Another force to contend with. Another power player who has decided to use me as a piece in her games, although things never seem to go according to plan. First there were the Gamemakers, making me their star and then scrambling to recover from that handful of poisonous berries. Then President Snow, trying to use me to put out the flames of rebellion, only to have my every move become inflammatory. Next, the rebels ensnaring me in the metal claw that lifted me from the arena, designating me to be their Mockingjay, and then having to recover from the shock that I might not want the wings. And now Coin, with her fistful of precious nukes and her well-oiled machine of a district, finding it’s even harder to groom a Mockingjay than to catch one. But she has been the quickest to determine that I have an agenda of my own and am therefore not to be trusted. She has been the first to publicly brand me as a threat.
I run my fingers through the thick layer of bubbles in my tub. Cleaning me up is just a preliminary step to determining my new look. With my acid-damaged hair, sunburned skin, and ugly scars, the prep team has to make me pretty andthen damage, burn, and scar me in a more attractive way.
«Remake her to Beauty Base Zero,» Fulvia ordered first thing this morning. «We’ll work from there.» Beauty Base Zero turns out to be what a person would look like if they stepped out of bed looking flawless but natural. It means my nails are perfectly shaped but not polished. My hair soft and shiny but not styled. My skin smooth and clear but not painted. Wax the body hair and erase the dark circles, but don’t make any noticeable enhancements. I suppose Cinna gave the same instructions the first day I arrived as a tribute in the Capitol. Only that was different, since I was a contestant. As a rebel, I thought I’d get to look more like myself. But it seems a televised rebel has her own standards to live up to.
After I rinse the lather from my body, I turn to find Octavia waiting with a towel. She is so altered from the woman I knew in the Capitol, stripped of the gaudy clothing, the heavy makeup, the dyes and jewelry and knickknacks she adorned her hair with. I remember how one day she showed up with bright pink tresses studded with blinking colored lights shaped like mice. She told me she had several mice at home as pets. The thought repulsed me at the time, since we consider mice vermin, unless cooked. But perhaps Octavia liked them because they were small, soft, and squeaky. Like her. As she pats me dry, I try to become acquainted with the District 13 Octavia. Her real hair turns out to be a nice auburn. Her face is ordinary but has an undeniable sweetness. She’s younger than I thought. Maybe early twenties. Devoid of the three-inch decorative nails, her fingers appear almost stubby, and they can’t stop trembling. I want to tell her it’s okay, that I’ll see that Coin never hurts her again. But the multicolored bruises flowering under her green skin only remind me how impotent I am.
Flavius, too, appears washed out without his purple lipstick and bright clothes. He’s managed to get his orange ringlets back in some sort of order, though. It’s Venia who’s the least changed. Her aqua hair lies flat instead of in spikes and you can see the roots growing in gray. However, the tattoos were always her most striking characteristic, and they’re as golden and shocking as ever. She comes and takes the towel from Octavia’s hands.
«Katniss is not going to hurt us,» she says quietly but firmly to Octavia. «Katniss did not even know we were here. Things will be better now.» Octavia gives a slight nod but doesn’t dare look me in the eye.
It’s no simple job getting me back to Beauty Base Zero, even with the elaborate arsenal of products, tools, and gadgets Plutarch had the foresight to bring from the Capitol. My preps do pretty well until they try to address the spot on my arm where Johanna dug out the tracker. None of the medical team was focusing on looks when they patched up the gaping hole. Now I have a lumpy, jagged scar that ripples out over a space the size of an apple. Usually, my sleeve covers it, but the way Cinna’s Mockingjay costume is designed, the sleeves stop just above the elbow. It’s such a concern that Fulvia and Plutarch are called in to discuss it. I swear, the sight of it triggers Fulvia’s gag reflex. For someone who works with a Gamemaker, she’s awfully sensitive. But I guess she’s used to seeing unpleasant things only on a screen.
«Everyone knows I have a scar here,» I say sullenly.
«Knowing it and seeing it are two different things,» says Fulvia. «It’s positively repulsive. Plutarch and I will think of something during lunch.»
«It’ll be fine,» says Plutarch with a dismissive wave of his hand. «Maybe an armband or something.»
Disgusted, I get dressed so I can head to the dining hall. My prep team huddles in a little group by the door. «Are they bringing your food here?» I ask.
