Home > Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)(4)

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)(4)
Suzanne Collins

"Katniss?" Prim whispers. She's awake, peering at me through the darkness. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Just a bad dream. Go back to sleep." It's automatic. Shutting Prim and my mother out of things to shield them.

Careful not to rouse my mother, Prim eases herself from the bed, scoops up Buttercup, and sits beside me. She touches the hand that has curled around the pearl. "You're cold." Taking a spare blanket from the foot of the bed, she wraps it around all three of us, enveloping me in her warmth and Buttercup's furry heat as well. "You could tell me, you know. I'm good at keeping secrets. Even from Mother."

She's really gone, then. The little girl with the back of her shirt sticking out like a duck tail, the one who needed help reaching the dishes, and who begged to see the frosted cakes in the bakery window. Time and tragedy have forced her to grow too quickly, at least for my taste, into a young woman who stitches bleeding wounds and knows our mother can hear only so much.

"Tomorrow morning, I'm going to agree to be the Mockingjay," I tell her.

"Because you want to or because you feel forced into it?" she asks.

I laugh a little. "Both, I guess. No, I want to. I have to, if it will help the rebels defeat Snow." I squeeze the pearl more tightly in my fist. "It's just...Peeta. I'm afraid if we do win, the rebels will execute him as a traitor."

Prim thinks this over. "Katniss, I don't think you understand how important you are to the cause. Important people usually get what they want. If you want to keep Peeta safe from the rebels, you can."

I guess I'm important. They went to a lot of trouble to rescue me. They took me to 12. "You mean...I could demand that they give Peeta immunity? And they'd have to agree to it?"

"I think you could demand almost anything and they'd have to agree to it." Prim wrinkles her brow. "Only how do you know they'll keep their word?"

I remember all of the lies Haymitch told Peeta and me to get us to do what he wanted. What's to keep the rebels from reneging on the deal? A verbal promise behind closed doors, even a statement written on paper - these could easily evaporate after the war. Their existence or validity denied. Any witnesses in Command will be worthless. In fact, they'd probably be the ones writing out Peeta's death warrant. I'll need a much larger pool of witnesses. I'll need everyone I can get.

"It will have to be public," I say. Buttercup gives a flick of his tail that I take as agreement. "I'll make Coin announce it in front of the entire population of Thirteen."

Prim smiles. "Oh, that's good. It's not a guarantee, but it will be much harder for them to back out of their promise."

I feel the kind of relief that follows an actual solution. "I should wake you up more often, little duck."

"I wish you would," says Prim. She gives me a kiss. "Try and sleep now, all right?" And I do.

In the morning, I see that 7:00 - Breakfast is directly followed by 7:30 - Command , which is fine since I may as well start the ball rolling. At the dining hall, I flash my schedule, which includes some kind of ID number, in front of a sensor. As I slide my tray along the metal shelf before the vats of food, I see breakfast is its usual dependable self - a bowl of hot grain, a cup of milk, and a small scoop of fruit or vegetables. Today, mashed turnips. All of it comes from 13's underground farms. I sit at the table assigned to the Everdeens and the Hawthornes and some other refugees, and shovel my food down, wishing for seconds, but there are never seconds here. They have nutrition down to a science. You leave with enough calories to take you to the next meal, no more, no less. Serving size is based on your age, height, body type, health, and amount of physical labor required by your schedule. The people from 12 are already getting slightly larger portions than the natives of 13 in an effort to bring us up to weight. I guess bony soldiers tire too quickly. It's working, though. In just a month, we're starting to look healthier, particularly the kids.

Gale sets his tray beside me and I try not to stare at his turnips too pathetically, because I really want more, and he's already too quick to slip me his food. Even though I turn my attention to neatly folding my napkin, a spoonful of turnips slops into my bowl.

"You've got to stop that," I say. But since I'm already scooping up the stuff, it's not too convincing.

"Really. It's probably illegal or something." They have very strict rules about food. For instance, if you don't finish something and want to save it for later, you can't take it from the dining hall. Apparently, in the early days, there was some incident of food hoarding. For a couple of people like Gale and me, who've been in charge of our families' food supply for years, it doesn't sit well. We know how to be hungry, but not how to be told how to handle what provisions we have. In some ways, District 13 is even more controlling than the Capitol.

