I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather. This is here the bed I shared with my sister, Prim, stood. Over there was the kitchen table. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the house. How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray?
Almost nothing remains of District 12. A month ago, the Capitol's firebombs obliterated the poor coal miners' houses in the Seam, the shops in the town, even the Justice Building. The only area that escaped incineration was the Victor's Village. I don't know why exactly. Perhaps so anyone forced to come here on Capitol business would have somewhere decent to stay. The odd reporter. A committee assessing the condition of the coal mines. A squad of Peacekeepers checking for returning refugees.
But no one is returning except me. And that's only for a brief visit. The authorities in District 13 were against my coming back. They viewed it as a costly and pointless venture, given that at least a dozen invisible hovercraft are circling overhead for my protection and there's no intelligence to be gained. I had to see it, though. So much so that I made it a condition of my cooperating with any of their plans.
Finally, Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker who had organized the rebels in the Capitol, threw up his hands. "Let her go. Better to waste a day than another month. Maybe a little tour of Twelve is just what she needs to convince her we're on the same side."
The same side. A pain stabs my left temple and I press my hand against it. Right on the spot where Johanna Mason hit me with the coil of wire. The memories swirl as I try to sort out what is true and what is false.
What series of events led me to be standing in the ruins of my city? This is hard because the effects of the concussion she gave me haven't completely subsided and my thoughts still have a tendency to jumble together.
Also, the drugs they use to control my pain and mood sometimes make me see things. I guess. I'm still not entirely convinced that I was hallucinating the night the floor of my hospital room transformed into a carpet of writhing snakes.
I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward the more complicated. The list begins to roll in my head....
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead....
"Katniss. Should I come down?" My best friend Gale's voice reaches me through the headset the rebels insisted I wear. He's up in a hovercraft, watching me carefully, ready to swoop in if anything goes amiss. I realize I'm crouched down now, elbows on my thighs, my head braced between my hands. I must look on the verge of some kind of breakdown. This won't do. Not when they're finally weaning me off the medication.
I straighten up and wave his offer away. "No. I'm fine." To reinforce this, I begin to move away from my old house and in toward the town. Gale asked to be dropped off in 12 with me, but he didn't force the issue when I refused his company. He understands I don't want anyone with me today. Not even him. Some walks you have to take alone.
The summer's been scorching hot and dry as a bone. There's been next to no rain to disturb the piles of ash left by the attack. They shift here and there, in reaction to my footsteps. No breeze to scatter them. I keep my eyes on what I remember as the road, because when I first landed in the Meadow, I wasn't careful and I walked right into a rock. Only it wasn't a rock--it was someone's skull. It rolled over and over and landed faceup, and for a
long time I couldn't stop looking at the teeth, wondering whose they were, thinking of how mine would probably look the same way under similar circumstances.
I stick to the road out of habit, but it's a bad choice, because it's full of the remains of those who tried to flee. Some were incinerated entirely. But others, probably overcome with smoke, escaped the worst of the flames and now lie reeking in various states of decomposition, carrion for scavengers, blanketed by flies. I killed you, I think as I pass a pile. And you. And you.
Because I did. It was my arrow, aimed at the chink in the force field surrounding the arena, that brought on this firestorm of retribution. That sent the whole country of Panem into chaos.
In my head I hear President Snow's words, spoken the morning I was to begin the Victory Tour. "Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem." It turns out he wasn't exaggerating or simply trying to scare me. He was, perhaps, genuinely attempting to enlist my help. But I had already set something in motion that I had no ability to control.
Burning. Still burning, I think numbly. The fires at the coal mines belch black smoke in the distance. There's no one left to care, though. More than ninety percent of the district's population is dead. The remaining eight hundred or so are refugees in District 13--which, as far as I'm concerned, is the same thing as being homeless forever.
I know I shouldn't think that; I know I should be grateful for the way we have been welcomed. Sick, wounded, starving, and empty-handed. Still, I can never get around the fact that District 13 was instrumental in 12's destruction. This doesn't absolve me of blame--there's plenty of blame to go around. But without them, I would not have been part of a larger plot to overthrow the Capitol or had the wherewithal to do it.
The citizens of District 12 had no organized resistance movement of their own. No say in any of this. They only had the misfortune to have me. Some survivors think it's good luck, though, to be free of District 12 at last.
To have escaped the endless hunger and oppression, the perilous mines, the lash of our final Head Peacekeeper, Romulus Thread. To have a new home at all is seen as a wonder since, up until a short time ago, we hadn't even known that District 13 still existed.
The credit for the survivors' escape has landed squarely on Gale's shoulders, although he's loath to accept it. As soon as the Quarter Quell was over--as soon as I had been lifted from the arena--the electricity in District
12 was cut, the televisions went black, and the Seam became so silent, people could hear one another's heartbeats. No one did anything to protest or celebrate what had happened in the arena. Yet within fifteen minutes, the sky was filled with hoverplanes and the bombs were raining down.
It was Gale who thought of the Meadow, one of the few places not filled with old wooden homes embedded with coal dust. He herded those he could in its direction, including my mother and Prim. He formed the team that pulled down the fence--now just a harmless chain-link barrier, with the electricity off--and led the people into the woods. He took them to the only place he could think of, the lake my father had shown me as a child. And it was
from there they watched the distant flames eat up everything they knew in the world.
By dawn the bombers were long gone, the fires dying, the final stragglers rounded up. My mother and Prim had set up a medical area for the injured and were attempting to treat them with whatever they could glean from the woods. Gale had two sets of bows and arrows, one hunting knife, one fishing net, and over eight hundred terrified people to feed. With the help of those who were able-bodied, they managed for three days. And that's when the hovercraft unexpectedly arrived to evacuate them to District 13, where there were more than enough
clean, white living compartments, plenty of clothing, and three meals a day. The compartments had the disadvantage of being underground, the clothing was identical, and the food was relatively tasteless, but for the refugees of 12, these were minor considerations. They were safe. They were being cared for. They were alive and eagerly welcomed.
This enthusiasm was interpreted as kindness. But a man named Dalton, a District 10 refugee who'd made it to 13 on foot a few years ago, leaked the real motive to me.
"They need you. Me. They need us all. Awhile back, there was some sort of pox epidemic that killed a bunch of them and left a lot more infertile. New breeding stock. That's how they see us." Back in 10, he'd worked on one of the beef ranches, maintaining the genetic diversity of the herd with the implantation of long-frozen cow embryos. He's very likely right about 13, because there don't seem to be nearly enough kids around. But so what? We're not being kept in pens, we're being trained for work, the children are being educated. Those over fourteen have been given entry-level ranks in the military and are addressed respectfully as "Soldier." Every single refugee was granted automatic citizenship by the authorities of 13.
Still, I hate them. But, of course, I hate almost everybody now. Myself more than anyone.
The surface beneath my feet hardens, and under the carpet of ash, I feel the paving stones of the square.
Around the perimeter is a shallow border of refuse where the shops stood. A heap of blackened rubble has replaced the Justice Building. I walk to the approximate site of the bakery Peeta's family owned. Nothing much left but the melted lump of the oven. Peeta's parents, his two older brothers--none of them made it to 13. Fewer than a dozen of what passed for District 12's well-to-do escaped the fire. Peeta would have nothing to come home to, anyway. Except me...
I back away from the bakery and bump into something, lose my balance, and find myself sitting on a hunk of sun-heated metal. I puzzle over what it might have been, then remember Thread's recent renovations of the square. Stocks, whipping posts, and this, the remains of the gallows. Bad. This is bad. It brings on the flood of images that torments me, awake or asleep. Peeta being tortured--drowned, burned, lacerated, shocked, maimed, beaten--as the Capitol tries to get information about the rebellion that he doesn't know. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to reach for him across the hundreds and hundreds of miles, to send my thoughts into his mind, to let him know he is not alone. But he is. And I can't help him.
Running. Away from the square and to the one place the fire did not destroy. I pass the wreckage of the mayor's house, where my friend Madge lived. No word of her or her family. Were they evacuated to the Capitol because of her father's position, or left to the flames? Ashes billow up around me, and I pull the hem of my shirt up over my mouth. It's not wondering what I breathe in, but who, that threatens to choke me.
The grass has been scorched and the gray snow fell here as well, but the twelve fine houses of the Victor's Village are unscathed. I bolt into the house I lived in for the past year, slam the door closed, and lean back against it. The place seems untouched. Clean. Eerily quiet. Why did I come back to 12? How can this visit help me answer the question I can't escape?
"What am I going to do?" I whisper to the walls. Because I really don't know.
People keep talking at me, talking, talking, talking. Plutarch Heavensbee. His calculating assistant, Fulvia Cardew. A mishmash of district leaders. Military officials. But not Alma Coin, the president of 13, who just watches. She's fifty or so, with gray hair that falls in an unbroken sheet to her shoulders. I'm somewhat fascinated by her hair, since it's so uniform, so without a flaw, a wisp, even a split end. Her eyes are gray, but not like those of people from the Seam.
They're very pale, as if almost all the color has been sucked out of them. The color of
slush that you wish would melt away.
What they want is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. It isn't enough, what I've done in the past, defying the Capitol in the Games, providing a rallying point.
I must now become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution. The person who the districts--most of which are now openly at war with the Capitol--can count on to blaze the path to victory. I won't have to do it alone. They have a whole team of people to make me over, dress me, write my speeches, orchestrate my appearances--as if that doesn't sound horribly familiar--and all I have to do is play my part.
Sometimes I listen to them and sometimes I just watch the perfect line of Coin's hair and try to decide if it's a wig.
Eventually, I leave the room because my head starts to ache or it's time to eat or if I don't get aboveground I might start screaming. I don't bother to say anything. I simply get up and walk out.
Yesterday afternoon, as the door was closing behind me, I heard Coin say, "I told you we should have rescued the boy first." Meaning Peeta. I couldn't agree more. He would've been an excellent mouthpiece.
And who did they fish out of the arena instead? Me, who won't cooperate. Beetee, an older inventor from 3, who I rarely see because he was pulled into weapons development the minute he could sit upright. Literally, they wheeled his hospital bed into some top secret area and now he only occasionally shows up for meals. He's very smart and very willing to help the cause, but not really firebrand material. Then there's Finnick Odair, the sex symbol from the fishing district, who kept Peeta alive in the arena when I couldn't. They want to transform Finnick into a rebel leader as well, but first they'll have to get him to stay awake for more than five minutes.
Even when he is conscious, you have to say everything to him three times to get through to his brain. The doctors say it's from the electrical shock he received in the arena, but I know it's a lot more complicated than that. I know that Finnick can't focus on anything in 13 because he's trying so hard to see what's happening in the Capitol to Annie, the mad girl from his district who's the only person on earth he loves.
