I stare down at the red-headed tribute from District 5, the girl I'd called Foxface in my head (mostly because I never caught her name.) It's actually the second time we've met like this. The first was right after the bloodbath, we both fled the Cornucopia and ran into each other (literally). That time we just stared at each other and went our separate ways. This time is shaping up the same, though she isn't free to go much of anywhere since I fell right on top of her.
We're staring at each other in an odd sort of stalemate, not sure who will break it first. As it turns out, it's Glimmer who breaks it. "Katniss! Katniss! Are you ok?" She's running down the hill (I'm sure she looks better on TV going down that hill than I did.) Foxface's expression suddenly changes from the same sort of blank surprised look she had last time to raw fear. Hmm, I think she might just know who's coming down the hill.
Glimmer comes to a stop a few feet away, looking over Foxface and myself with a smirk. "Katniss, you've got to tell me. How do you keep finding tributes seemingly at random? Why anyone else would have thought you just tripped and fell; they'd have had no idea it was all part of a clever ambush."
I roll my eyes. "You're not nearly as funny as you think you are, Glimmer."
"Oh, I dunno, I'm sure that got at least a chuckle from the audience."
"Yeah, yeah yeah." I sit up and look at the situation a bit more carefully. It seems Foxface had found a small borough to use as a hiding place, and it's just dumb luck that I literally fell into it. It's a good hiding place in terms of not being seen, but a bad one when it comes to having an escape route, which Foxface currently lacks.
"So what'd you find then? The girl from 5 is it?" Glimmer asks, left hand resting on the scabbard of her sword. Foxface just stares at Glimmer, doing her best to hide her fear with a mask of disgust. "Hmm, nothing to say? I'm pretty sure you're from 5. I did see the reapings and actually did take the time to look at all the other tributes you know; that and the red hair is a hint. Oh and by the way, it really isn't helping you much to stay silent."
"What, you'd rather I beg?" Guess she can talk finally.
"Beg?" Glimmer asks.
"I won't give you the pleasure. I'm not going to beg and make you look good on TV, so just get it over with. I may be dead, but I'm not going to be some prop for the highlight reel of the Career alliance."
"Hey! I'm not a Career!" Didn't she see me? Didn't she hear I was from 12, not a Career district? I was on fire and everything, you'd think she'd have noticed!
"You look like you're in the Career alliance to me."
"Wrong tribute from 12 there. It was her idiot district mate that joined the Careers, not her." Glimmer corrects.
"Wait, um… Then what's this?" Confusion is taking over her expression now. It's funny, in a sick, twisted way, watching the clever girl from 5 being outsmarted by the dumb blonde from 1.
"I ditched the Careers and teamed up with Katniss."
"What? Why? You're from 1, you're a Career; I saw you all chummy with them in training. Heck, we were taking bets if you were actually sleeping with any of them or just flirting!"
"Oh, Cato and Marvel are totally not my type. Katniss though…"
Wait a minute. Just what is that supposed to mean? I look at Glimmer, trying to not be too obviously confused.
"Um…?" This clearly is not the execution Foxface was expecting.
"So what do we do with her?" I ask, watching Foxface carefully. I have no idea if she's armed or not, but considering I'm sitting on top of her if she does I'd be the target. No way I'm giving her a free shot.
"Hmm, good question." I can see how conflicted Glimmer is. I'm sure all her training says that she should just kill the girl and move on; it'll make her look weak if she doesn't, cost her sponsors and all that. But it's pretty obvious she's not eager to just kill another helpless tribute, and I can't blame her; I don't want to just kill some helpless girl. I know sooner or later I'll have to kill someone; the odds of my kill score staying at zero are not good, not if I want to walk out alive. But that doesn't mean I like it.
"What's our options?" I ask.
"Well it's simple. We leave her, we take her, or we kill her." Well, she's right, it is simple, just three choices.
"Would we want to take her with us?" It's weird. I've never been social, never cared for most people, but in this arena all of a sudden I seem to keep trying to build alliances. Even if I know I can't save people it seems I can't help but try.
"Another mouth to feed. I'm not sure what she brings to the table."
"I saw her in training; she was pretty smart, that's something right?"
"That's right! I'm really bright!" Foxface starts pleading her case. Guess she's improvising now. Good for her.
"This isn't school. You don't win here just because you get good grades." Well, I suppose Glimmer has a point… Still, I don't hear her arguing to kill, so I imagine this comes down to if we leave the girl or take her with us.
