I recognize it from somewhere—from Tobias’s room, where I slept after my almost-execution in Erudite headquarters. It’s made of blue glass, an abstract shape that looks like falling water frozen in time.
I touch my fingertips to my chin as I search my memory. He told me that Evelyn gave it to him when he was young, and instructed him to hide it from his father, who wouldn’t approve of a useless-but-beautiful object, Abnegation that he was. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it must mean something to her, if she carried it all the way from the Abnegation sector to Erudite headquarters to keep on her bedside table. Maybe it was her way of rebelling against the faction system.
On the screen, Evelyn balances her chin on her hand and stares at the sculpture for a moment. Then she gets up and shakes out her hands and leaves the room.
No, I don’t think the sculpture is a sign of rebellion. I think it’s just a reminder of Tobias. Somehow I never realized that when Tobias charged out of the city with me, he wasn’t just a rebel defying his leader—he was a son abandoning his mother. And she is grieving over it.
Fraught with difficulty as their relationship has been, those ties never really break. They can’t possibly.
Zoe touches my shoulder. “You wanted to ask me something?”
I nod and turn away from the screens. Zoe was young in the photograph where she stood next to my mother, but she was still there, so I figure she must know something. I would have asked David, but as the leader of the Bureau, he is difficult to find.
“I wanted to know about my parents,” I say. “I’m reading her journal, and I guess I’m having a hard time figuring out how they even met, or why they joined Abnegation together.”
Zoe nods slowly. “I’ll tell you what I know. Mind walking with me to the labs? I need to leave a message with Matthew.”
She holds her hands behind her back, resting them at the bottom of her spine. I am still holding the screen David gave me. It’s marked all over with my fingerprints, and warm from my constant touch. I understand why Evelyn keeps touching that sculpture—it’s the last piece of her son she has, just like this is the last piece of my mother that I have. I feel closer to her when it’s with me.
I think that’s why I can’t give it to Caleb, even though he has a right to see it. I’m not sure I can let go of it yet.
“They met in a class,” Zoe says. “Your father, though a very smart man, never quite got the knack of psychology, and the teacher—an Erudite, unsurprisingly—was very hard on him for it. So your mother offered to help him after school, and he told his parents he was doing some kind of school project. They did this for several weeks, and then started to meet in secret—I think one of their favorite places was the fountain south of Millennium Park. Buckingham Fountain? Right by the marsh?”
I imagine my mother and father sitting beside a fountain, under the spray of water, their feet skimming the concrete bottom. I know the fountain Zoe is referring to hasn’t been operational for a long time, so the spraying water was never there, but the picture is prettier that way.
“The Choosing Ceremony was approaching, and your father was eager to leave Erudite because he saw something terrible—”
“What? What did he see?”
“Well, your father was a good friend of Jeanine Matthews,” says Zoe. “He saw her performing an experiment on a factionless man in exchange for something—food, or clothing, something like that. Anyway, she was testing the fear-inducing serum that was later incorporated into Dauntless initiation—long ago, the fear simulations weren’t generated by a person’s individual fears, you see, just general fears like heights or spiders or something—and Norton, then the representative of Erudite, was there, letting it go on for far longer than it should have. The factionless man was never quite right again. And that was the last straw for your father.”
She pauses in front of the door to the labs to open it with her ID badge. We walk into the dingy office where David gave me my mother’s journal. Matthew is sitting with his nose three inches from his computer screen, his eyes narrow. He barely registers our presence when we walk in.
I feel overwhelmed by the desire to smile and cry at the same time. I sit down in a chair next to the empty desk, my hands clasped between my knees. My father was a difficult man. But he was also a good one.
“Your father wanted out of Erudite, and your mother didn’t want in, no matter what her mission was—but she still wanted to be near Andrew, so they chose Abnegation together.” She pauses. “This caused a rift between your mother and David, as I’m sure you saw. He eventually apologized, but said he couldn’t receive updates from her anymore—I don’t know why, he wouldn’t say—and after that her reports were very short, very informational. Which is why they’re not in that journal.”
“But she was still able to carry out her mission in Abnegation.”
“Yes. And she was much happier there, I think, than she would have been among the Erudite,” Zoe says. “Of course, Abnegation turned out to be no better, in some ways. It seems there’s no escaping the reach of genetic damage. Even the Abnegation leadership was poisoned by it.”
I frown. “Are you talking about Marcus? Because he’s Divergent. Genetic damage had nothing to do with it.”
“A man surrounded by genetic damage cannot help but mimic it with his own behavior,” Zoe says. “Matthew, David wants to set up a meeting with your supervisor to discuss one of the serum developments. Last time Alan completely forgot about it, so I was wondering if you could escort him.”
“Sure,” Matthew says without looking away from his computer. “I’ll get him to give me a time.”
“Lovely. Well, I have to go—I hope that answered your question, Tris.” She smiles at me and slips out the door.
I sit hunched, with my elbows on my knees. Marcus was Divergent—genetically pure, just like me. But I don’t accept that he was a bad person because he was surrounded by genetically damaged people. So was I. So was Uriah. So was my mother. But none of us lashed out at our loved ones.
“Her argument has a few holes in it, doesn’t it,” says Matthew. He’s watching me from behind his desk, tapping his fingers on the arm of his chair.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Some of the people here want to blame genetic damage for everything,” he says. “It’s easier for them to accept than the truth, which is that they can’t know everything about people and why they act the way they do.”
“Everyone has to blame something for the way the world is,” I say. “For my father it was the Erudite.”
“I probably shouldn’t tell you that the Erudite were always my favorite, then,” Matthew says, smiling a little.
“Really?” I straighten. “Why?”
