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Four_The Son

Veronica Roth


  Four: The Son: A Divergent Story

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  Four: The Son: A Divergent Story

  THE SMALL APARTMENT is bare, the floor still streaked with broom strokes at the corners. I don’t own anything to fill the space except my Abnegation clothes, which are stuffed into the bottom of the bag at my side. I throw it on the bare mattress and check the drawers beneath the bed for sheets.

  The Dauntless lottery was kind to me, because I was ranked first, and because unlike my outgoing fellow initiates, I wanted to live alone. The others, like Zeke and Shauna, grew up surrounded by Dauntless community, and to them the silence and the stillness of living alone would be unbearable.

  I make the bed quickly, pulling the top sheet taut, so it almost has corners. The sheets are worn in places, from moths or from prior use, I’m not sure. The blanket, a blue quilt, smells like cedar and dust. When I open the bag that contains my meager possessions, I hold the Abnegation shirt—torn, from where I had to tear away fabric to bind the wound in my hand—in front of me. It looks small—I doubt I could even fit into it if I tried to put it on now, but I don’t try, I just fold it and drop it in the drawer.

  I hear a knock, and I say, “Come in!” thinking it’s Zeke or Shauna. But Max, a tall man with dark skin and bruised knuckles, walks into my apartment, his hands folded in front of him. He surveys the room once and curls his lip with disgust at the gray slacks folded on my bed. The reaction surprises me a little—there aren’t many in this city who would choose Abnegation as their faction, but there aren’t many who hate it, either. Apparently I’ve found one of them.

  I stand, unsure what to say. There’s a faction leader in my apartment.

  “Hello,” I say.

  “Sorry to interrupt,” he says. “I’m surprised you didn’t choose to room with your fellow former initiates. You did make some friends, didn’t you?”

  “Yeah,” I say. “This just feels more normal.”

  “I guess it’ll take you some time to let go of your old faction.” Max skims the counter in my small kitchen with a fingertip, looks at the dust he collected, then wipes his hand on his pants. He gives me a critical look—one that tells me to let go of my old faction faster. If I was still an initiate, I might worry about that look, but I’m a Dauntless member now, and he can’t take that away from me, no matter how “Stiff” I seem.

  Can he?

  “This afternoon you’ll pick your job,” Max says. “Did you have anything in mind?”

  “I guess it depends on what’s available,” I say. “I’d like to do something with teaching. Like what Amar did, maybe.”

  “I think the first-ranked initiate can do a little better than ‘initiation instructor,’ don’t you?” Max’s eyebrows lift, and I notice that one doesn’t move as much as the other—it’s crossed with a scar. “I came because an opportunity has opened up.”

  He pulls a chair out from under the small table near the kitchen counter, turns it, and sits on it backward. His black boots are caked with light-brown mud and the laces are knotted and fraying at the ends. He might be the oldest Dauntless I’ve ever seen, but he may as well be made of steel.

  “To be honest, one of my fellow leaders of Dauntless is getting a little old for the job,” Max says. I sit on the edge of the bed. “The remaining four of us think it would be a good idea to get some new blood in leadership. New ideas for new Dauntless members and initiation, specifically. That task is usually given to the youngest leader anyway, so it’s a good fit. We were thinking of drawing from the more recent initiate classes for a training program to see if anyone is a good candidate. You’re a natural choice.”

  I feel like my skin is too tight for me, suddenly. Is he really suggesting that at the age of sixteen I could qualify as a Dauntless leader?

  “The training program will last at least a year,” Max says. “It will be rigorous and it will test your skills in a lot of areas. We both know you’ll do just fine in the fear landscape portion.”

  I nod without thinking. He must not mind my self-assuredness, because he smiles a little.

  “You won’t need to go to the job selection meeting later today,” Max says. “Training will start very soon—tomorrow morning, in fact.”

  “Wait,” I say, a thought breaking through the muddle in my mind. “I don’t have a choice?”

  “Of course you have a choice.” He looks puzzled. “I just assumed someone like you would rather train to be a leader than spend all day standing around a fence with a gun on his shoulder, or lecturing initiates about good fighting technique. But if I was wrong . . .”

