Chosen OnesVeronica Roth
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Copyright © 2020 by Veronica Roth
All rights reserved
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to [email protected] or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Roth, Veronica, author.
Title: Chosen ones / Veronica Roth.
Description: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. | “A John Joseph Adams book.”
Identifiers: LCCN 2019033899 (print) | LCCN 2019033900 (ebook) | ISBN 9780358164081 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780358434696 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780358434702 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780358274995 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780358168478 (ebook) | ISBN 9780358375425 (int. edition)
Classification: LCC PS3618.08633 C49 2020 (print) | LCC PS3618.08633 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019033899
LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019033900
Cover design by Jim Tierney
Author photograph © Nelson Fitch
Image of Chicago skyline on title page from beboy/Shutterstock
Chicago map by David Lindroth, Inc., page 3
Cordus map by Virginia Allyn, page 125
To Chicago, the city that endures
Comedian Jessica Krys’s standup routine
Laugh Factory, Chicago, March 20, 2011
I’ve got a question for you: How the fuck did we end up with the name “Dark One” anyway? This guy shows up out of nowhere in a cloud of fucking smoke or whatever, literally rips people limb from limb—apparently using only the power of his mind—recruits an army of minions, levels whole cities, brings about a degree of destruction heretofore unknown to humankind . . . and “Dark One” is the best we can do? We might as well have named him after the creepy guy in your building who looks at you a couple seconds too long in the elevator. You know, the one with the really moist, soft hands? Tim. His name is Tim.
Personally, I would have gone with something like “Portent of Doom in the Form of a Man” or “Terrifying Fucking Killing Machine,” but unfortunately, nobody asked me.
The Dark One and the Emergence of Modern Magic
by Professor Stanley Wiśniewski
There are, of course, some who would argue that the little understood force we informally refer to as “magic” has always existed on Earth in some form. Legends of supernatural incidents date back to the beginning of human history, from Herodotus’s mágoi, who commanded the wind, to Djedi of ancient Egypt, who made a show of decapitating and then restoring birds such as geese and pelicans, as recorded in the Westcar Papyrus. Arguably, it is an integral part of nearly every major religion, from Jesus Christ turning water to wine, to Haitian Vodou practices, to reports of Theravada Buddhists levitating in the Dīrgha-āgama—though, notably, these acts are not referred to as “magic” by practitioners.
These stories, great and small, appear in all cultures across all regions in all of time. Formerly, scholars might have said that it’s simply human nature to devise imaginative stories to explain things we don’t understand or to aggrandize those we perceive to be higher or greater than ourselves. But then the Dark One came and, with him, the Drains—those infamous catastrophic events that could not be explained despite valiant attempts by scientists to do so. Perhaps there is no truth to the ancient legends at all. But perhaps there has always been a supranormal force, a little understood energy, that intrudes upon our world.
Whichever theory we posit, one thing is certain: no “magic” was ever as plain or as powerful as the Drains the Dark One wielded against humanity. It is the purpose of this paper to explore various hypotheses for why this may be. In other words, why now? What were the circumstances leading up to his arrival? What goal was he working toward before he was thwarted by our five Chosen Ones? What effect has he had on the planet since his death?
Sloane Andrews Doesn’t Care (No, Really)
by Rick Lane
Trilby magazine, January 24, 2020
I don’t like Sloane Andrews. But I might want to sleep with her.
I meet her at her neighborhood coffee shop, one of her usual haunts—or so she says. The barista doesn’t seem to recognize her as either a customer or one of the five teenagers who took down the Dark One almost a decade ago. Which, to be honest, seems remarkable, because world-famous face aside, Sloane Andrews is that wholesome, clean brand of gorgeous that makes you want to get it dirty. If she’s wearing makeup, I can’t see it; she’s all clear skin and big blue eyes, a walking, talking cosmetics ad. She’s wearing a Cubs hat when she comes in with her long brown hair pulled through the back, a gray T-shirt that’s tight in all the right places, ripped jeans that show off long, shapely legs, and a pair of sneakers. They’re the kind of clothes that say she doesn’t give a fuck about clothes or even about the long, lean body that fills them.
And that’s the thing about Sloane: I believe it. I believe she doesn’t give a fuck about anything, least of all meeting me. She didn’t even want to do the interview. She only agreed, she said, because her boyfriend, Matthew Weekes, fellow Chosen One, asked her to support the release of his new book, Still Choosing (out February 3).
In our preliminary exchanges about this interview, she didn’t have many ideas for where I might meet her. Even though everyone in Chicago already knows where Sloane lives—in the North Side neighborhood of Uptown, just blocks from Lake Shore Drive—she flat-out refused to let me see her apartment. I don’t go anywhere, she wrote. I get accosted when I do. So unless you want to try to keep up with me on a run, it’s Java Jam or nowhere.
