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HG: House of Cards, Chapter Six - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: House of Cards, Chapter Six
Caesar is sent to get more information out of Peeta. Peeta wants to know why Caesar doesn't support the districts, and Caesar tells him that he tried to support them -- until he was voted into the arena for the first Quarter Quell.



Chapter 6
"You're a victor," I say.

"Some victory, isn't it?" Caesar sighs. "I've managed to keep the Quell off the air since we got a second Quell victor, and -- well, let's say I don't look much like I used to."

"Why?" I ask. "Why would you... do this?"

"I couldn't go back to District Five." He stands up and goes to the parapet. "The girl they sent with me was blind, Peeta. Useless in the plants, and no one wanted her. She barely made it off her platform before someone killed her."

"Still..."

"They had our coffins ready at the train station. Kids from the Community Home who I thought were my friends taunted us on the way out. Two of the districts bet on their strongest kids -- District Two and District Four. District Eight decided to make its own Reaping ball and put everyone in with the same chance. Everyone else sent throwaways and people no one wanted. I remember standing there on my platform, looking around at them. We'd been training together. None of us was good for much. Two and Four were allies. It was pretty obvious that they meant to just mow us down.

"I decided to ally with my blind district partner, a boy from Seven who'd lost his hand in a lumber accident, a girl from Nine who was dying already, the kids from Eight, and the poor kids from Eleven and Twelve who'd been shoved up onto the stage by their neighbors."

"You were an ally of Twelve's?"

He nods. "I didn't realize it at the time, because I didn't know anything about District Twelve, but it was the only time in the history of the Games that both tributes were merchants."

"There aren't many of us. Weren't."

"Funny how those odds turn against you when they vote, isn't it?" He sits down on the parapet and looks out across the Capitol. "I got everyone together during training. I was always good at talking to people, persuading them. Not that it took that much to get a bunch of scared, angry kids to turn to each other. We figured Two and Four would pick us off one by one if we were out on our own."

He paints the picture with words. I've heard him prod tributes to do this, but I've never heard him do it himself. He falls into an almost musical cadence. I can see it all in my mind -- the sickly, angry, frightened kids gathered in the training center, in the cafeteria, looking across at the cruel gods at the Career table. Caesar -- Charlie Flynn -- sits among them. He doesn't describe himself, and I see him (certainly wrongly) as a smaller, skinny version of himself as he is now. He is fifteen years old, and he has an easy way about him, a casual leadership in groups that he doesn't even need to try for. Alone among them, he makes jokes. Many haven't laughed for a long time, and it comes out strange, even a little crazy. But it does come out. The Careers are suspicious of him.

The plan is insane. He realizes this now. But at the time, it made as much sense as anything else. ("We were kids, remember, and most of us bought that the people who were usually in the arena wanted to fight, and that the arena itself wasn't a weapon.") They would all leave in different directions from the Cornucopia and regroup at some landform. Caesar would chose it and point it out from the platforms. There, they will make a fortress. Let the people outside the alliance hunt each other. Their group would stay in the fortress, taking turns getting supplies. They would simply agree not to kill each other. There was no reason they couldn't just keep living in the arena. They wouldn't have to die or go back to their districts and the neighbors who had wished them dead. What could the Capitol do if they just refused to play?

Amazingly, it works at first. Caesar's blind district partner is the only one of the alliance lost at the Cornucopia, and that is only because her helper couldn't get to her before the boy from District Four did. It was bad luck -- she was sent up into the arena already surrounded. As for the others, Caesar spots a high rock, easy to point out, and holds up four fingers, to show it is at his four-o-clock. The other tributes telegraph the message around, and they regroup at the rock, and go about a search for water while the battle at the Cornucopia rages. They find a cold mountain stream, teeming with fish (not even mutts, which, he assures me, they would have been in later Games). There is even a defensible cave system.

The caves are the first mistake. Unlike the one Katniss found for us, these really are a system, and this time, it's the lair of a huge mutt. They lose two kids (the boy from Eleven and the girl from Nine) before Caesar and the girl from Twelve manage to set off a landslide to block it off.

"What was her name?"

"Who?"

"The girl from Twelve."

"Dorcas Bryce. Do you know the family?"

"The Bryces? We're cousins someplace. Everyone is. Two or three times over, usually."

He smiles. "Yeah, I guess they would be. I think Dorcas and the boy, Giddon Moore, were cousins."

