I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash
settles on the worn leather. This is where the bed I shared
with my sister, Prim, stood. Over there was the kitchen
table. The bricks of the chimney, which collapsed in a
charred heap, provide a point of reference for the rest of the
house. How else could I orient myself in this sea of gray?
Almost nothing remains of District 12. A month ago,
the Capitol’s firebombs obliterated the poor coal miners’
houses in the Seam, the shops in the town, even the Justice
Building. The only area that escaped incineration was
the Victor’s Village. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps so
anyone forced to come here on Capitol business would
have somewhere decent to stay. The odd reporter.
A committee assessing the condition of the coal mines.
A squad of Peacekeepers checking for returning refugees.
But no one is returning except me. And that’s only for
a brief visit. The authorities in District 13 were against my
coming back. They viewed it as a costly and pointless venture,
given that at least a dozen invisible hovercraft are circling
overhead for my protection and there’s no intelligence to
be gained. I had to see it, though. So much so that I made
it a condition of my cooperating with any of their plans.4
Finally, Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker
who had organized the rebels in the Capitol, threw up his
hands. “Let her go. Better to waste a day than another
month. Maybe a little tour of Twelve is just what she needs
to convince her we’re on the same side.”
The same side. A pain stabs my left temple and I press
my hand against it. Right on the spot where Johanna Mason
hit me with the coil of wire. The memories swirl as I try to
sort out what is true and what is false. What series of events
led me to be standing in the ruins of my city? This is hard
because the effects of the concussion she gave me haven’t
completely subsided and my thoughts still have a tendency
to jumble together. Also, the drugs they use to control my
pain and mood sometimes make me see things. I guess.
I’m still not entirely convinced that I was hallucinating the
night the floor of my hospital room transformed into a carpet of writhing snakes.
I use a technique one of the doctors suggested. I start
with the simplest things I know to be true and work toward
the more complicated. The list begins to roll in my head. . . .
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My
home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The
Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be
dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead. . . .
“Katniss. Should I come down?” My best friend Gale’s
voice reaches me through the headset the rebels insisted I
wear. He’s up in a hovercraft, watching me carefully, ready
to swoop in if anything goes amiss. I realize I’m crouched
down now, elbows on my thighs, my head braced between
my hands. I must look on the verge of some kind of breakdown.
This won’t do. Not when they’re finally weaning me off the medication.
I straighten up and wave his offer away. “No. I’m fine.”
To reinforce this, I begin to move away from my old house
and in toward the town. Gale asked to be dropped off in
12 with me, but he didn’t force the issue when I refused
his company. He understands I don’t want anyone with me
today. Not even him. Some walks you have to take alone.
The summer’s been scorching hot and dry as a bone.
There’s been next to no rain to disturb the piles of ash left
by the attack. They shift here and there, in reaction to my
footsteps. No breeze to scatter them. I keep my eyes on
what I remember as the road, because when I first landed
in the Meadow, I wasn’t careful and I walked right into
a rock. Only it wasn’t a rock — it was someone’s skull. It
rolled over and over and landed faceup, and for a long time
I couldn’t stop looking at the teeth, wondering whose they
were, thinking of how mine would probably look the same
way under similar circumstances.
I stick to the road out of habit, but it’s a bad choice,
because it’s full of the remains of those who tried to flee.
Some were incinerated entirely.
But others, probably overcome with smoke,
escaped the worst of the flames and now
lie reeking in various states of decomposition, carrion for
scavengers, blanketed by flies. I killed you, I think as I pass
a pile. And you. And you.
Because I did. It was my arrow, aimed at the chink in
the force field surrounding the arena, that brought on this 6
firestorm of retribution. That sent the whole country of
Panem into chaos.
In my head I hear President Snow’s words, spoken the
morning I was to begin the Victory Tour. “Katniss Everdeen,
the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left
unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem.” It
turns out he wasn’t exaggerating or simply trying to scare
me. He was, perhaps, genuinely attempting to enlist my
help. But I had already set something in motion that I had
no ability to control.
Burning. Still burning, I think numbly. The fires at the
coal mines belch black smoke in the distance. There’s no one
left to care, though. More than ninety percent of the district’s population is dead.
The remaining eight hundred or so
are refugees in District 13 — which, as far as I’m concerned,
is the same thing as being homeless forever.
I know I shouldn’t think that;
I know I should be grateful for the way we have been welcomed. Sick, wounded,
starving, and empty-handed. Still, I can never get around
the fact that District 13 was instrumental in 12’s destruction.
This doesn’t absolve me of blame — there’s plenty of
blame to go around. But without them, I would not have
been part of a larger plot to overthrow the Capitol or had
the wherewithal to do it.
