"Funny," Eric says. "Wasn't sure someone with your background could ever develop a sense of humor. Your father doesn't seem like the type to allow it."
I feel a stab of fear. He's dancing awfully close to saying my name in front of this room full of people, and he wants me to know it--he wants me to remember that he knows who I am, and that he can use it against me whenever he pleases.
I can't pretend that it doesn't matter to me. The power dynamic has shifted, and I can't make it shift back.
"I think I know who told you that," I say. Jeanine Matthews knows both my name and my alias. She must have given him both.
"I was already fairly sure," he says in a low voice. "But my suspicions were confirmed by a credible source, yes. You aren't as good at keeping secrets as you think, Four."
I would threaten him, tell him that if he reveals my name to the Dauntless, I'll reveal his lasting connections to Erudite. But I don't have any evidence, and the Dauntless dislike Abnegation more than Erudite anyway. I sit back in my chair to wait.
The others file out as they're called, and soon we're the only ones left. Max makes his way down the hallway, then beckons to us from the door, without a word. We follow him back to his office, which I recognize from yesterday's footage of his meeting with Jeanine Matthews. I use my memory of that conversation to steel myself against what's coming next.
"So." Max folds his hands on his desk, and again I'm struck by how strange it is to see him in such a clean, formal environment. He belongs in a training room, hitting a bag, or next to the Pit, leaning over the railing. Not sitting at a low wooden table surrounded by paper.
I look out the windows of the Pire at the Dauntless sector of the city. A few yards away I can see the edge of the hole I jumped into when I first chose Dauntless, and the rooftop that I stood on just before that. I chose Dauntless, I told my mother yesterday. That's where I belong.
Is that really true?
"Eric, let's begin with you," Max says. "Do you have ideas for what might be good for Dauntless, moving forward?"
"I do." Eric sits up. "I think we need to make some changes, and I think they should start during initiation."
"What kind of changes do you have in mind?"
"Dauntless has always embraced a spirit of competition," Eric says. "Competition makes us better; it brings out the best, strongest parts of us. I think initiation should foster that sense of competition more than it currently does, so that it produces the best initiates possible. Right now initiates are competing only against the system, striving for a particular score in order to move forward. I think they should be competing against each other for spots in Dauntless."
I can't help it; I turn and stare at him. A limited number of spots? In a faction? After just two weeks of initiation training?
"And if they don't get a spot?"
"They become factionless," Eric says. I swallow a derisive laugh. Eric continues, "If we believe that Dauntless truly is the superior faction to join, that its aims are more important than the aims of other factions, then becoming one of us should be an honor and a privilege, not a right."
"Are you kidding?" I say, unable to contain myself any longer. "People choose a faction because they value the same things that faction values, not because they're already proficient in what a faction teaches. You'd be kicking people out of Dauntless just for not being strong enough to jump on a train or win a fight. You would favor the big, strong, and reckless more than the small, smart, and brave--you wouldn't be improving Dauntless at all."
"I'm sure the small, smart ones would be better off in Erudite, or as little gray-clad Stiffs," Eric says with a wry smile. "And I don't think you're giving our potential new Dauntless members enough credit, Four. This system would favor only the most determined."
I glance at Max. I expect him to look unimpressed by Eric's plan, but he doesn't. He's leaning forward, focused on Eric's pierced face like something about it has inspired him.
"This is an interesting debate," Max says. "Four, how would you improve Dauntless, if not by making initiation more competitive?"
I shake my head, looking out the window again. You aren't one of those mindless, danger-seeking fools, my mother said to me. But those are the people Eric wants in Dauntless: mindless, danger-seeking fools. If Eric is one of Jeanine Matthew's lackeys, then why would Jeanine encourage him to propose this kind of plan?
Oh. Because mindless, danger-seeking fools are easier to control, easier to manipulate. Obviously.
"I would improve Dauntless by fostering true bravery instead of stupidity and brutality," I say. "Take out the knife throwing. Prepare people physically and mentally to defend the weak against the strong. That's what our manifesto encourages--ordinary acts of bravery. I think we should return to that."
"And then we can all hold hands and sing a song together, right?" Eric rolls his eyes. "You want to turn Dauntless into Amity."
"No," I say. "I want to make sure we still know how to think for ourselves, think about more than the next surge of adrenaline. Or just think, period. That way we can't be taken over or . . . controlled from the outside."
"Sounds a little Erudite to me," Eric says.
"The ability to think isn't exclusive to Erudite," I snap. "The ability to think in stressful situations is what the fear simulations are supposed to develop."
"All right, all right," Max says, holding up his hands. He looks troubled. "Four, I'm sorry to say this, but you sound a little paranoid. Who would take us over, or try to control us? The factions have coexisted peacefully for longer than you've been alive, there's no reason that's going to change now."
