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HG: House of Cards, Chapter Two - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: House of Cards, Chapter Two
Yeah, this one may be a little harder.

I left Peeta building card houses from decks that Caesar Flickerman gave him, trying to take his attention off the never-ending looped footage from the bombing of Twelve.



Chapter 2
I don't know how long I've been building card houses when Caesar arrives with breakfast. I know it's been a few hours, at least. I've managed to go up to a third level, but I always seem to knock it down.

"I see you've been busy," Caesar says.

I nod. "Thanks. It's... it's helpful."

"I know." He smiles and takes some of the scrambled eggs from a large dish, then offers me the rest. "I've been doing them for years. Sometimes, you just need to think about something else."

"Yeah." I take some food and sigh. "My family is still dead, though. And Katniss is gone. Have they heard anything? Do they know if she's okay? Or are you not supposed to tell me?"

"I don't have access to everything, but I've been authorized to tell you that she was injured in the escape. She's in medical care."

"But she'll be okay?"

"Our sources there seem to think so." He frowns, waiting for something, then says, "I'm afraid a shock like that... she might have lost the baby."

This cuts through the little cocoon I've been building around myself since I got the cards. I almost forgot about that story I told. It seems so stupid now. Such a ridiculous chance to take. I figured she'd claim a miscarriage after I was dead and go on. But now... now, if they find out, then people will hate her.

"I imagine it didn't even seem real yet," Caesar prods.

I've seen him use this technique with Katniss. He used it in our interview last year when she was supposed to tell him when she fell in love with me. I thought it was because she was nervous at the time. Now, I understand. Caesar does this to help tributes keep their stories straight when he knows we've told a lie. I nod. "Yeah. It was all very new. If you find out, can you let me know?"

"Oh, you'll be the first to know," another voice says. I look up. President Snow is standing near the elevator, smiling unpleasantly. He comes in and sits down for breakfast without any invitation. "Believe me, the story will be that she miscarried, no matter what intelligence we get. The last thing I want is for people to start thinking you're a liar. Unless, of course, we say that she lied to you. That she was never pregnant, but just let you believe it so you'd give up your life in the arena."

"No," I say. "Don't do that."

Snow pauses. "And why shouldn't I?"

I think quickly. I want him to keep from smearing Katniss's name because I don't want her name smeared, not to mention because I don't want it to be politically possible for him to execute her if the rebellion fails, but he won't care about that. I have to convince him that it's in his own interest. "If you try that right away," I tell him, "they won't believe you. Definitely not in the districts, and probably not even in the Capitol. They'll think you're playing politics and trying to get revenge on her for breaking your arena."

"Will they."

"He's right, Coriolanus," Caesar says. "Peeta knows how to spin a narrative better than anyone in your government. Including Plutarch, I should point out, since it's Plutarch we're working against."

"Plutarch?" I ask. "Plutarch Heavensbee? The head Gamemaker?"

Snow gives a dismissive snort. "I see you really weren't involved. Yes, Plutarch Heavensbee. It seems he arranged the whole business with your mentor. Obviously, I am not sharing that with the public. I had not intended to share it with you." He narrows his eyes at Caesar. "Nevertheless, Caesar is quite right that you have a certain instinct for playing an audience. I assume he discussed your upcoming appearances with you?"

"He mentioned what you want from me."

Snow looks up from a pastry he is buttering. "You are mistaking your position, Mr. Mellark."

"You think I don't know that you can torture me and put me in a cell and eventually kill me if I don't go along? Maybe I don't care all that much."

"Do I need to remind you that you are not the only person I have access to?" He presses a button on the table, the sort of thing that usually orders food, and the elevator door opens again. Two Peacekeepers come in with our Avoxes -- the pretty girl who Katniss saw trying to escape, and Darius, from home. One of the Peacekeepers strikes the girl. Darius makes a move to stop him (he is a trained Peacekeeper himself), and gets a gun butt in the face for his troubles.

"Darius and Lavinia here are just two of a long list of people who are depending on you to do well," Snow says. "If they aren't important enough to you, I also have your prep team, your stylist, your escort, Annie Cresta, and Johanna Mason to go through before I get to killing you. Are you quite clear about this?"

I look at Darius, who is moaning on the floor, and at the never ending video loop of the destruction of District Twelve. If Snow will destroy an entire district to punish Katniss, I can't imagine that he'd scruple at killing nine people just to control me. I nod.

