I hear something in her words that’s right, but it’s hard to believe her right now.
“So you’re telling me this affects nothing,” I say. “The truth affects nothing.”
“What truth?” she says. “These people tell you there’s something wrong with your genes, and you just believe it?”
“It was right there.” I gesture to the screen. “You saw it.”
“I also see you,” she says fiercely, her hand closing around my arm. “And I know who you are.”
I shake my head. I still can’t look at her, can’t look at anything in particular. “I . . . need to take a walk. I’ll see you later.”
I walk out, and some of the pressure inside me releases as soon as I’m not in that room anymore. I walk down the cramped hallway that presses against me like an exhale, and into the sunlit halls beyond it. The sky is bright blue now. I hear footsteps behind me, but they’re too heavy to belong to Tris.
“Hey.” Nita twists her foot, making it squeak against the tile. “No pressure, but I’d like to talk to you about all this . . . genetic-damage stuff. If you’re interested, meet me here tonight at nine. And . . . no offense to your girl or anything, but you might not want to bring her.”
“Why?” I say.
“She’s a GP—genetically pure. So she can’t understand that—well, it’s hard to explain. Just trust me, okay? She’s better off staying away for a little while.”
“Okay.” Nita nods. “Gotta go.”
I watch her run back toward the gene therapy room, and then I keep walking. I don’t know where I’m going, exactly, just that when I walk, the frenzy of information I’ve learned in the past day stops moving quite so fast, stops shouting quite so loud inside my head.
I DON’T GO after him, because I don’t know what to say.
When I found out I was Divergent, I thought of it as a secret power that no one else possessed, something that made me different, better, stronger. Now, after comparing my DNA to Tobias’s on a computer screen, I realize that “Divergent” doesn’t mean as much as I thought it did. It’s just a word for a particular sequence in my DNA, like a word for all people with brown eyes or blond hair.
I lean my head into my hands. But these people still think it means something—they still think it means I’m healed in a way that Tobias is not. And they want me to just trust that, believe it.
Well, I don’t. And I’m not sure why Tobias does—why he’s so eager to believe that he is damaged.
I don’t want to think about it anymore. I leave the gene therapy room just as Nita is walking back to it.
“What did you say to him?” I say.
She’s pretty. Tall but not too tall, thin but not too thin, her skin rich with color.
“I just made sure he knew where he was going,” she says. “It’s a confusing place.”
“It certainly is.” I start toward—well, I don’t know where I’m going, but it’s away from Nita, the pretty girl who talks to my boyfriend when I’m not there. Then again, it’s not like it was a long conversation.
I spot Zoe at the end of the hallway, and she waves me toward her. She looks more relaxed now than she did earlier this morning, her forehead smooth instead of creased, her hair loose over her shoulders. She shoves her hands into the pockets of her jumpsuit.
“I just told the others,” she says. “We’ve scheduled a plane ride in two hours for those who want to go. Are you up for it?”
Fear and excitement squirm together in my stomach, just like they did before I was strapped in on the zip line atop the Hancock building. I imagine hurtling into the air in a car with wings, the energy of the engine and the rush of wind through all the spaces in the walls and the possibility, however slight, that something will fail and I will plummet to my death.
“Yes,” I say.
“We’re meeting at gate B14. Follow the signs!” She flashes a smile as she leaves.
I look through the windows above me. The sky is clear and pale, the same color as my own eyes. There is a kind of inevitability in it, like it has always been waiting for me, maybe because I relish height while others fear it, or maybe because once you have seen the things that I have seen, there is only one frontier left to explore, and it is above.
The metal stairs leading down to the pavement screech with each of my footsteps. I have to tilt my head back to look at the airplane, which is bigger than I expected it to be, and silver-white. Just below the wing is a huge cylinder with spinning blades inside it. I imagine the blades sucking me in and spitting me out the other side, and shudder a little.
“How can something that big stay in the sky?” Uriah says from behind me.
I shake my head. I don’t know, and I don’t want to think about it. I follow Zoe up another set of stairs, this one connected to a hole in the side of the plane. My hand shakes when I grab the railing, and I look over my shoulder one last time, to check if Tobias caught up to us. He isn’t there. I haven’t seen him since the genetic test.
I duck when I go through the hole, though it’s taller than my head. Inside the airplane are rows and rows of seats covered in ripped, fraying blue fabric. I choose one near the front, next to a window. A metal bar pushes against my spine. It feels like a chair skeleton with barely any flesh to support it.
Cara sits behind me, and Peter and Caleb move toward the back of the plane and sit near each other, next to the window. I didn’t know they were friends. It seems fitting, given how despicable they both are.
“How old is this thing?” I ask Zoe, who stands near the front.
“Pretty old,” she says. “But we’ve completely redone the important stuff. It’s a nice size for what we need.”
“What do you use it for?”
“Surveillance missions, mostly. We like to keep an eye on what’s happening in the fringe, in case it threatens what’s happening in here.” Zoe pauses. “The fringe is a large, sort of chaotic place between Chicago and the nearest government-regulated metropolitan area, Milwaukee, which is about a three-hour drive from here.”
I would like to ask what exactly is happening in the fringe, but Uriah and Christina sit in the seats next to me, and the moment is lost. Uriah puts an armrest down between us and leans over me to look out the window.
“If the Dauntless knew about this, everyone would be getting in line to learn how to drive it,” he says. “Including me.”
“No, they would be strapping themselves to the wings.” Christina pokes his arm. “Don’t you know your own faction?”
Uriah pokes her cheek in response, then turns back to the window again.
“Have either of you seen Tobias lately?” I say.
“No, haven’t seen him,” Christina says. “Everything okay?”
Before I can answer, an older woman with lines around her mouth stands in the aisle between the rows of seats and claps her hands.