"But I can help! I know I can! Just give me a chance!"
"A chance to do what?"
"To think of something; to prove I can pull my own weight, help out your little alliance. Just give me a few minutes. Come on, just five minutes!"
Glimmer looks at me and shrugs. I just shrug back. After all, what's the harm? If the girl was going to use a weapon she'd have done it by now. Clearly she's more of a thinker than a fighter, and right now we're offering her a way to think her way out so I don't think she's a threat at the moment. Granted, that may change in five minutes, but for now at least I think we can be patient. "Fine, five minutes." I announce. "By the way, I'm Katniss from 12, that's Glimmer from 1."
"Finch, from 5. Now quiet and let me think please,"
Undersee's been around the Everdeen house a lot lately; pretty much every night I've been over there watching the Games she's been there. Not surprisingly though, whenever Prim and Mrs. Everdeen have been over at my place, no Madge. Weirdness has its limits I guess.
It's like no one is where they're supposed to be; Catnip's supposed to be here with me and Prim, Madge should be back in town doing… well… whatever the hell it is townies do all day. Oh yeah, and that Glimmer chick should be back with the Careers, and Rue should be with, well… with the living.
I see what Katniss saw in her; it's really easy to see in fact, despite some obvious differences. Sure, the hair color and skin tone are totally opposite, but there's just something about the mannerisms, the size, the attitude.. A lightness to how they walk and move, a carefree attitude that seems just so out of place, both here in 12 and in the arena.
It's obvious why Katniss couldn't resist teaming up with her; it's also obvious why it was such a bad idea. I'm sure Katniss thought she could protect Rue, just like Prim, take all the weight herself and handle it, just like she has in 12. But the Capitol doesn't play fair, and no matter how unfair starvation may seem, at least it's predictable and steady; starvation isn't a cheating bastard.
Sometimes Katniss is too naive for her own good. Anything relating to feelings in fact qualifies. I wish I'd been there to tell her that it would end badly, not that she would have listened to me anyway. Naive and stubborn are traits that shouldn't be paired up sometimes, no matter how adorable they may be together. I wonder if that'll ever change. Not too much I hope. Maybe just enough to consider the possibility of us as more than friends? But who knows.
Ever since Prim's name was pulled from that damned bowl nothing's been how it should be; it feels like the entire world is changing, one unlikely happening after another. I'm really not sure what to do about it either. Do I just go with it, or do I try and make a stand as the lone voice of sanity? Is the last normal person in a world full of cooks really normal anymore, or just left behind? Damn life was simpler when it was just Katniss and I against the world, trying to just take care of our families, put food on the table, get enough extra to cover anything else that came up and that was it.
Fact is I'm not her protector at the moment; I can't be. I have to depend on some weird girl from 1 for that. Last sane person or not, that's one bit of weirdness I can't change; it's also the hardest. I can take Undersee trying to be social and actually having the guts to yell at me, I can take Katniss being gone (because I really do believe she'll be back, even if I'm terrified I could be wrong), I can take having to watch her find a surrogate little sister and go through the agony of losing her, but needing someone else to protect her, that's something I don't know how to take.
Katniss and I have looked after each other for years, but now all I can do is just sit and watch. I'm so useless now. No, I have to watch someone I never met, someone I didn't train, don't know if I can trust, someone who seems to like the idea of a final climactic duel to the death with Katniss after they take on all other comers. To call me confused and conflicted would be putting it mildly.
The Games are mandatory viewing for all of Panem (well the districts at least, the Capitol loves watching this shit so who the hell knows if they require it there or not.) That means mandatory evening broadcasts every single evening. For people who work, that's it, but for people in school (like me) there's a mandatory morning broadcast as well; school is reduced to just a half day in the afternoon. Indoctrinating kids to the Capitol's bullshit is more important than school I guess.
So that's why I'm sitting watching TV with Madge and Prim at the Everdeen house now. I seem to watch here a lot. Used to be that about half the time Prim and her mother would come to my house to watch, but it's really obvious Madge isn't comfortable there, and Prim seems to be playing peacemaker, so we wind up at the Everdeens' more often than not.
As has become usual (as much as I hate the new usual) we're watching the Games, the morning broadcast this time; apparently Catnip's the subject of interest today. Caesar's saying that there's another tribute nearby and a good chance they may encounter each other, even though that girl from 5 is supposedly real good at hiding. Supposedly it's all she's done all Games, hide and steal food from the Careers. If you can't use a weapon or know how to live off the land it's about all you can do I guess.
