The scream begins in my lower back and works its way up through my body only to jam in my throat. I am
Avox mute, choking on my grief. Even if I could release the muscles in my neck, let the sound tear into space,
would anyone notice it? The room's in an uproar. Questions and demands ring out as they try to decipher
Peeta's words. "And you...in Thirteen...dead by morning!" Yet no one is asking about the messenger whose
blood has been replaced by static.
A voice calls the others to attention. "Shut up!" Every pair of eyes falls on Haymitch. "It's not some big
mystery! The boy's telling us we're about to be attacked. Here. In Thirteen."
"How would he have that information?"
"Why should we trust him?"
"How do you know?"
Haymitch gives a growl of frustration. "They're beating him bloody while we speak. What more do you
need? Katniss, help me out here!"
I have to give myself a shake to free my words. "Haymitch's right. I don't know where Peeta got the
information. Or if it's true. But he believes it is. And they're--" I can't say aloud what Snow's doing to him.
"You don't know him," Haymitch says to Coin. "We do. Get your people ready."
The president doesn't seem alarmed, only somewhat perplexed, by this turn in events. She mulls over the
words, tapping one finger lightly on the rim of the control board in front of her. When she speaks, she addresses
Haymitch in an even voice. "Of course, we have prepared for such a scenario. Although we have decades of
support for the assumption that further direct attacks on Thirteen would be counterproductive to the Capitol's
cause. Nuclear missiles would release radiation into the atmosphere, with incalculable environmental results.
Even routine bombing could badly damage our military compound, which we know they hope to regain. And, of
course, they invite a counterstrike. It is conceivable that, given our current alliance with the rebels, those would be viewed as acceptable risks."
"You think so?" says Haymitch. It's a shade too sincere, but the subtleties of irony are often wasted in 13.
"I do. At any rate, we're overdue for a Level Five security drill," says Coin. "Let's proceed with the
lockdown." She begins to type rapidly on her keyboard, authorizing her decision. The moment she raises her
head, it begins.
There have been two low-level drills since I arrived in 13. I don't remember much about the first. I was in
intensive care in the hospital and I think the patients were exempted, as the complications of removing us for a
practice drill outweighed the benefits. I was vaguely aware of a mechanical voice instructing people to
congregate in yellow zones. During the second, a Level Two drill meant for minor crises--such as a temporary
quarantine while citizens were tested for contagion during a flu outbreak--we were supposed to return to our
living quarters. I stayed behind a pipe in the laundry room, ignored the pulsating beeps coming over the audio
system, and watched a spider construct a web. Neither experience has prepared me for the wordless, eardrumpiercing,
fear-inducing sirens that now permeate 13. There would be no disregarding this sound, which seems
designed to throw the whole population into a frenzy. But this is 13 and that doesn't happen.
Boggs guides Finnick and me out of Command, along the hall to a doorway, and onto a wide stairway.
Streams of people are converging to form a river that flows only downward. No one shrieks or tries to push
ahead. Even the children don't resist. We descend, flight after flight, speechless, because no word could be
heard above this sound. I look for my mother and Prim, but it's impossible to see anyone but those immediately
around me. They're both working in the hospital tonight, though, so there's no way they can miss the drill.
My ears pop and my eyes feel heavy. We are coal-mine deep. The only plus is that the farther we retreat
into the earth, the less shrill the sirens become. It's as if they were meant to physically drive us away from the
surface, which I suppose they are. Groups of people begin to peel off into marked doorways and still Boggs
directs me downward, until finally the stairs end at the edge of an enormous cavern. I start to walk straight in and
Boggs stops me, shows me that I must wave my schedule in front of a scanner so that I'm accounted for. No
doubt the information's going to some computer somewhere to make sure no one's gone astray.
The place seems unable to decide if it's natural or man-made. Certain areas of the walls are stone, while
steel beams and concrete heavily reinforce others. Sleeping bunks are hewn right into the rock walls. There's a
kitchen, bathrooms, a first-aid station. This place was designed for an extended stay.
White signs with letters or numbers are placed at intervals around the cavern. As Boggs tells Finnick and
me to report to the area that matches our assigned quarters--in my case E for Compartment E--Plutarch strolls
up. "Ah, here you are," he says. Recent events have had little effect on Plutarch's mood. He still has a happy
glow from Beetee's success on the Airtime Assault. Eyes on the forest, not on the trees. Not on Peeta's
punishment or 13's imminent blasting. "Katniss, obviously this is a bad moment for you, what with Peeta's
setback, but you need to be aware that others will be watching you."
"What?" I say. I can't believe he actually just downgraded Peeta's dire circumstances to a setback.
"The other people in the bunker, they'll be taking their cue on how to react from you. If you're calm and
brave, others will try to be as well. If you panic, it could spread like wildfire," explains Plutarch. I just stare at him.
"Fire is catching, so to speak," he continues, as if I'm being slow on the uptake.
"Why don't I just pretend I'm on camera, Plutarch?" I say.
"Yes! Perfect. One is always much braver with an audience," he says. "Look at the courage Peeta just
It's all I can do not to slap him.
"I've got to get back to Coin before lockdown. You keep up the good work!" he says, and then heads off.
I cross to the big letter E posted on the wall. Our space consists of a twelve-by-twelve-foot square of stone
floor delineated by painted lines. Carved into the wall are two bunks--one of us will be sleeping on the floor--and
a ground-level cube space for storage. A piece of white paper, coated in clear plastic, reads BUNKER PROTOCOL.
I stare fixedly at the little black specks on the sheet. For a while, they're obscured by the residual blood droplets
that I can't seem to wipe from my vision. Slowly, the words come into focus. The first section is entitled "On
1. Make sure all members of your Compartment are accounted for.
My mother and Prim haven't arrived, but I was one of the first people to reach the bunker. Both of them are
probably helping to relocate hospital patients.
2. Go to the Supply Station and secure one pack for each member of your Compartment.
Ready your Living Area. Return pack(s).
I scan the cavern until I locate the Supply Station, a deep room set off by a counter. People wait behind it,
but there's not a lot of activity there yet. I walk over, give our compartment letter, and request three packs. A man
checks a sheet, pulls the specified packs from shelving, and swings them up onto the counter. After sliding one
on my back and getting a grip on the other two with my hands, I turn to find a group rapidly forming behind me.
"Excuse me," I say as I carry my supplies through the others. Is it a matter of timing? Or is Plutarch right? Are
these people modeling their behavior on mine?
Back at our space, I open one of the packs to find a thin mattress, bedding, two sets of gray clothing, a
toothbrush, a comb, and a flashlight. On examining the contents of the other packs, I find the only discernible
difference is that they contain both gray and white outfits. The latter will be for my mother and Prim, in case they
have medical duties. After I make up the beds, store the clothes, and return the backpacks, I've got nothing to do
but observe the last rule.
3. Await further instructions.
I sit cross-legged on the floor to await. A steady flow of people begins to fill the room, claiming spaces,
collecting supplies. It won't take long until the place is full up. I wonder if my mother and Prim are going to stay the
night at wherever the hospital patients have been taken. But, no, I don't think so. They were on the list here. I'm
starting to get anxious, when my mother appears. I look behind her into a sea of strangers. "Where's Prim?" I
"Isn't she here?" she replies. "She was supposed to come straight down from the hospital. She left ten
minutes before I did. Where is she? Where could she have gone?"
I squeeze my lids shut tight for a moment, to track her as I would prey on a hunt. See her react to the sirens,
rush to help the patients, nod as they gesture for her to descend to the bunker, and then hesitate with her on the
stairs. Torn for a moment. But why?
My eyes fly open. "The cat! She went back for him!"
"Oh, no," my mother says. We both know I'm right. We're pushing against the incoming tide, trying to get
out of the bunker. Up ahead, I can see them preparing to shut the thick metal doors. Slowly rotating the metal
wheels on either side inward. Somehow I know that once they have been sealed, nothing in the world will
convince the soldiers to open them. Perhaps it will even be beyond their control. I'm indiscriminately shoving
people aside as I shout for them to wait. The space between the doors shrinks to a yard, a foot; there are only a
few inches left when I jam my hand through the crack.
"Open it! Let me out!" I cry.
Consternation shows on the soldiers' faces as they reverse the wheels a bit. Not enough to let me pass, but
enough to avoid crushing my fingers. I take the opportunity to wedge my shoulder into the opening. "Prim!" I
holler up the stairs. My mother pleads with the guards as I try to wriggle my way out. "Prim!"
Then I hear it. The faint sound of footsteps on the stairs. "We're coming!" I hear my sister call.
"Hold the door!" That was Gale.
"They're coming!" I tell the guards, and they slide the doors open about a foot. But I don't dare move--afraid
they'll lock us all out--until Prim appears, her cheeks flushed with running, hauling Buttercup. I pull her inside and
Gale follows, twisting an armload of baggage sideways to get it into the bunker. The doors are closed with a loud
and final clank.
"What were you thinking?" I give Prim an angry shake and then hug her, squashing Buttercup between us.
Prim's explanation is already on her lips. "I couldn't leave him behind, Katniss. Not twice. You should have
seen him pacing the room and howling. He'd come back to protect us."
"Okay. Okay." I take a few breaths to calm myself, step back, and lift Buttercup by the scruff of the neck. "I
should've drowned you when I had the chance." His ears flatten and he raises a paw. I hiss before he gets a
chance, which seems to annoy him a little, since he considers hissing his own personal sound of contempt. In
retaliation, he gives a helpless kitten mew that brings my sister immediately to his defense.
"Oh, Katniss, don't tease him," she says, folding him back in her arms. "He's already so upset."
The idea that I've wounded the brute's tiny cat feelings just invites further taunting. But Prim's genuinely
distressed for him. So instead, I visualize Buttercup's fur lining a pair of gloves, an image that has helped me
deal with him over the years. "Okay, sorry. We're under the big E on the wall. Better get him settled in before he
loses it." Prim hurries off, and I find myself face-to-face with Gale. He's holding the box of medical supplies from
our kitchen in 12. Site of our last conversation, kiss, fallout, whatever. My game bag's slung across his shoulder.