Snow gestures to the Peacekeepers. "Very well, then. Take them back downstairs." He waits until they are gone, then says, "If you believe that it would be disadvantageous to denounce Miss Everdeen -- and let's not pretend she's Mrs. Mellark here -- then what would you do? Keeping in mind, of course, that the goal is to stop the war she intends to start."

"She doesn't intend to start a war."

"Someone does."

"Someone around her," I say, then sigh, thinking again of the game my brothers and I played. "It's a jabberjay drill."

"A what?"

"You have to start with the truth that everyone knows. That I love her. And I'm not going to start accusing her of anything like that. That's true."

"And then?"

My head hurts. I want my brain to go blank, but it doesn't. It comes up with a story as easily as it ever did. "Then we talk about how she's been captured. How we were lied to."

"By Haymitch Abernathy?" Snow suggests.

"More likely Plutarch," Caesar says. "Haymitch is likely as much a pawn as the girl."

"Abernathy has been involved in the inner circles of the rebellion for years," Snow says. "I somehow doubt he was taken by surprise. I know he met with Heavensbee in District Twelve shortly after the Quell was announced."

"Is Haymitch in Thirteen, too?" I ask.

"Yes. Or he will be, soon. My sources report that the rescue craft is taking something of a roundabout route. He and several others murdered their way out of the viewing center. He lost his companions on the way, I'm afraid, but he was last seen flying away in the arena. Leaving you behind."

I remember lying on the beach, looking up at the burning sky. A craft came toward me before the Capitol ship knocked it aside. Haymitch. But if he's already been accused, I don't think I can save him and Katniss at the same time, and he's safe in Thirteen. "Fine," I say. "Haymitch betrayed us." To some extent, this is true, though I'm guessing his thought was to save both of us from the arena, and it just didn't work. "Haymitch betrayed us to the Rebellion, and now they have Katniss, and I don't know if she's even safe with them. She doesn't know who they are."

"That's very good," Snow says. "And when she starts speaking, it will seem natural to wonder who's directing her."

"That's another thing," I say. "In the districts, they'll know you're directing me."

"Unless you let him tell the truth about the Games," Caesar says abruptly. He stands up and starts pacing. "That's it. That's the only way. If they can see he's telling one truth you won't like, then they may be more inclined to believe him."

"And what truth is that, Caesar?"

"The truth that no one who hasn't been in an arena knows," Caesar says. "The truth about what it does to you. Can you talk about that, Peeta?"

"Absolutely not," Snow says. "That is off the table."

"Caesar's right," I say. " If I say something that doesn't look like you wrote it, then maybe they'll believe the rest."

Snow turns and glares at Caesar. "I know what you're doing," he says. "You've skirted this line since you started hosting. Be careful where you step. Peeta's aren't the only people I can reach."

"I'm well aware of that, Coriolanus."

They stare at each other for a long time, and I try to understand the rules between them. It feels important that I do. Caesar hates Snow. That much is clear. Snow seems... annoyed? Frustrated? I can't get a read on him. He doesn't seem to take Caesar's hatred seriously, though.

Snow looks away, his nostrils flaring with disdain, and says, "This is what you will accomplish in your interview. First, you will establish that Katniss Everdeen has been abducted by a hostile force. Then, you will call for a ceasefire."

"A ceasefire? Who's firing?"

Snow hits another button on the table. The burning of District Twelve disappears, and on a single large screen, he shows footage of District Four. I recognize the beach near the Victor's Village. It's strewn with bodies. Heavy fire is coming from ships in the harbor, and Peacekeepers are being mown down. The video switches to District Eleven -- I assume, anyway, since we seem to be in a vast field -- where people with hoes and pitchforks are overrunning soldiers with guns. There are piles of corpses on both sides.

"Need I go on?" Snow asks.

I shake my head. "How many districts?"

"Four in active rebellion. At the moment, we've subdued Three and Eight."

He leaves the video from Eleven running. A pick-up truck loaded with household supplies is attacked, its tires burst with pitchforks. The fleeing family inside of it is dragged out and beaten. Then the Peacekeepers open fire on all of them.

"War is a terrible thing," Snow says.

"And if they put their arms down, you'll roll over them completely."

"There's a price for rebellion. It's less than the price of war."

"If you make the price too high, they'll just do it again," I try.

Snow frowns. "Do you know what human beings are, Mr. Mellark?" I don't answer, and he doesn't wait for it. He pushes another button, and this time, I see myself grabbing Brutus, slitting his throat. Over and over. "Human beings are murderers. It's never very deep down, even in people who think they're better, wouldn't you say?"

