‘Prevention’, Jeanine declared to the conference room of blue suits, ‘is better than cure.’
A few of the seated men nodded in agreement.
‘Divergents threaten the system’, she continued. ‘Why?’
There was a pregnant pause.
‘Because’, she answered herself, ‘They believe they can defy the rules; rebel. They are dismissive of categorisation, even for their own good, and could eventuate an uprising of devastating proportions. Dr. Lopez, tell us more.’
A short man with an enormous, black mustache rose to his feet. ‘We have begun development of a technology that will allow us to expose Divergents from a very young age. The technology is obviously still in experimental stages but we believe it has already uncovered at least one potential divergent.’
Dr Lopez, do tell us, which faction does this potential threat belong?’ Jeanine asked, not for her own knowledge but for the sake of those observing.
‘Ah’, Jeanine said, obviously hearing exactly what she wanted, ‘And which method have you chosen to employ in such a case?’
‘Preventative’, one of the men echoed, ‘But what does that mean? How can we nullify such as threat? Do you suggest we start killing off children now?’
‘We don’t have to nullify them’, Jeanine smiled, one eyebrow cocked higher than the other. Her optimism was infectious. Slow grins spread across the room, passing from one well-dressed, middle-aged man to the next.
‘I know a faction that will do all the work for us.’
Amity. Two single drops of blood fell in the bowl of soil and the world spun out of control. I was being ushered over to the wave of red and yellow where I was embraced by, what seemed like, dozens of people whose faces blurred together in a rush of noise and colour. My brain was unable to comprehend what had just happened. One moment I had been moving towards the bowl of sizzling the coals and the next I felt hot, sticky breath on the back of my neck and my mind turned into a swirling torrent of thick fog. Something was very wrong. Tori hadn’t even mentioned Amity as an option and yet here I was, standing absent-mindedly next to Robert. I think he spoke to me as the mass of red and yellow exited the hall but I could not muster the will to respond. The gravity of what just happened hit me with the muster of a train. I had given up my only opportunity to be brave, to be Dauntless, to prove myself. My thirst for action was still so real it literally dried my throat. I looked around at the people who were now my faction, my family. My family. Not only had I given up any chance of tasting a life of adventure and excitement but I had not even the comfort of my mum and dad to lessen the blow. My hands shook, as uncontrollably as they were when they had reached for the bowl of damned soil. I resisted the urge to slam my head into a thick metal pole as I walked past it. Had the pressure of the decision shut-down the part of my brain that controlled sanity? Or was I just stupid? Tori had said Erudite, but now I wasn’t even sure that was on the table anymore. We reached several trucks and the initiates tumbled into the back of them, one by one, leaders holding their hands to steady them. One of the Amity leaders reached for my hand to help me into the third truck but I jerked away from him. I jumped and swung my legs onto the platform, heaving myself to a standing position. The leader shrugged and reached out to assist Robert. I took a seat next to a girl who wore all black and had a reddish streak in her cinnamon brown hair. Maybe hearing stories of Dauntless will be as close as I’ll ever get, I thought dully.
‘Hi,’ the girl gushed, her voice was about three octaves higher than I expected. ‘I’m Ava. Isn’t this so exciting? I think this is so exciting.’
I tried to smile but her shrill voice bounced around in my head and somehow made me more depressed than I had originally been.
‘I was sure I’d be the only Dauntless here,’ The girl, Ava, continued, ‘It’s not like it’s common. I suppose initiates from Abnegation are more common. See there’s two of you right here, in a row. Hi, I’m Ava. And you are? Robert? Lovely to meet you, Robert. I bet we’re going to have so much fun.’
Ava’s voice disappeared into a high-pitched hum and I leant my head back on the side of the truck and closed my eyes.
The initiates all lined up in single file, waiting to be served their lunch. It was a simple bread roll, butter and an endless supply of salad. I carefully balanced the mountain of greens as I found a seat at an almost vacant table. The boy who sat across from me had hair so long I could not for the life of me see what colour his eyes were nor tell you anything regarding the shape of his neck or shoulders. However, at my approach he shook his head so the dirty, dark blonde strands allowed him to observe me carefully. Robert soon joined with Ava who miraculously still had something to talk about.
