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The Traitor, Page 2

Veronica Roth

  Watching someone else's fear simulation is strange. Intimate. I don't feel right about forcing other people to be vulnerable, even if I don't like them. Every human being is entitled to her secrets. Watching my initiates' fears, one after another, makes me feel like my skin has been scraped raw with sandpaper.

  In Tris's simulation, the yellow grass is perfectly still. If the air wasn't stagnant, I would say this was a dream, not a nightmare--but still air means only one thing to me, and that is a coming storm.

  A shadow moves across the grass, and a large black bird lands on her shoulder, curling its talons into her shirt. My fingertips prickle, remembering how I touched her shoulder when she walked into the simulation room, how I brushed her hair away from her neck to inject her. Stupid. Careless.

  She hits the black bird, hard, and then everything happens at once. Thunder rumbles; the sky darkens, not with storm clouds, but with birds, an impossibly huge swarm of them, moving in unison like many parts of the same mind.

  The sound of her scream is the worst sound in the world, desperate--she's desperate for help and I am desperate to help her, though I know what I'm seeing isn't real, I know it. The crows keep coming, relentless, surrounding her, burying her alive in dark feathers. She screams for help and I can't help her and I don't want to watch this, I don't want to watch another second.

  But then, she starts to move, shifting so she's lying in the grass, relenting, relaxing. If she's in pain now she doesn't show it; she just closes her eyes and surrenders, and that is worse than her screaming for help, somehow.

  Then it's over.

  She lurches forward in the metal chair, smacking at her body to get the birds off, though they're gone. Then she curls into a ball and hides her face.

  I reach out to touch her shoulder, to reassure her, and she hits my arm, hard. "Don't touch me!"

  "It's over," I say, wincing--she punches harder than she realizes. I ignore the pain and run a hand over her hair, because I'm stupid, and inappropriate, and stupid . . .


  She just shifts back and forth, soothing herself.

  "Tris, I'm going to take you back to the dorms, okay?"

  "No! They can't see me . . . not like this. . . ."

  This is what Eric's new system creates: A brave human being has just defeated one of her worst fears in less than five minutes, an ordeal that takes most people at least twice that time, but she's terrified to go back into the hallway, to be seen as weak or vulnerable in any way. Tris is Dauntless, plain and simple, but this faction isn't really Dauntless anymore.

  "Oh, calm down," I say, more irritable than I mean to be. "I'll take you out the back door."

  "I don't need you to . . ." I can see her hands trembling even as she shrugs off my offer.

  "Nonsense," I say. I take her arm and help her to her feet. She wipes her eyes as I move toward the back door. Amar once took me through this door, tried to walk me back to the dormitory even when I didn't want him to, the way she probably doesn't want me to now. How is it possible to live the same story twice, from different vantage points?

  She yanks her arm from mine, and turns on me. "Why did you do that to me? What was the point of that, huh? I wasn't aware that when I chose Dauntless, I was signing up for weeks of torture!"

  If she was anyone else, any of the other initiates, I would have yelled at her for insubordination a dozen times by now. I would have felt threatened by her constant assaults against my character, and tried to squelch her uprisings with cruelty, the way I did to Christina on the first day of initiation. But Tris earned my respect when she jumped first, into the net; when she challenged me at her first meal; when she wasn't deterred by my unpleasant responses to questions; when she spoke up for Al and stared me right in the eye as I threw knives at her. She's not my subordinate, couldn't possibly be.

  "Did you think overcoming cowardice would be easy?" I say.

  "That isn't overcoming cowardice! Cowardice is how you decide to be in real life, and in real life, I am not getting pecked to death by crows, Four!"

  She starts to cry, but I'm too struck by what she just said to feel uncomfortable with her tears. She's not learning the lessons Eric wants her to learn. She's learning different things, wiser ones.

  "I want to go home," she says.

  I know where the cameras are in this hallway. I hope none of them have picked up on what she just said.

