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November (one shot) - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
November (one shot)
Just felt like doing something, so here's some of the follow-up after the conversation Effie interrupts in "These Are The Names."


November in Appalachia can be depressing.

Not that District Twelve is exactly brimming with warmth in June, of course, but it looks good then. The mountains are green, the sky is blue, and there's a kind of softness in the air. The town square is full of leafy shadows, and the smells from the bakery and the pub and the inn float out their open windows. Even the Seam isn't too dreary in June. The scents of the woods drift in over the fence, and there's a kind of rich undertone to it, the smell of earth getting sunlight and rain as life grows up through it. In June, if you can ignore the poverty and the fact the reaping is around the corner -- not that I've been able to do that for a while -- the place is pretty tolerable.

In November, all of that is gone. The leaves have fallen from the trees, leaving them poking up like gray finger bones. The sky is almost always cloudy, and in the dim light, the evergreens are black arrows aimed aggressively at the heavens. There's nothing to counter the infiltration of the coal dust, which leaves everything a kind of dull, grayed out wasteland. Even red is gray here, Digger once told me.

There's a lot I've forgotten about Digger after all these years, but not that. I have a feeling she must say it in dreams that I don't remember in the morning.

The worst part about November is that it's all just settling in. By the time March rolls around, you've forgotten June, and the gray world is all there is. But in November, you can still close your eyes and smell the green world, and opening them onto the new reality -- knowing that you're not going to see much else for months -- makes it even worse.

Snow missed a trick by putting the Games in the summer. I'm sure he thought it was about spoiling the best time of the year, but the truth is, if he'd put them in November, when the lights are slowly going out on the world, people would be so bored and miserable that they might actually give in and enjoy the obscenity, because the Games, at least, would be a break in the gray.

Maybe not this year, not in Twelve.

Not with the smoke still rising from the mines, and men and women still missing, ripped from their families, never to be seen again, or even buried. They were vaporized down there. No one has said it. No one needs to. They finally determined that it was a coal dust explosion, and we know what a coal dust explosion does. We all took mine safety in school.

I've done what I can, but between Capitol laws about charity and District Twelve's orneriness on the subject, it's not a hell of a lot. An addition on the Community Home for the new orphans (money carefully given on the sly to builders, who could sneak in a little donated labor), slipping a little more money into the hands of the mine supervisor, who could use it to quietly slip into the pay when profits went down over the low yield. The miners still took a hit, which they expected, and complain about, but between me and the supervisor, we were able give them sixty-eight percent of their normal earnings instead of fifty-two percent. They don't know about it, of course. They'd refuse it out of shame if they did.

Of course, I had to stop before the Capitol noticed the funds disappearing from my account and started auditing, but I could maybe do a little more than in another year. The supervisor isn't the only Capitol liaison who's decided he's in it with us. The bankers have been doing their best to cover up oddities as well. No one talks about this, and there's only so far we can push before the Capitol gets suspicious enough to send in new people, but maybe we've managed to help a little bit, at least on the financial angle.

The broken families, the grieving widows, the bewildered orphans… there's nothing we can help with there.

All of it was exactly the least I could do, after our own people -- or at least people we'd allied with -- attacked the relief train, then tried to kill the tributes on the train in June. The damned out-district raiders. It was like making an alliance with a diseased rats to fight a pit of rattlesnakes.

The Peacekeepers aren't patrolling the perimeter fence, because the raiders haven't made it up this far, and Snow can't afford enough of them to keep the population at bay and protect them, and no one wonders which of those things is priority. I know they're engaged outside of Eleven, and that there's fierce fighting inside the boundaries of Nine and Seven, but up here, we see none of it. The listless people wandering in the streets have barely noticed news of faraway battles, and they've certainly made no connection between Snow's crackdown on the raiders and the fact that the relief train never arrived, largely because no one has ever told them that relief was on the way.

Hell, they'd have probably turned it over and refused to take Capitol charity, anyway.

At least Effie didn't need to see that.

I close my eyes.

Effie.

