May 11, 2021 10:36 AM
Reds and Oranges in Divergent

Emma's mother gives her a hug and a kiss as she's leaving the house. "Go on, sweetheart. You don't want to be late."

Emma can feel her hands twisting nervously. For once, she doesn't try to stop herself. "But- what if I do it wrong?"

"Oh, Emma," her mother says fondly, and strokes her hair. "Have a little faith, sweetheart. Those tests were made in Erudite, after all. We didn't get anything wrong. You'll be placed in the right faction, and then we can have a celebratory dinner, all right?"

But that means I'd have to be placed in Erudite, Emma doesn't say. She knows her parents are expecting it. They haven't said so, of course; too presumptuous. But it's in the way they talk about the future, always expecting that Emma will be here in Erudite with them.

There are four other factions, Emma doesn't say. Her friend Henry had joked once that they'd wind up in Dauntless, and when her mother repeated it to her father he'd laughed for a solid five minutes. Emma doesn't blame him. Tattoos? Piercings? Jumping off trains? She'd have a nervous breakdown in under a day. She's not any more suited to Candor, or she'd say this all aloud. But there's Amity and Abnegation left, and Emma doesn't know how they pick. Her parents know, they must; her father works with the group that tries to improve the aptitude test. (And if the test is so accurate, why does it need improving?) But they're not allowed to say, and it would upset them if she asked, so she's never tried.

Instead, she just smiles and assures her mother that she'll be fine, and gets on the bus to school. Her brain is buzzing as she slips into a seat and tries to settle herself as the bus jolts down the bumpy road. Aptitude tests today. Choosing Ceremony tomorrow. Aptitude tests today. Choosing Ceremony tomorrow-

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Henry sits next to her on the bus.

"Hello," he says with a weak smile. He seems to have developed a slight tremor in his right hand.


Charlotte, as usual, doesn't give either of them a second glance as she breezes past them. She doesn't seem nervous in the slightest.


"Hey," Emma says. She's slowly pulling blue threads out from her uniform and then discarding them. ", uh. Please say you're as scared as I am?"


"Terrified," he says. "There's...I mean, I can't shake the feeling that I'm going to get it wrong. Which, stupid, right, you can't fail the aptitude test, but...I feel like if anyone were going to fail the aptitude test it would be me." He laughs shakily.


"The aptitude tests does not have a pass or fail, it simply reveals," Emma recites, then adds rather bitterly, "For all the help that is."


"I...part of me wishes they'd just choose for us," says Henry. "That they'd just tell us 'oh, here's your test result, there, that's your faction now.' Giving us a choice, it...makes it our fault if we abandon our families. But...part of me doesn't want that. I don't know."


"I guess," Emma says, "but... the tests are there for a reason. No one picks against the tests, right?"


"Yeah," he says. "I guess. But...I mean, if the test tells you to go somewhere else, you have to decide whether to go somewhere else or stay with your family. Although, yeah, you're probably right that it' don't pick against the test, and the tests aren't wrong. I'm just...what would you do if the tests sent you away from your family?"


"Hope I don't have to find out," Emma says with a shudder. "They would be so upset..."

Seeing Henry's face, she drops the subject of family. He's clearly worrying about the test, and she's not even going to ask how his mom would take it. His mom has always been nice to Emma, but it's the sort of nice her mother is to people. Emma can tell; she's had enough practice.

"It's okay," she soothes. "It'll be over soon, right? And then you'll be happy where you belong."


"Thank you," he says with a quirk of a smile. "And, for what it's worth, I'm sure you'll be okay, too. You're smart enough to belong in Erudite, if you want to be there."


She smiles faintly. "Thank you. You too." She glances back at Charlotte. "What about your sister? Is she okay?"


"Oh, she's fine," says Henry. "It's Charlotte, she knows exactly what she wants."


"You don't always get what you want or expect," Emma says, almost by default, but then grins. "But... it's Charlotte."


He laughs a bit. "One time someone said that to her and she said, 'perhaps some of the so-called Erudite lack the basic self-awareness necessary, but I assure you I am not one of them,'" he says, imitating her voice. "The guy didn't even get mad at her, because she was smiling like it was an inside joke or something, so he just thought she was precocious instead of rude. I have no idea how she does that."


Emma nods. "Yeah, she, uh. She's always fit in well. Erudite to the toes." She almost says something about how delighted his mother must be, but that seems like opening up a can of worms for him again. "Precocious is a good word for her."


