“Take a net with a very fine mesh. Enclose an area and leave a mouth of a couple square feet. Bait the inside with nectar flowers. While they’re feeding, snap the mouth shut. They’d fly away from the noise but only encounter the far side of the net.”
“Would that work?” asks Beetee.
“I don’t know. Just an idea,” says Gale. “They might outsmart it.”
“They might. But you’re playing on their natural instincts to flee danger. Thinking like your prey…that’s where you find their vulnerabilities,” says Beetee.
I remember something I don’t like to think about. In preparation for the Quell, I saw a tape where Beetee, who was still a boy, connected two wires that electrocuted a pack of kids who were hunting him. The convulsing bodies, the grotesque expressions. Beetee, in the moments that led up to his victory in those long-ago Hunger Games, watched the others die. Not his fault. Only self-defense. We were all acting only in self-defense….
Suddenly, I want to leave the hummingbird room before somebody starts setting up a snare. “Beetee, Plutarch said you had something for me.”
“Right. I do. Your new bow.” He presses a hand control on the arm of the chair and wheels out of the room. As we follow him through the twists and turns of Special Defense, he explains about the chair. “I can walk a little now. It’s just that I tire so quickly. It’s easier for me to get around this way. How’s Finnick doing?”
“He’s…he’s having concentration problems,” I answer. I don’t want to say he had a complete mental meltdown.
“Concentration problems, eh?” Beetee smiles grimly. “If you knew what Finnick’s been through the last few years, you’d know how remarkable it is he’s still with us at all. Tell him I’ve been working on a new trident for him, though, will you? Something to distract him a little.” Distraction seems to be the last thing Finnick needs, but I promise to pass on the message.
Four soldiers guard the entrance to the hall marked Special Weaponry. Checking the schedules printed on our forearms is just a preliminary step. We also have fingerprint, retinal, and DNA scans, and have to step through special metal detectors. Beetee has to leave his wheelchair outside, although they provide him with another once we’re through security. I find the whole thing bizarre because I can’t imagine anyone raised in District 13 being a threat the government would have to guard against. Have these precautions been put in place because of the recent influx of immigrants?
At the door of the armory, we encounter a second round of identification checks–as if my DNA might have changed in the time it took to walk twenty yards down the hallway–and are finally allowed to enter the weapons collection. I have to admit the arsenal takes my breath away. Row upon row of firearms, launchers, explosives, armored vehicles. “Of course, the Airborne Division is housed separately,” Beetee tells us.
“Of course,” I say, as if this would be self-evident. I don’t know where a simple bow and arrow could possibly find a place in all this high-tech equipment, but then we come upon a wall of deadly archery weapons. I’ve played with a lot of the Capitol’s weapons in training, but none designed for military combat. I focus my attention on a lethal-looking bow so loaded down with scopes and gadgetry, I’m certain I can’t even lift it, let alone shoot it.
“Gale, maybe you’d like to try out a few of these,” says Beetee.
“Seriously?” Gale asks.
“You’ll be issued a gun eventually for battle, of course. But if you appear as part of Katniss’s team in the propos, one of these would look a little showier. I thought you might like to find one that suits you,” says Beetee.
“Yeah, I would.” Gale’s hands close around the very bow that caught my attention a moment ago, and he hefts it onto his shoulder. He points it around the room, peering through the scope.
“That doesn’t seem very fair to the deer,” I say.
“Wouldn’t be using it on deer, would I?” he answers.
“I’ll be right back,” says Beetee. He presses a code into a panel, and a small doorway opens. I watch until he’s disappeared and the door’s shut.
“So, it’d be easy for you? Using that on people?” I ask.
“I didn’t say that.” Gale drops the bow to his side. “But if I’d had a weapon that could’ve stopped what I saw happen in Twelve…if I’d had a weapon that could have kept you out of the arena…I’d have used it.”
“Me, too,” I admit. But I don’t know what to tell him about the aftermath of killing a person. About how they never leave you.
Beetee wheels back in with a tall, black rectangular case awkwardly positioned between his footrest and his shoulder. He comes to a halt and tilts it toward me. “For you.”