I can't think too much about the subject. Caesar Flickerman says that she's not being hurt, but I know what they do. I know about the re-education. And they won't let me talk to her. The only time they did, she seemed… tired. Distant. And I saw her on television not long ago, dancing with the other escorts, looking blank-eyed and empty behind her smile.

Effie is gone. Maybe it's better for her. Maybe she won't think about what the raiders threatened her with on the train. Maybe she won't put together that they were acting, at least tangentially, on behalf of the rebellion.

Which means on my behalf, no matter what I told her.

Oh, I didn't give them any orders, and I fought side by side with Snow's Peacekeepers to get them off the tribute train, but I know who they were, and I know why they were there, and I know exactly who brought them in and when.

I even know who still wants them there.

At any rate, the Peacekeepers aren't patrolling the perimeter -- which is probably good for the illegal hunters I'm sure are still out there -- but a few of the people in town have taken to doing it. Merle Undersee is the mayor and has access to a cart, which he takes out at least once a day on the pretense of "checking up" on people. Sammel Cooley takes the long way around after a long day at the mines. An old woman named Tessa Pratt, who worked with my mother years ago, broke her foot and is now among the unemployed, and I know she keeps track of the length of fence near her squat, and Sae, who used to run the Community Home and now make her business in the Hob, walks the fence at night with her butcher knife in her hand. Danny has started delivering baked goods around town as a cover for keeping an eye out for raiders. (Mir, of course, thinks he's having an affair, particularly since Ruth's husband, Glen Everdeen, was among the dead in the mine explosion.)

I patrol, of course. Maybe I do it more than the others, since I have nothing but time on my hands. I've taken the side of the town near the track. I owe it. I hope every other rebel victor is doing the same. It's a habit now: Every few days, I get out of the house just as the gray, grimy sunset starts to come in, then wander along the fence. I have a bottle with me and it's not for show -- by the time I get back, I'm usually starting to get pleasantly numb -- but I don't start out drunk, and even by full dark, I'm only partway there. I carry an arena knife in my pocket, and I look out through the fence, into the shadows in the woods, listening for raiders, watching for movements.

I kind of hope they come. I feel like, if they dare to cross the District Twelve fence, and I can look them in the eye and tell them that they don't speak for the rebellion -- before or after I kill them; I'm not picky on the subject -- that somehow, I'll be clean of what happened.

Tonight should at least start out looking like the other nights. The Peacekeepers have gotten used to my comings and goings over the last few months, along with the others. Like the relief work for the mines, they've tacitly tolerated what I'm sure they know is going on. There aren't enough of them to do it, but if no one puts up an alarm, they'll be on the front lines of the fighting, and they know it. Better to let us keep our watches. At first, they jostled me and made jokes about me losing the way to Victors' Village, but now, they're used to seeing me. A new kid named Darius even waves to me as I pass.

This could be a problem getting back -- it's possible that they'll notice when I don't head home, or that I'm not there tomorrow -- but Finnick has some kind of plan to get me back more quickly than usual, according to the note a furtive District Six rebel passed me last week. I'm a little nervous about what it might be.

The supply train is being unloaded. It's mostly supplies for the merchants' shops, along with the tessera grain and oil, and other Capitol-approved products. The last time I made one of these trips, in March, I came back disguised as a load of peaches for Danny. He just pried me out of the crate, and I pretended that I'd come along with him in the first place so I could help him get it home.

This time, I've opted to leave Danny out of it. He and Mirrem had full blow-out of a fight last time. She didn't suspect what he was really doing (unless she thinks I'm the one he's having an affair with, I guess), but she's watching him like a hawk. Apparently, she let her temper slip with their youngest boy, Peeta, and Danny had the temerity to call her on it, so she blamed it on him, and all the secrets he's allegedly keeping from her -- basically that his supposed infidelity is driving her so crazy that she "accidentally" lashed out at Peeta. Danny's not buying it (for once), but she's playing the card for all it's worth, and making a great show of spying on him every time he leaves the bakery. Since she's not the sort to let an opportunity to get me in trouble slip by, I guess I’m on my own on this end until she calms down.

I wait in the shadows by the fence, taking a few swigs of white liquor to keep warm. My feet are half sunk in bitterly cold mud. I'm glad of my Capitol-made shoes. I remember this kind of weather when I was in broken hand-me-downs.

