As if on cue, Matthew opens a desk drawer and takes out a small, flat piece of glass. He taps it with one fingertip, and an image appears on it. It’s one of the documents he just had open on his computer. He offers the tablet to me. It’s sturdier than I expected it to be, hard and strong.
“Don’t worry, it’s practically indestructible,” David says. “I’m sure you want to return to your friends. Matthew, would you please walk Miss Prior back to the hotel? I have some things to take care of.”
“And I don’t?” Matthew says. Then he winks. “Kidding, sir. I’ll take her.”
“Thank you,” I say to David, before he walks out.
“Of course,” he says. “Let me know if you have any questions.”
“Ready?” Matthew says.
He’s tall, maybe the same height as Caleb, and his black hair is artfully tousled in the front, like he spent a lot of time making it look like he’d just rolled out of bed that way. Under his dark blue uniform he wears a plain black T-shirt and a black string around his throat. It shifts over his Adam’s apple when he swallows.
I walk with him out of the small office and down the hallway again. The crowd that was here before has thinned. They must have settled in to work, or breakfast. There are whole lives being lived in this place, sleeping and eating and working, bearing children and raising families and dying. This is a place my mother called home, once.
“I wonder when you’re going to freak out,” he says. “After finding out all this stuff at once.”
“I’m not going to freak out,” I say, feeling defensive. I already did, I think, but I’m not going to admit to that.
Matthew shrugs. “I would. But fair enough.”
I see a sign that says HOTEL ENTRANCE up ahead. I clutch the screen to my chest, eager to get back to the dormitory and tell Tobias about my mother.
“Listen, one of the things my supervisor and I do is genetic testing,” Matthew says. “I was wondering if you and that other guy—Marcus Eaton’s son?—would mind coming in so that I can test your genes.”
“Curiosity.” He shrugs. “We haven’t gotten to test the genes of someone in such a late generation of the experiment before, and you and Tobias seem to be somewhat . . . odd, in your manifestations of certain things.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“You, for example, have displayed extraordinary serum resistance—most of the Divergent aren’t as capable of resisting serums as you are,” Matthew says. “And Tobias can resist simulations, but he doesn’t display some of the characteristics we’ve come to expect of the Divergent. I can explain in more detail later.”
I hesitate, not sure if I want to see my genes, or Tobias’s genes, or to compare them, like it matters. But Matthew’s expression seems eager, almost childlike, and I understand curiosity.
“I’ll ask him if he’s up for it,” I say. “But I would be willing. When?”
“This morning okay?” he says. “I can come get you in an hour or so. You can’t get into the labs without me anyway.”
I nod. I feel excited, suddenly, to learn more about my genes, which feels like the same thing as reading my mother’s journal: I will get pieces of her back.
IT’S STRANGE TO see people you don’t know well in the morning, with sleepy eyes and pillow creases in their cheeks; to know that Christina is cheerful in the morning, and Peter wakes up with his hair perfectly flat, but Cara communicates only through a series of grunts, inching her way, limb by limb, toward coffee.
The first thing I do is shower and change into the clothes they provided for us, which aren’t much different from the clothes I am accustomed to, but all the colors are mixed together like they don’t mean anything to the people here, and they probably don’t. I wear a black shirt and blue jeans and try to convince myself that it feels normal, that I feel normal, that I am adapting.
My father’s trial is today. I haven’t decided if I’m going to watch it or not.
When I return, Tris is already fully dressed, perched on the edge of one of the cots, like she’s ready to leap to her feet at any moment. Just like Evelyn.
I grab a muffin from the tray of breakfast food that someone brought us, and sit across from her. “Good morning. You were up early.”
“Yeah,” she says, scooting her foot forward so it’s wedged between mine. “Zoe found me at that big sculpture thing this morning—David had something to show me.” She picks up the glass screen resting on the cot beside her. It glows when she touches it, showing a document. “It’s my mother’s file. She wrote a journal—a small one, from the look of it, but still.” She shifts like she’s uncomfortable. “I haven’t looked at it much yet.”
“So,” I say, “why aren’t you reading it?”
“I don’t know.” She puts it down, and the screen turns off automatically. “I think I’m afraid of it.”
Abnegation children rarely know their parents in any significant way, because Abnegation parents never reveal themselves the way other parents do when their children grow to a particular age. They keep themselves wrapped in gray cloth armor and selfless acts, convinced that to share is to be self-indulgent. This is not just a piece of Tris’s mother, recovered; it’s one of the first and last honest glimpses Tris will ever get of who Natalie Prior was.
I understand, then, why she holds it like it’s a magical object, something that could disappear in a moment. And why she wants to leave it undiscovered for a while, which is the same way I feel about my father’s trial. It could tell her something she doesn’t want to know.
I follow her eyes across the room to where Caleb sits, chewing on a bite of cereal—morosely, like a pouting child.
“Are you going to show it to him?” I say.
She doesn’t respond.
“Usually I don’t advocate giving him anything,” I say. “But in this case . . . this doesn’t really just belong to you.”
“I know that,” she says, a little tersely. “Of course I’ll show it to him. But I think I want to be alone with it first.”
I can’t argue with that. Most of my life has been spent keeping information close, turning it over and over in my mind. The impulse to share anything is a new one, the impulse to hide as natural as breathing.
She sighs, then breaks a piece off the muffin in my hand. I flick her fingers as she pulls away. “Hey. There are plenty more just five feet to your right.”
“Then you shouldn’t be so worried about losing some of yours,” she says, grinning.
She pulls me toward her by the front of my shirt and kisses me. I slip my hand under her chin and hold her still as I kiss her back.
Then I notice that she’s stealing another pinch of muffin, and I pull away, glaring at her.