Despite serious reservations, I had to forgive Finnick for his role in the conspiracy that landed me here. He, at least, has some idea of what I'm going through. And it takes too much energy to stay angry with someone who cries so much.
I move through the downstairs on hunter's feet, reluctant to make any sound. I pick up a few remembrances: a photo of my parents on their wedding day, a blue hair ribbon for Prim, the family book of medicinal and edible plants. The book falls open to a page with yellow flowers and I shut it quickly because it was Peeta's brush that painted them.
What am I going to do?
Is there any point in doing anything at all? My mother, my sister, and Gale's family are finally safe. As for the rest of 12, people are either dead, which is irreversible, or protected in 13. That leaves the rebels in the districts.
Of course, I hate the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it down. How can I help the districts when every time I make a move, it results in suffering and loss of life? The old man shot in District 11 for whistling. The crackdown in 12 after I intervened in Gale's whipping. My stylist, Cinna, being dragged, bloody and unconscious, from the Launch Room before the Games. Plutarch's
sources believe he was killed during interrogation. Brilliant, enigmatic, lovely Cinna is dead because of me. I push the thought away because it's too impossibly painful to dwell on without losing my fragile hold on the situation entirely.
What am I going to do?
To become the Mockingjay...could any good I do possibly outweigh the damage? Who can I trust to answer that question? Certainly not that crew in 13. I swear, now that my family and Gale's are out of harm's way, I could run away. Except for one unfinished piece of business. Peeta. If I knew for sure that he was dead, I could just disappear into the woods and never look back. But until I do, I'm stuck.
I spin on my heel at the sound of a hiss. In the kitchen doorway, back arched, ears flattened, stands the ugliest tomcat in the world. "Buttercup," I say. Thousands of people are dead, but he has survived and even looks well fed. On what? He can get in and out of the house through a window we always left ajar in the pantry. He must have been eating field mice. I refuse to consider the alternative.
I squat down and extend a hand. "Come here, boy." Not likely. He's angry at his abandonment. Besides, I'm not offering food, and my ability to provide scraps has always been my main redeeming quality to him. For a while, when we used to meet up at the old house because we both disliked this new one, we seemed to be
bonding a little. That's clearly over. He blinks those unpleasant yellow eyes.
"Want to see Prim?" I ask. Her name catches his attention. Besides his own, it's the only word that means anything to him. He gives a rusty meow and approaches me. I pick him up, stroking his fur, then go to the closet and dig out my game bag and unceremoniously stuff him in.
There's no other way I'll be able to carry him on the hovercraft, and he means the world to my sister. Her goat, Lady, an animal of actual value, has unfortunately not made an appearance.
In my headset, I hear Gale's voice telling me we must go back. But the game bag has reminded me of one more thing that I want. I sling the strap of the bag over the back of a chair and dash up the steps to my bedroom.
Inside the closet hangs my father's hunting jacket. Before the Quell, I brought it here from the old house, thinking its presence might be of comfort to my mother and sister when I was dead.
Thank goodness, or it'd be ash now.
The soft leather feels soothing and for a moment I'm calmed by the memories of the hours spent wrapped in it. Then, inexplicably, my palms begin to sweat. A strange sensation creeps up the back of my neck. I whip around to face the room and find it empty. Tidy. Everything in its place. There was no sound to alarm me. What, then?
My nose twitches. It's the smell. Cloying and artificial. A dab of white peeks out of a vase of dried flowers on my dresser. I approach it with cautious steps. There, all but obscured by its preserved cousins, is a fresh white rose. Perfect. Down to the last thorn and silken petal.
And I know immediately who's sent it to me.
When I begin to gag at the stench, I back away and clear out. How long has it been here? A day? An hour?
The rebels did a security sweep of the Victor's Village before I was cleared to come here, checking for explosives, bugs, anything unusual. But perhaps the rose didn't seem noteworthy to them. Only to me.
Downstairs, I snag the game bag off the chair, bouncing it along the floor until I remember it's occupied. On the lawn, I frantically signal to the hovercraft while Buttercup thrashes. I jab him with my elbow, but this only infuriates him. A hovercraft materializes and a ladder drops down. I step on and the current freezes me until I'm lifted on board.
Gale helps me from the ladder. "You all right?"
"Yeah," I say, wiping the sweat off my face with my sleeve.
He left me a rose! I want to scream, but it's not information I'm sure I should share with someone like Plutarch looking on. First of all, because it will make me sound crazy. Like I either imagined it, which is quite possible, or I'm overreacting, which will buy me a trip back to the drug-induced dreamland I'm trying so hard to escape. No one will fully understand--how it's not just a flower, not even just President Snow's flower, but a promise of revenge--because no one else sat in the study with him when he threatened me before the Victory Tour.
Positioned on my dresser, that white-as-snow rose is a personal message to me. It speaks of unfinished business. It whispers, I can find you. I can reach you. Perhaps I am watching you now.
Are there Capitol hoverplanes speeding in to blow us out of the sky? As we travel over District 12, I watch anxiously for signs of an attack, but nothing pursues us. After several minutes, when I hear an exchange between Plutarch and the pilot confirming that the airspace is clear, I begin to relax a little.
Gale nods at the howls coming from my game bag. "Now I know why you had to go back."
"If there was even a chance of his recovery." I dump the bag onto a seat, where the loathsome creature begins a low, deep-throated growl. "Oh, shut up," I tell the bag as I sink into the cushioned window seat across from it. Gale sits next to me. "Pretty bad down there?"
"Couldn't be much worse," I answer. I look in his eyes and see my own grief reflected there. Our hands find each other, holding fast to a part of 12 that Snow has somehow failed to destroy. We sit in silence for the rest of the trip to 13, which only takes about forty-five minutes. A mere week's journey on foot. Bonnie and Twill, the District 8 refugees who I encountered in the woods last winter, weren't so far from their destination after all. They apparently didn't make it, though. When I asked about them in 13, no one seemed to know who I was talking
about. Died in the woods, I guess.
From the air, 13 looks about as cheerful as 12. The rubble isn't smoking, the way the Capitol shows it on television, but there's next to no life aboveground. In the seventy-five years since the Dark Days--when 13 was said to have been obliterated in the war between the Capitol and the districts--almost all new construction has been beneath the earth's surface. There was already a substantial underground facility here, developed over centuries to be either a clandestine refuge for government leaders in time of war or a last resort for humanity if life above became unlivable. Most important for the people of 13, it was the center of the Capitol's nuclear weapons development program. During the Dark Days, the rebels in 13 wrested control from the government forces, trained their nuclear missiles on the Capitol, and then struck a bargain: They would play dead in exchange for being left alone. The Capitol had another nuclear arsenal out west, but it couldn't attack 13 without certain retaliation. It was forced to accept 13's deal. The Capitol demolished the visible remains of the district and cut off all access from the outside. Perhaps the Capitol's leaders thought that, without help, 13 would die off on its own. It almost did a few times, but it always managed to pull through due to strict sharing of resources, strenuous discipline, and constant vigilance against any further attacks from the Capitol.
Now the citizens live almost exclusively underground. You can go outside for exercise and sunlight but only at very specific times in your schedule. You can't miss your schedule. Every morning, you're supposed to stick your right arm in this contraption in the wall. It tattoos the smooth inside of your forearm with your schedule for the day in a sickly purple ink. 7:00--Breakfast. 7:30--Kitchen Duties. 8:30--Education Center, Room 17. And so on.
The ink is indelible until 22:00--Bathing. That's when whatever keeps it water resistant breaks down and the whole schedule rinses away. The lights-out at 22:30 signals that everyone not on the night shift should be in bed.
At first, when I was so ill in the hospital, I could forgo being imprinted. But once I moved into Compartment 307 with my mother and sister, I was expected to get with the program. Except for showing up for meals, though, I pretty much ignore the words on my arm. I just go back to our compartment or wander around 13 or fall asleep somewhere hidden. An abandoned air duct. Behind the water pipes in the laundry. There's a closet in the Education Center that's great because no one ever seems to need school supplies. They're so frugal with things here, waste is practically a criminal activity. Fortunately, the people of 12 have never been wasteful. But once I saw Fulvia Cardew crumple up a sheet of paper with just a couple of words written on it and you would've thought she'd murdered someone from the looks she got. Her face turned tomato red, making the silver flowers inlaid in her plump cheeks even more noticeable.
The very portrait of excess. One of my few pleasures in 13 is watching the handful of pampered Capitol "rebels" squirming as they try to fit in.
I don't know how long I'll be able to get away with my complete disregard for the clockwork precision of attendance required by my hosts. Right now, they leave me alone because I'm classified as mentally disoriented-
-it says so right on my plastic medical bracelet--and everyone has to tolerate my ramblings.
But that can't last forever. Neither can their patience with the Mockingjay issue.
From the landing pad, Gale and I walk down a series of stairways to Compartment 307. We could take the elevator, only it reminds me too much of the one that lifted me into the arena. I'm having a hard time adjusting to being underground so much. But after the surreal encounter with the rose, for the first time the descent makes me feel safer.
I hesitate at the door marked 307, anticipating the questions from my family. "What am I going to tell them about Twelve?" I ask Gale.
"I doubt they'll ask for details. They saw it burn. They'll mostly be worried about how you're handling it." Gale touches my cheek. "Like I am."
I press my face against his hand for a moment. "I'll survive."
Then I take a deep breath and open the door. My mother and sister are home for 18:00--Reflection, a half hour of downtime before dinner. I see the concern on their faces as they try to gauge my emotional state. Before anyone can ask anything, I empty my game bag and it becomes 18:00--Cat Adoration. Prim just sits on the floor weeping and rocking that awful Buttercup, who interrupts his purring only for an occasional hiss at me. He gives me a particularly smug look when she ties the blue ribbon around his neck.
My mother hugs the wedding photo tightly against her chest and then places it, along with the book of plants, on our government-issued chest of drawers. I hang my father's jacket on the back of a chair. For a moment, the place almost seems like home. So I guess the trip to 12 wasn't a complete waste.
We're heading down to the dining hall for 18:30--Dinner when Gale's communicuff begins to beep. It looks like an oversized watch, but it receives print messages. Being granted a communicuff is a special privilege that's reserved for those important to the cause, a status Gale achieved by his rescue of the citizens of 12. "They need the two of us in Command," he says.
