The hovercraft flies for about an hour and a half before landing. I'm usually pretty friendly and have no problem striking up conversations, but right now I don't feel like it. There are about ten other guys and a couple of girls on the flight, and most look like they are around my age. No one looks happy to be here.
The pilot makes an announcement over the intercom that we have arrived in District 6 and can disembark from the craft. I get up and stretch my legs, and follow the others down the ramp. I look around and see the broken monorail tracks above. Of course, this is where all of the transportation system would have connected together. I guess it makes sense that any training area would be here where transportation would have made it easy to get to.
We are led by a soldier who meets of on the runway to a waiting truck. It drives us through the well maintained streets. Eventually, we get to a more open area and finally enter through a wire gate. It leads down a path until we finally see some building which could only be barracks. My home sweet home for however long it may be. The truck stops and we all stumble out. Suddenly, a loud voice yells out.
"Soldiers, line up!" I see a tall older man who is obviously the one behind the authoritative voice. I see the others scramble to form some kind of line, and I manage to follow suit. The head soldier looks us over.
"My name is Boggs. I am the drill sergeant here. That means I am in charge of your training. When I come by, you will state your name and district." He then starts walking by each recruit one by one. Each yells out their information as loudly as they can. One is a large brute of a guy from Two named Cato, and another tall lanky kid from One named Marvel. There is even a girl who is most than enthusiastic as she announces herself to be Clove from Two. She gives a look to the brute who gives a wink. They obviously know each other.
Finally, it is my turn. "And who might you be soldier? A bit small aren't you?" The others give a kind of smirk at the snide comment. I Don't give in to it.
"Peeta Mellark, District 12, sir!" I yell back just as strong as the rest of them. Boggs nods his approval and moves on.
We are finally led to a requisitions building where we are given uniforms, gear, and necessities. We are shown to the barracks and told to pick a bed to sleep in. Luckily, I find a lower bunk that is fairly comfortable, and a friendly sort from Ten takes the bed above. Light out occurs, and I lay down in the dark, thinking of Katniss and hoping that she is okay.
The morning begins our training as soldiers. Over the next few days I find that it is mostly about following orders, something that I am really good at. We run miles, which builds up my stamina, and do strengthening exercises. We also have target practice, and while I am not the best, I have some ability thanks to Katniss teaching me some about hunting with a bow and arrow. The concepts of aiming at a target are the same. I listen to Boggs and Mitchell, his right hand man who is enlisted like us, but has learned enough to train now. Both of them are tough, but as long as you toe the line, they don't harp on you.
I don't make too many friends, especially not Cato and Marvel, as they think I am nothing more than a punching bag. Luckily, Clove likes me although she thinks quality time together is using me as a target for her knife throwing. Charlie, my bunkmate, is who I usually spend most any time with, and we swap stories from home at mealtime.
At night, when I am the loneliness, I write letters to Katniss. I know that they could never be sent or received in these circumstances, but it helps me to put all my feelings onto paper.
I miss you so much. Although I am well, I would much rather be with you anywhere else. I wish I could hear your voice, your laugh, or just be able to touch you in any way. I only hope that by my being here and helping the cause that it will only get me closer to being able to go home and truly begin our life together. Just know that I am doing this for us. You are in my thoughts and heart at all times. I love you, Katniss.
Most of the letters I write go much in the same way. I also eventually get a sketchpad and pencils where I draw my wife, using different memories. The first day I saw her in Kindergarten, Katniss singing, the day I gave her the bread, the day we married, the night we first made love or just a picture of Katniss sitting on the couch a soft smile on her face. Most I keep in the book where anyone can see, although the more intimate ones I hide for myself. Drawing her helps to keep the memories alive and me from going crazy with her not there.
After the first week, I am pretty well into the routine when Boggs suddenly announces. "Mellark, double time it to the main barracks, the Commander wants to see you."
"Yes, sir!" I reply and begin a quick job to the building that houses most of the administrative offices of the training camp. It looks decrepit on the outside, but pretty well maintained on the inside. I go down the main hallway until I reach the desk of the assistant to the Commander, a red headed young woman with glasses and eyes like a fox beneath them.
"Peeta Mellark here to see the Commander," I tell her.
"Yes, Mr. Mellark, please go right on in." the girl says. I knock and go through the frosted glass door. There is a large wood desk and a comfortable leather chair with its back turned to me as I come in.
"You asked to see me Commander," I begin
The chair turns around and a woman sits there, very straight back in a pose that tells you she is in control. I immediately straighten my own body up more.
"My name is Paylor, Soldier Mellark. Thank you so much for coming. Please, do sit down." She motions to a chair in front of the desk and I follow her order. She looks me over for a minute examining me.
