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HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Twenty-Four - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: Golden Mean, Chapter Twenty-Four
A group interview of the alliance mentors is interrupted by the sound of Prim Everdeen screaming in the arena.



Chapter Twenty-Four
The sound is so real that I almost forget that there's no way they've brought Prim to the arena. Katniss runs into the jungle, calling Prim's name, her eyes wild. Finnick runs after her. I see Peeta rush up the beach, but he's thrown back at the edge of the woods. I hear a solid thudding sound, but I can't see what he's hit.

Claudius brings up a graphic for the audience, showing this wedge of the arena. "This is a new invention for this year's Quell," he says quietly. "A thin plastic barrier, fully impenetrable from either side, but invisible to the tributes. What have we got inside?"

The coverage returns to Katniss, who looks up into the branches of the tree, and I understand, even as she fires her arrow.

Jabberjays.

Extinct in the wild -- except in their prolific descendents, the mockingjays -- but apparently still in the recipe book in the Capitol's twisted labs. My mother said that her family sometimes had drills for what to do when a jabberjay was around. They even made a game of it, coming up with outrageous lies for the birds to bring back to their makers. Mom sometimes played it with us, spinning stories about her day in the mines. You had to start with the reality, then slowly start piling on the absurdities. By the end, everyone would be laughing, except the storyteller, who had to keep a straight face until everyone else had cracked up. It strikes me that Peeta would have won this game every time.

But the jabberjays of the game were spies, and the game was sending them back with misinformation.

These jabberjays aren't spies. They're weapons. Along with Prim's screams and Annie Cresta's, they find Gale's, and Ruth's, and many others I don't recognize. I think I even hear myself once.

Which isn't to say there isn't laughter.

There's a lot of laughter. Much of it is nervous and frightened, but I hear some genuine guffaws. As Katniss and Finnick scream for their loved ones and collapse to the ground, covering their ears, live feeds of the loved ones are brought up on screen. Prim is yelling something, but she doesn't have sound. Gale is quickly removed from the picture when he makes a violent gesture at the cameraman. Annie Cresta keeps repeating Finnick's name and saying she's all right. Apparently, for some members of the studio audience, it is the height of hilarity to watch Katniss and Peeta mourning loved ones who aren't actually dead.

It doesn't seem funny to the Muttation Appreciation Society. The president comes out, looking annoyed, and we mentors are released as he takes his seat by Claudius and complains that this is not the proper historical function of jabberjays, one of what he refers to as "the great classics" of genetic engineering. This segues into a documentary that the M.A.S. has made about jabberjays, which airs as we are taken back to the viewing center. By the time we get there, the wall has disappeared, and Peeta is holding Katniss, trying to convince her that the sounds were fabricated. She doesn't believe him until Beetee tells her that it's easy to manipulate sounds like that. And Johanna starts screaming at the top of her lungs that if they killed Primrose Everdeen, there'd be an uprising.

They don't cut away soon enough to miss it entirely, but by the time Jack shows me his screen, where she's yelling about half the country being in rebellion, coverage on the main screen has gone to Chaff and Earl, who are waking up not far away to a swarm of tracker jackers.

"Stay down," Chaff hisses. " We have these all the time in Eleven. Someone hits a nest, they swarm. If they don't think we're the ones who disturbed them, we'll be fine. Just move slowly."

"Move where?"

"East," Chaff says.

"They were screaming over there," Earl says. "I heard them. They were screaming, then they stopped."

Chaff nods grimly. "Then west. We know what's there. Maybe we can get past the mutt. There's only one. I hope."

Together, they start to crawl along the ground. The tracker jackers spot a tree rat and attack it, but move on. I don't know how they're going to track Chaff and Earl, but I don't trust them. They start to settle on their nests, on the trees, turning the jungle gold.

"Don't touch anything," Chaff hisses, moving slowly and quietly toward the beach.

They almost make it.

At the last row of trees before the beach, Earl brushes the trunk of a tree. It's not much of a brush. But the wasps that now line the branches and leaves go deadly silent for a moment as the leaves shake, then explode down toward the jungle floor.

Chaff gets to his feet and drags Earl.

