“YOU LOOK GOOD, TRIS.”
I CHECK MY watch. The first initiate should be jumping any minute now.
The net waits beside me, wide and sturdy and lit from above by the sun. The last time I was here was last year’s Choosing Day, and before then, the day I jumped. I didn’t want to remember the feeling of inching toward the edge of the building, my mind and my body going haywire with terror, the awful drop, the helpless flailing of limbs, the slap of the net fibers against my arms and neck.
“How’d the prank go?” Lauren says.
It takes me a second to figure out what she means: the program, and my supposed desire to prank Zeke. “Haven’t done it yet. Our work time didn’t overlap much today.”
“You know, if you were up for some serious studying, we could use you in tech services,” she says.
“If you’re recruiting, you should talk to Zeke. He’s much better than I am.”
“Yeah, but Zeke doesn’t know when to shut it,” she says. “We don’t recruit for skill so much as compatibility. We spend a lot of time together.”
I grin. Zeke does like to surround himself with chatter, but that’s never bothered me. Sometimes it’s nice not to worry about providing any conversation.
Lauren plays with one of the rings in her eyebrow, and we wait. I try to crane my neck to see the top of the building from the ground, but all I can see is sky.
“Bet you it’s one of my Dauntless-borns,” she says.
“It’s always a Dauntless-born. No bet.”
They have an unfair advantage, the Dauntless-born. They usually know what’s at the bottom of the jump, though we try to keep it from them as much as possible—the only time we use this entrance to headquarters is on Choosing Day, but the Dauntless are curious, they explore the compound when they think no one is watching. They also grow up cultivating in themselves the desire to make bold moves, to take drastic action, to commit themselves fully to whatever they decide to do. It would take a strange kind of transfer to know how to do that without having been taught.
Then I see her.
Not a black streak like I was expecting, but gray, tumbling through the air. I hear a snap of the net pulling taught around the metal supports, and it shifts to cradle her. For a second I stare, amazed, at the familiar clothing that she wears. Then I put my hand out, into the net, so she can reach it.
She wraps her fingers around mine, and I pull her across. As she tumbles over the side, I grab her arms to steady her. She’s small, and thin—fragile-looking, like the impact with the net should have shattered her. Her eyes are wide and bright blue.
“Thank you,” she says. She may look fragile, but her voice is steady.
“Can’t believe it,” Lauren says, with more Dauntless swagger than usual. “A Stiff, the first to jump? Unheard of.”
She’s right. It is unheard of. It’s unheard of for a Stiff to join Dauntless, even. There were no Abnegation transfers last year. And before that, for a long time, there was only me.
“There’s a reason why she left them, Lauren,” I say, feeling distant from the moment, from my own body. I pull myself back and say to the initiate, “What’s your name?”
“Um …” She hesitates, and I feel, for a strange, brief moment, like I know her. Not from my time in Abnegation, not from school, but on a deeper level, somehow, her eyes and her mouth searching for a name, dissatisfied with the one she finds, just like I was. My initiation instructor gave me an escape from my old identity. I can give her one, too.
“Think about it,” I say, smiling a little. “You don’t get to pick again.”
“Tris,” she says, like she’s already sure of it.
“Tris,” Lauren says. “Make the announcement, Four.”
She’s my initiate, after all, this transfer from Abnegation.
I look over my shoulder, at the crowd of Dauntless members who have gathered to watch the initiates jump, and I announce, “First jumper—Tris!”
This way, they’ll remember her, not for the gray she wears but for her first act of bravery. Or insanity. Sometimes they’re the same thing.
Everyone cheers, and as the sound fills the cavern, another initiate plummets into the net with a blood-curdling scream. A girl dressed in Candor black and white. This time, Lauren is the one to reach across the net to help her. I touch a hand to Tris’s back to guide her toward the stairs, in case she’s not as steady as she seems. Before she takes the first step, I say, “Welcome to Dauntless.”
ONE ABNEGATION, FIVE Candor, two Erudite. Those are my initiates.