Finally, the last of the hired delivery men move a dolly out, with crates full of something I can't identify from here. A wispy District Six boy -- possibly another cousin of Berenice's, but I don't know for sure -- looks nervously around, then stretches ostentatiously, reaching his left arm out to point to one of the freight cars. I wait until he's gone, then cork my bottle and make the run. I dive into the shadows and see a rickety looking bench seat. There's a feather carved onto it. I poke my fingers into the grating, and it comes up smoothly on a hinge. I slide underneath.

There's no question of drinking in this position, and, though I brought a brainless paperback to keep me company, reading is uncomfortable. I get a little way through the mystery (far enough to narrow the murder suspects down to a surgeon, a shady ex-Peacekeeper, an art dealer, and the Gamemakers), but for the most part, I spend the next six hours crouched uncomfortably, first watching them load crates of coal oil, then watching nothing at all as the train hurtles toward the fueling station on the way to District Eleven.

When it finally stops, I have a headache and my legs are cramped, but I'm used to this. I've made the trip a few times. I ignore the pain and pull myself out, tottering a little as I stand up. Twenty-odd years of getting around drunk have taught me valuable lessons about moving when my body doesn't want to cooperate.

I manage not to crash into the wall or any of the crates. Getting out is the dangerous part. There are no windows in a freight car, and they're not going to open doors for unloading out here. This is strictly a maintenance station, manned by District Six techs who must have really annoyed someone to pull this duty.

I nudge the door open just a crack. If they're out there with guns, this is where I'll get shot. But there's no gunfire. I peer out onto the bright platform. Techs are swarming around the engine, feeding fuel lines in, but that's as close as anyone is. Probably there are people inside the train, but out here, they have no reason to be monitoring. I don't know why this station is here exactly. I've wondered if it's really the furthest southern extent of the mines, and they're pulling processed coal from some conveyor down there. I guess I'd know if I actually worked in the mines. Mom and Dad never mentioned it, though. Maybe it's the site of some old ruin that would make sense of it.

At any rate, there's nothing around for miles, and once I'm clear of the actual station, there won't be any patrols, unless the damned raiders have been moving north.

I open the door further, lower myself down to the track, and then close it. There are Peacekeepers stationed at the various floodlights, but they're always young kids out here, ones who barely have any experience under their belts. They're already spooked by the wide open spaces, and have probably been reprimanded for discharging their weapons at random sounds in the woods. They don't see me as I slip into the shadows.

I have to be careful on the cinder-lined incline that goes to the track. A spill of rocks would be a dead giveaway even to them. But my luck holds. There's a little snow, but it's in random patches, easy to avoid.

I've barely walked for five minutes when I hear a brief rustle of branches above me. Johanna Mason drops from a low branch and grins, her teeth catching the pale moonlight. "Jeez, Abernathy," she whispers. "Glad we're not trying to keep secrets or anything. I think there's a spare twig about twenty yards back that you missed, if you want to make sure you get them all."

I make a rude gesture at her. "It was a clean getaway."

She shrugs. "Come on. Everyone's here."

She leads the way easily through the woods, though these must be very different from the one's she's used to out west. She might as well be playing to the arena cameras -- she's certainly wearing the persona she made for herself there. She never seems to drop it.

She's sixteen. I guess playing roles is part of the age, anyway.

As we get further from the train, she lets her voice get a bit louder, telling me about a boy she's been toying with in District Seven, another one she met in the Capitol, and some designer's spring line, which she can't wait to try on. "Speaking of clothes," she segues awkwardly, "any word about Effie?"

"No word."

"She's nice."

"Yeah."

"Why would they do that to their own people? Send them off like that, I mean. Re-educate them. She's not a rebel… is she?"

"No, she's not."

"Is she your girlfriend?"

"What?"

"Well, you were kind of hanging off her when we were sightseeing. Finnick says you're madly in love with her and won't admit it."

"But you think you'll get me to crack under your interrogation?"

"That's the idea." She grins. "I can be very annoying. Talk, or I'll start telling you about Persephone Sanderson's pre-fall line."