On screen, I start screaming. I look down.

"We've already nearly wiped ourselves out several times over. Human beings need to be controlled. And if they can't be controlled, they need to be put down. And I assure you, even our friends in Thirteen know that." With that, he stands up. "Caesar, make sure he's prepared. And stay away from specific dates. I don't know when we'll be airing this. Certainly not until Miss Everdeen is more properly aware of her surroundings."

He leaves.

Caesar sighs, and turns on a noisy coffee maker. I doubt this will hide a lot, but maybe we can cover a little bit. "Are you ready for this, Peeta?"

"Guess I have to be. Can you do anything about... the other people?"

"I talked him out of killing Johanna before I came over here last night. I'm not sure she'll thank me for it."

"And my preps? Portia? Effie?"

"I've requested your regular preps to be assigned to you for the future, but today, there'll be a different crew. I have people looking after Effie. She's in jail, but she's safe at the moment. I’m making a fuss about interviewing her. I'll put that off as long as I can, but with it pending, they won't hurt her. Portia is being questioned about Cinna."

"Where's Cinna? Is he with the others in Thirteen?"

Caesar shakes his head. "Katniss didn't tell you in the arena? They beat him. Just before she was sent up. He died in questioning on the way back to the Capitol."

I cover my eyes. "She couldn't very well have told me, could she? Not with the cameras running. They hurt him in front of her?"

"Yeah."

"Why do you work for these people?"

"I just fell into it. It's hard to fall out." He turns off the coffee maker. "I know the last thing you want to do is go through prep right now. But you look like hell."

"How are we doing the interview? Are they giving me a script, like on the Victory Tour?"

"No. You come up with better scripts in your head than Snow's people come up with after a year's work."

"Generally, I'm aiming at something I actually want to hit."

Caesar looks at his shoes for a long time, then says, "Peeta, Snow is a bastard. I know it as well as you do. He knows it himself. But he's not wrong, not about how much a war will cost. Before the Dark Days, we managed to get our population back up to about five million. After the war, we were back to fewer than two million. And that's not even getting into the Catastrophes. Do you know there were once almost twelve billion human beings on Earth? They worried about overpopulation."

I've heard the number before, but it's inconceivable to me. Cities the size of the Capitol, or even bigger, all over the planet. "Where are we now?"

"Last census? About four million in Panem. We rebounded quickly. More than a third of us are in the Capitol. I don't know how many they have in Thirteen."

I imagine Thirteen and guess it to be about the size of the Capitol. Maybe add a million and a half to the four million.

And subtract about eighty-five hundred from District Twelve, and however many I saw die in the uprisings, and the ones who died in the arena, and whoever died when Haymitch and the others escaped the Viewing Center.

It wouldn't take all that long to go through five and a half million people.

"Snow could stop this better than I could," I say. "Give amnesty to all the rebels. Give rights to the districts. Stop the Games. Let people get the food they need. Work at what they want to work at."

"That might have worked once," Caesar tells me. "Before the Games started. After the Dark Days, if the Capitol hadn't cracked down. But tell me, Peeta -- do you really think it will work now? Do you really think that after seventy five years, people will just give up on revenge if we give them the vote? Reinstate the District Congress?"

"I don't know. Maybe."

"It won't." Caesar sighs. "I wish it would. But revenge gets worse the longer people wait for it. Whenever you keep something under pressure, it explodes when the lid comes off."

I want to disagree. I want to believe that if we just throw off Snow and the Capitol, everything will be fine.

I don't actually believe it. During the Dark Days, my great-great-grandfather's bakery was smashed to bits in the riots... and he was actually a rebel. The Irish merchants were seen as colluders. So businesses were broken down, and three people died at the hands of rebels. Four more died at the hands of the Peacekeepers. Dad said it took almost fifty years for us to get back to even the strained relationship we did manage.

I nod.

Caesar stands up. "You better get dressed. Your preps will be up in about half an hour."

"Then shouldn't I get undressed?"

"You really don't have far to go." Caesar gives my shoulder an affectionate squeeze, then leaves.

I clear away breakfast and go back to building card houses. I have no idea how much of the world is a card house, how much will break if we pull one support out. I don't believe that people need to live under Snow's boot (or anyone else's), but, in case I forget that I'm not the best judge of character, the video of my killing of Brutus is playing over and over now. I almost wish they'd go back to Twelve. I don't need to see this. I still have a cramp in my hand from holding the knife hard enough to cut his throat. It's more difficult than it looks. People tend to resist dying much harder than they resist killing.