I’m not sure I could take notes and jog at the same time, so Java Jam it is.
Her coffee secured, she takes off the baseball cap, and her hair falls to her shoulders like she was just tumbling around on a mattress. But something about her face—maybe it’s her slightly too-close-together eyes or the way she cocks her head sharply when she doesn’t like what you just said—makes her look like a bird of prey. With a single glance, she’s turned the tables, and I’m the one on guard, not her. I fumble around for my first question, and where most people might smile, try to get me to like them, Sloane just stares.
“The ten-year anniversary of your victory over the Dark One is coming up,” I say. “How does it feel?”
“It feels like surv
ival,” she says. Her voice is flinty and sharp. It makes a shiver go down my spine, and I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing or not.
“Not triumph?” I ask, and she rolls her eyes.
“Next question,” she replies, and she takes her first sip of coffee.
That’s when I realize it: I don’t like her. This woman saved thousands—no, millions—of lives. Hell, she probably saved my life in one way or another. At thirteen, she was named by prophecy, along with four others, as someone who would defeat an all-powerful being of pure malice. She survived a handful of battles with the Dark One—including a brief kidnapping, the details of which she has never shared—and came out of it unscathed and beautiful, more famous than anyone in the history of being famous. And to top it off, she’s in a long-term relationship with Matthew Weekes, golden boy, the Chosen One among Chosen Ones, and quite possibly the kindest person alive. But I still don’t like her.
And she couldn’t care less.
Which is why I want to sleep with her. It’s as if, by getting her naked and in my bed, I could force her into some kind of warmth or emotion. She turns me into an alpha male, a hunter, hell-bent on taking down the most elusive prey on the planet and putting its head on my living-room wall as a trophy. Maybe that’s why she gets accosted when she goes anywhere—not because people love her but because they want to love her, want to make her lovable.
When she sets down her mug, I see the scar on the back of her right hand. It’s wide, stretching all the way across, and jagged and knotted. She’s never told anyone what it’s from, and I’m sure she won’t tell me, but I have to ask anyway.
“Paper cut,” she says.
I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a joke, so I laugh. I ask her if she’s going to the dedication of the Ten Years Monument, an installation artwork erected on the site of the Dark One’s defeat, and she tells me, “It’s part of the gig,” like this is a desk job she applied for instead of a literal destiny.
“It sounds like you don’t enjoy it,” I say.
“What gave me away?” She smirks.
In the lead-up to the interview, I asked a few friends what they thought of her to get a sense of how the average Joe perceives Sloane Andrews. One of them remarked that he had never actually seen her smile, and as I sit across from her, I find myself wondering if she ever does. I even wonder it out loud—I’m curious to know how she’ll respond.
Not well, as it turns out.
“If I were a dude,” she says, “would you ask me that question?”
I steer us away from that topic as quickly as possible. This is less a conversation and more a game of Minesweeper, with me getting more and more tense with every box I click, every one increasing the odds I’ll set off one of those mines. I click once more, inquiring about whether this time of year brings back memories for her. “I try not to think about it,” she says. “If I did, my life would turn into a goddamn Advent calendar. For every day, there’s another Dark One chocolate in a different shape, and they all taste like shit.” I click again, asking if there are any good memories to choose from. “We were all friends, you know? We always will be. We speak almost entirely in inside jokes when we’re together.” Phew. I guess it’s safe to ask her about the other four Chosen: Esther Park, Albert Summers, Ines Mejia, and, of course, Matthew Weekes.
It’s there that we finally get into a groove. The so-called Chosen Ones bonded quickly after they met, with Matt as the natural leader. “That’s just the way he is,” she says, and it almost sounds like she’s annoyed by it. “Always taking charge, taking responsibility. Reminding us to argue about ethics. That sort of thing.” Surprisingly, it wasn’t Matt with whom she had an immediate connection, but Albie. “He was quiet,” she says, and it’s a compliment. “All of our brothers and fathers had died—that was part of the prophecy—but my brother had died the most recently. I needed the quiet. Plus—the Midwest, Alberta, they’re similar places.”
Albert and Ines live together—platonically, since Ines identifies as a lesbian—in Chicago, and Esther went home to Glendale, California, to take care of her ailing mother just last year. The distance has been hard for all of them, Sloane says, but luckily they can all keep up with Esther on her active (and popular) Insta! page, where she documents the minutiae of her life.
“What do you think about the All Chosen movement that’s popped up in the last few years?” I ask. The All Chosen movement is a small but vocal group that advocates for emphasizing the role the other four Chosen Ones played in the defeat of the Dark One rather than attributing the victory primarily to Matthew Weekes.