"If Peeta's right, these didn't stand a chance," he says.
Peeta. Blood like raindrops on the window. Like wet mud on boots.
"Thanks for...everything." I take our stuff. "What were you doing up in our rooms?"
"Just double-checking," he says. "We're in Forty-Seven if you need me."
Practically everyone withdrew to their spaces when the doors shut, so I get to cross to our new home with
at least five hundred people watching me. I try to appear extra calm to make up for my frantic crashing through
the crowd. Like that's fooling anyone. So much for setting an example. Oh, who cares? They all think I'm nuts
anyway. One man, who I think I knocked to the floor, catches my eye and rubs his elbow resentfully. I almost hiss
at him, too.
Prim has Buttercup installed on the lower bunk, draped in a blanket so that only his face pokes out. This is
how he likes to be when there's thunder, the one thing that actually frightens him. My mother puts her box carefully
in the cube. I crouch, my back supported by the wall, to check what Gale managed to rescue in my hunting bag.
The plant book, the hunting jacket, my parents' wedding photo, and the personal contents of my drawer. My
mockingjay pin now lives with Cinna's outfit, but there's the gold locket and the silver parachute with the spile and
Peeta's pearl. I knot the pearl into the corner of the parachute, bury it deep in the recesses of the bag, as if it's
Peeta's life and no one can take it away as long as I guard it.
The faint sound of the sirens cuts off sharply. Coin's voice comes over the district audio system, thanking
The faint sound of the sirens cuts off sharply. Coin's voice comes over the district audio system, thanking
us all for an exemplary evacuation of the upper levels. She stresses that this is not a drill, as Peeta Mellark, the
District 12 victor, has possibly made a televised reference to an attack on 13 tonight.
That's when the first bomb hits. There's an initial sense of impact followed by an explosion that resonates in
my innermost parts, the lining of my intestines, the marrow of my bones, the roots of my teeth. We're all going to
die, I think. My eyes turn upward, expecting to see giant cracks race across the ceiling, massive chunks of stone
raining down on us, but the bunker itself gives only a slight shudder. The lights go out and I experience the
disorientation of total darkness. Speechless human sounds--spontaneous shrieks, ragged breaths, baby
whimpers, one musical bit of insane laughter--dance around in the charged air. Then there's a hum of a
generator, and a dim wavering glow replaces the stark lighting that is the norm in 13. It's closer to what we had in
our homes in 12, when the candles and fire burned low on a winter's night.
I reach for Prim in the twilight, clamp my hand on her leg, and pull myself over to her. Her voice remains
steady as she croons to Buttercup. "It's all right, baby, it's all right. We'll be okay down here."
My mother wraps her arms around us. I allow myself to feel young for a moment and rest my head on her
shoulder. "That was nothing like the bombs in Eight," I say.
"Probably a bunker missile," says Prim, keeping her voice soothing for the cat's sake. "We learned about
them during the orientation for new citizens. They're designed to penetrate deep in the ground before they go off.
Because there's no point in bombing Thirteen on the surface anymore."
"Nuclear?" I ask, feeling a chill run through me.
"Not necessarily," says Prim. "Some just have a lot of explosives in them. But...it could be either kind, I
The gloom makes it hard to see the heavy metal doors at the end of the bunker. Would they be any
protection against a nuclear attack? And even if they were one hundred percent effective at sealing out the
radiation, which is really unlikely, would we ever be able to leave this place? The thought of spending whatever
remains of my life in this stone vault horrifies me. I want to run madly for the door and demand to be released into
whatever lies above. It's pointless. They would never let me out, and I might start some kind of stampede.
"We're so far down, I'm sure we're safe," says my mother wanly. Is she thinking of my father's being blown
to nothingness in the mines? "It was a close call, though. Thank goodness Peeta had the wherewithal to warn
The wherewithal. A general term that somehow includes everything that was needed for him to sound the
alarm. The knowledge, the opportunity, the courage. And something else I can't define. Peeta seemed to have
been waging a sort of battle in his mind, fighting to get the message out. Why? The ease with which he
manipulates words is his greatest talent. Was his difficulty a result of his torture? Something more? Like
Coin's voice, perhaps a shade grimmer, fills the bunker, the volume level flickering with the lights.
"Apparently, Peeta Mellark's information was sound and we owe him a great debt of gratitude. Sensors indicate
the first missile was not nuclear, but very powerful. We expect more will follow. For the duration of the attack,
citizens are to stay in their assigned areas unless otherwise notified."
A soldier alerts my mother that she's needed in the first-aid station. She's reluctant to leave us, even though
she'll only be thirty yards away.
"We'll be fine, really," I tell her. "Do you think anything could get past him?" I point to Buttercup, who gives
me such a halfhearted hiss, we all have to laugh a little. Even I feel sorry for him. After my mother goes, I suggest,
"Why don't you climb in with him, Prim?"
"I know it's silly...but I'm afraid the bunk might collapse on us during the attack," she says.
If the bunks collapse, the whole bunker will have given way and buried us, but I decide this kind of logic
won't actually be helpful. Instead, I clean out the storage cube and make Buttercup a bed inside. Then I pull a
mattress in front of it for my sister and me to share.
We're given clearance in small groups to use the bathroom and brush our teeth, although showering has
been canceled for the day. I curl up with Prim on the mattress, double layering the blankets because the cavern
emits a dank chill. Buttercup, miserable even with Prim's constant attention, huddles in the cube and exhales cat
breath in my face.
Despite the disagreeable conditions, I'm glad to have time with my sister. My extreme preoccupation since
I came here--no, since the first Games, really--has left little attention for her. I haven't been watching over her the
way I should, the way I used to. After all, it was Gale who checked our compartment, not me. Something to make
up for.I realize I've never even bothered to ask her about how she's handling the shock of coming here. "So, how
are you liking Thirteen, Prim?" I offer.
"Right now?" she asks. We both laugh. "I miss home badly sometimes. But then I remember there's nothing
left to miss anymore. I feel safer here. We don't have to worry about you. Well, not the same way." She pauses,
and then a shy smile crosses her lips. "I think they're going to train me to be a doctor."
It's the first I've heard of it. "Well, of course, they are. They'd be stupid not to."
"They've been watching me when I help out in the hospital. I'm already taking the medic courses. It's just
beginner's stuff. I know a lot of it from home. Still, there's plenty to learn," she tells me.
"That's great," I say. Prim a doctor. She couldn't even dream of it in 12. Something small and quiet, like a
match being struck, lights up the gloom inside me. This is the sort of future a rebellion could bring.
"What about you, Katniss? How are you managing?" Her fingertip moves in short, gentle strokes between
Buttercup's eyes. "And don't say you're fine."
It's true. Whatever the opposite of fine is, that's what I am. So I go ahead and tell her about Peeta, his
deterioration on-screen, and how I think they must be killing him at this very moment. Buttercup has to rely on
himself for a while, because now Prim turns her attention to me. Pulling me closer, brushing the hair back behind
my ears with her fingers. I've stopped talking because there's really nothing left to say and there's this piercing
sort of pain where my heart is. Maybe I'm even having a heart attack, but it doesn't seem worth mentioning.
"Katniss, I don't think President Snow will kill Peeta," she says. Of course, she says this; it's what she thinks
will calm me. But her next words come as a surprise. "If he does, he won't have anyone left you want. He won't
have any way to hurt you."
Suddenly, I am reminded of another girl, one who had seen all the evil the Capitol had to offer. Johanna
Mason, the tribute from District 7, in the last arena. I was trying to prevent her from going into the jungle where the
jabberjays mimicked the voices of loved ones being tortured, but she brushed me off, saying, "They can't hurt
me. I'm not like the rest of you. There's no one left I love."
Then I know Prim is right, that Snow cannot afford to waste Peeta's life, especially now, while the
Mockingjay causes so much havoc. He's killed Cinna already. Destroyed my home. My family, Gale, and even
Haymitch are out of his reach. Peeta's all he has left.
"So, what do you think they'll do to him?" I ask.
Prim sounds about a thousand years old when she speaks.
"Whatever it takes to break you."
What will break me?
This is the question that consumes me over the next three days as we wait to be released from our prison
of safety. What will break me into a million pieces so that I am beyond repair, beyond usefulness? I mention it to
no one, but it devours my waking hours and weaves itself throughout my nightmares.
Four more bunker missiles fall over this period, all massive, all very damaging, but there's no urgency to the
attack. The bombs are spread out over the long hours so that just when you think the raid is over, another blast
sends shock waves through your guts. It feels more designed to keep us in lockdown than to decimate 13.
Cripple the district, yes. Give the people plenty to do to get the place running again. But destroy it? No. Coin was
right on that point. You don't destroy what you want to acquire in the future. I assume what they really want, in the
short term, is to stop the Airtime Assaults and keep me off the televisions of Panem.
We receive next to no information about what is happening. Our screens never come on, and we get only
brief audio updates from Coin about the nature of the bombs. Certainly, the war is still being waged, but as to its
status, we're in the dark.
Inside the bunker, cooperation is the order of the day. We adhere to a strict schedule for meals and
bathing, exercise and sleep. Small periods of socialization are granted to alleviate the tedium. Our space
becomes very popular because both children and adults have a fascination with Buttercup. He attains celebrity
status with his evening game of Crazy Cat. I created this by accident a few years ago, during a winter blackout.
You simply wiggle a flashlight beam around on the floor, and Buttercup tries to catch it. I'm petty enough to enjoy it because I think it makes him look stupid. Inexplicably, everyone here thinks he's clever and delightful. I'm even
issued a special set of batteries--an enormous waste--to be used for this purpose. The citizens of 13 are truly
starved for entertainment.
It's on the third night, during our game, that I answer the question eating away at me. Crazy Cat becomes a
metaphor for my situation. I am Buttercup. Peeta, the thing I want so badly to secure, is the light. As long as
Buttercup feels he has the chance of catching the elusive light under his paws, he's bristling with aggression.
