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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Two - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Two
Okay, decided to make it a full thing. I need something to work on, or I end up doing nothing.

I'm going to call part one "Golden Mean," which means I haven't got a permanent title yet, but we'll stick with "Golden Mean" for now. I'll let you know when I think of something.


Chapter 2
I stay in my compartment for most of the morning. Effie comes in and cleans up without comment, then sends Peeta's preps in. I'm not particularly surprised that this is followed by a visit from a small crew of reporters. They stay in another part of the train, but I skipped them yesterday, and I guess I know I can't avoid them forever.

At first, the questions are about Katniss and Peeta--what's it like having neighbors again, are we close after the Games... the same sort of empty nonsense the Capitol always wants to know about victors. I tell them that the Victors' Village is getting crowded, and imply strongly that they annoy me by mauling each other at every available moment. They want to know if having the kids around has "helped me"--by which they mean "sobered me up"--and I answer truthfully that I couldn't have done it without them. That this is of less than twenty-four hours duration and more specifically because of Peeta's prep medic and her little bag of tricks goes unmentioned.

"Do they make you think about having kids of your own?" a giggly reporter asks.

"Those two? They make me think about getting sterilized."

This gets a laugh. "Is there a special someone?" a young man who is clearly auditioning to be the next Caesar Flickerman asks.

"Why ask that?" I say. "I'm madly in love with Effie Trinket. I read it in the paper just last month." I slap my forehead. "No, wait, wrong girl. It was Jo Mason, wasn't it?"

Absolute shrieks of laughter, which drill into my poor alcohol-deprived brain like ice picks, greet this, along with the names of three or four other women and two men I'm allegedly in love with according to various sources. What a great joke we all have together. Imagine how we'd all laugh if they realized that the only people to see me naked in the last twenty years have been Effie, a few prep teams, and an occasional tailor. Or that the last woman who was in my arms was Ruth Everdeen, who needed a hug after worrying herself to death about Katniss's nightmares. It'd be a real hoot.

I fantasize about getting my knife and starting to cut. Instead, I force a smile. Barring a string of very unlikely occurrences, there will be another pair of tributes next summer, and this time, they'll be counting on another miracle. They'll need a mentor who the sponsors still like. The reporters can help with that, but they probably won't if I start killing their colleagues.

And I guess I wouldn't do it anyway. With the exception of Annie Cresta and Peeta, all of the victors talk a good game about doing violence to our enemies, but so far, no victor has ever committed murder outside the arena. That may be more good luck than good management, since murder is exactly what they trained us for, but the good luck is holding.

When the question comes, I've almost forgotten its inevitability. It comes from the back of the room, from a laughing young woman with hair that's been painted a glow-in-the-dark shade of purple. "So, the third Quarter Quell is coming," she says perkily. "What do you think the twist will be this year?"

Without any warning, my mind drags me back to this train, twenty-five years ago, the four of us seeking out common areas, knowing that at least three of us would die. At first, I stuck with Gilla Callan and Beech Berryhill--Seam kids, like myself, finally run out of luck with their weight of tesserae. But I was in more classes with Maysilee Donner and had done projects with her, so I knew her better. Gilla and Beech, like most of my neighbors, thought I was putting on airs, taking literature and history and other things which were of no use in the mines or in the everyday hunt for food and money. (Digger was an exception; she got a kick out of it when I told her about books I was reading and clapped wildly when I recited a poem, though she laughed at the thought of taking such classes herself.) So I drifted over to Maysilee. Not that any of us drifted too far on that ride. When you're hurtling toward death at two hundred miles an hour, the Seam and town don't seem as far apart as usual.

"Haymitch?" the reporter prods. "What do you think about the Quell?"

"No idea," I say. "Could be anything." In fact, I think it will be whatever will be most politically useful to Snow. Turning in malcontents' children, to remind the Districts that they need to police themselves, strikes me as probable, but I don't want to give Snow any ideas that he hasn't thought of yet.

"Do you have any advice for Quell tributes?"