The citizens of District 12 had no organized resistance
movement of their own. No say in any of this. They only
had the misfortune to have me. Some survivors think it’s
good luck, though, to be free of District 12 at last. To have
escaped the endless hunger and oppression, the perilous 7
mines, the lash of our final Head Peacekeeper, Romulus
Thread. To have a new home at all is seen as a wonder
since, up until a short time ago, we hadn’t even known that
District 13 still existed.
The credit for the survivors’ escape has landed squarely
on Gale’s shoulders, although he’s loath to accept it. As
soon as the Quarter Quell was over — as soon as I had
been lifted from the arena — the electricity in District 12
was cut, the televisions went black, and the Seam became
so silent, people could hear one another’s heartbeats. No
one did anything to protest or celebrate what had happened
in the arena. Yet within fifteen minutes, the sky was filled
with hoverplanes and the bombs were raining down.
It was Gale who thought of the Meadow, one of the few
places not filled with old wooden homes embedded with coal
dust. He herded those he could in its direction, including
my mother and Prim. He formed the team that pulled down
the fence — now just a harmless chain-link barrier, with the
electricity off — and led the people into the woods. He took
them to the only place he could think of, the lake my father
had shown me as a child. And it was from there they watched
the distant flames eat up everything they knew in the world.
By dawn the bombers were long gone, the fires dying,
the final stragglers rounded up. My mother and Prim had
set up a medical area for the injured and were attempting to
treat them with whatever they could glean from the woods.
Gale had two sets of bows and arrows, one hunting knife,
one fishing net, and over eight hundred terrified people
to feed. With the help of those who were able-bodied, they 8
managed for three days. And that’s when the hovercraft
unexpectedly arrived to evacuate them to District 13, where
there were more than enough clean, white living compartments,
plenty of clothing, and three meals a day. The
compartments had the disadvantage of being underground,
the clothing was identical, and the food was relatively
tasteless, but for the refugees of 12, these were minor considerations.
They were safe. They were being cared for. They
were alive and eagerly welcomed.
This enthusiasm was interpreted as kindness. But a
man named Dalton, a District 10 refugee who’d made it to
13 on foot a few years ago, leaked the real motive to me.
“They need you. Me. They need us all. Awhile back, there
was some sort of pox epidemic that killed a bunch of them
and left a lot more infertile. New breeding stock. That’s
how they see us.” Back in 10, he’d worked on one of the
beef ranches, maintaining the genetic diversity of the herd
with the implantation of long-frozen cow embryos. He’s
very likely right about 13, because there don’t seem to be
nearly enough kids around. But so what? We’re not being
kept in pens, we’re being trained for work, the children are
Those over fourteen have been given entrylevel ranks in the
military and are addressed respectfully as “Soldier.”
Every single refugee was granted automatic citizenship by the authorities of 13.
Still, I hate them. But, of course, I hate almost everybody
now. Myself more than anyone.
The surface beneath my feet hardens, and under the
carpet of ash, I feel the paving stones of the square. Around 9
the perimeter is a shallow border of refuse where the shops
stood. A heap of blackened rubble has replaced the Justice
Building. I walk to the approximate site of the bakery Peeta’s
family owned. Nothing much left but the melted lump of the
oven. Peeta’s parents, his two older brothers — none of them
made it to 13. Fewer than a dozen of what passed for
District 12’s well-to-do escaped the fire. Peeta would have
nothing to come home to, anyway. Except me . . .
I back away from the bakery and bump into something,
lose my balance, and find myself sitting on a hunk of sunheated metal.
I puzzle over what it might have been, then
remember Thread’s recent renovations of the square. Stocks,
whipping posts, and this, the remains of the gallows. Bad.
This is bad. It brings on the flood of images that torments
me, awake or asleep. Peeta being tortured — drowned, burned,
lacerated, shocked, maimed, beaten — as the Capitol tries to
get information about the rebellion that he doesn’t know.
I squeeze my eyes shut and try to reach for him across the
hundreds and hundreds of miles, to send my thoughts into
his mind, to let him know he is not alone. But he is. And I
can’t help him.
Running. Away from the square and to the one place
the fire did not destroy. I pass the wreckage of the mayor’s
house, where my friend Madge lived. No word of her or
her family. Were they evacuated to the Capitol because
of her father’s position, or left to the flames? Ashes billow
up around me, and I pull the hem of my shirt up over my
mouth. It’s not wondering what I breathe in, but who, that
threatens to choke me. 10
The grass has been scorched and the gray snow fell here
as well, but the twelve fine houses of the Victor’s Village are
unscathed. I bolt into the house I lived in for the past year,
slam the door closed, and lean back against it. The place
seems untouched. Clean. Eerily quiet. Why did I come back
to 12? How can this visit help me answer the question I
“What am I going to do?” I whisper to the walls.
Because I really don’t know.
People keep talking at me, talking, talking, talking.
Plutarch Heavensbee. His calculating assistant, Fulvia
Cardew. A mishmash of district leaders. Military officials.
But not Alma Coin, the president of 13, who just watches.