  I don’t know why I’m hesitating. I don’t want to spend my days guarding the fence, or patrolling the city, or even pacing the training room floor. I may have an aptitude for fighting, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it all day, every day. The chance to make a difference in Dauntless appeals to the Abnegation parts of me, the parts that are lingering around, occasionally demanding attention.

  I think I just don’t like when I’m not given a choice.

  I shake my head. “No, you weren’t wrong.” I clear my throat and try to sound stronger, more determined. “I want to do it. Thank you.”

  “Excellent.” Max gets up and cracks one of his knuckles idly, like it’s an old habit. He holds out his hand for me to shake, and I take it, though the gesture is still unfamiliar to me—the Abnegation would never touch each other so casually. “Come to the conference room near my office tomorrow morning at eight. It’s in the Pire. Tenth floor.”

  He leaves, scattering bits of dried earth from the bottom of his shoes as he walks out. I sweep them up with the broom that leans against the wall near the door. It’s not until I’m scooting the chair back under the table that I realize—if I become a Dauntless leader, a representative of my faction, I’ll have to come face-to-face with my father again. And not just once but constantly, until he finally retires into Abnegation obscurity.

  My fingers start to go numb. I’ve faced my fears so many times in simulations, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to face them in reality.

  “Dude, you missed it!” Zeke is wide-eyed, concerned. “The only jobs left by the end were the gross jobs, like scrubbing toilets! Where were you?”

  “It’s fine,” I say as I carry my tray back to our table near the doors. Shauna is there with her little sister, Lynn, and Lynn’s friend Marlene. When I first saw them there, I wanted to turn around and leave immediately—Marlene is too cheerful for me even on a good day—but Zeke had already seen me, so it was too late. Behind us, Uriah jogs to catch up, his plate loaded with more food than he can possibly pack into his stomach. “I didn’t miss anything—Max came to see me earlier.”

  As we take our seats at the table, under one of the bright-blue lamps that hang from the wall, I tell him about Max’s offer, careful not to make it sound too impressive. I only just found friends; I don’t want to create jealous tension between us for no reason. When I finish, Shauna leans her face into one of her hands and says to Zeke, “I guess we should have tried harder during initiation, huh?”

  “Or killed him before he could take his final test.”

  “Or both.” Shauna grins at me. “Congrats, Four. You deserve it.”

  I feel everyone’s eyes on me like distinct, powerful beams of heat, and hurry to change the subject. “Where did you guys end up?”

  “Control room,” Zeke says. “My mom used to work there, and she taught me most of what I’ll need to know already.”

  “I’m in the patrol leadership track . . . thing,” Shauna says. “Not the most excitin
g job ever, but at least I’ll get to be outside.”

  “Yeah, let’s hear you say that in the dead of winter when you’re trudging through a foot of snow and ice,” Lynn says sourly. She stabs at a pile of mashed potatoes with her fork. “I better do well in initiation. I don’t want to get stuck at the fence.”

  “Didn’t we talk about this?” Uriah says. “Don’t say the ‘I’ word until at most two weeks before it happens. It makes me want to throw up.”

  I look at the pile of food on his tray. “Stuffing yourself up to your eyeballs with food, though, that’s fine?”

  He rolls his eyes at me and bends over his tray to keep eating. I poke at my own food—I haven’t had any appetite since this morning, too worried about tomorrow to stand a full stomach.

  Zeke spots someone across the cafeteria. “I’ll be right back.”

  Shauna watches him cross the room to greet a few young Dauntless members. They don’t look much older than he is, but I don’t recognize them from initiation, so they must be a year or two older. Zeke says something to the group—mostly made up of girls—that sends them into fits of laughter, and he jabs one of the girls in the ribs, making her squeal. Beside me, Shauna glowers and misses her mouth with her fork, smearing sauce from the chicken all over her cheek. Lynn snorts into her food, and Marlene kicks her—audibly—under the table.

  “So,” Marlene says loudly. “Do you know of anyone else who’s doing that leadership program, Four?”