  "Learning how to think in the midst of fear is a lesson that everyone, even your Stiff family, needs to learn," I say. I doubt a lot of things about Dauntless initiation, but the fear simulations aren't one of them; they are the most straightforward way for a person to engage their own fears and conquer them, far more straightforward than the knife throwing or the fighting. "That's what we're trying to teach you. If you can't learn it, you'll need to get the hell out of here, because we won't want you."

  I'm hard on her because I know she can handle it. And also because I don't know any other way to be.

  "I'm trying. But I failed. I'm failing."

  I almost feel like laughing. "How long do you think you spent in that hallucination, Tris?"

  "I don't know. A half hour?"

  "Three minutes," I say. "You got out three times faster than any of the other initiates. Whatever you are, you're not a failure."

  You might be Divergent, I think. But she didn't do anything to change the simulation, so maybe she's not. Maybe she's just that brave.

  I smile at her. "Tomorrow you'll be better at this. You'll see."


  She's calmer now. I touch her back, right beneath her shoulders.

  "What was your first hallucination?" she asks me.

  "It wasn't a 'what' so much as a 'who.'" As I'm saying it, I think I should have just told her the first obstacle in my fear landscape, fear of heights, though it's not exactly what she's asking about. When I'm around her I can't control what I say the way I do around other people. I say vague things because that's as close as I can get to stopping myself from saying anything, my mind addled by the feeling of her body through her shirt. "It's not important."

  "And are you over that fear now?"

  "Not yet." We're at the dormitory door. The walk has never gone by so quickly. I put my hands in my pockets so I don't do anything stupid with them again. "I may never be."

  "So they don't go away?"

  "Sometimes they do. And sometimes new fears replace them. But becoming fearless isn't the point. That's impossible. It's learning how to control your fear, and how to be free from it, that's the point."

  She nods. I don't know what she came here for, but if I had to guess, it would be that she chose Dauntless for its freedom. Abnegation would have stifled the spark in her until it died out. Dauntless, for all its faults, has kindled the spark into a flame.

  "Anyway," I say. "Your fears are rarely what they appear to be in the simulation."

  "What do you mean?"

  "Well, are you really afraid of crows?" I grin. "When you see one, do you run away screaming?"

  "No, I guess not."

  She moves closer to me. I felt safer when there was more space between us. Even closer, and I think about touching her, and my mouth goes dry. I almost never think about people that way, about girls that way.

  "So what am I really afraid of?" she says.

  "I don't know," I say. "Only you can know."

  "I didn't know Dauntless would be this difficult."

  I'm glad to have something else to think about, other than how easy it would be to fit my hand to the arch of her back.

  "It wasn't always like this, I'm told. Being Dauntless, I mean."

  "What changed?"

  "The leadership. The person who controls training sets the standard of Dauntless behavior. Six years ago Max and the other leaders changed the training methods to make them more competitive and more brutal." Six years ago, the combat portion of training was brief and didn't include bare-knuckled sparring. Initiates wore padding. The emphasis was
on being strong and capable, and on developing camaraderie with the other initiates. And even when I was an initiate, it was better than this--an unlimited potential for initiates to become members, fights that stopped when one person conceded. "Said it was to test people's strength. And that changed the priorities of Dauntless as a whole. Bet you can't guess who the leaders' new protege is."

  Of course, she does immediately. "So if you were ranked first in your initiate class, what was Eric's rank?"


  "So he was their second choice for leadership. And you were their first."

  Perceptive. I don't know that I was the first choice, but I was certainly a better option than Eric. "What makes you say that?"

  "The way Eric was acting at dinner the first night. Jealous, even though he has what he wants."

  I've never thought of Eric that way. Jealous? Of what? I've never taken anything from him, never posed a real threat to him. He's the one who came after Amar, who came after me. But maybe she's right--maybe I never saw how frustrated he was to be second to a transfer from Abnegation, after all his hard work, or that I was favored by Max for leadership even when he was positioned here specifically to take the leadership role.