I set the case flat on the floor and undo the latches along one side. The top opens on silent hinges. Inside the case, on a bed of crushed maroon velvet, lies a stunning black bow. “Oh,” I whisper in admiration. I lift it carefully into the air to admire the exquisite balance, the elegant design, and the curve of the limbs that somehow suggests the wings of a bird extended in flight. There’s something else. I have to hold very still to make sure I’m not imagining it. No, the bow is alive in my hands. I press it against my cheek and feel the slight hum travel through the bones of my face. “What’s it doing?” I ask.
“Saying hello,” explains Beetee with a grin. “It heard your voice.”
“It recognizes my voice?” I ask.
“Only your voice,” he tells me. “You see, they wanted me to design a bow based purely on looks. As part of your costume, you know? But I kept thinking, What a waste. I mean, what if you do need it sometime? As more than a fashion accessory? So I left the outside simple, and left the inside to my imagination. Best explained in practice, though. Want to try those out?”
We do. A target range has already been prepared for us. The arrows that Beetee designed are no less remarkable than the bow. Between the two, I can shoot with accuracy over one hundred yards. The variety of arrows–razor sharp, incendiary, explosive–turn the bow into a multipurpose weapon. Each one is recognizable by a distinctive colored shaft. I have the option of voice override at any time, but have no idea why I would use it. To deactivate the bow’s special properties, I need only tell it “Good night.” Then it goes to sleep until the sound of my voice wakes it again.
I’m in good spirits by the time I get back to the prep team, leaving Beetee and Gale behind. I sit patiently through the rest of the paint job and don my costume, which now includes a bloody bandage over the scar on my arm to indicate I’ve been in recent combat. Venia affixes my mockingjay pin over my heart. I take up my bow and the sheath of normal arrows that Beetee made, knowing they would never let me walk around with the loaded ones. Then we’re out on the soundstage, where I seem to stand for hours while they adjust makeup and lighting and smoke levels. Eventually, the commands coming via intercom from the invisible people in the mysterious glassed-in booth become fewer and fewer. Fulvia and Plutarch spend more time studying and less time adjusting me. Finally, there’s quiet on the set. For a full five minutes I am simply considered. Then Plutarch says, “I think that does it.”
I’m beckoned over to a monitor. They play back the last few minutes of taping and I watch the woman on the screen. Her body seems larger in stature, more imposing than mine. Her face smudged but sexy. Her brows black and drawn in an angle of defiance. Wisps of smoke–suggesting she has either just been extinguished or is about to burst into flames–rise from her clothes. I do not know who this person is.
Finnick, who’s been wandering around the set for a few hours, comes up behind me and says with a hint of his old humor, “They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you.”
Everyone’s so excited, so pleased with their work. It’s nearly time to break for dinner, but they insist we continue. Tomorrow we’ll focus on speeches and interviews and have me pretend to be in rebel battles. Today they want just one slogan, just one line that they can work into a short propo to show to Coin.
“People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!” That’s the line. I can tell by the way they present it that they’ve spent months, maybe years, working it out and are really proud of it. It seems like a mouthful to me, though. And stiff. I can’t imagine actually saying it in real life–unless I was using a Capitol accent and making fun of it. Like when Gale and I used to imitate Effie Trinket’s “May the odds be ever in your favor!” But Fulvia’s right in my face, describing a battle I’ve just been in, and how my comrades-in-arms are all lying dead around me, and how, to rally the living, I must turn to the camera and shout out the line!
I’m hustled back to my place, and the smoke machine kicks in. Someone calls for quiet, the cameras start rolling, and I hear “Action!” So I hold my bow over my head and yell with all the anger I can muster, “People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!”
There’s dead silence on the set. It goes on. And on.
Finally, the intercom crackles and Haymitch’s acerbic laugh fills the studio. He contains himself just long enough to say, “And that, my friends, is how a revolution dies.”