Trailing a few steps behind Gale, I try to collect myself before I'm thrown into what's sure to be another relentless Mockingjay session. I linger in the doorway of Command, the high-tech meeting/war council room complete with computerized talking walls, electronic maps showing the troop movements in various districts, and a giant rectangular table with control panels I'm not supposed to touch. No one notices me, though, because they're all gathered at a television screen at the far end of the room that airs the Capitol broadcast around the clock. I'm thinking I might be able to slip away when Plutarch, whose ample frame has been blocking the
television, catches sight of me and waves urgently for me to join them. I reluctantly move forward, trying to
imagine how it could be of interest to me. It's always the same. War footage. Propaganda. Replaying the
bombings of District 12. An ominous message from President Snow. So it's almost entertaining to see Caesar
Flickerman, the eternal host of the Hunger Games, with his painted face and sparkly suit, preparing to give an
interview. Until the camera pulls back and I see that his guest is Peeta.
A sound escapes me. The same combination of gasp and groan that comes from being submerged in
water, deprived of oxygen to the point of pain. I push people aside until I am right in front of him, my hand resting
on the screen. I search his eyes for any sign of hurt, any reflection of the agony of torture. There is nothing. Peeta
looks healthy to the point of robustness. His skin is glowing, flawless, in that full-body-polish way. His manner's
composed, serious. I can't reconcile this image with the battered, bleeding boy who haunts my dreams.
Caesar settles himself more comfortably in the chair across from Peeta and gives him a long look.
Peeta smiles slightly. "I bet you thought you'd done your last interview with me, Caesar."
"I confess, I did," says Caesar. "The night before the Quarter Quell...well, who ever thought we'd see you
"It wasn't part of my plan, that's for sure," says Peeta with a frown.
Caesar leans in to him a little. "I think it was clear to all of us what your plan was. To sacrifice yourself in the
arena so that Katniss Everdeen and your child could survive."
"That was it. Clear and simple." Peeta's fingers trace the upholstered pattern on the arm of the chair. "But
other people had plans as well."
Yes, other people had plans, I think. Has Peeta guessed, then, how the rebels used us as pawns? How
my rescue was arranged from the beginning? And finally, how our mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, betrayed us both
for a cause he pretended to have no interest in?
In the silence that follows, I notice the lines that have formed between Peeta's eyebrows. He has guessed
or he has been told. But the Capitol has not killed or even punished him. For right now, that exceeds my wildest
hopes. I drink in his wholeness, the soundness of his body and mind. It runs through me like the morphling they
give me in the hospital, dulling the pain of the last weeks.
"Why don't you tell us about that last night in the arena?" suggests Caesar. "Help us sort a few things out."
Peeta nods but takes his time speaking. "That last night...to tell you about that last night...well, first of all,
you have to imagine how it felt in the arena. It was like being an insect trapped under a bowl filled with steaming
air. And all around you, jungle...green and alive and ticking. That giant clock ticking away your life. Every hour
promising some new horror. You have to imagine that in the past two days, sixteen people have died--some of
them defending you. At the rate things are going, the last eight will be dead by morning. Save one. The victor.
And your plan is that it won't be you."
My body breaks out in a sweat at the memory. My hand slides down the screen and hangs limply at my
side. Peeta doesn't need a brush to paint images from the Games. He works just as well in words.
"Once you're in the arena, the rest of the world becomes very distant," he continues. "All the people and
things you loved or cared about almost cease to exist. The pink sky and the monsters in the jungle and the
tributes who want your blood become your final reality, the only one that ever mattered. As bad as it makes you
feel, you're going to have to do some killing, because in the arena, you only get one wish. And it's very costly."
"It costs your life," says Caesar.
"Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life. To murder innocent people?" says Peeta. "It costs everything you
"Everything you are," repeats Caesar quietly.
A hush has fallen over the room, and I can feel it spreading across Panem. A nation leaning in toward its
screens. Because no one has ever talked about what it's really like in the arena before.
Peeta goes on. "So you hold on to your wish. And that last night, yes, my wish was to save Katniss. But
even without knowing about the rebels, it didn't feel right. Everything was too complicated. I found myself
regretting I hadn't run off with her earlier in the day, as she had suggested. But there was no getting out of it at
"You were too caught up in Beetee's plan to electrify the salt lake," says Caesar.
"Too busy playing allies with the others. I should have never let them separate us!" Peeta bursts out. "That's
when I lost her."
"When you stayed at the lightning tree, and she and Johanna Mason took the coil of wire down to the
water," Caesar clarifies.
"I didn't want to!" Peeta flushes in agitation. "But I couldn't argue with Beetee without indicating we were
about to break away from the alliance. When that wire was cut, everything just went insane. I can only remember
bits and pieces. Trying to find her. Watching Brutus kill Chaff. Killing Brutus myself. I know she was calling my
name. Then the lightning bolt hit the tree, and the force field around the arena...blew out."
"Katniss blew it out, Peeta," says Caesar. "You've seen the footage."
"She didn't know what she was doing. None of us could follow Beetee's plan. You can see her trying to
figure out what to do with that wire," Peeta snaps back.
"All right. It just looks suspicious," says Caesar. "As if she was part of the rebels' plan all along."
Peeta's on his feet, leaning in to Caesar's face, hands locked on the arms of his interviewer's chair.
"Really? And was it part of her plan for Johanna to nearly kill her? For that electric shock to paralyze her? To
trigger the bombing?" He's yelling now. "She didn't know, Caesar! Neither of us knew anything except that we
were trying to keep each other alive!"
Caesar places his hand on Peeta's chest in a gesture that's both self-protective and conciliatory. "Okay,
Peeta, I believe you."
"Okay." Peeta withdraws from Caesar, pulling back his hands, running them through his hair, mussing his
carefully styled blond curls. He slumps back in his chair, distraught.
Caesar waits a moment, studying Peeta. "What about your mentor, Haymitch Abernathy?"
Peeta's face hardens. "I don't know what Haymitch knew."
"Could he have been part of the conspiracy?" asks Caesar.
"He never mentioned it," says Peeta.
Caesar presses on. "What does your heart tell you?"
"That I shouldn't have trusted him," says Peeta. "That's all."
I haven't seen Haymitch since I attacked him on the hovercraft, leaving long claw marks down his face. I
know it's been bad for him here. District 13 strictly forbids any production or consumption of intoxicating
beverages, and even the rubbing alcohol in the hospital is kept under lock and key. Finally, Haymitch is being
forced into sobriety, with no secret stashes or home-brewed concoctions to ease his transition. They've got him
in seclusion until he's dried out, as he's not deemed fit for public display. It must be excruciating, but I lost all my
sympathy for Haymitch when I realized how he had deceived us. I hope he's watching the Capitol broadcast now,
so he can see that Peeta has cast him off as well.
Caesar pats Peeta's shoulder. "We can stop now if you want."
"Was there more to discuss?" says Peeta wryly.
"I was going to ask your thoughts on the war, but if you're too upset..." begins Caesar.
"Oh, I'm not too upset to answer that." Peeta takes a deep breath and then looks straight into the camera. "I
want everyone watching--whether you're on the Capitol or the rebel side--to stop for just a moment and think
about what this war could mean. For human beings. We almost went extinct fighting one another before. Now our
numbers are even fewer. Our conditions more tenuous. Is this really what we want to do? Kill ourselves off
completely? In the hopes that--what? Some decent species will inherit the smoking remains of the earth?"
"I don't really...I'm not sure I'm following..." says Caesar.
"We can't fight one another, Caesar," Peeta explains. "There won't be enough of us left to keep going. If
everybody doesn't lay down their weapons--and I mean, as in very soon--it's all over, anyway."
"So...you're calling for a cease-fire?" Caesar asks.
"Yes. I'm calling for a cease-fire," says Peeta tiredly. "Now why don't we ask the guards to take me back to
my quarters so I can build another hundred card houses?"
Caesar turns to the camera. "All right. I think that wraps it up. So back to our regularly scheduled
Music plays them out, and then there's a woman reading a list of expected shortages in the Capitol--fresh
fruit, solar batteries, soap. I watch her with uncharacteristic absorption, because I know everyone will be waiting
for my reaction to the interview. But there's no way I can process it all so quickly--the joy of seeing Peeta alive
and unharmed, his defense of my innocence in collaborating with the rebels, and his undeniable complicity with
the Capitol now that he's called for a cease-fire. Oh, he made it sound as if he were condemning both sides in
the war. But at this point, with only minor victories for the rebels, a cease-fire could only result in a return to our
previous status. Or worse.
Behind me, I can hear the accusations against Peeta building. The words traitor, liar, and enemy bounce
off the walls. Since I can neither join in the rebels' outrage nor counter it, I decide the best thing to do is clear out.
As I reach the door, Coin's voice rises above the others. "You have not been dismissed, Soldier Everdeen."
One of Coin's men lays a hand on my arm. It's not an aggressive move, really, but after the arena, I react
defensively to any unfamiliar touch. I jerk my arm free and take off running down the halls. Behind me, there's the
sound of a scuffle, but I don't stop. My mind does a quick inventory of my odd little hiding places, and I wind up in
the supply closet, curled up against a crate of chalk.
"You're alive," I whisper, pressing my palms against my cheeks, feeling the smile that's so wide it must look
like a grimace. Peeta's alive. And a traitor. But at the moment, I don't care. Not what he says, or who he says it
for, only that he is still capable of speech.
After a while, the door opens and someone slips in. Gale slides down beside me, his nose trickling blood.
"What happened?" I ask.
"I got in Boggs's way," he answers with a shrug. I use my sleeve to wipe his nose. "Watch it!"
I try to be gentler. Patting, not wiping. "Which one is he?"
"Oh, you know. Coin's right-hand lackey. The one who tried to stop you." He pushes my hand away. "Quit!
You'll bleed me to death."
The trickle has turned to a steady stream. I give up on the first-aid attempts. "You fought with Boggs?"
"No, just blocked the doorway when he tried to follow you. His elbow caught me in the nose," says Gale.
"They'll probably punish you," I say.
"Already have." He holds up his wrist. I stare at it uncomprehendingly. "Coin took back my communicuff."
I bite my lip, trying to remain serious. But it seems so ridiculous. "I'm sorry, Soldier Gale Hawthorne."
"Don't be, Soldier Katniss Everdeen." He grins. "I felt like a jerk walking around with it anyway." We both
start laughing. "I think it was quite a demotion."
This is one of the few good things about 13. Getting Gale back. With the pressure of the Capitol's arranged
marriage between Peeta and me gone, we've managed to regain our friendship. He doesn't push it any further--
try to kiss me or talk about love. Either I've been too sick, or he's willing to give me space, or he knows it's just
too cruel with Peeta in the hands of the Capitol. Whatever the case, I've got someone to tell my secrets to again.
"Who are these people?" I say.
"They're us. If we'd had nukes instead of a few lumps of coal," he answers.
"I like to think Twelve wouldn't have abandoned the rest of the rebels back in the Dark Days," I say.
