“If you’re not careful you won’t have to imagine anything.” He reaches the end of the food line and turns to me. “Competitive environments create tension, Four. It’s natural for that tension to be released somehow.” He smiles a little, stretching the skin between his piercings. “An attack would certainly show us, in a real-world situation, who the strong ones and the weak ones are, don’t you think? We wouldn’t have to rely on the test results at all, that way. We could make a more informed decision about who doesn’t belong here. That is … if an attack were to happen.”
The implication is clear: As the survivor of the attack, Tris would be viewed as weaker than the other initiates, and fodder for elimination. Eric wouldn’t rush to the aid of the victim, but would rather advocate for her expulsion from Dauntless, as he did before Edward left of his own accord. I don’t want Tris to be forced into factionlessness.
“Right,” I say lightly. “Well, it’s a good thing no attacks have happened recently, then.”
I dump some milk on top of my cereal and walk to my table. Eric won’t do anything to Peter, Drew, or Al, and I can’t do anything without stepping out of line and suffering the repercussions. But maybe—maybe I don’t have to do this alone. I put my tray down between Zeke and Shauna and say, “I need your help with something.”
After the fear landscape explanation is over and the initiates are dismissed for lunch, I pull Peter aside into the observation room next to the bare simulation room. It contains rows of chairs, ready for the initiates to sit in as they wait to take their final test. It also contains Zeke and Shauna.
“We need to have a chat,” I say.
Zeke lurches toward Peter, slamming him against the concrete wall with alarming force. Peter cracks the back of his head, and winces.
“Hey there,” Zeke says, and Shauna moves toward them, spinning a knife on her palm.
“What is this?” Peter says. He doesn’t even look a little afraid, even when Shauna catches the blade by the handle and touches the point to his cheek, creating a dimple. “Trying to scare me?” he sneers.
“No,” I say. “Trying to make a point. You’re not the only one with friends who are willing to do some harm.”
“I don’t think initiation instructors are supposed to threaten initiates, do you?” Peter gives me a wide-eyed look, one I might mistake for innocence if I didn’t know what he was really like. “I’ll have to ask Eric, though, just to be sure.”
“I didn’t threaten you,” I say. “I’m not even touching you. And according to the footage of this room that’s stored on the control room computers, we’re not even in here right now.”
Zeke grins like he can’t help it. That was his idea.
“I’m the one who’s threatening you,” Shauna says, almost in a growl. “One more violent outburst and I’m going to teach you a lesson about justice.” She holds the knife point over his eye, and brings it down slowly, pressing the point to his eyelid. Peter freezes, barely moving even to breathe. “An eye for an eye. A bruise for a bruise.”
“Eric may not care if you go after your peers,” Zeke says, “but we do, and there are a lot of Dauntless like us. People who don’t think you should lay a hand on your fellow faction members. People who listen to gossip, and spread it like wildfire. It won’t take long for us to tell them what kind of worm you are, or for them to make your life very, very difficult. You see, in Dauntless, reputations tend to stick.”
“We’ll start with all your potential employers,” Shauna says. “The supervisors in the control room—Zeke can take them; the leaders out by the fence—I’ll get those. Tori knows everyone in the Pit—Four, you’re friends with Tori, right?”
“Yes I am,” I say. I move closer to Peter, and tilt my head. “You may be able to cause pain, initiate … but we can cause you lifelong misery.”
Shauna takes the knife away from Peter’s eye. “Think about it.”
Zeke lets go of Peter’s shirt and smooths it down, still smiling. Somehow the combination of Shauna’s ferocity and Zeke’s cheerfulness is just strange enough to be threatening. Zeke waves at Peter, and we all leave together.
“You want us to talk to people anyway, right?” Zeke asks me.
“Oh yeah,” I say. “Definitely. Not just about Peter. Drew and Al, too.”
“Maybe if he survives initiation, I’ll accidentally trip him and he’ll fall right into the chasm,” Zeke says hopefully, making a plummeting gesture with his hand.
The next morning, there’s a crowd gathered by the chasm, all quiet and still, though the smell of breakfast beckons us all toward the cafeteria. I don’t have to ask what they’re gathered for.
This happens almost every year, I’m told. A death. Like Amar’s, sudden and awful and wasteful. A body pulled out of the chasm like a fish on a hook. Usually someone young—an accident, because of a daredevil stunt gone wrong, or maybe not an accident, a wounded mind further injured by the darkness, pressure, pain of Dauntless.
I don’t know how to feel about those deaths. Guilty, maybe, for not seeing the pain myself. Sad, th
at some people can’t find another way to escape.