"Anything but that," I say.

"So?"

"So, what?"

"So, are you in love with Effie Trinket?"

I want to go along with the playacting -- to go back to my usual joke about "saving myself" for Effie -- but I can't. It's still too fresh in my head. The call from Caesar saying that Effie had been taken to the hospital for exhaustion after an "overdose" in her apartment. Plutarch looking at me like we were at a funeral and saying, "It's Capitol Dreams, Haymitch. They've got her." The cold voice on the other end of the phone -- Mimi Meadowbrook's brother, Pertinax: "I'm taking care of her now. I know what I'm doing. I've cleaned up after you before."

I don't say anything.

Johanna doesn't mean any harm, and she gives up when she notices me squirming, going back to her monologue about her own love life, though "love" seems a pretty grand word for what she's describing. She seems pretty proud of herself for being so "grown-up."

The land drops down into a bowl, not great for escaping, but pretty good for hiding the little tent-village they've built. It's all covered in pine branches and I imagine it's pretty invisible from the air, but it's clear enough at this level. Beetee is sitting in front of a square of metal that I assume is some kind of heater, as he's warming his hands over it. He stands up and signals back toward a tent.

It looks like the rebel districts have only sent one victor each (not that this is ever a factor in Twelve). Finnick is here from Four, and Berenice from Six. Obviously, Johanna has made the trek from Seven. Cecelia is here from Eight, though she shouldn't be -- I don't know much about pregnancy, but I think she looks ready to pop. Seeder emerges from a tent across the clearing and gives me a friendly wave.

Of course there's no one from One or Two. I don't know about Five -- they have no love for the Capitol, but their victors aren't exactly friendly with us.

"No one from Ten?" I ask, hoping that someone's been able to make contact. I'm sure that they're rebels, but they always get knocked out of the Games early, and they tend to go home right away.

Seeder shakes her head. "Not yet."

"And Nine has enough troubles," Berenice says. She's a few days past from her last hit, I guess, and she's picking at her clothes, but she's relatively coherent. "Their victors aren't very nice, but there are other rebels. They're fighting with the raiders."

"Never thought the rebellion and the Peacekeepers would be fighting with the same people," Finnick mutters.

"No," Berenice says. "They're fighting with the raiders. Together with them."

I grind my teeth and try not to think of them leaning over Effie and threatening to take "nice, long turns" with her. "Really?"

"Yeah. The raiders go through there a lot. They're sort of… local heroes?" She shrugs. "That's what they think, anyway. So when the Capitol came to start wiping them out, the locals in Nine started going raider. They raided Victors' Village."

I let this one sink in, though Berenice seems to have already forgotten it, and is digging at a scar on her inner arm. They raided the Village in Nine. Somehow, it doesn't seem like a great political target. They're just out to destroy anything they think of as Capitol. That doesn't bode well.

"So this is all of us," I say.

It is. We talk a little bit about the inconveniences of travel in Panem -- most of them are returning on a fuel train tomorrow morning, staffed only by an ally of Berenice's, to District Eleven, and from there to the Rotation -- and what everyone's cover stories are. Seeder's cousin, who looks something like her ("It's convenient that the Capitol thinks we all look alike," she quips bitterly), is driving her truck around and wearing her clothes, giving dance lessons. Where the cousin is supposed to be, I'm not sure. Beetee has timed and motion-activated voice routines in his house and the lab, and the bugs should be picking up whatever he and Wiress are supposedly talking about. Cecelia has set up something similar, though it's Woof's wife doing the talking for her. Her husband is not happy about the trip. Berenice is off on a nod so often that no one ever notices when she's actually gone except for her dealers. Finnick supposedly is taking Mags and Annie on a boat cruise around the Ghost Gulf. Mags is handling it alone.

"How is Annie?" I ask.

He smiles. "Better. You'll see on her Victory Tour. We go for a lot of walks. She's getting her head on straighter. She's making nets again. And… well, it could be that I have some other indications that she can recover."

"Ew," Johanna says. "Seriously, Finnick? She's half nuts."

