I am still in that position—crouched by the wall, my head in my hands—when Amar nudges me with his foot.
“Get up, Stiff,” he says, not unkindly. “It’s almost time to jump.”
“Jump?” I say.
“Yeah.” He smirks. “This train stops for no one.”
I press myself up. The fabric I wrapped around my hand is soaked through with red. Tori stands right behind me and pushes me toward the doorway.
“Let the initiate off first!” she shouts.
“What are you doing?” I demand, scowling at her.
“I’m doing you a favor!” she answers, and she shoves me toward the opening again. The other Dauntless step back for me, each one of them grinning like I’m a meal. I shuffle toward the edge, grabbing the handle so hard the tips of my fingers start to go numb. I see where I’m supposed to jump—up ahead, the tracks hug the roof of a building and then turn. The gap looks small from here, but as the train gets closer, it seems larger and larger, and my imminent death seems more and more likely.
My entire body shakes as the Dauntless in the cars ahead of us make the jump. None of them miss the roof, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be the first. I pry my fingers from the handle and stare at the rooftop and push off as hard as I can.
The impact shudders through me, and I fall forward onto my hands and knees, the gravel on the roof digging into my wounded palm. I stare at my fingers. I feel like time just lurched forward, the actual jump disappearing from sight and memory.
“Damn,” someone behind me says. “I was hoping we would get to scrape some Stiff pancake off the pavement later.”
I glare at the ground and sit back on my heels. The roof is tilting and bobbing beneath me—I didn’t know a person could be dizzy with fear.
Still, I know I just passed two initiation tests: I got on a moving train, and I made it to the roof. Now the question is, how do the Dauntless get off the roof?
A moment later Amar steps up on the ledge, and I have my answer:
They’re going to make us jump.
I close my eyes and pretend that I’m not here, kneeling on this gravel with these insane ink-marked people surrounding me. I came here to escape, but this is not an escape, it’s just a different kind of torture and it’s too late to get out of it. My only hope, then, is to survive it.
“Welcome to Dauntless!” Amar shouts. “Where you either face your fears and try not to die in the process, or you leave a coward. We’ve got a record low of faction transfers this year, unsurprisingly.”
The Dauntless around Amar punch the air and whoop, bearing the fact that no one wants to join them as a banner of pride.
“The only way to get into the Dauntless compound from this rooftop is to jump off this ledge,” Amar says, opening his arms wide to indicate the empty space around him. He tilts back on his heels and waves his arms around, like he’s about to fall, then catches himself and grins. I pull a deep breath in through my nose and hold it.
“As usual, I offer the opportunity to go first to our initiates, Dauntless-born or not.” He hops down from the ledge and gestures to it, eyebrows raised.
The cluster of young Dauntless near the roof exchange looks. Standing off to the side are the Erudite boy from before, an Amity girl, two Candor boys, and a Candor girl. There are only six of us.
One of the Dauntless steps up, a dark-skinned boy who beckons cheers from his friends with his hands.
“Go, Zeke!” one of the girls shouts.
Zeke hops onto the ledge but misjudges the jump and tips forward right away, losing his balance. He yells something unintelligible and disappears. The Candor girl nearby gasps, covering her mouth with one hand, but Zeke’s Dauntless friends burst into laughter. I don’t think that was the dramatic, heroic moment he had in mind.
Amar, grinning, gestures to the ledge again. The Dauntless-borns line up behind it, and so do the Erudite boy and the Amity girl. I know I have to join them, I have to jump, it doesn’t matter how I feel about it. I move toward the line, stiff like my joints are rusted bolts. Amar looks at his watch and cues each jumper at thirty-second intervals.
The line is shrinking, dissolving.
Suddenly it’s gone, and I am all that is left. I step onto the ledge and wait for Amar’s cue. The sun is setting behind the buildings in the distance, their jagged line unfamiliar from this angle. The light glows gold near the horizon, and wind rushes up the side of the building, lifting my clothes away from my body.
“Go ahead,” Amar says.
I close my eyes, and I’m frozen; I can’t even push myself off the roof. All I can do is tilt and fall. My stomach drops and my limbs fumble in the air for something, anything to hold on to, but there is nothing, only the drop, the air, the frantic search for the ground.
Then I hit a net.
It curls around me, wrapping me in strong threads. Hands beckon to me from the edge. I hook my fingers in the net and pull myself toward them. I land on my feet on a wooden platform, and a man with dark brown skin and bruised knuckles grins at me. Max.