"I guess you are wondering why I asked you here," she states, seeing the obvious curiosity in my eyes. "I am in contact with Haymitch Abernathy in Thirteen and he sent me a message letting me know of your arrival and a little bit about your situation. I take it that this is not where you really want to be?"
I take a moment to form my answer. "Not exactly. Where I wish to be is with the girl that I love, but due to everything Coin has done, I was taken from her. I was given a choice of being made to marry someone else or be a soldier, so I ended up here." Somehow Commander Paylor has made me feel like she wants to help, so I give her the details about the forced marriages in Thirteen and how our failure to conceive made them separate us. I tell her that given the choices the only thing I could do was become a soldier to hopefully be able to reunite with Katniss when we win the war.
Paylor takes this information in. "I see. I have been hearing many stories coming out of Thirteen, and I think Coin is overstepping her bounds." She gives a huff. "I just want to assure you that I am going to do everything in my power to ensure we are successful in this war. In the meantime, I will try to see if Abernathy can find out some information for you about your wife. Do you have a message for her?"
"Thank you Commander. I just want to know that she is okay. My message to Katniss is one word-Always. She'll know what it means. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this. " I shake her hand and am dismissed.
I head back to the barracks, only to find Cato and Marvel standing over my bed. Their backs are turned to me, but I can tell they are looking at something. I walk closer to them and finally see that they have my sketches in their hands…the intimate ones that I had hidden. I feel my anger overcome me.
"What are you doing with those? They are mine." I yell at them. I don't want to start any fights, but they have crossed the line.
"We just so happened to find them," Cato sneers. "Lovely girl. Girlfriend? Wife?"
"Wife," I tell them. I take the drawings from their hands. "At least, she was." I rub my thumb over the lines of the pictures gently.
"Is she dead?" Marvel asks now curious.
I shake my head and sit down on the bed. "No, she's alive. In Thirteen."
"You must have been part of the program like us," Marvel announces. "Got drafted here after my girl Glimmer got knocked up."
"Yeah, I got matched to Clove over there, and lucky for me she decided that she'd rather join the fighting. She's as ready for blood as I am." He looks over to where Clove is sharpening her knives. "Great, isn't she?" I give a little smile at the humor of this relationship.
"Well, I was married to Katniss as part of the program," I begin. "Fell in love with her, too. But, we didn't meet their expectations for having a baby, so they separated us and here I am. Trust me, I would rather be with her, but defeating the Capitol is the only way I'll have a chance to get her back."
"Well, then," Marvel pats my back, "let's get going and win this thing." I smile. I think I have just made some new friends. We all work hard at training, becoming stronger and more of a unit with each passing week.
Before I know it, I have been there for three months when we are all sitting around the barracks playing poker when the door slams open and we hear Bogg's distinctive growl.
"Get your gear ready boys and girls, because you all are heading to District 1 tomorrow. We are going to be joining the rest of the forces to begin the final invasion of the Capitol!" All of us begin clapping at the thought that this could be it. The final push. The celebrations begin when the drill sergeant once again speaks.
"Mellark, over here!" he shouts.
"Sir, yes sir!" I answer. I walk over to where he stands and give a salute. He returns the gesture and holds out a piece of paper.
"The Commander asked me to give this to you. Special message for delivery." I thank him and take the note from his hand. I head to my bunk and sit down on it to open it up. It's not a very long message, but I know now that Paylor kept her word. She checked on Katniss for me.
Abernathy has been in contact with your wife. According to him, she is well. He gave her your message and her reply is this: We love you. I hope that this will at least give you some comfort in the battle ahead. Good luck to you.
I can't help but read it over and over again. For the rest of the evening I pour over it, trying to make out any and all meaning out of the message. There isn't much to go on, but at least I know she is safe and still loves me. That love is what makes the mission ahead all worth it. I fall asleep finally again dreaming of holding Katniss in my arms once more.
We are awakened at dawn, where we quickly pack our gear and load on to the hovercraft to take us to the main forces of the rebel army. When we land in District One, the view is much different. The buildings that have been left after the destruction are ornate, looking like they were made of precious metals like gold and silver. Marvel is happy to be home, but we are not given much time to take in the surroundings. We are immediately told to line up and be prepared for our new squadron leader to meet us.
We have been at attention for about five minutes when a figure approaches us at a fast pace. He is in full uniform with helmet and stops in front of us, giving a salute. I can't help but smile big, because I recognize the soldier.
"Recruits! Welcome to the main forces of our army. You are now the new members of Squad 451. I am Hawthorne, the leader of this squadron. That means you will follow all orders I give throughout the mission we are about to embark on."