  She wipes her face.

  "Do I look like I've been crying?"

  The question seems almost funny to me. Her tears vanished almost as quickly as they came, and now her face is fair again, her eyes dry, her hair smooth. Like nothing ever happened--like she didn't just spend three minutes overwhelmed by terror. She's stronger than I was.

  "Hmm." I lean in closer, making a joke of examining her, but then it's not a joke, and I'm just close, and we're sharing a breath.

  "No, Tris," I say. "You look . . ." I try a Dauntless expression. "Tough as nails."

  She smiles a little. So do I.

  "Hey," Zeke says sleepily, leaning his head into his fist. "Want to take over for me? I practically need to tape my eyes open."

  "Sorry," I say. "I just need to use a computer. You do know it's only nine o'clock, right?"

  He yawns. "I get tired when I'm bored out of my mind. Shift's almost over, though."

  I love the control room at night. There are only three people monitoring the footage, so the room is silent except for the hum of computers. Through the windows I see only a sliver of the moon; everything else is dark. It's hard to find peace in the Dauntless compound, and this is the place where I find it most often.

  Zeke turns back to his screen. I sit at a computer a few seats over from him, and angle the screen away from the room. Then I log in, using the fake account name I set up several months ago, so no one would be able to track this back to me.

  Once I'm logged in, I open the mirroring program that lets me use Max's computer remotely. It takes a second to kick in, but when it does, it's like I'm sitting in Max's office, using the same machine he uses.

  I work quickly, systematically. He labels his folders with numbers, so I don't know what each one will contain. Most are benign, lists of Dauntless members or schedules of events. I open them and close them in seconds.

  I go deeper into the files, folder after folder, and then I find something strange. A list of supplies, but the supplies don't involve food or fabric or anything else I would expect for mundane Dauntless life--the list is for weapons. Syringes. And something marked Serum D2.

  I can imagine only one thing that would require the Dauntless to have so many weapons: an attack. But on who?

  I check the control room again, my heartbeat pounding in my head. Zeke is playing a computer game that he wrote himself. The second control-room operator is slumped to one side, her eyes half-closed. The third is stirring his glass of water idly with his straw, staring out the windows. No one is paying attention to me.

  I open more files. After a few wasted efforts, I find a map. It's marked mostly with letters and numbers, so at first I don't know what it's showing.

  Then I open a map of the city on the Dauntless database to compare them, and sit back in my chair as I realize what streets Max's map is focusing on.

  The Abnegation sector.

  The attack will be against Abnegation.

  It should have been obvious, of course. Who else would Max and Jeanine bother to attack? Max and Jeanine's vendetta is against Abnegation, and it always has been. I should have realized that when the Erudite released that story about my father, the monstrous husband and father. The only true thing they've written, as far as I can tell.

  Zeke nudges my leg with his foot. "Shift's over. Bedtime?"

  "No," I say. "I need a drink."

  He perks up noticeably. It's not every night I decide I want to abandon my sterile, withdrawn existence for an evening of Dauntless indulgence.

  "I'm your man," he says.

  I close down the program, my account, everything. I try to leave the information about the Abnegation attack behind, too, until I can figure out what to do about it, but it chases me all the way into the elevator, through the lobby, and down the paths to the bottom of the Pit.

  I surface from the simulation with a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I detach from the wires and get up. She's still recovering from the sensation of almost drowning, shaking her hands and taking deep breaths. I watch her for a moment, not sure how to say what I need to say.

  "What?" she says.

  "How did you do that?"

  "Do what?"

  "Crack the glass."

  "I don't know."

  I nod, and offer her my hand. She gets up without any trouble, but she avoids my eyes. I check the corners of the room for cameras. There is one, just where I thought it would be, right across from us. I take her elbow and lead her out of the room, to a place where I know we won't be observed, in the blind spot between two surveillance points.

  "What?" she says irritably.