She’s fifty or so, with gray hair that falls in an unbroken
sheet to her shoulders. I’m somewhat fascinated by her hair,
since it’s so uniform, so without a flaw, a wisp, even a split
end. Her eyes are gray, but not like those of people from the
Seam. They’re very pale, as if almost all the color has been
sucked out of them. The color of slush that you wish would
What they want is for me to truly take on the role
they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The
Mockingjay. It isn’t enough, what I’ve done in the past,
defying the Capitol in the Games, providing a rallying
point. I must now become the actual leader, the face, the
voice, the embodiment of the revolution. The person who
the districts — most of which are now openly at war with the
Capitol — can count on to blaze the path to victory. I won’t
have to do it alone. They have a whole team of people to 11
make me over, dress me, write my speeches, orchestrate my
appearances — as if that doesn’t sound horribly familiar —
and all I have to do is play my part. Sometimes I listen to
them and sometimes I just watch the perfect line of Coin’s
hair and try to decide if it’s a wig. Eventually, I leave the
room because my head starts to ache or it’s time to eat or
if I don’t get aboveground I might start screaming. I don’t
bother to say anything. I simply get up and walk out.
Yesterday afternoon, as the door was closing behind
me, I heard Coin say, “I told you we should have rescued
the boy first.” Meaning Peeta. I couldn’t agree more. He
would’ve been an excellent mouthpiece.
And who did they fish out of the arena instead? Me,
who won’t cooperate. Beetee, an older inventor from 3, who
I rarely see because he was pulled into weapons development
the minute he could sit upright. Literally, they wheeled his
hospital bed into some top secret area and now he only
occasionally shows up for meals. He’s very smart and very
willing to help the cause, but not really firebrand material.
Then there’s Finnick Odair, the sex symbol from the fishing
district, who kept Peeta alive in the arena when I couldn’t.
They want to transform Finnick into a rebel leader as well,
but first they’ll have to get him to stay awake for more than
five minutes. Even when he is conscious, you have to say
everything to him three times to get through to his brain.
The doctors say it’s from the electrical shock he received in
the arena, but I know it’s a lot more complicated than that.
I know that Finnick can’t focus on anything in 13 because
he’s trying so hard to see what’s happening in the Capitol to 12
Annie, the mad girl from his district who’s the only person
on earth he loves.
Despite serious reservations, I had to forgive Finnick for
his role in the conspiracy that landed me here. He, at least,
has some idea of what I’m going through. And it takes too
much energy to stay angry with someone who cries so much.
I move through the downstairs on hunter’s feet, reluctant
to make any sound. I pick up a few remembrances: a photo
of my parents on their wedding day, a blue hair ribbon for
Prim, the family book of medicinal and edible plants. The
book falls open to a page with yellow flowers and I shut it
quickly because it was Peeta’s brush that painted them.
What am I going to do?
Is there any point in doing anything at all? My mother,
my sister, and Gale’s family are finally safe. As for the rest of
12, people are either dead, which is irreversible, or protected
in 13. That leaves the rebels in the districts. Of course, I hate
the Capitol, but I have no confidence that my being the
Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring it
down. How can I help the districts when every time I make
a move, it results in suffering and loss of life? The old man
shot in District 11 for whistling. The crackdown in 12 after
I intervened in Gale’s whipping. My stylist, Cinna, being
dragged, bloody and unconscious, from the Launch Room
before the Games. Plutarch’s sources believe he was killed
during interrogation. Brilliant, enigmatic, lovely Cinna is
dead because of me. I push the thought away because it’s
too impossibly painful to dwell on without losing my fragile
hold on the situation entirely. 13
What am I going to do?
To become the Mockingjay . . . could any good I do
possibly outweigh the damage? Who can I trust to answer
that question? Certainly not that crew in 13. I swear, now
that my family and Gale’s are out of harm’s way, I could run
away. Except for one unfinished piece of business. Peeta. If I
knew for sure that he was dead, I could just disappear into
the woods and never look back. But until I do, I’m stuck.
I spin on my heel at the sound of a hiss. In the kitchen
doorway, back arched, ears flattened, stands the ugliest tomcat in the world. “Buttercup,” I say. Thousands of people
are dead, but he has survived and even looks well fed. On
what? He can get in and out of the house through a window we always left ajar in the pantry. He must have been
eating field mice. I refuse to consider the alternative.
I squat down and extend a hand. “Come here, boy.”
Not likely. He’s angry at his abandonment. Besides, I’m not
offering food, and my ability to provide scraps has always
been my main redeeming quality to him. For a while, when
we used to meet up at the old house because we both disliked this new one, we seemed to be bonding a little. That’s
clearly over. He blinks those unpleasant yellow eyes.
