Academic Qualification Ensures Success in Life

He’s gone? Finnick asks, looking down at Boggs. I nod. We need to get out of here. Now. We just set off a streetful of pods. You can bet they’ve got us on surveillance tapes. Count on it, says Castor. All the streets are covered by surveillance cameras. I bet they set off the black wave manually when they saw us taping the propo. Our radio communicators went dead almost immediately. Probably an electromagnetic pulse device. But I’ll get us back to camp. Give me the Holo. Jackson reaches for the unit, but I clutch it to my chest. No. Boggs gave it to me, I say.
Don’t be ridiculous, she snaps. Of course, she thinks it’s hers. She’s second in command. It’s true, says Homes. He transferred the prime security clearance to her while he was dying. I saw it. Why would he do that? demands Jackson. Why indeed? My head’s reeling from the ghastly events of the last five minutes”Boggs mutilated, dying, dead, Peeta’s homicidal rage, Mitchell bloody and netted and swallowed by that foul black wave. I turn to Boggs, very badly needing him alive. Suddenly sure that he, and maybe he alone, is completely on my side. I think of his last orders¦. Don’t trust them.
Don’t go back. Kill Peeta. Do what you came to do. What did he mean? Don’t trust who? The rebels? Coin? The people looking at me right now? I won’t go back, but he must know I can’t just fire a bullet through Peeta’s head. Can I? Should I? Did Boggs guess that what I really came to do is desert and kill Snow on my own? I can’t work all of this out now, so I just decide to carry out the first two orders: to not trust anyone and to move deeper into the Capitol. But how can I justify this? Make them let me keep the Holo? Because I’m on a special mission for President Coin.

I think Boggs was the only one who knew about it. This in no way convinces Jackson. To do what? Why not tell them the truth? It’s as plausible as anything I’ll come up with. But it must seem like a real mission, not revenge. To assassinate President Snow before the loss of life from this war makes our population unsustainable. I don’t believe you, says Jackson. As your current commander, I order you to transfer the prime security clearance over to me. No, I say. That would be in direct violation of President Coin’s orders. Guns are pointed. Half the squad at Jackson, half at me.
Someone’s about to die, when Cressida speaks up. It’s true. That’s why we’re here. Plutarch wants it televised. He thinks if we can film the Mockingjay assassinating Snow, it will end the war. This gives even Jackson pause. Then she gestures with her gun toward the closet. And why is he here? There she has me. I can think of no sane reason that Coin would send an unstable boy, programmed to kill me, along on such a key assignment. It really weakens my story. Cressida comes to my aid again. Because the two post-Games interviews with Caesar Flickerman were shot in President Snow’s personal quarters.
Plutarch thinks Peeta may be of some use as a guide in a location we have little knowledge of. I want to ask Cressida why she’s lying for me, why she’s fighting for us to go on with my self-appointed mission. Now’s not the time. We have to go! says Gale. I’m following Katniss. If you don’t want to, head back to camp. But let’s move! Homes unlocks the closet and heaves an unconscious Peeta over his shoulder. Ready. Boggs? says Leeg 1. We can’t take him. He’d understand, says Finnick. He frees Boggs’s gun from his shoulder and slings the strap over his own. Lead on, Soldier Everdeen. I don’t know how to lead on.
I look at the Holo for direction. It’s still activated, but it might as well be dead for all the good that does me. There’s no time for fiddling around with the buttons, trying to figure out how to work it. I don’t know how to use this. Boggs said you would help me, I tell Jackson. He said I could count on you. Jackson scowls, snatches the Holo from me, and taps in a command. An intersection comes up. If we go out the kitchen door, there’s a small courtyard, then the back side of another corner apartment unit. We’re looking at an overview of the four streets that meet at the intersection.
I try to get my bearings as I stare at the cross section of the map blinking with pods in every direction. And those are only the pods Plutarch knows about. The Holo didn’t indicate that the block we just left was mined, had the black geyser, or that the net was made from barbed wire. Besides that, there may be Peacekeepers to deal with, now that they know our position. I bite the inside of my lip, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. Put on your masks. We’re going out the way we came in. Instant objections. I raise my voice over them. If the wave was that powerful, then it may have triggered and absorbed other pods in our path.
People stop to consider this. Pollux makes a few quick signs to his brother. It may have disabled the cameras as well, Castor translates. Coated the lenses. Gale props one of his boots on the counter and examines the splatter of black on the toe. Scrapes it with a kitchen knife from a block on the counter. It’s not corrosive. I think it was meant to either suffocate or poison us. Probably our best shot, says Leeg 1. Masks go on. Finnick adjusts Peeta’s mask over his lifeless face. Cressida and Leeg 1 prop up a woozy Messalla between them. I’m waiting for someone to take the point position when I remember that’s my job now.
I push on the kitchen door and meet with no resistance. A half-inch layer of the black goo has spread from the living room about three-quarters of the way down the hall. When I gingerly test it with the toe of my boot, I find it has the consistency of a gel. I lift my foot and after stretching slightly, it springs back into place. I take three steps into the gel and look back. No footprints. It’s the first good thing that’s happened today. The gel becomes slightly thicker as I cross the living room. I ease open the front door, expecting gallons of the stuff to pour in, but it holds its form.
The pink and orange block seems to have been dipped in glossy black paint and set out to dry. Paving stones, buildings, even the rooftops are coated in the gel. A large teardrop hangs above the street. Two shapes project from it. A gun barrel and a human hand. Mitchell. I wait on the sidewalk, staring up at him until the entire group has joined me. If anyone needs to go back, for whatever reason, now is the time, I say. No questions asked, no hard feelings. No one seems inclined to retreat. So I start moving into the Capitol, knowing we don’t have much time.
The gel’s deeper here, four to six inches, and makes a sucking sound each time you pick up your foot, but it still covers our tracks. The wave must have been enormous, with tremendous power behind it, as it’s affected several blocks that lie ahead. And though I tread with care, I think my instinct was right about its triggering other pods. One block is sprinkled with the golden bodies of tracker jackers. They must have been set free only to succumb to the fumes. A little farther along, an entire apartment building has collapsed and lies in a mound under the gel.
I sprint across the intersections, holding up a hand for the others to wait while I look for trouble, but the wave seems to have dismantled the pods far better than any squad of rebels could. On the fifth block, I can tell that we’ve reached the point where the wave began to peter out. The gel’s only an inch deep, and I can see baby blue rooftops peeking out across the next intersection. The afternoon light has faded, and we badly need to get under cover and form a plan. I choose an apartment two-thirds of the way down the block. Homes jimmies the lock, and I order the others inside.