The shock of hearing Haymitch’s voice yesterday, of learning that he was not only functional but had some measure of control over my life again, enraged me. I left the studio directly and refused to acknowledge his comments from the booth today. Even so, I knew immediately he was right about my performance.
It took the whole of this morning for him to convince the others of my limitations. That I can’t pull it off. I can’t stand in a television studio wearing a costume and makeup in a cloud of fake smoke and rally the districts to victory. It’s amazing, really, how long I have survived the cameras. The credit for that, of course, goes to Peeta. Alone, I can’t be the Mockingjay.
We gather around the huge table in Command. Coin and her people. Plutarch, Fulvia, and my prep team. A group from 12 that includes Haymitch and Gale, but also a few others I can’t explain, like Leevy and Greasy Sae. At the last minute, Finnick wheels Beetee in, accompanied by Dalton, the cattle expert from 10. I suppose that Coin has assembled this strange assortment of people as witnesses to my failure.
However, it’s Haymitch who welcomes everyone, and by his words I understand that they have come at his personal invitation. This is the first time we’ve been in a room together since I clawed him. I avoid looking at him directly, but I catch a glimpse of his reflection in one of the shiny control consoles along the wall. He looks slightly yellow and has lost a lot of weight, giving him a shrunken appearance. For a second, I’m afraid he’s dying. I have to remind myself that I don’t care.
The first thing Haymitch does is to show the footage we’ve just shot. I seem to have reached some new low under Plutarch and Fulvia’s guidance. Both my voice and body have a jerky, disjointed quality, like a puppet being manipulated by unseen forces.
“All right,” Haymitch says when it’s over. “Would anyone like to argue that this is of use to us in winning the war?” No one does. “That saves time. So, let’s all be quiet for a minute. I want everyone to think of one incident where Katniss Everdeen genuinely moved you. Not where you were jealous of her hairstyle, or her dress went up in flames or she made a halfway decent shot with an arrow. Not where Peeta was making you like her. I want to hear one moment where she made you feel something real.”
Quiet stretches out and I’m beginning to think it will never end, when Leevy speaks up. “When she volunteered to take Prim’s place at the reaping. Because I’m sure she thought she was going to die.”
“Good. Excellent example,” says Haymitch. He takes a purple marker and writes on a notepad. “Volunteered for sister at reaping.” Haymitch looks around the table. “Somebody else.”
I’m surprised that the next speaker is Boggs, who I think of as a muscular robot that does Coin’s bidding. “When she sang the song. While the little girl died.” Somewhere in my head an image surfaces of Boggs with a young boy perched up on his hip. In the dining hall, I think. Maybe he’s not a robot after all.
“Who didn’t get choked up at that, right?” says Haymitch, writing it down.
“I cried when she drugged Peeta so she could go get him medicine and when she kissed him good-bye!” blurts out Octavia. Then she covers her mouth, like she’s sure this was a bad mistake.
But Haymitch only nods. “Oh, yeah. Drugs Peeta to save his life. Very nice.”
The moments begin to come thick and fast and in no particular order. When I took Rue on as an ally. Extended my hand to Chaff on interview night. Tried to carry Mags. And again and again when I held out those berries that meant different things to different people. Love for Peeta. Refusal to give in under impossible odds. Defiance of the Capitol’s inhumanity.
Haymitch holds up the notepad. “So, the question is, what do all of these have in common?”
“They were Katniss’s,” says Gale quietly. “No one told her what to do or say.”
“Unscripted, yes!” says Beetee. He reaches over and pats my hand. “So we should just leave you alone, right?”
People laugh. I even smile a little.
“Well, that’s all very nice but not very helpful,” says Fulvia peevishly. “Unfortunately, her opportunities for being wonderful are rather limited here in Thirteen. So unless you’re suggesting we toss her into the middle of combat–”
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting,” says Haymitch. “Put her out in the field and just keep the cameras rolling.”
“But people think she’s pregnant,” Gale points out.
“We’ll spread the word that she lost the baby from the electrical shock in the arena,” Plutarch replies. “Very sad. Very unfortunate.”