"Run! Run, dammit!"

They manage to get to their feet, and Chaff makes the beach. The tracker jackers don't stop. Earl screams as he's stung. Chaff runs back and grabs him, taking a few stings in the process, pulling him further along the beach.

They cross into the six o'clock zone, and the tracker jackers form a buzzing wall at the edge of their territory.

Chaff starts pulling stings out of his arms and face. "You okay, Earl?"

Earl grunts something. He looks up. Large pustules are swelling all over him. His eyes are wild with pain.

Chaff reaches toward him, and he screams, running off into the jungle. "Earl! Earl! Get back here!" But Chaff has taken stings as well, and he sinks to the sand, not unconscious, but close.

Claudius comes on with his breathless details about how deadly tracker jackers are, and reminds the audience that Chaff and Earl are now in the dragon's territory. Of course, the dragon has another half an hour or so before it wakes up, and they aren't doing anything interesting, so the main coverage cuts to analysis. On my little screens, I can see my team resting on the beach. They're planning to wait for the wave to pass through ten o'clock, then take that section of the beach. Peeta tells Katniss about Annie Cresta. Her Games were the year Glen Everdeen died, and I guess Katniss wasn't paying very close attention.

Effie asks if she can take a nap, and I tell her to go ahead. My head is swimming, but I don’t think I could sleep if I tried. My mind is on Chaff, lying there on the beach, poisoned by tracker jacker venom, waiting for a dragon. Beside me, Toffilis Taggart is trying to arrange to have some medicine sent in, since the jungle plants aren't ones he'd know from home. Finally, I see a parachute go down. Plutarch has that stuff at the ready and wasn't supposed to be waiting for real sponsors. It should have been immediate.

Unless that's just for Katniss and Peeta.

Chaff puts the medication on his stings and starts calling for Earl. The sound attracts the attention of Brutus and Enobaria, who are on the eight o'clock wedge. They venture into the next one when suddenly there is a screech from the jungle. A blast of flame comes up through the canopy. Brutus jumps back.

The coverage goes to Earl, swollen and crazy, wielding a stick like a sword. "Come on!" he yells. "Come on if you're coming! Took on a bunch your grandfathers, and I can take you!"

He can't.

The dragon swoops out of the sky and grabs an arm and a leg in its talons, and his head with its giant beak. With a sickening ripping sound, Earl is torn to pieces. The cannon sounds.

Chaff runs east, back to the now quiet tracker jacker wedge.

Coverage comes back to the studio. "And now," Claudius says quietly, "we are down to our final eight, more than half of whom are in the power alliance of districts Three, Four, Seven, and Twelve. Also remaining, Chaff Leary of District Eleven, and our District Two tributes, Brutus Emmett and Enobaria Fells. Our production teams are interviewing their families now. Let's bring out our analysts..."

The analysts appear on cue. Most expect that Enobaria, Brutus, and Chaff will be dead soon, and the final act of the Games will be a full on fight to the death among the members of the alliance. Beetee is counted out as a contender because of his wounds, and Peeta because of his reluctance to kill, though it would be exciting, they intimate, if he and Katniss fight, so we can see the duel we were denied last year. On the street, weeping Capitol citizens remind reporters that Katniss is pregnant, so she has to be saved somehow. After all, the Games are meant to kill twenty-three, not twenty-four. The same people then start to argue about why Peeta should be saved (he will be a good parent and he already loves the baby so much), or why Johanna should be (she's lost enough, and she's a young woman with her life ahead of her), or why Finnick should be (he's been so kind to the others, and he's so loving). It's becoming increasingly clear that the responders on the street aren't processing the questions they're being asked -- unlike other years, they simply can't seem to pick a favorite or analyze anyone's strengths or weaknesses as a player.

They've just cut away to an interview with a woman identified as Brutus's wife, who I haven't heard mentioned in the twenty years since he won, when one of the District Two mentors, stationed nearest the door, shouts, "Hey, Abernathy! You order up some company?"

"Not allowed in the viewing center!" someone else calls. "Not unless there's enough for everyone."