I stay on the street for just a minute, watching the last of our footprints fade away, then close the door behind me. Flashlights built into our guns illuminate a large living room with mirrored walls that throw our faces back at us at every turn. Gale checks the windows, which show no damage, and removes his mask. It’s all right. You can smell it, but it’s not too strong. The apartment seems to be laid out exactly like the first one we took refuge in. The gel blacks out any natural daylight in the front, but some light still slips through the shutters in the kitchen. Along the hallway are two bedrooms with baths.
A spiral staircase in the living room leads up to an open space that composes much of the second floor. There are no windows upstairs, but the lights have been left on, probably by someone hastily evacuating. A huge television screen, blank but glowing softly, occupies one wall. Plush chairs and sofas are strewn around the room. This is where we congregate, slump into upholstery, try to catch our breath. Jackson has her gun trained on Peeta even though he’s still cuffed and unconscious, draped across a deep-blue sofa where Homes deposited him. What on earth am I going to do with him?
With the crew? With everybody, frankly, besides Gale and Finnick? Because I’d rather track down Snow with those two than without them. But I can’t lead ten people through the Capitol on a pretend mission, even if I could read the Holo. Should I, could I have sent them back when I had a chance? Or was it too dangerous? Both to them personally and to my mission? Maybe I shouldn’t have listened to Boggs, because he might have been in some delusional death state. Maybe I should just come clean, but then Jackson would take over and we’d end up back at camp. Where I’d have Coin to answer to.
Just as the complexity of the mess I’ve dragged everybody into begins to overload my brain, a distant chain of explosions sends a tremor through the room. It wasn’t close, Jackson assures us. A good four or five blocks away. Where we left Boggs, says Leeg 1. Although no one has made a move toward it, the television flares to life, emitting a high-pitched beeping sound, bringing half our party to its feet. It’s all right! calls Cressida. It’s just an emergency broadcast. Every Capitol television is automatically activated for it. There we are on-screen, just after the bomb took out Boggs.
A voice-over tells the audience what they are viewing as we try to regroup, react to the black gel shooting from the street, lose control of the situation. We watch the chaos that follows until the wave blots out the cameras. The last thing we see is Gale, alone on the street, trying to shoot through the cables that hold Mitchell aloft. The reporter identifies Gale, Finnick, Boggs, Peeta, Cressida, and me by name. There’s no aerial footage. Boggs must have been right about their hovercraft capacity, says Castor. I didn’t notice this, but I guess it’s the kind of thing a cameraman picks up on.
Coverage continues from the courtyard behind the apartment where we took shelter. Peacekeepers line the roof across from our former hideout. Shells are launched into the row of apartments, setting off the chain of explosions we heard, and the building collapses into rubble and dust. Now we cut to a live feed. A reporter stands on the roof with the Peacekeepers. Behind her, the apartment block burns. Firefighters try to control the blaze with water hoses. We are pronounced dead. Finally, a bit of luck, says Homes. I guess he’s right. Certainly it’s better than having the Capitol in pursuit of us.
But I just keep imagining how this will be playing back in 13. Where my mother and Prim, Hazelle and the kids, Annie, Haymitch, and a whole lot of people from 13 think that they have just seen us die. My father. He just lost my sister and now¦ says Leeg 1. We watch as they play the footage over and over. Revel in their victory, especially over me. Break away to do a montage of the Mockingjay’s rise to rebel power”I think they’ve had this part prepared for a while, because it seems pretty polished”and then go live so a couple of reporters can discuss my well-deserved violent end. Later, they promise, Snow will make an official statement.
The screen fades back to a glow. The rebels made no attempt to break in during the broadcast, which leads me to believe they think it’s true. If that’s so, we really are on our own. So, now that we’re dead, what’s our next move? asks Gale. Isn’t it obvious? No one even knew Peeta had regained consciousness. I don’t know how long he’s been watching, but by the look of misery on his face, long enough to see what happened on the street. How he went mad, tried to bash my head in, and hurled Mitchell into the pod. He painfully pushes himself up to a sitting position and directs his words to Gale. Our next move¦is to kill me. 1 That makes two requests for Peeta’s death in less than an hour. Don’t be ridiculous, says Jackson. I just murdered a member of our squad! shouts Peeta. You pushed him off you. You couldn’t have known he would trigger the net at that exact spot, says Finnick, trying to calm him. Who cares? He’s dead, isn’t he? Tears begin to run down Peeta’s face. I didn’t know. I’ve never seen myself like that before. Katniss is right. I’m the monster. I’m the mutt. I’m the one Snow has turned into a weapon! It’s not your fault, Peeta, says Finnick. You can’t take me with you. It’s only a matter of time before I kill someone else.
Peeta looks around at our conflicted faces. Maybe you think it’s kinder to just dump me somewhere. Let me take my chances. But that’s the same thing as handing me over to the Capitol. Do you think you’d be doing me a favor by sending me back to Snow? Peeta. Back in Snow’s hands. Tortured and tormented until no bits of his former self will ever emerge again. For some reason, the last stanza to The Hanging Tree starts running through my head. The one where the man wants his lover dead rather than have her face the evil that awaits her in the world. Are you, are you Coming to the tree Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here No stranger would it be If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree. I’ll kill you before that happens, says Gale. I promise. Peeta hesitates, as if considering the reliability of this offer, and then shakes his head. It’s no good. What if you’re not there to do it? I want one of those poison pills like the rest of you have. Nightlock. There’s one pill back at camp, in its special slot on the sleeve of my Mockingjay suit. But there’s another in the breast pocket of my uniform. Interesting that they didn’t issue one to Peeta. Perhaps Coin thought he might take it before he had the opportunity to kill me.
It’s unclear if Peeta means he’d finish himself off now, to spare us having to murder him, or only if the Capitol took him prisoner again. In the state he’s in, I expect it would be sooner rather than later. It would certainly make things easier on the rest of us. Not to have to shoot him. It would certainly simplify the problem of dealing with his homicidal episodes. I don’t know if it’s the pods, or the fear, or watching Boggs die, but I feel the arena all around me. It’s as if I’ve never left, really. Once again I’m battling not only for my own survival but for Peeta’s as well.