I wince at the way Katniss finds the girl. It's obvious she isn't hurt just, well… It's not the most flattering way to find a tribute. Fortunately the girl seems pretty helpless. Hell, Katniss and Glimmer are discussing what to do with her right in front of her face; it's obvious they don't think she's a threat.
It seems like neither of them has much appetite to kill her either, which honestly makes me proud. I know she'll have to kill sooner or later, after all the odds of all the other tributes dropping dead from heart attacks and Katniss winning by default seem pretty low. But still, just because you have to kill doesn't mean you should just give up and become some casual killer like the thugs from 2.
They settle for giving the girl five minutes to come up with a reason to get taken with them; they don't tell her she's going to live regardless of what she comes up with, but I can't see how the girl wouldn't know. After all, both Glimmer and Katniss can act threatening, but neither one is trying at all today.
The girl from 5 tries thinking for a while and then grabs a stick starts doing math in the dirt. What the hell is she doing? What, she think this is school or some shit? I look over at Madge. She pays more attention in school than me, maybe she knows what all that math crap is supposed to be. "You know what she's doing, Undersee?"
Madge stares at the screen a bit longer. "I think it's physics equations. I'm not entirely what she's trying to figure out though." The girl seems satisfied with her math problem after a minute though and starts eagerly describing her plan to Katniss and Glimmer.
"Will that even work?" I ask.
"I honestly have no idea. I've never heard of anyone trying anything like that in the Games." Madge answers. Frankly, she sounds a bit in awe of the whole thing. I can't say I blame her.
"Trying something like that outside the arena would get you shot."
"You're right." Madge agrees. "That's a major crime. Will they really let it happen?"
"Listen to how excited the commentators are; they almost have to. Audience demands it and all that shit, right?"
Madge thinks about it for a second "Yeah, you're right, they do basically have to let them try. But no matter how much the audience may like the idea I'd hate to be someone who tries copying that thing in real life."
Yeah, Madge is right; they almost have to let the plan go through. It's so crazy the audience will have to see it. But god help anyone who ever tries to build a thing like that outside the Games. They'd be lucky to just be shot for it.
Come to think of it I bet the Peacekeepers over in 5 are having a little dialogue with the teachers there. I think the Capitol might have an issue with a few lesson plans they've been using over there.
I don't like how close to the Cornucopia we have to be for this plan to work; not just be close, but be that close and working practically all day. I don't even know why we agreed to this; probably because it was just so weird sounding we wanted to see if it would actually work or not. Or maybe Glimmer and I are bored or just want a change of pace. Who knows. Certainly the idea is good: take the fight to the Careers, hit them with a major offensive and all sorts of other important sounding war terms. I suppose they fit though, since this plan really is a battle plan from ancient wars.
All that sounds a lot more impressive than focusing on what we're doing, which is cutting down trees. Four to be precise. After that comes limbing them, then the even more fun task of actually building this thing, which means Glimmer and I get to climb trees and start hoisting our logs up.
Fortunately all three of us have packs from the Cornucopia, so we each have camp saws which make the actually cutting down of trees and limbing them relatively easy. We're left with four logs, each on the long and thin side, but (hopefully!) light enough that Glimmer and I can still hoist them up.
We tie lengths of rope (another gift from the packs we each have) to the ends of the first log and climb into our respective trees. We reach our assigned branches and start pulling in the rope. It's pretty awkward hoisting something up while sitting in a tree but we manage the first log. Once it's up to us we position it, each end resting on a fairly low branch, resting against the trunk of the tree we're in and start tying it down.
"You know I usually get a guy to do this sort of thing." Glimmer complains.
"Yeah, tell me about it. Really makes me miss Gale."
"If this doesn't work I say we stick Finch in the thing and launch her."
"Hmm, sounds a bit harsh. But by the time we're done hoisting these stupid logs up I might agree…"
"Hey, I can hear you two you know!" Finch yells up from the ground.
"Then get up here and help and, maybe we won't launch you out of your contraption!" I yell back to her. Fortunately she actually listens rather than trying some sarcastic remark. I get enough of that from Glimmer, after all.
"How do you even know how to make something like this anyway?" Glimmer asks.