I hear the name of the deceased spoken up ahead, and both emotions strike me hard.
Al. Al. Al.
My initiate—my responsibility, and I failed, because I’ve been so obsessed with catching Max and Jeanine, or with blaming everything on Eric, or with my indecision about warning the Abnegation. No—none of those things so much as this: that I distanced myself from them for my own protection, when I should have been drawing them out of the dark places here and into the lighter ones. Laughing with friends on the chasm rocks. Late-night tattoos after a game of Dare. A sea of embraces after the rankings are announced. Those are the things I could have shown him—even if it wouldn’t have helped him, I should have tried.
I know one thing: after this year’s initiation is done, Eric won’t need to try so hard to oust me from this position. I’m already gone.
Al. Al. Al.
Why do all dead people become heroes in Dauntless? Why do we need them to? Maybe they’re the only ones we can find in a faction of corrupt leaders, competitive peers, and cynical instructors. Dead people can be our heroes because they can’t disappoint us later; they only improve over time, as we forget more and more about them.
Al was unsure and sensitive, and then jealous and violent, and then gone. Softer men than Al have lived and harder men than Al have died and there’s no explanation for any of it.
But Tris wants one, craves one, I can see it in her face, a kind of hunger. Or anger. Or both. I can’t imagine it’s easy to like someone, hate them, and then lose them before any of those feelings are resolved. I follow her away from the chanting Dauntless because I’m arrogant enough to believe I can make her feel better.
Right. Sure. Or maybe I follow her because I’m tired of being so removed from everyone, and I’m no longer sure it’s the best way to be.
“Tris,” I say.
“What are you doing here?” she says bitterly. “Shouldn’t you be paying your respects?”
“Shouldn’t you?” I move toward her.
“Can’t pay respect when you don’t have any.” I’m surprised, for a moment, that she can manage to be so cold—Tris isn’t always nice, but she’s rarely cavalier about anything. It only takes her a second to shake her head. “I didn’t mean that.”
“This is ridiculous,” she says, flushing. “He throws himself off a ledge and Eric’s calling it brave? Eric, who tried to have you throw knives at Al’s head?” Her face contorts. “He wasn’t brave! He was depressed and a coward and he almost killed me! Is that the kind of thing we respect here?”
“What do you want them to do?” I say as gently as I can—which isn’t saying much. “Condemn him? Al’s already dead. He can’t hear it, and it’s too late.”
“It’s not about Al,” she says. “It’s about everyone watching! Everyone who now sees hurling themselves into the chasm as a viable option. I mean, why not do it if everyone calls you a hero afterward? Why not do it if everyone will remember your name?” But of course, it is about Al, and she knows that. “It’s …” She’s struggling, fighting with herself. “I can’t … This would never have happened in Abnegation! None of it! Never. This place warped him and ruined him, and I don’t care if saying that makes me a Stiff, I don’t care, I don’t care!”
My paranoia is so deeply ingrained, I look automatically at the camera buried in the wall above the drinking fountain, disguised by the blue lamp fixed there. The people in the control room can see us, and if we’re unlucky, they could choose this moment to hear us, too. I can see it now, Eric calling Tris a faction traitor, Tris’s body on the pavement near the railroad tracks …
“Careful, Tris,” I say.
“Is that all you can say?” She frowns at me. “That I should be careful? That’s it?”
I understand that my response wasn’t exactly what she was expecting, but for someone who just railed against Dauntless recklessness, she’s definitely acting like one of them.
“You’re as bad as the Candor, you know that?” I say. The Candor are always running their mouths, never thinking about the consequences. I pull her away from the drinking fountain, and then I’m close to her face and I can see her dead eyes floating in the water of the underground river and I can’t stand it, not when she was just attacked and who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t heard her scream.
“I’m not going to say this again, so listen carefully.” I put my hands on her shoulders. “They are watching you. You, in particular.”
I remember Eric’s eyes on her after the knife throwing. His questions about her deleted simulation data. I claimed water damage. He thought it was interesting that the water damage occurred not five minutes after Tris’s simulation ended. Interesting.
“Let go of me,” she says.
I do, immediately. I don’t like hearing her voice that way.
“Are they watching you, too?”
Always have been, always will be. “I keep trying to help you, but you refuse to be helped.”
“Oh, right. Your help,” she says. “Stabbing my ear with a knife and taunting me and yelling at me more than you yell at anyone else, it sure is helpful.”
“Taunting you? You mean when I threw the knives? I wasn’t taunting you!” I shake my head. “I was reminding you that if you failed, someone else would have to take your place.”