How satisfying, how entertaining it would be for Snow to have me kill him. To have Peeta’s death on my conscience for whatever is left of my life. It’s not about you, I say. We’re on a mission. And you’re necessary to it. I look to the rest of the group. Think we might find some food here? Besides the medical kit and cameras, we have nothing but our uniforms and our weapons. Half of us stay to guard Peeta or keep an eye out for Snow’s broadcast, while the others hunt for something to eat. Messalla proves most valuable because he lived in a near replica of this apartment and knows where people would be most likely to stash food.
Like how there’s a storage space concealed by a mirrored panel in the bedroom, or how easy it is to pop out the ventilation screen in the hallway. So even though the kitchen cupboards are bare, we find over thirty canned goods and several boxes of cookies. The hoarding disgusts the soldiers raised in 13. Isn’t this illegal? says Leeg 1. On the contrary, in the Capitol you’d be considered stupid not to do it, says Messalla. Even before the Quarter Quell, people were starting to stock up on scarce supplies. While others went without, says Leeg 1. Right, says Messalla. That’s how it works here.
Fortunately, or we wouldn’t have dinner, says Gale. Everybody grab a can. Some of our company seem reluctant to do this, but it’s as good a method as any. I’m really not in the mood to divvy up everything into eleven equal parts, factoring in age, body weight, and physical output. I poke around in the pile, about to settle on some cod chowder, when Peeta holds out a can to me. Here. I take it, not knowing what to expect. The label reads Lamb Stew. I press my lips together at the memories of rain dripping through stones, my inept attempts at flirting, and the aroma of my favorite Capitol dish in the chilly air.
So some part of it must still be in his head, too. How happy, how hungry, how close we were when that picnic basket arrived outside our cave. Thanks. I pop open the top. It even has dried plums. I bend the lid and use it as a makeshift spoon, scooping a bit into my mouth. Now this place tastes like the arena, too. We’re passing around a box of fancy cream-filled cookies when the beeping starts again. The seal of Panem lights up on the screen and remains there while the anthem plays. And then they begin to show images of the dead, just as they did with the tributes in the arena. They start with the four faces f our TV crew, followed by Boggs, Gale, Finnick, Peeta, and me. Except for Boggs, they don’t bother with the soldiers from 13, either because they have no idea who they are or because they know they won’t mean anything to the audience. Then the man himself appears, seated at his desk, a flag draped behind him, the fresh white rose gleaming in his lapel. I think he might have recently had more work done, because his lips are puffier than usual. And his prep team really needs to use a lighter hand with his blush. Snow congratulates the Peacekeepers on a masterful job, honors them for ridding the country of the menace called the Mockingjay.
With my Snow congratulates the Peacekeepers on a masterful job, honors them for ridding the country of the menace called the Mockingjay. With my death, he predicts a turning of the tide in the war, since the demoralized rebels have no one left to follow. And what was I, really? A poor, unstable girl with a small talent with a bow and arrow. Not a great thinker, not the mastermind of the rebellion, merely a face plucked from the rabble because I had caught the nation’s attention with my antics in the Games. But necessary, so very necessary, because the rebels have no real leader among them.
Somewhere in District 13, Beetee hits a switch, because now it’s not President Snow but President Coin who’s looking at us. She introduces herself to Panem, identifies herself as the head of the rebellion, and then gives my eulogy. Praise for the girl who survived the Seam and the Hunger Games, then turned a country of slaves into an army of freedom fighters. Dead or alive, Katniss Everdeen will remain the face of this rebellion. If ever you waver in your resolve, think of the Mockingjay, and in her you will find the strength you need to rid Panem of its oppressors.
I had no idea how much I meant to her, I say, which brings a laugh from Gale and questioning looks from the others. Up comes a heavily doctored photo of me looking beautiful and fierce with a bunch of flames flickering behind me. No words. No slogan. My face is all they need now. Beetee gives the reins back to a very controlled Snow. I have the feeling the president thought the emergency channel was impenetrable, and someone will end up dead tonight because it was breached. Tomorrow morning, when we pull Katniss Everdeen’s body from the ashes, we will see exactly who the Mockingjay is.
A dead girl who could save no one, not even herself. Seal, anthem, and out. Except that you won’t find her, says Finnick to the empty screen, voicing what we’re all probably thinking. The grace period will be brief. Once they dig through those ashes and come up missing eleven bodies, they’ll know we escaped. We can get a head start on them at least, I say. Suddenly, I’m so tired. All I want is to lie down on a nearby green plush sofa and go to sleep. To cocoon myself in a comforter made of rabbit fur and goose down.
Instead, I pull out the Holo and insist that Jackson talk me through the most basic commands”which are really about entering the coordinates of the nearest map grid intersection”so that I can at least begin to operate the thing myself. As the Holo projects our surroundings, I feel my heart sink even further. We must be moving closer to crucial targets, because the number of pods has noticeably increased. How can we possibly move forward into this bouquet of blinking lights without detection? We can’t. And if we can’t, we are trapped like birds in a net. I decide it’s best not to adopt some sort of superior attitude when I’m with these people.
Especially when my eyes keep drifting to that green sofa. So I say, Any ideas? Why don’t we start by ruling out possibilities, says Finnick. The street is not a possibility. The rooftops are just as bad as the street, says Leeg 1. We still might have a chance to withdraw, go back the way we came, says Homes. But that would mean a failed mission. A pang of guilt hits me since I’ve fabricated said mission. It was never intended for all of us to go forward. You just had the misfortune to be with me. Well, that’s a moot point. We’re with you now, says Jackson. So, we can’t stay put. We can’t move up.
We can’t move laterally. I think that just leaves one option. Underground, says Gale. Underground. Which I hate. Like mines and tunnels and 13. Underground, where I dread dying, which is stupid because even if I die aboveground, the next thing they’ll do is bury me underground anyway. The Holo can show subterranean as well as street-level pods. I see that when we go underground the clean, dependable lines of the street plan are interlaced with a twisting, turning mess of tunnels. The pods look less numerous, though. Two doors down, a vertical tube connects our row of apartments to the tunnels.
To reach the tube apartment, we will need to squeeze through a maintenance shaft that runs the length of the building. We can enter the shaft through the back of a closet space on the upper floor. Okay, then. Let’s make it look like we’ve never been here, I say. We erase all signs of our stay. Send the empty cans down a trash chute, pocket the full ones for later, flip sofa cushions smeared with blood, wipe traces of gel from the tiles. There’s no fixing the latch on the front door, but we lock a second bolt, which will at least keep the door from swinging open on contact. Finally, there’s only Peeta to contend with.
