“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” I say, “that you may have said you just wanted us to be honest with each other, but I think you really wanted me to always agree with you.”
“I can’t believe you would say that! You were wrong—”
“Yeah, I was wrong!” I’m shouting now, and I don’t know where the anger came from, except that I can feel it swirling around inside me, violent and vicious and the strongest I have felt in days. “I was wrong, I made a huge mistake! My best friend’s brother is as good as dead! And now you’re acting like a parent, punishing me for it because I didn’t do as I was told. Well, you are not my parent, Tris, and you don’t get to tell me what to do, what to choose—!”
“Stop yelling at me,” she says quietly, and she finally looks at me. I used to see all kinds of things in her eyes, love and longing and curiosity, but now all I see is anger. “Just stop.”
Her quiet voice stalls the anger inside me, and I relax into the wall behind me, shoving my hands into my pockets. I didn’t mean to yell at her. I didn’t mean to get angry at all.
I stare, shocked, as tears touch her cheeks. I haven’t seen her cry in a long time. She sniffs, and gulps, and tries to sound normal, but she doesn’t.
“I just need some time,” she says, choking on each word. “Okay?”
“Okay,” I say.
She wipes her cheeks with her palms and walks down the hallway. I watch her blond head until it disappears around the bend, and I feel bare, like there’s nothing left to protect me against pain. Her absence stings worst of all.
“THERE SHE IS,” Amar says as I approach the group. “Here, I’ll get you your vest, Tris.”
“My . . . vest?” As promised by David yesterday, I’m going to the fringe this afternoon. I don’t know what to expect, which usually makes me nervous, but I’m too worn-out from the past few days to feel much of anything.
“Bulletproof vest. The fringe is not all that safe,” he says, and he reaches into a crate near the doors, sorting through a stack of thick black vests to find the right size. He emerges with one that still looks far too big for me. “Sorry, not much variety here. This will work just fine. Arms up.”
He guides me into the vest and tightens the straps at my sides.
“I didn’t know you would be here,” I say.
“Well, what did you think I did at the Bureau? Just wandered around cracking jokes?” He smiles. “They found a good use for my Dauntless expertise. I’m part of the security team. So is George. We usually just handle compound security, but any time anyone wants to go to the fringe, I volunteer.”
“Talking about me?” George, who was standing in the group by the doors. “Hi, Tris. I hope he’s not saying anything bad.”
George puts his arm across Amar’s shoulders, and they grin at each other. George looks better than the last time I saw him, but grief leaves its mark on his expression, taking the crinkles out of the corners of his eyes when he smiles, taking the dimple from his cheek.
“I was thinking we should give her a gun,” Amar says. He glances at me. “We don’t normally give potential future council members weapons, because they have no clue how to use them, but it’s pretty clear that you do.”
“It’s really all right,” I say. “I don’t need—”
“No, you’re probably a better shot than most of them,” George says. “We could use another Dauntless on board with us. Let me go get one.”
A few minutes later I am armed and walking with Amar to the truck. He and I get in the far back, George and a woman named Ann get in the middle, and two older security officers named Jack and Violet get in the front. The back of the truck is covered with a hard black material. The back doors look opaque and black from the outside, but from the inside they’re transparent, so we can see where we’re going. I am nestled between Amar and stacks of equipment that block our view of the front of the truck. George peers over the equipment and grins when the truck starts, but other than that, it’s just Amar and me.
I watch the compound disappear behind us. We drive through the gardens and outbuildings that surround it, and peeking out from behind the edge of the compound are the airplanes, white and stationary. We reach the fence, and the gates open for us. I hear Jack speaking to the soldier at the outer fence, telling him our plans and the contents of the vehicle—a series of words I don’t understand—before we can be released into the wild.
I ask, “What’s the purpose of this patrol? Beyond showing me how things work, I mean.”
“We’ve always kept an eye on the fringe, which is the nearest genetically damaged area outside the compound. Mostly just research, studying how the genetically damaged behave,” Amar says. “But after the attack, David and the council decided we needed more extensive surveillance set up there so we can prevent an attack from happening again.”
We drive past the same kind of ruins I saw when we left the city—the buildings collapsing under their own weight, and the plants roaming wild over the land, breaking through concrete.
I don’t know Amar, and I don’t exactly trust him, but I have to ask:
“So you believe it all? All the stuff about genetic damage being the cause of . . . this?”
All his old friends in the experiment were GDs. Can he possibly believe that they’re damaged, that there’s something wrong with them?
“You don’t?” Amar says. “The way I see it, the earth has been around for a long, long time. Longer than we can imagine. And before the Purity War, no one had ever done this, right?” He waves his hand to indicate the world outside.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I find it hard to believe that they didn’t.”
“Such a grim view of human nature you have,” he says.
I don’t respond.
He continues, “Anyway, if something like that had happened in our history, the Bureau would know about it.”
That strikes me as naive, for someone who once lived in my city and saw, at least on the screens, how many secrets we kept from one another. Evelyn tried to control people by controlling weapons, but Jeanine was more ambitious—she knew that when you control information, or manipulate it, you don’t need force to keep people under your thumb. They stay there willingly.
That is what the Bureau—and the entire government, probably—is doing: conditioning people to be happy under its thumb.
We ride in silence for a while, with just the sound of jiggling equipment and the engine to accompany us. At first I look at every building we pass, wondering what it once housed, and then they start to blend together for me. How many different kinds of ruin do you have to see before you resign yourself to calling it all “ruin”?