I shrug. "Same advice I gave Peeta and Katniss: Stay alive."

They laugh merrily, apparently convinced that I personally directed their every move in the arena. Except, of course, for the only part of their lives in the arena that I did direct. There are a few more soft questions, and one that expect was meant to be soft ("Do you ever think about your old ally, Maysilee Donner?"), then Effie rescues me promptly at eleven-thirty, which is apparently when her schedule dictated that I be rescued. She claps her hands sharply and sends my inquisitors away.

"It's time for lunch!" she says brightly. "Peeta's up and about finally, and Katniss should be finished with her prep soon."

I am not hungry and have had enough company, but I guess it's likely that Cinna and Portia will be there, and who knows what they've been hearing lately? Not that we can talk about it on the train.

I go to lunch.

The conversation is about as stupid as it's possible to get. The Capitol contingent is in raptures about how easy it is to sleep on the train, and how healthy "country air" is. (Neither Peeta nor I bring up the fact that in District Twelve, they probably breathed in more pollution than they would in three years in the Capitol. There's a reason the coal dust gets everywhere.) Peeta plays along smoothly, but judging by the dark circles under his eyes, he slept about as easily as I did. When Katniss gets in, she looks worse than either of us, despite several hours with her preps. She's clean and hairless, and has make-up on to cover whatever dark circles she might have, but her shoulders are tense and her mouth is drawn up tightly. She barely touches a bowl of plain broth.

I don't bother trying to bring her into the conversation--I know what's bothering her--but everyone else tries something. Cinna offers to show her the dresses he's made, and Portia is enthusiastic about this. Effie asks about her talent. Peeta offers her food. She gives one-syllable answers and continues picking at her soup.

There's a flash in the lighting, then the train glides to a stop. An attendant comes in. I know him from a few unapproved trips on less fancy trains. He's the cousin of Berenice Morrow, a victor from District Six, and he has been known to let her ride the rails to no destination, just because she's bored. That she has occasionally picked up a guest in District Twelve and hidden him in a coal bin is a much less open secret.

I don't know his name. Berenice is usually a little too addled on morphling to bother with niceties like introductions. She tried to share the stuff with me once, but given the way the alcohol tends to stop working after a few months, I figure even on a victors' salary, I couldn't afford to start in on morphling. I don't know where she gets it, and don't want to.

At any rate, her cousin tells us that some bit of the train's engine has worn through, and it will take at least an hour to repair it. I wonder briefly if this is some arrangement to pass information, but, as all of the people likely to be fed information look as surprised as I feel, I guess it's just a mechanical thing.

"Oh, no!" Effie says, throwing her hands in the air like we've reached the edge of the world and are about to go hurtling off. "Oh, dear! If we're an hour late getting into the station in Eleven, then we could run into problems with our connecting transportation, and if we're too late, they may have to put it off until tomorrow, which will throw off the scheduling in Ten--"

She continues in this vein, fluttering through her papers. I can see Peeta reaching out tentatively, and Portia is giving her shoulders a comforting pat. I glance at Katniss, who is gripping her spoon like she might launch it at Effie's head. Her shoulders are shaking.

She stands up abruptly and shouts, "No one cares, Effie!" She glares around the compartment, then says, "Well, no one does!" She shoves her chair aside and storms out. A minute later, the train's alarm system goes off.

Cinna looks alarmed. "She's gone off the train," he says.

I look out the window. I can see her braid swinging against the back of her shirt. "She's not going anywhere," I say. "Let her get the steam out of her head."

Of course, it can't be that simple, not on a Capitol train, as Effie reminds me. "Haymitch, you know she's not allowed to wander out here alone. It's not permitted!"

The alarm is thundering in my head, and I can't think of a single thing that will make Katniss feel even a little bit better. I rub my head. "Fine. I'll get her."

Peeta stands up. "No," he says. "I will. I think we need to talk anyway."

He heads out. I see the top of his head as he passes by the window, following her. I hope she's not crazy enough to tell him what she told me last night. Peeta's a great performer, but that makes him angry, and he doesn't need to start being angry again.