(That's how I've been since I left the arena, with Peeta alive.) When the light goes out completely, Buttercup's
temporarily distraught and confused, but he recovers and moves on to other things. (That's what would happen if
Peeta died.) But the one thing that sends Buttercup into a tailspin is when I leave the light on but put it hopelessly
out of his reach, high on the wall, beyond even his jumping skills. He paces below the wall, wails, and can't be
comforted or distracted. He's useless until I shut the light off. (That's what Snow is trying to do to me now, only I
don't know what form his game takes.)
Maybe this realization on my part is all Snow needs. Thinking that Peeta was in his possession and being
tortured for rebel information was bad. But thinking that he's being tortured specifically to incapacitate me is
unendurable. And it's under the weight of this revelation that I truly begin to break.
After Crazy Cat, we're directed to bed. The power's been coming and going; sometimes the lamps burn at
full brightness, other times we squint at one another in the brownouts. At bedtime they turn the lamps to near
darkness and activate safety lights in each space. Prim, who's decided the walls will hold up, snuggles with
Buttercup on the lower bunk. My mother's on the upper. I offer to take a bunk, but they make me keep to the floor
mattress since I flail around so much when I'm sleeping.
I'm not flailing now, as my muscles are rigid with the tension of holding myself together. The pain over my
heart returns, and from it I imagine tiny fissures spreading out into my body. Through my torso, down my arms
and legs, over my face, leaving it crisscrossed with cracks. One good jolt of a bunker missile and I could shatter
into strange, razor-sharp shards.
When the restless, wiggling majority has settled into sleep, I carefully extricate myself from my blanket and
tiptoe through the cavern until I find Finnick, feeling for some unspecified reason that he will understand. He sits
under the safety light in his space, knotting his rope, not even pretending to rest. As I whisper my discovery of
Snow's plan to break me, it dawns on me. This strategy is very old news to Finnick. It's what broke him.
"This is what they're doing to you with Annie, isn't it?" I ask.
"Well, they didn't arrest her because they thought she'd be a wealth of rebel information," he says. "They
know I'd never have risked telling her anything like that. For her own protection."
"Oh, Finnick. I'm so sorry," I say.
"No, I'm sorry. That I didn't warn you somehow," he tells me.
Suddenly, a memory surfaces. I'm strapped to my bed, mad with rage and grief after the rescue. Finnick is
trying to console me about Peeta. "They'll figure out he doesn't know anything pretty fast. And they won't kill
him if they think they can use him against you."
"You did warn me, though. On the hovercraft. Only when you said they'd use Peeta against me, I thought you
meant like bait. To lure me into the Capitol somehow," I say.
"I shouldn't have said even that. It was too late for it to be of any help to you. Since I hadn't warned you
before the Quarter Quell, I should've shut up about how Snow operates." Finnick yanks on the end of his rope,
and an intricate knot becomes a straight line again. "It's just that I didn't understand when I met you. After your
first Games, I thought the whole romance was an act on your part. We all expected you'd continue that strategy.
But it wasn't until Peeta hit the force field and nearly died that I--" Finnick hesitates.
I think back to the arena. How I sobbed when Finnick revived Peeta. The quizzical look on Finnick's face.
The way he excused my behavior, blaming it on my pretend pregnancy. "That you what?"
"That I knew I'd misjudged you. That you do love him. I'm not saying in what way. Maybe you don't know
yourself. But anyone paying attention could see how much you care about him," he says gently.
Anyone? On Snow's visit before the Victory Tour, he challenged me to erase any doubts of my love for
Peeta. "Convince me," Snow said. It seems, under that hot pink sky with Peeta's life in limbo, I finally did. And in
doing so, I gave him the weapon he needed to break me.
Finnick and I sit for a long time in silence, watching the knots bloom and vanish, before I can ask, "How do
you bear it?"
Finnick looks at me in disbelief. "I don't, Katniss! Obviously, I don't. I drag myself out of nightmares each
morning and find there's no relief in waking." Something in my expression stops him. "Better not to give in to it. It
takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart."
Well, he must know. I take a deep breath, forcing myself back into one piece.
"The more you can distract yourself, the better," he says. "First thing tomorrow, we'll get you your own rope.
Until then, take mine."
I spend the rest of the night on my mattress obsessively making knots, holding them up for Buttercup's
inspection. If one looks suspicious, he swipes it out of the air and bites it a few times to make sure it's dead. By
morning, my fingers are sore, but I'm still holding on.
With twenty-four hours of quiet behind us, Coin finally announces we can leave the bunker. Our old quarters
have been destroyed by the bombings. Everyone must follow exact directions to their new compartments. We
clean our spaces, as directed, and file obediently toward the door.
Before I'm halfway there, Boggs appears and pulls me from the line. He signals for Gale and Finnick to join
us. People move aside to let us by. Some even smile at me since the Crazy Cat game seems to have made me
more lovable. Out the door, up the stairs, down the hall to one of those multidirectional elevators, and finally we
arrive at Special Defense. Nothing along our route has been damaged, but we are still very deep.
Boggs ushers us into a room virtually identical to Command. Coin, Plutarch, Haymitch, Cressida, and
everybody else around the table looks exhausted. Someone has finally broken out the coffee--although I'm sure
it's viewed only as an emergency stimulant--and Plutarch has both hands wrapped tightly around his cup as if at
any moment it might be taken away.
There's no small talk. "We need all four of you suited up and aboveground," says the president. "You have
two hours to get footage showing the damage from the bombing, establish that Thirteen's military unit remains
not only functional but dominant, and, most important, that the Mockingjay is still alive. Any questions?"
"Can we have a coffee?" asks Finnick.
Steaming cups are handed out. I stare distastefully at the shiny black liquid, never having been much of a
fan of the stuff, but thinking it might help me stay on my feet. Finnick sloshes some cream in my cup and reaches
into the sugar bowl. "Want a sugar cube?" he asks in his old seductive voice. That's how we met, with Finnick
offering me sugar. Surrounded by horses and chariots, costumed and painted for the crowds, before we were
allies. Before I had any idea what made him tick. The memory actually coaxes a smile out of me. "Here, it
improves the taste," he says in his real voice, plunking three cubes in my cup.
As I turn to go suit up as the Mockingjay, I catch Gale watching me and Finnick unhappily. What now? Does
he actually think something's going on between us? Maybe he saw me go to Finnick's last night. I would've
passed the Hawthornes' space to get there. I guess that probably rubbed him the wrong way. Me seeking out
Finnick's company instead of his. Well, fine. I've got rope burn on my fingers, I can barely hold my eyes open, and
a camera crew's waiting for me to do something brilliant. And Snow's got Peeta. Gale can think whatever he
In my new Remake Room in Special Defense, my prep team slaps me into my Mockingjay suit, arranges
my hair, and applies minimal makeup before my coffee's even cooled. In ten minutes, the cast and crew of the
next propos are making the circuitous trek to the outside. I slurp my coffee as we travel, finding that the cream
and sugar greatly enhance its flavor. As I knock back the dregs that have settled to the bottom of the cup, I feel a
slight buzz start to run through my veins.
After climbing a final ladder, Boggs hits a lever that opens a trapdoor. Fresh air rushes in. I take big gulps
and for the first time allow myself to feel how much I hated the bunker. We emerge into the woods, and my hands
run through the leaves overhead. Some are just starting to turn. "What day is it?" I ask no one in particular. Boggs
tells me September begins next week.
September. That means Snow has had Peeta in his clutches for five, maybe six weeks. I examine a leaf on
my palm and see I'm shaking. I can't will myself to stop. I blame the coffee and try to focus on slowing my
breathing, which is far too rapid for my pace.
Debris begins to litter the forest floor. We come to our first crater, thirty yards wide and I can't tell how deep.
Very. Boggs says anyone on the first ten levels would likely have been killed. We skirt the pit and continue on.
"Can you rebuild it?" Gale asks.
"Not anytime soon. That one didn't get much. A few backup generators and a poultry farm," says Boggs.
"We'll just seal it off."
The trees disappear as we enter the area inside the fence. The craters are ringed with a mixture of old and
new rubble. Before the bombing, very little of the current 13 was aboveground. A few guard stations. The training
area. About a foot of the top floor of our building--where Buttercup's window jutted out--with several feet of steel
on top of it. Even that was never meant to withstand more than a superficial attack.
"How much of an edge did the boy's warning give you?" asks Haymitch.
"About ten minutes before our own systems would've detected the missiles," says Boggs.
"But it did help, right?" I ask. I can't bear it if he says no.
"Absolutely," Boggs replies. "Civilian evacuation was completed. Seconds count when you're under attack.
Ten minutes meant lives saved."
Prim, I think. And Gale. They were in the bunker only a couple of minutes before the first missile hit. Peeta
might have saved them. Add their names to the list of things I can never stop owing him for.
Cressida has the idea to film me in front of the ruins of the old Justice Building, which is something of a
joke since the Capitol's been using it as a backdrop for fake news broadcasts for years, to show that the district
no longer existed. Now, with the recent attack, the Justice Building sits about ten yards away from the edge of a
As we approach what used to be the grand entrance, Gale points out something and the whole party slows
down. I don't know what the problem is at first and then I see the ground strewn with fresh pink and red roses.
"Don't touch them!" I yell. "They're for me!"
The sickeningly sweet smell hits my nose, and my heart begins to hammer against my chest. So I didn't
imagine it. The rose on my dresser. Before me lies Snow's second delivery. Long-stemmed pink and red
beauties, the very flowers that decorated the set where Peeta and I performed our post-victory interview. Flowers
not meant for one, but for a pair of lovers.
I explain to the others as best I can. Upon inspection, they appear to be harmless, if genetically enhanced,
flowers. Two dozen roses. Slightly wilted. Most likely dropped after the last bombing. A crew in special suits
collects them and carts them away. I feel certain they will find nothing extraordinary in them, though. Snow knows
exactly what he's doing to me. It's like having Cinna beaten to a pulp while I watch from my tribute tube. Designed
to unhinge me.
Like then, I try to rally and fight back. But as Cressida gets Castor and Pollux in place, I feel my anxiety
building. I'm so tired, so wired, and so unable to keep my mind on anything but Peeta since I've seen the roses.
