I walk stiffly to the center of the room as Tobias leaves it. As we pass each other, he takes my hand and squeezes my fingers. Then he’s gone, and it’s just me and Niles and the needle. I wipe the side of my neck with the antiseptic, but when he reaches out with the needle, I pull back.
“I would rather do it myself,” I say, holding out my hand. I will never let someone else inject me again, not after letting Eric inject me with attack simulation serum after my final test. I can’t change the contents of the syringe just by doing it myself, but at least this way, I am the instrument of my own destruction.
“Do you know how?” he says, raising a bushy eyebrow.
Niles offers me the syringe. I position it over the vein in my neck, insert the needle, and press the plunger. I barely feel the pinch. I am too charged with adrenaline.
Someone comes forward with a trash can, and I toss the needle in. I feel the effects of the serum immediately afterward. It makes my blood feel like lead in my veins. I almost collapse on my way to the chair—Niles has to grab my arm and guide me toward it.
Seconds later my brain goes silent. What was I thinking about? It doesn’t seem to matter. Nothing matters except the chair beneath me and the man sitting across from me.
“What is your name?” he says.
The second he asks the question, the answer pops out of my mouth. “Beatrice Prior.”
“But you go by Tris?”
“What are the names of your parents, Tris?”
“Andrew and Natalie Prior.”
“You are also a faction transfer, are you not?”
“Yes,” I say, but a new thought whispers at the back of my mind. Also? Also refers to someone else, and in this case, someone else is Tobias. I frown as I try to picture Tobias, but it is difficult to force the image of him into my mind. Not so difficult that I can’t do it, though. I see him, and then I see a flash of him sitting in the same chair I’m sitting in.
“You came from Abnegation? And chose Dauntless?”
“Yes,” I say again, but this time, the word sounds terse. I don’t know why, exactly.
“Why did you transfer?”
That question is more complicated, but I still know the answer. I was not good enough for Abnegation is on the tip of my tongue, but another phrase replaces it: I wanted to be free. They are both true. I want to say them both. I squeeze the armrests as I try to remember where I am, what I’m doing. I see people all around me, but I don’t know why they’re there.
I strain, the way I used to strain when I could almost remember the answer to a test question but couldn’t call it to mind. I used to close my eyes and picture the textbook page the answer was on. I struggle for a few seconds, but I can’t do it; I can’t remember.
“I wasn’t good enough for Abnegation,” I say, “and I wanted to be free. So I chose Dauntless.”
“Why weren’t you good enough?”
“Because I was selfish,” I say.
“You were selfish? You aren’t anymore?”
“Of course I am. My mother said that everyone is selfish,” I say, “but I became less selfish in Dauntless. I discovered there were people I would fight for. Die for, even.”
The answer surprises me—but why? I pinch my lips together for a moment. Because it’s true. If I say it here, it must be true.
That thought gives me the missing link in the chain of thought I was trying to find. I am here for a lie-detector test. Everything I say is true. I feel a bead of sweat roll down the back of my neck.
Lie-detector test. Truth serum. I have to remind myself. It is too easy to get lost in honesty.
“Tris, would you please tell us what happened the day of the attack?”
“I woke up,” I say, “and everyone was under the simulation. So I played along until I found Tobias.”
“What happened after you and Tobias were separated?”
“Jeanine tried to have me killed, but my mother saved me. She used to be Dauntless, so she knew how to use a gun.” My body feels even heavier now, but no longer cold. I feel something stir in my chest, something worse than sadness, worse than regret.
I know what comes next. My mother died and then I killed Will; I shot him; I killed him.
“She distracted the Dauntless soldiers so I could get away, and they killed her,” I say.
Some of them ran after me, and I killed them. But there are Dauntless in the crowd around me, Dauntless, I killed some of the Dauntless, I shouldn’t talk about it here.
“I kept running,” I say, “And . . .” And Will ran after me. And I killed him. No, no. I feel sweat near my hairline.
“And I found my brother and father,” I say, my voice strained. “We formed a plan to destroy the simulation.”