“Want to see Prim?” I ask. Her name catches his attention. Besides his own, it’s the only word that means anything
to him. He gives a rusty meow and approaches me. I pick
him up, stroking his fur, then go to the closet and dig out
my game bag and unceremoniously stuff him in. There’s no
other way I’ll be able to carry him on the hovercraft, and
he means the world to my sister. Her goat, Lady, an animal 14
of actual value, has unfortunately not made an appearance.
In my headset, I hear Gale’s voice telling me we must
go back. But the game bag has reminded me of one more
thing that I want. I sling the strap of the bag over the back
of a chair and dash up the steps to my bedroom. Inside the
closet hangs my father’s hunting jacket. Before the Quell,
I brought it here from the old house, thinking its presence
might be of comfort to my mother and sister when I was
dead. Thank goodness, or it’d be ash now.
The soft leather feels soothing and for a moment I’m
calmed by the memories of the hours spent wrapped in it.
Then, inexplicably, my palms begin to sweat. A strange sensation creeps up the back of my neck. I whip around to face
the room and find it empty. Tidy. Everything in its place.
There was no sound to alarm me. What, then?
My nose twitches. It’s the smell. Cloying and artificial. A dab of white peeks out of a vase of dried flowers
on my dresser. I approach it with cautious steps. There, all
but obscured by its preserved cousins, is a fresh white rose.
Perfect. Down to the last thorn and silken petal.
And I know immediately who’s sent it to me.
When I begin to gag at the stench, I back away and
clear out. How long has it been here? A day? An hour? The
rebels did a security sweep of the Victor’s Village before I
was cleared to come here, checking for explosives, bugs,
anything unusual. But perhaps the rose didn’t seem noteworthy to them. Only to me.15
Downstairs, I snag the game bag off the chair, bouncing it along the floor until I remember it’s occupied. On the
lawn, I frantically signal to the hovercraft while Buttercup
thrashes. I jab him with my elbow, but this only infuriates
him. A hovercraft materializes and a ladder drops down. I
step on and the current freezes me until I’m lifted on board.
Gale helps me from the ladder. “You all right?”
“Yeah,” I say, wiping the sweat off my face with my
He left me a rose! I want to scream, but it’s not information I’m sure I should share with someone like Plutarch
looking on. First of all, because it will make me sound
crazy. Like I either imagined it, which is quite possible, or
I’m overreacting, which will buy me a trip back to the druginduced dreamland I’m trying so hard to escape. No one will
fully understand — how it’s not just a flower, not even just
President Snow’s flower, but a promise of revenge — because
no one else sat in the study with him when he threatened
me before the Victory Tour.
Positioned on my dresser, that white-as-snow rose is a
personal message to me. It speaks of unfinished business.
It whispers, I can find you. I can reach you. Perhaps I am
watching you now.16
Are there Capitol hoverplanes speeding in to blow us
out of the sky? As we travel over District 12, I watch anxiously for signs of an attack, but nothing pursues us. After
several minutes, when I hear an exchange between Plutarch
and the pilot confirming that the airspace is clear, I begin
to relax a little.
Gale nods at the howls coming from my game bag.
“Now I know why you had to go back.”
“If there was even a chance of his recovery.” I dump the
bag onto a seat, where the loathsome creature begins a low,
deep-throated growl. “Oh, shut up,” I tell the bag as I sink
into the cushioned window seat across from it.
Gale sits next to me. “Pretty bad down there?”
“Couldn’t be much worse,” I answer. I look in his eyes
and see my own grief reflected there. Our hands find each
other, holding fast to a part of 12 that Snow has somehow
failed to destroy. We sit in silence for the rest of the trip to 13,
which only takes about forty-five minutes. A mere week’s journey on foot. Bonnie and Twill, the District 8 refugees who I
encountered in the woods last winter, weren’t so far from their
destination after all. They apparently didn’t make it, though.
When I asked about them in 13, no one seemed to know who
I was talking about. Died in the woods, I guess. 17
From the air, 13 looks about as cheerful as 12. The rubble isn’t smoking, the way the Capitol shows it on television,
but there’s next to no life aboveground. In the seventy-five
years since the Dark Days — when 13 was said to have been
obliterated in the war between the Capitol and the districts —
almost all new construction has been beneath the earth’s
surface. There was already a substantial underground facility here, developed over centuries to be either a clandestine
refuge for government leaders in time of war or a last resort
for humanity if life above became unlivable. Most important for the people of 13, it was the center of the Capitol’s
nuclear weapons development program. During the Dark
Days, the rebels in 13 wrested control from the government
forces, trained their nuclear missiles on the Capitol, and
then struck a bargain: They would play dead in exchange
for being left alone. The Capitol had another nuclear
arsenal out west, but it couldn’t attack 13 without certain
retaliation. It was forced to accept 13’s deal. The Capitol
demolished the visible remains of the district and cut off
all access from the outside. Perhaps the Capitol’s leaders
thought that, without help, 13 would die off on its own.
It almost did a few times, but it always managed to pull
through due to strict sharing of resources, strenuous discipline, and constant vigilance against any further attacks
from the Capitol.
