I'm not a liar, but I've never been a big fan of the truth. In Candor, truth meant exposure. The official statements of purpose had plenty to say about the importance of honesty, and the necessity of hunting down the worst lies and skewering them in the public sight, but we couldn't see the biggest lie of all. In the end they weren't any better informed -- we weren't -- than anyone else. Not even the ones who sided with Erudite. We were being lied to on a level that most people could never have grasped. None of the factions ever put much of a premium on curiosity, not even Erudite despite their pretenses, and maybe that was why the whole structure held so long -- everyone was too busy minding their own particular limited sector to look up, to look out and wonder what might really be out there in the wasteland. If I mind my own business, nothing can bother me, right? Why bother with what might or might not be out there? The walls stood as a constant reminder, a tacit threat -- stay in your place, do what you're told. Everything runs smoothly when the Factions know their place.
When it did fall apart, it didn't need much help. I'm not ashamed of my part in it and what that meant; I don't know how anyone could be. I will not be ashamed of what I'm going to do.
It did chafe to know that in Tris' eyes, she was the leader of this little expedition -- as if she could lead her way out of a wet paper bag. She might be Divergent, but that hobbled her, instead of helping her -- she had to try to be brave and kind, and frank, and quick on the draw or whatever, all while her gut impulse remained still to roll over and play dead like the Stiff she is. If this scrawny little bitch is our best hope, consider me seriously unimpressed. The world outside the walls might be made for people like her, but it's people like me who come out on top, every time. Jeanine might have made it too, if she were more like me -- but she wasn't ruthless, just selfish, and she'd forgotten what it really meant to take a life. I really do think she thought she was doing something good -- but there's no good choice, or even a better one. There's just what works and what doesn't.
Maybe Tris does have something vital inside her, something we'll need on the outside to pay back our absent benefactors -- and something she'll need to be alive for, more importantly. I'd rather hang on to her now as my ticket out, than stay behind and wait patiently for the new factionless to wipe out anyone who won't sweep up trash and scavenge scraps for the greater good. Or wait around for whatever's left of Erudite to quit squirming around like a snake with its head cut off and start shooting people.
Edward's dead. It's just a shame it wasn't me, but all things considered I'd like to be as far from his friends as possible. Maybe it's one of those hilarious instances of Dauntless cowardice -- that I'd rather take my chances plunging into the void than stay put waiting for the nasty stuff I do know is headed my way. Onward and outward it is. When it comes down to it, I'm a survivor type. Somehow I think I won't have much trouble.
There's smoke on the air already, all the way out here. Cara's not far off, barking orders I don't care nearly as much about as I should, trying to hash out the plan with our Amity hosts before we get going. No amount of yelling at any volume could wake Christina, who's curled up in a sleepy heap in the back of Four's truck. She could sleep through a bomb going off, and I'm struck with the whim to go take advantage of that by doing something puerile, though to my credit I restrain myself. Uriah sits shoulder to shoulder beside her, and glares at me sleepily when I peek in under the canvas.
We won't be waiting around for long, and we're traveling light, split into two groups. Harder to take out that way. When I think of the people Tris will actually want to travel with, it's a pretty short list, and I'm not on it -- she doesn't have a knack for making friends. Four, of course, she's got that meathead wrapped around her little finger. I wonder if they've fucked yet. She'd probably cry. Christina, too; I wonder if they've fucked yet. They used to cling to each other, before Tris traded up to someone bigger, I guess. And then there's her brother, the enthusiastic defector I know so very well from playing Jeanine's lackey; I'll be keeping an eye on him as the lesser of two evils. I'm still wary of stirring Four's displeasure if he thinks I'm trying to size him up. Caleb doesn't look much like his little sister, which is a small mercy. I don't think I could stand looking at two of them.
Caleb is leaning against the truck's side, doing nothing in particular. I've been funneling away siphoned fuel into containers for what feels like hours, by electric lantern-light, and the fumes are starting to get to me. The trucks we've commandeered have been rigged with solar panels, scavenged from one of Erudite's company cars -- the liquid fuel is a backup in case there's a system failure, but I'd forgotten how much it stinks, and how much the smell puts me on edge. There's the smell of fresh paint, too -- the hoods are inconspicuously painted over with the empty device the Allegiant use. Inter-factional cooperation in action.
Caleb's jumpy, too, but he doesn't know how to hide it. He barely even knows how to carry a gun. I wonder if that's because of the Abnegation in hm or the Erudite -- he keeps joggling his arm like a nervous tic and running his index finger through the trigger guard, instead of keeping it good and clear. No skin off my nose if he shoots himself in the foot thanks to poor trigger discipline, but if we're going to be sharing a confined space he'd better learn fast. Somebody should have taught him. Who, though? Jeanine? Eric didn't care much if we squeezed off a few extra shots on our way by, but he's dead now and not the greatest authority on gun safety.
All I can think is how easy it would be for him to shoot me here -- if the fidgeting is a warning, if he's going to pull that trigger and whether he'll be shooting to kill or just wound -- the image takes over me, overpowering and complete, of sweet-faced Caleb Prior squeezing that trigger with total carelessness and blasting out my kneecap. It's real to me, or real enough, the sound first and then the pain. It would hurt. I know exactly how much.
Maybe I'm losing my touch, but I don't want to get shot again.