"We might have. If it was that, surrender, or start a nuclear war," says Gale. "In a way, it's remarkable they
survived at all."
Maybe it's because I still have the ashes of my own district on my shoes, but for the first time, I give the
people of 13 something I have withheld from them: credit. For staying alive against all odds. Their early years
must have been terrible, huddled in the chambers beneath the ground after their city was bombed to dust.
Population decimated, no possible ally to turn to for aid. Over the past seventy-five years, they've learned to be
self-sufficient, turned their citizens into an army, and built a new society with no help from anyone. They would be
even more powerful if that pox epidemic hadn't flattened their birthrate and made them so desperate for a new
gene pool and breeders. Maybe they are militaristic, overly programmed, and somewhat lacking in a sense of
humor. They're here. And willing to take on the Capitol.
"Still, it took them long enough to show up," I say.
"It wasn't simple. They had to build up a rebel base in the Capitol, get some sort of underground organized
in the districts," he says. "Then they needed someone to set the whole thing in motion. They needed you."
"They needed Peeta, too, but they seem to have forgotten that," I say.
Gale's expression darkens. "Peeta might have done a lot of damage tonight. Most of the rebels will
dismiss what he said immediately, of course. But there are districts where the resistance is shakier. The ceasefire's
clearly President Snow's idea. But it seems so reasonable coming out of Peeta's mouth."
I'm afraid of Gale's answer, but I ask anyway. "Why do you think he said it?"
"He might have been tortured. Or persuaded. My guess is he made some kind of deal to protect you. He'd
put forth the idea of the cease-fire if Snow let him present you as a confused pregnant girl who had no idea what
was going on when she was taken prisoner by the rebels. This way, if the districts lose, there's still a chance of
leniency for you. If you play it right." I must still look perplexed because Gale delivers the next line very slowly.
"Katniss...he's still trying to keep you alive."
To keep me alive? And then I understand. The Games are still on. We have left the arena, but since Peeta
and I weren't killed, his last wish to preserve my life still stands. His idea is to have me lie low, remain safe and
imprisoned, while the war plays out. Then neither side will really have cause to kill me. And Peeta? If the rebels
win, it will be disastrous for him. If the Capitol wins, who knows? Maybe we'll both be allowed to live--if I play it
right--to watch the Games go on....
Images flash through my mind: the spear piercing Rue's body in the arena, Gale hanging senseless from
the whipping post, the corpse-littered wasteland of my home. And for what? For what? As my blood turns hot, I
remember other things. My first glimpse of an uprising in District 8. The victors locked hand in hand the night
before the Quarter Quell. And how it was no accident, my shooting that arrow into the force field in the arena.
How badly I wanted it to lodge deep in the heart of my enemy.
I spring up, upsetting a box of a hundred pencils, sending them scattering around the floor.
"What is it?" Gale asks.
"There can't be a cease-fire." I lean down, fumbling as I shove the sticks of dark gray graphite back into the
box. "We can't go back."
"I know." Gale sweeps up a handful of pencils and taps them on the floor into perfect alignment.
"Whatever reason Peeta had for saying those things, he's wrong." The stupid sticks won't go in the box and
I snap several in my frustration.
"I know. Give it here. You're breaking them to bits." He pulls the box from my hands and refills it with swift,
"He doesn't know what they did to Twelve. If he could've seen what was on the ground--" I start.
"Katniss, I'm not arguing. If I could hit a button and kill every living soul working for the Capitol, I would do it.
Without hesitation." He slides the last pencil into the box and flips the lid closed. "The question is, what are you
going to do?"
It turns out the question that's been eating away at me has only ever had one possible answer. But it took
Peeta's ploy for me to recognize it.
What am I going to do?
I take a deep breath. My arms rise slightly--as if recalling the black-and-white wings Cinna gave me--then
come to rest at my sides.
"I'm going to be the Mockingjay."
Buttercup's eyes reflect the faint glow of the safety light over the door as he lies in the crook of Prim's arm,
back on the job, protecting her from the night. She's snuggled close to my mother. Asleep, they look just as they
did the morning of the reaping that landed me in my first Games. I have a bed to myself because I'm
recuperating and because no one can sleep with me anyway, what with the nightmares and the thrashing around.
After tossing and turning for hours, I finally accept that it will be a wakeful night. Under Buttercup's watchful
eye, I tiptoe across the cold tiled floor to the dresser.
The middle drawer contains my government-issued clothes. Everyone wears the same gray pants and
shirt, the shirt tucked in at the waist. Underneath the clothes, I keep the few items I had on me when I was lifted
from the arena. My mockingjay pin. Peeta's token, the gold locket with photos of my mother and Prim and Gale
inside. A silver parachute that holds a spile for tapping trees, and the pearl Peeta gave me a few hours before I
blew out the force field. District 13 confiscated my tube of skin ointment for use in the hospital, and my bow and
arrows because only guards have clearance to carry weapons. They're in safekeeping in the armory.
I feel around for the parachute and slide my fingers inside until they close around the pearl. I sit back on my
bed cross-legged and find myself rubbing the smooth iridescent surface of the pearl back and forth against my
lips. For some reason, it's soothing. A cool kiss from the giver himself.
"Katniss?" Prim whispers. She's awake, peering at me through the darkness. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep." It's automatic. Shutting Prim and my mother out of things to
Careful not to rouse my mother, Prim eases herself from the bed, scoops up Buttercup, and sits beside
me. She touches the hand that has curled around the pearl. "You're cold." Taking a spare blanket from the foot of
the bed, she wraps it around all three of us, enveloping me in her warmth and Buttercup's furry heat as well. "You
could tell me, you know. I'm good at keeping secrets. Even from Mother."
She's really gone, then. The little girl with the back of her shirt sticking out like a duck tail, the one who
needed help reaching the dishes, and who begged to see the frosted cakes in the bakery window. Time and
tragedy have forced her to grow too quickly, at least for my taste, into a young woman who stitches bleeding
wounds and knows our mother can hear only so much.
"Tomorrow morning, I'm going to agree to be the Mockingjay," I tell her.
"Because you want to or because you feel forced into it?" she asks.
I laugh a little. "Both, I guess. No, I want to. I have to, if it will help the rebels defeat Snow." I squeeze the
pearl more tightly in my fist. "It's just...Peeta. I'm afraid if we do win, the rebels will execute him as a traitor."
Prim thinks this over. "Katniss, I don't think you understand how important you are to the cause. Important
people usually get what they want. If you want to keep Peeta safe from the rebels, you can."
I guess I'm important. They went to a lot of trouble to rescue me. They took me to 12. "You mean...I could
demand that they give Peeta immunity? And they'd have to agree to it?"
"I think you could demand almost anything and they'd have to agree to it." Prim wrinkles her brow. "Only
how do you know they'll keep their word?"
I remember all of the lies Haymitch told Peeta and me to get us to do what he wanted. What's to keep the
rebels from reneging on the deal? A verbal promise behind closed doors, even a statement written on paper--
these could easily evaporate after the war. Their existence or validity denied. Any witnesses in Command will be
worthless. In fact, they'd probably be the ones writing out Peeta's death warrant. I'll need a much larger pool of
witnesses. I'll need everyone I can get.
"It will have to be public," I say. Buttercup gives a flick of his tail that I take as agreement. "I'll make Coin
announce it in front of the entire population of Thirteen."
Prim smiles. "Oh, that's good. It's not a guarantee, but it will be much harder for them to back out of their
I feel the kind of relief that follows an actual solution. "I should wake you up more often, little duck."
"I wish you would," says Prim. She gives me a kiss. "Try and sleep now, all right?" And I do.
In the morning, I see that 7:00--Breakfast is directly followed by 7:30--Command, which is fine since I may
as well start the ball rolling. At the dining hall, I flash my schedule, which includes some kind of ID number, in front
of a sensor. As I slide my tray along the metal shelf before the vats of food, I see breakfast is its usual
dependable self--a bowl of hot grain, a cup of milk, and a small scoop of fruit or vegetables. Today, mashed
turnips. All of it comes from 13's underground farms. I sit at the table assigned to the Everdeens and the
Hawthornes and some other refugees, and shovel my food down, wishing for seconds, but there are never
seconds here. They have nutrition down to a science. You leave with enough calories to take you to the next
meal, no more, no less. Serving size is based on your age, height, body type, health, and amount of physical
labor required by your schedule. The people from 12 are already getting slightly larger portions than the natives
of 13 in an effort to bring us up to weight. I guess bony soldiers tire too quickly. It's working, though. In just a
month, we're starting to look healthier, particularly the kids.
Gale sets his tray beside me and I try not to stare at his turnips too pathetically, because I really want more,
and he's already too quick to slip me his food. Even though I turn my attention to neatly folding my napkin, a
spoonful of turnips slops into my bowl.
"You've got to stop that," I say. But since I'm already scooping up the stuff, it's not too convincing. "Really. It's
probably illegal or something." They have very strict rules about food. For instance, if you don't finish something
and want to save it for later, you can't take it from the dining hall. Apparently, in the early days, there was some
incident of food hoarding. For a couple of people like Gale and me, who've been in charge of our families' food
supply for years, it doesn't sit well. We know how to be hungry, but not how to be told how to handle what
provisions we have. In some ways, District 13 is even more controlling than the Capitol.
"What can they do? They've already got my communicuff," says Gale.
As I scrape my bowl clean, I have an inspiration. "Hey, maybe I should make that a condition of being the
"That I can feed you turnips?" he says.
"No, that we can hunt." That gets his attention. "We'd have to give everything to the kitchen. But still, we
could..." I don't have to finish because he knows. We could be aboveground. Out in the woods. We could be
"Do it," he says. "Now's the time. You could ask for the moon and they'd have to find some way to get it."
He doesn't know that I'm already asking for the moon by demanding they spare Peeta's life. Before I can
decide whether or not to tell him, a bell signals the end of our eating shift. The thought of facing Coin alone
makes me nervous. "What are you scheduled for?"
Gale checks his arm. "Nuclear History class. Where, by the way, your absence has been noted."
"I have to go to Command. Come with me?" I ask.
"All right. But they might throw me out after yesterday." As we go to drop off our trays, he says, "You know,
you better put Buttercup on your list of demands, too. I don't think the concept of useless pets is well known
"Oh, they'll find him a job. Tattoo it on his paw every morning," I say. But I make a mental note to include him
for Prim's sake.
