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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Four - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Four
Onward with the tour. Time again! How is Katniss losing enough weight to have her clothes taken in? They've been gone for, like, four days.

It's hard making sure she never meets the other victors, too.

Oh, well. As always, still looking for a good title.



Chapter Four
District Seven decides that we need a tour. Unfortunately, Johanna Mason isn't the one to give it. She'd have made it entertaining. Instead, we're subjected to a day of the Mayor, Susanna Lawrence, giving a dry recitation of facts about various kinds of trees. Even Katniss, who loves trees, looks bored. Peeta politely asks questions, but even he doesn't feign a great deal of interest.

This, of course, means that we spend a whole night there, quiet on the tracks. I wander toward the bar car (no pills today, since our formal appearance is over) and run into Cinna, who's taking in one of Katniss's dresses. He asks what's going on with her.

I stop. "What?"

"Katniss. Is she sick? Because she's lost weight in less than a week."

"She's okay," I say. "I don't think this is her idea of a good time."

"It's got to be water weight. Nothing else comes off that fast. She's not eating or drinking enough."

A part of me would like to just explain the situation, but the train is bugged, so it's not possible. I just shake my head. Katniss will eat when she's hungry.

Which isn't the next morning, as we head for District Six, or the next evening, at their banquet. She makes a show of pushing food around on her plate, but watching closely, I see she manages to transfer most of it to Peeta, who eats it unobtrusively and tries to tempt her with a few of the desserts. They dance, but she doesn't seem very energetic. He becomes very solicitous toward her, and people joke that they're trying to find an excuse to sneak off again. I cut in and remind her to smile. She does. I hate myself a little bit for this.

On the train to District Five, where we will have a two-day stop and another tour, Katniss has a screaming nightmare, and Valentine supplies her with sleeping pills. I wake up in the middle of the night (a fresh horror in my head involving Maysilee, Digger, Katniss, and that girl from Eight whose parents came) and I go out to find Peeta drifting listlessly through the train.

He points at Katniss's door, behind which we can hear strangled screaming. "She's still having nightmares," he says. "But she's not waking up."

"Why are you up?"

He snorts humorlessly. "Why are you?"

I guess this is answer enough. We go our separate ways.

The next morning, Katniss doesn’t look like the pills helped much. She doesn't eat breakfast. She manages to put on a show at District Five's Justice Building, kissing Peeta on cue and smiling when she's told to. I see her looking at Finch's family on their platform, and momentarily fear another outburst, but she says nothing. At dinner, she again takes small portions, which she pushes around on her plate and ends up feeding to her preps. Despite this, she speaks glowingly to the mayor about how smart Finch was, and says that she called her "Foxface" in her head, and it was because of how smart she was. "If I hadn't seen her dancing around those landmines, I'd have never spotted them on my own!"

This is the right approach, as District Five has professed great pride in Finch's intelligence, and one of her teachers is trying to get a patent for a process she developed in her name. (This will not get anywhere, though I don't mention it. As far as the government is concerned, dead tributes are not to leave behind any accomplishments. It might start people thinking about what they could have contributed if they hadn't had their throats slashed or their necks snapped.)

They play a slow song, which Katniss and Peeta dance to, either so absorbed in each other that they don't see anyone else or so tired that they're physically holding each other up. Maybe a little of both. I think about cutting in and telling her to perk up a little, but I can see the cameras devouring what they're doing as it is. I look at the live screen, and guess that the audience is seeing more romance than weariness.

The music picks up and Katniss's prep, Octavia, timidly asks me to dance. I'm tempted to tell her no on principle, but there's a Quell this summer. Screen time with a Capitol girl won't hurt with sponsors. So I laugh at her inane prattle, flirt with her a little, and let her pass me over to Claudia the hairstylist. I feel this would be much easier drunk, but the pills are back to their incessant policing of my brain. I think I hate them even more than I hated that hormone shot when I was sixteen.

Back on the train, I go to sleep from sheer boredom, hoping I'll wake up in Four, where I may be able to meet with Finnick or Mags if we're careful. No such luck.

I dream about Digger again--I wish I'd never thought of her when I was talking to Katniss; she's been quiet for a lot of years, but now here she is, fresh as a mutt daisy full of poison perfume. I dream I am dancing with her at the banquet. She is wearing one of Cinna's dresses, which might be very pretty if it wasn't worn by a burned and rotting corpse. I try to keep her from disintegrating as we dance, but she's melting into the floor, leaving a smear of unspeakable slime behind her.

I had that slime all over me when we took her off the fence.