I stand up. Tazzy Vole, Aurelian's young friend, is standing at the door of the viewing center, wearing a short trench coat and heavy makeup. Her hair is in an exaggerated clip-on braid with flame-shaped designs in it. "I'm a sponsor!" she declares, indignant. "I'm sponsoring District Twelve!"

This gets cruel-sounding laughs, and a few catcalls from locals saying, "Sure you are, honey! Wanna sponsor me later?"

I say, "She is. She and her sister are sponsoring Katniss." I speak to her deliberately with the same formal tone I'd use for a rich old woman. "Did you need something, Miss Vole? Please come over."

She straightens her shoulders and comes over, glaring at the attendants and mentors who leer at her. Finally, she sits down in Effie's vacated chair and says, "Nice friends here."

"These are my friends," I say, pointing to the other alliance mentors, who are giving her polite smiles. "What did you need?"

She looks around quickly, then whispers, "Junie got herself tanked to check on Portia."

It takes a minute for me to understand this. "Wait... Juniper's in jail?"

"Just a two-day thing. I went to visit her. She saw Portia this morning in the yard. Portia's all right, except that they're making her wear district clothes." Tazzy smiles nervously. "The problem is, they're going to have the hearing tomorrow. If Effie Trinket doesn't clear up her status, they'll send her back to District Three... or... well..." She bites her lip. "Junie says that Portia told her there were accidents that might happen."

"Tomorrow?" I ask. Finnick got the first of the bread clues early this morning. The hourly countdown could start any time.

Tazzy nods and leans forward. "Is Effie Trinket here? She has to come!" The coat opens enough that I can see she's wearing something black and sparkly with flame patterns on it. I hate the Capitol. I hate the people who thought I would order this as "company." I hate the men who do pay her for it. I don't hate Tazzy. It's probably the best money she'll make all year.

"Wait here," I say, and get up to go find Effie. Jack Anderson strikes up a conversation with Tazzy about hairpieces, and starts showing her the little bits his has clipped into his for texture.

In the lounge, I have to check a few of the beds before I find the one where Effie is sleeping. I open the curtains. She is curled up neatly, her knees tucked up against her chest, sleeping in her clothes. Her shoes have been set neatly into a box in the headboard, and her wig is sitting beside them. She sits up blearily at the sound of the curtains opening. Without her wig, she does look strangely naked. Her natural hair is strawberry blond, and cropped as short as an infant's. It is slightly disheveled from sleep, but there's not much of it to get really messy.

She blinks at me calmly, then suddenly puts her hand to her head and says, "Haymitch Abernathy, you give me my wig right now!"

I hand it to her without complaint and let her put it on. She looks more like Effie now. "Someone to see you," I tell her. "About Portia."

"Oh. Oh, my, who is it? What's happening?"

I answer her questions as well as I can while she straightens herself out and gets her shoes on. By the time we get outside, Toffilis has had one of the attendants bring his long overcoat for Tazzy, and Harris, for some reason, has given her his fisherman's cap. Jack has undone her fake braid and clipped in a few of his orange and yellow extensions. The braid is curled up on the table like a snake. She and Philo are engaged in a conversation about concealer.

Effie goes to her and says, "Tell me what's happened, dear."

Tazzy tells her what she and Juniper learned, editing a bit about their particular crime (she claims shoplifting), though I doubt even Effie is fooled. "So I just came to tell you," she says. "You have to be there in the morning, or they'll just... I don't know."

"Of course I'll be there. Haymitch, I need to go home and get a change of clothes. I'll sleep there. You can come with me, honey," she says to Tazzy. "We'll get you a good night's sleep, and you can wash up, and I'll have a dress for you to wear tomorrow if you'd like to come with me and get your friend out."

Tazzy bites her lip again, then says, timidly, "Could my little sister come? I left her with a friend tonight."

"Of course she can! We'll have a girls' night," Effie says.

I pull her aside. "Effie, I wish you wouldn't spend the night away."

"I know, but you can call in a speller if you need sleep. I'm sure someone could. With your alliance -- "

"It's not about that," I say. The truth is, I just want to make sure she's easy to reach when the time comes to leave, but I can hardly say so. "I just... I want you here. Portia, too, as soon as you get her out. Even if her hair is a mess."

