The Conspiracy

Chapter XIV: Hunting

We each take a pack and fill it with whatever supplies we're going to need. Unfortunately for 2, he'll need to carry gauze as well as peroxide, both of which take up room in his pack that could otherwise be used for food or weapons. Well, it's his own fault. I slide a dozen throwing knives into my belt, thinking that I'll find a more practical way to carry them later, place another dozen in the outer pocket of my pack, fill two water bottles with lake water, purify it with iodine, load up my pack with some strips of dried meat, and strap a watch to my wrist. It might be practical for determining when to change night shifts. Before I've closed my pack, Cato approaches me and hands me a pair of night vision goggles. He says nothing, but the gesture's meaning is very clear: 'I'd rather you have these than any of the others.'The two leaders of the Alliance are bound to have silent moments that clearly show we trust each other more than the others, right? I take the goggles, put them in my pack, zip it up, stand, and put the straps over my shoulders. Now it's time to hunt down the other Tributes.

2 starts on 24 about finding 23 and we let that happen. We are sort of looking for her but we make a priority of looking for other Tributes first instead. We comb the woods through the afternoon and night. My guess is that we're all low on sleep but no one wants to admit that. It would be a liability.

Cato and I are silent, concentrating on scanning the trees for signs of any of the other Tributes. 24 says nothing but he's clearly never tried hunting before because his feet make a good deal of noise on the ground. 1 are a louder too, less expert than Cato and me and they whisper to each other sometimes. Part of their conversation must be slightly irritated, as Cato and I are wearing night vision goggles while they have to stumble around half blind after us. We don't allow them to carry torches because they'd alert other Tributes to our presence. When this talk becomes distracting, Cato and I catch each other's eyes, decide without speaking that we'll never catch anyone surrounded by these people, and pull ahead of them.

It's not until nearly dawn that we see something worth investigating. Smoke rising over the tops of the trees. Cato and I glare at the others, telling them to say nothing as we approach. 15 is sleeping when we arrive but she freaks out completely when we rouse her. She squeaks, begs us to leave her, and tries to run but Cato gets her once in the chest. I don't envy the pain she must be feeling to make her make that sound. She collapses to the ground, whimpering but then falls silent. We search her stuff but find nothing other than a box of matches, and how many of those have we got? After a few minutes of silence, I suggest,. "Maybe we should go. Maybe that's why we haven't heard the cannon."

We clear out and stand around a ways away, waiting for the cannon. When nothing happens, 2 suggests that maybe the girl isn't dead. "Of course she is!" Cato snaps back, "I stuck her myself." They argue again and then 24 steps in, offering to go back and check. 1 watch him go, then begin wondering aloud why we're really keeping him alive; he hasn't found 23 for us yet and admittedly, he doesn't really seem to know what he's doing. Cato covers for him but I don't talk. My eyes are fixed on a branch some twenty or twenty-five feet off the ground where I think I've just seen movement. Who the hell is moving up there with all of us down here? I can't keep looking without taking action and I decide we're probably better off if I act like I haven't seen anything. Maybe it's 23 up there and if I reveal that I've seen her, we'll have to kill her.

"Was she dead?" Cato asks, expecting the affirmative answer.

"No, but she is now." He cleans his knife on a leaf and we listen.

Cannon.

"Maybe he's more Career than we gave him credit for," Cato mutters to me as we move on.

"No. Killing that girl bothered him," I answer. "Look at him." 24 looks stoic enough, but there's a difference between stoic and indifferent. I'm being stoic about killing 18. I don't care about killing 10 or 14. "Also, no Career would ever let another Career bandage his arm."

We head back to the camp, where 6 and 7 have begun to build a pyramid of the remaining supplies. It's not entirely done but 7 is still working. 6 has started to dig up the mines around the metal plates we stood on at the beginning. "What are you doing?" I ask him.

"I'm going to put them around the supply pile." He nods in the direction of all our stuff. "Rewire them, bury them, then activate them. Don't worry though, there will be a ring of supplies around the pyramid telling everyone where the mines start, and I won't put them so close to camp that if they go off they'd hurt us."

"Care to enlighten me about how you're going to rewire them?" Part of me wants the skill for the arena, the other just wants to know what in the world they teach them in 3.

"Care to stop calling me 6?"

"No."

"Well, until you start calling me by my name like you do Cato, I'm not gonna tell you." Hey! You're as bad as 24! You aren't supposed to notice that! "And you can't force it out of me because if you hurt me, you lose your mines." Clever. He does have us sort of trapped. "Though, take out that last factor and judging by the way you handled the others earlier, you could probably get me to tell you anything." I don't really know what to say. "It's a compliment, Clove." I'd really rather he not call me by name. "That was cool, the fighting and the other part."

"What other part?"

"You're as good with weapons as I am with wires. They'd be dead right now if you'd wanted it, but you let them live. That's cool." This reminds me of the way I killed 18, definitely not cool by 6's standards. I avert my eyes from his. He's kneeling, elbow deep in dirt. "Since there's no one around but the seven of us," he straightens his back, then stands up, holding a heavy-looking silver thing, presumably the mine, "And the two that were giving you trouble aren't going to be doing that anymore, make yourself useful." He pushes the mine into my chest, and for fear of having it fall on my feet and break all my toes, I take it from him. "Go take that over to the girl from 4. She'll tell you where to put it."

". . .K." I'm not really paying attention to my words. I'm more preoccupied with the bomb in my hands.

"And be careful." Thanks for the warning.

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