Now the citizens live almost exclusively underground.
You can go outside for exercise and sunlight but only at very
specific times in your schedule. You can’t miss your schedule. Every morning, you’re supposed to stick your right arm 18
in this contraption in the wall. It tattoos the smooth inside
of your forearm with your schedule for the day in a sickly
purple ink. 7:00 — Breakfast. 7:30 — Kitchen Duties. 8:30 —
Education Center, Room 17. And so on. The ink is indelible
until 22:00 — Bathing. That’s when whatever keeps it water
resistant breaks down and the whole schedule rinses away.
The lights-out at 22:30 signals that everyone not on the
night shift should be in bed.
At first, when I was so ill in the hospital, I could forgo
being imprinted. But once I moved into Compartment 307
with my mother and sister, I was expected to get with the
program. Except for showing up for meals, though, I pretty
much ignore the words on my arm. I just go back to our
compartment or wander around 13 or fall asleep somewhere
hidden. An abandoned air duct. Behind the water pipes in
the laundry. There’s a closet in the Education Center that’s
great because no one ever seems to need school supplies.
They’re so frugal with things here, waste is practically a
criminal activity. Fortunately, the people of 12 have never
been wasteful. But once I saw Fulvia Cardew crumple up
a sheet of paper with just a couple of words written on it
and you would’ve thought she’d murdered someone from
the looks she got. Her face turned tomato red, making the
silver flowers inlaid in her plump cheeks even more noticeable. The very portrait of excess. One of my few pleasures
in 13 is watching the handful of pampered Capitol “rebels”
squirming as they try to fit in.
I don’t know how long I’ll be able to get away with my
complete disregard for the clockwork precision of attendance 19
required by my hosts. Right now, they leave me alone because
I’m classified as mentally disoriented — it says so right on my
plastic medical bracelet — and everyone has to tolerate
my ramblings. But that can’t last forever. Neither can their
patience with the Mockingjay issue.
From the landing pad, Gale and I walk down a series of
stairways to Compartment 307. We could take the elevator,
only it reminds me too much of the one that lifted me into
the arena. I’m having a hard time adjusting to being underground so much. But after the surreal encounter with the
rose, for the first time the descent makes me feel safer.
I hesitate at the door marked 307, anticipating the questions from my family. “What am I going to tell them about
Twelve?” I ask Gale.
“I doubt they’ll ask for details. They saw it burn.
They’ll mostly be worried about how you’re handling it.”
Gale touches my cheek. “Like I am.”
I press my face against his hand for a moment. “I’ll survive.”
Then I take a deep breath and open the door. My mother
and sister are home for 18:00 — Reflection, a half hour of
downtime before dinner. I see the concern on their faces as
they try to gauge my emotional state. Before anyone can ask
anything, I empty my game bag and it becomes 18:00 —
Cat Adoration. Prim just sits on the floor weeping and rocking that awful Buttercup, who interrupts his purring only
for an occasional hiss at me. He gives me a particularly
smug look when she ties the blue ribbon around his neck.
My mother hugs the wedding photo tightly against her
chest and then places it, along with the book of plants, on 20
our government-issued chest of drawers. I hang my father’s
jacket on the back of a chair. For a moment, the place
almost seems like home. So I guess the trip to 12 wasn’t a
We’re heading down to the dining hall for 18:30 —
Dinner when Gale’s communicuff begins to beep. It looks
like an oversized watch, but it receives print messages. Being
granted a communicuff is a special privilege that’s reserved
for those important to the cause, a status Gale achieved by
his rescue of the citizens of 12. “They need the two of us in
Command,” he says.
Trailing a few steps behind Gale, I try to collect myself
before I’m thrown into what’s sure to be another relentless
Mockingjay session. I linger in the doorway of Command,
the high-tech meeting/war council room complete with computerized talking walls, electronic maps showing the troop
movements in various districts, and a giant rectangular table
with control panels I’m not supposed to touch. No one
notices me, though, because they’re all gathered at a television screen at the far end of the room that airs the Capitol
broadcast around the clock. I’m thinking I might be able to
slip away when Plutarch, whose ample frame has been blocking the television, catches sight of me and waves urgently
for me to join them. I reluctantly move forward, trying to
imagine how it could be of interest to me. It’s always the
same. War footage. Propaganda. Replaying the bombings of
District 12. An ominous message from President Snow. So
it’s almost entertaining to see Caesar Flickerman, the eternal host of the Hunger Games, with his painted face and 21
sparkly suit, preparing to give an interview. Until the camera pulls back and I see that his guest is Peeta.
A sound escapes me. The same combination of gasp and
groan that comes from being submerged in water, deprived
of oxygen to the point of pain. I push people aside until I
am right in front of him, my hand resting on the screen.
