure and his breaths as we pull away.

  “Why is it,” I say, “that we always find ourselves surrounded by people?”

  “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe because we’re stupid.”

  I laugh, and it’s laughter, not light, that casts out the darkness building within me, that reminds me I am still alive, even in this strange place where everything I’ve ever known is coming apart. I know some things—I know that I’m not alone, that I have friends, that I’m in love. I know where I came from. I know that I don’t want to die, and for me, that’s something—more than I could have said a few weeks ago.

  That night we push our cots just a little closer together, and look into each other’s eyes in the moments before we fall asleep. When he finally drifts off, our fingers are twisted together in the space between the beds.


  I smile a little, and let myself go too.

  CHAPTER

  SIXTEEN

  TOBIAS

  THE SUN STILL hasn’t completely set when we fall asleep, but I wake a few hours later, at midnight, my mind too busy for rest, swarming with thoughts and questions and doubts. Tris released me earlier, and her fingers now brush the floor. She is sprawled over the mattress, her hair covering her eyes.

  I shove my feet into my shoes and walk the hallways, shoelaces slapping the carpets. I am so accustomed to the Dauntless compound that I am not used to the creak of wooden floors beneath me—I am used to the scrape and echo of stone, and the roar and pulse of water in the chasm.

  A week into my initiation, Amar—worried that I was becoming increasingly isolated and obsessive—invited me to join some of the older Dauntless for a game of Dare. For my dare, we went back to the Pit for me to get my first tattoo, the patch of Dauntless flames covering my rib cage. It was agonizing. I relished every second of it.

  I reach the end of one hallway and find myself in an atrium, surrounded by the smell of wet earth. Everywhere plants and trees are suspended in water, the same way they were in the Amity greenhouses. In the center of the room is a tree in a giant water tank, lifted high above the floor so I can see the tangle of roots beneath it, strangely human, like nerves.

  “You’re not nearly as vigilant as you used to be,” Amar says from behind me. “Followed you all the way here from the hotel lobby.”

  “What do you want?” I tap the tank with my knuckles, sending ripples through the water.

  “I thought you might like an explanation for why I’m not dead,” he says.

  “I thought about it,” I say. “They never let us see your body. It wouldn’t be that hard to fake a death if you never show the body.”

  “Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.” Amar claps his hands together. “Well, I’ll just go, then, if you’re not curious. . . .”

  I cross my arms.

  Amar runs a hand over his black hair, tying it back with a rubber band. “They faked my death because I was Divergent, and Jeanine had started killing the Divergent. They tried to save as many as they could before she got to them, but it was tricky, you know, because she was always a step ahead.”