Home > Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)(5)

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)(5)
Suzanne Collins

"There, you see? And look how moral you two are! Virtually incorruptible." Plutarch sighs. "Oh, well, wars don't last forever. So, glad to have you on the team." He reaches a hand out to the side, where Fulvia is already extending a large sketchbook bound in black leather. "You know in general what we're asking of you, Katniss. I'm aware you have mixed feelings about participating. I hope this will help."

Plutarch slides the sketchbook across to me. For a moment, I look at it suspiciously. Then curiosity gets the better of me. I open the cover to find a picture of myself, standing straight and strong, in a black uniform. Only one person could have designed the outfit, at first glance utterly utilitarian, at second a work of art. The swoop of the helmet, the curve to the breastplate, the slight fullness of the sleeves that allows the white folds under the arms to show. In his hands, I am again a mockingjay.

"Cinna," I whisper.

"Yes. He made me promise not to show you this book until you'd decided to be the Mockingjay on your own. Believe me, I was very tempted," says Plutarch. "Go on. Flip through."

I turn the pages slowly, seeing each detail of the uniform. The carefully tailored layers of body armor, the hidden weapons in the boots and belt, the special reinforcements over my heart. On the final page, under a sketch of my mockingjay pin, Cinna's written, I'm still betting on you.

"When did he..." My voice fails me.

"Let's see. Well, after the Quarter Quell announcement. A few weeks before the Games maybe? There are not only the sketches. We have your uniforms. Oh, and Beetee's got something really special waiting for you down in the armory. I won't spoil it by hinting," says Plutarch.

"You're going to be the best-dressed rebel in history," says Gale with a smile. Suddenly, I realize he's been holding out on me. Like Cinna, he's wanted me to make this decision all along.

"Our plan is to launch an Airtime Assault," says Plutarch. "To make a series of what we call propos - which is short for 'propaganda spots' - featuring you, and broadcast them to the entire population of Panem."

"How? The Capitol has sole control of the broadcasts," says Gale.

"But we have Beetee. About ten years ago, he essentially redesigned the underground network that transmits all the programming. He thinks there's a reasonable chance it can be done. Of course, we'll need something to air. So, Katniss, the studio awaits your pleasure." Plutarch turns to his assistant. "Fulvia?"

"Plutarch and I have been talking about how on earth we can pull this off. We think that it might be best to build you, our rebel leader, from the outside...in. That is to say, let's find the most stunning Mockingjay look possible, and then work your personality up to deserving it!" she says brightly.

"You already have her uniform," says Gale.

"Yes, but is she scarred and bloody? Is she glowing with the fire of rebellion? Just how grimy can we make her without disgusting people? At any rate, she has to be something. I mean, obviously this" - Fulvia moves in on me quickly, framing my face with her hands - "won't cut it." I jerk my head back reflexively but she's already busy gathering her things. "So, with that in mind, we have another little surprise for you. Come, come."

Fulvia gives us a wave, and Gale and I follow her and Plutarch out into the hall.

"So well intended, and yet so insulting," Gale whispers in my ear.

"Welcome to the Capitol," I mouth back. But Fulvia's words have no effect on me. I wrap my arms tightly around the sketchbook and allow myself to feel hopeful. This must be the right decision. If Cinna wanted it.

We board an elevator, and Plutarch checks his notes. "Let's see. It's Compartment Three-Nine-Oh-Eight." He presses a button marked 39 , but nothing happens.

"You must have to key it," says Fulvia.

Plutarch pulls a key attached to a thin chain from under his shirt and inserts it into a slot I hadn't noticed before. The doors slide shut. "Ah, there we are."

The elevator descends ten, twenty, thirty-plus levels, farther down than I even knew District 13 went. It opens on a wide white corridor lined with red doors, which look almost decorative compared to the gray ones on the upper floors. Each is plainly marked with a number 3901, 3902, 3903 ...

As we step out, I glance behind me to watch the elevator close and see a metallic grate slide into place over the regular doors. When I turn, a guard has materialized from one of the rooms at the far end of the corridor. A door swings silently shut behind him as he strides toward us.

Plutarch moves to meet him, raising a hand in greeting, and the rest of us follow behind him. Something feels very wrong down here. It's more than the reinforced elevator, or the claustrophobia of being so far underground, or the caustic smell of antiseptic. One look at Gale's face and I can tell he senses it as well.

"Good morning, we were just looking for - " Plutarch begins.

"You have the wrong floor," says the guard abruptly.