By the time we get to Command, Coin, Plutarch, and all their people have already assembled. The sight of
Gale raises some eyebrows, but no one throws him out. My mental notes have become too jumbled, so I ask for
a piece of paper and a pencil right off. My apparent interest in the proceedings--the first I've shown since I've
been here--takes them by surprise. Several looks are exchanged. Probably they had some extra-special lecture
planned for me. But instead, Coin personally hands me the supplies, and everyone waits in silence while I sit at
the table and scrawl out my list. Buttercup. Hunting. Peeta's immunity. Announced in public.
This is it. Probably my only chance to bargain. Think. What else do you want? I feel him, standing at my
shoulder. Gale, I add to the list. I don't think I can do this without him.
The headache's coming on and my thoughts begin to tangle. I shut my eyes and start to recite silently.
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger
Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is alive. He is a traitor but alive. I
have to keep him alive....
The list. It still seems too small. I should try to think bigger, beyond our current situation where I am of the
utmost importance, to the future where I may be worth nothing. Shouldn't I be asking for more? For my family?
For the remainder of my people? My skin itches with the ashes of the dead. I feel the sickening impact of the
skull against my shoe. The scent of blood and roses stings my nose.
The pencil moves across the page on its own. I open my eyes and see the wobbly letters. I KILL SNOW. If
he's captured, I want the privilege.
Plutarch gives a discreet cough. "About done there?" I glance up and notice the clock. I've been sitting here
for twenty minutes. Finnick isn't the only one with attention problems.
"Yeah," I say. My voice sounds hoarse, so I clear my throat. "Yeah, so this is the deal. I'll be your
I wait so they can make their sounds of relief, congratulate, slap one another on the back. Coin stays as
impassive as ever, watching me, unimpressed.
"But I have some conditions." I smooth out the list and begin. "My family gets to keep our cat." My tiniest
request sets off an argument. The Capitol rebels see this as a nonissue--of course, I can keep my pet--while
those from 13 spell out what extreme difficulties this presents. Finally it's worked out that we'll be moved to the
top level, which has the luxury of an eight-inch window aboveground. Buttercup may come and go to do his
business. He will be expected to feed himself. If he misses curfew, he will be locked out. If he causes any security
problems, he'll be shot immediately.
That sounds okay. Not so different from how he's been living since we left. Except for the shooting part. If he
looks too thin, I can slip him a few entrails, provided my next request is allowed.
"I want to hunt. With Gale. Out in the woods," I say. This gives everyone pause.
"We won't go far. We'll use our own bows. You can have the meat for the kitchen," adds Gale.
I hurry on before they can say no. "It's just...I can't breathe shut up here like a...I would get better, faster, if...I
Plutarch begins to explain the drawbacks here--the dangers, the extra security, the risk of injury--but Coin
cuts him off. "No. Let them. Give them two hours a day, deducted from their training time. A quarter-mile radius.
With communication units and tracker anklets. What's next?"
I skim my list. "Gale. I'll need him with me to do this."
"With you how? Off camera? By your side at all times? Do you want him presented as your new lover?"
She hasn't said this with any particular malice--quite the contrary, her words are very matter-of-fact. But my
mouth still drops open in shock. "What?"
"I think we should continue the current romance. A quick defection from Peeta could cause the audience to
lose sympathy for her," says Plutarch. "Especially since they think she's pregnant with his child."
"Agreed. So, on-screen, Gale can simply be portrayed as a fellow rebel. Is that all right?" says Coin. I just
stare at her. She repeats herself impatiently. "For Gale. Will that be sufficient?"
"We can always work him in as your cousin," says Fulvia.
"We're not cousins," Gale and I say together.
"Right, but we should probably keep that up for appearances' sake on camera," says Plutarch. "Off
camera, he's all yours. Anything else?"
I'm rattled by the turn in the conversation. The implications that I could so readily dispose of Peeta, that I'm
in love with Gale, that the whole thing has been an act. My cheeks begin to burn. The very notion that I'm devoting
any thought to who I want presented as my lover, given our current circumstances, is demeaning. I let my anger
propel me into my greatest demand. "When the war is over, if we've won, Peeta will be pardoned."
Dead silence. I feel Gale's body tense. I guess I should have told him before, but I wasn't sure how he'd
respond. Not when it involved Peeta.
"No form of punishment will be inflicted," I continue. A new thought occurs to me. "The same goes for the
other captured tributes, Johanna and Enobaria." Frankly, I don't care about Enobaria, the vicious District 2
tribute. In fact, I dislike her, but it seems wrong to leave her out.
"No," says Coin flatly.
"Yes," I shoot back. "It's not their fault you abandoned them in the arena. Who knows what the Capitol's
doing to them?"
"They'll be tried with other war criminals and treated as the tribunal sees fit," she says.
"They'll be granted immunity!" I feel myself rising from my chair, my voice full and resonant. "You will
personally pledge this in front of the entire population of District Thirteen and the remainder of Twelve. Soon.
Today. It will be recorded for future generations. You will hold yourself and your government responsible for their
safety, or you'll find yourself another Mockingjay!"
safety, or you'll find yourself another Mockingjay!"
My words hang in the air for a long moment.
"That's her!" I hear Fulvia hiss to Plutarch. "Right there. With the costume, gunfire in the background, just a
hint of smoke."
"Yes, that's what we want," says Plutarch under his breath.
I want to glare at them, but I feel it would be a mistake to turn my attention from Coin. I can see her tallying
the cost of my ultimatum, weighing it against my possible worth.
"What do you say, President?" asks Plutarch. "You could issue an official pardon, given the circumstances.
The boy...he's not even of age."
"All right," Coin says finally. "But you'd better perform."
"I'll perform when you've made the announcement," I say.
"Call a national security assembly during Reflection today," she orders. "I'll make the announcement then. Is
there anything left on your list, Katniss?"
My paper's crumpled into a ball in my right fist. I flatten the sheet against the table and read the rickety
letters. "Just one more thing. I kill Snow."
For the first time ever, I see the hint of a smile on the president's lips. "When the time comes, I'll flip you for
Maybe she's right. I certainly don't have the sole claim against Snow's life. And I think I can count on her
getting the job done. "Fair enough."
Coin's eyes have flickered to her arm, the clock. She, too, has a schedule to adhere to. "I'll leave her in your
hands, then, Plutarch." She exits the room, followed by her team, leaving only Plutarch, Fulvia, Gale, and myself.
"Excellent. Excellent." Plutarch sinks down, elbows on the table, rubbing his eyes. "You know what I miss?
More than anything? Coffee. I ask you, would it be so unthinkable to have something to wash down the gruel and
"We didn't think it would be quite so rigid here," Fulvia explains to us as she massages Plutarch's
shoulders. "Not in the higher ranks."
"Or at least there'd be the option of a little side action," says Plutarch. "I mean, even Twelve had a black
"Yeah, the Hob," says Gale. "It's where we traded."
"There, you see? And look how moral you two are! Virtually incorruptible." Plutarch sighs. "Oh, well, wars
don't last forever. So, glad to have you on the team." He reaches a hand out to the side, where Fulvia is already
extending a large sketchbook bound in black leather. "You know in general what we're asking of you, Katniss. I'm
aware you have mixed feelings about participating. I hope this will help."
Plutarch slides the sketchbook across to me. For a moment, I look at it suspiciously. Then curiosity gets the
better of me. I open the cover to find a picture of myself, standing straight and strong, in a black uniform. Only
one person could have designed the outfit, at first glance utterly utilitarian, at second a work of art. The swoop of
the helmet, the curve to the breastplate, the slight fullness of the sleeves that allows the white folds under the
arms to show. In his hands, I am again a mockingjay.
"Cinna," I whisper.
"Yes. He made me promise not to show you this book until you'd decided to be the Mockingjay on your
own. Believe me, I was very tempted," says Plutarch. "Go on. Flip through."
I turn the pages slowly, seeing each detail of the uniform. The carefully tailored layers of body armor, the
hidden weapons in the boots and belt, the special reinforcements over my heart. On the final page, under a
sketch of my mockingjay pin, Cinna's written, I'm still betting on you.
"When did he..." My voice fails me.
"Let's see. Well, after the Quarter Quell announcement. A few weeks before the Games maybe? There are
not only the sketches. We have your uniforms. Oh, and Beetee's got something really special waiting for you
down in the armory. I won't spoil it by hinting," says Plutarch.
"You're going to be the best-dressed rebel in history," says Gale with a smile. Suddenly, I realize he's been
holding out on me. Like Cinna, he's wanted me to make this decision all along.
"Our plan is to launch an Airtime Assault," says Plutarch. "To make a series of what we call propos--which
is short for 'propaganda spots'--featuring you, and broadcast them to the entire population of Panem."
"How? The Capitol has sole control of the broadcasts," says Gale.
"But we have Beetee. About ten years ago, he essentially redesigned the underground network that
transmits all the programming. He thinks there's a reasonable chance it can be done. Of course, we'll need
something to air. So, Katniss, the studio awaits your pleasure." Plutarch turns to his assistant. "Fulvia?"
"Plutarch and I have been talking about how on earth we can pull this off. We think that it might be best to
build you, our rebel leader, from the outside...in. That is to say, let's find the most stunning Mockingjay look
possible, and then work your personality up to deserving it!" she says brightly.
"You already have her uniform," says Gale.
"Yes, but is she scarred and bloody? Is she glowing with the fire of rebellion? Just how grimy can we make
her without disgusting people? At any rate, she has to be something. I mean, obviously this"--Fulvia moves in on
me quickly, framing my face with her hands--"won't cut it." I jerk my head back reflexively but she's already busy
gathering her things. "So, with that in mind, we have another little surprise for you. Come, come."
Fulvia gives us a wave, and Gale and I follow her and Plutarch out into the hall.
"So well intended, and yet so insulting," Gale whispers in my ear.
"Welcome to the Capitol," I mouth back. But Fulvia's words have no effect on me. I wrap my arms tightly
around the sketchbook and allow myself to feel hopeful. This must be the right decision. If Cinna wanted it.
We board an elevator, and Plutarch checks his notes. "Let's see. It's Compartment Three-Nine-Oh-Eight."
He presses a button marked 39, but nothing happens.
"You must have to key it," says Fulvia.
Plutarch pulls a key attached to a thin chain from under his shirt and inserts it into a slot I hadn't noticed
before. The doors slide shut. "Ah, there we are."
The elevator descends ten, twenty, thirty-plus levels, farther down than I even knew District 13 went. It opens
on a wide white corridor lined with red doors, which look almost decorative compared to the gray ones on the
upper floors. Each is plainly marked with a number. 3901, 3902, 3903...
As we step out, I glance behind me to watch the elevator close and see a metallic grate slide into place
over the regular doors. When I turn, a guard has materialized from one of the rooms at the far end of the corridor.
A door swings silently shut behind him as he strides toward us.