“The Stiff!” He claps me on the back, making me flinch. “Nice to see you made it this far. Go join your fellow initiates. Amar will be down in a second, I’m sure.”
Behind him is a dark tunnel with rock walls. The Dauntless compound is underground—I assumed it would be dangling from a high building from a series of flimsy ropes, a manifestation of my worst nightmares.
I try to walk down the steps and over to the other transfers. My legs seem to be working again. The Amity girl smiles at me. “That was surprisingly fun,” she says. “I’m Mia. You okay?”
“It looks like he’s trying not to throw up,” one of the Candor boys says.
“Just let it happen, man,” the other Candor boy adds. “We’d love to see a show.”
My response comes out of nowhere. “Shut up,” I snap.
To my surprise, they do. I guess they haven’t been told to shut up by many of the Abnegation.
A few seconds later, I see Amar rolling over the edge of the net. He descends the steps, looking wild and rumpled and ready for the next insane stunt. He beckons all the initiates closer to him, and we gather at the opening of the yawning tunnel in a semicircle.
Amar brings his hands together in front of him.
“My name is Amar,” he says. “I’m your initiation instructor. I grew up here, and three years ago, I passed initiation with flying colors, which means I get to be in charge of the newcomers for as long as I want. Lucky you.
“Dauntless-borns and transfers do most physical training separately, so that the Dauntless-borns don’t break the transfers in half right away—” At this, the Dauntless-borns on the other side of the semicircle grin. “But we’re trying something different this year. The Dauntless leaders and I want to see if knowing your fears before you begin training will better prepare you for the rest of initiation. So before we even let you into the dining hall to have dinner, we’re going to do some self-discovery. Follow me.”
“What if I don’t want to discover myself?” Zeke asks.
All Amar has to do is look at him for him to sink back into the group of Dauntless-borns again. Amar is like no one I’ve ever met—affable one minute and stern the next, and sometimes both at once.
He leads the way down the tunnel, then stops at a door built into the wall and shoves it open with his shoulder. We follow him into a dank room with a giant window in the back wall. Above us the fluorescent lights flicker and twitch, and Amar busies himself at a machine that looks a lot like the one used to administer my aptitude test. I hear a dripping sound—water from the ceiling is leaking into a puddle in the corner.
Another large, empty room stretches out beyond the window. There are cameras in each corner—are there cameras all over the Dauntless compound?
“This is the fear landscape room,” Amar announces without looking up. “A fear landscape is a simulation in which you confront your worst fears.”
Arranged on the table next
to the machine is a line of syringes. They look sinister to me in the flickering light, like they might as well be instruments of torture, knives and blades and hot pokers.
“How is that possible?” the Erudite boy says. “You don’t know our worst fears.”
“Eric, right?” Amar says. “You’re correct, I don’t know your worst fears, but the serum I am going to inject you with will stimulate the parts of your brain that process fear, and you will come up with the simulation obstacles yourself, so to speak. In this simulation, unlike in the aptitude test simulation, you will be aware that what you are seeing is not real. Meanwhile, I will be in this room, controlling the simulation, and I get to tell the program embedded in the simulation serum to move on to the next obstacle once your heart rate reaches a particular level—once you calm down, in other words, or face your fear in a significant way. When you run out of fears, the program will terminate and you will ‘wake up’ in that room again with a greater awareness of your own fears.”
He picks up one of the syringes and beckons to Eric.
“Allow me to satisfy your Erudite curiosity,” he says. “You get to go first.”
“But,” Amar says smoothly, “I am your initiation instructor, and it’s in your best interest to do as I say.”
Eric stands still for a moment, then removes his blue jacket, folds it in half, and drapes it over the back of a chair. His movements are slow and deliberate—designed, I suspect, to irritate Amar as much as possible. Eric approaches Amar, who sticks the needle almost savagely into the side of Eric’s neck. Then he steers Eric toward the next room.
Once Eric is standing in the middle of the room behind the glass, Amar attaches himself to the simulation machine with electrodes and presses something on the computer screen behind it to start the program.
Eric is still, his hands by his sides. He stares at us through the window, and a moment later, though he hasn’t moved, it looks like he’s staring at something else, like the simulation has begun. But he doesn’t scream or thrash or cry, like I would expect of someone who is staring down his worst fears. His heart rate, recorded on the monitor in front of Amar, rises and rises, like a bird taking flight.
He’s afraid. He’s afraid, but he’s not even moving.
“What’s going on?” Mia asks me. “Is the serum working?”