The edge of the armrest digs into my palm. I withheld some of the truth. Surely that counts as deception.
I fought the serum. And in that short moment, I won.
I should feel triumphant. Instead I feel the weight of what I did crush me again.
“We infiltrated the Dauntless compound, and my father and I went up to the control room. He fought off Dauntless soldiers at the expense of his life,” I say. “I made it to the control room, and Tobias was there.”
“Tobias said you fought him, but then stopped. Why did you do that?”
“Because I realized that one of us would have to kill the other,” I say, “and I didn’t want to kill him.”
“You gave up?”
“No!” I snap. I shake my head. “No, not exactly. I remembered something I had done in my fear landscape in Dauntless initiation . . . in a simulation, a woman demanded that I kill my family, and I let her shoot me instead. It worked then. I thought . . .” I pinch the bridge of my nose. My head is starting to ache and my control is gone and my thoughts run into words. “I was so frantic, but all I could think was that there was something to it; there was a strength in it. And I couldn’t kill him, so I had to try.”
I blink tears from my eyes.
“So you were never under the simulation?”
“No.” I press the heel of my hands to my eyes, pushing the tears out of them so they don’t fall on my cheeks where everyone can see them.
“No,” I say again. “No, I am Divergent.”
“Just to clarify,” says Niles. “Are you telling me that you were almost murdered by the Erudite . . . and then fought your way into the Dauntless compound . . . and destroyed the simulation?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I think I speak for everyone,” he says, “when I say that you have earned the title of Dauntless.”
Shouts rise up from the left side of the room, and I see blurs of fists pressing into the dark air. My faction, calling to me.
But no, they’re wrong, I’m not brave, I’m not brave, I shot Will and I can’t admit it, I can’t even admit it. . . .
“Beatrice Prior,” says Niles, “what are your deepest regrets?”
What do I regret? I do not regret choosing Dauntless or leaving Abnegation. I do not even regret shooting the guards outside the control room, because it was so important that I get past them.
“I regret . . .”
My eyes leave Niles’s face and drift over the room, and land on Tobias. He is expressionless, his mouth in a firm line, his stare blank. His hands, crossed over his chest, clasp his arms so hard his knuckles are white. Next to him stands Christina. My chest squeezes, and I can’t breathe.
I have to tell them. I have to tell the truth.
“Will,” I say. It sounds like a gasp, like it was pulled straight from my stomach. Now there is no turning back.
“I shot Will,” I say, “while he was under the simulation. I killed him. He was going to kill me, but I killed him. My friend.”
Will, with the crease between his eyebrows, with green eyes like celery and the ability to quote the Dauntless manifesto from memory. I feel pain in my stomach so intense that I almost groan. It hurts to remember him. It hurts every part of me.
And there is something else, something worse that I didn’t realize before. I was willing to die rather than kill Tobias, but the thought never occurred to me when it came to Will. I decided to kill Will in a fraction of a second.
I feel bare. I didn’t realize that I wore my secrets as armor until they were gone, and now everyone sees me as I really am.
“Thank you for your honesty,” they say.
But Christina and Tobias say nothing.
I RISE FROM the chair. I don’t feel as dizzy as I did a moment ago; the serum is already wearing off. The crowd tilts, and I search for a door. I don’t usually run away from things, but I would run from this.
Everyone starts to file out of the room except for Christina. She stands where I left her, her hands in fists that are in the process of uncurling. Her eyes meet mine and yet they do not. Tears swim in her eyes and yet she is not crying.
“Christina,” I say, but the only words I can think of—I’m sorry—sound more like an insult than an apology. Sorry is what you are when you bump someone with your elbow, what you are when you interrupt someone. I am more than sorry.
“He had a gun,” I say. “He was about to shoot me. He was under the simulation.”
“You killed him,” she says. Her words sound bigger than words usually do, like they expanded in her mouth before she spoke them. She looks at me as if she doesn’t recognize me for a few seconds, then turns away.