“I don’t know, I guess I agree with them. That if everyone would just keep learning about the world around them, they would have far fewer problems.”
“I’ve been wary of them my whole life,” I say, resting my chin on my hand. “My father hated the Erudite, so I learned to hate them too, and everything they did with their time. Only now I’m thinking he was wrong. Or just . . . biased.”
“About the Erudite or about learning?”
I shrug. “Both. So many of the Erudite helped me when I didn’t ask them to.” Will, Fernando, Cara—all Erudite, all some of the best people I’ve known, however briefly. “They were so focused on making the world a better place.” I shake my head. “What Jeanine did has nothing to do with a thirst for knowledge leading to a thirst for power, like my father told me, and everything to do with her being terrified of how big the world is and how powerless that made her. Maybe it was the Dauntless who had it right.”
“There’s an old phrase,” Matthew says. “Knowledge is power. Power to do evil, like Jeanine . . . or power to do good, like what we’re doing. Power itself is not evil. So knowledge itself is not evil.”
“I guess I grew up suspicious of both. Power and knowledge,” I say. “To the Abnegation, power should only be given to people who don’t want it.”
“There’s something to that,” Matthew says. “But maybe it’s time to grow out of that suspicion.”
He reaches under the desk and takes out a book. It is thick, with a worn cover and frayed edges. On it is printed HUMAN BIOLOGY.
“It’s a little rudimentary, but this book helped to teach me what it is to be human,” he says. “To be such a complicated, mysterious piece of biological machinery, and more amazing still, to have the capacity to analyze that machinery! That is a special thing, unprecedented in all of evolutionary history. Our ability to know about ourselves and the world is what makes us human.”
He hands me the book and turns back to the computer. I look down at the worn cover and run my fingers along the edge of the pages. He makes the acquisition of knowledge feel like a secret, beautiful thing, and an ancient thing. I feel like, if I read this book, I can reach backward through all the generations of humanity to the very first one, whenever it was—that I can participate in something many times larger and older than myself.
“Thank you,” I say, and it’s not for the book. It’s for giving something back to me, something I lost before I was able to really have it.
The lobby of the hotel smells like candied lemon and bleach, an acrid combination that burns my nostrils when I breathe it in. I walk past a potted plant with a garish flower blossoming among its branches, and toward the dormitory that has become our temporary home here. As I walk I wipe the screen with the hem of my shirt, trying to get rid of some of my fingerprints.
Caleb is alone in the dormitory, his hair tousled and his eyes red from sleep. He blinks at me when I walk in and toss the biology book onto my bed. I feel a sickening ache in my stomach and press the screen with our mother’s file against my side. He’s her son. He has a right to read her journal, just like you.
“If you have something to say,” he says, “just say it.”
“Mom lived here.” I blurt it out like a long-held secret, too loud and too fast. “She came from the fringe, and they brought her here, and she lived here for a couple years, then went into the city to stop the Erudite from killing the Divergent.”
Caleb blinks at me. Before I lose my nerve, I hold out the screen for him to take. “Her file is here. It’s not very long, but you should read it.”
He gets up and closes his hand around the glass. He’s so much taller than he used to be, so much taller than I am. For a few years when we were children, I was the taller one, even though I was almost a year younger. Those were some of our best years, the ones where I didn’t feel like he was bigger or better or smarter or more selfless than I was.
“How long have you known this?” he says, narrowing his eyes.
“It doesn’t matter.” I step back. “I’m telling you now. You can keep that, by the way. I’m done with it.”
He wipes the screen with his sleeve and navigates with deft fingers to our mother’s first journal entry. I expect him to sit down and read it, thus ending the conversation, but instead he sighs.
“I have something to show you, too,” he says. “About Edith Prior. Come on.”
It’s her name, not my lingering attachment to him, that draws me after him when he starts to walk away.
He leads me out of the dormitory and down the hallway and around corners to a room far away from any that I have seen in the Bureau compound. It is long and narrow, the walls covered with shelves that bear identical blue-gray books, thick and heavy as dictionaries. Between the first two rows is a long wooden table with chairs tucked beneath it. Caleb flips the light switch, and pale light fills the room, reminding me of Erudite headquarters.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time here,” he says. “It’s the record room. They keep some of the Chicago experiment data in here.”
He walks along the shelves on the right side of the room, running his fingers over the book spines. He pulls out one of the volumes and lays it flat on the table, so it spills open, its pages covered in text and pictures.
“Why don’t they keep all this on computers?”
“I assume they kept these records before they developed a sophisticated security system on their network,” he says without looking up. “Data never fully disappears, but paper can be destroyed forever, so you can actually get rid of it if you don’t want the wrong people to get their hands on it. It’s safer, sometimes, to have everything printed out.”
His green eyes shift back and forth as he searches for the right place, his fingers nimble, built for turning pages. I think of how he disguised that part of himself, wedging books between his headboard and the wall in our Abnegation house, until he dropped his blood in the Erudite water on the day of our Choosing Ceremony. I should have known, then, that he was a liar, with loyalty only to himself.
I feel that sickening ache again. I can hardly stand to be in here with him, the door closing us in, nothing but the table between us.
“Ah, here.” He touches his finger to a page, then spins the book around to show me.
It looks like a copy of a contract, but it’s handwritten in ink:
I, Amanda Marie Ritter, of Peoria, Illinois, give my consent to the following procedures:
• The “genetic healing” procedure, as defined by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare: “a genetic engineering procedure designed to correct the genes specified as ‘damaged’ on page three of this form.”
• The “reset procedure,” as defined by the Bureau of Genetic Welfare: “a memory-erasing procedure designed to make an experiment participant more fit for the experiment.”