“My name is Karen, and I’ll be flying this plane today!” she announces. “It may seem frightening, but remember: The odds of us crashing are actually much lower than the odds of a car crash.”
“So are the odds of survival if we do crash,” Uriah mutters, but he’s grinning. His dark eyes are alert, and he looks giddy, like a child. I haven’t seen him this way since Marlene died. He’s handsome again.
Karen disappears into the front of the plane, and Zoe sits across the aisle from Christina, twisting around to call out instructions like “Buckle your seat belts!” and “Don’t stand up until we’ve reached our cruising altitude!” I’m not sure what cruising altitude is, and she doesn’t explain it, in true Zoe fashion. It was almost a miracle that she remembered to explain the fringe earlier.
The plane starts to move backward, and I’m surprised by how smooth it feels, like we’re already floating over the ground. Then it turns and glides over the pavement, which is painted with dozens of lines and symbols. My heart beats faster the farther we go away from the compound, and then Karen’s voice speaks through an intercom: “Prepare for takeoff.”
I clench the armrests as the plane lurches into motion. The momentum presses me back against the skeleton chair, and the view out the window turns into a smear of color. Then I feel it—the lift, the rising of the plane, and I see the ground stretching wide beneath us, everything getting smaller by the second. My mouth hangs open and I forget to breathe.
I see the compound, shaped like the picture of a neuron I once saw in my science textbook, and the fence that surrounds it. Around it is a web of concrete roads with buildings sandwiched between them.
And then suddenly, I can’t even see the roads or the buildings anymore, because there is just a sheet of gray and green and brown beneath us, and farther than I can see in any direction is land, land, land.
I don’t know what I expected. To see the place where the world ends, like a giant cliff hanging in the sky?
What I didn’t expect is to know that I have been a person standing in a house that I can’t even see from here. That I have walked a street among hundreds—thousands—of other streets.
What I didn’t expect is to feel so, so small.
“We can’t fly too high or too close to the city because we don’t want to draw attention, so we’ll observe from a great distance. Coming up on the left side of the plane is some of the destruction caused by the Purity War, before the rebels resorted to biological warfare instead of explosives,” Zoe says.
I have to blink tears from my eyes before I can see it, what looks at first to be a group of dark buildings. Upon further examination, I realize that the buildings aren’t supposed to be dark—they’re charred beyond recognition. Some of them are flattened. The pavement between them is broken in pieces like a cracked eggshell.
It resembles certain parts of the city, but at the same time, it doesn’t. The city’s destruction could have been caused by people. This had to have been caused by something else, something bigger.
“And now you’ll get a brief look at Chicago!” Zoe says. “You’ll see that some of the lake was drained so that we could build the fence, but we left as much of it intact as possible.”
At her words I see the two-pronged Hub as small as a toy in the distance, the jagged line of our city interrupting the sea of concrete. And beyond it, a brown expanse—the marsh—and just past that . . . blue.
Once I slid down a zip line from the Hancock building and imagined what the marsh looked like full of water, blue-gray and gleaming under the sun. And now that I can see farther than I have ever seen, I know that far beyond our city’s limits, it is just like what I imagined, the lake in the distance glinting with streaks of light, marked with the texture of waves.
The plane is silent around me except for the steady roar of the engine.
“Whoa,” says Uriah.
“Shh,” Christina replies.
“How big is it compared to the rest of the world?” Peter says from across the plane. He sounds like he’s choking on each word. “Our city, I mean. In terms of land area. What percentage?”
“Chicago takes up about two hundred twenty-seven square miles,” says Zoe. “The land area of the planet is a little less than two hundred million square miles. The percentage is . . . so small as to be negligible.”
She delivers the facts calmly, as if they mean nothing to her. But they hit me square in the stomach, and I feel squeezed, like something is crushing me into myself. So much space. I wonder what it’s like in the places beyond ours; I wonder how people live there.
I look out the window again, taking slow, deep breaths into a body too tense to move. And as I stare out at the land, I think that this, if nothing else, is compelling evidence for my parents’ God, that our world is so massive that it is completely out of our control, that we cannot possibly be as large as we feel.
So small as to be negligible.
It’s strange, but there’s something in that thought that makes me feel almost . . . free.
That evening, when everyone else is at dinner, I sit on the window ledge in the dormitory and turn on the screen David gave me. My hands tremble as I open the file labeled “Journal.”
The first entry reads:
David keeps asking me to write down what I experienced. I think he expects it to be horrifying, maybe even wants it to be. I guess parts of it were, but they were bad for everyone, so it’s not like I’m special.
I grew up in a single-family home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I never knew much about who was inside the territory outside the city (which everyone around here calls “the fringe”), just that I wasn’t supposed to go there. My mom was in law enforcement; she was explosive and impossible to please. My dad was a teacher; he was pliable and supportive and useless. One day they got into it in the living room and things got out of hand, and he grabbed her and she shot him. That night she was burying his body in the backyard while I assembled a good portion of my possessions and left through the front door. I never saw her again.
Where I grew up, tragedy is all over the place. Most of my friends’ parents drank themselves stupid or yelled too much or had stopped loving each other a long time ago, and that was just the way of things, no big deal. So when I left I’m sure I was just another item on a long list of awful things that had happened in our neighborhood in the past year.
I knew that if I went anyplace official, like to another city, the government types would just make me go home to my mom, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to look at her without seeing the streak of blood my dad’s head left on the living room carpet, so I didn’t go anyplace official. I went to the fringe, where a whole bunch of people are living in a little colony made of tarp and aluminum in some of the postwar wreckage, living on scraps and burning old papers for warmth because the government can’t provide, since they’re spending all their resources trying to put us back together again, and have been for over a century after the war ripped us apart. Or they won’t provide. I don’t know.