  "You're Divergent," I say. I haven't been very nice to her today. Last night I saw her and her friends by the chasm, and a lapse in judgment--or sobriety--led me to lean in too close, to tell her she looked good. I'm worried that I went too far. Now I'm even more worried, but for different reasons.

  She cracked the glass. She's Divergent. She's in danger.

  She stares.

  Then she sinks against the wall, adopting an almost-convincing aura of casualness. "What's Divergent?"

  "Don't play stupid," I say. "I suspected it last time, but this time it's obvious. You manipulated the simulation; you're Divergent. I'll delete the footage, but unless you want to wind up dead at the bottom of the chasm, you'll figure out how to hide it during the simulations! Now, if you'll excuse me."

  I walk back to the simulation room, pulling the door closed behind me. It's easy to delete the footage--just a few keystrokes and it's done, the record clean. I double-check her file, making sure the only thing that's in there is the data from the first simulation. I'll have to come up with a way to explain where the data from this session went. A good lie, one that Eric and Max will actually believe.

  In a hurry, I take out my pocketknife and wedge it between the panels covering the motherboard of the computer, prying them apart. Then I go into the hallway, to the drinking fountain, and fill my mouth with water.

  When I return to the simulation room, I spit some of the water into the gap between the panels. I put my knife away and wait.

  A minute or so later, the screen goes dark. Dauntless headquarters is basically a leaky cave--water damage happens all the time.

  I was desperate.

  I sent a message through the same factionless man I used as a messenger last time I wanted to get in touch with my mother. I arranged to meet her inside the last car of the ten-fifteen train from Dauntless headquarters. I assume she'll know how to find me.

  I sit with my back against the wall, an arm curled around one of my knees, and watch the city pass. Night trains don't move as fast as day trains between stops. It's easier to observe how the buildings change as the train draws closer to the center of the city, how they grow taller but n
arrower, how pillars of glass stand next to smaller, older stone structures. Like one city layered on top of another on top of another.

  Someone runs alongside the train when it reaches the north side of the city. I stand up, holding one of the railings along the wall, and Evelyn stumbles into the car wearing Amity boots, an Erudite dress, and a Dauntless jacket. Her hair is pulled back, making her already-severe face even harsher.

  "Hello," she says.

  "Hi," I say.

  "Every time I see you, you're bigger," she says. "I guess there's no point in worrying that you're eating well."

  "Could say the same to you," I say, "but for different reasons."

  I know she's not eating well. She's factionless, and the Abnegation haven't been providing as much aid as they usually do, with the Erudite bearing down on them the way they are.

  I reach behind me and grab the backpack I brought with cans from the Dauntless storeroom.

  "It's just bland soup and vegetables, but it's better than nothing," I say when I offer it to her.

  "Who says I need your help?" Evelyn says carefully. "I'm doing just fine, you know."

  "Yeah, that's not for you," I say. "It's for all your skinny friends. If I were you, I wouldn't turn down food."

  "I'm not," she says, taking the backpack. "I'm just not used to you caring. It's a little disarming."

  "I'm familiar with the feeling," I say coldly. "How long was it before you checked in on my life? Seven years?"

  Evelyn sighs. "If you asked me to come here just to start this argument again, I'm afraid I can't stay long."

  "No," I say. "No, that's not why I asked you to come here."

  I didn't want to contact her at all, but I knew I couldn't tell any of the Dauntless what I had learned about the Abnegation attack--I don't know how loyal to the faction and its policies they are--and I had to tell someone. The last time I spoke to Evelyn, she seemed to know things about the city that I didn't. I assumed she might know how to help me with this, before it's too late.

  It's a risk, but I'm not sure where else to turn.

  "I've been keeping an eye on Max," I say. "You said the Erudite were involved with the Dauntless, and you were right. They're planning something together, Max and Jeanine and who knows who else."

  I tell her what I saw on Max's computer, the supply lists and the maps. I tell her what I've observed about the Erudite's attitude toward Abnegation, the reports, how they're poisoning even Dauntless minds against our former faction.