"It's not any more permitted for Peeta to be out there," Effie says.

"Anyone else will have to drag her back," Cinna says. "Peeta will get her calmed down. You all right, Effie?"

"I just want to keep us on schedule."

"Everyone knows you can't control a train," Portia says. "No one will blame you."

There's an awkward silence, then Cinna stands up. "Well, as long as we're stopped--Haymitch, why don't you come down to the wardrobe car? I want to run a few of the outfits by you, anyway."

Since there's no need at all for a stylist to consult with a mentor on costumes, I assume he has something else in mind, so I follow him a few cars up the train to the large car lined with dress racks. He goes to one of them at random and pulls out a gold dress. "I think this one will be great with her skin. It's a little fragile--" Suddenly, he tears the sleeve off of it. "Damn, I need to fix that. Can you get me the sewing box by the door?" He sits down at a sewing table and I get him the box. He takes out a small sewing machine and turns it on.

It makes no noise at all.

"I really will need to fix this later," he says. "But for now, the Capitol is hearing the hum of a sewing machine and nothing else. Beetee gave it to Finnick. Finnick gave it to me. We can trust it for about five minutes before they get suspicious."

"What's the word from Finnick?"

"Four's on the edge of an uprising. Katniss's bird is showing up everywhere. Mags is meeting quietly with a few of the more prominent fishing families. Finnick knows some of the ships' captains, mostly through Annie. They've been itching for payback since she came back... the way she came back."

"And the others?"

"Beetee doesn't think Three's going to blow any time soon. Too beat down, and they did get hit hard in the last rebellion. But Eight's ripe. The Peacekeepers are cleaning up mockingjay graffiti every day."

"Snow visited Katniss and told her she's responsible for any violence that happens. She's not happy."

"He did what?"

I tell him briefly. He grimaces. He is even more devoted than most to the idea of Katniss as a symbol of the rebellion. She inspired him to do more than pass messages and design powerful costumes. Before Katniss pulled out those berries, Cinna was mainly a provocateur. Since, he's been a soldier, on the belief that if she was brave enough to face down the entire might of the Capitol, he could be brave enough to take more than symbolic action. With his brand at a high recognition point, he can get nearly anything to nearly anyone, if he disguises it in the clothes. No one questions why victors are suddenly buying Cinna's clothes. So far, no one has suspected that he's coding information into the seams, or that Blight and Johanna rip out the hems on their clothes to empty out the explosive powders he sends. More importantly, he's able to get information chips from Beetee that he orders as lighting elements, and they've gone out to Four, Six, and Eight. Six in particular is useful, since they control so much of the transportation.

Cinna shakes his head, and goes back to talking about District Eight. "Cecilia's husband is working through the factories. It's noisy enough that they don't need any cover-up. Plutarch says there are other people waiting to help, but they're not ready for the big one yet."

"Other people? What other people?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

I sigh. "Thirteen. He's really contacted them?"

"You knew?"

"That they were there, and Plutarch wanted them on board? Yeah. That he actually did something about it? News to me."

"They're prepping for the war as we speak. At least according to Plutarch. He wants to make some kind of statement during the Quell." Cinna checks his watch and apparently decides we've been invisible long enough. He flips a switch on Beetee's sewing machine, and says, "I still think we should match you somehow. Gold tie, maybe?"

"Matching's for the kids," I say. "They have their thing, I have mine."

He stands up. "Have you seen Katniss's talent?"

"No, but I hear she's prodigiously talented."

He laughs, and heads toward the cars where Peeta's paintings and "Katniss's" clothing designs are stored. We go through Peeta's talent car, where we're confronted with pictures of the arena so real that I almost duck a knife being thrown by Clove Delane. "He's extraordinarily talented," Cinna says, without the edge in his voice that tells me he's covering for something. "If he had Capitol citizenship, they'd give him scholarships to the best schools." He stops. "Of course, that's the whole problem. No way for him to get into any of them, no matter how talented he is."