I reach over, as casually as possible when my heart's practically in my throat, and in a flash I fold my hand over his -- nothing friendly, as I wrench his fingers up and away to where they should be resting, somewhere they won't contract on the trigger at the slightest surprise. I don't even do it hard, or hurt him, though it would be so easy to give him at least a sprain -- but he cries out in surprise and Tris is back in a flash, her arms full of bagged supplies pillaged from the greenhouses. I'm shocked she doesn't drop them and launch herself at me directly.
She pulls her brother back by the sleeve. Back and away from me. (Despite his relative size, the way he startled does remind me of his sister the way she had been, back during initiation, and that's an uneasy feeling. Not knowing how to categorize that, I'll leave it be.)
"Caleb, what did he do?"
I answer before he can; his stupid face is still pink, his eyes still round with dull surprise. Must have woken him from a daydream about spreadsheets, or the exact color of Jeanine's panties. "I was just showing your darling brother how to hold a gun without manslaughtering anyone. I'm surprised nobody ever taught him how." Some traitor.
Tris tosses her bags into the vehicle and wheels on me. She doesn't square for a fight -- all the better to catch her off guard, I think, before the part of me that doesn't like getting my head bashed in against a car door takes charge again -- but her feet are solidly on the ground, her sharp chin raised.
"Leave him alone or we're leaving you behind. Go bother Cara instead." Her little eyes are so cold -- the last time I saw her face like that, she'd been the one who shot me. To Caleb she says, "Give me that. When you're holding a gun, keep your finger up here. Not on the trigger unless you're ready to put a hole in whatever you're pointing at. And treat every gun like it's loaded."
She sounds just like Four. How great-minded of her to teach her traitor brother a lesson or two. It's no skin off my nose if he puts a few slugs in the back of Tris' head, just as long as he waits until we're actually on the road. Even better if it wasn't an accident. Caleb's sullen eyes are protesting that he does know this, it just slipped his mind, but he knows better than to protest out loud. He's spent his entire life with this shrew; her version of the basics is a lot more boring. Mine would at least have been memorable.
And now it's Four who's giving me the eye from where he hangs off the back of the truck, all sinewy muscle and tattooed skin -- Tris' loyal lapdog. He's bigger than I am, and heavier too -- not as fast, maybe, and he's injured. His body has more weak points than ever. But I still remember how it felt having his gun leveled on me and wouldn't care to repeat it. He will kill me if I give him an excuse, any excuse.
Caleb's thoroughly shaken out of his reverie now. "I know how to use a gun, you piece of shit. I'm not a kid."
"I thought you guys weren't supposed to swear. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
Tris hisses my name. It's as good as a warning.
"It's just an expression, Stiff. Quit jostling me; I'd hate to spill anything." The toe of my boot nudges against a gas can, just firmly enough to elicit an eerie metallic sloshing. I watch a crease appear briefly between Tris Prior's eyebrows, just a little flicker like a punctuation mark. She's angry -- of course -- but also afraid. Growing up in Candor had been an education in reading people's faces. "Sorry, Caleb. Next time I'll ask first."
"Next time think before offering any of us your priceless input." Four dismounts from the side of the vehicle, where he'd been busy strapping on the last of the baggage -- mostly acquisitioned from Amity it looks like, though they won't miss it. Spare clothes and ammunition and water, other bits and pieces. No medicine -- that's Four's to dispense, so famous for his skill in mending things -- and nothing superfluous. Who knows what Cara's loaded up with? Her priorities are all over the place.
He pushes past me and heads straight to Tris' side. She leans into him, obviously into it; in the low light it's pretty sickening.
"Are we ready to go?"
"Ready as we'll ever be."
"I'll be driver for the first stretch. Tris will be in the passenger's seat." How sweet. They can hold hands. "Caleb, you're in the back with Christina. Try not to wake her up."
Caleb stares, wary. But I'm not hearing any complaints.
"Fair enough," I say, capping off the fuel tanks. "I'm riding with Cara. Try not to get lost; you'll probably starve out there." Four stows them away without a word, as if they don't weigh a thing. If I don't behave I'll end up back there bouncing around with them. Probably hogtied.
"And we'll be driving for how long?" Caleb asks.
"If we keep off the main roads, once we meet up with the other half of the team we should be able to make it by late afternoon. Maybe sooner."
I saunter off to my own truck, where Cara's still standing around looking peeved. She's easier on the eyes than the competition, and at least she appreciates me -- Tris can bitch and moan about my inclusion in the exploration party, but it feels good knowing that my particular gifts will have their place in this whole undertaking. Maybe there's more people like me on the outside. More pragmatists. I'd like that.
"What are you waiting for? Hop in, then." Our stalwart leader raps on the side of the armored vehicle with her knuckles. There's no kind of restraints inside, nothing to hold us in place if the driver wraps this thing around a utility pole. I'm taking my chances and I know it. This place is going to explode; people are heading to the wall, not just the Allegiant but anyone with half a brain. Unarmed they'll be easy pickings.
If Caleb's lucky, he'll sleep the whole way way, though I doubt that'll change the glazed look in his eyes during waking or the way his hands shake. I don't have the luxury -- if I'm not ready to do my thing on command for Cara, I'm dead weight here and we all know it, despite my boyish charm. I half-expect to end up dead in a ditch long before we make it 30 miles out of Amity territory, let alone reach any sign of life outside the wall. But I'll keep going until then. I just hope she doesn't want to make small talk on the way over.
We set out before the sun's up for a world that may not need us after all.