The idea of sending me into combat is controversial. But Haymitch has a pretty tight case. If I perform well only in real-life circumstances, then into them I should go. “Every time we coach her or give her lines, the best we can hope for is okay. It has to come from her. That’s what people are responding to.”
“Even if we’re careful, we can’t guarantee her safety,” says Boggs. “She’ll be a target for every–”
“I want to go,” I break in. “I’m no help to the rebels here.”
“And if you’re killed?” asks Coin.
“Make sure you get some footage. You can use that, anyway,” I answer.
“Fine,” says Coin. “But let’s take it one step at a time. Find the least dangerous situation that can evoke some spontaneity in you.” She walks around Command, studying the illuminated district maps that show the ongoing troop positions in the war. “Take her into Eight this afternoon. There was heavy bombing this morning, but the raid seems to have run its course. I want her armed with a squad of bodyguards. Camera crew on the ground. Haymitch, you’ll be airborne and in contact with her. Let’s see what happens there. Does anyone have any other comments?”
“Wash her face,” says Dalton. Everyone turns to him. “She’s still a girl and you made her look thirty-five. Feels wrong. Like something the Capitol would do.”
As Coin adjourns the meeting, Haymitch asks her if he can speak to me privately. The others leave except for Gale, who lingers uncertainly by my side. “What are you worried about?” Haymitch asks him. “I’m the one who needs the bodyguard.”
“It’s okay,” I tell Gale, and he goes. Then there’s just the hum of the instruments, the purr of the ventilation system.
Haymitch takes the seat across from me. “We’re going to have to work together again. So, go ahead. Just say it.”
I think of the snarling, cruel exchange back on the hovercraft. The bitterness that followed. But all I say is “I can’t believe you didn’t rescue Peeta.”
“I know,” he replies.
There’s a sense of incompleteness. And not because he hasn’t apologized. But because we were a team. We had a deal to keep Peeta safe. A drunken, unrealistic deal made in the dark of night, but a deal just the same. And in my heart of hearts, I know we both failed.
“Now you say it,” I tell him.
“I can’t believe you let him out of your sight that night,” says Haymitch.
I nod. That’s it. “I play it over and over in my head. What I could have done to keep him by my side without breaking the alliance. But nothing comes to me.”
“You didn’t have a choice. And even if I could’ve made Plutarch stay and rescue him that night, the whole hovercraft would’ve gone down. We barely got out as it was.” I finally meet Haymitch’s eyes. Seam eyes. Gray and deep and ringed with the circles of sleepless nights. “He’s not dead yet, Katniss.”
“We’re still in the game.” I try to say this with optimism, but my voice cracks.
“Still in. And I’m still your mentor.” Haymitch points his marker at me. “When you’re on the ground, remember I’m airborne. I’ll have the better view, so do what I tell you.”
“We’ll see,” I answer.
I return to the Remake Room and watch the streaks of makeup disappear down the drain as I scrub my face clean. The person in the mirror looks ragged, with her uneven skin and tired eyes, but she looks like me. I rip the armband off, revealing the ugly scar from the tracker. There. That looks like me, too.
Since I’ll be in a combat zone, Beetee helps me with armor Cinna designed. A helmet of some interwoven metal that fits close to my head. The material’s supple, like fabric, and can be drawn back like a hood in case I don’t want it up full-time. A vest to reinforce the protection over my vital organs. A small white earpiece that attaches to my collar by a wire. Beetee secures a mask to my belt that I don’t have to wear unless there’s a gas attack. “If you see anyone dropping for reasons you can’t explain, put it on immediately,” he says. Finally, he straps a sheath divided into three cylinders of arrows to my back. “Just remember: Right side, fire. Left side, explosive. Center, regular. You shouldn’t need them, but better safe than sorry.”
Boggs shows up to escort me down to the Airborne Division. Just as the elevator arrives, Finnick appears in a state of agitation. “Katniss, they won’t let me go! I told them I’m fine, but they won’t even let me ride in the hovercraft!”