“We’re almost at the fringe,” George calls from the middle of the truck. “We’re going to stop here and advance on foot. Everyone take some equipment and set it up—except Amar, who should just look after Tris. Tris, you’re welcome to get out and have a look, but stay with Amar.”
I feel like all my nerves are too close to the surface, and the slightest touch will make them fire. The fringe is where my mother retreated after witnessing a murder—it is where the Bureau found her and rescued her because they suspected her genetic code was sound. Now I will walk there, to the place where, in some ways, it all began.
The truck stops, and Amar shoves the doors open. He holds his gun in one hand and beckons to me with the other. I jump out behind him.
There are buildings here, but they are not nearly as prominent as the makeshift homes, made of scrap metal and plastic tarps, piled up right next to one another like they are holding one another upright. In the narrow aisles between them are people, mostly children, selling things from trays, or carrying buckets of water, or cooking over open fires.
When the ones nearest to us see us, a young boy takes off running and screams, “Raid! Raid!”
“Don’t worry about that,” Amar says to me. “They think we’re soldiers. Sometimes they raid to transport the kids to orphanages.”
I barely acknowledge the comment. Instead I start walking down one of the aisles, as most people take off or shut themselves inside their lean-tos with cardboard or more tarp. I see them through the cracks between the walls, their houses not much more than a pile of food and supplies on one side and sleeping mats on the other. I wonder what they do in the winter. Or what they do for a toilet.
I think of the flowers inside the compound, and the wood floors, and all the beds in the hotel that are unoccupied, and say, “Do you ever help them?”
“We believe that the best way to help our world is to fix its genetic deficiencies,” Amar says, like he’s reciting it from memory. “Feeding people is just putting a tiny bandage on a gaping wound. It might stop the bleeding for a while, but ultimately the wound will still be there.”
I can’t respond. All I do is shake my head a little and keep walking. I am beginning to understand why my mother joined Abnegation when she was supposed to join Erudite. If she had really craved safety from Erudite’s growing corruption, she could have gone to Amity or Candor. But she chose the faction where she could help the helpless, and dedicated most of her life to making sure the factionless were provided for.
They must have reminded her of this place, of the fringe.
I turn my head away from Amar so he won’t see the tears in my eyes. “Let’s go back to the truck.”
“You all right?”
We both turn around to head back to the truck, but then we hear gunshots.
And right after them, a shout. “Help!”
Everyone around us scatters.
“That’s George,” Amar says, and he takes off running down one of the aisles on our right. I chase him into the scrap-metal structures, but he’s too quick for me, and this place is a maze—I lose him in seconds, and then I am alone.
As much automatic, Abnegation-bred sympathy as I have for the people living in this place, I am also afraid of them. If they are like the factionless, then they are surely desperate like the factionless, and I am wary of desperate people.
A hand closes around my arm and drags me backward, into one of the aluminum lean-tos. Inside everything is tinted blue from the tarp that covers the walls, insulating the structure against the cold. The floor is covered with plywood, and standing in front of me is a small, thin woman with a grubby face.
“You don’t want to be out there,” she says. “They’ll lash out at anyone, no matter how young she is.”
“They?” I say.
“Lots of angry people here in the fringe,” the woman says. “Some people’s anger makes them want to kill everyone they perceive as an enemy. Some people’s makes them more constructive.”
“Well, thank you for the help,” I say. “My name is Tris.”
“I can’t,” I say. “My friends are out there.”
“Then you should wait until the hordes of people run to wherever your friends are, and then sneak up on them from behind.”
That sounds smart.
I sink to the floor, my gun digging into my leg. The bulletproof vest is so stiff it’s hard to get comfortable, but I do the best I can to seem relaxed. I hear people running outside and shouting. Amy flicks the corner of the tarp back to see outside.
“So you and your friends aren’t soldiers,” Amy says, still looking outside. “Which means you must be Genetic Welfare types, right?”
“No,” I say. “I mean, they are, but I’m from the city. I mean, Chicago.”
Amy’s eyebrows pop up high. “Damn. Has it been disbanded?”
“Unfortunate?” I frown at her. “That’s my home you’re talking about, you know.”
“Well your home is perpetuating the belief that genetically damaged people need to be fixed—that they’re damaged, period, which they—we—are not. So yes, it’s unfortunate that the experiments still exist. I won’t apologize for saying so.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way. To me Chicago has to keep existing because the people I have lost lived there, because the way of life I once loved continues there, though in a broken form. But I didn’t realize that Chicago’s very existence could be harmful to people outside who just want to be thought of as whole.
“It’s time for you to go,” Amy says, dropping the corner of the tarp. “They’re probably in one of the meeting areas, northwest of here.”
“Thank you again,” I say.
She nods to me, and I duck out of her makeshift home, the boards creaking beneath my feet.
I move through the aisles, fast, glad that all the people scattered when we arrived so there is no one to block my way. I jump over a puddle of—well, I don’t want to know what it is—and emerge into a kind of courtyard, where a tall, gangly boy has a gun pointed at George.
A small crowd of people surrounds the boy with the gun. They have distributed among them the surveillance equipment George was carrying, and they’re destroying it, hitting it with shoes or rocks or hammers.
George’s eyes shift to me, but I touch a finger to my lips, hastily. I am behind the crowd now; the one with the gun doesn’t know I’m there.
“Put the gun down,” George says.
“No!” the boy answers. His pale eyes keep shifting from George to the people around him and back. “Went to a lot of trouble to get this, not gonna give it to you now.”
“Then just . . . let me go. You can keep it.”
“Not until you tell us where you’ve been taking our people!” the boy says.