I can't place any Moores. Maybe he was the last of the boys.

Caesar and his allies huddle in the cave for days while other tributes fight. They realize it's not going to be permanent when the stream abruptly dries up, leaving dead and rotting fish in the bed. They get hungry. He gets them to tell each other stories to take their minds off of it. The stories at first are depressingly similar tales from home -- all of them swear they will never go back to the Districts, no matter what -- but eventually, the girl from Eleven warms up to it and starts telling a tall tale about a mighty giant who beat the combines in a harvesting competition.

"It was the first time they paid any attention to us," Caesar says. "People liked the stories. Sponsors sent us food. And do you know, before I became what I am, when I was still Charlie Flynn, the thing people asked me most often was to finish a story that got cut off."

What cuts off the story is an attack by the remaining Careers -- the boys from Four and Two. They have already dispatched the other tributes, and they're done pretending to leave Caesar's group alone. They wait until night, when only one guard is outside the cave. ("We'd gotten complacent," Caesar says.) The guard was Giddon Moore. They kill him with a single arrow the throat, then set fire to the dry brush outside the cave. It fills with smoke, and the alliance awakens in a panic. None of them are fighters, though Caesar tries to rally them.

They run out meaning to put out the fire, and are met with deadly fire. Within minutes, Caesar's remaining alliance of six has been taken down to two -- Caesar himself and the boy from District Eight. They have managed to keep their heads, and they fight the smoke to take down the barrier to the rest of the cave system. Better to risk death with the mutt than deal with its certainty from the Careers. They fall down into the dark. Deep in the cave, the Gamemakers have put in some kind of eerie green lighting that flickers and makes it almost as hard to navigate as the dark did. The boy from Eight breaks his ankle. Caesar tries to help him, but when the mutt -- some kind of bear shaped thing -- finds them, there's no way to fight it and help his friend. The other boy pushes Caesar into a side cavern and screams, lurching into the mutt's path. Caesar can't move as he watches this.

Finally, the mutt leaves, and Caesar continues through the caves. He comes out on a high ledge about a quarter of a mile from his old camp. He can see it clearly, because the fire is still burning. He is thinking of nothing now except revenge. The Career boys are cavorting in front of the cave. They will eventually have to try and kill each other, but for the moment, they're celebrating.

There is a boulder at the top of the rock formation.

Caesar pushes it.

The Games end.

"I had a little smoke inhalation," he says. "I wasn't even hurt. Snow was still the head Gamemaker then. He came to see me in the hospital and told me I could take my pick of the houses in the District Five Victors' Village. I told him he'd kill me before he sent me back to District Five. He said accidents could always be arranged. I did the first few appearances, then told him that I'd let everyone know he'd threatened me if he didn't start moving me toward Capitol citizenship. We've had the same relationship since.

"I spent the next two years living here, supposedly in line for citizenship, mostly doing talk shows with Candria Light -- she was the host of the Games before me, and she was always good to me -- and a few others. But I was supposed to be an example of how someone from the Districts could make good in Panem. It didn't work if I wasn't in the Districts. We finally came up with a compromise. I'd change my name. Charlie Flynn would disappear. Caesar Flickerman would get his Capitol citizenship. No one would have an accident, and no one would start spreading nasty rumors about our new president. And by then, I'd made it my business to get a lot more rumors. Candria announced her retirement and said she was training a boy from the Capitol to take over for her. I'd had enough plastic surgeries and enhancements by then that no one made the connection."

I wait for him to continue, but he doesn't. I wonder how long it's been since he's talked about it. "Caesar," I say, "I get that it was bad in the districts. But you know what Snow does."

He turns and looks at me. "I also know what angry people in large groups do."

"What do you think we should do?"

"The last thing any party in this entire business wants to do: Take it slowly. I think we managed to kill the Games. If it were up to me, I'd re-introduce the District Council. Give everyone a hearing."

"You said that wouldn't work."

"It wouldn't, as long as Snow is power. But he's not immortal, no matter what he thinks. And if he dies, the bureaucracy will keep ticking away." He thinks about it. "There's not really a mechanism to replace him, you know. None of the schemers on the way up has his grip on the whole government. If he were gone, we could have an election. For myself, I'd nominate and campaign for Haymitch Abernathy, drunk or sober."

"Haymitch? Really?"