"Yes sir!" we all reply as we salute. He walks down the line of us then, talking a little to each one. When he finally gets to me, he smiles and gives another salute.
"Soldier Mellark. Good to have you here," Gale says. "I admit I'm surprised, though, that you are not in Thirteen."
"It's a long story," I tell him. "I'll be happy to tell you later." I salute him back. "It's good to see you too, squadron leader."
He leans in close then. "Just follow my orders and you'll be fine, Peeta. The plan is a good one. We are going to win."
I nod and Gale looks back at the rest of the group. "Grab your gear and come with me. I'll show you where you will be camping out and you can meet the other members of the squad." I go and grab my stuff off the hovercraft and follow our leader to some trucks that take us to an area where literally hundreds of tents must be lined up. There are people in groups everywhere in different forms talking or doing other things.
Gale gets out of the front truck and leads us to a cluster of tents on the left far side. There is a group of people in front of them, and once more I find that I recognize one of them. He sees me too.
"Peeta!" Finnick calls out. "What in the world are you doing here?" He comes over and shakes my hand.
"Seems I got myself into the army and in this war," I halfway joke.
"Drafted?" he asks.
"More like forced," I reply.
"Better tell me about it," Finnick then sits down and I join him, once more relaying the story of what happened between Katniss and I. Gale comes over quickly and gets caught up as well. They both are nodding by the end of it.
"Johanna and Annie had said that all of the sudden you and Katniss weren't there and no one would tell them what happened. I guess that explains why." Gale finally says.
"Yeah. So now here I am." I state. "Joining the fight with you all."
I introduce them to Cato, Clove, Marvel, and all the others I had trained with. The entire group spends most of the night gathered around a fire talking and getting to know one another. Most were young men who were married as part of the program and their wives were either expecting or recently had their baby. There was a couple of women, and only maybe one other who was considered single like me.
There was more training over the next few weeks as we learned to work together as a group. Gale was a hard taskmaster, but he was good at getting all of us to do what was needed. A lot of the practices were at night, so we were expecting that to be when the real mission would occur.
It turns out that was exactly the case. About a month after being a part of 451, Gale tells us one night that there was a meeting at 0800 the next morning for instructions.
"I think this is it," he says. "The invasion is going to happen."
Our squad joins all the others as we stand before a small platform. The squadron commanders have already had a meeting together with the high ranking officers, but now we are all to hear about the mission. I am not surprised when once more I see Commander Paylor is in charge. She is calm and confident as she comes to the microphone.
"Soldiers! The time has come for us to invade the Capitol," she begins. "This is the most important moment we may have to finally free our country from oppression. Our mission is clear. We must bring down President Snow and those who defend him. We will be attacking as small groups coming from different directions until the Palace walls will find themselves surrounded. We will then make our move to take control. Your leaders will give you the details on your exact instructions. Good luck to you all."
We head back to the tents and Hawthorne gathers us all together. "Alright, here it is. Our squad is going to enter through a tunnel on the west side of the Capitol. It is part of the old sewer system. We'll go into it and come up through one of the portals on the outskirts of the city. From there, we are to head towards the City Center until we reach it and join all the other squads. We wait for the signal and attack from there."
"That's it?" Cato asks.
"Yes," Gale says. "The hardest part will be when we are coming through the streets in the open. We will have to watch out for not only the Capitol guards, but for their security pods, as well. We won't know exactly those will be, and they can be deadly. You will all have to be on guard." We nod our understanding.
"Go get your packs together," he orders. "We leave this afternoon to begin the invasion tonight."
I go into my tent then and begin packing the necessities I need into my backpack. I try to keep it as light as possible. I have some time after that, so I just lay down on my bed for a while. I think about Katniss. I don't know what will happen tonight, but I only wish I could just see her once more. I bring out the note with her short message and once more read it multiple times.
Eventually, we are called to get ready to go. I follow the squad and we jump on one of the waiting crafts. The ride isn't long, and we land about ten miles from the Capitol. We get off, and Gale begins to lead us in the direction we need to go. We walk for hours towards the east, and finally make it to the edge of the city. After checking the compass, we go around until we find the tunnel that will be our entrance.
Then we wait. Finnick is looking at his watch, and he eventually nods that it is time. "Come on!" Hawthorne whispers and we go into the tunnel. It's dark and damp, but we make it through and come up a sewer hole which places us on the outskirts of the city. We hide in the shadows. The streets are pretty empty although there are a few people out. We skulk around the edges of the street, trying to avoid them.
We make our way, and seem to be about halfway there when a loud clicking sound disturbs the eerie quiet.