I wake up in the dark, sure I am covered with it again, even smelling that awful reek until I finally become aware of my surroundings. The train. I'm not the only one having nightmares. I can hear Katniss, a few compartments down, screaming in her sleep. By the time I gather myself up enough to check on her, she's stopped.

I can't even think about sleeping again, and I wish I'd brought books. I have a few, and the dreams of dead strangers are preferable to my own, but I didn't pack them. Doesn't go with my "rakish" image as a mentor any more than it ever went with my image as a Seam kid a quarter century ago. Also, a lot of the ones I have, I'm not exactly supposed to have, and I'd rather not have them confiscated.

Reluctantly, I go to the lounge and watch television. There's some re-run footage of the tour, and Caesar Flickerman is in ecstasy about how happy Katniss and Peeta are. It has occurred to me--and most of the rebel victors--that Caesar would be a good recruit if we could get him to admit that he hates the Games and likes the tributes. None of us can think of any other reason that he consistently helps as much as he can. Unfortunately, he practically lives under Snow's nose, so it's a little hard to pull him aside for a chat about treason. Plutarch could do it, but Plutarch was never a tribute, and he doesn't trust Caesar. He refuses to even entertain the idea.

After the news recap (which also includes Snow's birthday celebration, a somber recollection of deaths in the Dark Days, and a dancing hippo in the zoo), they move into an inane adventure about a Peacekeeper who has to rescue a Capitol family from a free-riding out-District gang of thieves after a train derails somewhere between Seven and Eight. The Capitol family is doing improbably well at surviving in the vicious wilderness (in which tire tracks can frequently be seen) until the feral gang sets upon them when the oldest son falls in love with a gang girl and teaches her to live in civilization, which angers her brothers.

The credits are rolling when Effie comes in, wearing her peignoir. Her natural hair is covered up with a glittery wrapped towel. "Haymitch," she says, "we have a problem."

"What?"

She crooks her finger at me and heads back toward the sleeping compartments. She stops outside Katniss's and points through the small window. Katniss has drawn the curtain around her bed, but I can see the end of it. There are four feet, and one is made of plastic and metal. Effie raises her eyebrows.

I shrug. "So what?"

"This isn't proper."

I roll my eyes. I've been in the Capitol for weeks every year, and, compared to things I've seen openly done in bars, Katniss and Peeta sharing a bed (with chastity medically enforced, though I doubt Effie knows it) wouldn't even rate a raised eyebrow. It would probably even help convince Snow, whose doubts are undoubtedly amplified by the fact that Katniss appears to actually sleep in her own bed in the Victors' Village. I repeat, "So what?"

She presses her lips together, another action which seems to result in flared nostrils. "We aren't in the Capitol, Haymitch. Some of the districts are less enlightened, including District Three." She frowns. "Besides, they're too young. I don't want to see them get in trouble. Or have them gossiped about. You know that there will be gossip."

This is hard to deny. The Capitol gossips about who eats what for lunch, let alone who has been in which bed lately. On the other hand, if it gets around that they can't keep their hands off of each other, it could only help the act. "Let it be," I tell her.

I don't think she'll go along with this in the end, but at least she doesn't go in and wake them up.

She's right about the gossip, of course. Even before we get to District Four at noon, news has gone up and down the full length of the train. The reporters have been sent ahead, and Effie manages to browbeat the preps and the train crew into keeping their mouths shut. Valentine looks confused by the whole business. Everyone is conspicuously quiet when they show up for breakfast. They don't seem to care, and for once, both of them look like they actually got sleep.

At the station, we're met by the mayor of District Four, a woman named Eliza Callahan. She greets Katniss and Peeta warmly, and tells me, "Our victors are unfortunately quite busy, and can't come. Finnick Odair left a letter for you." She hands it to me openly, which may be the best way to throw off suspicion. Certainly nothing handed over by a district mayor would be seditious. Even if the envelope is watermarked with a mockingjay.

Until five years ago, District Four was on good terms with the Capitol. Finnick keeps his own treatment quiet, which I can't blame him for. As for Mags, until she found out what they were doing to her golden boy, she was as much a Capitol mouthpiece as anyone from One or Two. But Annie can't be hidden--Annie Cresta, daughter of a ship's captain, beautiful and popular in the district. She broke on national television, spawning an insulting fashion trend in the Capitol of claiming melodramatic madness.

District Four has been a major engine of rebellion since, and the Capitol doesn't even know it. That's why they allow election of a mayor, and Callahan knows better than to tip her hand prematurely.

I open the letter for a quick glance, pretend not to have time to read it, and put it in my jacket pocket.

