The Conspiracy

Chapter XV: How to Fulfill the Pact

I hand the mine to 7 and then begin helping her by digging another hole. She's not happy about her job. What with being threatened by 24, a boy from the outermost District, and now being reduced to piling up our stuff and digging holes in the ground for a plan we're not even sure will work, she's got to be feeling like she's been shoved to the side. She can't show any of her talents if she never goes with us. Well, Tough.

"Hey," Cato taps me on the shoulder, "Come on. We're going to gather firewood." I hesitate for just a second, give him a mildly defiant, mildly dirty look, just to show the Capitol I don't have to do what he says just because he said it. Then I make it apparent that I believe his suggestion is smart.

"See you later, 7" I tell her, dropping the dirt in my hands unceremoniously.

Cato and I walk silently side by side and continue to be silent as we gather wood. Why should we be talking? At home we certainly would be, but here we can't appear to amiable to one another. His actions against 2 at the end of the bloodbath were about as friendly as we should be. It's maybe ten minutes before we acknowledge each other again.

He stops at a bush and examines the black berries growing on it. I drop the sticks, join him and break open one of the berries. The blood red juice stains my fingers and smells terribly sweet. The smell burns my nose and makes me feel slightly sick. I hear metal clattering around and look quickly at Cato, reaching for the handle of one of my knives for effect. "Here," he says, holding out a cylindrical tin container. "Just in case." I strip three or four more berries off the vine, though if Cato and I need them, we will need exactly two, and drop them one by one into the container. He caps it and hands it to me and I fasten it to my belt while he fills a second similar container. This exchange must look very strange in the Capitol indeed, especially considering that Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith are most definitely explaining to the audience that these are nightlock berries.

I can almost hear the questions circulating in the Capitol right now: "Why would two Careers be collecting nightlock together?" Of course, we know what they're for but the audience must be thinking we aim to poison someone else. "But why then did Cato show them to Clove? Someone smarter would have seen the bush and simply gone about picking up sticks, making a mental note to return for a closer examination." This must be very puzzling for the Capitol, for all of Panem really. They know he must be smart. "What is Cato doing?" "Did Cato know they were here?" Come to think of it, I'd like the answer to that but I can't very well blurt it out to him. I hazard a guess at 'yes'. Why else would he have brought along two small containers? And the last question buzzing around in all their brains will be "How did they know what they are?" for it's clear we're aware they could be useful, but aren't to be eaten. Nightlock isn't native to 2 and the trainers didn't show them to us at the station in training, but that doesn't mean we didn't see them in other Games: the second Quarter Quell, for instance.

At home, we use video of all 73 other Games to prepare mentally for our own. Our District keeps all the original footage on disks in a room in the training center for us to watch. It's important to see what other kinds of arenas, weather, weapons, and supplies the Gamemakers provide. And for someone small like me, it was important to watch the fights, to memorize the steps of the tributes. I need my technique and if I see how others forgot theirs, I'll always be careful not to make those same mistakes.

Cato and I return to camp, each with an enormous armful of firewood. As we set the sticks down an I begin to set up the teepee, 2 starts in on us, wondering what the hell we're building a fire for when it's a hundred degrees. I didn't even think how strange that would look, but Cato's got it sorted. "Are you gonna want to find firewood in the middle of the night when the temperature's down seventy degrees?" 2 says nothing but glares at the pair of us. I drop the stick I'm holding and my right hand goes to one of the knives on my belt as a precaution, but I don't throw or even draw. He's annoyed with Cato's sarcastic question but not so annoyed that he's going to raise a weapon to either of us. That's another part of the strategy someone of my stature was always aware of. When do people look angry as opposed to dangerous? Someone Cato's size doesn't care how dangerous a person looks because he can most likely crush their windpipe with one hand. I, on the other hand, am nearly a foot shorter than Cato and petit. I learned very young how to expect and predict an attack. "I wouldn't either so we did it now." Cato continues. "Any more stupid questions?" I know 2 will walk away before he does, so I release my hold on my knife and go back to sorting sticks.

I build the teepee near the mouth of the Cornucopia, thinking that when we're sleeping at night, it'll be practical to have warmth and shelter close to each other. None of us is comfortable sleeping in the tent so it lies in the pyramid where 7 put it. We'd be too close to one another in there. Not to mention it would be too easy for some other tribute to come along and light the whole thing on fire, killing us all in a minute. Maybe when there are fewer of us left, the remaining Careers, namely Cato and me, will sleep there.

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