I start to argue that there are bigger problems than having no one to teach Peeta about mixing paints, but I realize that Cinna's right. Not all injustices are as huge as the Games, but they're still injustices.

We cross into Katniss's talent car, where several designs obviously by Cinna are artfully put around, along with sketches that Katniss would never have been able to do. The absurdity of forcing the victor into some kind of leisure activity that she doesn't want strikes me, but then, it always has. I managed to get around displaying my talent by spending the four months after the Games writing a book of poetry that criticized the Capitol on every page. I dedicated it to Digger, and the first poem in it was a gory description of pulling her half-melted body off the fence.

My escort laughed and nervously told the cameras that I still hadn't discovered the great passion of my life. They never asked me about it again. They took the book away, and I never saw that again, either.

We are about to leave when we hear Katniss and Peeta come in together. I look through the doors and see that they are holding hands as he shows her his paintings. She seems horrified, but he's not taking it personally. I'm just glad to see that they're not freezing each other out. The train starts again, throwing all of us off balance, and Katniss and Peeta head out of the painting car. Cinna wants to spend more time looking at Peeta's paintings himself, so I leave him to it and go back to the dining car, where Effie has finally recovered from the shock of being yelled at. "The poor dear is just nervous," she says. "She understands that we need to keep a schedule."

I go back to my own compartment and settle in. I’m vaguely aware that Katniss and Peeta have become inseparable now, and are watching the rest of our trip from the caboose. I wonder what they said to each other. Valentine feeds me more sobriety pills as we get closer to District Eleven, and I wish she'd stop. If there's any place where a little liquid courage is needed, it's Eleven.

Of course, if there's any place where I need to make sure I'm in control, it's Eleven. It's annoying how often those two things coincide.

I watch through the narrow window of my compartment as we pass under the prison wall that passes for a fence here. Chaff says that they don't even bother with pretty stories about keeping predators out. It's about keeping the labor force in.

There are no stops for the train before they get to the main town in District Eleven. "Main Town" isn't saying much--people in Eleven are scattered around whatever fields and orchards they work, with little collections of shacks serving as villages. Almost no one lives in the main town except for Chaff and Seeder (secluded in the Victors' Village), a handful of Capitol-appointed bureaucrats, and people who weigh and price the harvest before sending it off. Other than that, people will have needed to apply to be bused in for today's festivities. I doubt anyone rebellious will be allowed, which will at least keep it quiet.

Effie shows up and tells me to get dressed, handing me a suit from Cinna. I check the pockets, though there's no reason to believe Cinna will have gotten a message in the last three hours, let alone one that couldn't come directly to me. The pockets are empty, and I wonder why I've gotten nothing from Chaff, or even Seeder. They won't be at the dinner tonight, as friendships among the victors from different districts are strongly discouraged, but I was expecting something before arrival. Even just a message saying, "All quiet" or "Watch out" or "Step careful." Nothing. I am worried.

We finally pull into the bedraggled little train station. In my few clandestine trips here, this is where I've rolled out of a coal bin and gone to hide behind the building. Today, I just go outside with Effie, the stylists, the preps, and the kids. We are greeted by eight Peacekeepers, who shove us into the back of a military truck and lock the door. Effie is shocked. I'm not.

We barely make it in time to meet Effie's schedule (though, really, what would they do if we'd been late--gone on without us?). They drop us off at the back of the justice building, and we are all but pushed inside. Katniss and Peeta get quick instructions to smile, and are shoved out onto the Verandah. The rest of us are sent to watch on a big screen in the rotunda.

My mentor didn't come with me on the tour, but I imagine my escort, my stylist, and the preps standing here, waiting nervously to make sure I didn't say anything foolish (or, in the worst case scenario, recite one of my poems from memory). I was given enough time before going outside to know that guns had been pointed at them. I didn't do anything stupid. All I remember about District Eleven was how hot it seemed that day, and how I couldn't remember which tributes were theirs, or if I'd killed any of them (I didn't; all four were killed in the bloodbath at the Cornucopia). It got easier after that. I asked my escort for the kill list, so I'd know who I was talking about in every district. Not that anyone other than Maysilee had helped me at all.