«No,» says Venia. «We’re supposed to go to a dining hall.»
I sigh inwardly as I imagine walking into the dining hall, trailed by these three. But people always stare at me anyway. This will be more of the same. «I’ll show you where it is,» I say. «Come on.»
The covert glances and quiet murmurs I usually evoke are nothing compared to the reaction brought on by the sight of my bizarre-looking prep team. The gaping mouths, the finger pointing, the exclamations. «Just ignore them,» I tell my prep team. Eyes downcast, with mechanical movements, they follow me through the line, accepting bowls of grayish fish and okra stew and cups of water.
We take seats at my table, beside a group from the Seam. They show a little more restraint than the people from 13 do, although it may just be from embarrassment. Leevy, who was my neighbor back in 12, gives a cautious hello to the preps, and Gale’s mother, Hazelle, who must know about their imprisonment, holds up a spoonful of the stew. «Don’t worry,» she says. «Tastes better than it looks.»
But it’s Posy, Gale’s five-year-old sister, who helps the most. She scoots along the bench to Octavia and touches her skin with a tentative finger. «You’re green. Are you sick?»
«It’s a fashion thing, Posy. Like wearing lipstick,» I say.
«It’s meant to be pretty,» whispers Octavia, and I can see the tears threatening to spill over her lashes.
Posy considers this and says matter-of-factly, «I think you’d be pretty in any color.»
The tiniest of smiles forms on Octavia’s lips. «Thank you.»
«If you really want to impress Posy, you’ll have to dye yourself bright pink,» says Gale, thumping his tray down beside me. «That’s her favorite color.» Posy giggles and slides back down to her mother. Gale nods at Flavius’s bowl. «I wouldn’t let that get cold. It doesn’t improve the consistency.»
Everyone gets down to eating. The stew doesn’t taste bad, but there’s a certain sliminess that’s hard to get around. Like you have to swallow every bite three times before it really goes down.
Gale, who’s not usually much of a talker during meals, makes an effort to keep the conversation going, asking about the makeover. I know it’s his attempt at smoothing things over. We argued last night after he suggested I’d left Coin no choice but to counter my demand for the victors’ safety with one of her own. «Katniss, she’s running this district. She can’t do it if it seems like she’s caving in to your will.»
«You mean she can’t stand any dissent, even if it’s fair,» I’d countered.
«I mean you put her in a bad position. Making her give Peeta and the others immunity when we don’t even know what sort of damage they might cause,» Gale had said.
«So I should’ve just gone with the program and let the other tributes take their chances? Not that it matters, because that’s what we’re all doing anyway!» That was when I’d slammed the door in his face. I hadn’t sat with him at breakfast, and when Plutarch had sent him down to training this morning, I’d let him go without a word. I know he only spoke out of concern for me, but I really need him to be on my side, not Coin’s. How can he not know that?
After lunch, Gale and I are scheduled to go down to Special Defense to meet Beetee. As we ride the elevator, Gale finally says, «You’re still angry.»
«And you’re still not sorry,» I reply.
«I still stand by what I said. Do you want me to lie about it?» he asks.
«No, I want you to rethink it and come up with the right opinion,» I tell him. But this just makes him laugh. I have to let it go. There’s no point in trying to dictate what Gale thinks. Which, if I’m honest, is one reason I trust him.
The Special Defense level is situated almost as far down as the dungeons where we found the prep team. It’s a beehive of rooms full of computers, labs, research equipment, and testing ranges.
When we ask for Beetee, we’re directed through the maze until we reach an enormous plate-glass window. Inside is the first beautiful thing I’ve seen in the District 13 compound: a replication of a meadow, filled with real trees and flowering plants, and alive with hummingbirds. Beetee sits motionless in a wheelchair at the center of the meadow, watching a spring-green bird hover in midair as it sips nectar from a large orange blossom. His eyes follow the bird as it darts away, and he catches sight of us. He gives a friendly wave for us to join him inside.
The air’s cool and breathable, not humid and muggy as I’d expected. From all sides comes the whir of tiny wings, which I used to confuse with the sound of insects in our woods at home. I have to wonder what sort of fluke allowed such a pleasing place to be built here.
