Home > Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)(10)

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)(10)
Suzanne Collins

"You all right?" he asks, his words nearly drowned out by an explosion.

"Yeah. I don't think they've seen me," I answer. "I mean, they're not following us."

"No, they've targeted something else," says Gale.

"I know, but there's nothing back there but - " The realization hits us at the same time.

"The hospital." Instantly, Gale's up and shouting to the others. "They're targeting the hospital!"

"Not your problem," says Plutarch firmly. "Get to the bunker."

"But there's nothing there but the wounded!" I say.

"Katniss." I hear the warning note in Haymitch's voice and know what's coming. "Don't you even think about - !" I yank the earpiece free and let it hang from its wire. With that distraction gone, I hear another sound. Machine gun fire coming from the roof of the dirt brown warehouse across the alley. Someone is returning fire. Before anyone can stop me, I make a dash for an access ladder and begin to scale it. Climbing. One of the things I do best.

"Don't stop!" I hear Gale say behind me. Then there's the sound of his boot on someone's face. If it belongs to Boggs, Gale's going to pay for it dearly later on. I make the roof and drag myself onto the tar. I stop long enough to pull Gale up beside me, and then we take off for the row of machine gun nests on the street side of the warehouse. Each looks to be manned by a few rebels. We skid into a nest with a pair of soldiers, hunching down behind the barrier.

"Boggs know you're up here?" To my left I see Paylor behind one of the guns, looking at us quizzically.

I try to be evasive without flat-out lying. "He knows where we are, all right."

Paylor laughs. "I bet he does. You been trained in these?" She slaps the stock of her gun.

"I have. In Thirteen," says Gale. "But I'd rather use my own weapons."

"Yes, we've got our bows." I hold mine up, then realize how decorative it must seem. "It's more deadly than it looks."

"It would have to be," says Paylor. "All right. We expect at least three more waves. They have to drop their sight shields before they release the bombs. That's our chance. Stay low!" I position myself to shoot from one knee.

"Better start with fire," says Gale.

I nod and pull an arrow from my right sheath. If we miss our targets, these arrows will land somewhere - probably the warehouses across the street. A fire can be put out, but the damage an explosive can do may be irreparable.

Suddenly, they appear in the sky, two blocks down, maybe a hundred yards above us. Seven small bombers in a V formation. "Geese!" I yell at Gale. He'll know exactly what I mean. During migration season, when we hunt fowl, we've developed a system of dividing the birds so we don't both target the same ones. I get the far side of the V, Gale takes the near, and we alternate shots at the front bird. There's no time for further discussion. I estimate the lead time on the hoverplanes and let my arrow fly. I catch the inside wing of one, causing it to burst into flames. Gale just misses the point plane. A fire blooms on an empty warehouse roof across from us. He swears under his breath.

The hoverplane I hit swerves out of formation, but still releases its bombs. It doesn't disappear, though. Neither does one other I assume was hit by gunfire. The damage must prevent the sight shield from reactivating.

"Good shot," says Gale.

"I wasn't even aiming for that one," I mutter. I'd set my sights on the plane in front of it. "They're faster than we think."

"Positions!" Paylor shouts. The next wave of hoverplanes is appearing already.

"Fire's no good," Gale says. I nod and we both load explosive-tipped arrows. Those warehouses across the way look deserted anyway.

As the planes sweep silently in, I make another decision. "I'm standing!" I shout to Gale, and rise to my feet. This is the position I get the best accuracy from. I lead earlier and score a direct hit on the point plane, blasting a hole in its belly. Gale blows the tail off a second. It flips and crashes into the street, setting off a series of explosions as its cargo goes off.

Without warning, a third V formation unveils. This time, Gale squarely hits the point plane. I take the wing off the second bomber, causing it to spin into the one behind it. Together they collide into the roof of the warehouse across from the hospital. A fourth goes down from gunfire.

"All right, that's it," Paylor says.

Flames and heavy black smoke from the wreckage obscure our view. "Did they hit the hospital?"

"Must have," she says grimly.

As I hurry toward the ladders at the far end of the warehouse, the sight of Messalla and one of the insects emerging from behind an air duct surprises me. I thought they'd still be hunkered down in the alley.

"They're growing on me," says Gale.

