“Yeah,” says Tris. “Wouldn’t want to take any risks.”
She rolls her eyes a little.
“They have a good reason for their endeavors,” Matthew says. “Before the factions were introduced, and the serums with them, the experiments all used to be under near-constant assault from within. The serums help the people in the experiment to keep things under control, especially the memory serum. Well, I guess no one’s working on that right now—it’s in the Weapons Lab.”
“Weapons Lab.” He says the words like they’re fragile in his mouth. Sacred words.
“So the Bureau gave us the serums, in the beginning,” Tris says.
“Yes,” he says. “And then the Erudite continued to work on them, to perfect them. Including your brother. To be honest, we got some of our serum developments from them, by observing them in the control room. Only they didn’t do much with the memory serum—the Abnegation serum. We did a lot more with that, since it’s our greatest weapon.”
“A weapon,” Tris repeats.
“Well, it arms the cities against their own rebellions, for one thing—erase people’s memories and there’s no need to kill them; they just forget what they were fighting about. And we can also use it against rebels from the fringe, which is about an hour from here. Sometimes fringe dwellers try to raid, and the memory serum stops them without killing them.”
“That’s . . .” I start.
“Still kind of awful?” Matthew supplies. “Yes, it is. But the higher-ups here think of it as our life support, our breathing machine. Here we are.”
I raise my eyebrows. He just spoke out against his own leaders so casually I almost missed it. I wonder if that’s the kind of place this is—where dissent can be expressed in public, in the middle of a normal conversation, instead of in secret spaces, with hushed voices.
He scans his card at a heavy door on our left, and we walk down another hallway, this one narrow and lit with pale, fluorescent light. He stops at a door marked GENE THERAPY ROOM 1. Inside, a girl with light brown skin and a green jumpsuit is replacing the paper that covers the exam table.
“This is Juanita, the lab technician. Juanita, this is—”
“Yeah, I know who they are,” she says, smiling. Out of the corner of my eye I see Tris stiffen, chafing against the reminder that our lives have been on camera. But she doesn’t say anything about it.
The girl offers me her hand. “Matthew’s supervisor is the only person who calls me Juanita. Except Matthew, apparently. I’m Nita. You’ll need two tests prepared?”
“I’ll get them.” She opens a set of cabinets across the room and starts pulling things out. All of them are encased in plastic and paper and have white labels. The room is full of the sound of crinkling and ripping.
“How do you guys like it here so far?” she asks us.
“It’s been an adjustment,” I say.
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” Nita smiles at me. “I came from one of the other experiments—the one in Indianapolis, the one that failed. Oh, you don’t know where Indianapolis is, do you? It’s not far from here. Less than an hour by plane.” She pauses. “That won’t mean anything to you either. You know what? It’s not important.”
She takes a syringe and needle from its plastic-paper wrapping, and Tris tenses.
“What’s that for?” Tris says.
“It’s what will enable us to read your genes,” Matthew says. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Tris says, but she’s still tense. “I just . . . don’t like to be injected with strange substances.”
Matthew nods. “I swear it’s just going to read your genes. That’s all it does. Nita can vouch for it.”
“Okay,” Tris says. “But . . . can I do it to myself?”
“Sure,” Nita says. She prepares the syringe, filling it with whatever they intend to inject us with, and offers it to Tris.
“I’ll give you the simplified explanation of how this works,” Matthew says as Nita brushes Tris’s arm with antiseptic. The smell is sour, and it nips at the inside of my nose.
“The fluid is packed with microcomputers. They are designed to detect specific genetic markers and transmit the data to a computer. It will take them about an hour to give me as much information as I need, though it would take them much longer to read all your genetic material, obviously.”
Tris sticks the needle into her arm and presses the plunger.
Nita beckons my arm forward and drags the orange-stained gauze over my skin. The fluid in the syringe is silver-gray, like fish scales, and as it flows into me through the needle, I imagine the microscopic technology chewing through my body, reading me and analyzing me. Beside me, Tris holds a cotton ball to her pricked skin and offers me a small smile.
“What are the . . . microcomputers?” Matthew nods, and I continue. “What are they looking for, exactly?”
“Well, when our predecessors at the Bureau inserted ‘corrected’ genes into your ancestors, they also included a genetic tracker, which is basically something that shows us that a person has achieved genetic healing. In this case, the genetic tracker is awareness during simulations—it’s something we can easily test for, which shows us if your genes are healed or not. That’s one of the reasons why everyone in the city has to take the aptitude test at sixteen—if they’re aware during the test, that shows us that they might have healed genes.”
I add the aptitude test to a mental list of things that were once so important to me, cast aside because it was just a ruse to get these people the information or result they wanted.
I can’t believe that awareness during simulations, something that made me feel powerful and unique, something Jeanine and the Erudite killed people for, is actually just a sign of genetic healing to these people. Like a special code word, telling them I’m in their genetically healed society.
Matthew continues, “The only problem with the genetic tracker is that being aware during simulations and resisting serums doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is Divergent, it’s just a strong correlation. Sometimes people will be aware during simulations or be able to resist serums even if they still have damaged genes.” He shrugs. “That’s why I’m interested in your genes, Tobias. I’m curious to see if you’re actually Divergent, or if your simulation awareness just makes it look like you are.”
Nita, who is clearing the counter, presses her lips together like she is holding words inside her mouth. I feel suddenly uneasy. There’s a chance I’m not actually Divergent?
“All that’s left is to sit and wait,” Matthew says. “I’m going to go get breakfast. Do either of you want something to eat?”
Tris and I both shake our heads.