Callahan takes us for a long drive along the main road of District Four, which is gray with winter but still very nice. The Victor's Village here is made up of tall houses that command spectacular ocean views. After we pass it, we see fisherman wading in the shallows, and boats out on the water. Peeta asks if we could go to the edge of the sea, but Callahan says we can't--there isn't time. I find myself disappointed. I've no more touched the ocean than the kids have.

Which is a sort of alien thought, so I shove it aside. This is not a trip for sight-seeing. As we pass, I see people already starting to gather on the sidewalks. A few chant, "Katniss! Katniss!"

We reach the mayor's house, where Katniss and Peeta will get ready for their parade through the streets. I am, thankfully, not invited for this. I go to a spare bedroom and open the letter from Finnick.

We toyed with any number of sophisticated codes over the years, but Finnick, at the age of fifteen, was close enough to his boyhood to have one that the Capitol doesn't even think about, perhaps considering it too whimsical or silly. Those of us well past our childhoods hadn't thought of it, either.

But for short, easy messages, it's simple, effective and unsuspected. I smell the lemon immediately upon opening the envelope. Finnick's letter is simple and wide spaced, in his lightweight handwriting. It says that he's sorry he missed me, he and Annie are fine, Mags's arthritis is getting to her, and he hopes we enjoy District Four and get a chance to swim. I turn on the lamp beside the bed and hold the letter up to it for heat. The lemon juice he's used to write the real message turns brown.

Pieces in place. Fish strike, two months; techno-strike from Three, also two months. Distraction for Thirteen to set up out-District bases. Arena South Pacific, constructed land, no details. Burn.

I burn the note, wondering why Finnick bothered with the detail about the arena. I know Plutarch means to make a statement, but we'll mostly be working in the Capitol. Plutarch can take care of the arena.

Effie, the stylists, and I are taken by back streets to the Justice Building, while Katniss and Peeta have their parade. On the screen in the lobby, I can see the crowds cheering them with wild abandon. I catch a few glimpses of mockingjay jewelry, and even briefer glimpses of idiots who hold up handfuls of red berries (the camera cuts away from these quickly). Katniss looks overwhelmed and shocked, possibly because she was responsible for the death of the girl from this district in the Games. But even on the family platforms, where Charlotte's parents and grandmother stand, there is only fierce devotion. This could be because Peeta made a point of saying kind things about her in the pre-tour interview, but I don't think so. These are not the Greens from District Eight, here to extend forgiveness. These are parents who are furious about the loss of their child, and know who the blame really belongs with. Katniss may have dropped the tracker jacker nest from its tree, but it was the Capitol who put Charlotte under that tree, and it is Katniss who began the defiance.

I'm guessing that took some serious spin control from Finnick.

There banquet is heavy on the seafood, of course, which Katniss and Peeta have never had much of. Katniss actually eats a normal amount, so, as far as I'm concerned, whatever she and Peeta are doing, they can keep doing it. I spend most of the evening with Callahan, who gives me a lecture on the history and industry of District Four which boils down to a full inventory of their war chest. It'll get them further than Twelve's war chest (which is mostly empty), but it's not going to last long against the Capitol if the Capitol is not otherwise occupied.

That night on the train, I see Peeta go to Katniss's compartment again, and no one wakes anyone up with screaming. I see Effie lecturing Katniss the next morning, and Katniss nods a lot, but ignores her, as the second night of the trip to Three goes exactly the same way.

I tell Effie again to let it go, but her sensibilities are wounded.

"Of course they are," Cinna says, giving me an indifferent shrug while he pins one of Katniss's gowns. "They're not supposed to be adults. Why do you think they want to make sure the beards never grow in the arena?"

"That's not really what that shot is for."

Cinna sighs. "Not at the beginning. Old Mags was the one who pushed for it."

"Mags?"

"You ever see her Games?"

"I don't watch them."

"I don't blame you." He trims a little of the lace at a cuff, examines it, then says, "One of the other girls got attacked in the arena. One of Mags's allies. They kept her alive for days. Mags killed all of them--trapped them in circle of fire and just picked them off with rocks and a slingshot she made. Her friend jumped into the fire."

"Charming."

"Yeah, well. It wasn't much more popular with the audience than that boy Titus running around eating corpses. Mags got practically every sponsor in the business to send her whatever she needed after that. She was the first girl to win. She used that to argue for some controls when she was a mentor."

"Right, because you can't trust any boy, and girls would never do that."

"It's a whole lot easier to put the same leash on all of them before the Games than try to anticipate who's going to go crazy in the arena, or dose them once they're in there." Cinna bends down to examine the hem of the dress, and starts holding up shoes to see how they'll go. "And as to the girls, the problem is, they can fight each other, and most of the boys can fight them on a physical level. The ones who can't get picked off early. But a girl Katniss's size, if she'd been set on by a boy Cato's size?"