"It's a diplomatic word," he says. "And therefore the kind of word it's smart to use around her. Hey! You're so Erudite!"


Emma grins, pleased to have cheered him up a bit. "I know, we've had lots of-"

The bus shudders to a stop and Emma has to grab the edge of her seat to not be thrown into the aisle. She waits for the bus to open the doors, then grabs her stuff and waits for Henry. "Time to face our destiny," she tells him, jokingly. (Mostly.)


"Yep," says Henry. He takes a deep breath.

Once he and Emma are off the bus, he hesitates for a second, then pulls her into a quick one-armed hug. "You're going to be terrific," he says. "Whatever you end up deciding."


They're neither of them normally cuddly, but today is special. Emma takes a second to lean into him and tries to relax. She hadn't even realized how fast her heart was beating, and she's breathing too fast, and- breeeeeathe.

Once she thinks she's calm enough, she smiles awkwardly at Henry. "Uh, thanks." She sighs and rests her head on her shoulder. It's not the most comfortable angle, but whatever. "I don't want anything to change," she says sadly.


"Yeah," he says, because he can't quite agree with her but doesn't want to contradict her either. "Yeah."

He squeezes her just a bit tighter, then lets go. One thing's for sure, he doesn't want this to change.


Emma smiles at him, somewhat wistfully. She doesn't have many friends, and she'd hate to lose Henry. She can hope, but she knows there's no guarantee. Neither of them is glaringly Erudite the way his sister is.

They don't have the same classes, so Emma has to go sit through Faction History and try not to fidget nervously. She knows the tests are reliable, and safe, and that the tests don't have to change her choices. They're told it over and over again: the tests merely reveal your aptitude, but your choice is your own. But her father always brags at dinner, doesn't he? Look how good the tests are, look at their success percentage, look at how many of the 'failures' ultimately made the wrong choice and end up factionless (he calls it his "validation number"). Nothing will go wrong. Everyone knows what they're doing.

(She tries to believe it.)

When she gets to lunch, she starts for Henry's table, but she stops halfway there when a volunteer wearing Abnegation's plain grey robes calls out "- and Emma Matthews!"

Damnit. She wanted more time...

She waves nervously at Henry across the room and follows the man into the testing room. She's never been inside one before; they're used for testing and only for testing. She catches a glimpse of herself in the mirrored walls, but looks away when she sees how small and terrified she looks. She regrets this almost immediately; the chair in the center of the room is ominous and covered in wires and what is going to happen to her.

The Abnegation volunteer puts a soothing hand on her shoulder. "Do you need a minute?" he offers.

Emma swallows and attempts a smile. "No, thank you. I don't need to keep you waiting." Or draw this out.

"Good girl," he says encouragingly, leading her to the chair. "Don't worry; it won't hurt a bit. Just breathe." He keeps talking to her in a low, calm voice as he reclines the chair back and hooks her up to the elecrodes. Emma loses track of what he's saying, but his tone alone is comforting. She snaps back into focus when she feels cold glass against her skin- he's pressing a vial into her hand. "Drink up."

She eyes the glass nervously, but gulps down the clear liquid. The last thing she sees is his heartening smile before she closes her eyes.

When Emma opens her eyes, she's standing in the cafeteria again. It's empty, eerily silent, and- is that snow outside? She looks around, uncertain what to do. "Hello?" she tries, hearing her voice echo. "Hello, is someone here?"

"Choose," whispers a voice.

"Choose?" Emma looks around, and sees the table in front of her. A prettily wrapped basket with hunks of cheese sits next to a knife. "Choose... from those?"

"Choose," repeats the voice.

Well, that must be a yes. Emma stares at them. Is she supposed to eat the cheese, how do you eat the cheese without the knife... or is this about her, somehow, and she just doesn't know how? Her hand hovers back and forth between the two, but finally she settles on the cheese. She's far too nervous to eat right now, but she didn't exactly get a chance to grab lunch, and there's enough for her to share with Henry and Charlotte.

As soon as she touches the basket, the knife disappears into thin air. She stares, perplexed, at the basket of cheese. "Now what do I do?" she asks it.

As if in answer, she hears the door behind her.

