ONEI clutch my schoolbag tighter and try to appear calm. Focused, concentrating only on my book and the school-related smalltalk at the Erudite cafeteria table. I can already pick out who is going to stay in my faction. I can't help judging the others, it's what I've always done. But thinking about others gains you knowledge of them, and in Erudite, knowledge is power. Right?
When they announce your name, you have to walk into a testing room.
'From Abnegation: Tobias Eaton and Mordecai Harris.'
The two Abnegation teenagers walk into separate rooms. They make up the last of the group. Now, they will take the aptitude test and determine their faction. They could stay in their own faction, or go to Amity, Candor, Dauntless... or Erudite.
I wait ten minutes before I hear the fateful words.
'From Erudite: Delphine Hewett and Rosalind Peters.'
The two of us get out of our seats and walk down the hall. I smile at Delphine slightly. She doesn't smile back. I don't know what I was expecting from the most formal person I know. I walk into the second room from the right, number 9.
Room 9 has perfectly polished mirrored walls. Inside stands an Abnegation woman with pale brown hair and narrow mud-brown eyes. She's standing by a reclined chair, like a dentist's, and tapping the armrest with a long finger. Silently, I walk towards the chair and lie down in it awkwardly. On the other side is a machine, the likes of which I've never seen before.
'Hello,' she says. 'I will administer your aptitude test. My name is... well, that's not important. This test will be about you.'
'I'm sorry.' The words come out my mouth before I can stop them, and I face the floor. Stupid, stupid.
She frowns at me. 'What do you mean?'
'For... Erudite. We've been extremely unkind to Abnegation. Jeanine is wrong, you formed a fair government.' I bite my lip. I have to shut up before I cause any more damage.
'It's fine. I've never heard an Erudite apologise, though.' She presses an electrode into my forehead.
'First time for everything.' I pause. 'Does that mean... does that mean I don't belong in Erudite? Do I have to transfer?'
'No, I'm sure you'll stay right where you are. You're just nicer than Jeanine.' As she attaches more electrodes, I try to relax.
But Erudite doesn't NEED to be nice. We don't NEED kindness. We value knowledge and intelligence.
But no rule says we can't be nice.
'Drink this.' She passes me a vial of clear liquid. 'Trust me, you'll be fine.'
I lift it to my mouth and down it in one. My eyelids snap shut.
I'm in the cafeteria again, but it's empty. All the other students have gone, and it's snowing outside. The simulation has begun. I look down and there are two baskets on the table in front of me. One contains a hunk of cheese and the other a long knife.
I whirl around. 'Jeanine?' I'm not used to hearing Erudite's leader speak, except up on a podium in front of a crowd.
There's no one there. It's just a voice.
I think for a second, like any true Erudite should. What will I be forced to fight if I take the weapon? If I select the knife, then I have the capability to kill. So they'll make me.
'CHOOSE!' Panicking, I grab the cheese, trying not to squish it between my fingers. Before I can do anything with it, it is plucked from my hands.
'This really all you've got?'
A broad-shouldered boy laughs and throws it to his friend. The cafeteria is crowded again. Everyone is watching me. Waiting for my reaction.
I narrow my eyes. 'Why? My lunch doesn't concern you.' I'm not okay with being bullied, not even in a simulation.
'Who said it was your lunch?' The friend throws it back to him and he stuffs it in his mouth, chewing it slowly. A few pieces of cheese fall from his mouth, landing on the ground. He stomps on them as he takes another step towards me.
I take a deep breath in. He's challenging me.
'I happen to think it's perfectly reasonable that I should be allowed to eat in peace. Besides, I know I'm not alone in thinking it's not hygienic to share lunch with a wild pig.'
I barely duck in time to avoid the punch.
Now I'm back in the testing chamber. The mirror Rosalind stares at me through her piercing blue eyes. She looks scared, unstable, the fear on her face perfectly paralleled to what I feel. She looks as solid as a real human. It's a simulation, she could well come to life. Feeling a little intimidated, I back away into the cafeteria.
Or not. It's a bus, filled to the brim with people. I grasp a handrail and hold on firmly as it begins to move.
A man is seated to my left. I cannot see his face, because it is covered by the newspaper gripped tightly in his scarred, bony fingers. 'Do you know this man?'
I squint at the page. There is a headshot of a bearded man and the headline reads BRUTAL MURDERER FINALLY APPREHENDED. I shudder. I don't want to be involved in a murder trial, but I feel like I know the man. But there's this other feeling inside me, a nagging doubt, that tells me that knowing a murderer could get me in trouble. Is it possible to fail an aptitude test? Is that what would happen?
'Well? Do you know him or not?'
'I - I've never met him before.' I swallow. 'Why do you want to know?'
'None of your business.' He stands and flicks the newspaper to the ground. I can see his face. It's scarred and beaten-down, and his nose looks burnt. I can't see his eyes, however, because he is wearing sunglasses. A dark beanie is riding up the front of his head, and I can just see his fringe.
'You're lying.' He leans closer to me. He's no more real than my reflection.
'I really don't know him, honest.'
He grabs my shoulder. It feels real. 'If you know this man, you could save me. You could save me.'
I grasp at his wrist and pull his arm off me. 'Sorry, but I've never seen him before.' I face the floor defiantly and the world dissolves.