I don't argue.

Cinna picks a pair of shoes finally and goes over to the chest of jewelry. "The problem," he says, "is that the audience got used to seeing them that way. The tributes are children who are never to become adults."

"Tell that to Finnick. For that matter, they wanted Katniss to get fake breasts last year, remember?"

"And Effie was scandalized. A lot of her sponsors would have been as well. They want romance, but they want it to be innocent and pure. You know what it's like in the Capitol. I think they just want to believe in the idea of it. Which is pretty sick, when you add it to the fact that they expect these pure, innocent kids to kill each other." He picks out a pearl necklace and puts it on the dress form, then rejects it. "Of course, there are other people out there. They wouldn't mind at all. They probably want cameras in her compartment right now."

"And those are the only options?"

"At the moment. But Portia and I have been aging them up a little bit in every district. I'm hoping we can get people to see them as potential adults without turning them into... what they turned Finnick into."

An announcement from the conductor that we are heading into District Three interrupts this disturbing conversation, and I get ready for the show. I look closely at Katniss and Peeta and see what Cinna means about aging them up. Peeta's suits have been becoming more sophisticated, and Katniss is in richer, more somber colors. Her hair is up instead of in a braid, and her make-up is more adult without being overbearing. I wonder if she's noticed.

After the speech at the Justice Building, Katniss and Peeta are taken on a tour of the factories. I beg off, claiming a stomach ache, and go to the banquet prep rooms. I am not entirely surprised to find Beetee and Wiress inside. Wiress is examining Katniss's gowns, checking the seams for special effects.

"I don't think he's lighting them on fire here," I tell her.

She smiles vaguely. "I thought they might have..." she starts.

Beetee finishes, "...that fake fire. We've been quite interested in how they do it. Everything I've come up with would still burn."

"Peeta's stylist was born here," I tell them. "I don't know what her name was before she came to the Capitol, but whatever you do in school around here, she must have been good at it."

"I wonder if..." Wiress says.

Beetee nods and says, "Probably," but doesn't clarify for anyone living outside Wiress's head. This is nothing new. They've been driving me crazy for twenty-four years with this act. We all joke that they're an old married couple, and Beetee jokes along with us, though he actually does love her in his way, and anyone who insults her might find himself electrocuted in his sleep. Beetee pulls a watch from his pocket and says, "I wonder how long they'll be." He pushes a button. "Because the bugs will only pick up a conversation Wiress and I are having about Cinna's dresses for three minutes. You're not in it, which will make them suspicious even faster."

"Great," I say. "Finnick says things are in place?"

"For two districts. Did he tell you about the Quell arena? It's a constructed island. They're not using natural landforms. We couldn't get anything else on it, though, and I don't think anyone in Three is involved."

"Let's leave the arena to Plutarch. He'll get the tributes out. I haven't told Katniss anything."

"What?"

"She's not ready."

Beetee looks irritated. "How are we meant to do this if she isn't getting the districts rallied around her?"

"Her family and friends have been threatened, and she's not particularly invested in this."

"What? How can she not be invested? She started it."

There's no time to discuss the mysteries of Katniss Everdeen's brain, so I just say, "Never mind. People have been rallying around the mockingjay just fine. It doesn't need her to speak for it yet. We need an escape plan from the Capitol. Plutarch's been in touch with District Thirteen. Are you going to be able to come up with some kind of gadget to hide Annie if Finnick can't bring her to the Capitol?"

"I'm working on it."

"And something to scramble the messages. Plutarch wants to 'make a statement,' and you know Snow's going to want to make one right back. If he uses your gadgets for it, District Three's going to be in a world of hurt."

"We have an evacuation plan. Wiress will stay behind. She knows the route. And we have allies."

"Good, but how are you going to keep her from going to the Capitol? Don't they make her mentor?"

"Have you read the laws concerning support in the Games?" he asks, even though he knows I haven't. Some victors take up macramé as a talent. Beetee took up the laws of Panem, and has them more or less memorized. "It's required for one mentor to be present, but any victor who is proven incapable of providing support cannot be required to mentor a tribute. If there's no mentor available, one is assigned from another district."

"I'm not exactly the best support," I say. "Think they'll let me out of it?"

"You provide excellent advice. Until this year, your tributes haven't been the best listeners," Beetee corrects me coldly. "At any rate, Wiress has been acting increasingly odd this year"--I wonder how any tells the difference, but I don't mention this--"and I plan to submit papers to the effect that she is unsuitable to mentor. She'll position herself in the square, and we've arranged a signal with our allies to begin our evacuation if we have reason to believe the Capitol plans a retaliation."