“I’ll be back soon. Nita, keep them company, would you?”
Matthew leaves without waiting for Nita’s response, and Tris sits on the examination table, the paper crinkling beneath her and tearing where her leg hangs over the edge. Nita puts her hands in her jumpsuit pockets and looks at us. Her eyes are dark, with the same sheen as a puddle of oil beneath a leaking engine. She hands me a cotton ball, and I press it to the bubble of blood inside my elbow.
“So you came from a city experiment,” says Tris. “How long have you been here?”
“Since the Indianapolis experiment was disbanded, which was about eight years ago. I could have integrated into the greater population, outside the experiments, but that felt too overwhelming.” Nita leans against the counter. “So I volunteered to come here. I used to be a janitor. I’m moving through the ranks, I guess.”
She says it with a certain amount of bitterness. I suspect that here, as in Dauntless, there is a limit to her climb through the ranks, and she is reaching it earlier than she would like to. The same way I did, when I chose my job in the control room.
“And your city, it didn’t have factions?” Tris says.
“No, it was the control group—it helped them to figure out that the factions were actually effective by comparison. It had a lot of rules, though—curfew, wake-up times, safety regulations. No weapons allowed. Stuff like that.”
“What happened?” I say, and a moment later I wish I hadn’t asked, because the corners of Nita’s mouth turn down, like the memory hangs heavy from each side.
“Well, a few of the people inside still knew how to make weapons. They made a bomb—you know, an explosive—and set it off in the government building,” she says. “Lots of people died. And after that, the Bureau decided our experiment was a failure. They erased the memories of the bombers and relocated the rest of us. I’m one of the only ones who wanted to come here.”
“I’m sorry,” Tris says softly. Sometimes I still forget to look for the gentler parts of her. For so long all I saw was the strength, standing out like the wiry muscles in her arms or the black ink marking her collarbone with flight.
“It’s all right. It’s not like you guys don’t know about stuff like this,” says Nita. “With what Jeanine Matthews did, and all.”
“Why haven’t they shut our city down?” Tris says. “The same way they did to yours?”
“They might still shut it down,” says Nita. “But I think the Chicago experiment, in particular, has been a success for so long that they’ll be a little reluctant to just ditch it now. It was the first one with factions.”
I take the cotton ball away from my arm. There is a tiny red dot where the needle went in, but it isn’t bleeding anymore.
“I like to think I would have chosen Dauntless,” says Nita. “But I don’t think I would have had the stomach for it.”
“You’d be surprised what you have the stomach for, when you have to,” Tris says.
I feel a pang in the middle of my chest. She’s right. Desperation can make a person do surprising things. We would both know.
Matthew returns right at the hour mark, and he sits at the computer for a long time after that, his eyes flicking back and forth as he reads the screen. A few times he makes a revelatory noise, a “hmm!” or an “ah!” The longer he waits to tell us something, anything, the more tense my muscles become, until my shoulders feel like they are made of stone instead of flesh. Finally he looks up and turns the screen around so we can see what’s on it.
“This program helps us to interpret the data in an understandable way. What you see here is a simplified depiction of a particular DNA sequence in Tris’s genetic material,” he says.
The picture on the screen is a complicated mass of lines and numbers, with certain parts selected in yellow and red. I can’t make any sense of the picture beyond that—it is above my level of comprehension.
“These selections here suggest healed genes. We wouldn’t see them if the genes were damaged.” He taps certain parts of the screen. I don’t understand what he’s pointing at, but he doesn’t seem to notice, caught up in his own explanation. “These selections over here indicate that the program also found the genetic tracker, the simulation awareness. The combination of healed genes and simulation awareness genes is just what I expected to see from a Divergent. Now, this is the strange part.”
He touches the screen again, and the screen changes, but it remains just as confusing, a web of lines, tangled threads of numbers.
“This is the map of Tobias’s genes,” Matthew says. “As you can see, he has the right genetic components for simulation awareness, but he doesn’t have the same ‘healed’ genes that Tris does.”
My throat is dry, and I feel like I’ve been given bad news, but I still haven’t entirely grasped what that bad news is.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“It means,” Matthew says, “that you are not Divergent. Your genes are still damaged, but you have a genetic anomaly that allows you to be aware during simulations anyway. You have, in other words, the appearance of a Divergent without actually being one.”
I process the information slowly, piece by piece. I’m not Divergent. I’m not like Tris. I’m genetically damaged.
The word “damaged” sinks inside me like it’s made of lead. I guess I always knew there was something wrong with me, but I thought it was because of my father, or my mother, and the pain they bequeathed to me like a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation. And this means that the one good thing my father had—his Divergence—didn’t reach me.
I don’t look at Tris—I can’t bear it. Instead I look at Nita. Her expression is hard, almost angry.
“Matthew,” she says. “Don’t you want to take this data to your lab to analyze?”
“Well, I was planning on discussing it with our subjects here,” Matthew says.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Tris says, sharp as a blade.
Matthew says something I don’t really hear; I’m listening to the thump of my heart. He taps the screen again, and the picture of my DNA disappears, so the screen is blank, just glass. He leaves, instructing us to visit his lab if we want more information, and Tris, Nita, and I stand in the room in silence.
“It’s not that big a deal,” Tris says firmly. “Okay?”
“You don’t get to tell me it’s not a big deal!” I say, louder than I mean to be.
Nita busies herself at the counter, making sure the containers there are lined up, though they haven’t moved since we first came in.
“Yeah, I do!” Tris exclaims. “You’re the same person you were five minutes ago and four months ago and eighteen years ago! This doesn’t change anything about you.”