I search his eyes for any sign of hurt, any reflection of the
agony of torture. There is nothing. Peeta looks healthy to
the point of robustness. His skin is glowing, flawless, in
that full-body-polish way. His manner’s composed, serious.
I can’t reconcile this image with the battered, bleeding boy
who haunts my dreams.
Caesar settles himself more comfortably in the chair
across from Peeta and gives him a long look. “So . . . Peeta . . .
Peeta smiles slightly. “I bet you thought you’d done your
last interview with me, Caesar.”
“I confess, I did,” says Caesar. “The night before the
Quarter Quell . . . well, who ever thought we’d see you again?”
“It wasn’t part of my plan, that’s for sure,” says Peeta
with a frown.
Caesar leans in to him a little. “I think it was clear to all
of us what your plan was. To sacrifice yourself in the arena
so that Katniss Everdeen and your child could survive.”
“That was it. Clear and simple.” Peeta’s fingers trace the
upholstered pattern on the arm of the chair. “But other people had plans as well.”
Yes, other people had plans, I think. Has Peeta guessed,
then, how the rebels used us as pawns? How my rescue was 22
arranged from the beginning? And finally, how our mentor,
Haymitch Abernathy, betrayed us both for a cause he pretended to have no interest in?
In the silence that follows, I notice the lines that have
formed between Peeta’s eyebrows. He has guessed or he has
been told. But the Capitol has not killed or even punished
him. For right now, that exceeds my wildest hopes. I drink
in his wholeness, the soundness of his body and mind. It
runs through me like the morphling they give me in the
hospital, dulling the pain of the last weeks.
“Why don’t you tell us about that last night in the
arena?” suggests Caesar. “Help us sort a few things out.”
Peeta nods but takes his time speaking. “That last
night . . . to tell you about that last night . . . well, first
of all, you have to imagine how it felt in the arena. It was
like being an insect trapped under a bowl filled with steaming air. And all around you, jungle . . . green and alive and
ticking. That giant clock ticking away your life. Every hour
promising some new horror. You have to imagine that in
the past two days, sixteen people have died — some of them
defending you. At the rate things are going, the last eight
will be dead by morning. Save one. The victor. And your
plan is that it won’t be you.”
My body breaks out in a sweat at the memory. My hand
slides down the screen and hangs limply at my side. Peeta
doesn’t need a brush to paint images from the Games. He
works just as well in words.
“Once you’re in the arena, the rest of the world becomes
very distant,” he continues. “All the people and things you 23
loved or cared about almost cease to exist. The pink sky
and the monsters in the jungle and the tributes who want
your blood become your final reality, the only one that ever
mattered. As bad as it makes you feel, you’re going to have
to do some killing, because in the arena, you only get one
wish. And it’s very costly.”
“It costs your life,” says Caesar.
“Oh, no. It costs a lot more than your life. To murder
innocent people?” says Peeta. “It costs everything you are.”
“Everything you are,” repeats Caesar quietly.
A hush has fallen over the room, and I can feel it spreading across Panem. A nation leaning in toward its screens.
Because no one has ever talked about what it’s really like in
the arena before.
Peeta goes on. “So you hold on to your wish. And that
last night, yes, my wish was to save Katniss. But even without knowing about the rebels, it didn’t feel right. Everything
was too complicated. I found myself regretting I hadn’t run
off with her earlier in the day, as she had suggested. But
there was no getting out of it at that point.”
“You were too caught up in Beetee’s plan to electrify the
salt lake,” says Caesar.
“Too busy playing allies with the others. I should have
never let them separate us!” Peeta bursts out. “That’s when
I lost her.”
“When you stayed at the lightning tree, and she and
Johanna Mason took the coil of wire down to the water,”
“I didn’t want to!” Peeta flushes in agitation. “But I 24
couldn’t argue with Beetee without indicating we were
about to break away from the alliance. When that wire was
cut, everything just went insane. I can only remember bits
and pieces. Trying to find her. Watching Brutus kill Chaff.
Killing Brutus myself. I know she was calling my name.
Then the lightning bolt hit the tree, and the force field
around the arena . . . blew out.”
“Katniss blew it out, Peeta,” says Caesar. “You’ve seen
“She didn’t know what she was doing. None of us could
follow Beetee’s plan. You can see her trying to figure out
what to do with that wire,” Peeta snaps back.
“All right. It just looks suspicious,” says Caesar. “As if
she was part of the rebels’ plan all along.”
Peeta’s on his feet, leaning in to Caesar’s face, hands
locked on the arms of his interviewer’s chair. “Really? And
was it part of her plan for Johanna to nearly kill her? For
that electric shock to paralyze her? To trigger the bombing?” He’s yelling now. “She didn’t know, Caesar! Neither of
us knew anything except that we were trying to keep each
Caesar places his hand on Peeta’s chest in a gesture
that’s both self-protective and conciliatory. “Okay, Peeta, I
“Okay.” Peeta withdraws from Caesar, pulling back his
hands, running them through his hair, mussing his carefully
styled blond curls. He slumps back in his chair, distraught.