  “Come to think of it, I didn’t see Eric there today, either,” Shauna says. “I was hoping he tripped and fell into the chasm, but . . .”

  I shove a bite of food in my mouth and try not to think about it. The blue light makes my hands look blue, too, like the hands of a corpse. I haven’t spoken to Eric since I accused him of being indirectly responsible for Amar’s death—someone reported Amar’s simulation awareness to Jeanine Matthews, leader of Erudite, and as a former Erudite, Eric is the most likely suspect. I haven’t decided what I’ll do the next time I have to talk to him, either. Beating him up again isn’t going to prove that he’s a faction traitor. I’ll have to find some way to connect his recent activities to the Erudite and take the information to one of the Dauntless leaders—Max, probably, since I know him best.

  Zeke walks back to the table and slides into his seat. “Four. What are you doing tomorrow night?”

  “I don’t know,” I say. “Nothing?”

  “Not anymore,” he says. “You’re coming with me on a date.”

  I choke on my next bite of potatoes. “What?”

  “Um, hate to tell you this, big brother,” Uriah says, “but you’re supposed to go on dates alone, not bring a friend.”

  “It’s a double date, obviously,” Zeke says. “I asked Maria out, and she said something about finding a date for her friend Nicole, and I indicated that you would be interested.”

  “Which one’s Nicole?” Lynn says, craning her neck to look at the group of girls.

  “The redhead,” Zeke says. “So, eight o’clock. You’re in, I’m not even asking.”

  “I don’t—” I say. I look at the redheaded girl across the room. She’s fair-skinned, with wide eyes smeared with black, and wearing a tight shirt, which shows off the bend in her waist and . . . other things my inner Abnegation voice tells me not to notice. I do anyway.

  I’ve never been on a date, thanks to my former faction’s strict courtship rituals, involving engaging in acts of service together and maybe—maybe—having dinner with someone else’s family and helping them clean up afterward. I’ve never even thought about whether I wanted to date anyone; it was such an impossibility. “Zeke, I’ve never—”

  Uriah frowns and pokes my arm, hard, with one finger. I slap his hand away. “What?”

  “Oh, nothing,” Uriah says cheerfully. “You were just sounding Stiffer than usual, so I thought I would check—”

  Marlene laughs. “Yeah, right.”

  Zeke and I exchange a look. We’ve never explicitly talked about not sharing my faction of origin, but as far as I know, he’s never mentioned it to anyone. Uriah knows, but despite his loud mouth, he seems to understand when to withhold information. Still, I’m not sure why Marlene hasn’t figured it out—maybe she’s not very observant.

  “It’s not a big deal, Four,” Zeke says. He eats his last bite of food. “You’ll go, you’ll talk to her like she’s a normal human being—which she is—maybe she’ll let you—gasp—hold her hand—”

  Shauna gets up suddenly, her chair screeching on the stone floor. She tucks her hair behind one ear and walks toward the tray return, head down. Lynn glares at Zeke—which hardly looks different from her normal facial expression—and follows her sister across the cafeteria.

  “Okay, you don’t have to hold hands with anyone,” Zeke says, like nothing happened. “Just go, all right? I’ll owe you one.”

  I look at Nicole. She’s sitting at a table near the tray return and laughing at someone else’s joke again. Maybe Zeke’s right—maybe it’s not that big a deal, and maybe this is another way that I can unlearn my Abnegation past and learn to embrace my Dauntless future. And besides—she’s pretty.

  “Okay,” I say. “I’ll go. But if you make some kind of joke about hand holding, I’m going to break your nose.”

  When I get back to my apartment that night, it still smells like dust and a hint of mold. I turn on one of the lamps, and a glimmer of light reflects off the countertop. I run my hand over it, and a small piece of glass pricks my finger, making it bleed. I pinch it between my fingertips and carry it to the trash can, which I put a bag in this morning. But resting at the bottom of the bag now is a pile of shards in the shape of a drinking glass.

  I haven’t used one of those yet.

  A shiver goes down my spine, and I scan the rest of the apartment for signs of disruption. The sheets aren’t rumpled, none of the drawers are open, none of the chairs seem to have moved. But I would know if I had broken a glass that morning.

