THE SMALL APARTMENT is bare, the floor still streaked with broom strokes at the corners. I don’t own anything to fill the space except my Abnegation clothes, which are stuffed into the bottom of the bag at my side. I throw it on the bare mattress and check the drawers beneath the bed for sheets.
The Dauntless lottery was kind to me, because I was ranked first, and because unlike my outgoing fellow initiates, I wanted to live alone. The others, like Zeke and Shauna, grew up surrounded by Dauntless community, and to them the silence and the stillness of living alone would be unbearable.
I make the bed quickly, pulling the top sheet taut, so it almost has corners. The sheets are worn in places, from moths or from prior use, I’m not sure. The blanket, a blue quilt, smells like cedar and dust. When I open the bag that contains my meager possessions, I hold the Abnegation shirt—torn, from where I had to tear away fabric to bind the wound in my hand—in front of me. It looks small—I doubt I could even fit into it if I tried to put it on now, but I don’t try, I just fold it and drop it in the drawer.
I hear a knock, and I say, “Come in!” thinking it’s Zeke or Shauna. But Max, a tall man with dark skin and bruised knuckles, walks into my apartment, his hands folded in front of him. He surveys the room once and curls his lip with disgust at the gray slacks folded on my bed. The reaction surprises me a little—there aren’t many in this city who would choose Abnegation as their faction, but there aren’t many who hate it, either. Apparently I’ve found one of them.
I stand, unsure what to say. There’s a faction leader in my apartment.
“Hello,” I say.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he says. “I’m surprised you didn’t choose to room with your fellow former initiates. You did make some friends, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” I say. “This just feels more normal.”
“I guess it’ll take you some time to let go of your old faction.” Max skims the counter in my small kitchen with a fingertip, looks at the dust he collected, then wipes his hand on his pants. He gives me a critical look—one that tells me to let go of my old faction faster. If I was still an initiate, I might worry about that look, but I’m a Dauntless member now, and he can’t take that away from me, no matter how “Stiff” I seem.
“This afternoon you’ll pick your job,” Max says. “Did you have anything in mind?”
“I guess it depends on what’s available,” I say. “I’d like to do something with teaching. Like what Amar did, maybe.”
“I think the first-ranked initiate can do a little better than ‘initiation instructor,’ don’t you?” Max’s eyebrows lift, and I notice that one doesn’t move as much as the other—it’s crossed with a scar. “I came because an opportunity has opened up.”
He pulls a chair out from under the small table near the kitchen counter, turns it, and sits on it backward. His black boots are caked with light-brown mud and the laces are knotted and fraying at the ends. He might be the oldest Dauntless I’ve ever seen, but he may as well be made of steel.
“To be honest, one of my fellow leaders of Dauntless is getting a little old for the job,” Max says. I sit on the edge of the bed. “The remaining four of us think it would be a good idea to get some new blood in leadership. New ideas for new Dauntless members and initiation, specifically. That task is usually given to the youngest leader anyway, so it’s a good fit. We were thinking of drawing from the more recent initiate classes for a training program to see if anyone is a good candidate. You’re a natural choice.”
I feel like my skin is too tight for me, suddenly. Is he really suggesting that at the age of sixteen I could qualify as a Dauntless leader?
“The training program will last at least a year,” Max says. “It will be rigorous and it will test your skills in a lot of areas. We both know you’ll do just fine in the fear landscape portion.”
I nod without thinking. He must not mind my self-assuredness, because he smiles a little.
“You won’t need to go to the job selection meeting later today,” Max says. “Training will start very soon—tomorrow morning, in fact.”
“Wait,” I say, a thought breaking through the muddle in my mind. “I don’t have a choice?”
“Of course you have a choice.” He looks puzzled. “I just assumed someone like you would rather train to be a leader than spend all day standing around a fence with a gun on his shoulder, or lecturing initiates about good fighting technique. But if I was wrong . . .”
I don’t know why I’m hesitating. I don’t want to spend my days guarding the fence, or patrolling the city, or even pacing the training room floor. I may have an aptitude for fighting, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it all day, every day. The chance to make a difference in Dauntless appeals to the Abnegation parts of me, the parts that are lingering around, occasionally demanding attention.
I think I just don’t like when I’m not given a choice.
I shake my head. “No, you weren’t wrong.” I clear my throat and try to sound stronger, more determined. “I want to do it. Thank you.”
“Excellent.” Max gets up and cracks one of his knuckles idly, like it’s an old habit. He holds out his hand for me to shake, and I take it, though the gesture is still unfamiliar to me—the Abnegation would never touch each other so casually. “Come to the conference room near my office tomorrow morning at eight. It’s in the Pire. Tenth floor.”
He leaves, scattering bits of dried earth from the bottom of his shoes as he walks out. I sweep them up with the broom that leans against the wall near the door. It’s not until I’m scooting the chair back under the table that I realize—if I become a Dauntless leader, a representative of my faction, I’ll have to come face-to-face with my father again. And not just once but constantly, until he finally retires into Abnegation obscurity.
My fingers start to go numb. I’ve faced my fears so many times in simulations, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to face them in reality.
“Dude, you missed it!” Zeke is wide-eyed, concerned. “The only jobs left by the end were the gross jobs, like scrubbing toilets! Where were you?”
“It’s fine,” I say as I carry my tray back to our table near the doors. Shauna is there with her little sister, Lynn, and Lynn’s friend Marlene. When I first saw them there, I wanted to turn around and leave immediately—Marlene is too cheerful for me even on a good day—but Zeke had already seen me, so it was too late. Behind us, Uriah jogs to catch up, his plate loaded with more food than he can possibly pack into his stomach. “I didn’t miss anything—Max came to see me earlier.”