Amar tells us where and when to meet, then we go to the hallway near the kitchens so we won’t be seen, and he takes out a small black box with syringes inside it. He gives one to Christina, Peter, and me, along with an individually packaged antibacterial wipe, something I suspect only Amar will bother with.
“What’s this?” Christina says. “I’m not going to inject it into my body unless I know what it is.”
“Fine.” Amar folds his hands. “There’s a chance that we will still be in the city when a memory serum virus is deployed. You’ll need to inoculate yourself against it unless you want to forget everything you now remember. It’s the same thing you’ll be injecting into your family’s arms, so don’t worry about it.”
Christina turns her arm over and slaps the inside of her elbow until a vein stands at attention. Out of habit, I stick the needle into the side of my neck, the same way I did every time I went through my fear landscape—which was several times a week, at one point. Amar does the same thing.
I notice, however, that Peter only pretends to inject himself—when he presses the plunger down, the fluid runs down his throat, and he wipes it casually with a sleeve.
I wonder what it feels like to volunteer to forget everything.
After dinner Christina walks up to me and says, “We need to talk.”
We walk down the long flight of stairs that leads to the underground GD space, our knees bouncing in unison with each step, and down the multicolored hallway. At the end, Christina crosses her arms, purple light playing over her nose and mouth.
“Amar doesn’t know we’re going to try to stop the reset?” she says.
“No,” I say. “He’s loyal to the Bureau. I don’t want to involve him.”
“You know, the city is still on the verge of revolution,” she says, and the light turns blue. “The Bureau’s whole reason for resetting our friends and families is to stop them from killing each other. If we stop the reset, the Allegiant will attack Evelyn, Evelyn will turn the death serum loose, and a lot of people will die. I may still be mad at you, but I don’t think you want that many people in the city to die. Your parents in particular.”
I sigh. “Honestly? I don’t really care about them.”
“You can’t be serious,” she says, scowling. “They’re your parents.”
“I can be, actually,” I say. “I want to tell Zeke and his mother what I did to Uriah. Apart from that, I really don’t care what happens to Evelyn and Marcus.”
“You may not care about your permanently messed-up family, but you should care about everyone else!” she says. She takes my arm in one strong hand and jerks me so that I look at her. “Four, my little sister is in there. If Evelyn and the Allegiant smack into each other, she could get hurt, and I won’t be there to protect her.”
I saw Christina with her family on Visiting Day, when she was still just a loudmouthed Candor transfer to me. I watched her mother fix the collar of Christina’s shirt with a proud smile. If the memory serum virus is deployed, that memory will be erased from her mother’s mind. If it’s not, her family will be caught in the middle of another citywide battle for control.
I say, “So what are you suggesting we do?”
She releases me. “There has to be a way to prevent a huge blowup that doesn’t involve forcibly erasing everyone’s memories.”
“Maybe,” I concede. I hadn’t thought about it because it didn’t seem necessary. But it is necessary, of course it’s necessary. “Did you have an idea for how to stop it?”
“It’s basically one of your parents against the other one,” Christina says. “Isn’t there something you can say to them that will stop them from trying to kill each other?”
“Something I can say to them?” I say. “Are you kidding? They don’t listen to anyone. They don’t do anything that doesn’t directly benefit them.”
“So there’s nothing you can do. You’re just going to let the city rip itself to shreds.”
I stare at my shoes, bathed in green light, mulling it over. If I had different parents—if I had reasonable parents, less driven by pain and anger and the desire for revenge—it might work. They might be compelled to listen to their son. Unfortunately, I do not have different parents.
But I could. I could if I wanted them. Just a slip of the memory serum in their morning coffee or their evening water, and they would be new people, clean slates, unblemished by history. They would have to be taught that they even had a son to begin with; they would need to learn my name again.
It’s the same technique we’re using to heal the compound. I could use it to heal them.
I look up at Christina.
“Get me some memory serum,” I say. “While you, Amar, and Peter are looking for your family and Uriah’s family, I’ll take care of it. I probably won’t have enough time to get to both of my parents, but one of them will do.”
“How will you get away from the rest of us?”
“I need . . . I don’t know, we need to add a complication. Something that requires one of us leaving the pack.”
“What about flat tires?” Christina says. “We’re going at night, right? So I can tell Amar to stop so I can go to the bathroom or something, slash the tires, and then we’ll have to split up, so you can find another truck.”
I consider this for a moment. I could tell Amar what’s really going on, but that would require undoing the dense knot of propaganda and lies the Bureau has tied in his mind. Assuming I could even do it, we don’t have time for that.
But we do have time for a well-told lie. Amar knows that my father taught me how to start a car with just the wires when I was younger. He wouldn’t question me volunteering to find us another vehicle.
“That will work,” I say.
“Good.” She tilts her head. “So you’re really going to erase one of your parents’ memories?”
“What do you do when your parents are evil?” I say. “Get a new parent. If one of them doesn’t have all the baggage they currently have, maybe the two of them can negotiate a peace agreement or something.”
She frowns at me for a few seconds like she wants to say something, but eventually, she just nods.
THE SMELL OF bleach tingles in my nose. I stand next to a mop in a storage room in the basement; I stand in the wake of what I just told everyone, which is that whoever breaks into the Weapons Lab will be going on a suicide mission. The death serum is unstoppable.
“The question is,” Matthew says, “is this something we’re willing to sacrifice a life for.”
This is the room where Matthew, Caleb, and Cara were developing the new serum, before the plan changed. Vials and beakers and scribbled-on notebooks are scattered across the lab table in front of Matthew. The string he wears tied around his neck is in his mouth now, and he chews it absentmindedly.