The coffee was a huge mistake. What I didn't need was a stimulant. My body visibly shakes and I can't seem to
catch my breath. After days in the bunker, I'm squinting no matter what direction I turn, and the light hurts. Even in
catch my breath. After days in the bunker, I'm squinting no matter what direction I turn, and the light hurts. Even in
the cool breeze, sweat trickles down my face.
"So, what exactly do you need from me again?" I ask.
"Just a few quick lines that show you're alive and still fighting," says Cressida.
"Okay." I take my position and then I'm staring into the red light. Staring. Staring. "I'm sorry, I've got nothing."
Cressida walks up to me. "You feeling okay?" I nod. She pulls a small cloth from her pocket and blots my
face. "How about we do the old Q-and-A thing?"
"Yeah. That would help, I think." I cross my arms to hide the shaking. Glance at Finnick, who gives me a
thumbs-up. But he's looking pretty shaky himself.
Cressida's back in position now. "So, Katniss. You've survived the Capitol bombing of Thirteen. How did it
compare with what you experienced on the ground in Eight?"
"We were so far underground this time, there was no real danger. Thirteen's alive and well and so am--" My
voice cuts off in a dry, squeaking sound.
"Try the line again," says Cressida. "'Thirteen's alive and well and so am I.'"
I take a breath, trying to force air down into my diaphragm. "Thirteen's alive and so--" No, that's wrong.
I swear I can still smell those roses.
"Katniss, just this one line and you're done today. I promise," says Cressida. "'Thirteen's alive and well and
so am I.'"
I swing my arms to loosen myself up. Place my fists on my hips. Then drop them to my sides. Saliva's filling
my mouth at a ridiculous rate and I feel vomit at the back of my throat. I swallow hard and open my lips so I can
get the stupid line out and go hide in the woods and--that's when I start crying.
It's impossible to be the Mockingjay. Impossible to complete even this one sentence. Because now I know
that everything I say will be directly taken out on Peeta. Result in his torture. But not his death, no, nothing so
merciful as that. Snow will ensure that his life is much worse than death.
"Cut," I hear Cressida say quietly.
"What's wrong with her?" Plutarch says under his breath.
"She's figured out how Snow's using Peeta," says Finnick.
There's something like a collective sigh of regret from the semicircle of people spread out before me.
Because I know this now. Because there will never be a way for me to not know this again. Because, beyond the
military disadvantage losing a Mockingjay entails, I am broken.
Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is
Haymitch, because he loves Peeta, too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he's there,
holding me and patting my back. "It's okay. It'll be okay, sweetheart." He sits me on a length of broken marble
pillar and keeps an arm around me while I sob.
"I can't do this anymore," I say.
"I know," he says.
"All I can think of is--what he's going to do to Peeta--because I'm the Mockingjay!" I get out.
"I know." Haymitch's arm tightens around me.
"Did you see? How weird he acted? What are they--doing to him?" I'm gasping for air between sobs, but I
manage one last phrase. "It's my fault!" And then I cross some line into hysteria and there's a needle in my arm
and the world slips away.
It must be strong, whatever they shot into me, because it's a full day before I come to. My sleep wasn't
peaceful, though. I have the sense of emerging from a world of dark, haunted places where I traveled alone.
Haymitch sits in the chair by my bed, his skin waxen, his eyes bloodshot. I remember about Peeta and start to
Haymitch reaches out and squeezes my shoulder. "It's all right. We're going to try to get Peeta out."
"What?" That makes no sense.
"Plutarch's sending in a rescue team. He has people on the inside. He thinks we can get Peeta back
alive," he says.
"Why didn't we before?" I say.
"Because it's costly. But everyone agrees this is the thing to do. It's the same choice we made in the arena.
To do whatever it takes to keep you going. We can't lose the Mockingjay now. And you can't perform unless you
know Snow can't take it out on Peeta." Haymitch offers me a cup. "Here, drink something."
I slowly sit up and take a sip of water. "What do you mean, costly?"
He shrugs. "Covers will be blown. People may die. But keep in mind that they're dying every day. And it's
not just Peeta; we're getting Annie out for Finnick, too."
"Where is he?" I ask.
"Behind that screen, sleeping his sedative off. He lost it right after we knocked you out," says Haymitch. I
smile a little, feel a bit less weak. "Yeah, it was a really excellent shoot. You two cracked up and Boggs left to
arrange the mission to get Peeta. We're officially in reruns."
"Well, if Boggs is leading it, that's a plus," I say.
"Oh, he's on top of it. It was volunteer only, but he pretended not to notice me waving my hand in the air,"
says Haymitch. "See? He's already demonstrated good judgment."
Something's wrong. Haymitch's trying a little too hard to cheer me up. It's not really his style. "So who else
"I think there were seven altogether," he says evasively.
I get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. "Who else, Haymitch?" I insist.
Haymitch finally drops the good-natured act. "You know who else, Katniss. You know who stepped up first."
Of course I do.
Today I might lose both of them.
I try to imagine a world where both Gale's and Peeta's voices have ceased. Hands stilled. Eyes unblinking.
I'm standing over their bodies, having a last look, leaving the room where they lie. But when I open the door to
step out into the world, there's only a tremendous void. A pale gray nothingness that is all my future holds.
"Do you want me to have them sedate you until it's over?" asks Haymitch. He's not joking. This is a man
who spent his adult life at the bottom of a bottle, trying to anesthetize himself against the Capitol's crimes. The
sixteen-year-old boy who won the second Quarter Quell must have had people he loved--family, friends, a
sweetheart maybe--that he fought to get back to. Where are they now? How is it that until Peeta and I were thrust
upon him, there was no one at all in his life? What did Snow do to them?
"No," I say. "I want to go to the Capitol. I want to be part of the rescue mission."
"They're gone," says Haymitch.
"How long ago did they leave? I could catch up. I could--" What? What could I do?
Haymitch shakes his head. "It'll never happen. You're too valuable and too vulnerable. There was talk of
sending you to another district to divert the Capitol's attention while the rescue takes place. But no one felt you
could handle it."
"Please, Haymitch!" I'm begging now. "I have to do something. I can't just sit here waiting to hear if they
died. There must be something I can do!"
"All right. Let me talk to Plutarch. You stay put." But I can't. Haymitch's footsteps are still echoing in the outer
hall when I fumble my way through the slit in the dividing curtain to find Finnick sprawled out on his stomach, his
hands twisted in his pillowcase. Although it's cowardly--cruel even--to rouse him from the shadowy, muted drug
land to stark reality, I go ahead and do it because I can't stand to face this by myself.
As I explain our situation, his initial agitation mysteriously ebbs. "Don't you see, Katniss, this will decide
things. One way or the other. By the end of the day, they'll either be dead or with us. It's...it's more than we could
Well, that's a sunny view of our situation. And yet there's something calming about the idea that this torment
could come to an end.
The curtain yanks back and there's Haymitch. He has a job for us, if we can pull it together. They still need
post-bombing footage of 13. "If we can get it in the next few hours, Beetee can air it leading up to the rescue,
and maybe keep the Capitol's attention elsewhere."
"Yes, a distraction," says Finnick. "A decoy of sorts."
"What we really need is something so riveting that even President Snow won't be able to tear himself away.
Got anything like that?" asks Haymitch.
Having a job that might help the mission snaps me into focus. While I knock down breakfast and get
prepped, I try to think of what I might say. President Snow must be wondering how that blood-splattered floor and
his roses are affecting me. If he wants me broken, then I will have to be whole. But I don't think I will convince him
of anything by shouting a couple of defiant lines at the camera. Besides, that won't buy the rescue team any time.
Outbursts are short. It's stories that take time.
I don't know if it will work, but when the television crew's all assembled aboveground, I ask Cressida if she
could start out by asking me about Peeta. I take a seat on the fallen marble pillar where I had my breakdown,
wait for the red light and Cressida's question.
"How did you meet Peeta?" she asks.
And then I do the thing that Haymitch has wanted since my first interview. I open up. "When I met Peeta, I
was eleven years old, and I was almost dead." I talk about that awful day when I tried to sell the baby clothes in
the rain, how Peeta's mother chased me from the bakery door, and how he took a beating to bring me the loaves
of bread that saved our lives. "We had never even spoken. The first time I ever talked to Peeta was on the train
to the Games."
"But he was already in love with you," says Cressida.
"I guess so." I allow myself a small smile.
"How are you doing with the separation?" she asks.
"Not well. I know at any moment Snow could kill him. Especially since he warned Thirteen about the
bombing. It's a terrible thing to live with," I say. "But because of what they're putting him through, I don't have any
reservations anymore. About doing whatever it takes to destroy the Capitol. I'm finally free." I turn my gaze
skyward and watch the flight of a hawk across the sky. "President Snow once admitted to me that the Capitol
was fragile. At the time, I didn't know what he meant. It was hard to see clearly because I was so afraid. Now I'm
not. The Capitol's fragile because it depends on the districts for everything. Food, energy, even the
Peacekeepers that police us. If we declare our freedom, the Capitol collapses. President Snow, thanks to you,
I'm officially declaring mine today."
I've been sufficient, if not dazzling. Everyone loves the bread story. But it's my message to President Snow
that gets the wheels spinning in Plutarch's brain. He hastily calls Finnick and Haymitch over and they have a brief
but intense conversation that I can see Haymitch isn't happy with. Plutarch seems to win--Finnick's pale but
nodding his head by the end of it.
As Finnick moves to take my seat before the camera, Haymitch tells him, "You don't have to do this."
"Yes, I do. If it will help her." Finnick balls up his rope in his hand. "I'm ready."
I don't know what to expect. A love story about Annie? An account of the abuses in District 4? But Finnick
Odair takes a completely different tack.
"President Snow used to...sell me...my body, that is," Finnick begins in a flat, removed tone. "I wasn't the
only one. If a victor is considered desirable, the president gives them as a reward or allows people to buy them
for an exorbitant amount of money. If you refuse, he kills someone you love. So you do it."
That explains it, then. Finnick's parade of lovers in the Capitol. They were never real lovers. Just people like
our old Head Peacekeeper, Cray, who bought desperate girls to devour and discard because he could. I want to
interrupt the taping and beg Finnick's forgiveness for every false thought I've ever had about him. But we have a
job to do, and I sense Finnick's role will be far more effective than mine.