"Really?" Plutarch double-checks his notes. "I've got Three-Nine-Oh-Eight written right here. I wonder if you could just give a call up to - "

"I'm afraid I have to ask you to leave now. Assignment discrepancies can be addressed at the Head Office," says the guard.

It's right ahead of us. Compartment 3908. Just a few steps away. The door - in fact, all the doors - seem incomplete. No knobs. They must swing free on hinges like the one the guard appeared through.

"Where is that again?" asks Fulvia.

"You'll find the Head Office on Level Seven," says the guard, extending his arms to corral us back to the elevator.

From behind door 3908 comes a sound. Just a tiny whimper. Like something a cowed dog might make to avoid being struck, only all too human and familiar. My eyes meet Gale's for just a moment, but it's long enough for two people who operate the way we do. I let Cinna's sketchbook fall at the guard's feet with a loud bang. A second after he leans down to retrieve it, Gale leans down, too, intentionally bumping heads. "Oh, I'm sorry," he says with a light laugh, catching the guard's arms as if to steady himself, turning him slightly away from me.

That's my chance. I dart around the distracted guard, push open the door marked 3908 , and find them. Half-naked, bruised, and shackled to the wall.

My prep team.

4

The stink of unwashed bodies, stale urine, and infection breaks through the cloud of antiseptic. The three figures are only just recognizable by their most striking fashion choices: Venia's gold facial tattoos.

Flavius's orange corkscrew curls. Octavia's light evergreen skin, which now hangs too loosely, as if her body were a slowly deflating balloon.

On seeing me, Flavius and Octavia shrink back against the tiled walls like they're anticipating an attack, even though I have never hurt them. Unkind thoughts were my worst offense against them, and those I kept to myself, so why do they recoil?

The guard's ordering me out, but by the shuffling that follows, I know Gale has somehow detained him. For answers, I cross to Venia, who was always the strongest. I crouch down and take her icy hands, which clutch mine like vises.

"What happened, Venia?" I ask. "What are you doing here?"

"They took us. From the Capitol," she says hoarsely.

Plutarch enters behind me. "What on earth is going on?"

"Who took you?" I press her.

"People," she says vaguely. "The night you broke out."

"We thought it might be comforting for you to have your regular team," Plutarch says behind me. "Cinna requested it."

"Cinna requestedthis ?" I snarl at him. Because if there's one thing I know, it's that Cinna would never have approved the abuse of these three, who he managed with gentleness and patience. "Why are they being treated like criminals?"

"I honestly don't know." There's something in his voice that makes me believe him, and the pallor on Fulvia's face confirms it. Plutarch turns to the guard, who's just appeared in the doorway with Gale right behind him. "I was only told they were being confined. Why are they being punished?"

"For stealing food. We had to restrain them after an altercation over some bread," says the guard.

Venia's brows come together as if she's still trying to make sense of it. "No one would tell us anything. We were so hungry. It was just one slice she took."

Octavia begins to sob, muffling the sound in her ragged tunic. I think of how, the first time I survived the arena, Octavia sneaked me a roll under the table because she couldn't bear my hunger. I crawl across to her shaking form. "Octavia?" I touch her and she flinches. "Octavia? It's going to be all right. I'll get you out of here, okay?"

"This seems extreme," says Plutarch.

"It's because they took a slice of bread?" asks Gale.

"There were repeated infractions leading up to that. They were warned. Still they took more bread." The guard pauses a moment, as if puzzled by our density. "You can't take bread."

I can't get Octavia to uncover her face, but she lifts it slightly. The shackles on her wrists shift down a few inches, revealing raw sores beneath them. "I'm bringing you to my mother." I address the guard. "Unchain them."

The guard shakes his head. "It's not authorized."

"Unchain them! Now!" I yell.

This breaks his composure. Average citizens don't address him this way. "I have no release orders. And you have no authority to - "

"Do it on my authority," says Plutarch. "We came to collect these three anyway. They're needed for Special Defense. I'll take full responsibility."

The guard leaves to make a call. He returns with a set of keys. The preps have been forced into cramped body positions for so long that even once the shackles are removed, they have trouble walking. Gale, Plutarch, and I have to help them. Flavius's foot catches on a metal grate over a circular opening in the floor, and my stomach contracts when I think of why a room would need a drain. The stains of human misery that must have been hosed off these white tiles...

In the hospital, I find my mother, the only one I trust to care for them. It takes her a minute to place the three, given their current condition, but already she wears a look of consternation. And I know it's not a result of seeing abused bodies, because they were her daily fare in District 12, but the realization that this sort of thing goes on in 13 as well.