"I can't do anything for Portia until tomorrow morning," Effie says. "The courts aren't open. And Haymitch..." She lowers her voice and looks at Tazzy. "That girl shouldn't be out on the street dressed like that."

"Well, she's, um..."

"I know what she is," Effie says. "And we both know she shouldn't be."

Since I've said the same thing, I can hardly argue. Effie knows it. She's heard my diatribes about Cray over the years. "I know," I say miserably.

She gives me a puzzled look, and I can't help it. I pull her to me and hold her tight. She smells like the sweet, expensive perfume she uses on her wigs. She hugs me back, then pulls away, looking even more confused, which I really can't blame her for now. Even I'm not sure what I'm doing. "Everything will be okay, Haymitch," she says, and gives me a kiss on the cheek, running her thumb over the spot to wipe off her lipstick. "Don't worry."

I catch her hand and hold it. "Be careful, Effie, I mean it."

"All right," she says, and disentangles herself. She turns to head out, then turns back, comes up on her toes, and kisses me. "I'll see you tomorrow," she says, and leaves with Tazzy.

I sit down. She did that once before, the first year she was the District Twelve escort, and I laughed at her for being barely more than a kid with sappy fantasies. She ran out crying, and started applying for a transfer to a better district the next day. I have no idea why she's become my friend since. I wouldn't have.

Philo is looking at me curiously.

"Mind your business," I tell him.

He shrugs and complies.

At seven, Chaff finds himself in a fog and surrounded by harsh hissing noises. Claudius describes it as total sensory deprivation. It is obviously horrible for him, but not interesting to the audience, as they go back to my team, where Katniss is having a swim and Finnick is weaving a basket. Peeta is talking to Beetee about some invention he saw in District Three, and Johanna is throwing axes.

At eight, Brutus and Enobaria discover that the vines in their part of the forest are intertwined with mutt snakes, which wake up right on schedule. They have obviously figured out the clock -- or at least that the threats are moving in a circular direction -- because they run counter-clockwise into the wedge where Chaff is still trying to recover from the last hour's torture. He spots them before they spot him, and runs for the dragon's lair.

At nine, they show the day's dead. We've lost two thirds of the tributes, which Johanna notes with disgust.

The first shipment of District Three bread comes. They count the rolls. Twenty four. I'm guessing that the rescue craft is twenty-four hours out.

Whether they can survive twenty-four hours is another question altogether. After the wave passes at ten, they cut across to the ten o'clock wedge and make camp on the beach. Katniss and Peeta take the first watch together, and Peeta brings up the one thing I wish he wouldn't -- not because I think they shouldn't know, which I'm long past and wishing I'd told them everything down to the name of the rescue craft -- but because there are people in the Capitol who will realize I don't mean to keep either of the two promises he brings up -- the promise to let him die for her, or the promise to let her die for him. It looks like it's the first time it's occurred to Katniss that I might have lied to her.

Peeta tries to get her to agree to let him die by showing her that his district token is a locket. I have no idea what's in it, and none of the cameras get a shot of it. Whatever it is, Katniss doesn't like it, and decides to make him stop talking in an extremely forceful way. She just about pushes him down into the sand, kissing him, holding him... I look away from all of the screens. I wish I could turn away my ears as well, since I swear they've turned the volume up on their microphones to catch every slurp. I have no interest whatsoever in what will happen when she discovers he can't do much more than give an empty promise right now. Around me, several of the mentors and attendants, including one of my ostensible allies (Jack) are hooting and hollering and cheering Katniss on.

Thankfully, the clockwork of Plutarch's arena is still working and when the lightning breaks their concentration on each other, it also wakes Finnick. Embarrassed, he offers to take the watch for both of them so they can "get some rest" together -- yeah -- but Peeta refuses.

Peeta carries her off to the shelters and tells her she'll be a good mother, then comes out to sit with Finnick.

"Sorry to interrupt," Finnick says.

"It's okay," Peeta says. "Some things really aren't for the whole country to watch, anyway."

Finnick pulls his knees up and looks out across the water. "She really loves you."

Peeta gives him a guarded look. "She's my wife."

"When you hit that forcefield, I thought she was going to go crazy."