A younger girl with the same skin color and the same height takes her hand—Christina’s younger sister. I saw her on Visiting Day, a thousand years ago. The truth serum makes the sight of them swim before me, or that could be the tears gathering in my eyes.
“You okay?” says Uriah, emerging from the crowd to touch my shoulder. I haven’t seen him since before the simulation attack, but I can’t find it in me to greet him.
“Hey.” He squeezes my shoulder. “You did what you had to do, right? To save us from being Erudite slaves. She’ll see that eventually. When the grief fades.”
I can’t even find it in me to nod. Uriah smiles at me and walks away. Some Dauntless brush against me and they murmur words that sound like gratitude, or compliments, or reassurance. Others give me a wide berth, look at me with narrowed, suspicious eyes.
The black-clothed bodies smear together in front of me. I am empty. Everything has spilled out of me.
Tobias stands next to me. I brace myself for his reaction.
“I got our weapons back,” he says, offering me my knife.
I shove it in my back pocket without meeting his eyes.
“We can talk about it tomorrow,” he says. Quietly. Quiet is dangerous, with Tobias.
He slides his arm across my shoulders. My hand finds his hip, and I pull him against me.
I hold on tight as we walk toward the elevators together.
He finds us two cots at the end of a hallway somewhere. We lie with our heads inches apart, not speaking.
When I’m sure he’s asleep, I slip out from beneath the blankets and walk down the hallway, past a dozen sleeping Dauntless. I find the door that leads to the stairs.
As I climb step after step, and my muscles begin to burn, and my lungs fight for air, I feel the first moments of relief I’ve experienced in days.
I may be good at running on flat ground, but walking up stairs is another matter. I massage a spasm from my hamstring as I march past the twelfth floor, and try to recover some of my lost air. I grin at the fierce burn in my legs, in my chest. Using pain to relieve pain. It doesn’t make much sense.
By the time I reach the eighteenth floor, my legs feel like they have turned to liquid. I shuffle toward the room where I was interrogated. It’s empty now, but the amphitheater benches are still there, as is the chair I sat in. The moon glows behind a haze of clouds.
I set my hands on the back of the chair. It’s plain: wooden, a little creaky. How strange that something so simple could have been instrumental in my decision to ruin one of my most important relationships, and damage another.
It’s bad enough that I killed Will, that I didn’t think fast enough to come up with another solution. Now I have to live with everyone else’s judgment as well as my own, and the fact that nothing—not even me—will ever be the same again.
The Candor sing the praises of the truth, but they never tell you how much it costs.
The edge of the chair bites into my palms. I was squeezing it harder than I thought. I stare down at it for a second and then lift it, balancing it legs-up on my good shoulder. I search the edge of the room for a ladder or a staircase that will help me climb. All I see are the amphitheater benches, rising high above the floor.
I walk up to the highest bench, and lift the chair above my head. It just barely touches the ledge beneath one of the window spaces. I jump, shoving the chair forward, and it slides onto the ledge. My shoulder aches—I shouldn’t really be using my arm—but I have other things on my mind.
I jump, grab the ledge, and pull myself up, my arms shaking. I swing my leg up and drag the rest of my body onto the ledge. When I’m up, I lie there for a moment, sucking in air and heaving it back out again.
I stand on the ledge, under the arch of what used to be a window, and stare out at the city. The dead river curls around the building and disappears. The bridge, its red paint peeling, stretches over the muck. Across it are buildings, most of them empty. It is hard to believe there were ever enough people in the city to fill them.
For a second, I allow myself to reenter the memory of the interrogation. Tobias’s lack of expression; his anger afterward, suppressed for the sake of my sanity. Christina’s empty look. The whispers, “Thank you for your honesty.” Easy to say that when what I did doesn’t affect them.
I grab the chair and hurl it over the ledge. A faint cry escapes me. It grows into a yell, which transforms into a scream, and then I’m standing on the ledge of the Merciless Mart, screaming as the chair sails toward the ground, screaming until my throat burns. Then the chair hits the ground, shattering like a brittle skeleton. I sit down on the ledge, leaning into the side of the window frame, and close my eyes.