Plutarch moves to meet him, raising a hand in greeting, and the rest of us follow behind him. Something
feels very wrong down here. It's more than the reinforced elevator, or the claustrophobia of being so far
underground, or the caustic smell of antiseptic. One look at Gale's face and I can tell he senses it as well.
"Good morning, we were just looking for--" Plutarch begins.
"You have the wrong floor," says the guard abruptly.
"Really?" Plutarch double-checks his notes. "I've got Three-Nine-Oh-Eight written right here. I wonder if you
could just give a call up to--"
"I'm afraid I have to ask you to leave now. Assignment discrepancies can be addressed at the Head
Office," says the guard.
It's right ahead of us. Compartment 3908. Just a few steps away. The door--in fact, all the doors--seem
incomplete. No knobs. They must swing free on hinges like the one the guard appeared through.
"Where is that again?" asks Fulvia.
"You'll find the Head Office on Level Seven," says the guard, extending his arms to corral us back to the
From behind door 3908 comes a sound. Just a tiny whimper. Like something a cowed dog might make to
avoid being struck, only all too human and familiar. My eyes meet Gale's for just a moment, but it's long enough
for two people who operate the way we do. I let Cinna's sketchbook fall at the guard's feet with a loud bang. A
second after he leans down to retrieve it, Gale leans down, too, intentionally bumping heads. "Oh, I'm sorry," he
says with a light laugh, catching the guard's arms as if to steady himself, turning him slightly away from me.
That's my chance. I dart around the distracted guard, push open the door marked 3908, and find them.
Half-naked, bruised, and shackled to the wall.
My prep team.
The stink of unwashed bodies, stale urine, and infection breaks through the cloud of antiseptic. The three
figures are only just recognizable by their most striking fashion choices: Venia's gold facial tattoos. Flavius's
orange corkscrew curls. Octavia's light evergreen skin, which now hangs too loosely, as if her body were a slowly
On seeing me, Flavius and Octavia shrink back against the tiled walls like they're anticipating an attack,
even though I have never hurt them. Unkind thoughts were my worst offense against them, and those I kept to
myself, so why do they recoil?
The guard's ordering me out, but by the shuffling that follows, I know Gale has somehow detained him. For
answers, I cross to Venia, who was always the strongest. I crouch down and take her icy hands, which clutch
mine like vises.
"What happened, Venia?" I ask. "What are you doing here?"
"They took us. From the Capitol," she says hoarsely.
Plutarch enters behind me. "What on earth is going on?"
"Who took you?" I press her.
"People," she says vaguely. "The night you broke out."
"We thought it might be comforting for you to have your regular team," Plutarch says behind me. "Cinna
"Cinna requested this?" I snarl at him. Because if there's one thing I know, it's that Cinna would never have
approved the abuse of these three, who he managed with gentleness and patience. "Why are they being treated
"I honestly don't know." There's something in his voice that makes me believe him, and the pallor on
Fulvia's face confirms it. Plutarch turns to the guard, who's just appeared in the doorway with Gale right behind
him. "I was only told they were being confined. Why are they being punished?"
"For stealing food. We had to restrain them after an altercation over some bread," says the guard.
Venia's brows come together as if she's still trying to make sense of it. "No one would tell us anything. We
were so hungry. It was just one slice she took."
Octavia begins to sob, muffling the sound in her ragged tunic. I think of how, the first time I survived the
arena, Octavia sneaked me a roll under the table because she couldn't bear my hunger. I crawl across to her
shaking form. "Octavia?" I touch her and she flinches. "Octavia? It's going to be all right. I'll get you out of here,
"This seems extreme," says Plutarch.
"It's because they took a slice of bread?" asks Gale.
"There were repeated infractions leading up to that. They were warned. Still they took more bread." The
guard pauses a moment, as if puzzled by our density. "You can't take bread."
I can't get Octavia to uncover her face, but she lifts it slightly. The shackles on her wrists shift down a few
inches, revealing raw sores beneath them. "I'm bringing you to my mother." I address the guard. "Unchain them."
The guard shakes his head. "It's not authorized."
"Unchain them! Now!" I yell.
This breaks his composure. Average citizens don't address him this way. "I have no release orders. And
you have no authority to--"
"Do it on my authority," says Plutarch. "We came to collect these three anyway. They're needed for Special
Defense. I'll take full responsibility."
The guard leaves to make a call. He returns with a set of keys. The preps have been forced into cramped
body positions for so long that even once the shackles are removed, they have trouble walking. Gale, Plutarch,
and I have to help them. Flavius's foot catches on a metal grate over a circular opening in the floor, and my
stomach contracts when I think of why a room would need a drain. The stains of human misery that must have
been hosed off these white tiles...
In the hospital, I find my mother, the only one I trust to care for them. It takes her a minute to place the three,
given their current condition, but already she wears a look of consternation. And I know it's not a result of seeing
abused bodies, because they were her daily fare in District 12, but the realization that this sort of thing goes on
in 13 as well.
My mother was welcomed into the hospital, but she's viewed as more of a nurse than a doctor, despite her
lifetime of healing. Still, no one interferes when she guides the trio into an examination room to assess their
injuries. I plant myself on a bench in the hall outside the hospital entrance, waiting to hear her verdict. She will be
able to read in their bodies the pain inflicted upon them.
Gale sits next to me and puts an arm around my shoulder. "She'll fix them up." I give a nod, wondering if
he's thinking about his own brutal flogging back in 12.
Plutarch and Fulvia take the bench across from us but don't offer any comments on the state of my prep
team. If they had no knowledge of the mistreatment, then what do they make of this move on President Coin's
part? I decide to help them out.
"I guess we've all been put on notice," I say.
"What? No. What do you mean?" asks Fulvia.
"Punishing my prep team's a warning," I tell her. "Not just to me. But to you, too. About who's really in control
and what happens if she's not obeyed. If you had any delusions about having power, I'd let them go now.
Apparently, a Capitol pedigree is no protection here. Maybe it's even a liability."
"There is no comparison between Plutarch, who masterminded the rebel breakout, and those three
beauticians," says Fulvia icily.
I shrug. "If you say so, Fulvia. But what would happen if you got on Coin's bad side? My prep team was
kidnapped. They can at least hope to one day return to the Capitol. Gale and I can live in the woods. But you?
Where would you two run?"
"Perhaps we're a little more necessary to the war effort than you give us credit for," says Plutarch,
"Of course you are. The tributes were necessary to the Games, too. Until they weren't," I say. "And then we
were very disposable--right, Plutarch?"
That ends the conversation. We wait in silence until my mother finds us. "They'll be all right," she reports.
"No permanent physical injuries."
"Good. Splendid," says Plutarch. "How soon can they be put to work?"
"Probably tomorrow," she answers. "You'll have to expect some emotional instability, after what they've
been through. They were particularly ill prepared, coming from their life in the Capitol."
"Weren't we all?" says Plutarch.
Either because the prep team's incapacitated or I'm too on edge, Plutarch releases me from Mockingjay
duties for the rest of the day. Gale and I head down to lunch, where we're served bean and onion stew, a thick
slice of bread, and a cup of water. After Venia's story, the bread sticks in my throat, so I slide the rest of it onto
Gale's tray. Neither of us speaks much during lunch, but when our bowls are clean, Gale pulls up his sleeve,
revealing his schedule. "I've got training next."
I tug up my sleeve and hold my arm next to his. "Me, too." I remember that training equals hunting now.
My eagerness to escape into the woods, if only for two hours, overrides my current concerns. An immersion
into greenery and sunlight will surely help me sort out my thoughts. Once off the main corridors, Gale and I race
like schoolchildren for the armory, and by the time we arrive, I'm breathless and dizzy. A reminder that I'm not fully
recovered. The guards provide our old weapons, as well as knives and a burlap sack that's meant for a game
bag. I tolerate having the tracker clamped to my ankle, try to look as if I'm listening when they explain how to use
the handheld communicator. The only thing that sticks in my head is that it has a clock, and we must be back
inside 13 by the designated hour or our hunting privileges will be revoked. This is one rule I think I will make an
effort to abide.
We go outside into the large, fenced-in training area beside the woods. Guards open the well-oiled gates
without comment. We would be hard-pressed to get past this fence on our own--thirty feet high and always
buzzing with electricity, topped with razor-sharp curls of steel. We move through the woods until the view of the
fence has been obscured. In a small clearing, we pause and drop back our heads to bask in the sunlight. I turn in
a circle, my arms extended at my sides, revolving slowly so as not to set the world spinning.
The lack of rain I saw in 12 has damaged the plants here as well, leaving some with brittle leaves, building
a crunchy carpet under our feet. We take off our shoes. Mine don't fit right anyway, since in the spirit of wastenot-
want-not that rules 13, I was issued a pair someone had outgrown. Apparently, one of us walks funny,
because they're broken in all wrong.
We hunt, like in the old days. Silent, needing no words to communicate, because here in the woods we
move as two parts of one being. Anticipating each other's movements, watching each other's backs. How long
has it been? Eight months? Nine? Since we had this freedom? It's not exactly the same, given all that's
happened and the trackers on our ankles and the fact that I have to rest so often. But it's about as close to
happiness as I think I can currently get.
The animals here are not nearly suspicious enough. That extra moment it takes to place our unfamiliar
scent means their death. In an hour and a half, we've got a mixed dozen--rabbits, squirrels, and turkeys--and
decide to knock off to spend the remaining time by a pond that must be fed by an underground spring, since the
water's cool and sweet.
When Gale offers to clean the game, I don't object. I stick a few mint leaves on my tongue, close my eyes,
and lean back against a rock, soaking in the sounds, letting the scorching afternoon sun burn my skin, almost at
peace until Gale's voice interrupts me. "Katniss, why do you care so much about your prep team?"
I open my eyes to see if he's joking, but he's frowning down at the rabbit he's skinning. "Why shouldn't I?"
"Hm. Let's see. Because they've spent the last year prettying you up for slaughter?" he suggests.
"It's more complicated than that. I know them. They're not evil or cruel. They're not even smart. Hurting them,
it's like hurting children. They don't see...I mean, they don't know..." I get knotted up in my words.
"They don't know what, Katniss?" he says. "That tributes--who are the actual children involved here, not
your trio of freaks--are forced to fight to the death? That you were going into that arena for people's amusement?
Was that a big secret in the Capitol?"
"No. But they don't view it the way we do," I say. "They're raised on it and--"
"Are you actually defending them?" He slips the skin from the rabbit in one quick move.
That stings, because, in fact, I am, and it's ridiculous. I struggle to find a logical position. "I guess I'm
defending anyone who's treated like that for taking a slice of bread. Maybe it reminds me too much of what
happened to you over a turkey!"