He doesn't join her jest or make one of his self-deprecating jokes. He just says, "Jo, lay off. Now."

She rolls her eyes hugely, but doesn't push it. "I don't need an excuse to be gone. Most of the time, we have to check in with the Peacemakers if we want anyone to know we're alive. Remember Edith!" She makes a mocking ghost-wail and flutters her arms theatrically at the mention of the first victor, who died over the winter in District Seven's Village and wasn't found until spring.

"Speaking of District Seven…" Beetee starts.

Jo grimaces. "Jack and Linden are keeping an eye on Blight. Making sure he doesn't decide to make any more new friends until we all agree."

"Which brings us to the point," Cecelia says. "We left off our talk in the Capitol."

Talk is a generous word for what we were doing in the Capitol on the day that Effie came and found us to warn us that the Peacekeepers were coming. Johanna was defending Blight (she pretends to despise him, but we all know better), and Chaff and Beetee were unsuccessfully trying to get her to see how damaging it was. Chaff was starting to lose his temper at her. Seeder and Finnick were trying to get Wiress calmed down enough to help figure out how to eradicate any links to the rebellion that the Capitol might find. I was trying to figure out how the rebellion had spun completely out of our control, not to mention deciding exactly how much I wanted to make Blight pay for what had happened on the train. Mags was desperately trying to remind me that Blight was a friend, that we couldn't split the victors like that. I thought we were about to explode, and the end of the rebellion would happen there at the lake, as soon as people noticed a crowd of victors screaming at each other.

Instead, Effie showed up, and within moments, we were working together. Granted, we were working to save our own skins, but everything has to start somewhere.

I look at Johanna. "Are you still thinking it was a good idea?"

"It would have been if they weren't… you know."

"Murderers?" Finnick finishes.

"Like we aren't?" Jo asks, sensibly enough,

"I never threatened to stick a victor's head on a pike and put it on the front of a train."

Jo blinks solemnly. "They said that?"

"Yeah. It probably would have been my head, since they thought I was a Capitol toy. At least until I speared one of them with his own bayonet."

Cecelia holds up her hands. "Look, I know Blight didn't know what they were like…"

"They take things," Berenice contributes. "They took Paulin's morphling. He had to use mine."

"Maybe that's an argument in their favor," Seeder mutters beside me.

"…but we brought them in without doing any research," Cecelia finishes. "I bet Blight thought they were like the ridiculous movies."

"And we do need help," Seeder says. "If we could get into an arena with Snow and his cronies, we could wipe them out, but that's not likely to happen. We need to take on Peacekeepers. The full military. And I'm sorry, but the fact that we've got about fifty good knife fighters and spearmen isn't going to do any good against an army with tanks."

"You're not seriously suggesting that we stick with the raiders?" I ask.

"No. But…" She sighs. "Haymitch, we can't do this without doing any damage."

"We just have to get them damaging the right stuff," Jo puts in. "Burn the Capitol to the ground, for all I care, like they did to Thirteen."

I doubt she's thought this position through. I know she's fond of Effie, and would certainly mourn the clothes, if not the people, in the fashion district. But she's sixteen. Everything's an absolute.

"The Capitol is more than a third of the population of Panem, all told," Beetee says. "And that population isn't all that large to start with. In the last census, they estimated about one-point-one million in the Capitol, in a total of just under three million in the country. Destroying the Capitol, and taking into account the likely high casualties in the Districts in the course of a war, we could easily find the entire human population dipping below a million, and a good number of those could be infertile or past reproductive age. It's barely viable, and that's assuming that, in this day and age, everyone remaining could be cajoled or coerced into having large families. With the exception of Cecelia, none of us are exactly good role models in that regard."

"Well, Jo and Finnick are both too young to be worried about that, anyway," Cecelia says.

No one mentions that the rest of us would be bad candidates, anyway. Seeder is past child-bearing age, as far as I know. Berenice would probably accidentally leave a baby in morphling flophouse. Beetee has never evinced the slightest interest in kids (including the ones he mentors, though I'd never say it out loud). And then, there's me. Yeah -- I can see that. Just tip up the old liquor bottle and keep the kid quieted down until I manage to get her killed, like I've managed so far for every kid I've ever had under my care. I'd be stellar father material.