Caesar waits a moment, studying Peeta. “What about
your mentor, Haymitch Abernathy?”25
Peeta’s face hardens. “I don’t know what Haymitch
“Could he have been part of the conspiracy?” asks
“He never mentioned it,” says Peeta.
Caesar presses on. “What does your heart tell you?”
“That I shouldn’t have trusted him,” says Peeta.
I haven’t seen Haymitch since I attacked him on the
hovercraft, leaving long claw marks down his face. I know
it’s been bad for him here. District 13 strictly forbids any
production or consumption of intoxicating beverages, and
even the rubbing alcohol in the hospital is kept under lock
and key. Finally, Haymitch is being forced into sobriety,
with no secret stashes or home-brewed concoctions to ease
his transition. They’ve got him in seclusion until he’s dried
out, as he’s not deemed fit for public display. It must be
excruciating, but I lost all my sympathy for Haymitch when
I realized how he had deceived us. I hope he’s watching the
Capitol broadcast now, so he can see that Peeta has cast him
off as well.
Caesar pats Peeta’s shoulder. “We can stop now if
“Was there more to discuss?” says Peeta wryly.
“I was going to ask your thoughts on the war, but if
you’re too upset . . .” begins Caesar.
“Oh, I’m not too upset to answer that.” Peeta takes a
deep breath and then looks straight into the camera. “I want
everyone watching — whether you’re on the Capitol or the 26
rebel side — to stop for just a moment and think about what
this war could mean. For human beings. We almost went
extinct fighting one another before. Now our numbers are
even fewer. Our conditions more tenuous. Is this really what
we want to do? Kill ourselves off completely? In the hopes
that — what? Some decent species will inherit the smoking
remains of the earth?”
“I don’t really . . . I’m not sure I’m following . . .” says
“We can’t fight one another, Caesar,” Peeta explains.
“There won’t be enough of us left to keep going. If everybody
doesn’t lay down their weapons — and I mean, as in very
soon — it’s all over, anyway.”
“So . . . you’re calling for a cease-fire?” Caesar asks.
“Yes. I’m calling for a cease-fire,” says Peeta tiredly.
“Now why don’t we ask the guards to take me back to my
quarters so I can build another hundred card houses?”
Caesar turns to the camera. “All right. I think that wraps
it up. So back to our regularly scheduled programming.”
Music plays them out, and then there’s a woman reading
a list of expected shortages in the Capitol — fresh fruit, solar
batteries, soap. I watch her with uncharacteristic absorption,
because I know everyone will be waiting for my reaction
to the interview. But there’s no way I can process it all so
quickly — the joy of seeing Peeta alive and unharmed, his
defense of my innocence in collaborating with the rebels,
and his undeniable complicity with the Capitol now that
he’s called for a cease-fire. Oh, he made it sound as if he
were condemning both sides in the war. But at this point, 27
with only minor victories for the rebels, a cease-fire could
only result in a return to our previous status. Or worse.
Behind me, I can hear the accusations against Peeta
building. The words traitor, liar, and enemy bounce off the
walls. Since I can neither join in the rebels’ outrage nor
counter it, I decide the best thing to do is clear out. As I
reach the door, Coin’s voice rises above the others. “You
have not been dismissed, Soldier Everdeen.”
One of Coin’s men lays a hand on my arm. It’s not an
aggressive move, really, but after the arena, I react defensively to any unfamiliar touch. I jerk my arm free and take
off running down the halls. Behind me, there’s the sound of
a scuffle, but I don’t stop. My mind does a quick inventory
of my odd little hiding places, and I wind up in the supply
closet, curled up against a crate of chalk.
“You’re alive,” I whisper, pressing my palms against my
cheeks, feeling the smile that’s so wide it must look like a grimace. Peeta’s alive. And a traitor. But at the moment, I don’t
care. Not what he says, or who he says it for, only that he is
still capable of speech.
After a while, the door opens and someone slips in. Gale
slides down beside me, his nose trickling blood.
“What happened?” I ask.
“I got in Boggs’s way,” he answers with a shrug. I use
my sleeve to wipe his nose. “Watch it!”
I try to be gentler. Patting, not wiping. “Which one is he?”
“Oh, you know. Coin’s right-hand lackey. The one who
tried to stop you.” He pushes my hand away. “Quit! You’ll
bleed me to death.”28
The trickle has turned to a steady stream. I give up on
the first-aid attempts. “You fought with Boggs?”
“No, just blocked the doorway when he tried to follow
you. His elbow caught me in the nose,” says Gale.
“They’ll probably punish you,” I say.
“Already have.” He holds up his wrist. I stare at it
uncomprehendingly. “Coin took back my communicuff.”
I bite my lip, trying to remain serious. But it seems so
ridiculous. “I’m sorry, Soldier Gale Hawthorne.”