I try to think. I don't want to get people angry at the rebels. That's one thing. I'm sure Snow wants it, but I don't. I also try to figure out why Caesar is so adamant that I talk about the arena. I know he was trying to undermine the Games during the Quell, but what's the point now? There are no Games happening. The Quell was broken. I believe that Caesar is on my side, but what is he trying to give me?

"Peeta!"

I look up. The video has changed again. It's showing Katniss now, crawling toward Beetee. Her head and her arm are bleeding. I can hear myself calling her in the distance, and she looks wild-eyed and scared. She's trying to draw the attention from me. Trying to call the other tributes in her direction. Finnick and Enobaria come into frame, fighting, and she raises her arrow at Enobaria. Then she abruptly lowers it, wraps the arrow in wire, and takes aim at the sky, in the shot I've seen a hundred times now. She blows out the forcefield and is thrown aside by the lightning. Finnick is also thrown, but he seems much more mobile after it. He didn't take a direct hit.

Katniss looks dead. Caesar and Snow both say she isn't. They could both be lying, but I can't see a good reason for it. They have plenty of other people to hold over my head, and Snow certainly seems concerned about how she might rally the rebels.

I stare at her, being lifted out of the arena, shocked and broken.

And I understand what Caesar has given me.

It's not just a chance to make her seem innocent. It's a chance to make her sympathetic again. The audience will have been seeing this all day. They'll want to know what she was doing, and why she did it. I can give them an answer that will make them love her again, or at least pity her.

She'll hate it.

But she'll be alive to do it.

The new prep team comes up at noon. There is a timid woman with her hair in the new "natural" style, this one more like Prim's than Katniss's, and a young man who has a suspiciously familiar spill of bleached blond curls.

I don't know what my face must be registering. I've seen girls done up like Katniss, but never anyone done up like me. Whatever my face says, the man grins shamefacedly and says, "Well, at least you know I can get it right. I'm Aurelian. I'm new."

The woman turns out not to be new. Her name is Phillida and she's a stylist who's worked for District Two. She takes a quick inventory of the injuries on my skin and proceeds to put me through a thorough disinfecting. Ointment goes onto the scratches on my legs, and she starts moisturizing my skin, tutting about the awful drying out from the chemical burns I took. Aurelian helps her with this part, though, unlike most stylists I've ever seen, he seems a little embarrassed about some of it. He bandages a cut on my back that I didn't even know was there, and tells me that I got it when they pulled me into the hovercraft. "I was watching," he explains. "I saw it happen."

"We were all watching," Phillida says, but doesn't elaborate. I realize she might have been Brutus's stylist.

"I'll get his hair started," Aurelian says. "If you want to start the moisture bath."

Phillida sniffs and heads off to the bathroom.

I go into the kitchen with Aurelian, and he hooks up a hair sink to the plumbing. When the water turns on, he starts scrubbing, then drops a small bottle of something into the sink. He leans over and, when he's right beside my ear, says, "Effie Trinket wants to know if you're all right. I have a friend working at the jail keeping an eye on her."

"She okay?" I whisper, trying not to move my mouth.

"Yeah. They took her wig and she's in a prison uniform, but she's okay."

"Portia?"

"In jail, too. But okay." He stands up and starts washing my hair.

I have to wait until the dryer comes out before I manage to say, "Tell Effie I'm okay so far. And to watch her back."

"Mm-hmm."

"Who are you?"

"Just a fan. There are a lot of us."

"For Katniss, too?"

"People are confused. I'm doing my best. My friends, too."

"Keep safe."

Aurelian nods and turns off the dryer. There's no further opportunity to find out more, since applying styling products to my hair doesn't make any noise. He may be new, but he obviously knows what he's doing, at least with my hair. Which makes sense, since he obviously does the same thing to his every morning.

After my hair is done, Phillida submerges my body in moisturizers while she works more of them into my face. The fact that I haven't slept much doesn't go unnoticed, and she spends at least four hours -- it seems that way, anyway -- covering up dark circles under my eyes. Finally Aurelian brings me a suit and helps me into it, as I'm a little stiff for moving around. It must have been recently altered, since it fits me after the arena.