Still, he's right. It does seem strange, my level of concern over the prep team. I should hate them and want
to see them strung up. But they're so clueless, and they belonged to Cinna, and he was on my side, right?
"I'm not looking for a fight," Gale says. "But I don't think Coin was sending you some big message by
punishing them for breaking the rules here. She probably thought you'd see it as a favor." He stuffs the rabbit in
the sack and rises. "We better get going if we want to make it back on time."
I ignore his offer of a hand up and get to my feet unsteadily. "Fine." Neither of us talks on the way back, but
once we're inside the gate, I think of something else. "During the Quarter Quell, Octavia and Flavius had to quit
because they couldn't stop crying over me going back in. And Venia could barely say good-bye."
"I'll try and keep that in mind as they...remake you," says Gale.
"Do," I say.
We hand the meat over to Greasy Sae in the kitchen. She likes District 13 well enough, even though she
thinks the cooks are somewhat lacking in imagination. But a woman who came up with a palatable wild dog and
rhubarb stew is bound to feel as if her hands are tied here.
Exhausted from hunting and my lack of sleep, I go back to my compartment to find it stripped bare, only to
remember we've been moved because of Buttercup. I make my way up to the top floor and find Compartment E.
It looks exactly like Compartment 307, except for the window--two feet wide, eight inches high--centered at the
top of the outside wall. There's a heavy metal plate that fastens over it, but right now it's propped open, and a
certain cat is nowhere to be seen. I stretch out on my bed, and a shaft of afternoon sunlight plays on my face. The
next thing I know, my sister is waking me for 18:00--Reflection.
Prim tells me they've been announcing the assembly since lunch. The entire population, except those
needed for essential jobs, is required to attend. We follow directions to the Collective, a huge room that easily
holds the thousands who show up. You can tell it was built for a larger gathering, and perhaps it held one before
the pox epidemic. Prim quietly points out the widespread fallout from that disaster--the pox scars on people's
bodies, the slightly disfigured children. "They've suffered a lot here," she says.
After this morning, I'm in no mood to feel sorry for 13. "No more than we did in Twelve," I say. I see my
mother lead in a group of mobile patients, still wearing their hospital nightgowns and robes. Finnick stands
among them, looking dazed but gorgeous. In his hands he holds a piece of thin rope, less than a foot in length,
too short for even him to fashion into a usable noose. His fingers move rapidly, automatically tying and unraveling
various knots as he gazes about. Probably part of his therapy. I cross to him and say, "Hey, Finnick." He doesn't
seem to notice, so I nudge him to get his attention. "Finnick! How are you doing?"
"Katniss," he says, gripping my hand. Relieved to see a familiar face, I think. "Why are we meeting here?"
"I told Coin I'd be her Mockingjay. But I made her promise to give the other tributes immunity if the rebels
won," I tell him. "In public, so there are plenty of witnesses."
"Oh. Good. Because I worry about that with Annie. That she'll say something that could be construed as
traitorous without knowing it," says Finnick.
Annie. Uh-oh. Totally forgot her. "Don't worry, I took care of it." I give Finnick's hand a squeeze and head
straight for the podium at the front of the room. Coin, who is glancing over her statement, raises her eyebrows at
me. "I need you to add Annie Cresta to the immunity list," I tell her.
The president frowns slightly. "Who's that?"
"She's Finnick Odair's--" What? I don't really know what to call her. "She's Finnick's friend. From District
Four. Another victor. She was arrested and taken to the Capitol when the arena blew up."
"Oh, the mad girl. That's not really necessary," she says. "We don't make a habit of punishing anyone that
I think of the scene I walked in on this morning. Of Octavia huddled against the wall. Of how Coin and I must
have vastly different definitions of frailty. But I only say, "No? Then it shouldn't be a problem to add Annie."
"All right," says the president, penciling in Annie's name. "Do you want to be up here with me for the
announcement?" I shake my head. "I didn't think so. Better hurry and lose yourself in the crowd. I'm about to
begin." I make my way back to Finnick.
Words are another thing not wasted in 13. Coin calls the audience to attention and tells them I have
consented to be the Mockingjay, provided the other victors--Peeta, Johanna, Enobaria, and Annie--will be
granted full pardon for any damage they do to the rebel cause. In the rumbling of the crowd, I hear the dissent. I
suppose no one doubted I would want to be the Mockingjay. So naming a price--one that spares possible
enemies--angers them. I stand indifferent to the hostile looks thrown my way.
The president allows a few moments of unrest, and then continues in her brisk fashion. Only now the words
coming out of her mouth are news to me. "But in return for this unprecedented request, Soldier Everdeen has
promised to devote herself to our cause. It follows that any deviance from her mission, in either motive or deed,
will be viewed as a break in this agreement. The immunity would be terminated and the fate of the four victors
determined by the law of District Thirteen. As would her own. Thank you."
In other words, I step out of line and we're all dead.
Another force to contend with. Another power player who has decided to use me as a piece in her games,
although things never seem to go according to plan. First there were the Gamemakers, making me their star and
then scrambling to recover from that handful of poisonous berries. Then President Snow, trying to use me to put
out the flames of rebellion, only to have my every move become inflammatory. Next, the rebels ensnaring me in
the metal claw that lifted me from the arena, designating me to be their Mockingjay, and then having to recover
from the shock that I might not want the wings. And now Coin, with her fistful of precious nukes and her well-oiled
machine of a district, finding it's even harder to groom a Mockingjay than to catch one. But she has been the
quickest to determine that I have an agenda of my own and am therefore not to be trusted. She has been the first
to publicly brand me as a threat.
I run my fingers through the thick layer of bubbles in my tub. Cleaning me up is just a preliminary step to
determining my new look. With my acid-damaged hair, sunburned skin, and ugly scars, the prep team has to
make me pretty and then damage, burn, and scar me in a more attractive way.
"Remake her to Beauty Base Zero," Fulvia ordered first thing this morning. "We'll work from there." Beauty
Base Zero turns out to be what a person would look like if they stepped out of bed looking flawless but natural. It
means my nails are perfectly shaped but not polished. My hair soft and shiny but not styled. My skin smooth and
clear but not painted. Wax the body hair and erase the dark circles, but don't make any noticeable
enhancements. I suppose Cinna gave the same instructions the first day I arrived as a tribute in the Capitol. Only
that was different, since I was a contestant. As a rebel, I thought I'd get to look more like myself. But it seems a
televised rebel has her own standards to live up to.
After I rinse the lather from my body, I turn to find Octavia waiting with a towel. She is so altered from the
woman I knew in the Capitol, stripped of the gaudy clothing, the heavy makeup, the dyes and jewelry and
knickknacks she adorned her hair with. I remember how one day she showed up with bright pink tresses
studded with blinking colored lights shaped like mice. She told me she had several mice at home as pets. The
thought repulsed me at the time, since we consider mice vermin, unless cooked. But perhaps Octavia liked them
because they were small, soft, and squeaky. Like her. As she pats me dry, I try to become acquainted with the
District 13 Octavia. Her real hair turns out to be a nice auburn. Her face is ordinary but has an undeniable
sweetness. She's younger than I thought. Maybe early twenties. Devoid of the three-inch decorative nails, her
fingers appear almost stubby, and they can't stop trembling. I want to tell her it's okay, that I'll see that Coin never
hurts her again. But the multicolored bruises flowering under her green skin only remind me how impotent I am.
Flavius, too, appears washed out without his purple lipstick and bright clothes. He's managed to get his
orange ringlets back in some sort of order, though. It's Venia who's the least changed. Her aqua hair lies flat
instead of in spikes and you can see the roots growing in gray. However, the tattoos were always her most
striking characteristic, and they're as golden and shocking as ever. She comes and takes the towel from
"Katniss is not going to hurt us," she says quietly but firmly to Octavia. "Katniss did not even know we were
here. Things will be better now." Octavia gives a slight nod but doesn't dare look me in the eye.
It's no simple job getting me back to Beauty Base Zero, even with the elaborate arsenal of products, tools,
and gadgets Plutarch had the foresight to bring from the Capitol. My preps do pretty well until they try to address
the spot on my arm where Johanna dug out the tracker. None of the medical team was focusing on looks when
they patched up the gaping hole. Now I have a lumpy, jagged scar that ripples out over a space the size of an
apple. Usually, my sleeve covers it, but the way Cinna's Mockingjay costume is designed, the sleeves stop just
above the elbow. It's such a concern that Fulvia and Plutarch are called in to discuss it. I swear, the sight of it
triggers Fulvia's gag reflex. For someone who works with a Gamemaker, she's awfully sensitive. But I guess
she's used to seeing unpleasant things only on a screen.
"Everyone knows I have a scar here," I say sullenly.
"Knowing it and seeing it are two different things," says Fulvia. "It's positively repulsive. Plutarch and I will
think of something during lunch."
"It'll be fine," says Plutarch with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Maybe an armband or something."
Disgusted, I get dressed so I can head to the dining hall. My prep team huddles in a little group by the door.
"Are they bringing your food here?" I ask.
"No," says Venia. "We're supposed to go to a dining hall."
I sigh inwardly as I imagine walking into the dining hall, trailed by these three. But people always stare at
me anyway. This will be more of the same. "I'll show you where it is," I say. "Come on."
The covert glances and quiet murmurs I usually evoke are nothing compared to the reaction brought on by
the sight of my bizarre-looking prep team. The gaping mouths, the finger pointing, the exclamations. "Just ignore
them," I tell my prep team. Eyes downcast, with mechanical movements, they follow me through the line,
accepting bowls of grayish fish and okra stew and cups of water.
We take seats at my table, beside a group from the Seam. They show a little more restraint than the
people from 13 do, although it may just be from embarrassment. Leevy, who was my neighbor back in 12, gives
a cautious hello to the preps, and Gale's mother, Hazelle, who must know about their imprisonment, holds up a
spoonful of the stew. "Don't worry," she says. "Tastes better than it looks."
But it's Posy, Gale's five-year-old sister, who helps the most. She scoots along the bench to Octavia and
touches her skin with a tentative finger. "You're green. Are you sick?"
"It's a fashion thing, Posy. Like wearing lipstick," I say.
"It's meant to be pretty," whispers Octavia, and I can see the tears threatening to spill over her lashes.
Posy considers this and says matter-of-factly, "I think you'd be pretty in any color."
The tiniest of smiles forms on Octavia's lips. "Thank you."
"If you really want to impress Posy, you'll have to dye yourself bright pink," says Gale, thumping his tray
down beside me. "That's her favorite color." Posy giggles and slides back down to her mother. Gale nods at
Flavius's bowl. "I wouldn't let that get cold. It doesn't improve the consistency."