He plants himself on the blue sofa, refusing to budge. I’m not going. I’ll either disclose your position or hurt someone else. Snow’s people will find you, says Finnick. Then leave me a pill. I’ll only take it if I have to, says Peeta. That’s not an option. Come along, says Jackson. Or you’ll what? Shoot me? asks Peeta. We’ll knock you out and drag you with us, says Homes. Which will both slow us down and endanger us. Stop being noble! I don’t care if I die! He turns to me, pleading now. Katniss, please. Don’t you see, I want to be out of this? The trouble is, I do see. Why can’t I just let him go?
Slip him a pill, pull the trigger? Is it because I care too much about Peeta or too much about letting Snow win? Have I turned him into a piece in my private Games? That’s despicable, but I’m not sure it’s beneath me. If it’s true, it would be kindest to kill Peeta here and now. But for better or worse, I am not motivated by kindness. We’re wasting time. Are you coming voluntarily or do we knock you out? Peeta buries his face in his hands for a few moments, then rises to join us. Should we free his hands? asks Leeg 1. No! Peeta growls at her, drawing his cuffs in close to his body. No, I echo. But I want the key.
Jackson passes it over without a word. I slip it into my pants pocket, where it clicks against the pearl. When Homes pries open the small metal door to the maintenance shaft, we encounter another problem. There’s no way the insect shells will be able to fit through the narrow passage. Castor and Pollux remove them and detach emergency backup cameras. Each is the size of a shoe box and probably works about as well. Messalla can’t think of anywhere better to hide the bulky shells, so we end up dumping them in the closet. Leaving such an easy trail to follow frustrates me, but what else can we do?
Even going single file, holding our packs and gear out to the side, it’s a tight fit. We sidestep our way past the first apartment, and break into the second. In this apartment, one of the bedrooms has a door marked utility instead of a bathroom. Behind the door is the room with the entrance to the tube. Messalla frowns at the wide circular cover, for a moment returning to his own fussy world. It’s why no one ever wants the center unit. Workmen coming and going whenever and no second bath. But the rent’s considerably cheaper. Then he notices Finnick’s amused expression and adds, Never mind.
The tube cover’s simple to unlatch. A wide ladder with rubber treads on the steps allows for a swift, easy descent into the bowels of the city. We gather at the foot of the ladder, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the dim strips of lights, breathing in the mixture of chemicals, mildew, and sewage. Pollux, pale and sweaty, reaches out and latches on to Castor’s wrist. Like he might fall over if there isn’t someone to steady him. My brother worked down here after he became an Avox, says Castor. Of course. Who else would they get to maintain these dank, evilsmelling passages mined with pods?
Took five years before we were able to buy his way up to ground level. Didn’t see the sun once. Under better conditions, on a day with fewer horrors and more rest, someone would surely know what to say. Instead we all stand there for a long time trying to formulate a response. Finally, Peeta turns to Pollux. Well, then you just became our most valuable asset. Castor laughs and Pollux manages a smile. We’re halfway down the first tunnel when I realize what was so remarkable about the exchange. Peeta sounded like his old self, the one who could always think of the right thing to say when nobody else could.
Ironic, encouraging, a little funny, but not at anyone’s expense. I glance back at him as he trudges along under his guards, Gale and Jackson, his eyes fixed on the ground, his shoulders hunched forward. So dispirited. But for a moment, he was really here. Peeta called it right. Pollux turns out to be worth ten Holos. There is a simple network of wide tunnels that directly corresponds to the main street plan above, underlying the major avenues and cross streets. It’s called the Transfer, since small trucks use it to deliver goods around the city. During the day, its many pods are deactivated, but at night it’s a minefield.
However, hundreds of additional passages, utility shafts, train tracks, and drainage tubes form a multilevel maze. Pollux knows details that would lead to disaster for a newcomer, like which offshoots might require gas masks or have live wires or rats the size of beavers. He alerts us to the gush of water that sweeps through the sewers periodically, anticipates the time the Avoxes will be changing shifts, leads us into damp, obscure pipes to dodge the nearly silent passage of cargo trains. Most important, he has knowledge of the cameras. There aren’t many down in this gloomy, misty place, except in the Transfer.
But we keep well out of their way. Under Pollux’s guidance we make good time”remarkable time, if you compare it to our aboveground travel. After about six hours, fatigue takes over. It’s three in the morning, so I figure we still have a few hours before our bodies are discovered missing, they search through the rubble of the whole block of apartments in case we tried to escape through the shafts, and the hunt begins. When I suggest we rest, no one objects. Pollux finds a small, warm room humming with machines loaded with levers and dials. He holds up his fingers to indicate we must be gone in four hours.
Jackson works out a guard schedule, and, since I’m not on the first shift, I wedge myself in the tight space between Gale and Leeg 1 and go right to sleep. It seems like only minutes later when Jackson shakes me awake, tells me I’m on watch. It’s six o’clock, and in one hour we must be on our way. Jackson tells me to eat a can of food and keep an eye on Pollux, who’s insisted on being on guard the entire night. He can’t sleep down here. I drag myself into a state of relative alertness, eat a can of potato and bean stew, and sit against the wall facing the door. Pollux seems wide awake.
He’s probably been reliving those five years of imprisonment all night. I get out the Holo and manage to input our grid coordinates and scan the tunnels. As expected, more pods are registering the closer we move toward the center of the Capitol. For a while, Pollux and I click around on the Holo, seeing what traps lie where. When my head begins to spin, I hand it over to him and lean back against the wall. I look down at the sleeping soldiers, crew, and friends, and I wonder how many of us will ever see the sun again. When my eyes fall on Peeta, whose head rests right by my feet, I see he’s awake.
I wish I could read what’s going on in his mind, that I could go in and untangle the mess of lies. Then I settle for something I can accomplish. Have you eaten? I ask. A slight shake of his head indicates he hasn’t. I open a can of chicken and rice soup and hand it to him, keeping the lid in case he tries to slit his wrists with it or something. He sits up and tilts the can, chugging back the soup without really bothering to chew it. The bottom of the can reflects the lights from the machines, and I remember something that’s been itching at the back of my mind since yesterday.
Peeta, when you asked about what happened to Darius and Lavinia, and Boggs told you it was real, you said you thought so. Because there was nothing shiny about it. What did you mean? Oh. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, he tells me. In the beginning, everything was just complete confusion. Now I can sort certain things out. I think there’s a pattern emerging. The memories they altered with the tracker jacker venom have this strange quality about them. Like they’re too intense or the images aren’t stable. You remember what it was like when we were stung? Trees shattered.