I put my hands in the pockets, hearing Portia berating me for it in my head, and am not entirely surprised to feel a piece of paper there. I don't take it out here, where I'm undoubtedly on camera. I wait until I am in Caesar's studio, and they're running the camera checks. I can see that I'm not on any of the screens. I pull the slip out as quietly as I can. It's brief and to the point, written in pencil.

Peeta, remember what Haymitch said: Stay alive. I will be trying to do the same. Love you, honey. Portia.

I shove it back into my pocket. I'll have to eat it or something later; she'll get in trouble for sneaking me a message even than innocuous. I try to find a message in it, but, like Caesar's card houses, it seems to be just what it is -- something to try and help me. It doesn't. All I can think of now is Portia, in jail. Forced to stitch something up for me when she knows I'm going to be going on the air and betraying a cause that Cinna, at least, died for.

It occurs to me briefly that Snow's people planted it, to make me think about Portia. I can't think of any rational reason not to believe that. But I don't. I don't think she ever called me "honey" where cameras picked it up.

Caesar comes around from the stage door, polished and prepped, and claps a hand on my shoulder. "Are you ready?" he asks.

I nod.

We go to his stage, and the charade begins.
12 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
rosaxx50 From: rosaxx50 Date: February 26th, 2013 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Aurelian!

Now I am deathly curious about Caesar and Snow's connection. Why does Snow tolerate him? Hmm.

And I'm enjoying how you paint Peeta's thought processes, too.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 26th, 2013 05:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I'm looking forward to getting to Caesar's back story.
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 26th, 2013 03:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I think this is going to be hard to read as it goes on, I just feel so bad for Peeta and Ceasar and Effie and so forth and so on. I really ought to do a reread of Mockingjay since I haven't read it in a while so I can be prepared for how dark this book actually was. This is wonderfully written though, of course, especially Snow and Peeta's inner thoughts, he's not too sappy and sweet, you make him very smart and believable. Can't wait for more!
Robin
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 26th, 2013 05:40 am (UTC) (Link)
It really was a dark book. I liked it a lot.

And I definitely want to stay away from over-sweet Peeta. He's a genuinely sweet guy, but he's also about three steps ahead of everyone else, intelligence wise, and that doesn't function all that well with fluffy-bunny thoughts.

Edited at 2013-02-26 05:41 am (UTC)
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: February 26th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC) (Link)
It is gruesome, what they do to Peeta. And so like Snow to start the torture from the first moment possible. This is great so far. Your Peeta is like your Haymitch - incredibly well-conceived, with a good hint at the inner well. Love it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 26th, 2013 05:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm glad you like it. I hate what they do to Peeta. Grrrrr, Snow.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: February 26th, 2013 12:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh. I like (if that's the right word) what you've got so far - it's suitably chilling - and I'm really intrigued by the Caesar/ snow dynamic.

I can see it would be trickier to write than the previous HG story, but I can't wait to see where you go from here - though it's going to get pretty dark...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 27th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, no fluffy bunnies in sight.

I'm still working on why exactly Snow puts up with everything, but there's one major thing playing into it...
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: February 27th, 2013 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Loved this story, where there's absolutely so little to go on, but you're just constantly fleshing out the characters you've developed. Can't wait to see what else will happen to Effie, Portia, and Caesar.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 27th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm looking forward to writing it, in the sickest way.
aerrin From: aerrin Date: February 28th, 2013 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Caesar does this to help tributes keep their stories straight when he knows we've told a lie.

Really, really like this interpretation of Caesar. I'm so glad you've made him central to this story so far!
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 28th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Snow is clearly one of History's Greatest Monsters. Nevertheless, I wonder to what extent he truly believes that the Hunger Games are keeping the human race from finally destroying itself. Perhaps that is why Snow tolerates Caesar:
1) The Games must continue if humans are to survive.
2) The only type of person who can make the Games memorable in the eyes of the Capitol (thus guaranteeing their popular support at home) must be (a) highly charismatic, and (b) care for the victims enough to make them sympathetic to their audience (i.e., Caesar Flickerman)
3) Someone who cares enough about the children would necessarily hate the Games and President Snow for making it happen
4) Thus, to ensure the continuation of the Games, Snow must tolerate and give relatively free reign to someone who continually flirts with the edge of Treason

My apologies for the overly logical analysis. Then again, until his colossal mistake to personally torment Katniss and throw the Victors back into the arena, Snow was probably the most logical person in the room.
12 comments or Leave a comment