“Though it might seem strange, it’s important for high-level Dauntless to understand how a few programs work,” Max says. “The surveillance program in the control room is an obvious one—a Dauntless leader will sometimes have to monitor the things happening in the faction. Then there’s the simulation programs, which you have to understand in order to evaluate Dauntless initiates. Also the currency tracking program, which keeps commerce in our faction running smoothly, among others. Some of these programs are pretty sophisticated, which means you’ll have to be able to learn computer skills easily, if you don’t already have them. That’s what we’ll be doing today.”
He gestures to the woman standing at his left shoulder. I recognize her from the game of Dare. She’s young, with purple streaks in her short hair and more piercings than I can easily count.
“Lauren here will be teaching you some of the basics, and then we’ll test you,” Max says. “Lauren is one of our initiation instructors, but in her downtime she works as a computer technician in Dauntless headquarters. It’s a little Erudite of her, but we’ll let it slide for the sake of convenience.”
Max winks at her, and she grins.
“Go ahead,” he says. “I’ll be back in an hour.”
Max leaves, and Lauren claps her hands together.
“Right,” she says. “Today we’re going to talk about how programming works. Those of you who already have some experience with this, please feel free to tune out. The rest of you better keep focused because I’m not going to repeat myself. Learning this stuff is like learning a language—it’s not enough to memorize the words; you also have to understand the rules and why they work the way they do.”
When I was younger, I volunteered in the computer labs in the Upper Levels building to meet my faction-mandated volunteer hours—and to get out of the house—and I learned how to take a computer apart and put it back together. But I never learned about this. The next hour passes in a blur of technical terms I can barely keep up with. I try to jot some notes on a piece of scrap paper I found on the floor, but she’s moving so fast it’s hard for my hand to keep up with my ears, so I abandon the effort after a few minutes and just try to pay attention. She shows examples of what she’s talking about on a screen at the front of the room, and it’s hard not to be distracted by the view from the windows behind her—from this angle, the Pire displays the city’s skyline, the prongs of the Hub piercing the sky, the marsh peeking from between the glimmering buildings.
I’m not the only one who seems overwhelmed—the other candidates lean over to one another to whisper frantically, asking for definitions they missed. Eric, however, sits comfortably in his chair, drawing on the back of his hand. Smirking. I recognize that smirk. Of course he already knows all this stuff. He must have learned it in Erudite, probably when he was a child, or else he wouldn’t look quite so smug.
Before I can really register the passage of time, Lauren is pressing a button for the display screen to withdraw into the ceiling.
“On the desktop of your computer, you’ll find a file marked ‘Programming Test,’” she says. “Open it. It will take you to a timed exam. You’ll go through a series of small programs and mark the errors you find that are causing them to malfunction. They might be really big things, like the order of the code, or really small things, like a misplaced word or marking. You don’t have to fix them right now, but you do have to be able to spot them. There will be one error per program. Go.”
Everyone starts frantically tapping at their screens. Eric leans over to me and says, “Did your Stiff house even have a computer, Four?”
“No,” I say.
“Well, you see, this is how you open a file,” he says with an exaggerated tap on the file on his screen. “See, it looks like paper, but it’s really just a picture on a screen—you know what a screen is, right?”
“Shut up,” I say as I open the test.
I stare at the first program. It’s like learning a language, I say to myself. Everything has to start in the right order and finish in the reverse order. Just make sure that everything is in the right place.
I don’t start at the beginning of the code and make my way down—instead, I look for the innermost kernel of code inside all the wrappers. There, I notice that the line of code finishes in the wrong place. I mark the spot and press the arrow button that will allow me to continue the exam if I’m right. The screen changes, presenting me with a new program.
I raise my eyebrows. I must have absorbed more than I thought.
I start the next one in the same way, moving from the center of the code to the outside, checking the top of the program with the bottom, paying attention to quotation marks and periods and backslashes. Looking for code errors is strangely soothing, just a way of making sure that the world is still in the same order it’s supposed to be, and as long as it is, everything will run smoothly.
I forget about all the people around me, even about the skyline beyond us, about what
finishing this exam will mean. I just focus on what’s in front of me, on the tangle of words on my screen. I notice that Eric finishes first, long before anyone else looks ready to complete their exam, but I try not to let it worry me. Even when he decides to stay next to me and look over my shoulder as I work.
Finally I touch the arrow button and a new image pops up. EXAM COMPLETE, it says.
“Good job,” Lauren says, when she comes by to check my screen. “You’re the third one to finish.”
I turn toward Eric.
“Wait,” I say. “Weren’t you about to explain what a screen was? Obviously I have no computer skills at all, so I really need your help.”
He glowers at me, and I grin.