This doesn't strike me as the world's best plan. I like Wiress, in an odd way, but hinging a strategy on her ability to control a crowd? Not what I'd choose to do.

"Will Twelve be giving us a distraction?"

I shake my head. "I can think of about ten people in Twelve who'd stage an uprising. There used to be one more, but Peeta's dad's not in the mix anymore. Even if he were..."

"There aren't enough," Beetee finishes without rancor. "That's true. And Katniss herself puts citizens of District Twelve in danger. It's better to draw attention elsewhere. We can prepare here." A yellow light flashes on his watch. "We're running out of time," he says. "Do you have other news?"

"There's a split in the rebellion in Eleven. Thresh's sister is a firebrand."

Beetee swears under his breath. "Chaff better get that under control. If we don't have food, we're sunk."

And that's that. His watch flashes red, and Wiress starts talking about beautiful dresses, and how she wants to wear them again. Beetee tells her they should get married so she'll have an excuse to do so, and she laughs absently, though I'm not convinced he's actually joking.

They leave only a few minutes before Katniss and Peeta get back. They are talking in a desultory way about the inventions they've seen, many of which wouldn't even work in Twelve, where communications are so spotty. Peeta wants to plant wheat and grind his own flour. Katniss looks at him like he's crazy, then gives him a kiss.

There isn't a camera in sight.

We go down to dinner together, and the show goes on.
13 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 31st, 2012 01:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Totally not squeeing over District Three *shifty eyes*

I'm glad you see them the way I do: not quite a couple, but acting like an old couple. Loving the story.

As for a title, how about something to suggest the building of the fire to come, like Striking Sparks, or Gathering Wood?
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 31st, 2012 01:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Opps, that was me,
-Maraudercat
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2012 02:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm. Could work. I was thinking about something with balance in it, but matching the fire theme would also be good.

Glad you liked Wiress and Beetee. I wasn't originally going to actually put them there, but since you wanted them... ;p
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 31st, 2012 02:20 am (UTC) (Link)

Details, details, details...

I revere your wealth of details.

I have more comments about last chapter. First, I love the idea of Thresh having a twin sister named Winnow.

Also, on re-reading the section on District Eight, the penny dropped that "rock men" would be a garbelling of the Hebrew for "Rachameem"! Genius! The first time I read it, I got a kind of faintly Amish vibe from Kersey's family, but now it's obvious (to me anyway) that they are clandestinely Jewish!

I love your back-story about Mags.

It's getting to be ridiculous how much I'm loving this story. With your "Harry Potter" fics, at least I already loved the cannon books!

Sara Libby

PS: I vote for Maraudercat's idea "Striking Sparks." Works well with "Catching Fire."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2012 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Details, details, details...

now it's obvious (to me anyway) that they are clandestinely Jewish!

Yay! I'd been shelving books about the crypto-Jews in the Spanish Empire, and I thought, why not in Panem, where they'd probably be equally as, um, inspired to keep it quiet? And D8 reminded me of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and other sorts of places in New York, so, why not? But of course, not a single one of the main characters would have the slightest idea about this. And will continue not to; it's not a major point--I just wanted to see if anyone would catch it. :D

I went through all sorts of agricultural terms before I realized that, of course, it would have to be "Winnow."
jedinic From: jedinic Date: December 31st, 2012 05:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I continue to love this point of view and the fascinating story of the rebellion!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2012 05:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks! As long as readers already know what's happening, why not get a view of it, right? :D
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: December 31st, 2012 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love how you're writing this story and how Haymitch is friendly with most of the other Victors. Love the idea of the old married couple Beetee and Wiress.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought it was interesting in Catching Fire that it turned out grumpy old Haymitch actually did have a fairly large circle of friends--he just didn't see them often.
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 31st, 2012 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another great chapter! Just what I needed after a day filled with a malfunctioning debit card. I really like the whole behind the scenes aspect this story has and it fits so perfectly with the story canon ( which is always true in your stories). As for the title, I honestly really like the golden mean. I think it could also apply to Haymitch trying to walk the line of helping the rebellion while trying to keep Katniss and Peeta safe. That's my two cents at least. Thanks!
Robin
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm, that's a point. I could change the title of part one to something else.

Sorry about your debit card. What a pain!
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: December 31st, 2012 08:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
For a title, I keep going back to Catching Fire. How about your title be Fanning [the] Flames or something else referring to fire?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 31st, 2012 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe, though I'm starting to incline towards Robin's suggestion above of keeping "Golden Mean" as the man title and changing the part one title instead.

Thanks!
13 comments or Leave a comment