"District 5 is energy, you know? So in school it's all about physics and things like that. So they showed us how to make real simple stuff like this out of dowels and pencils and stuff like that; gotta keep little kids entertained after all. This is just a bit more advanced and easier to build version, scaled up obviously. And, well, actually doable with what we have here in the arena."
"So this is a glorified science project eh." Glimmer doesn't sound impressed at all.
"Hey, science is my thing, and it works! Yeah, I'm not as big as you, not as strong, and I can't use a weapon, but I can make things like this. Machines like this were used in war for centuries! And they used them for so long because they worked! It was to lay siege to castles, but that's sort of what we're doing isn't it?"
"I suppose it is, yeah. And this will actually do what you say?"
"Well it's the aim that's the tricky part. I'm absolutely sure it'll fire, but the accuracy, especially side to side is gonna need some luck. But I really do think this will work."
"Fighting with science eh?" Glimmer asks.
"Exactly! There's no way I could ever make a thing like this on my own, but with you two I can actually do something that matters; I can make a difference here." A lot of pride has found its way into Finch's voice.
"Beats hiding all Games."
"Well that's all I could do! I didn't have any allies, I didn't really have any skills that applied here, so all I could do is run, hide, watch the Cornucopia and steal to survive. I didn't have any choice before I met you two."
"And what if you did have a choice? You wish we'd left you behind or just plain never found you?" What the heck is Glimmer fishing for? I'm sure as heck not giving up on this plan without seeing it through.
Finch thinks about it for a moment then shakes her head. "No, that was really just waiting to die. Hide and hope no one notices me. Of course it was only a matter of time, if not you two then the Career pack who would have just killed me; that's a miserable way to go, just cower and hide until you die. This way I get to actually fight, go on the offensive, and for once what I'm actually good at can matter in the Games; I can be something other than just another victim finally."
Glimmer looks at Finch thoughtfully for a while. "Hmm, I see." I wonder what that means. It's pretty rare Glimmer actually looks thoughtful, so Finch's answer obviously wasn't what she expected. "We should get back to it. I don't want to drag this out longer than we have to; it's dangerous here." Well, I'll just have to ask her about it later I guess.
Being an escort for tributes to the Hunger Games is a prestigious position; at least it's supposed to be. Unfortunately in previous years it amounted to little more than babysitting a drunk. Add to that the fact the average lifespan of a District 12 tribute is less than the time it takes to have a pizza delivered and you get a job that is hardly as glamorous as it sounds.
This year, however, is different. With only ten tributes left both the District 12 tributes are still alive, and one is even in a rather promising alliance, which means I actually get to do my job properly. In fact, I get to in effect do Haymitch's job, since he refuses to. So I go to the sponsor parties for him, talk to the potential donors and press the case of our tributes.
Heaven forbid Haymitch actually do anything beyond sign the sponsor forms. For goodness sake I hear some mentors like Finnick Odair has personal meetings with special sponsors. But of course Haymitch would never show dedication like that. Still, he does seem more sober this year than previous years. Well, not entirely sober, just closer to it.
Of course that means I get to go to the sponsor parties, I get to mingle with the most powerful people in the Capitol, I get to go to the most prestigious places and in general act as if I was the female mentor for what is now a serious district in these games.
In fact there are in effect two major alliances in these Games, now, a first. That's not to say competing alliances haven't formed before, but they were never at all evenly matched. Small groups of frightened yet helpless tributes banded together into makeshift alliances, but this alliance appears to be preparing for a major assault on the Cornucopia, and that assault is all the talk of the Capitol.
The plans have been detailed and analyzed on television of course, but the actual results are still total speculation. Will they actually be able to hit anything? Will they be found out before they even complete their weapon? If they do manage to hit what will the repercussions be? It's all so exciting. And that excitement makes it child's play to get sponsors. At most every sponsor party I go to I see representatives from District 5, but oddly none from District 1. Perhaps they have some secret plan they're hatching. They are far more veteran at this than I.
It's taken most of the day, but we're finally done; the logs all in place and tied up. Three for a crossbar, then one tied perpendicular to them to be the arm. At one end Finch tied on her backpack, now filled with rocks and dirt. At the other a makeshift basket hangs where the ammunition will be loaded.
"All right, it's almost time to get started!" Finch sure is eager to see her new toy tried. "So here's the plan. Katniss can climb the best, so she'll get to as high in a tree as she can and spot for us. That means tell us where our shots land and how exactly how we need to adjust."
"We need a direct hit on their supplies for this to work?" I ask.