I’m told that Candor and Dauntless have a fairly high mutual transfer rate—we usually lose as many to them as we gain. I consider it my job to get these eight initiates through at least the first round of cuts. Last year, when Eric and Max insisted on the cuts, I fought them as hard as I dared. But it seems the cuts are here to stay, all for the sake of the Dauntless Max and Eric want to create—a faction of mindless brutality.
But I intend to leave Dauntless as soon as I find out what Max and Jeanine are up to, and if that’s in the middle of initiation, so much the better.
Once all the Dauntless-borns—including Uriah, Lynn, and Marlene—are with us, I start down the tunnel, beckoning them to follow with one hand. We walk down the dark hallway toward the Pit doors.
“This is where we divide,” Lauren says, when she reaches the doors. “The Dauntless-born initiates are with me. I assume you don’t need a tour of the place.”
She smiles, and the Dauntless-borns follow her down the hallway that
bypasses the Pit, leading them right into the cafeteria. I watch them leave, and once they’ve disappeared, I straighten up. I learned last year that in order for them to take me seriously from the beginning, I have to be hard on them from the beginning. I don’t have Amar’s natural charm, which won people’s loyalty with just a smile or a joke, so I have to compensate in other ways.
“Most of the time I work in the control room, but for the next few weeks, I’m your instructor,” I say. “My name is Four.”
One of the Candor girls—tall, with dark skin and an energetic voice—speaks up. “Four? Like the number?”
I sense the beginnings of an uprising. People who don’t know what my name means often like to laugh at it, and I don’t like to be laughed at, especially not by a group of initiates fresh from Choosing, who have no idea what they’re in for.
“Yes,” I say testily. “Is there a problem?”
“No,” the girl says.
“Good. We’re about to go into the Pit, which you will someday learn to love. It—”
The Candor girl interrupts again. “The Pit? Clever name.”
I feel a swell of irritation, and I move toward her without really deciding to. I can’t have someone cracking jokes about everything I say, especially not at the beginning of initiation, when everyone’s attitudes are so malleable. I have to show them all that I’m not someone to be messed with, and I have to do it now.
I lean in close to her face and stare at her for a few seconds, until I see her smile falter.
“What’s your name?” I say, keeping my voice quiet.
“Christina,” she says.
“Well, Christina, if I wanted to put up with Candor smart-mouths, I would have joined their faction,” I say. “The first lesson you will learn from me is to keep your mouth shut. Got that?”
She nods. I turn away, my heart throbbing in my ears. I think that did it, but I can’t be sure, not until initiation really begins. I push through the double doors that open up to the Pit, and for a moment, I see it like it’s for the first time, the impossibly huge space, bustling with life and energy, the pulse of water in the chasm, crashing against the rocks, the echoes of conversation everywhere. Most of the time I avoid it because it’s so busy, but today I love it. I can’t help it.
“If you follow me,” I say. “I’ll show you the chasm.”
The Abnegation transfer sits at my table. For a moment I wonder if she knows who I am, or if she’s somehow magnetized to me by an invisible force of Stiff that I can’t help but give off. But she doesn’t look at me like she knows me. And she doesn’t know what a hamburger is.
“You’ve never had a hamburger before?” Christina says. Incredulous. The Candor are like that, amazed that not everyone lives the way that they do. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like them. It’s like the rest of the world doesn’t exist to them, but for the Abnegation, the rest of the world is all that exists, and it is full of need.
“No,” Tris says. For someone so small, she has a low voice. It always sounds serious, no matter what she says. “Is that what it’s called?”
“Stiffs eat plain food,” I say, trying out the slang. It feels unnatural, applied to Tris; I feel like I owe her the courtesies I would owe any woman in my former faction, deferential, averted eyes and polite conversation. I have to push myself to remember that I’m not in Abnegation anymore. And neither is she.
“Why?” Christina says.
“Extravagance is considered self-indulgent and unnecessary.” She says it like she’s reciting it from memory. Maybe she is.
“No wonder you left.”
“Yeah.” Tris rolls her eyes, which surprises me. “It was just because of the food.”
I try not to smile. I’m not sure it works.
Then Eric walks in, and everything goes quiet.
Eric’s appointment to Dauntless leader was met with confusion and, in some