"What can they do? They've already got my communicuff," says Gale.

As I scrape my bowl clean, I have an inspiration. "Hey, maybe I should make that a condition of being the Mockingjay."

"That I can feed you turnips?" he says.

"No, that we can hunt." That gets his attention. "We'd have to give everything to the kitchen. But still, we could..." I don't have to finish because he knows. We could be aboveground. Out in the woods. We could be ourselves again.

"Do it," he says. "Now's the time. You could ask for the moon and they'd have to find some way to get it."

He doesn't know that I'm already asking for the moon by demanding they spare Peeta's life. Before I can decide whether or not to tell him, a bell signals the end of our eating shift. The thought of facing Coin alone makes me nervous. "What are you scheduled for?"

Gale checks his arm. "Nuclear History class. Where, by the way, your absence has been noted."

"I have to go to Command. Come with me?" I ask.

"All right. But they might throw me out after yesterday." As we go to drop off our trays, he says, "You know, you better put Buttercup on your list of demands, too. I don't think the concept of useless pets is well known here."

"Oh, they'll find him a job. Tattoo it on his paw every morning," I say. But I make a mental note to include him for Prim's sake.

By the time we get to Command, Coin, Plutarch, and all their people have already assembled. The sight of Gale raises some eyebrows, but no one throws him out. My mental notes have become too jumbled, so I ask for a piece of paper and a pencil right off. My apparent interest in the proceedings - the first I've shown since I've been here - takes them by surprise. Several looks are exchanged. Probably they had some extra-special lecture planned for me. But instead, Coin personally hands me the supplies, and everyone waits in silence while I sit at the table and scrawl out my list.Buttercup. Hunting. Peeta's immunity. Announced in public.

This is it. Probably my only chance to bargain.Think. What else do you want? I feel him, standing at my shoulder.Gale , I add to the list. I don't think I can do this without him.

The headache's coming on and my thoughts begin to tangle. I shut my eyes and start to recite silently.

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 alive. He is a traitor but alive. I have to keep him alive....

The list. It still seems too small. I should try to think bigger, beyond our current situation where I am of the utmost importance, to the future where I may be worth nothing. Shouldn't I be asking for more? For my family? For the remainder of my people? My skin itches with the ashes of the dead. I feel the sickening impact of the skull against my shoe. The scent of blood and roses stings my nose.

The pencil moves across the page on its own. I open my eyes and see the wobbly letters.I KILL SNOW. If he's captured, I want the privilege.

Plutarch gives a discreet cough. "About done there?" I glance up and notice the clock. I've been sitting here for twenty minutes. Finnick isn't the only one with attention problems.

"Yeah," I say. My voice sounds hoarse, so I clear my throat. "Yeah, so this is the deal. I'll be your Mockingjay."

I wait so they can make their sounds of relief, congratulate, slap one another on the back. Coin stays as impassive as ever, watching me, unimpressed.

"But I have some conditions." I smooth out the list and begin. "My family gets to keep our cat." My tiniest request sets off an argument. The Capitol rebels see this as a nonissue - of course, I can keep my pet - while those from 13 spell out what extreme difficulties this presents. Finally it's worked out that we'll be moved to the top level, which has the luxury of an eight-inch window aboveground. Buttercup may come and go to do his business. He will be expected to feed himself. If he misses curfew, he will be locked out. If he causes any security problems, he'll be shot immediately.

That sounds okay. Not so different from how he's been living since we left. Except for the shooting part.

If he looks too thin, I can slip him a few entrails, provided my next request is allowed.

"I want to hunt. With Gale. Out in the woods," I say. This gives everyone pause.

"We won't go far. We'll use our own bows. You can have the meat for the kitchen," adds Gale.

I hurry on before they can say no. "It's just...I can't breathe shut up here like a...I would get better, faster, if...I could hunt."

Plutarch begins to explain the drawbacks here - the dangers, the extra security, the risk of injury - but Coin cuts him off. "No. Let them. Give them two hours a day, deducted from their training time. A quarter-mile radius. With communication units and tracker anklets. What's next?"