When she turns around, the door is filled with the largest dog she's ever seen. It's growling as it eyes her. Emma suppresses a panicked squeak and sizes up the dog. It's not looking directly at her, she realizes, it's looking at-

-the cheese?

She takes another look at the dog. It looks angry, but it also looks badly treated, dirty and thin and with a gash in one ear. She feels immediately guilty for her panic. The dog's just hungry and scared, isn't it? Carefully- because hungry still means dangerous- she squats to the ground and holds out a piece of cheese. "Want some food?" she says, voice low, trying to imitate the tone the Abnegation tester had just used to soothe her. "It's okay, you can have it. I get more lunch later."

The dog lets out something that's halfway between a growl and a whine. He takes a step closer to her, but it seems cautious; he isn't charging her.

Encouraged by the reaction, Emma puts down the cheese and takes out another piece. (Can dogs eat cheese? She hopes so. The poor thing looks like it hasn't had a good meal in a month at least.) "Here you go, boy. All the cheese for you." She puts the second piece down, then places the cheese basket next to it and starts to inch backwards, to make it clear she's leaving the cheese to the dog. She almost knocks over a chair, but the dog's focused on the cheese and ignores the rattle of chair legs. "Go on, boy, it's for you."

The dog is about to take a bite of the cheese when the door opens again and a small girl dances through the door. Smiling and in pigtails, she spots the scene on the floor and crows in delight. "Cheese! Puppy! Cheesenpuppy-" and before Emma can stop her, she darts towards the cheese basket.

Startled and territorial, the dog snarls and leaps for the girl-

Emma shrieks in horror and dives- she has to get there and stop it-

She lands on top of the girl, shielding her with her back just as the dog lands. The dog's lunge knocks her off balance and the two of them go rolling away, past chairs, under a table, Emma feels claws bite into her shoulder as her head slams into the floor-

-and her eyes open back in the mirrored room.

It takes her a few minutes to catch her breath, as she sits gasping in the chair. The tester detaches them both from the electrodes while she calms, then smiles at her. "Congratulations," he tells her. "You're all done. I've registered your results, and you have a strong aptitude for Abnegation."

...Emma's mind goes blank.

Abnegation, not Erudite, Abnegation not Erudite, Abnegation, notEruditenotEruditenot-

"Are you all right?" the man's voice breaks in, concerned. He offers her a cup of water. "Usually people are pleased when they learn their factions."

"The test doesn't have to change my choices," Emma recites, but with difficulty. "I'm- my whole family is Erudite!"

Seeing her distress, he squats and looks at her seriously. "Factions are community, your second family. People like you, who understand you. You're right, the test doesn't have to change your choices; but the test is also there to help you. To help you find where you belong. Your family will want you to be happy."

What a very Abnegation thing to say, Emma doesn't say, suppressing a hysterical sob. Oh, god, what will her parents say?! And Henry, and Charlotte, her friends-

He seems to sense what she's thinking. "Remember," he reminds her gently. "You can't tell anyone your results until after the Choosing Ceremony tomorrow."

At that, Emma actually does start crying. He makes a sympathetic sound and gives her a hug and a tissue. "It'll be all right," he soothes, but Emma doesn't believe him. She's not Erudite. How can it be all right?

Ten minutes later, she arrives back in the cafeteria, no longer sobbing and her face freshly washed. She's rather frozen and pale, but she manages to get in the line for lunch. She tries not to focus on her hands as she gathers her food and takes her tray to her table; seeing her blue sleeves is making her chest tighten all over again.

How can she not be Erudite?


Henry's name gets called while he's sitting at the table, worrying about Emma.  With shaky hands, he walks to the testing room.  Then, closing his eyes, he drinks the serum.


When Henry opens his eyes, he's back in the school cafeteria. Except that the room is silent, and empty, and through the windows on the far wall snow is gently falling. The chairs and tables hold nothing except the table immediately before him. A small basket done up with a white ribbon holds a few pieces of cheese, and next to them lies a single, gleamingly sharp knife.

"Choose," a voice whispers from behind him.


He freezes, unable to keep from overanalyzing every possible situation that would require either of those things, occassionally deciding on one only to be hit with an attack of but what if it's wrong, what then.  He wishes he could just grab both to be safe but the voice said to choose and he can't break the rules--

He grabs the knife impulsively, then tries his best not to curl up on the floor and hyperventilate.


The cheese vanishes, instantly and silently, off the table.

Behind him, the door creaks.

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