"I wasn't the only one, but I was the most popular," he says. "And perhaps the most defenseless, because
the people I loved were so defenseless. To make themselves feel better, my patrons would make presents of
money or jewelry, but I found a much more valuable form of payment."
Secrets, I think. That's what Finnick told me his lovers paid him in, only I thought the whole arrangement
was by his choice.
"Secrets," he says, echoing my thoughts. "And this is where you're going to want to stay tuned, President
Snow, because so very many of them were about you. But let's begin with some of the others."
Finnick begins to weave a tapestry so rich in detail that you can't doubt its authenticity. Tales of strange
sexual appetites, betrayals of the heart, bottomless greed, and bloody power plays. Drunken secrets whispered
over damp pillow-cases in the dead of night. Finnick was someone bought and sold. A district slave. A
handsome one, certainly, but in reality, harmless. Who would he tell? And who would believe him if he did? But
some secrets are too delicious not to share. I don't know the people Finnick names--all seem to be prominent
Capitol citizens--but I know, from listening to the chatter of my prep team, the attention the most mild slip in
judgment can draw. If a bad haircut can lead to hours of gossip, what will charges of incest, back-stabbing,
blackmail, and arson produce? Even as the waves of shock and recrimination roll over the Capitol, the people
there will be waiting, as I am now, to hear about the president.
"And now, on to our good President Coriolanus Snow," says Finnick. "Such a young man when he rose to
power. Such a clever one to keep it. How, you must ask yourself, did he do it? One word. That's all you really
need to know. Poison." Finnick goes back to Snow's political ascension, which I know nothing of, and works his
way up to the present, pointing out case after case of the mysterious deaths of Snow's adversaries or, even
worse, his allies who had the potential to become threats. People dropping dead at a feast or slowly,
inexplicably declining into shadows over a period of months. Blamed on bad shellfish, elusive viruses, or an
overlooked weakness in the aorta. Snow drinking from the poisoned cup himself to deflect suspicion. But
antidotes don't always work. They say that's why he wears the roses that reek of perfume. They say it's to cover
the scent of blood from the mouth sores that will never heal. They say, they say, they say...Snow has a list and no
one knows who will be next.
Poison. The perfect weapon for a snake.
Since my opinion of the Capitol and its noble president are already so low, I can't say Finnick's allegations
shock me. They seem to have far more effect on the displaced Capitol rebels like my crew and Fulvia--even
Plutarch occasionally reacts in surprise, maybe wondering how a specific tidbit passed him by. When Finnick
finishes, they just keep the cameras rolling until finally he has to be the one to say "Cut."
The crew hurries inside to edit the material, and Plutarch leads Finnick off for a chat, probably to see if he
has any more stories. I'm left with Haymitch in the rubble, wondering if Finnick's fate would have one day been
mine. Why not? Snow could have gotten a really good price for the girl on fire.
"Is that what happened to you?" I ask Haymitch.
"No. My mother and younger brother. My girl. They were all dead two weeks after I was crowned victor.
Because of that stunt I pulled with the force field," he answers. "Snow had no one to use against me."
"I'm surprised he didn't just kill you," I say.
"Oh, no. I was the example. The person to hold up to the young Finnicks and Johannas and Cashmeres. Of
what could happen to a victor who caused problems," says Haymitch. "But he knew he had no leverage against
"Until Peeta and I came along," I say softly. I don't even get a shrug in return.
With our job done, there's nothing left for Finnick and me to do but wait. We try to fill the dragging minutes
in Special Defense. Tie knots. Push our lunch around our bowls. Blow things up on the shooting range. Because
of the danger of detection, no communication comes from the rescue team. At 15:00, the designated hour, we
stand tense and silent in the back of a room full of screens and computers and watch Beetee and his team try to
dominate the airwaves. His usual fidgety distraction is replaced with a determination I have never seen. Most of
my interview doesn't make the cut, just enough to show I am alive and still defiant. It is Finnick's salacious and
gory account of the Capitol that takes the day. Is Beetee's skill improving? Or are his counterparts in the Capitol
a little too fascinated to want to tune Finnick out? For the next sixty minutes, the Capitol feed alternates between
the standard afternoon newscast, Finnick, and attempts to black it all out. But the rebel techno team manages to
override even the latter and, in a real coup, keeps control for almost the entire attack on Snow.
"Let it go!" says Beetee, throwing up his hands, relinquishing the broadcast back to the Capitol. He mops
his face with a cloth. "If they're not out of there by now, they're all dead." He spins in his chair to see Finnick and
me reacting to his words. "It was a good plan, though. Did Plutarch show it to you?"
Of course not. Beetee takes us to another room and shows us how the team, with the help of rebel insiders,
will attempt--has attempted--to free the victors from an underground prison. It seems to have involved knockout
gas distributed by the ventilation system, a power failure, the detonation of a bomb in a government building
several miles from the prison, and now the disruption of the broadcast. Beetee's glad we find the plan hard to
follow, because then our enemies will, too.
"Like your electricity trap in the arena?" I ask.
"Exactly. And see how well that worked out?" says Beetee.
Well...not really, I think.
Finnick and I try to station ourselves in Command, where surely first word of the rescue will come, but we
are barred because serious war business is being carried out. We refuse to leave Special Defense and end up
waiting in the hummingbird room for news.
Making knots. Making knots. No word. Making knots. Tick-tock. This is a clock. Do not think of Gale. Do not
think of Peeta. Making knots. We do not want dinner. Fingers raw and bleeding. Finnick finally gives up and
assumes the hunched position he took in the arena when the jabberjays attacked. I perfect my miniature noose.
The words of "The Hanging Tree" replay in my head. Gale and Peeta. Peeta and Gale.
"Did you love Annie right away, Finnick?" I ask.
"No." A long time passes before he adds, "She crept up on me."
I search my heart, but at the moment the only person I can feel creeping up on me is Snow.
It must be midnight, it must be tomorrow when Haymitch pushes open the door. "They're back. We're
wanted in the hospital." My mouth opens with a flood of questions that he cuts off with "That's all I know."
I want to run, but Finnick's acting so strange, as if he's lost the ability to move, so I take his hand and lead
him like a small child. Through Special Defense, into the elevator that goes this way and that, and on to the
hospital wing. The place is in an uproar, with doctors shouting orders and the wounded being wheeled through
the halls in their beds.
We're sideswiped by a gurney bearing an unconscious, emaciated young woman with a shaved head. Her
flesh shows bruises and oozing scabs. Johanna Mason. Who actually knew rebel secrets. At least the one about
me. And this is how she has paid for it.
me. And this is how she has paid for it.
Through a doorway, I catch a glimpse of Gale, stripped to the waist, perspiration streaming down his face
as a doctor removes something from under his shoulder blade with a long pair of tweezers. Wounded, but alive. I
call his name, start toward him until a nurse pushes me back and shuts me out.
"Finnick!" Something between a shriek and a cry of joy. A lovely if somewhat bedraggled young woman--
dark tangled hair, sea green eyes--runs toward us in nothing but a sheet. "Finnick!" And suddenly, it's as if there's
no one in the world but these two, crashing through space to reach each other. They collide, enfold, lose their
balance, and slam against a wall, where they stay. Clinging into one being. Indivisible.
A pang of jealousy hits me. Not for either Finnick or Annie but for their certainty. No one seeing them could
doubt their love.
Boggs, looking a little worse for wear but uninjured, finds Haymitch and me. "We got them all out. Except
Enobaria. But since she's from Two, we doubt she's being held anyway. Peeta's at the end of the hall. The effects
of the gas are just wearing off. You should be there when he wakes."
Alive and well--maybe not well but alive and here. Away from Snow. Safe. Here. With me. In a minute I can
touch him. See his smile. Hear his laugh.
Haymitch's grinning at me. "Come on, then," he says.
I'm light-headed with giddiness. What will I say? Oh, who cares what I say? Peeta will be ecstatic no matter
what I do. He'll probably be kissing me anyway. I wonder if it will feel like those last kisses on the beach in the
arena, the ones I haven't dared let myself consider until this moment.
Peeta's awake already, sitting on the side of the bed, looking bewildered as a trio of doctors reassure him,
flash lights in his eyes, check his pulse. I'm disappointed that mine was not the first face he saw when he woke,
but he sees it now. His features register disbelief and something more intense that I can't quite place. Desire?
Desperation? Surely both, for he sweeps the doctors aside, leaps to his feet, and moves toward me. I run to
meet him, my arms extended to embrace him. His hands are reaching for me, too, to caress my face, I think.
My lips are just forming his name when his fingers lock around my throat.
The cold collar chafes my neck and makes the shivering even harder to control. At least I am no longer in
the claustrophobic tube, while the machines click and whir around me, listening to a disembodied voice telling
me to hold still while I try to convince myself I can still breathe. Even now, when I've been assured there will be no
permanent damage, I hunger for air.
The medical team's main concerns--damage to my spinal cord, airway, veins, and arteries--have been
allayed. Bruising, hoarseness, the sore larynx, this strange little cough--not to be worried about. It will all be fine.
The Mockingjay will not lose her voice. Where, I want to ask, is the doctor who determines if I am losing my
mind? Only I'm not supposed to talk right now. I can't even thank Boggs when he comes to check on me. To look
me over and tell me he's seen a lot worse injuries among the soldiers when they teach choke holds in training.
It was Boggs who knocked out Peeta with one blow before any permanent damage could be done. I know
Haymitch would have come to my defense if he hadn't been utterly unprepared. To catch both Haymitch and
myself off guard is a rare thing. But we have been so consumed with saving Peeta, so tortured by having him in
the Capitol's hands, that the elation at having him back blinded us. If I'd had a private reunion with Peeta, he
would have killed me. Now that he's deranged.
No, not deranged, I remind myself. Hijacked. That's the word I heard pass between Plutarch and Haymitch
as I was wheeled past them in the hallway. Hijacked. I don't know what it means.