There were giant colored butterflies. I fell in a pit of orange bubbles. I think about it. Shiny orange bubbles. Right. But nothing about Darius or Lavinia was like that. I don’t think they’d given me any venom yet, he says. Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I ask. If you can separate the two, then you can figure out what’s true. Yes. And if I could grow wings, I could fly. Only people can’t grow wings, he says. Real or not real? Real, I say. But people don’t need wings to survive. Mockingjays do. He finishes the soup and returns the can to me. In the fluorescent light, the circles under his eyes look like bruises.
There’s still time. You should sleep. Unresisting, he lies back down, but just stares at the needle on one of the dials as it twitches from side to side. Slowly, as I would with a wounded animal, my hand stretches out and brushes a wave of hair from his forehead. He freezes at my touch, but doesn’t recoil. So I continue to gently smooth back his hair. It’s the first time I have voluntarily touched him since the last arena. You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real, he whispers. Real, I answer. It seems to require more explanation. Because that’s what you and I do. Protect each other.
After a minute or so, he drifts off to sleep. Shortly before seven, Pollux and I move among the others, rousing them. There are the usual yawns and sighs that accompany waking. But my ears are picking up something else, too. Almost like a hissing. Perhaps it’s only steam escaping a pipe or the far-off whoosh of one of the trains¦. I hush the group to get a better read on it. There’s a hissing, yes, but it’s not one extended sound. More like multiple exhalations that form words. A single word. Echoing throughout the tunnels. One word. One name. Repeated over and over again. Katniss. 22
The grace period has ended. Perhaps Snow had them digging through the night. As soon as the fire died down, anyway. They found Boggs’s remains, briefly felt reassured, and then, as the hours went by without further trophies, began to suspect. At some point, they realized that they had been tricked. And President Snow can’t tolerate being made to look like a fool. It doesn’t matter whether they tracked us to the second apartment or assumed we went directly underground. They know we are down here now and they’ve unleashed something, a pack of mutts probably, bent on finding me. Katniss.
I jump at the proximity of the sound. Look frantically for its source, bow loaded, seeking a target to hit. Katniss. Peeta’s lips are barely moving, but there’s no doubt, the name came out of him. Just when I thought he seemed a little better, when I thought he might be inching his way back to me, here is proof of how deep Snow’s poison went. Katniss. Peeta’s programmed to respond to the hissing chorus, to join in the hunt. He’s beginning to stir. There’s no choice. I position my arrow to penetrate his brain. He’ll barely feel a thing. Suddenly, he’s sitting up, eyes wide in alarm, short of breath.
Katniss! He whips his head toward me but doesn’t seem to notice my bow, the waiting arrow. Katniss! Get out of here! I hesitate. His voice is alarmed, but not insane. Why? What’s making that sound? I don’t know. Only that it has to kill you, says Peeta. Run! Get out! Go! After my own moment of confusion, I conclude I do not have to shoot him. Relax my bowstring. Take in the anxious faces around me. Whatever it is, it’s after me. It might be a good time to split up. But we’re your guard, says Jackson. And your crew, adds Cressida. I’m not leaving you, Gale says.
I look at the crew, armed with nothing but cameras and clipboards. And there’s Finnick with two guns and a trident. I suggest that he give one of his guns to Castor. Eject the blank cartridge from Peeta’s, load it with a real one, and arm Pollux. Since Gale and I have our bows, we hand our guns over to Messalla and Cressida. There’s no time to show them anything but how to point and pull the trigger, but in close quarters, that might be enough. It’s better than being defenseless. Now the only one without a weapon is Peeta, but anyone whispering my name with a bunch of mutts doesn’t need one anyway.
We leave the room free of everything but our scent. There’s no way to erase that at the moment. I’m guessing that’s how the hissing things are tracking us, because we haven’t left much of a physical trail. The mutts’ noses will be abnormally keen, but possibly the time we spent slogging through water in drainpipes will help throw them. Outside the hum of the room, the hissing becomes more distinct. But it’s also possible to get a better sense of the mutts’ location. They’re behind us, still a fair distance. Snow probably had them released underground near the place where he found Boggs’s body.
Theoretically, we should have a good lead on them, although they’re certain to be much faster than we are. My mind wanders to the wolflike creatures in the first arena, the monkeys in the Quarter Quell, the monstrosities I’ve witnessed on television over the years, and I wonder what form these mutts will take. Whatever Snow thinks will scare me the most. Pollux and I have worked out a plan for the next leg of our journey, and since it heads away from the hissing, I see no reason to alter it. If we move swiftly, maybe we can reach Snow’s mansion before the mutts reach us.
But there’s a sloppiness that comes with speed: the poorly placed boot that results in a splash, the accidental clang of a gun against a pipe, even my own commands, issued too loudly for discretion. We’ve covered about three more blocks via an overflow pipe and a section of neglected train track when the screams begin. Thick, guttural. Bouncing off the tunnel walls. Avoxes, says Peeta immediately. That’s what Darius sounded like when they tortured him. The mutts must have found them, says Cressida. So they’re not just after Katniss, says Leeg 1. They’ll probably kill anyone. It’s just that they won’t stop until they get to her, says Gale.
After his hours studying with Beetee, he is most likely right. And here I am again. With people dying because of me. Friends, allies, complete strangers, losing their lives for the Mockingjay. Let me go on alone. Lead them off. I’ll transfer the Holo to Jackson. The rest of you can finish the mission. No one’s going to agree to that! says Jackson in exasperation. We’re wasting time! says Finnick. Listen, Peeta whispers. The screams have stopped, and in their absence my name has rebounded, startling in its proximity. It’s below as well as behind us now. Katniss. I nudge Pollux on the shoulder and we start to run.
Trouble is, we had planned to descend to a lower level, but that’s out now. When we come to the steps leading down, Pollux and I are scanning for a possible alternative on the Holo when I start gagging. Masks on! orders Jackson. There’s no need for masks. Everyone is breathing the same air. I’m the only one losing my stew because I’m the only one reacting to the odor. Drifting up from the stairwell. Cutting through the sewage. Roses. I begin to tremble. I swerve away from the smell and stumble right out onto the Transfer. Smooth, pastel-colored tiled streets, just like the ones above, but bordered by white brick walls instead of homes.
A roadway where delivery vehicles can drive with ease, without the congestion of the Capitol. Empty now, of everything but us. I swing up my bow and blow up the first pod with an explosive arrow, which kills the nest of flesh-eating rats inside. Then I sprint for the next intersection, where I know one false step will cause the ground beneath our feet to disintegrate, feeding us into something labeled Meat Grinder. I shout a warning to the others to stay with me. I plan for us to skirt around the corner and then detonate the Meat Grinder, but another unmarked pod lies in wait.