I take in Finnick–his bare legs showing between his hospital gown and slippers, his tangle of hair, the half-knotted rope twisted around his fingers, the wild look in his eyes–and know any plea on my part will be useless. Even I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring him. So I smack my hand on my forehead and say, “Oh, I forgot. It’s this stupid concussion. I was supposed to tell you to report to Beetee in Special Weaponry. He’s designed a new trident for you.”
At the word trident, it’s as if the old Finnick surfaces. “Really? What’s it do?”
“I don’t know. But if it’s anything like my bow and arrows, you’re going to love it,” I say. “You’ll need to train with it, though.”
“Right. Of course. I guess I better get down there,” he says.
“Finnick?” I say. “Maybe some pants?”
He looks down at his legs as if noticing his outfit for the first time. Then he whips off his hospital gown, leaving him in just his underwear. “Why? Do you find this”–he strikes a ridiculously provocative pose–“distracting?”
I can’t help laughing because it’s funny, and it’s extra funny because it makes Boggs look so uncomfortable, and I’m happy because Finnick actually sounds like the guy I met at the Quarter Quell.
“I’m only human, Odair.” I get in before the elevator doors close. “Sorry,” I say to Boggs.
“Don’t be. I thought you…handled that well,” he says. “Better than my having to arrest him, anyway.”
“Yeah,” I say. I sneak a sidelong glance at him. He’s probably in his mid-forties, with close-cropped gray hair and blue eyes. Incredible posture. He’s spoken out twice today in ways that make me think he would rather be friends than enemies. Maybe I should give him a chance. But he just seems so in step with Coin….
There’s a series of loud clicks. The elevator comes to a slight pause and then begins to move laterally to the left. “It goes sideways?” I ask.
“Yes. There’s a whole network of elevator paths under Thirteen,” he answers. “This one lies just above the transport spoke to the fifth airlift platform. It’s taking us to the Hangar.”
The Hangar. The dungeons. Special Defense. Somewhere food is grown. Power generated. Air and water purified. “Thirteen is even larger than I thought.”
“Can’t take credit for much of it,” says Boggs. “We basically inherited the place. It’s been all we can do to keep it running.”
The clicks resume. We drop down again briefly–just a couple of levels–and the doors open on the Hangar.
“Oh,” I let out involuntarily at the sight of the fleet. Row after row of different kinds of hovercraft. “Did you inherit these, too?”
“Some we manufactured. Some were part of the Capitol’s air force. They’ve been updated, of course,” says Boggs.
I feel that twinge of hatred against 13 again. “So, you had all this, and you left the rest of the districts defenseless against the Capitol.”
“It’s not that simple,” he shoots back. “We were in no position to launch a counterattack until recently. We could barely stay alive. After we’d overthrown and executed the Capitol’s people, only a handful of us even knew how to pilot. We could’ve nuked them with missiles, yes. But there’s always the larger question: If we engage in that type of war with the Capitol, would there be any human life left?”
“That sounds like what Peeta said. And you all called him a traitor,” I counter.
“Because he called for a cease-fire,” says Boggs. “You’ll notice neither side has launched nuclear weapons. We’re working it out the old-fashioned way. Over here, Soldier Everdeen.” He indicates one of the smaller hovercraft.
I mount the stairs and find it packed with the television crew and equipment. Everyone else is dressed in 13’s dark gray military jumpsuits, even Haymitch, although he seems unhappy about the snugness of his collar.
Fulvia Cardew hustles over and makes a sound of frustration when she sees my clean face. “All that work, down the drain. I’m not blaming you, Katniss. It’s just that very few people are born with camera-ready faces. Like him.” She snags Gale, who’s in a conversation with Plutarch, and spins him toward us. “Isn’t he handsome?”
Gale does look striking in the uniform, I guess. But the question just embarrasses us both, given our history. I’m trying to think of a witty comeback, when Boggs says brusquely, “Well, don’t expect us to be too impressed. We just saw Finnick Odair in his underwear.” I decide to go ahead and like Boggs.
There’s a warning of the upcoming takeoff and I strap myself into a seat next to Gale, facing off with Haymitch and Plutarch.