"Wouldn’t do it, anyway," Jo mutters.

"I would," Finnick says. "I want a houseful."

"The point," Beetee says, annoyed at this turn, "is that wholescale destruction of the Capitol isn't practical. It was foolish when they did it to Thirteen. It would be omnicidally stupid to do it again."

"Omnicidally?" Finnick repeats. "You made that word up."

"No, I didn't. But it's not really accurate, either," Beetee admits. "We're not talking about killing everything on earth. Just making humans go extinct, which is very plausible at our current population levels."

"Wow, Beetee, you're getting me hot with talk like that," Jo says. "Just make a few commercials about omnicidal stupidity, and you'll have the whole country making babies."

I laugh. "She's right. That's not the best advertising strategy."

"I suppose I'm not the ideally passionate spokesman for the cause." He grins. "And that's not really what we're here to talk about. Just a thought to keep in mind. We need to discuss our alliance strategy."

"It leaves something to be desired," I say. "And frankly, I'll sign up for Peacekeeper training before I side with the raiders on anything."

"Then how can we win?" Berenice asks plaintively. "Isn't it like the arena? You can't play nice if you mean to win."

"She's right about that," Beetee says.

No one else speaks for a minute. Finally, it's Finnick who breaks the silence. "What's the end game?" he asks.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"I mean… what's the object here? Jo wants to scourge the Capitol, and Beetee doesn't think it's a good idea. But what is the idea? What does the world look like when the war's over?"

"We don't have time to play what-if," Cecelia says kindly. "I mean, it's a lovely question --"

"I don't mean it to be lovely." Finnick stands up and looks across the moonlight, winter-bare forest. He has on a light jacket, and, away from Beetee's heater, he cups his elbows with his hands to keep in his body heat. "I mean, we can't make a plan if we aren't all going for the same objective. Haymitch -- why are we rebelling?"

"To keep dirty old men from paying Snow to paw you," I say.

"You were a rebel before I was born."

"Fine. To keep them from paying to paw anyone else, too."

Seeder smiles fondly. "Haymitch, sweetie, prostitution has survived more than one revolution over the years. There's a reason it's called the oldest profession."

"Yeah, well, the president doesn't need to be personally managing it." I think about it. "Okay, yeah. If it were up to me, I'd make sure that whoever is president couldn't bully people like that."

"Which is why you don't want the raiders," Finnick says. "It's putting one bully in to replace another."

"Yeah."

"So… do we all agree that that's a good thing, at least? To make it a lot harder for the president to do that?" he looks at Johanna. "Or are we more interested in revenge?"

"Nothing wrong with revenge," she says defiantly.

"I agree," I say. Finnick looks surprised. I shrug. "I don't want to make it a whole lifestyle, but I wouldn't mind seeing Snow fry on an electric fence. The Gamemakers, too."

He sighs. "I guess I wouldn't mind that, either. But then what? And what's more important?"

"I don't ever want my children's names in reaping balls," Cecelia says firmly. "And I want them to be able to… believe what they need to believe."

She doesn't say it directly, but I've often suspected that there's some kind of underground religion in Eight. I don't know if I want to fight a war for it, but I don't like anyone being forced underground. I watched both of my parents hack their lungs out for years -- being underground is dangerous.

"Annie wanted to say something along the same line," Finnick says. "And me. And Mags."

"I don't have any problem believing what I want now," Jo says.

"So, why rebel?"

She shrugs. "It'd be nice for everyone to have a proper house, I guess, instead of traveling around in logging camps all year. And not everyone wants to be a lumberjack. And the ones who do want to make a fair price. They can only sell to the Capitol, and Snow's a cheap prick."

"I wouldn't mind being able to make a phone call to a friend without asking permission," Seeder says.

"Or having it bugged," Cecelia adds.

Beetee frowns. "I suppose it would be satisfying to be able to get an invention further than a Capitol company. But that's neither here nor there."