Tobias leans against the door, his arms crossed. I remember him standing that way during initiation, as he watched us fight each other, so tall and so strong I never dreamed he would give me more than a cursory glance.
“It’s not just about revenge,” I say. “It’s not about what they did to the Abnegation. It’s about stopping them before they do something equally bad to the people in all the experiments—about taking away their power to control thousands of lives.”
“It is worth it,” Cara says. “One death, to save thousands of people from a terrible fate? And cut the compound’s power off at the knees, so to speak? Is it even a question?”
I know what she is doing—weighing a single life against so many lifetimes and memories, drawing an obvious conclusion from the scales. That is the way an Erudite mind works, and the way an Abnegation mind works, but I am not sure if they are the minds we need right now. One life against thousands of memories, of course the answer is easy, but does it have to be one of our lives? Do we have to be the ones who act?
But because I know what my answer will be to that question, my thoughts turn to another question. If it has to be one of us, who should it be?
My eyes shift from Matthew and Cara, standing behind the table, to Tobias, to Christina, her arm slung over a broom handle, and land on Caleb.
A second later I feel sick with myself.
“Oh, just come out with it,” Caleb says, lifting his eyes to mine. “You want me to do it. You all do.”
“No one said that,” Matthew says, spitting out the string necklace.
“Everyone’s staring at me,” Caleb says. “Don’t think I don’t know it. I’m the one who chose the wrong side, who worked with Jeanine Matthews; I’m the one none of you care about, so I should be the one to die.”
“Why do you think Tobias offered to get you out of the city before they executed you?” My voice comes out cold, quiet. The odor of bleach plays over my nose. “Because I don’t care whether you live or die? Because I don’t care about you at all?”
He should be the one to die, part of me thinks.
I don’t want to lose him, another part argues.
I don’t know which part to trust, which part to believe.
“You think I don’t know hatred when I see it?” Caleb shakes his head. “I see it every time you look at me. On the rare occasions when you do look at me.”
His eyes are glossy with tears. It’s the first time since my near execution that I’ve seen him remorseful instead of defensive or full of excuses. It might also be the first time since then that I’ve seen him as my brother instead of the coward who sold me out to Jeanine Matthews. Suddenly I have trouble swallowing.
“If I do this . . .” he says.
I shake my head no, but he holds up a hand.
“Stop,” he says. “Beatrice, if I do this . . . will you be able to forgive me?”
To me, when someone wrongs you, you both share the burden of that wrongdoing—the pain of it weighs on both of you. Forgiveness, then, means choosing to bear the full weight all by yourself. Caleb’s betrayal is something we both carry, and since he did it, all I’ve wanted is for him to take its weight away from me. I am not sure that I’m capable of shouldering it all myself—not sure that I am strong enough, or good enough.
But I see him steeling himself against this fate, and I know that I have to be strong enough, and good enough, if he is going to sacrifice himself for us all.
I nod. “Yes,” I choke out. “But that’s not a good reason to do this.”
“I have plenty of reasons,” Caleb says. “I’ll do it. Of course I will.”
I am not sure what just happened.
Matthew and Caleb stay behind to fit Caleb for the clean suit—the suit that will keep him alive in the Weapons Lab long enough to set off the memory serum virus. I wait until the others leave before leaving myself. I want to walk back to the dormitory with only my thoughts as company.
A few weeks ago, I would have volunteered to go on the suicide mission myself—and I did. I volunteered to go to Erudite headquarters, knowing that death waited for me there. But it wasn’t because I was selfless, or because I was brave. It was because I was guilty and a part of me wanted to lose everything; a grieving, ailing part of me wanted to die. Is that what’s motivating Caleb now? Should I really allow him to die so that he feels like his debt to me is repaid?
I walk the hallway with its rainbow of lights and go up the stairs. I can’t even think of an alternative—would I be any more willing to lose Christina, or Cara, or Matthew? No. The truth is that I would be less willing to lose them, because they have been good friends to me and Caleb has not, not for a long time. Even before he betrayed me, he left me for the Erudite and didn’t look back. I was the one who went to visit him during my initiation, and he spent the whole time wondering why I was there.
And I don’t want to die anymore. I am up to the challenge of bearing the guilt and the grief, up to facing the difficulties that life has put in my path. Some days are harder than others, but I am ready to live each one of them. I can’t sacrifice myself, this time.
In the most honest parts of me, I am able to admit that it was a relief to hear Caleb volunteer.
Suddenly I can’t think about it anymore. I reach the hotel entrance and walk to the dormitory, hoping that I can just collapse into my bed and sleep, but Tobias is waiting in the hallway for me.
“You okay?” he says.
“Yes,” I say. “But I shouldn’t be.” I touch a hand, briefly, to my forehead. “I feel like I’ve already been mourning him. Like he died the second I saw him in Erudite headquarters while I was there. You know?”
I confessed to Tobias, soon after that, that I had lost my entire family. And he assured me that he was my family now.
That is how it feels. Like everything between us is twisted together, friendship and love and family, so I can’t tell the difference between any of them.
“The Abnegation have teachings about this, you know,” he says. “About when to let others sacrifice themselves for you, even if it’s selfish. They say that if the sacrifice is the ultimate way for that person to show you that they love you, you should let them do it.” He leans one shoulder into the wall. “That, in that situation, it’s the greatest gift you can give them. Just as it was when both of your parents died for you.”
“I’m not sure it’s love that’s motivating him, though.” I close my eyes. “It seems more like guilt.”
“Maybe,” Tobias admits. “But why would he feel guilty for betraying you if he didn’t love you?”
I nod. I know that Caleb loves me, and always has, even when he was hurting me. I know that I love him, too. But this feels wrong anyway.