Beetee still has the pallor of someone in convalescence, but behind those ill-fitting glasses, his eyes are alight with excitement. «Aren’t they magnificent? Thirteen has been studying their aerodynamics here for years. Forward and backward flight, and speeds up to sixty miles per hour. If only I could build you wings like these, Katniss!»
«Doubt I could manage them, Beetee,» I laugh.
«Here one second, gone the next. Can you bring a hummingbird down with an arrow?» he asks.
«I’ve never tried. Not much meat on them,» I answer.
«No. And you’re not one to kill for sport,» he says. «I bet they’d be hard to shoot, though.»
«You could snare them maybe,» Gale says. His face takes on that distant look it wears when he’s working something out. «Take a net with a very fine mesh. Enclose an area and leave a mouth of a couple square feet. Bait the inside with nectar flowers. While they’re feeding, snap the mouth shut. They’d fly away from the noise but only encounter the far side of the net.»
«Would that work?» asks Beetee.
«I don’t know. Just an idea,» says Gale. «They might outsmart it.»
«They might. But you’re playing on their natural instincts to flee danger. Thinking like your prey…that’s where you find their vulnerabilities,» says Beetee.
I remember something I don’t like to think about. In preparation for the Quell, I saw a tape where Beetee, who was still a boy, connected two wires that electrocuted a pack of kids who were hunting him. The convulsing bodies, the grotesque expressions. Beetee, in the moments that led up to his victory in those long-ago Hunger Games, watched the others die. Not his fault. Only self-defense. We were all acting only in self-defense….
Suddenly, I want to leave the hummingbird room before somebody starts setting up a snare. «Beetee, Plutarch said you had something for me.»
«Right. I do. Your new bow.» He presses a hand control on the arm of the chair and wheels out of the room. As we follow him through the twists and turns of Special Defense, he explains about the chair. «I can walk a little now. It’s just that I tire so quickly. It’s easier for me to get around this way. How’s Finnick doing?»
«He’s…he’s having concentration problems,» I answer. I don’t want to say he had a complete mental meltdown.
«Concentration problems, eh?» Beetee smiles grimly. «If you knew what Finnick’s been through the last few years, you’d know how remarkable it is he’s still with us at all. Tell him I’ve been working on a new trident for him, though, will you? Something to distract him a little.» Distraction seems to be the last thing Finnick needs, but I promise to pass on the message.
Four soldiers guard the entrance to the hall marked Special Weaponry. Checking the schedules printed on our forearms is just a preliminary step. We also have fingerprint, retinal, and DNA scans, and have to step through special metal detectors. Beetee has to leave his wheelchair outside, although they provide him with another once we’re through security. I find the whole thing bizarre because I can’t imagine anyone raised in District 13 being a threat the government would have to guard against. Have these precautions been put in place because of the recent influx of immigrants?
At the door of the armory, we encounter a second round of identification checks—as if my DNA might have changed in the time it took to walk twenty yards down the hallway—and are finally allowed to enter the weapons collection. I have to admit the arsenal takes my breath away. Row upon row of firearms, launchers, explosives, armored vehicles. «Of course, the Airborne Division is housed separately,» Beetee tells us.
«Of course,» I say, as if this would be self-evident. I don’t know where a simple bow and arrow could possibly find a place in all this high-tech equipment, but then we come upon a wall of deadly archery weapons. I’ve played with a lot of the Capitol’s weapons in training, but none designed for military combat. I focus my attention on a lethal-looking bow so loaded down with scopes and gadgetry, I’m certain I can’t even lift it, let alone shoot it.
«Gale, maybe you’d like to try out a few of these,» says Beetee.
«Seriously?» Gale asks.
«You’ll be issued a gun eventually for battle, of course. But if you appear as part of Katniss’s team in the propos, one of these would look a little showier. I thought you might like to find one that suits you,» says Beetee.
«Yeah, I would.» Gale’s hands close around the very bow that caught my attention a moment ago, and he hefts it onto his shoulder. He points it around the room, peering through the scope.
«That doesn’t seem very fair to the deer,» I say.
«Wouldn’t be using it on deer, would I?» he answers.
«I’ll be right back,» says Beetee. He presses a code into a panel, and a small doorway opens. I watch until he’s disappeared and the door’s shut.
«So, it’d be easy for you? Using that on people?» I ask.