“Seriously,” I say. “I’ll get you one from that table. It’ll only take me a second.”
She grins. “So, there’s something I wanted to ask you. Would you be up for undergoing a little genetic test this morning?”
The phrase “a little genetic test” strikes me as an oxymoron.
“Why?” I say. Asking to see my genes feels a little like asking me to strip down.
“Well, this guy I met—Matthew is his name—works in one of the labs here, and he says they would be interested in looking at our genetic material for research,” she says. “And he asked about you, specifically, because you’re sort of an anomaly.”
“Apparently you display some Divergent characteristics and you don’t display others,” she says. “I don’t know. He’s just curious about it. You don’t have to do it.”
The air around my head feels warmer and heavier. To alleviate the discomfort I touch the back of my neck, scratching at my hairline.
Sometime in the next hour or so, Marcus and Evelyn will be on the screens. Suddenly I know that I can’t watch.
So even though I don’t really want to let a stranger examine the puzzle pieces that make up my existence, I say, “Sure. I’ll do it.”
“Great,” she says, and she eats another pinch of my muffin. A piece of hair falls into her eyes, and I am brushing it back before she even notices it. She covers my hand with her own, which is warm and strong, and the corners of her mouth curl into a smile.
The door opens, admitting a young man with slanted, angular eyes and black hair. I recognize him immediately as George Wu, Tori’s younger brother. “Georgie” was the name she called him.
He smiles a giddy smile, and I feel the urge to back away, to put more space between me and his impending grief.
“I just got back,” he says, breathless. “They told me my sister set out with you guys, and—”
Tris and I exchange a troubled look. All around us, the others are noticing George by the door and going quiet, the same kind of quiet you hear at an Abnegation funeral. Even Peter, who I would expect to crave other people’s pain, looks bewildered, shifting his hands from his waist to his pockets and back again.
“And . . .” George begins again. “Why are you all looking at me like that?”
Cara steps forward, about to bear the bad news, but I can’t imagine Cara sharing it well, so I get up, talking over her.
“Your sister did leave with us,” I say. “But we were attacked by the factionless, and she . . . didn’t make it.”
There is so much that phrase doesn’t say—how quick it was, and the sound of her body hitting the earth, and the chaos of everyone running into the night, stumbling over the grass. I didn’t go back for her. I should have—of all the people in our party, I knew Tori best, knew how tightly her hands squeezed the tattoo needle and how her laugh sounded rough, like it had been scraped with sandpaper.
George touches the wall behind him for stability. “What?”
“She gave her life defending us,” Tris says with surprising gentleness. “Without her, none of us would have made it out.”
“She’s . . . dead?” George says weakly. He leans his entire body into the wall, and his shoulders sag.
I see Amar in the hallway, a piece of toast in his hand and a smile quickly fading from his face. He sets the toast down on a table by the door.
“I tried to find you earlier to tell you,” Amar says.
Last night Amar said George’s name so casually, I didn’t think they really knew each other. Apparently they do.
George’s eyes turn glassy, and Amar pulls him into an embrace with one arm. George’s fingers are bent at harsh angles into Amar’s shirt, the knuckles white with tension. I don’t hear him cry, and maybe he doesn’t, maybe all he needs to do is hold on to something. I have only hazy memories of my own grief over my mother, when I thought she was dead—just the feeling that I was separate from everything around me, and this constant sensation of needing to swallow something. I don’t know what it’s like for other people.
Eventually, Amar leads George out of the room, and I watch them walk down the hallway side by side, talking in low voices.
I barely remember that I agreed to participate in a genetic test until someone else appears at the door to the dormitory—a boy, or not really a boy, since he looks about as old as I am. He waves to Tris.
“Oh, that’s Matthew,” she says. “I guess we should get going.”
She takes my hand and leads me toward the doorway. Somehow I missed her mentioning that “Matthew” wasn’t a crusty old scientist. Or maybe she didn’t mention it at all.
Don’t be stupid, I think.
Matthew sticks out his hand. “Hi. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Matthew.”
“Tobias,” I say, because “Four” sounds strange here, where people would never identify themselves by how many fears they have. “You too.”
“So let’s go to the labs, I guess,” he says. “They’re this way.”
The compound is thick with people this morning, all dressed in green or dark blue uniforms that pool around the ankles or stop several inches above the shoe, depending on the height of the person. The compound is full of open areas that branch off the major hallways, like chambers of a heart, each marked with a letter and a number, and the people seem to be moving between them, some carrying glass devices like the one Tris brought back this morning, some empty-handed.
“What’s with the numbers?” says Tris. “Just a way of labeling each area?”
“They used to be gates,” says Matthew. “Meaning that each one has a door and a walkway that led to a particular airplane going to a particular destination. When they converted the airport into the compound, they ripped out all the chairs people used to wait for their flights in and replaced them with lab equipment, mostly taken from schools in the city. This area of the compound is basically a giant laboratory.”
“What are they working on? I thought you were just observing the experiments,” I say, watching a woman rush from one side of the hallway to the other with a screen balanced on both palms like an offering. Beams of light stretch across the polished tile, slanting through the ceiling windows. Through the windows everything looks peaceful, every blade of grass trimmed and the wild trees swaying in the distance, and it’s hard to imagine that people are destroying one another out there because of “damaged genes” or living under Evelyn’s strict rules in the city we left.
“Some of them are doing that. Everything that they notice in all the remaining experiments has to be recorded and analyzed, so that requires a lot of manpower. But some of them are also working on better ways to treat the genetic damage, or developing the serums for our own use instead of the experiments’ use—dozens of projects. All you have to do is come up with an idea, gather a team together, and propose it to the council that runs the compound under David. They usually approve anything that isn’t too risky.”