“Don’t be, Soldier Katniss Everdeen.” He grins. “I felt
like a jerk walking around with it anyway.” We both start
laughing. “I think it was quite a demotion.”
This is one of the few good things about 13. Getting
Gale back. With the pressure of the Capitol’s arranged
marriage between Peeta and me gone, we’ve managed to regain our friendship. He doesn’t push it any
further — try to kiss me or talk about love. Either I’ve
been too sick, or he’s willing to give me space, or he knows
it’s just too cruel with Peeta in the hands of the Capitol.
Whatever the case, I’ve got someone to tell my secrets
“Who are these people?” I say.
“They’re us. If we’d had nukes instead of a few lumps of
coal,” he answers.
“I like to think Twelve wouldn’t have abandoned the
rest of the rebels back in the Dark Days,” I say.
“We might have. If it was that, surrender, or start a
nuclear war,” says Gale. “In a way, it’s remarkable they survived at all.”29
Maybe it’s because I still have the ashes of my own district on my shoes, but for the first time, I give the people
of 13 something I have withheld from them: credit. For
staying alive against all odds. Their early years must have
been terrible, huddled in the chambers beneath the ground
after their city was bombed to dust. Population decimated,
no possible ally to turn to for aid. Over the past seventyfive years, they’ve learned to be self-sufficient, turned their
citizens into an army, and built a new society with no help
from anyone. They would be even more powerful if that pox
epidemic hadn’t flattened their birthrate and made them so
desperate for a new gene pool and breeders. Maybe they
are militaristic, overly programmed, and somewhat lacking
in a sense of humor. They’re here. And willing to take on
“Still, it took them long enough to show up,” I say.
“It wasn’t simple. They had to build up a rebel base in the
Capitol, get some sort of underground organized in the districts,” he says. “Then they needed someone to set the whole
thing in motion. They needed you.”
“They needed Peeta, too, but they seem to have forgotten that,” I say.
Gale’s expression darkens. “Peeta might have done a lot of
damage tonight. Most of the rebels will dismiss what he said
immediately, of course. But there are districts where the resistance is shakier. The cease-fire’s clearly President Snow’s idea.
But it seems so reasonable coming out of Peeta’s mouth.”
I’m afraid of Gale’s answer, but I ask anyway. “Why do
you think he said it?” 30
“He might have been tortured. Or persuaded. My guess
is he made some kind of deal to protect you. He’d put forth
the idea of the cease-fire if Snow let him present you as a
confused pregnant girl who had no idea what was going on
when she was taken prisoner by the rebels. This way, if the
districts lose, there’s still a chance of leniency for you. If you
play it right.” I must still look perplexed because Gale delivers the next line very slowly. “Katniss . . . he’s still trying to
keep you alive.”
To keep me alive? And then I understand. The Games
are still on. We have left the arena, but since Peeta and I
weren’t killed, his last wish to preserve my life still stands.
His idea is to have me lie low, remain safe and imprisoned,
while the war plays out. Then neither side will really have
cause to kill me. And Peeta? If the rebels win, it will be
disastrous for him. If the Capitol wins, who knows? Maybe
we’ll both be allowed to live — if I play it right — to watch
the Games go on. . . .
Images flash through my mind: the spear piercing Rue’s
body in the arena, Gale hanging senseless from the whipping post, the corpse-littered wasteland of my home. And
for what? For what? As my blood turns hot, I remember
other things. My first glimpse of an uprising in District
8. The victors locked hand in hand the night before the
Quarter Quell. And how it was no accident, my shooting
that arrow into the force field in the arena. How badly I
wanted it to lodge deep in the heart of my enemy.
I spring up, upsetting a box of a hundred pencils, sending them scattering around the floor. 31
“What is it?” Gale asks.
“There can’t be a cease-fire.” I lean down, fumbling as
I shove the sticks of dark gray graphite back into the box.
“We can’t go back.”
“I know.” Gale sweeps up a handful of pencils and taps
them on the floor into perfect alignment.
“Whatever reason Peeta had for saying those things, he’s
wrong.” The stupid sticks won’t go in the box and I snap
several in my frustration.
“I know. Give it here. You’re breaking them to bits.” He
pulls the box from my hands and refills it with swift, concise motions.
“He doesn’t know what they did to Twelve. If he
could’ve seen what was on the ground —” I start.
“Katniss, I’m not arguing. If I could hit a button and
kill every living soul working for the Capitol, I would do
it. Without hesitation.” He slides the last pencil into the
box and flips the lid closed. “The question is, what are you
going to do?”
It turns out the question that’s been eating away at me
has only ever had one possible answer. But it took Peeta’s
ploy for me to recognize it.
What am I going to do?
I take a deep breath. My arms rise slightly — as if recalling
the black-and-white wings Cinna gave me — then come to
rest at my sides.
“I’m going to be the Mockingjay.”
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