It happens silently. I would miss it entirely if Finnick didn’t pull me to a stop. Katniss! I whip back around, arrow poised for flight, but what can be done? Two of Gale’s arrows already lie useless beside the wide shaft of golden light that radiates from ceiling to floor. Inside, Messalla is as still as a statue, poised up on the ball of one foot, head tilted back, held captive by the beam. I can’t tell if he’s yelling, although his mouth is stretched wide. We watch, utterly helpless, as the flesh melts off his body like candle wax. Can’t help him! Peeta starts shoving people forward. Can’t!
Amazingly, he’s the only one still functional enough to get us moving. I don’t know why he’s in control, when he should be flipping out and bashing my brains in, but that could happen any second. At the pressure of his hand against my shoulder, I turn away from the grisly thing that was Messalla; I make my feet go forward, fast, so fast that I can barely skid to a stop before the next intersection. A spray of gunfire brings down a shower of plaster. I jerk my head from side to side, looking for the pod, before I turn and see the squad of Peacekeepers pounding down the Transfer toward us.
With the Meat Grinder pod blocking our way, there’s nothing to do but fire back. They outnumber us two to one, but we’ve still got six original members of the Star Squad, who aren’t trying to run and shoot at the same time. Fish in a barrel, I think, as blossoms of red stain their white uniforms. Three-quarters of them are down and dead when more begin to pour in from the side of the tunnel, the same one I flung myself through to get away from the smell, from the” Those aren’t Peacekeepers. They are white, four-limbed, about the size of a full-grown human, but that’s where the comparisons stop.
Naked, with long reptilian tails, arched backs, and heads that jut forward. They swarm over the Peacekeepers, living and dead, clamp on to their necks with their mouths and rip off the helmeted heads. Apparently, having a Capitol pedigree is as useless here as it was in 13. It seems to take only seconds before the Peacekeepers are decapitated. The mutts fall to their bellies and skitter toward us on all fours. This way! I shout, hugging the wall and making a sharp right turn to avoid the pod. When everyone’s joined me, I fire into the intersection, and the Meat Grinder activates.
Huge mechanical teeth burst through the street and chew the tile to dust. That should make it impossible for the mutts to follow us, but I don’t know. The wolf and monkey mutts I’ve encountered could leap unbelievably far. The hissing burns my ears, and the reek of roses makes the walls spin. I grab Pollux’s arm. Forget the mission. What’s the quickest way aboveground? There’s no time for checking the Holo. We follow Pollux for about ten yards along the Transfer and go through a doorway. I’m aware of tile changing to concrete, of crawling through a tight, stinking pipe onto a ledge about a foot wide. We’re in the main sewer.
A yard below, a poisonous brew of human waste, garbage, and chemical runoff bubbles by us. Parts of the surface are on fire, others emit evil-looking clouds of vapor. One look tells you that if you fall in, you’re never coming out. Moving as quickly as we dare on the slippery ledge, we make our way to a narrow bridge and cross it. In an alcove at the far side, Pollux smacks a ladder with his hand and points up the shaft. This is it. Our way out. A quick glance at our party tells me something’s off. Wait! Where are Jackson and Leeg One? They stayed at the Grinder to hold the mutts back, says Homes. What?
I’m lunging back for the bridge, willing to leave no one to those monsters, when he yanks me back. Don’t waste their lives, Katniss. It’s too late for them. Look! Homes nods to the pipe, where the mutts are slithering onto the ledge. Stand back! Gale shouts. With his explosive-tipped arrows, he rips the far side of the bridge from its foundation. The rest sinks into the bubbles, just as the mutts reach it. For the first time, I get a good look at them. A mix of human and lizard and who knows what else. White, tight reptilian skin smeared with gore, clawed hands and feet, their faces a mess of conflicting features.
Hissing, shrieking my name now, as their bodies contort in rage. Lashing out with tails and claws, taking huge chunks of one another or their own bodies with wide, lathered mouths, driven mad by their need to destroy me. My scent must be as evocative to them as theirs is to me. More so, because despite its toxicity, the mutts begin to throw themselves into the foul sewer. Along our bank, everyone opens fire. I choose my arrows without discretion, sending arrowheads, fire, explosives into the mutts’ bodies. They’re mortal, but only just. No natural thing could keep coming with two dozen bullets in it.
Yes, we can eventually kill them, only there are so many, an endless supply pouring from the pipe, not even hesitating to take to the sewage. But it’s not their numbers that make my hands shake so. No mutt is good. All are meant to damage you. Some take your life, like the monkeys. Others your reason, like the tracker jackers. However, the true atrocities, the most frightening, incorporate a perverse psychological twist designed to terrify the victim. The sight of the wolf mutts with the dead tributes’ eyes. The sound of the jabberjays replicating Prim’s tortured screams.
The smell of Snow’s roses mixed with the victims’ blood. Carried across the sewer. Cutting through even this foulness. Making my heart run wild, my skin turn to ice, my lungs unable to suck air. It’s as if Snow’s breathing right in my face, telling me it’s time to die. The others are shouting at me, but I can’t seem to respond. Strong arms lift me as I blast the head off a mutt whose claws have just grazed my ankle. I’m slammed into the ladder. Hands shoved against the rungs. Ordered to climb. My wooden, puppet limbs obey. Movement slowly brings me back to my senses. I detect one person above me.
Pollux. Peeta and Cressida are below. We reach a platform. Switch to a second ladder. Rungs slick with sweat and mildew. At the next platform, my head has cleared and the reality of what’s happened hits me. I begin frantically pulling people up off the ladder. Peeta. Cressida. That’s it. What have I done? What have I abandoned the others to? I’m scrambling back down the ladder when one of my boots kicks someone. Climb! Gale barks at me. I’m back up, hauling him in, peering into the gloom for more. No. Gale turns my face to him and shakes his head. Uniform shredded. Gaping wound in the side of his neck.
There’s a human cry from below. Someone’s still alive, I plead. No, Katniss. They’re not coming, says Gale. Only the mutts are. Unable to accept it, I shine the light from Cressida’s gun down the shaft. Far below, I can just make out Finnick, struggling to hang on as three mutts tear at him. As one yanks back his head to take the death bite, something bizarre happens. It’s as if I’m Finnick, watching images of my life flash by. The mast of a boat, a silver parachute, Mags laughing, a pink sky, Beetee’s trident, Annie in her wedding dress, waves breaking over rocks. Then it’s over.