I scramble down a ladder. When my feet hit the ground, I find a bodyguard, Cressida, and the other insect waiting. I expect resistance, but Cressida just waves me toward the hospital. She's yelling, "I don't care, Plutarch! Just give me five more minutes!" Not one to question a free pass, I take off into the street.

"Oh, no," I whisper as I catch sight of the hospital. What used to be the hospital. I move past the wounded, past the burning plane wrecks, fixated on the disaster ahead of me. People screaming, running about frantically, but unable to help. The bombs have collapsed the hospital roof and set the building on fire, effectively trapping the patients within. A group of rescuers has assembled, trying to clear a path to the inside. But I already know what they will find. If the crushing debris and the flames didn't get them, the smoke did.

Gale's at my shoulder. The fact that he does nothing only confirms my suspicions. Miners don't abandon an accident until it's hopeless.

"Come on, Katniss. Haymitch says they can get a hovercraft in for us now," he tells me. But I can't seem to move.

"Why would they do that? Why would they target people who were already dying?" I ask him.

"Scare others off. Prevent the wounded from seeking help," says Gale. "Those people you met, they were expendable. To Snow, anyway. If the Capitol wins, what will it do with a bunch of damaged slaves?"

I remember all those years in the woods, listening to Gale rant against the Capitol. Me, not paying close attention. Wondering why he even bothered to dissect its motives. Why thinking like our enemy would ever matter. Clearly, it could have mattered today. When Gale questioned the existence of the hospital, he was not thinking of disease, but this. Because he never underestimates the cruelty of those we face.

I slowly turn my back to the hospital and find Cressida, flanked by the insects, standing a couple of yards in front of me. Her manner's unrattled. Cool even. "Katniss," she says, "President Snow just had them air the bombing live. Then he made an appearance to say that this was his way of sending a message to the rebels. What about you? Would you like to tell the rebels anything?"

"Yes," I whisper. The red blinking light on one of the cameras catches my eye. I know I'm being recorded. "Yes," I say more forcefully. Everyone is drawing away from me - Gale, Cressida, the insects - giving me the stage. But I stay focused on the red light. "I want to tell the rebels that I am alive. That I'm right here in District Eight, where the Capitol has just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women, and children. There will be no survivors." The shock I've been feeling begins to give way to fury. "I want to tell people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there's a cease-fire, you're deluding yourself. Because you know who they are and what they do." My hands go out automatically, as if to indicate the whole horror around me. "Thisis what they do! And we must fight back!"

I'm moving in toward the camera now, carried forward by my rage. "President Snow says he's sending us a message? Well, I have one for him. You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that?" One of the cameras follows as I point to the planes burning on the roof of the warehouse across from us. The Capitol seal on a wing glows clearly through the flames. "Fire is catching!" I am shouting now, determined that he will not miss a word. "And if we burn, you burn with us!"

My last words hang in the air. I feel suspended in time. Held aloft in a cloud of heat that generates not from my surroundings, but from my own being.

"Cut!" Cressida's voice snaps me back to reality, extinguishes me. She gives me a nod of approval. "That's a wrap."

8

Boggs appears and gets a firm lock on my arm, but I'm not planning on running now. I look over at the hospital - just in time to see the rest of the structure give way - and the fight goes out of me. All those people, the hundreds of wounded, the relatives, the medics from 13, are no more. I turn back to Boggs, see the swelling on his face left by Gale's boot. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure his nose is broken. His voice is more resigned than angry, though. "Back to the landing strip." I obediently take a step forward and wince as I become aware of the pain behind my right knee. The adrenaline rush that overrode the sensation has passed and my body parts join in a chorus of complaints. I'm banged up and bloody and someone seems to be hammering on my left temple from inside my skull. Boggs quickly examines my face, then scoops me up and jogs for the runway. Halfway there, I puke on his bulletproof vest. It's hard to tell because he's short of breath, but I think he sighs.

A small hovercraft, different from the one that transported us here, waits on the runway. The second my team's on board, we take off. No comfy seats and windows this time. We seem to be in some sort of cargo craft. Boggs does emergency first aid on people to hold them until we get back to 13. I want to take off my vest, since I got a fair amount of vomit on it as well, but it's too cold to think about it. I lie on the floor with my head in Gale's lap. The last thing I remember is Boggs spreading a couple of burlap sacks over me.