Prim, who appeared moments after the attack and has stayed as close to me as possible ever since,
spreads another blanket over me. "I think they'll take the collar off soon, Katniss. You won't be so cold then." My
mother, who's been assisting in a complicated surgery, has still not been informed of Peeta's assault. Prim takes
one of my hands, which is clutched in a fist, and massages it until it opens and blood begins to flow through my
fingers again. She's starting on the second fist when the doctors show up, remove the collar, and give me a shot
of something for pain and swelling. I lie, as instructed, with my head still, not aggravating the injuries to my neck.
Plutarch, Haymitch, and Beetee have been waiting in the hall for the doctors to give them clearance to see
me. I don't know if they've told Gale, but since he's not here, I assume they haven't. Plutarch ushers the doctors
out and tries to order Prim to go as well, but she says, "No. If you force me to leave, I'll go directly to surgery and
tell my mother everything that's happened. And I warn you, she doesn't think much of a Gamemaker calling the
shots on Katniss's life. Especially when you've taken such poor care of her."
Plutarch looks offended, but Haymitch chuckles. "I'd let it go, Plutarch," he says. Prim stays.
"So, Katniss, Peeta's condition has come as a shock to all of us," says Plutarch. "We couldn't help but
notice his deterioration in the last two interviews. Obviously, he'd been abused, and we put his psychological
state down to that. Now we believe something more was going on. That the Capitol has been subjecting him to a
rather uncommon technique known as hijacking. Beetee?"
"I'm sorry," Beetee says, "but I can't tell you all the specifics of it, Katniss. The Capitol's very secretive about
this form of torture, and I believe the results are inconsistent. This we do know. It's a type of fear conditioning. The
term hijack comes from an old English word that means 'to capture,' or even better, 'seize.' We believe it was
chosen because the technique involves the use of tracker jacker venom, and the jack suggested hijack. You
were stung in your first Hunger Games, so unlike most of us, you have firsthand knowledge of the effects of the
Terror. Hallucinations. Nightmarish visions of losing those I love. Because the venom targets the part of the
brain that houses fear.
"I'm sure you remember how frightening it was. Did you also suffer mental confusion in the aftermath?"
asks Beetee. "A sense of being unable to judge what was true and what was false? Most people who have been
stung and lived to tell about it report something of the kind."
Yes. That encounter with Peeta. Even after I was clearheaded, I wasn't sure if he had saved my life by
taking on Cato or if I'd imagined it.
"Recall is made more difficult because memories can be changed." Beetee taps his forehead. "Brought to
the forefront of your mind, altered, and saved again in the revised form. Now imagine that I ask you to remember
something--either with a verbal suggestion or by making you watch a tape of the event--and while that
experience is refreshed, I give you a dose of tracker jacker venom. Not enough to induce a three-day blackout.
Just enough to infuse the memory with fear and doubt. And that's what your brain puts in long-term storage."
I start to feel sick. Prim asks the question that's in my mind. "Is that what they've done to Peeta? Taken his
memories of Katniss and distorted them so they're scary?"
Beetee nods. "So scary that he'd see her as life-threatening. That he might try to kill her. Yes, that's our
I cover my face with my arms because this isn't happening. It isn't possible. For someone to make Peeta
forget he loves me...no one could do that.
"But you can reverse it, right?" asks Prim.
"Um...very little data on that," says Plutarch. "None, really. If hijacking rehabilitation has been attempted
before, we have no access to those records."
"Well, you're going to try, aren't you?" Prim persists. "You're not just going to lock him up in some padded
room and leave him to suffer?"
"Of course, we'll try, Prim," says Beetee. "It's just, we don't know to what degree we'll succeed. If any. My
guess is that fearful events are the hardest to root out. They're the ones we naturally remember the best, after
"And apart from his memories of Katniss, we don't yet know what else has been tampered with," says
Plutarch. "We're putting together a team of mental health and military professionals to come up with a
counterattack. I, personally, feel optimistic that he'll make a full recovery."
"Do you?" asks Prim caustically. "And what do you think, Haymitch?"
I shift my arms slightly so I can see his expression through the crack. He's exhausted and discouraged as
he admits, "I think Peeta might get somewhat better. But...I don't think he'll ever be the same." I snap my arms
back together, closing the crack, shutting them all out.
"At least he's alive," says Plutarch, as if he's losing patience with the lot of us. "Snow executed Peeta's
stylist and his prep team on live television tonight. We've no idea what happened to Effie Trinket. Peeta's
damaged, but he's here. With us. And that's a definite improvement over his situation twelve hours ago. Let's
keep that in mind, all right?"
Plutarch's attempt to cheer me up--laced with the news of another four, possibly five, murders--somehow
backfires. Portia. Peeta's prep team. Effie. The effort to fight back tears makes my throat throb until I'm gasping
again. Eventually, they have no choice but to sedate me.
When I wake, I wonder if this will be the only way I sleep now, with drugs shot into my arm. I'm glad I'm not
supposed to talk for the next few days, because there's nothing I want to say. Or do. In fact, I'm a model patient,
my lethargy taken for restraint, obedience to the doctors' orders. I no longer feel like crying. In fact, I can only
manage to hold on to one simple thought: an image of Snow's face accompanied by the whisper in my head. I
will kill you.
My mother and Prim take turns nursing me, coaxing me to swallow bites of soft food. People come in
periodically to give me updates on Peeta's condition. The high levels of tracker jacker venom are working their
way out of his body. He's being treated only by strangers, natives of 13--no one from home or the Capitol has
been allowed to see him--to keep any dangerous memories from triggering. A team of specialists works long
hours designing a strategy for his recovery.
Gale's not supposed to visit me, as he's confined to bed with some kind of shoulder wound. But on the third
night, after I've been medicated and the lights turned down low for bedtime, he slips silently into my room. He
doesn't speak, just runs his fingers over the bruises on my neck with a touch as light as moth wings, plants a kiss
between my eyes, and disappears.
The next morning, I'm discharged from the hospital with instructions to move quietly and speak only when
necessary. I'm not imprinted with a schedule, so I wander around aimlessly until Prim's excused from her hospital
duties to take me to our family's latest compartment. 2212. Identical to the last one, but with no window.
Buttercup has now been issued a daily food allowance and a pan of sand that's kept under the bathroom
sink. As Prim tucks me into bed, he hops up on my pillow, vying for her attention. She cradles him but stays
focused on me. "Katniss, I know this whole thing with Peeta is terrible for you. But remember, Snow worked on
him for weeks, and we've only had him for a few days. There's a chance that the old Peeta, the one who loves
you, is still inside. Trying to get back to you. Don't give up on him."
I look at my little sister and think how she has inherited the best qualities our family has to offer: my
mother's healing hands, my father's level head, and my fight. There's something else there as well, something
entirely her own. An ability to look into the confusing mess of life and see things for what they are. Is it possible
she could be right? That Peeta could return to me?
"I have to get back to the hospital," Prim says, placing Buttercup on the bed beside me. "You two keep
each other company, okay?"
Buttercup springs off the bed and follows her to the door, complaining loudly when he's left behind. We're
about as much company for each other as dirt. After maybe thirty seconds, I know I can't stand being confined in
the subterranean cell, and leave Buttercup to his own devices. I get lost several times, but eventually I make my
way down to Special Defense. Everyone I pass stares at the bruises, and I can't help feeling self-conscious to
the point that I tug my collar up to my ears.
Gale must have been released from the hospital this morning as well, because I find him in one of the
research rooms with Beetee. They're immersed, heads bent over a drawing, taking a measurement. Versions of
the picture litter the table and floor. Tacked on the corkboard walls and occupying several computer screens are
other designs of some sort. In the rough lines of one, I recognize Gale's twitch-up snare. "What are these?" I ask
hoarsely, pulling their attention from the sheet.
"Ah, Katniss, you've found us out," says Beetee cheerfully.
"What? Is this a secret?" I know Gale's been down here working with Beetee a lot, but I assumed they were
messing around with bows and guns.
"Not really. But I've felt a little guilty about it. Stealing Gale away from you so much," Beetee admits.
Since I've spent most of my time in 13 disoriented, worried, angry, being remade, or hospitalized, I can't
say Gale's absences have inconvenienced me. Things haven't been exactly harmonious between us, either. But I
let Beetee think he owes me. "I hope you've been putting his time to good use."
"Come and see," he says, waving me over to a computer screen.
This is what they've been doing. Taking the fundamental ideas behind Gale's traps and adapting them into
weapons against humans. Bombs mostly. It's less about the mechanics of the traps than the psychology behind
them. Booby-trapping an area that provides something essential to survival. A water or food supply. Frightening
prey so that a large number flee into a greater destruction. Endangering off-spring in order to draw in the actual
desired target, the parent. Luring the victim into what appears to be a safe haven--where death awaits it. At
some point, Gale and Beetee left the wilderness behind and focused on more human impulses. Like
compassion. A bomb explodes. Time is allowed for people to rush to the aid of the wounded. Then a second,
more powerful bomb kills them as well.
"That seems to be crossing some kind of line," I say. "So anything goes?" They both stare at me--Beetee
with doubt, Gale with hostility. "I guess there isn't a rule book for what might be unacceptable to do to another
"Sure there is. Beetee and I have been following the same rule book President Snow used when he
hijacked Peeta," says Gale.
Cruel, but to the point. I leave without further comment. I feel if I don't get outside immediately, I'll just go
ballistic, but I'm still in Special Defense when I'm waylaid by Haymitch. "Come on," he says. "We need you back
up at the hospital."
"What for?" I ask.
"They're going to try something on Peeta," he answers. "Send in the most innocuous person from Twelve
they can come up with. Find someone Peeta might share childhood memories with, but nothing too close to you.
They're screening people now."
I know this will be a difficult task, since anyone Peeta shares childhood memories with would most likely be
from town, and almost none of those people escaped the flames. But when we reach the hospital room that has
been turned into a work space for Peeta's recovery team, there she sits chatting with Plutarch. Delly Cartwright.
As always, she gives me a smile that suggests I'm her best friend in the world. She gives this smile to everyone.
"Katniss!" she calls out.