I open my mouth to tell him he's wrong, that the second he let Jeanine Matthews get involved in the affairs of our faction, the second he let her plant Erudite-loyal transfers into our initiation program, the second he started consulting with her on who to appoint as the next Dauntless leader, he compromised the system of checks and balances that has allowed us to coexist peacefully for so long. But then I realize that to tell him those things would be to accuse him of treason, and to reveal just how much I know.
Max looks at me, and I read disappointment in his face. I know that he likes me--likes me more than Eric, at least. But my mother was right yesterday--Max doesn't want someone like me, someone who can think for himself, develop his own agenda. He wants someone like Eric, who will help him establish the new Dauntless agenda, who will be easy to manipulate simply because he's still under the thumb of Jeanine Matthews, someone with whom Max is closely aligned.
My mother presented me with two options yesterday: be a pawn of Dauntless, or become factionless. But there's a third option: to be neither. To align myself with no one in particular. To live under the radar, and free. That's what I really want--to shed all the people who want to form and shape me, one by one, and learn instead to form and shape myself.
"To be honest, sir, I don't think this is the right place for me," I say calmly. "I told you when you first asked me that I'd like to be an instructor, and I think I'm realizing more and more that that's where I belong."
"Eric, will you excuse us, please?" Max says. Eric, barely able to suppress his glee, nods and leaves. I don't watch him go, but I would bet all my Dauntless credits that there's a little skip in his step as he walks down the hallway.
Max gets up and sits next to me, in the chair Eric just vacated.
"I hope you're not saying this because I accused you of being paranoid," Max says. "I was just concerned about you. I feared that the pressure was getting to you, making you stop thinking straight. I still think you're a strong candidate for leadership. You fit the right profile, you've demonstrated proficiency with everything we've taught you--and beyond that, quite frankly, you're more likable than some of our other promising candidates, which is important in a close working environment."
"Thank you," I say. "But you're right, the pressure is getting to me. And the pressure if I was actually a leader would be much worse."
sadly. "Well." He nods again. "If you'd like to be an initiation instructor, I will arrange that for you. But that's seasonal work--where would you like to be placed for the rest of the year?"
"I was thinking maybe the control room," I say. "I've discovered that I enjoy working with computers. I don't think I would enjoy patrolling nearly as much."
"Okay," Max says. "Consider it done. Thank you for being honest with me."
I get up, and all I feel is relief. He seems concerned, sympathetic. Not suspicious of me or my motives or my paranoia.
"If you ever change your mind," Max says, "please don't hesitate to tell me. We could always use someone like you."
"Thank you," I say, and even though he's the worst faction traitor of anyone I've met, and probably responsible at least in part for Amar's death, I can't help but feel a little grateful to him for letting me go so easily.
Eric is waiting for me around the corner. As I try to walk past him, he grabs my arm.
"Careful, Eaton," he murmurs. "If anything about my involvement with Erudite escapes you, you won't like what happens to you."
"You won't like what happens to you, either, if you ever call me by that name again."
"Soon I'm going to be one of your leaders," Eric says, smirking. "And believe me, I am going to keep a very, very close eye on you and how well you implement my new training methods."
"He doesn't like you, you know that?" I say. "Max, I mean. He'd rather have anyone else but you. He's not going to give you more than an inch in any direction. So good luck with your short leash."
I wrench my arm from his grasp and walk toward the elevators.
"Man," Shauna says. "That is a bad day."
She and I are sitting next to the chasm with our feet over the edge. I rest my head against the bars of the metal barrier that's keeping us from falling to our deaths, and feel the spray of water against my ankles as one of the larger waves hits a wall.
I told her about my departure from leadership training, and Eric's threat, but I didn't tell her about my mother. How do you tell someone that your mother came back from the dead?
All my life, someone has been trying to control me. Marcus was the tyrant of our house, and nothing happened without his permission. And then Max wanted to recruit me as his Dauntless yes-man. And even my mother had a plan for me, for me to join up with her when I reached a certain age to work against the faction system that she has a vendetta against, for whatever reason. And just when I thought that I had escaped control altogether, Eric swooped in to remind me that if he became a Dauntless leader, he would be watching me.
All I have, I realize, are the small moments of rebellion I'm able to manage, just like when I was in Abnegation, collecting objects I found on the street. The tattoo that Tori is drawing on my back, the one that might declare me to be Divergent, is one of those moments. I'll have to keep looking for more of them, more brief moments of freedom in a world that refuses to allow it.
"Where's Zeke?" I say.
"I don't know," she says. "I haven't wanted to hang out with him much recently."
I look sideways at her. "You could just tell him that you like him, you know. I honestly don't think he has a clue."
"That's obvious," she says, snorting. "But what if this is what he wants--to just bounce around from girl to girl for a while? I don't want to be one of those girls he bounces to."
"I seriously doubt you would be," I say, "but fair enough."
We sit quietly for a few seconds, both of us staring down at the raging water below.
"You'll be a good instructor," she says. "You were really good at teaching me."