“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 venom.”
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 current theory.”
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 all.”
“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 human being.”
“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 my brother.”
“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 slowly.
“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 strangled.
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 resistance here.
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 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.