"Well, a direct hit is best, it'll knock the stuff over and blow up all the mines. But if we're even close it may be good enough. They have the mines real close together so if we hit the ground where they are it could be enough to blow everything up."
"So I guess that means I get all the hard work. Load and actually fire this catapult of yours?" I can't say I blame Glimmer's lack of enthusiasm here. The ammunition is rocks, they've got to be almost a hundred pounds each; not something I'd be eager to move around and that's on top of actually pulling the arm down to the ground before any ammo is loaded.
"It's not a catapult, it's a trebuchet! They're better!" Finch proclaims.
"Yeah, whatever. I'm doing the hard work though?"
"Oh. Well, um, yes. And of course I'll help you and try to match our aim to what Katniss tells us."
With our assignments clear, we get into position. Which for Glimmer and Finch means they basically stay where they are and I start climbing. From the top of my tree I have a view of the Cornucopia and the clearing around it, including the pile of Career pack supplies and the recently disturbed dirt concealing land mines around them. I look down to find Glimmer and Finch set and the trebuchet loaded and ready to fire. I wave my readiness to them and a moment later the weapon fires.
I watch as a rock weighing more than my little sister sails through the sky in blissful defiance of gravity. It hits the ground with a thud I can hear even this far away. "Overshot by about 30 yards and it's 10 yards left!" I yell down to Glimmer and Finch. No point trying to be subtle anymore, after all. Any careers around will be coming for us no matter what now, so it's about speed, not stealth at this point.
I watch as they pull the arm back to load another shot. I'm not sure how a real trebuchet is built, but I'm pretty sure it isn't with rope and a lot of improvised knots. I imagine back in District 12 Gale must be smiling with pride at the fact I used so many of the knots he taught me (and thinking all the while of ways he could have done it better).
Pride in my use of the skills he taught me or not, it's clear this improvised artillery will hold up for only a few more shots before it falls apart. You just plain can't make a good hinge for the long term out of just rope, not for something that puts as much stress on the hinge as this thing.
Glimmer and Finch have finally reloaded the weapon and adjust their aim. They let fly again. Either Finch actually can aim the thing like she claims or is lucky; whichever it is we're getting warmer. "Undershot by maybe 10 yards. You're close!" Finch might just be for real. One more shot and the Career pack should be out of supplies; food, water, weapons, medicine, everything; it'll all be gone.
One more reload done and they fire again, but as soon as the arm starts moving things start to go wrong. Some of the knots and ropes holding the trebuchet's arm give way and it swings to the side, sending the shot wildly off. It lands dozens of yards off the mark, and worse still the trebuchet arm is swinging all over the place, and not just on the one axis we tried to restrict it to.
It's hanging by a thread (more or less literally) but at least it hasn't totally broken free. "What happened?" Finch yells up at me.
"The hinge isn't holding; the whole thing's starting to give way."
"Can we still use it?" That's a good question. I might be in a better position to see than the girls on the ground, but I'm still far away.
The arm's swing is calming down finally, but it still isn't what I'd call stable. The weapon's still in one piece but I can't say I feel great about its durability. "Maybe, but it's not looking good. One more try probably, doubt it'll last past that, so make it count."
Glimmer and Finch pull the arm back again and load another rock, probably the last we'll be able to fire. Finch does her best to aim and then they fire. I watch the rock fly through the air, tumbling on its way to Cornucopia clearing so many yards away. Time draws out and I swear I can see every little twist and tumble it makes on its way.
Finch's aim is perfect; the rock hits dead center on the supply pile sending crates crashing to the ground The various weapons and supplies tumble down to the ground and mines waiting just beneath it.. The first crate hits the ground and instantly I see a shockwave, like a giant ball shaped distortion in the air and then a fraction of a second later the boom of the explosion reaches me. It's a sound like I've never heard before. The Capitol's cannons are the pathetic cousins of what we just did.
Below me Glimmer and Finch cheer in triumph. With the explosion they don't need me to tell them it worked; they know. The entire arena probably knows, which it suddenly occurs to me is a problem. A big one. I look back to the Cornucopia and my worst fears are confirmed. "We've got incoming; some of the Career pack! Looks like three of them!"
I start trying to climb down, hoping we can get out of here in time and avoid a fight all together. Below me Glimmer draws her sword and to my surprise rather than running and hiding Finch draws a small knife. I don't have time to think about it though, because before I reach the ground the first Career is on us. It's Clove.