"It's here and there," Finnick insists. He comes back and sits down on a log, leaning over the heater urgently. "If we have allies, we have to think about what they'd do. Are the raiders going to let people walk around freely? Go from district to district without paying them some kind of tribute? Or are they going to snatch people off the trains and toy with them before killing them? Are they going to burn down towns if we let them in?"

"They already are," Berenice says, then reminds us, "Victors' Village in Nine. They burned empty houses."

"So I'm not real excited about them being in charge," Finnick says.

"They wouldn't be 'in charge,'" Beetee points out. "We were simply asking for assistance -- "

"They're the muscle," Johanna clarifies before he can really get started.

I raise an eyebrow. "And they'll still be the muscle when it's time for someone to muscle their way into the presidential palace."

We argue through the night. No one has any really clear idea of what we want, what the world will look like after the war, which makes planning difficult, but we manage to at least thrash out that we need to communally vet any potential allies -- no more cowboy alliances. Who we could ally with, because we need allies with guns, is a more open question.

"We need to ally with each other," Seeder says, as the gray dawn begins to seep into the hollow. "At the very least, we need that."

"We are allies," Cecelia says.

"Not just us. The districts. If we can ally with each other, maybe we don't need anything else."

"We can't even talk to each other." I shrug. "How do you think we should get out the message? The only thing everyone in Panem sees is the Hunger Games."

"Yeah, and it's not like we can run a commercial for the rebellion after the bloodbath," Jo says.

Finnick wrinkles his nose in disgust. "The bloodbath is a commercial for the rebellion."

"Yeah, well, it hasn't worked for the last seventy years," I say. "We'd have to -- " I stop.

"What?" Beetee asks.

"We'd have to hijack the Games themselves. Turn it from Snow's propaganda to ours." I blink. Something is tugging at the back of my brain, but it's not sending any coherent messages. "I need to think about that."

"You're thinking of the Games because that's what you know," Seeder says kindly. "But we can't use them. They're an abomination. It would be like using… I don't even know. You're talking about using kids' deaths to argue politics."

"Snow sure as hell doesn't have any problem doing that," I say. "Maybe we could use them to stop more kids' deaths."

No one else looks hopeful, but I can feel the idea seeping in. It's formless, a fog drifting through my brain right now. Like most of my better ideas, it's hitting me like white liquor fumes, except stronger. I still can't quite taste it, though.

In the south, a puff of smoke appears along the train tracks, and Beetee grimaces. We haven't come to any conclusions, I've tossed out what he obviously considers a purely insane thought, and now the fuel train is approaching. It will load up here to bring fuel back to a train leaving Eleven. They have trains come and go every few days. There's no need to be in Twelve that often. Berenice gets things together for her signal, and we all work on collapsing the camp into tightly packed bedrolls while the little train goes up to the station and gets its cargo. We look like the world's oldest tributes in the world's smallest arena, except that we're all on the same side.

There's another tug at my brain. What if all of the tributes could be instructed to just wander around and fight mutts?

It's not quite right, but I have a vision in my head of tributes working together en masse. Letting the other districts see it.

The train comes back, now loaded up. Everyone climbs into a little work car, except for Finnick and me. Berenice's ally waves to us.

"Aren't you going?" I ask Finnick.

"Nah. Gotta get you home. I'll hop a coal train next time one comes. Should be on Thursday."

"And how are we getting to Twelve?"

He grins like the little kid he is. "We had a fight with the raiders in Four. Come see what I got."

We look up at the sky long enough to know that there's no nearby hovercraft, then Finnick leads the way across the tracks. We walk through the woods, following a little stream, until we come to the ruins of an old stone building. Inside it, Finnick has stashed a hovercycle. It's a Peacekeepers' model -- solar powered and fast.

"You could get in a lot of trouble for having that."

"Not if you've been pawed at by the right people," he says. "If the Peacekeepers drag me in on the way up, I'll say I'm joyriding, and if they give me trouble, I'll ask to speak to a certain woman. That certain woman has certain secrets that I'm pretty sure she doesn't want spread around."

"I don't want to know."

"Probably not," he agrees. "But if they do show up, you make a dive for the foliage and follow the tracks to Twelve."

"Got it."