"Is Katniss going to add any special comments?" Effie asks. "I looked over Peeta's notes, and they seem fine, but Katniss didn't have anything written. Do you know?"

My heart sinks. With all the business about Peeta, I forgot totally about Rue and Thresh, and all the ways Katniss could mis-navigate the situation here in Eleven. It's just as well she didn't write anything--the girl can't follow a script--but I should have asked. Or warned her that loving Rue wasn't any less subversive, as far as the Capitol is concerned, than loving Peeta is, at least in Katniss's sense of loving. Putting anyone ahead of the Capitol's interests is treason, as far as Snow is concerned.

And it's not time for public treason yet.

So I watch with a growing sense of dread as the mayor of District Eleven introduces them, and the camera focuses for a moment on Rue's family and Thresh's. (Rue's family gives me another sinking feeling. Her sisters look just like her. Katniss will not be able to miss that.) But, thankfully, Peeta steps up to talk. I step back in relief as he gives a perfectly standard speech, thanking Rue and Thresh for saving Katniss's life and, indirectly, his. He makes it sound heartfelt and real.

I am about to relax completely when Peeta Mellark, the most reliable performer I've seen from any district in any year, goes off script.

"It can in no way replace your losses," he says, "but as a token of our thanks, we'd like for each of the tributes' families from District Eleven to receive one month of our winnings every year for the duration of our lives."

Effie squeals with glee. This will, in fact, play well with the Capitol audience... but it's illegal, it's a subversion of the Capitol's goal in the Games (which is, among other things, to pit the districts against each other), and it's a public demand that Snow will detest. With Eleven already on the edge of an uprising, the idea that they have allies out there, especially charismatic allies like Peeta and Katniss, won't be tolerated.

I look at Cinna, who has gone completely pale. He knows, too.

On stage, it obviously hasn't occurred to Katniss, who gives Peeta the first absolutely sincere kiss I've seen out of her.

Maybe it can still be salvaged. As long as nothing else happens, maybe. Snow can say that, however generous Peeta is, it's unfortunately not something there's a mechanism for, and isn't it just like those nice lovebirds to want to make such an offer? Peeta will get some kind of warning. I hope it won't be anyone dead. But maybe they can get out of this without Rue's family's house collapsing.

The mayor presents them with flowers and the plaque (I still have no idea what we're supposed to do with the damned plaques), and I am ready to think that we may have squeaked through after all when Katniss starts biting her lip. I look to a side screen, where they're waiting for good crowd shots, and see one of Rue's sisters glaring at her.

I want to go out and physically pull her off the stage.

I probably wouldn't have been in time anyway.

"Wait!" she cries. "Wait, please!"

What comes next is the most appealing moment I've ever seen from Katniss. She speaks about Thresh, and my stomach turns a lazy somersault when she congratulates him on not playing by the Careers' rules. Then she speaks about Rue, her love for the little girl as sincere as the kiss she gave Peeta. If I didn't know the situation in Eleven, if Peeta hadn't already put the Capitol on high alert, I'd clap her on the shoulder and tell her she was brilliant.

But I know what comes next.

I know it because I see Chaff and Seeder moving through the crowd, tapping the shoulders of people who are ignoring them entirely.

And I see an old man whistle Rue's song.

Simultaneously, the people in the crowd raise their right hands and give Katniss the salute she gave Rue's body.

On screen, I can see Katniss's face. She knows. She understands.

She and Peeta are led back inside, but she turns suddenly at the door and heads back.

That's when I hear the gunshots.
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Comments
sonetka From: sonetka Date: December 26th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh boy, I am really liking this. I was on edge throughout and I *knew* what Katniss and Peeta were going to do!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2012 04:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
The choice of the rebellion to keep them uninformed strikes me as one of their more foolish moves (right up there with trusting D13, though at least on that, they didn't have a lot of options). Sure, these two are going into a minefield. Let's just let them tap dance if they feel like it, shall we?
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