My apartment door is open when I return. Just an inch, but I know I closed it before I left. I nudge it open with the toe of my shoe and enter with a pounding heart, expecting to find an intruder rifling through my things, though I’m not sure who—one of Jeanine’s lackeys, searching for evidence that I’m different in the same way Amar was, maybe, or Eric, looking for a way to ambush me. But the apartment is empty and unchanged.
Unchanged—except for the piece of paper on the table. I approach it slowly, like it might burst into flames, or dissolve into the air. There’s a message written on it in small, slanted handwriting.
On the day you hated most
At the time when she died
In the place where you first jumped on.
At first the words are nonsense to me, and I think they’re a joke, something left here to rattle me, and it worked, because I feel unsteady on my feet. I sit in one of the rickety chairs, hard, without moving my eyes from the paper. I read it over and over again, and the message starts to take shape in my mind.
In the place where you first jumped on. That must mean the train platform I ascended after I had just joined Dauntless.
At the time when she died. There’s only one “she” this could be: my mother. My mother died in the dead of night, so that by the time I awoke, her body was already gone, whisked away by my father and his Abnegation friends. Her time of death was estimated to be around two in the morning, he said.
On the day you hated most. That’s the hardest one—is it referring to a day of the year, a birthday or a holiday? None of those are coming up, and I don’t see why someone would leave a note that far in advance. It must be referring to a day of the week, but what day of the week did I hate most? That’s easy—council meeting days, because my father was out late and would return home in a foul mood. Wednesday.
Wednesday, two a.m., at the train platform near the Hub. That’s tonight. And there’s only one person in the world who would know all that information: Marcus.
I’m clutching the folded piece of paper in my fist, but I can’t feel it. My hands have been tingling and mostly numb since I first thought his name.
I left my apartment door wide open, and my shoes are untied. I move along the walls of the Pit without noticing how high up I am and run up the stairs to the Pire without even feeling tempted to look down. Zeke mentioned the control room’s location in passing a few days ago. I can only hope he’s still there now, because I’ll need his help if I want to access the footage of the hallway outside my apartment. I know where the camera is, hidden in the corner where they think no one will notice it. Well, I noticed it.
My mother used to notice things like that, too. When we walked through the Abnegation sector, just the two of us, she would point out the cameras, hidden in bubbles of dark glass or fixed to the edges of buildings. She never said anything about them, or seemed worried about them, but she always knew where they were, and when she passed them, she made a point to look directly at them, as if to say, I see you, too. So I grew up searching, scanning, watching for details in my surroundings.
I ride the elevator to the fourth floor, then follow signs for the control room. It’s down a short corridor and around the bend, the door wide open. A wall of screens greets me—a few people sit behind it, at desks, and then there are other desks along the walls where more people sit, each one with a screen of their own. The footage rotates every five seconds, showing different parts of the city—the Amity fields, the streets around the Hub, the Dauntless compound, even the Merciless Mart, with its grand lobby. I glimpse the Abnegation sector on one of the screens, then pull myself out of the daze, looking for Zeke. He’s sitting at a desk on the right wall, typing something into a dialog box on the left half of his screen while footage of the Pit plays on the right half. Everyone in the room is wearing headphones—listening, I assume, to whatever they’re supposed to be watching.
“Zeke,” I say quietly. Some of the others look at me, as if scolding me for intruding, but no one says anything.
“Hey!” he says. “I’m glad you came, I’m bored out of my—what’s wrong?”
He looks from my face to my fist, still clenched around the piece of paper. I don’t know how to explain, so I don’t try.
“I need to see footage from the hallway outside my apartment,” I say. “From the last four or so hours. Can you help?”
“Why?” Zeke says. “What happened?”
“Someone was in my place,” I say. “I want to know who it was.”
He looks around, checking to make sure no one is watching. Or listening. “Listen, I can’t do that—even we aren’t allowed to pull up specific things unless we see something weird, it’s all on a rotation—”
“You owe me a favor, remember?” I say. “I would never ask unless it was important.”
“Yeah, I know.” Zeke looks around again, then closes the dialog box he had open and opens another one. I watch the code he types in to call up the right footage, and I’m surprised to find that I understand some of it, after the day’s lesson. An image appears on the screen, of one of the Dauntless corridors near the cafeteria. He taps it, and another image replaces it, this one of the inside of the cafeteria; the next one is of the tattoo parlor, then the hospital.
He keeps scrolling through the Dauntless compound, and I watch the images as they go past, showing momentary glimpses of ordinary Dauntless life, people playing with their piercings as they wait in line for new clothing, people practicing punches in the training room. I see a flash of Max in what appears to be his office, sitting in one of the chairs, a woman sitting across from him. A woman with blond hair tied back in a tight knot. I put my hand on Zeke’s shoulder.
“Wait.” The piece of paper in my fist seems a little less urgent. “Go back.”
He does, and I confirm what I suspected: Jeanine Matthews is in Max’s office, a folder in her lap. Her clothes are perfectly pressed, her posture straight. I