‘I’d stick to the salad if I were you’, the boy across the table murmured under his breath.
‘Pardon?’ I think this was the first time I spoke since the Choosing Ceremony. My voice cracked in the last syllable but I didn’t care.
‘I don’t know’, the boy mumbled, ‘Fake a gluten intolerance or something.’
I glanced to my right and saw that Robert and Ava had paid no notice to the boy and were digging in, consumed by incessant conversation.
‘Is there something wrong with eating bread?’ I asked, almost sarcastically. But still my curiosity had peaked, not something I was expecting a lot of in this faction.
‘Eat like them and you become one of them’, he told me mysteriously.
‘Kind of like: ‘you are what you eat’.’ I said, remembering an old saying my dad had once used.
The boy gave me a withering look.
‘Are you a loaf of bread, Stiff?’ the boy snapped.
My eyes widened. The guy was not only an Amity initiate but Amity-born. I had never heard an Amity-born speak like that.
‘From the look of that mop on your head’, I retaliated, ‘You already are one of them.’
‘Are you a fan of old sayings, Stiff?’ he asked. ‘Heard the one that goes: ‘Never judge a book by its cover’?’
Another favourite of my fathers.
I considered the boy and made the hesitant decision that I liked him. I pushed aside my plate and leaned forward so I was at eye level with his bad posture.
‘Then why’d you pick it?’ I inquired. ‘You could have gotten out of here if you don’t want to be one of them. Today was your only chance.’
My last sentence left a foul taste in my mouth as if I had condemned myself as well as the Amity-born. The boy didn’t seem to mind though. In fact his eyes, that I could now tell were a stormy grey, lit up with what could only be excitement. Curiosity. Hunger. All that I had felt when I decided I would chose Dauntless. As that had all worked out so well the first time...
‘Ever been outside the fence?’
‘You gonna tell me your name, Stiff?’ the boy whispered as they shuffled around the base of the building.
‘Its...’, I thought for a split second, ‘It’s Tris. Call me Tris.’
“Very well.’ He quipped.
We darted behind a row of trucks, overwhelmed by the smell of tomatoes.
‘Farming trucks,’ the boy mouthed, standing to get a better look of the driver who was standing in the courtyard with the drivers of the other two trucks.
‘You still haven’t told me your name’, I realised, standing also.
‘Duck!’ he hissed.
‘Duck?’ I repeated, momentarily stunned.
He pushing me against the floor as the driver spun around to face his truck.
The boy leapt nimbly into the back of the open truck. I was grateful when he didn’t hold out his hand to help me up but let me crawl in as ungracefully as I wanted. It was harder now with the red skirt I wore which reached to my ankles and constricted my movement. The boy watched thoughtfully.
‘I could probably sneak you a pair of pants if you really wanted’, the boy stated, scratching his head, ‘Unless you’re worried it’ll somehow limit your creative ability.’
I was panting by the time my whole body was entirely in the truck and mentally reminded myself to take him up on his offer soon.
‘Still haven’t told me your name’, I pressed.
‘Well if we’re both going by nicknames I guess Duck’s as good as any.’
‘You want me to call you Duck?’
‘It’s got a nice ring to it actually’, he grinned as the truck started moving.
‘Not sure my parents would be too proud knowing that I’m running around, without permission, with some kid named Duck’, I joked.
‘Do you want to see outside the fence or not?’ Duck said with a twinge of annoyance. Perhaps he didn’t like being called a kid. It wasn’t my fault he looked younger than he probably was. Then I remembered I also was often mistaken for younger and felt a little bit guilty.
‘You wouldn’t get to see outside the fence ‘till Career Selection Week right at the end of Initiation’, Duck explained, ‘And I don’t see the point wasting time picking fruit and singing songs together around a campfire, making daisy-chains.’
There was a pause, the only sound the grinding of the wheels on gravel.