"Hey, Delly," I say. I'd heard she and her younger brother had survived. Her parents, who ran the shoe shop
in town, weren't as lucky. She looks older, wearing the drab 13 clothes that flatter no one, with her long yellow hair
in a practical braid instead of curls. Delly's a bit thinner than I remember, but she was one of the few kids in
District 12 with a couple of pounds to spare. The diet here, the stress, the grief of losing her parents have all, no
doubt, contributed. "How are you doing?" I ask.
"Oh, it's been a lot of changes all at once." Her eyes fill with tears. "But everyone's really nice here in
Thirteen, don't you think?"
Delly means it. She genuinely likes people. All people, not just a select few she's spent years making up
her mind about.
"They've made an effort to make us feel welcome," I say. I think that's a fair statement without going
overboard. "Are you the one they've picked to see Peeta?"
"I guess so. Poor Peeta. Poor you. I'll never understand the Capitol," she says.
"Better not to, maybe," I tell her.
"Delly's known Peeta for a long time," says Plutarch.
"Oh, yes!" Delly's face brightens. "We played together from when we were little. I used to tell people he was
"What do you think?" Haymitch asks me. "Anything that might trigger memories of you?"
"We were all in the same class. But we never overlapped much," I say.
"Katniss was always so amazing, I never dreamed she would notice me," says Delly. "The way she could
hunt and go in the Hob and everything. Everyone admired her so."
Haymitch and I both have to take a hard look at her face to double-check if she's joking. To hear Delly
describe it, I had next to no friends because I intimidated people by being so exceptional. Not true. I had next to
no friends because I wasn't friendly. Leave it to Delly to spin me into something wonderful.
"Delly always thinks the best of everyone," I explain. "I don't think Peeta could have bad memories
associated with her." Then I remember. "Wait. In the Capitol. When I lied about recognizing the Avox girl. Peeta
covered for me and said she looked like Delly."
"I remember," says Haymitch. "But I don't know. It wasn't true. Delly wasn't actually there. I don't think it can
compete with years of childhood memories."
"Especially with such a pleasant companion as Delly," says Plutarch. "Let's give it a shot."
Plutarch, Haymitch, and I go to the observation room next to where Peeta's confined. It's crowded with ten
members of his recovery team armed with pens and clipboards. The one-way glass and audio setup allow us to
watch Peeta secretly. He lies on the bed, his arms strapped down. He doesn't fight the restraints, but his hands
fidget continuously. His expression seems more lucid than when he tried to strangle me, but it's still not one that
belongs to him.
When the door quietly opens, his eyes widen in alarm, then become confused. Delly crosses the room
tentatively, but as she nears him she naturally breaks into a smile. "Peeta? It's Delly. From home."
"Delly?" Some of the clouds seem to clear. "Delly. It's you."
"Yes!" she says with obvious relief. "How do you feel?"
"Awful. Where are we? What's happened?" asks Peeta.
"Here we go," says Haymitch.
"I told her to steer clear of any mention of Katniss or the Capitol," says Plutarch. "Just see how much of
home she could conjure up."
"Well...we're in District Thirteen. We live here now," says Delly.
"That's what those people have been saying. But it makes no sense. Why aren't we home?" asks Peeta.
Delly bites her lip. "There was...an accident. I miss home badly, too. I was only just thinking about those
chalk drawings we used to do on the paving stones. Yours were so wonderful. Remember when you made each
one a different animal?"
"Yeah. Pigs and cats and things," says Peeta. "You said...about an accident?"
I can see the sheen of sweat on Delly's forehead as she tries to work around the question. "It was bad. No
one...could stay," she says haltingly.
"Hang in there, girl," says Haymitch.
"But I know you're going to like it here, Peeta. The people have been really nice to us. There's always food
and clean clothes, and school's much more interesting," says Delly.
"Why hasn't my family come to see me?" Peeta asks.
"They can't." Delly's tearing up again. "A lot of people didn't get out of Twelve. So we'll need to make a new
life here. I'm sure they could use a good baker. Do you remember when your father used to let us make dough
girls and boys?"
"There was a fire," Peeta says suddenly.
"Yes," she whispers.
"Twelve burned down, didn't it? Because of her," says Peeta angrily. "Because of Katniss!" He begins to
pull on the restraints.
"Oh, no, Peeta. It wasn't her fault," says Delly.
"Did she tell you that?" he hisses at her.
"Get her out of there," says Plutarch. The door opens immediately and Delly begins to back toward it
"She didn't have to. I was--" Delly begins.
"Because she's lying! She's a liar! You can't believe anything she says! She's some kind of mutt the Capitol
created to use against the rest of us!" Peeta shouts.
"No, Peeta. She's not a--" Delly tries again.
"Don't trust her, Delly," says Peeta in a frantic voice. "I did, and she tried to kill me. She killed my friends.
My family. Don't even go near her! She's a mutt!"
A hand reaches through the doorway, pulls Delly out, and the door swings shut. But Peeta keeps yelling. "A
mutt! She's a stinking mutt!"
Not only does he hate me and want to kill me, he no longer believes I'm human. It was less painful being
Around me the recovery team members scribble like crazy, taking down every word. Haymitch and Plutarch
grab my arms and propel me out of the room. They lean me up against a wall in the silent hallway. But I know
Peeta continues to scream behind the door and the glass.
Prim was wrong. Peeta is irretrievable. "I can't stay here anymore," I say numbly. "If you want me to be the
Mockingjay, you'll have to send me away."
"Where do you want to go?" asks Haymitch.
"The Capitol." It's the only place I can think of where I have a job to do.
"Can't do it," Plutarch says. "Not until all the districts are secure. Good news is, the fighting's almost over in
all of them but Two. It's a tough nut to crack, though."
That's right. First the districts. Next the Capitol. And then I hunt down Snow.
"Fine," I say. "Send me to Two."
District 2 is a large district, as one might expect, composed of a series of villages spread across the
mountains. Each was originally associated with a mine or quarry, although now, many are devoted to the housing
and training of Peacekeepers. None of this would present much of a challenge, since the rebels have 13's
airpower on their side, except for one thing: At the center of the district is a virtually impenetrable mountain that
houses the heart of the Capitol's military.
We've nicknamed the mountain the Nut since I relayed Plutarch's "tough nut to crack" comment to the
weary and discouraged rebel leaders here. The Nut was established directly after the Dark Days, when the
Capitol had lost 13 and was desperate for a new underground stronghold. They had some of their military
resources situated on the outskirts of the Capitol itself--nuclear missiles, aircraft, troops--but a significant chunk
of their power was now under an enemy's control. Of course, there was no way they could hope to replicate 13,
which was the work of centuries. However, in the old mines of nearby District 2, they saw opportunity. From the
air, the Nut appeared to be just another mountain with a few entrances on its faces. But inside were vast
cavernous spaces where slabs of stones had been cut, hauled to the surface, and transported down slippery
narrow roads to make distant buildings. There was even a train system to facilitate transporting the miners from
the Nut to the very center of the main town in District 2. It ran right to the square that Peeta and I visited during the
Victory Tour, standing on the wide marble steps of the Justice Building, trying not to look too closely at Cato's
and Clove's grieving families assembled below us.
It was not the most ideal terrain, plagued as it was by mudslides, floods, and avalanches. But the
advantages outweighed the concerns. As they'd cut deep into the mountain, the miners had left large pillars and
walls of stone to support the infrastructure. The Capitol reinforced these and set about making the mountain their
new military base. Filling it with computer banks and meeting rooms, barracks and arsenals. Widening
entrances to allow the exit of hovercraft from the hangar, installing missile launchers. But on the whole, leaving
the exterior of the mountain largely unchanged. A rough, rocky tangle of trees and wildlife. A natural fortress to
protect them from their enemies.
By the other districts' standards, the Capitol babied the inhabitants here. Just by looking at the District 2
rebels, you can tell they were decently fed and cared for in childhood. Some did end up as quarry and mine
workers. Others were educated for jobs in the Nut or funneled into the ranks of Peacekeepers. Trained young
and hard for combat. The Hunger Games were an opportunity for wealth and a kind of glory not seen elsewhere.
Of course, the people of 2 swallowed the Capitol's propaganda more easily than the rest of us. Embraced their
ways. But for all that, at the end of the day, they were still slaves. And if that was lost on the citizens who became
Peacekeepers or worked in the Nut, it was not lost on the stonecutters who formed the backbone of the
Things stand as they did when I arrived two weeks ago. The outer villages are in rebel hands, the town
divided, and the Nut is as untouchable as ever. Its few entrances heavily fortified, its heart safely enfolded in the
mountain. While every other district has now wrested control from the Capitol, 2 remains in its pocket.
Each day, I do whatever I can to help. Visit the wounded. Tape short propos with my camera crew. I'm not
allowed in actual combat, but they invite me to the meetings on the status of the war, which is a lot more than they
did in 13. It's much better here. Freer, no schedules on my arm, fewer demands on my time. I live aboveground in
the rebel villages or surrounding caves. For safety's sake, I'm relocated often. During the day, I've been given
clearance to hunt as long as I take a guard along and don't stray too far. In the thin, cold mountain air, I feel some
physical strength returning, my mind clearing away the rest of the fogginess. But with this mental clarity comes an
even sharper awareness of what has been done to Peeta.
Snow has stolen him from me, twisted him beyond recognition, and made me a present of him. Boggs,
who came to 2 when I did, told me that even with all the plotting, it was a little too easy to rescue Peeta. He
believes if 13 hadn't made the effort, Peeta would've been delivered to me anyway. Dropped off in an actively
warring district or perhaps 13 itself. Tied up with ribbons and tagged with my name. Programmed to murder me.
It's only now that he's been corrupted that I can fully appreciate the real Peeta. Even more than I would've if
he'd died. The kindness, the steadiness, the warmth that had an unexpected heat behind it. Outside of Prim, my
he'd died. The kindness, the steadiness, the warmth that had an unexpected heat behind it. Outside of Prim, my
mother, and Gale, how many people in the world love me unconditionally? I think in my case, the answer may now
be none. Sometimes when I'm alone, I take the pearl from where it lives in my pocket and try to remember the
boy with the bread, the strong arms that warded off nightmares on the train, the kisses in the arena. To make
myself put a name to the thing I've lost. But what's the use? It's gone. He's gone. Whatever existed between us is
gone. All that's left is my promise to kill Snow. I tell myself this ten times a day.