Sloane doesn’t mince words. “I think it’s racist.”
“Some of them say that elevating Matt over the rest of you is sexist,” I point out.
“What’s sexist is ignoring what I say and claiming I just don’t know any better,” she replies. “I think Matt’s the real Chosen One. I’ve said so multiple times. Don’t pretend you’re doing me a favor by knocking him down.”
I then move the conversation from the Chosen Ones to the Dark One, and that’s when everything goes awry. I ask Sloane why the Dark One seemed to take a special interest in her. She keeps her eyes on mine as she sips the last of her coffee, and when she sets the cup down, her hand is shaking. Then she puts her Cubs hat right over that glorious just-fucked hair and says, “We’re done here.”
And I guess if she says we’re done, we’re done, because Sloane is out of there. I throw a ten down on the table and run after her, not willing to give up that easily. Did I mention Sloane Andrews turns me into a hunter?
“I had one off-limits topic,” she snaps at me. “Do you remember what it was?” She’s flushed and furious and radiant, part dominatrix and part sly, spitting street cat. Why did I wait this long to really piss her off? I could have been staring at this the entire time.
The off-limits topic was, of course, anything specific about her relationship to the Dark One. Surely she didn’t expect me to abide by that, I remark. It’s the most interesting thing about her.
She looks at me like I’m the soggy piece of paper in an alley puddle, tells me to go fuck myself, and jaywalks into traffic to get away from me. This time, I let her go.
THE DRAIN LOOKED the same every time, with all the people screaming as they ran away from the giant dark cloud of chaos but never running fast enough. Getting swept up, their skin pulling away from bone while they were still alive to feel it, blood bursting from them like swatted mosquitoes, oh God.
Sloane was up and panting. Quiet, she told herself. Her toes curled under; the ground was cold here, in the Dark One’s house, and he had taken her boots. She had to find something heavy or something sharp—both was too much to ask for, obviously; she had never been that lucky.
She yanked open drawers, finding spoons, forks, spatulas. A handful of rubber bands. Chip clips. Why had he taken her boots? What did a mass murderer have to fear from a girl’s Doc Martens?
Hello, Sloane, he whispered in her ear, and she choked on a sob. Yanked open another drawer and found a line of handles, the blades buried in a plastic knife block. She was just pulling out the butcher knife when she heard something creak behind her, the pressure of a footstep.
Sloane spun around, her feet tacky on the linoleum, and swiped with the knife.
“Holy shit!” Matt caught her by the wrist, and for a moment they just stared at each other over their arms, over the knife.
Sloane gasped as reality trickled back in. She was not in the Dark One’s house, not in the past, not anywhere but in the apartment she shared with Matthew Weekes.
“Oh God.” Sloane’s hand went lax on the handle, and the knife clattered to the floor, bouncing between their feet. Matt put his hands on her shoulders, his grip warm.
“You there?” he said.
He had asked her that before, dozens of times. Their handler, Bert, had called her a lone wolf, and he rarely made her join the others in training or on missions. Let her d
o her thing, he had told Matt once it became clear that Matt was their leader. You’ll get better results that way. And Matt had, checking in with her only when he had to.
You there? Over the phone, in a whisper, in the dead of night, or right to her face when she spaced out on something. Sloane had been annoyed by the question at first. Of course I’m here, where the fuck else would I be? But now it meant he understood something about her that they’d never acknowledged: she couldn’t always say yes.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Okay. Stay here, all right? I’ll get your medicine.”
Sloane braced herself on the marble counter. The knife lay at her feet, but she didn’t dare touch it again. She just waited, and breathed, and stared at the swirl of gray that reminded her of an old man in profile.
Matt came back with a little yellow pill in one hand and the water glass from her bedside table in the other. She took them both with shaking hands and swallowed the pill eagerly. Bring on the coasting calm of the benzodiazepine. She and Ines had drunkenly composed an ode to the pills once, hailing them for their pretty colors and their quick effects and the way they did what nothing else could.
She set the water glass down and slid to the floor. She could feel the cold through her pajama pants—the ones that had cats with laser eyes all over them—but it was grounding this time. Matt sat down next to the refrigerator in his boxers.
“Listen,” she started.
“You don’t have to say it.”
“Sure, I just almost stabbed you, but no apologies necessary.”
His eyes were soft. Worried. “I just want you to be okay.”
What had that awful article called him? “Quite possibly the kindest person alive”? She hadn’t disagreed with Rick Lane, Creepmaster 2000, on that point at least. Matt had eyebrows that squeezed together in the middle in a look of perpetual sympathy and the heart to match.
He reached for the butcher knife that lay on the floor near her ankle. It was big, almost as long as his forearm.
Her eyes burned. She closed them. “I’m really sorry.”