My mother was welcomed into the hospital, but she's viewed as more of a nurse than a doctor, despite her lifetime of healing. Still, no one interferes when she guides the trio into an examination room to assess their injuries. I plant myself on a bench in the hall outside the hospital entrance, waiting to hear her verdict. She will be able to read in their bodies the pain inflicted upon them.

Gale sits next to me and puts an arm around my shoulder. "She'll fix them up." I give a nod, wondering if he's thinking about his own brutal flogging back in 12.

Plutarch and Fulvia take the bench across from us but don't offer any comments on the state of my prep team. If they had no knowledge of the mistreatment, then what do they make of this move on President Coin's part? I decide to help them out.

"I guess we've all been put on notice," I say.

"What? No. What do you mean?" asks Fulvia.

"Punishing my prep team's a warning," I tell her. "Not just to me. But to you, too. About who's really in control and what happens if she's not obeyed. If you had any delusions about having power, I'd let them go now. Apparently, a Capitol pedigree is no protection here. Maybe it's even a liability."

"There is no comparison between Plutarch, who masterminded the rebel breakout, and those three beauticians," says Fulvia icily.

I shrug. "If you say so, Fulvia. But what would happen if you got on Coin's bad side? My prep team was kidnapped. They can at least hope to one day return to the Capitol. Gale and I can live in the woods. But you? Where would you two run?"

"Perhaps we're a little more necessary to the war effort than you give us credit for," says Plutarch, unconcerned.

"Of course you are. The tributes were necessary to the Games, too. Until they weren't," I say. "And then we were very disposable - right, Plutarch?"

That ends the conversation. We wait in silence until my mother finds us. "They'll be all right," she reports. "No permanent physical injuries."

"Good. Splendid," says Plutarch. "How soon can they be put to work?"

"Probably tomorrow," she answers. "You'll have to expect some emotional instability, after what they've been through. They were particularly ill prepared, coming from their life in the Capitol."

"Weren't we all?" says Plutarch.

Either because the prep team's incapacitated or I'm too on edge, Plutarch releases me from Mockingjay duties for the rest of the day. Gale and I head down to lunch, where we're served bean and onion stew, a thick slice of bread, and a cup of water. After Venia's story, the bread sticks in my throat, so I slide the rest of it onto Gale's tray. Neither of us speaks much during lunch, but when our bowls are clean, Gale pulls up his sleeve, revealing his schedule. "I've got training next."

I tug up my sleeve and hold my arm next to his. "Me, too." I remember that training equals hunting now.

My eagerness to escape into the woods, if only for two hours, overrides my current concerns. An immersion into greenery and sunlight will surely help me sort out my thoughts. Once off the main corridors, Gale and I race like schoolchildren for the armory, and by the time we arrive, I'm breathless and dizzy. A reminder that I'm not fully recovered. The guards provide our old weapons, as well as knives and a burlap sack that's meant for a game bag. I tolerate having the tracker clamped to my ankle, try to look as if I'm listening when they explain how to use the handheld communicator. The only thing that sticks in my head is that it has a clock, and we must be back inside 13 by the designated hour or our hunting privileges will be revoked. This is one rule I think I will make an effort to abide.

We go outside into the large, fenced-in training area beside the woods. Guards open the well-oiled gates without comment. We would be hard-pressed to get past this fence on our own - thirty feet high and always buzzing with electricity, topped with razor-sharp curls of steel. We move through the woods until the view of the fence has been obscured. In a small clearing, we pause and drop back our heads to bask in the sunlight. I turn in a circle, my arms extended at my sides, revolving slowly so as not to set the world spinning.

Recommended
» Forever Too Far (Rosemary Beach #3) read online
» Divergent (Divergent #1) read online
» Fallen Too Far (Rosemary Beach #1) read online
» Easy (Contours of the Heart #1) read online
» Insurgent (Divergent #2) read online
» Twilight (Twilight #1) read online
» I Am Legend read online
» Rush Too Far (Rosemary Beach #4) read online
» Unseen Messages read online
» Breakable (Contours of the Heart #2) read online
» Breaking Dawn (Twilight #4) read online
» Allegiant (Divergent #3) read online
» Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) read online
» Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) read online
» Eclipse (Twilight #3) read online
» The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) read online
» Never Too Far (Rosemary Beach #2) read online
» The Darkest Seduction (Lords of the Underwo read online
» Midnight Sun (Twilight #1.5) read online
» New Moon (Twilight #2) read online
» Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) read online