‘Don’t you think?’ Duck probed.
‘Well I’m here aren’t I?’ I challenged.
Duck seemed satisfied and took an uncommonly large bite out of the nearest tomato.
‘Ah’, he grinned, ‘Home grown.’
‘It honestly doesn’t look that different’, I said with mild disappointment.
I didn’t know what I had been expecting but the fields of crops looked identical to that of inside the fence.
‘That’s because it’s just outside’, Duck said, ‘I bet if we kept walking we’d find something awesome.’
‘Or something incredibly dangerous’, I reminded him.
‘Yeah or that’, he responded offhandedly.
As if on cue a black truck pulled up on the road about fifty metres two the pair’s right. Dauntless soldiers hung from the outside and several more piled out from inside the truck. The Dauntless driver had short, brown hair and deep-set eyes that were unreadable as he pulled the vehicle to a stop. In the passenger seat was Jeanine Matthew. My blood turned to ice and my mouth tightened.
‘Are you okay?’ Duck asked, putting his hands out as if expecting me to faint.
‘No’, I told him absently, ‘No, I’m fine.’
Duck pulled me behind a truck that reeked of apples and I strained my ears to catch any of their conversation.
‘Four’, Jeanine instructed, ‘You stand guard while I have a word with our Amity friends.’
I could almost see her sour smile and her voice oozed sickly sweet that made me want to puke all over Duck and the apple truck.
I caught a glimpse of Jeanine speaking to a woman with dark hair and a long scar that ran from her eye to her chin.
‘Who’s that?’ I mouthed to Duck.
Duck mouthed something I didn’t catch so I diverted my attention back to their conversation.
I could only hear a few words here and there that meant nothing to me until I heard something that made me feel like Jeanine had literally reached into my gut and started twisting. I heard my name. Why would they be talking about me? Had they found out I was Divergent? I shrank back even further into my hiding space, Tori’s warning echoing in my mind. I was so consumed by the questions that raced around my mind I did not see the man coming around the corner until he had lifted me up by the front of my loose, yellow shirt and slammed me against the apple truck. It was the Dauntless man Jeanine had called Four. I spluttered pathetically, trying to regain my breath as I stared desperately into the man’s dark blue eyes.
I looked around but Duck was nowhere to be seen.
‘Please’, I pleaded with the Dauntless man. Perhaps I could convince him we were just oblivious teenagers. ‘I am so sorry. You see, my boyfriend and I just wanted some time along. He was just here! Oh God, I’m so sorry if we interrupted your government business we are just from Amity, we were farming.’
I cringed internally as the sad excuses that kept tumbling out of my mouth. However, it seemed to have worked. Four’s fierce look had been replaced with one of irritation and patronizing condescension.
‘Get your boyfriend and get out of here before you get it any more trouble’, he sighed, letting go of my shirt and turning away.
‘Y’know’, I said casually in the back of the truck, ‘I think the name ‘Houdini’ would suit you better, you little sneak.’
‘Alas’, Duck replied, spreading out his arms in surrender, ‘I have a gift for avoiding trouble.’
‘I guess you’d be handy to keep around then’, I mused, taking a swift bite out an apple.
‘I guess you’d be right,’ he grinned.
I could see the wheels turning in the blonde boy’s mind as he watched me.
‘Tris’, he said finally, ‘Short for Beatrice?’
‘You gonna tell me what Duck’s short for?’ I made a weak attempt at a joke.
‘You must be very important to some very important people Beatrice Prior’, he continued, ignoring me.
It occurred to me suddenly that Duck might have heard, not only my name, but what else they were talking about. After all he wasn’t busy being slammed against a truck by a Dauntless soldier.
As if reading my mind Duck said, ‘No, I didn’t hear much else.’
I felt crushing disappointment overwhelm me. What have I got to do with Jeanine Matthews? Had they figured out my secret? What could I even do if they had?
‘But’, I watched Duck’s eyes light up with a mischievous energy I had never seen in one person at one time. ‘We know who does.’
I kicked him, impatiently, my eyes begging him to go on.