I slide the Holo from my belt and choke out nightlock, nightlock, nightlock. Release it. Hunch against the wall with the others as the explosion rocks the platform and bits of mutt and human flesh shoot out of the pipe and shower us. There’s a clank as Pollux slams a cover over the pipe and locks it in place. Pollux, Gale, Cressida, Peeta, and me. We’re all that’s left. Later, the human feelings will come. Now I’m conscious only of an animal need to keep the remnants of our band alive. We can’t stop here. Someone comes up with a bandage. We tie it around Gale’s neck. Get him to his feet.
Only one figure stays huddled against the wall. Peeta, I say. There’s no response. Has he blacked out? I crouch in front of him, pulling his cuffed hands from his face. Peeta? His eyes are like black pools, the pupils dilated so that the blue irises have all but vanished. The muscles in his wrists are hard as metal. Leave me, he whispers. I can’t hang on. Yes. You can! I tell him. Peeta shakes his head. I’m losing it. I’ll go mad. Like them. Like the mutts. Like a rabid beast bent on ripping my throat out. And here, finally here in this place, in these circumstances, I will really have to kill him. And Snow will win.
Hot, bitter hatred courses through me. Snow has won too much already today. It’s a long shot, it’s suicide maybe, but I do the only thing I can think of. I lean in and kiss Peeta full on the mouth. His whole body starts shuddering, but I keep my lips pressed to his until I have to come up for air. My hands slide up his wrists to clasp his. Don’t let him take you from me. Peeta’s panting hard as he fights the nightmares raging in his head. No. I don’t want to¦ I clench his hands to the point of pain. Stay with me. His pupils contract to pinpoints, dilate again rapidly, and then return to something resembling normalcy.
Always, he murmurs. I help Peeta up and address Pollux. How far to the street? He indicates it’s just above us. I climb the last ladder and push open the lid to someone’s utility room. I’m rising to my feet when a woman throws open the door. She wears a bright turquoise silk robe embroidered with exotic birds. Her magenta hair’s fluffed up like a cloud and decorated with gilded butterflies. Grease from the half-eaten sausage she’s holding smears her lipstick. The expression on her face says she recognizes me. She opens her mouth to call for help. Without hesitation, I shoot her through the heart. 23
Who the woman was calling to remains a mystery, because after searching the apartment, we find she was alone. Perhaps her cry was meant for a nearby neighbor, or was simply an expression of fear. At any rate, there’s no one else to hear her. This apartment would be a classy place to hole up in for a while, but that’s a luxury we can’t afford. How long do you think we have before they figure out some of us could’ve survived? I ask. I think they could be here anytime, Gale answers. They knew we were heading for the streets. Probably the explosion will throw them for a few minutes, then they’ll start looking for our exit point.
I go to a window that overlooks the street, and when I peek through the blinds, I’m not faced with Peacekeepers but with a bundled crowd of people going about their business. During our underground journey, we have left the evacuated zones far behind and surfaced in a busy section of the Capitol. This crowd offers our only chance of escape. I don’t have a Holo, but I have Cressida. She joins me at the window, confirms she knows our location, and gives me the good news that we aren’t many blocks from the president’s mansion. One glance at my companions tells me this is no time for a stealth attack on Snow.
Gale’s still losing blood from the neck wound, which we haven’t even cleaned. Peeta’s sitting on a velvet sofa with his teeth clamped down on a pillow, either fighting off madness or containing a scream. Pollux weeps against the mantel of an ornate fireplace. Cressida stands determinedly at my side, but she’s so pale her lips are bloodless. I’m running on hate. When the energy for that ebbs, I’ll be worthless. Let’s check her closets, I say. In one bedroom we find hundreds of the woman’s outfits, coats, pairs of shoes, a rainbow of wigs, enough makeup to paint a house.
In a bedroom across the hall, there’s a similar selection for men. Perhaps they belong to her husband. Perhaps to a lover who had the good luck to be out this morning. I call the others to dress. At the sight of Peeta’s bloody wrists, I dig in my pocket for the handcuff key, but he jerks away from me. No, he says. Don’t. They help hold me together. You might need your hands, says Gale. When I feel myself slipping, I dig my wrists into them, and the pain helps me focus, says Peeta. I let them be. Fortunately, it’s cold out, so we can conceal most of our uniforms and weapons under flowing coats and cloaks.
We hang our boots around our necks by their laces and hide them, pull on silly shoes to replace them. The real challenge, of course, is our faces. Cressida and Pollux run the risk of being recognized by acquaintances, Gale could be familiar from the propos and news, and Peeta and I are known by every citizen of Panem. We hastily help one another apply thick layers of makeup, pull on wigs and sunglasses. Cressida wraps scarves over Peeta’s and my mouths and noses. I can feel the clock ticking away, but stop for just a few moments to stuff pockets with food and first-aid supplies. Stay together, I say at the front door.
Then we march right into the street. Snow flurries have begun to fall. Agitated people swirl around us, speaking of rebels and hunger and me in their affected Capitol accents. We cross the street, pass a few more apartments. Just as we turn the corner, three dozen Peacekeepers sweep past us. We hop out of their way, as the real citizens do, wait until the crowd returns to its normal flow, and keep moving. Cressida, I whisper. Can you think of anywhere? I’m trying, she says. We cover another block, and the sirens begin. Through an apartment window, I see an emergency report and pictures of our faces flashing.
They haven’t identified who in our party died yet, because I see Castor and Finnick among the photos. Soon every passerby will be as dangerous as a Peacekeeper. Cressida? There’s one place. It’s not ideal. But we can try it, she says. We follow her a few more blocks and turn through a gate into what looks like a private residence. It’s some kind of shortcut, though, because after walking through a manicured garden, we come out of another gate onto a small back street that connects two main avenues. There are a few poky stores”one that buys used goods, another that sells fake jewelry.
Only a couple of people are around, and they pay no attention to us. Cressida begins to babble in a high-pitched voice about fur undergarments, how essential they are during the cold months. Wait until you see the prices! Believe me, it’s half what you pay on the avenues! We stop before a grimy storefront filled with mannequins in furry underwear. The place doesn’t even look open, but Cressida pushes through the front door, setting off a dissonant chiming. Inside the dim, narrow shop lined with racks of merchandise, the smell of pelts fills my nose.