I skim my list. "Gale. I'll need him with me to do this."

"With you how? Off camera? By your side at all times? Do you want him presented as your new lover?" Coin asks.

She hasn't said this with any particular malice - quite the contrary, her words are very matter-of-fact.

But my mouth still drops open in shock. "What?"

"I think we should continue the current romance. A quick defection from Peeta could cause the audience to lose sympathy for her," says Plutarch. "Especially since they think she's pregnant with his child."

"Agreed. So, on-screen, Gale can simply be portrayed as a fellow rebel. Is that all right?" says Coin. I just stare at her. She repeats herself impatiently. "For Gale. Will that be sufficient?"

"We can always work him in as your cousin," says Fulvia.

"We're not cousins," Gale and I say together.

"Right, but we should probably keep that up for appearances' sake on camera," says Plutarch. "Off camera, he's all yours. Anything else?"

I'm rattled by the turn in the conversation. The implications that I could so readily dispose of Peeta, that I'm in love with Gale, that the whole thing has been an act. My cheeks begin to burn. The very notion that I'm devoting any thought to who I want presented as my lover, given our current circumstances, is demeaning. I let my anger propel me into my greatest demand. "When the war is over, if we've won, Peeta will be pardoned."

Dead silence. I feel Gale's body tense. I guess I should have told him before, but I wasn't sure how he'd respond. Not when it involved Peeta.

"No form of punishment will be inflicted," I continue. A new thought occurs to me. "The same goes for the other captured tributes, Johanna and Enobaria." Frankly, I don't care about Enobaria, the vicious District 2 tribute. In fact, I dislike her, but it seems wrong to leave her out.

"No," says Coin flatly.

"Yes," I shoot back. "It's not their fault you abandoned them in the arena. Who knows what the Capitol's doing to them?"

"They'll be tried with other war criminals and treated as the tribunal sees fit," she says.

"They'll be granted immunity!" I feel myself rising from my chair, my voice full and resonant. "You will personally pledge this in front of the entire population of District Thirteen and the remainder of Twelve. Soon. Today. It will be recorded for future generations. You will hold yourself and your government responsible for their safety, or you'll find yourself another Mockingjay!"

My words hang in the air for a long moment.

"That's her!" I hear Fulvia hiss to Plutarch. "Right there. With the costume, gunfire in the background, just a hint of smoke."

"Yes, that's what we want," says Plutarch under his breath.

I want to glare at them, but I feel it would be a mistake to turn my attention from Coin. I can see her tallying the cost of my ultimatum, weighing it against my possible worth.

"What do you say, President?" asks Plutarch. "You could issue an official pardon, given the circumstances. The boy...he's not even of age."

"All right," Coin says finally. "But you'd better perform."

"I'll perform when you've made the announcement," I say.

"Call a national security assembly during Reflection today," she orders. "I'll make the announcement then. Is there anything left on your list, Katniss?"

My paper's crumpled into a ball in my right fist. I flatten the sheet against the table and read the rickety letters. "Just one more thing. I kill Snow."

For the first time ever, I see the hint of a smile on the president's lips. "When the time comes, I'll flip you for it."

Maybe she's right. I certainly don't have the sole claim against Snow's life. And I think I can count on her getting the job done. "Fair enough."

Coin's eyes have flickered to her arm, the clock. She, too, has a schedule to adhere to. "I'll leave her in your hands, then, Plutarch." She exits the room, followed by her team, leaving only Plutarch, Fulvia, Gale, and myself.

"Excellent. Excellent." Plutarch sinks down, elbows on the table, rubbing his eyes. "You know what I miss? More than anything? Coffee. I ask you, would it be so unthinkable to have something to wash down the gruel and turnips?"

"We didn't think it would be quite so rigid here," Fulvia explains to us as she massages Plutarch's shoulders. "Not in the higher ranks."

"Or at least there'd be the option of a little side action," says Plutarch. "I mean, even Twelve had a black market, right?"

"Yeah, the Hob," says Gale. "It's where we traded."

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