Peeta doesn't say anything, though I can see him turning over this idea in his head, this notion that Katniss loves him. He can't very well say anything about it with the cameras rolling and most of Panem not thinking that there's the slightest doubt about it. He changes the subject. "So, fishing..."

"Fishing?"

"Yeah. Do you fish on a boat, or just with nets from the beach, or..."

Finnick laughs. "Fishing. You want to talk fishing."

"I've never been fishing. I have no idea how it's done."

Finnick tries to answer, then starts laughing again.

"What?" Peeta asks.

"It's just... I just interrupted... and you want to know about fishing?"

Peeta catches the laugh. "Well, I don't actually need lessons in anything else right now."

They try to carry on a conversation about fishing, but Finnick manages to lace it with so many double-entendres involving spears that they're both cracking up on the sand, and most of us watching are laughing as well. Finally, they taper down to an occasional hiccup of laughter, and Peeta says, "Haymitch told me you're one of his other kids."

"He did?" Finnick asks. He looks pleased. I wonder where Peeta is going with this.

"Yeah. When he said you should be our ally. What's the story there?"

"What is it with you and stories?" Finnick asks.

Peeta shrugs. "I just like them. They tell you who a person is. I never heard you tell one on television."

This is true. Finnick played his games with his pretty face, not his compelling narrative, and he's been close-mouthed about his life since, for good reason.

"I'm not much of a storyteller," Finnick says.

"Okay," Peeta says. "I just wondered."

I figure this will be the end of it, but after about half a minute, Finnick says, "I was fifteen the first year I was a mentor."

"Didn't District Four have any older mentors?"

"Yeah. But the Gamemakers had a special request for me to be the mentor for the boy. I guess people wanted to see me again."

"Well, who could blame them?" Peeta asks.

"Who, indeed?" Finnick looks up at the moon, and for a minute, I'm afraid he's going to feel it necessary to follow Peeta's lead and tell his entire story. He shouldn't have to air that. He doesn't. Instead, he says, "My tribute was three years older than me. Really, they were older until Annie's year. Five years after my games, and it was the first time I had a tribute younger than me. Mags traded with me because she thought Annie'd listen to me more." He shakes his head. "Anyway, I didn't know anything about how to mentor. Haymitch was in the same boat when he started, so he kind of looked after me. Taught me how to work the sponsor boards and keep my paperwork in order and all of that stupid stuff. And when I lost my tribute, he... he helped me."

What I did was guard the door and keep off the cameras while he wept for an hour and a half in a broom closet, but of course, that's not the sort of thing you say in the arena.

Peeta seems to understand. "So you've just stuck around with him."

"Yeah. There've been a few other times I've needed help. He's always there. He's not always the most pleasant person to be around, but you can trust him. You know that, right?" He twists my bracelet around, and it catches the light of the strange moon. "You should trust him."

Peeta is quiet for a long time, then says, "I do."

They don't talk anymore.

I excuse myself to go find a speller, and try to get some sleep.
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Comments
sueatducksfoot From: sueatducksfoot Date: February 12th, 2013 05:43 am (UTC) (Link)
This makes me happy. I need to sleep now, but have it loaded to listen to in the morning. I'm loving this series, keep them coming. I really like this POV.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 12th, 2013 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)
Enjoy! I didn't expect to like Haymitch's point of view, but man, do I.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: February 13th, 2013 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really like the way you write him.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: February 12th, 2013 08:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Five years after my games, and it was the first time I had a tribute younger than me."

Okay, so I'm confused. Finnick won at 14. 5 years later, he's 19. Tributes age out of the Games at 18....so, confused.

Knowing what happens to Portia (and Effie), I'm even more concerned now. :(
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 12th, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
They'd been 18 every year -- it's a career district. Annie's 18, and he's 19.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: February 13th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah -- thanks!
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 13th, 2013 11:26 am (UTC) (Link)
?????
What happens to effie?i thought she survived?!
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: February 13th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
She ends up with a "blank look"--torture, probably.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: February 14th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC) (Link)
I love all of the Haymitch and Effie interactions and I also loved Finnick's story to Peeta in this chapter.
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