Everyone gets down to eating. The stew doesn't taste bad, but there's a certain sliminess that's hard to get
around. Like you have to swallow every bite three times before it really goes down.
Gale, who's not usually much of a talker during meals, makes an effort to keep the conversation going,
asking about the makeover. I know it's his attempt at smoothing things over. We argued last night after he
suggested I'd left Coin no choice but to counter my demand for the victors' safety with one of her own. "Katniss,
she's running this district. She can't do it if it seems like she's caving in to your will."
"You mean she can't stand any dissent, even if it's fair," I'd countered.
"I mean you put her in a bad position. Making her give Peeta and the others immunity when we don't even
know what sort of damage they might cause," Gale had said.
"So I should've just gone with the program and let the other tributes take their chances? Not that it matters,
because that's what we're all doing anyway!" That was when I'd slammed the door in his face. I hadn't sat with
him at breakfast, and when Plutarch had sent him down to training this morning, I'd let him go without a word. I
know he only spoke out of concern for me, but I really need him to be on my side, not Coin's. How can he not
After lunch, Gale and I are scheduled to go down to Special Defense to meet Beetee. As we ride the
elevator, Gale finally says, "You're still angry."
"And you're still not sorry," I reply.
"I still stand by what I said. Do you want me to lie about it?" he asks.
"No, I want you to rethink it and come up with the right opinion," I tell him. But this just makes him laugh. I
have to let it go. There's no point in trying to dictate what Gale thinks. Which, if I'm honest, is one reason I trust
The Special Defense level is situated almost as far down as the dungeons where we found the prep team.
It's a beehive of rooms full of computers, labs, research equipment, and testing ranges.
When we ask for Beetee, we're directed through the maze until we reach an enormous plate-glass window.
Inside is the first beautiful thing I've seen in the District 13 compound: a replication of a meadow, filled with real
trees and flowering plants, and alive with hummingbirds. Beetee sits motionless in a wheelchair at the center of
the meadow, watching a spring-green bird hover in midair as it sips nectar from a large orange blossom. His
eyes follow the bird as it darts away, and he catches sight of us. He gives a friendly wave for us to join him
inside. The air's cool and breathable, not humid and muggy as I'd expected. From all sides comes the whir of tiny
wings, which I used to confuse with the sound of insects in our woods at home. I have to wonder what sort of fluke
allowed such a pleasing place to be built here.
Beetee still has the pallor of someone in convalescence, but behind those ill-fitting glasses, his eyes are
alight with excitement. "Aren't they magnificent? Thirteen has been studying their aerodynamics here for years.
Forward and backward flight, and speeds up to sixty miles per hour. If only I could build you wings like these,
"Doubt I could manage them, Beetee," I laugh.
"Here one second, gone the next. Can you bring a hummingbird down with an arrow?" he asks.
"I've never tried. Not much meat on them," I answer.
"No. And you're not one to kill for sport," he says. "I bet they'd be hard to shoot, though."
"You could snare them maybe," Gale says. His face takes on that distant look it wears when he's working
something out. "Take a net with a very fine mesh. Enclose an area and leave a mouth of a couple square feet.
Bait the inside with nectar flowers. While they're feeding, snap the mouth shut. They'd fly away from the noise but
only encounter the far side of the net."
"Would that work?" asks Beetee.
"I don't know. Just an idea," says Gale. "They might outsmart it."
"They might. But you're playing on their natural instincts to flee danger. Thinking like your prey...that's where
you find their vulnerabilities," says Beetee.
I remember something I don't like to think about. In preparation for the Quell, I saw a tape where Beetee,
who was still a boy, connected two wires that electrocuted a pack of kids who were hunting him. The convulsing
bodies, the grotesque expressions. Beetee, in the moments that led up to his victory in those long-ago Hunger
Games, watched the others die. Not his fault. Only self-defense. We were all acting only in self-defense....
Suddenly, I want to leave the hummingbird room before somebody starts setting up a snare. "Beetee,
Plutarch said you had something for me."
"Right. I do. Your new bow." He presses a hand control on the arm of the chair and wheels out of the room.
As we follow him through the twists and turns of Special Defense, he explains about the chair. "I can walk a little
now. It's just that I tire so quickly. It's easier for me to get around this way. How's Finnick doing?"
"He's...he's having concentration problems," I answer. I don't want to say he had a complete mental
"Concentration problems, eh?" Beetee smiles grimly. "If you knew what Finnick's been through the last few
years, you'd know how remarkable it is he's still with us at all. Tell him I've been working on a new trident for him,
though, will you? Something to distract him a little." Distraction seems to be the last thing Finnick needs, but I
promise to pass on the message.
Four soldiers guard the entrance to the hall marked Special Weaponry. Checking the schedules printed on
our forearms is just a preliminary step. We also have fingerprint, retinal, and DNA scans, and have to step
through special metal detectors. Beetee has to leave his wheelchair outside, although they provide him with
another once we're through security. I find the whole thing bizarre because I can't imagine anyone raised in
District 13 being a threat the government would have to guard against. Have these precautions been put in place
because of the recent influx of immigrants?
At the door of the armory, we encounter a second round of identification checks--as if my DNA might have
changed in the time it took to walk twenty yards down the hallway--and are finally allowed to enter the weapons
collection. I have to admit the arsenal takes my breath away. Row upon row of firearms, launchers, explosives,
armored vehicles. "Of course, the Airborne Division is housed separately," Beetee tells us.
"Of course," I say, as if this would be self-evident. I don't know where a simple bow and arrow could
possibly find a place in all this high-tech equipment, but then we come upon a wall of deadly archery weapons.
I've played with a lot of the Capitol's weapons in training, but none designed for military combat. I focus my
attention on a lethal-looking bow so loaded down with scopes and gadgetry, I'm certain I can't even lift it, let alone
"Gale, maybe you'd like to try out a few of these," says Beetee.
"Seriously?" Gale asks.
"You'll be issued a gun eventually for battle, of course. But if you appear as part of Katniss's team in the
propos, one of these would look a little showier. I thought you might like to find one that suits you," says Beetee.
"Yeah, I would." Gale's hands close around the very bow that caught my attention a moment ago, and he
hefts it onto his shoulder. He points it around the room, peering through the scope.
"That doesn't seem very fair to the deer," I say.
"Wouldn't be using it on deer, would I?" he answers.
"I'll be right back," says Beetee. He presses a code into a panel, and a small doorway opens. I watch until
he's disappeared and the door's shut.
"So, it'd be easy for you? Using that on people?" I ask.
"I didn't say that." Gale drops the bow to his side. "But if I'd had a weapon that could've stopped what I saw
happen in Twelve...if I'd had a weapon that could have kept you out of the arena...I'd have used it."
"Me, too," I admit. But I don't know what to tell him about the aftermath of killing a person. About how they
never leave you.
Beetee wheels back in with a tall, black rectangular case awkwardly positioned between his footrest and
his shoulder. He comes to a halt and tilts it toward me. "For you."
I set the case flat on the floor and undo the latches along one side. The top opens on silent hinges. Inside
the case, on a bed of crushed maroon velvet, lies a stunning black bow. "Oh," I whisper in admiration. I lift it
carefully into the air to admire the exquisite balance, the elegant design, and the curve of the limbs that somehow
suggests the wings of a bird extended in flight. There's something else. I have to hold very still to make sure I'm
not imagining it. No, the bow is alive in my hands. I press it against my cheek and feel the slight hum travel
through the bones of my face. "What's it doing?" I ask.
"Saying hello," explains Beetee with a grin. "It heard your voice."
"It recognizes my voice?" I ask.
"Only your voice," he tells me. "You see, they wanted me to design a bow based purely on looks. As part of
your costume, you know? But I kept thinking, What a waste. I mean, what if you do need it sometime? As more
than a fashion accessory? So I left the outside simple, and left the inside to my imagination. Best explained in
practice, though. Want to try those out?"
We do. A target range has already been prepared for us. The arrows that Beetee designed are no less
remarkable than the bow. Between the two, I can shoot with accuracy over one hundred yards. The variety of
arrows--razor sharp, incendiary, explosive--turn the bow into a multipurpose weapon. Each one is recognizable
by a distinctive colored shaft. I have the option of voice override at any time, but have no idea why I would use it.
To deactivate the bow's special properties, I need only tell it "Good night." Then it goes to sleep until the sound of
my voice wakes it again.
I'm in good spirits by the time I get back to the prep team, leaving Beetee and Gale behind. I sit patiently
through the rest of the paint job and don my costume, which now includes a bloody bandage over the scar on my
arm to indicate I've been in recent combat. Venia affixes my mockingjay pin over my heart. I take up my bow and
the sheath of normal arrows that Beetee made, knowing they would never let me walk around with the loaded
ones. Then we're out on the soundstage, where I seem to stand for hours while they adjust makeup and lighting
and smoke levels. Eventually, the commands coming via intercom from the invisible people in the mysterious
glassed-in booth become fewer and fewer. Fulvia and Plutarch spend more time studying and less time
adjusting me. Finally, there's quiet on the set. For a full five minutes I am simply considered. Then Plutarch says,
"I think that does it."
I'm beckoned over to a monitor. They play back the last few minutes of taping and I watch the woman on the
screen. Her body seems larger in stature, more imposing than mine. Her face smudged but sexy. Her brows
black and drawn in an angle of defiance. Wisps of smoke--suggesting she has either just been extinguished or
is about to burst into flames--rise from her clothes. I do not know who this person is.
Finnick, who's been wandering around the set for a few hours, comes up behind me and says with a hint of
his old humor, "They'll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you."
Everyone's so excited, so pleased with their work. It's nearly time to break for dinner, but they insist we
continue. Tomorrow we'll focus on speeches and interviews and have me pretend to be in rebel battles. Today
they want just one slogan, just one line that they can work into a short propo to show to Coin.
"People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!" That's the line. I can tell by the way
they present it that they've spent months, maybe years, working it out and are really proud of it. It seems like a
mouthful to me, though. And stiff. I can't imagine actually saying it in real life--unless I was using a Capitol accent
and making fun of it. Like when Gale and I used to imitate Effie Trinket's "May the odds be ever in your favor!"
But Fulvia's right in my face, describing a battle I've just been in, and how my comrades-in-arms are all lying
dead around me, and how, to rally the living, I must turn to the camera and shout out the line!
I'm hustled back to my place, and the smoke machine kicks in. Someone calls for quiet, the cameras start
rolling, and I hear "Action!" So I hold my bow over my head and yell with all the anger I can muster, "People of
Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!"
There's dead silence on the set. It goes on. And on.
Finally, the intercom crackles and Haymitch's acerbic laugh fills the studio. He contains himself just long
enough to say, "And that, my friends, is how a revolution dies."