When I wake up, I'm warm and patched up in my old bed in the hospital. My mother's there, checking my vital signs. "How do you feel?"

"A little beat-up, but all right," I say.

"No one even told us you were going until you were gone," she says.

I feel a pang of guilt. When your family's had to send you off twice to the Hunger Games, this isn't the kind of detail you should overlook. "I'm sorry. They weren't expecting the attack. I was just supposed to be visiting the patients," I explain. "Next time, I'll have them clear it with you."

"Katniss, no one clears anything with me," she says.

It's true. Even I don't. Not since my father died. Why pretend? "Well, I'll have them...notify you anyway."

On the bedside table is a piece of shrapnel they removed from my leg. The doctors are more concerned with the damage my brain might have suffered from the explosions, since my concussion hadn't fully healed to begin with. But I don't have double vision or anything and I can think clearly enough. I've slept right through the late afternoon and night, and I'm starving. My breakfast is disappointingly small. Just a few cubes of bread soaking in warm milk. I've been called down to an early morning meeting at Command. I start to get up and then realize they plan to roll my hospital bed directly there. I want to walk, but that's out, so I negotiate my way into a wheelchair. I feel fine, really. Except for my head, and my leg, and the soreness from the bruises, and the nausea that hit a couple minutes after I ate. Maybe the wheelchair's a good idea.

As they wheel me down, I begin to get uneasy about what I will face. Gale and I directly disobeyed orders yesterday, and Boggs has the injury to prove it. Surely, there will be repercussions, but will they go so far as Coin annulling our agreement for the victors' immunity? Have I stripped Peeta of what little protection I could give him?

When I get to Command, the only ones who've arrived are Cressida, Messalla, and the insects. Messalla beams and says, "There's our little star!" and the others are smiling so genuinely that I can't help but smile in return. They impressed me in 8, following me onto the roof during the bombing, making Plutarch back off so they could get the footage they wanted. They more than do their work, they take pride in it. Like Cinna.

I have a strange thought that if we were in the arena together, I would pick them as allies. Cressida, Messalla, and - and - "I have to stop calling you 'the insects,'" I blurt out to the cameramen. I explain how I didn't know their names, but their suits suggested the shelled creatures. The comparison doesn't seem to bother them. Even without the camera shells, they strongly resemble each other. Same sandy hair, red beards, and blue eyes. The one with close-bitten nails introduces himself as Castor and the other, who's his brother, as Pollux. I wait for Pollux to say hello, but he just nods. At first I think he's shy or a man of few words. But something tugs on me - the position of his lips, the extra effort he takes to swallow - and I know before Castor tells me. Pollux is an Avox. They have cut out his tongue and he will never speak again. And I no longer have to wonder what made him risk everything to help bring down the Capitol.

As the room fills, I brace myself for a less congenial reception. But the only people who register any kind of negativity are Haymitch, who's always out of sorts, and a sour-faced Fulvia Cardew. Boggs wears a flesh-colored plastic mask from his upper lip to his brow - I was right about the broken nose - so his expression's hard to read. Coin and Gale are in the midst of some exchange that seems positively chummy.

When Gale slides into the seat next to my wheelchair, I say, "Making new friends?"

His eyes flicker to the president and back. "Well, one of us has to be accessible." He touches my temple gently. "How do you feel?"

They must have served stewed garlic and squash for the breakfast vegetable. The more people who gather, the stronger the fumes are. My stomach turns and the lights suddenly seem too bright. "Kind of rocky," I say. "How are you?"

"Fine. They dug out a couple of pieces of shrapnel. No big deal," he says.

Coin calls the meeting to order. "Our Airtime Assault has officially launched. For any of you who missed yesterday's twenty-hundred broadcast of our first propo - or the seventeen reruns Beetee has managed to air since - we will begin by replaying it." Replaying it? So they not only got usable footage, they've already slapped together a propo and aired it repeatedly. My palms grow moist in anticipation of seeing myself on television. What if I'm still awful? What if I'm as stiff and pointless as I was in the studio and they've just given up on getting anything better? Individual screens slide up from the table, the lights dim slightly, and a hush falls over the room.

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