"Get down!" Gale orders. We all do so, and all of the sudden I am holding down my head to the ground while spears and nets are being thrown out. I lay there until it gets quiet again, and then look up to see the squad getting up off the ground. No one seems hurt, but I don't necessarily want to take our chances again. That must have been one of the Capitol's security pods.
We move on, and avoid any more traps until we make it to the center of the city. I can see the palace from where we stand. I can also see in the distance other squads waiting in the shadows all around the edges of the area. We stand there for quite some time.
"When are we going?" Marvel asks in frustration.
"Just hold on," our leader tells him. "We wait for the signal. When it happens, run and attack. Get inside the walls any way you can. Get the innocents out of the danger area. Once we have control of the palace, we will raise a flag for the hovercrafts to come in with the final attack. Try to stay together if you can."
We continue our wait, until in the distance a light in shined across the way and Gale screams. "That's it. GO!" I begin running, weapon armed and ready. There is no resistance it seems at first, but then I notice the sounds of gun fire. The palace guards must be fighting back.
I am out of breath when I make it to the back gate of the palace. Cato and Finnick are next to me. As we wait, I can see another squad with equipment that they are using to break down the gate. It takes some time, but finally they are successful. The three of us then look at each other, and nod.
I begin running again and with them go through the now open gate. I get into the shadows of the palace and look around me. There is no one there, so the guards must be on top of the building where they are shooting back. I signal to Cato and Finnick and we all continue going around the building.
We are coming around the corner to a courtyard when I see it and gasp. There is a group of children simply standing there in front of the doors to the palace. Did Snow place them here as a protection for himself. Absolutely sick. Most are visibly shaking, scared to death. I try to think fast as to what to do. I look up, and see that the flag has been raised, so I know that we are in control and the hovercrafts are coming soon. We must get these kids to safety before they get here.
"Help me get the kids out!" I yell to Finn and Cato near me. We go over to the courtyard where they stand. They look at me wide eyed, having no clue what to do with all that is going on around them.
"We're here to help you." I tell them. "Come with us. We will get you to a safe place." I grab a couple of small hands and tell the others to follow me. I quickly lead them through the gate and into the safe shadows on the outside of the center. Cato and Finnick are coming with more, and once more gunshots ring out. Finnick goes down, and I rush to him.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
"I think a bullet hit me in the leg," he says. I take a look and see blood on his pants just below his knee. "I'm okay. Just help me walk." I put my arm around him and help him hobble to where the kids are.
"Just stay here with them," I tell him. "We can go get the rest out." I turn back with Cato following and we dodge more bullets and return to the courtyard, grabbing the rest of the kids. I pick a crying girl up in my arms and run as fast as I can while carrying her. I can only hope that the others are following.
When I reach where Finnick is, I place the little girl down and look around. It seems like they are all here. I hadn't taken any count so there is no way to know. I am fairly satisfied that we have them all, when I suddenly hear more crying in the distance. A little boy stands by himself still within the palace gates.
Cato looks over at me. "I'll go get him." I say. One more time I run as fast as my legs will allow and get to the little boy. "It's okay. I'll get you out of here." I pick him up and start heading back.
"Peeta. The hovercrafts are coming!" I hear Cato yell. I look back and see them coming in quickly. I try to pick up my pace, but the weight of the boy is too much and I end up falling over. I am pretty close to where everyone is.
"Go! Over there!" I yell at him. I try to get to my feet and push the boy in the direction of the others. He goes and I see him reach the group. I have just gotten up and am about to take a step myself, when I hear the thunderous sound of something exploding.
At first, all I see is black, but then I feel a sense of lightness, like floating. I begin to see pictures in my head. First, it's my family. My father is smiling and sooty from baking all day. My oldest brother showing me baseball cards that he had collected and the value of each one. My other brother holding up the winning trophy from the wrestling tournament. I even see my mother giving one of her few smiles when I have perfected the frosting on a cake. It feels warm and inviting to see them, and I want to stay, but I am being pulled into a light. I can't see exactly what it is, but I hear voices. One is male, and the other is female, and familiar. It almost sounds like it's Prim, but that can't be.
"Is he going to be okay?" I hear the faint voice say.
"I think so," comes the reply. "He's trying to wake up now."
After that I go back to my happier visions for a while. Playing jacks with Delly, and watching Katniss walk home. Again, my body feels like it is suddenly being pulled again. As my eyes try to focus, I see a glowing light outlining what seems to be a figure standing in a doorway. I make out the features on the person to see grey eyes and a long dark braid. Is she an angel?
My mouth is heavy and I can only get out one word.