Business must be slow, since we’re the only customers. Cressida heads straight for a hunched figure sitting in the back. I follow, trailing my fingers through the soft garments as we go. Behind a counter sits the strangest person I’ve ever seen. She’s an extreme example of surgical enhancement gone wrong, for surely not even in the Capitol could they find this face attractive. The skin has been pulled back tightly and tattooed with black and gold stripes. The nose has been flattened until it barely exists. I’ve seen cat whiskers on people in the Capitol before, but none so long.
The result is a grotesque, semi-feline mask, which now squints at us distrustfully. Cressida takes off her wig, revealing her vines. Tigris, she says. We need help. Tigris. Deep in my brain, the name rings a bell. She was a fixture”a younger, less disturbing version of herself”in the earliest Hunger Games I can remember. A stylist, I think. I don’t remember for which district. Not 12. Then she must have had one operation too many and crossed the line into repellence. So this is where stylists go when they’ve outlived their use. To sad theme underwear shops where they wait for death.
Out of the public eye. I stare at her face, wondering if her parents actually named her Tigris, inspiring her mutilation, or if she chose the style and changed her name to match her stripes. Plutarch said you could be trusted, adds Cressida. Great, she’s one of Plutarch’s people. So if her first move isn’t to turn us in to the Capitol, it will be to notify Plutarch, and by extension Coin, of our whereabouts. No, Tigris’s shop is not ideal, but it’s all we have at the moment. If she’ll even help us. She’s peering between an old television on her counter and us, as if trying to place us.
To help her, I pull down my scarf, remove my wig, and step closer so that the light of the screen falls on my face. Tigris gives a low growl, not unlike one Buttercup might greet me with. She slinks down off her stool and disappears behind a rack of fur-lined leggings. There’s a sound of sliding, and then her hand emerges and waves us forward. Cressida looks at me, as if to ask Are you sure? But what choice do we have? Returning to the streets under these conditions guarantees our capture or death. I push around the furs and find Tigris has slid back a panel at the base of the wall.
Behind it seems to be the top of a steep stone stairway. She gestures for me to enter. Everything about the situation screams trap. I have a moment of panic and find myself turning to Tigris, searching those tawny eyes. Why is she doing this? She’s no Cinna, someone willing to sacrifice herself for others. This woman was the embodiment of Capitol shallowness. She was one of the stars of the Hunger Games until¦until she wasn’t. So is that it, then? Bitterness? Hatred? Revenge? Actually, I’m comforted by the idea. A need for revenge can burn long and hot. Especially if every glance in a mirror reinforces it.
Did Snow ban you from the Games? I ask. She just stares back at me. Somewhere her tiger tail flicks with displeasure. Because I’m going to kill him, you know. Her mouth spreads into what I take for a smile. Reassured that this isn’t complete madness, I crawl through the space. About halfway down the steps, my face runs into a hanging chain and I pull it, illuminating the hideout with a flickering fluorescent bulb. It’s a small cellar with no doors or windows. Shallow and wide. Probably just a strip between two real basements. A place whose existence could go unnoticed unless you had a very keen eye for dimensions.
It’s cold and dank, with piles of pelts that I’m guessing haven’t seen the light of day in years. Unless Tigris gives us up, I don’t believe anyone will find us here. By the time I reach the concrete floor, my companions are on the steps. The panel slides back in place. I hear the underwear rack being adjusted on squeaky wheels. Tigris padding back to her stool. We have been swallowed up by her store. Just in time, too, because Gale looks on the verge of collapse. We make a bed of pelts, strip off his layers of weapons, and help him onto his back. At the end of the cellar, there’s a faucet about a foot from the floor with a drain under it.
I turn the tap and, after much sputtering and a lot of rust, clear water begins to flow. We clean Gale’s neck wound and I realize bandages won’t be enough. He’s going to need a few stitches. There’s a needle and sterile thread in the first-aid supplies, but what we lack is a healer. It crosses my mind to enlist Tigris. As a stylist, she must know how to work a needle. But that would leave no one manning the shop, and she’s doing enough already. I accept that I’m probably the most qualified for the job, grit my teeth, and put in a row of jagged sutures. It’s not pretty but it’s functional.
I smear it with medicine and wrap it up. Give him some painkillers. You can rest now. It’s safe here, I tell him. He goes out like a light. While Cressida and Pollux make fur nests for each of us, I attend to Peeta’s wrists. Gently rinsing away the blood, putting on an antiseptic, and bandaging them beneath the cuffs. You’ve got to keep them clean, otherwise the infection could spread and” I know what blood poisoning is, Katniss, says Peeta. Even if my mother isn’t a healer. I’m jolted back in time, to another wound, another set of bandages. You said that same thing to me in the first Hunger Games.
Real or not real? Real, he says. And you risked your life getting the medicine that saved me? Real. I shrug. You were the reason I was alive to do it. Was I? The comment throws him into confusion. Some shiny memory must be fighting for his attention, because his body tenses and his newly bandaged wrists strain against the metal cuffs. Then all the energy saps from his body. I’m so tired, Katniss. Go to sleep, I say. He won’t until I’ve rearranged his handcuffs and shackled him to one of the stair supports. It can’t be comfortable, lying there with his arms above his head.
But in a few minutes, he drifts off, too. Cressida and Pollux have made beds for us, arranged our food and medical supplies, and now ask what I want to do about setting up a guard. I look at Gale’s pallor, Peeta’s restraints. Pollux hasn’t slept for days, and Cressida and I only napped for a few hours. If a troop of Peacekeepers were to come through that door, we’d be trapped like rats. We are completely at the mercy of a decrepit tiger-woman with what I can only hope is an all-consuming passion for Snow’s death. I don’t honestly think there’s any point in setting up a guard.
Let’s just try to get some sleep, I say. They nod numbly, and we all burrow into our pelts. The fire inside me has flickered out, and with it my strength. I surrender to the soft, musty fur and oblivion. I have only one dream I remember. A long and wearying thing in which I’m trying to get to District 12. The home I’m seeking is intact, the people alive. Effie Trinket, conspicuous in a bright pink wig and tailored outfit, travels with me. I keep trying to ditch her in places, but she inexplicably reappears at my side, insisting that as my escort she’s responsible for my staying on schedule.
Only the schedule is constantly shifting, derailed by our lack of a stamp from an official or delayed when Effie breaks one of her high heels. We camp for days on a bench in a gray station in District 7, awaiting a train that never comes. When I wake, somehow I feel even more drained by this than my usual nighttime forays into blood and terror. Cressida, the only person awake, tells me it’s late afternoon. I eat a can of beef stew and wash it down with a lot of water. Then I lean against the cellar wall, retracing the

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