«I didn’t say that.» Gale drops the bow to his side. «But if I’d had a weapon that could’ve stopped what I saw happen in Twelve…if I’d had a weapon that could have kept you out of the arena…I’d have used it.»
«Me, too,» I admit. But I don’t know what to tell him about the aftermath of killing a person. About how they never leave you.
Beetee wheels back in with a tall, black rectangular case awkwardly positioned between his footrest and his shoulder. He comes to a halt and tilts it toward me. «For you.»
I set the case flat on the floor and undo the latches along one side. The top opens on silent hinges. Inside the case, on a bed of crushed maroon velvet, lies a stunning black bow. «Oh,» I whisper in admiration. I lift it carefully into the air to admire the exquisite balance, the elegant design, and the curve of the limbs that somehow suggests the wings of a bird extended in flight. There’s something else. I have to hold very still to make sure I’m not imagining it. No, the bow is alive in my hands. I press it against my cheek and feel the slight hum travel through the bones of my face. «What’s it doing?» I ask.
«Saying hello,» explains Beetee with a grin. «It heard your voice.»
«It recognizes my voice?» I ask.
«Only your voice,» he tells me. «You see, they wanted me to design a bow based purely on looks. As part of your costume, you know? But I kept thinking,What a waste. I mean, what if you do need it sometime? As more than a fashion accessory? So I left the outside simple, and left the inside to my imagination. Best explained in practice, though. Want to try those out?»
We do. A target range has already been prepared for us. The arrows that Beetee designed are no less remarkable than the bow. Between the two, I can shoot with accuracy over one hundred yards. The variety of arrows—razor sharp, incendiary, explosive—turn the bow into a multipurpose weapon. Each one is recognizable by a distinctive colored shaft. I have the option of voice override at any time, but have no idea why I would use it. To deactivate the bow’s special properties, I need only tell it «Good night.» Then it goes to sleep until the sound of my voice wakes it again.
I’m in good spirits by the time I get back to the prep team, leaving Beetee and Gale behind. I sit patiently through the rest of the paint job and don my costume, which now includes a bloody bandage over the scar on my arm to indicate I’ve been in recent combat. Venia affixes my mockingjay pin over my heart. I take up my bow and the sheath of normal arrows that Beetee made, knowing they would never let me walk around with the loaded ones. Then we’re out on the soundstage, where I seem to stand for hours while they adjust makeup and lighting and smoke levels. Eventually, the commands coming via intercom from the invisible people in the mysterious glassed-in booth become fewer and fewer. Fulvia and Plutarch spend more time studying and less time adjusting me. Finally, there’s quiet on the set. For a full five minutes I am simply considered. Then Plutarch says, «I think that does it.»
I’m beckoned over to a monitor. They play back the last few minutes of taping and I watch the woman on the screen. Her body seems larger in stature, more imposing than mine. Her face smudged but sexy. Her brows black and drawn in an angle of defiance. Wisps of smoke—suggesting she has either just been extinguished or is about to burst into flames—rise from her clothes. I do not know who this person is.
Finnick, who’s been wandering around the set for a few hours, comes up behind me and says with a hint of his old humor, «They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you.»
Everyone’s so excited, so pleased with their work. It’s nearly time to break for dinner, but they insist we continue. Tomorrow we’ll focus on speeches and interviews and have me pretend to be in rebel battles. Today they want just one slogan, just one line that they can work into a short propo to show to Coin.
«People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!» That’s the line. I can tell by the way they present it that they’ve spent months, maybe years, working it out and are really proud of it. It seems like a mouthful to me, though. And stiff. I can’t imagine actually saying it in real life—unless I was using a Capitol accent and making fun of it. Like when Gale and I used to imitate Effie Trinket’s «May the odds beever in your favor!» But Fulvia’s right in my face, describing a battle I’ve just been in, and how my comrades-in-arms are all lying dead around me, and how, to rally the living, I must turn to the camera and shout out the line!
I’m hustled back to my place, and the smoke machine kicks in. Someone calls for quiet, the cameras start rolling, and I hear «Action!» So I hold my bow over my head and yell with all the anger I can muster, «People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!»
There’s dead silence on the set. It goes on. And on.
Finally, the intercom crackles and Haymitch’s acerbic laugh fills the studio. He contains himself just long enough to say, «And that, my friends, is how a revolution dies.»