Back in 13, Peeta's rehabilitation continues. Even though I don't ask, Plutarch gives me cheerful updates
on the phone like "Good news, Katniss! I think we've almost got him convinced you're not a mutt!" Or "Today he
was allowed to feed himself pudding!"
When Haymitch gets on after, he admits Peeta's no better. The only dubious ray of hope has come from my
sister. "Prim came up with the idea of trying to hijack him back," Haymitch tells me. "Bring up the distorted
memories of you and then give him a big dose of a calming drug, like morphling. We've only tried it on one
memory. The tape of the two of you in the cave, when you told him that story about getting Prim the goat."
"Any improvement?" I ask.
"Well, if extreme confusion is an improvement over extreme terror, then yes," says Haymitch. "But I'm not
sure it is. He lost the ability to speak for several hours. Went into some sort of stupor. When he came out, the
only thing he asked about was the goat."
"Right," I say.
"How's it out there?" he asks.
"No forward motion," I tell him.
"We're sending out a team to help with the mountain. Beetee and some of the others," he says. "You know,
When the brains are selected, I'm not surprised to see Gale's name on the list. I thought Beetee would
bring him, not for his technological expertise, but in the hopes that he could somehow think of a way to ensnare a
mountain. Originally, Gale offered to come with me to 2, but I could see I was tearing him away from his work with
Beetee. I told him to sit tight and stay where he was most needed. I didn't tell him his presence would make it
even more difficult for me to mourn Peeta.
Gale finds me when they arrive late one afternoon. I'm sitting on a log at the edge of my current village,
plucking a goose. A dozen or so of the birds are piled at my feet. Great flocks of them have been migrating
through here since I've arrived, and the pickings are easy. Without a word, Gale settles beside me and begins to
relieve a bird of its feathers. We're through about half when he says, "Any chance we'll get to eat these?"
"Yeah. Most go to the camp kitchen, but they expect me to give a couple to whoever I'm staying with
tonight," I say. "For keeping me."
"Isn't the honor of the thing enough?" he says.
"You'd think," I reply. "But word's gotten out that mockingjays are hazardous to your health."
We pluck in silence for a while longer. Then he says, "I saw Peeta yesterday. Through the glass."
"What'd you think?" I ask.
"Something selfish," says Gale.
"That you don't have to be jealous of him anymore?" My fingers give a yank, and a cloud of feathers floats
down around us.
"No. Just the opposite." Gale pulls a feather out of my hair. "I thought...I'll never compete with that. No matter
how much pain I'm in." He spins the feather between his thumb and forefinger. "I don't stand a chance if he
doesn't get better. You'll never be able to let him go. You'll always feel wrong about being with me."
"The way I always felt wrong kissing him because of you," I say.
Gale holds my gaze. "If I thought that was true, I could almost live with the rest of it."
"It is true," I admit. "But so is what you said about Peeta."
Gale makes a sound of exasperation. Nonetheless, after we've dropped off the birds and volunteered to go
back to the woods to gather kindling for the evening fire, I find myself wrapped in his arms. His lips brushing the
faded bruises on my neck, working their way to my mouth. Despite what I feel for Peeta, this is when I accept
deep down that he'll never come back to me. Or I'll never go back to him. I'll stay in 2 until it falls, go to the Capitol
and kill Snow, and then die for my trouble. And he'll die insane and hating me. So in the fading light I shut my
eyes and kiss Gale to make up for all the kisses I've withheld, and because it doesn't matter anymore, and
because I'm so desperately lonely I can't stand it.
Gale's touch and taste and heat remind me that at least my body's still alive, and for the moment it's a
welcome feeling. I empty my mind and let the sensations run through my flesh, happy to lose myself. When Gale
pulls away slightly, I move forward to close the gap, but I feel his hand under my chin. "Katniss," he says. The
instant I open my eyes, the world seems disjointed. This is not our woods or our mountains or our way. My hand
automatically goes to the scar on my left temple, which I associate with confusion. "Now kiss me." Bewildered,
unblinking, I stand there while he leans in and presses his lips to mine briefly. He examines my face closely.
"What's going on in your head?"
"I don't know," I whisper back.
"Then it's like kissing someone who's drunk. It doesn't count," he says with a weak attempt at a laugh. He
scoops up a pile of kindling and drops it in my empty arms, returning me to myself.
"How do you know?" I say, mostly to cover my embarrassment. "Have you kissed someone who's drunk?" I
guess Gale could've been kissing girls right and left back in 12. He certainly had enough takers. I never thought
about it much before.
He just shakes his head. "No. But it's not hard to imagine."
"So, you never kissed any other girls?" I ask.
"I didn't say that. You know, you were only twelve when we met. And a real pain besides. I did have a life
outside of hunting with you," he says, loading up with firewood.
Suddenly, I'm genuinely curious. "Who did you kiss? And where?"
"Too many to remember. Behind the school, on the slag heap, you name it," he says.
I roll my eyes. "So when did I become so special? When they carted me off to the Capitol?"
"No. About six months before that. Right after New Year's. We were in the Hob, eating some slop of Greasy
Sae's. And Darius was teasing you about trading a rabbit for one of his kisses. And I realized...I minded," he tells
I remember that day. Bitter cold and dark by four in the afternoon. We'd been hunting, but a heavy snow had
driven us back into town. The Hob was crowded with people looking for refuge from the weather. Greasy Sae's
soup, made with stock from the bones of a wild dog we'd shot a week earlier, was below her usual standards.
Still, it was hot, and I was starving as I scooped it up, sitting cross-legged on her counter. Darius was leaning on
the post of the stall, tickling my cheek with the end of my braid, while I smacked his hand away. He was
explaining why one of his kisses merited a rabbit, or possibly two, since everyone knows redheaded men are
the most virile. And Greasy Sae and I were laughing because he was so ridiculous and persistent and kept
pointing out women around the Hob who he said had paid far more than a rabbit to enjoy his lips. "See? The one
in the green muffler? Go ahead and ask her. If you need a reference."
A million miles from here, a billion days ago, this happened. "Darius was just joking around," I say.
"Probably. Although you'd be the last to figure out if he wasn't," Gale tells me. "Take Peeta. Take me. Or
even Finnick. I was starting to worry he had his eye on you, but he seems back on track now."
"You don't know Finnick if you think he'd love me," I say.
Gale shrugs. "I know he was desperate. That makes people do all kinds of crazy things."
I can't help thinking that's directed at me.
Bright and early the next morning, the brains assemble to take on the problem of the Nut. I'm asked to the
meeting, although I don't have much to contribute. I avoid the conference table and perch in the wide windowsill
that has a view of the mountain in question. The commander from 2, a middle-aged woman named Lyme, takes
us on a virtual tour of the Nut, its interior and fortifications, and recounts the failed attempts to seize it. I've
crossed paths with her briefly a couple of times since my arrival, and was dogged by the feeling I'd met her
before. She's memorable enough, standing over six feet tall and heavily muscled. But it's only when I see a clip of
her in the field, leading a raid on the main entrance of the Nut, that something clicks and I realize I'm in the
presence of another victor. Lyme, the tribute from District 2, who won her Hunger Games over a generation ago.
Effie sent us her tape, among others, to prepare for the Quarter Quell. I've probably caught glimpses of her
during the Games over the years, but she's kept a low profile. With my newfound knowledge of Haymitch's and
Finnick's treatment, all I can think is: What did the Capitol do to her after she won?
When Lyme finishes the presentation, the questions from the brains begin. Hours pass, and lunch comes
and goes, as they try to come up with a realistic plan for taking the Nut. But while Beetee thinks he might be able
to override certain computer systems, and there's some discussion of putting the handful of internal spies to use,
no one has any really innovative thoughts. As the afternoon wears on, talk keeps returning to a strategy that has
been tried repeatedly--the storming of the entrances. I can see Lyme's frustration building because so many
variations of this plan have already failed, so many of her soldiers have been lost. Finally, she bursts out, "The
variations of this plan have already failed, so many of her soldiers have been lost. Finally, she bursts out, "The
next person who suggests we take the entrances better have a brilliant way to do it, because you're going to be
the one leading that mission!"
Gale, who is too restless to sit at the table for more than a few hours, has been alternating between pacing
and sharing my windowsill. Early on, he seemed to accept Lyme's assertion that the entrances couldn't be taken,
and dropped out of the conversation entirely. For the last hour or so, he's sat quietly, his brow knitted in
concentration, staring at the Nut through the window glass. In the silence that follows Lyme's ultimatum, he
speaks up. "Is it really so necessary that we take the Nut? Or would it be enough to disable it?"
"That would be a step in the right direction," says Beetee. "What do you have in mind?"
"Think of it as a wild dog den," Gale continues. "You're not going to fight your way in. So you have two
choices. Trap the dogs inside or flush them out."
"We've tried bombing the entrances," says Lyme. "They're set too far inside the stone for any real damage
to be done."
"I wasn't thinking of that," says Gale. "I was thinking of using the mountain." Beetee rises and joins Gale at
the window, peering through his ill-fitting glasses. "See? Running down the sides?"
"Avalanche paths," says Beetee under his breath. "It'd be tricky. We'd have to design the detonation
sequence with great care, and once it's in motion, we couldn't hope to control it."
"We don't need to control it if we give up the idea that we have to possess the Nut," says Gale. "Only shut it
"So you're suggesting we start avalanches and block the entrances?" asks Lyme.
"That's it," says Gale. "Trap the enemy inside, cut off from supplies. Make it impossible for them to send
out their hovercraft."
While everyone considers the plan, Boggs flips through a stack of blueprints of the Nut and frowns. "You
risk killing everyone inside. Look at the ventilation system. It's rudimentary at best. Nothing like what we have in
Thirteen. It depends entirely on pumping in air from the mountainsides. Block those vents and you'll suffocate
whoever is trapped."
"They could still escape through the train tunnel to the square," says Beetee.
"Not if we blow it up," says Gale brusquely. His intent, his full intent, becomes clear. Gale has no interest in
preserving the lives of those in the Nut. No interest in caging the prey for later use.
This is one of his death traps.