He sighs. "It's probably too dangerous to keep around -- they could shoot me on sight and pretend they thought I was a raider, I guess -- but I figured it would be useful for this. I'll dump it somewhere after. Probably while I'm waiting for a coal train."

We get on the bike. Finnick is driving; I hold on for dear life behind him. The hovertech is the only good way to get the woods quickly, other than the trains. We stay a good mile away from the tracks until we're well past the fueling station, then Finnick veers closer and begins to follow their path. By noon, the forest is starting to look familiar, and by one, I can see the distant shape of the District Twelve fence. I don't think I've ever seen it so far off from this side. It looks strange and fragile.

I know I'm back when we pass by a lake, but Finnick doesn't pause here, and I'm glad. I don't want to think about the lake. He goes around the fence line, coming up on the far side of town, near the train station. It might even be near where Maysilee Donner and I once helped bury a girl from District Six, though if we are, I don't recognize the place anymore.

He pulls the bike to a stop a good distance from the tracks -- we can see where the train will come around, but no one is likely to look this way. He'll have time to hop a train, unless he decides to "joyride" all the way back to Four. I don't think he's that stupid. At least I hope he isn't. It occurs to me that he might have ridden the thing to the rendezvous in the first place.

I decide not to ask.

I get off the bike, and help him set up a little camp.

"I could go in with you," he says. "I had fun in Twelve on my Victory Tour."

"Which brings the total number of people having fun in Twelve to one," I say. "Stay out here. They'd notice you in town, and you know it."

He nods reluctantly, and walks with me to the edge of the little clearing. He stops before we take leave of each other. "It's a good idea, you know. Using the Games. I like it."

"I'll see if I can think of a way to make it work."

"You will. I believe it completely. I don't think there's much you can't do, Games-wise."

"And another total of one person who thinks that."

"You need more people in your life," he says dryly, then cracks a sunny smile. "Then again, you've got me. I love you, so that's got to count for at least five or six normal people." I have no idea what my face does when he says this, but whatever it is, it makes him roll his eyes. "More people need to say that to you."

"No, they really don't."

He smiles. "Take care, Haymitch."

"You, too."

I walk away. I'm careful as I approach the fence to not look behind me. If anyone does spot me, I'll be in trouble. No sense getting Finnick in trouble, too.

No one spots me. I go further down the fence and find a loose spot I can fit under about half a mile past the station. I start to wander along on this side, holding my bottle (it actually is still half-full; I didn't drink at all last night), and eventually Darius the Peacekeeper spots me and gives me a wave.

"Hey," he says. "Lost track of you yesterday."

"Oh, you know me," I say. "Sneaky."

"Right. Any raiders?"

"No raiders."

"Bastards," he says.

I nod. I have no argument with the sentiment. I keep walking the fence.

I don't know how long I walk, letting my mind drift, trying to see how to use the Games. I think it can be done, but I don't know what circumstances I'd need, or what message I could send, not exactly. Too much depends on the vagaries of the reaping and the arenas.

I've made it around a good deal of the perimeter, to the Meadow, where my father used to bring us to play with his inventions, and make our own. I look out into the woods beyond the fence. Someone out there is moving in the distance. I can't make the shape out for sure. It might even be an animal. Or Finnick, guiding his bike out of here after all.

But I don't think so.

Probably one of the local hunters that the Peacekeepers pretend not to know about.

I watch for a while, then take a swig from the bottle and head for home.

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Comments
beceh From: beceh Date: June 10th, 2015 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Enjoyed this. Thanks for posting.

It's interesting. Before D13 came back, there really was no one was there. I wonder what would have happened if D13 didn't exist, or weren't in a position to help. Maybe that will be my next challenge question :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 11th, 2015 02:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. I'll have to think about it, then. :D
redrikki From: redrikki Date: June 13th, 2015 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked the bit where they all realize that they need to figure out what they're fighting for and not just what they're fighting against. A lot of what happened in the books came out of the fact that most of the rebels had no clue what they wanted beyond 'not Snow' and so the only ones with a plan were 13.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 13th, 2015 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
If they'd really thought it out, maybe they could have avoided the alliance with 13!
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