  So who was in my apartment?

  I don’t know why, but the first thing my hands find in the morning when I stumble into the bathroom is the set of hair clippers I got with my Dauntless credits yesterday. And then while I’m still blinking the clouds from my eyes, I turn them on and touch them to my head the way I’ve done since I was young. I bend my ear forward to protect it from the blades; I know just how to twist and shift so that I can see as much of the back of my head as possible. The ritual calms my nerves, makes me feel focused and steady. I brush the trimmed hairs from my shoulders and neck and sweep them into the wastebasket.

  It’s an Abnegation morning. A quick shower, a plain breakfast, a clean house. Except I’m wearing Dauntless black, boots and pants and shirt and jacket. I avoid looking in the mirror on my way out, and it makes me grit my teeth, knowing how deep these Stiff roots go, and how hard it will be to excise them from my mind, as tangled up in everything as they are. I left that place out of fear and defiance, and that will make it harder to assimilate than anyone knows, harder than if I had actually chosen Dauntless for the right reasons.

  I walk quickly toward the Pit, emerging through an arch halfway up the wall. I stay away from the edge of the path, though Dauntless children, shrieking with laughter, sometimes run right along it, and I should be braver than they are. I’m not sure bravery is something you acquire more of with age, like wisdom—but maybe here, in Dauntless, bravery is the highest form of wisdom, the acknowledgment that life can and should be lived without fear.

  It’s the first time I’ve found myself being thoughtful about Dauntless life, so I hold on to the thought as I ascend the paths around the Pit. I reach the staircase that hangs from the glass ceiling and keep my eyes up, away from the space opening up beneath me, so I don’t start to panic. But my heart is pounding by the time I reach the top anyway; I can feel it even in my throat. Max said his office was on the tenth floor, so I ride the elevator up with a group of Dauntless going to work. They don’t all seem to know
one another, unlike the Abnegation—it’s not as important to them to memorize names and faces and needs and wants, so maybe they just keep to their friends and families, forming rich but separate communities within their faction. Like the one I’m forming myself.

  When I reach the tenth floor, I’m not sure where to go, but then I spot a dark head turning a corner in front of me. Eric. I follow him, partly because he probably knows where he’s going, but partly because I want to know what he’s doing even if he’s not going to the same place I am. But when I turn the corner, I see Max standing in a conference room that has glass walls, surrounded by young Dauntless. The oldest one is maybe twenty, and the youngest is probably not much older than I am. Max sees me through the glass and motions for me to come in. Eric sits close to him—Suck-up, I think—but I sit at the other end of the table, between a girl with a ring through her nostrils and a boy whose hair is such a bright shade of green I can’t look straight at him. I feel plain by comparison—I may have gotten Dauntless flames tattooed on my side during initiation, but it’s not like they’re on display.

  “I think everyone is here, so let’s get started.” Max closes the door to the conference room and stands before us. He looks strange in such an ordinary environment, like he’s here to break all the glass and cause chaos rather than lead this meeting. “You’re all here because you’ve shown potential, first, but also because you’ve displayed enthusiasm for our faction and its future.” I don’t know how I’ve done that. “Our city is changing, faster now than ever before, and in order to keep up with it, we’ll have to change, too. We’ll have to become stronger, braver, better than we are now. And among you are the people who can get us there, but we’ll have to figure out who they are. We’ll be doing a combination of instruction and skills tests for the next several months, to teach you what you’ll need to know if you make it through this program, but also to see how quickly you learn.” That sounds a little like something the Erudite would value, not the Dauntless—strange.

  “The first thing you’ll do is fill out this info sheet,” he says, and I almost laugh. There’s something ridiculous about a tough, hardened Dauntless warrior with a stack of papers he calls “info sheets,” but of course some things have to be ordinary, because it’s more efficient that way. He sends the stack around the table, along with a bundle of pens. “All this will do is tell us more about you and give us a starting point by which to measure your progress. So it’s in your best interest to be honest, and not to make yourself sound better than you are.”