"He's smart. He's a rebel from an outer district who understands what's wrong, and I don't think he's one for purges. I've never gotten that from him."

"When he's not drunk, he lies. A lot."

Caesar raises his eyebrows and gives me a perfectly genuine grin. "Peeta, if I were you, that's not a stone I'd throw."

I smile back before I think about it. I don't think I've smiled for a long time. It feels strange. Numb and kind of stretched. It must look all right, though, since Caesar doesn't comment on it. "So that's why you help the tributes," I say. "I mean, that you were one of us."

"Yeah. That's why. But I believe in Panem. I believe we have what we need to make the changes we have to make. We don't need to start blowing things up. Except maybe Snow." He examines the skyline for a minute, then says, out of nowhere, "I'm going to get you out, Peeta."

"What?"

"I'm not sure how yet, but I'll find a way. I have a lot of friends in the Capitol. So do you. I stole your sponsor lists from the Gamemakers' files. You have more friends than you know."

"Don't get them into this. Snow will hurt them, too."

There's nothing else to say. Caesar dutifully prods me for any guesses I have about what Haymitch and Plutarch might be planning, so he can honestly say that he believes I have absolutely no idea.

The next day, I am returned to prison. Johanna is screaming as I pass her cell, and I see that the guards are in with her, and she is soaking wet. They have their rubber boots and electric prods.

The guards leading me smirk and push me ahead when I try to stop. Johanna continues to scream as I am locked into my cell.

My mother's hand has shifted in its vat of liquid. It looks like she's beckoning me, crooking her finger at me the way she did if I had done something wrong.

The videos start playing again. They have added Darius now, crying out as they demand to know more about the mockingjay project. The folder with Katniss's face on it is tacky with his blood, and the camera lingers on it lovingly. The folder catches in my nightmares. I find it in strange places in the fire, not burning. When I open it, there is a picture of Katniss in the rain (it's my painting of her). It is stamped "deceased." There is a lot of information after it, but I can't read it.

The days begin to blur into each other. There are the slow days, when nothing happens and I just watch the videos. There are the days when they come at Johanna with the prod, and she screams. I scream back at them to please stop. More than once, she knocks herself out before she can say anything. I hear the guards complaining about this and saying they have to secure her so she can't take this escape.

There are days Caesar comes. These are the best days, because he bullies the guards into cleaning our cells and makes sure we have something to eat.

There are the days Snow comes. These are the worst days. He brings things from Twelve. I haven't lied to him, so he has kept his word and not brought my niece's body again, but he brings things that prove he has been in my house, and Katniss's, and Haymitch's. Apparently, they left the Victors' Village intact. He has taken Haymitch's books from under the floorboard in the living room, and several pieces of jewelry from Katniss's collection. I doubt she'd notice them missing, since she almost never wears jewelry that she isn't forced to wear, and Snow says she hasn't been back yet, anyway. ("Believe me, we're watching for her. I've left her a gift.") From my house, he's brought my paintbrushes, but not my paints. It doesn't really matter what he brings. It's all about how thoroughly he has invaded my life. How he can do anything he pleases with me.

Next door, I sometimes hear them asking Johanna about the mockingjay project, sometimes about rebel plans. She is raving now. She says the rebels are planning a strike from space, and it will be led by mockingjays. She tells them that the rebels' secret weapon is part of Finnick Odair's private anatomy. She says that Haymitch can be in a hundred places at once, Plutarch can become invisible, and Katniss can fly. They have been shocking her so often that she may actually believe these things.

They don't ask me anything. They don't break any more of my ribs, or even threaten me with breaking them. I'm not sure what they're after. Some days, they come in with needles, and I get shots that are horribly painful. After them, I drift in a nightmare world. My cell is on fire. Snakes come out of Haymitch's books. I am inside the videos. Katniss becomes a bird-creature again, with sharp talons, and she is hunting me. I swell up around the shots, and I see the mounds of flesh in a dozen different ways. One explodes like the volcano in Haymitch's arena. Another collapses like a worn-out mine shaft. My artificial leg tries to grow and consume me.

As frightening as the images are, the worst part is the forgetting. I can see some creature trying to eat my leg. I can sleep in a bed of fire. I can even watch my body explode around me. But sometimes, I stand there inside the visions, and I have no idea why I'm there. I don't know who I am, or who I'm looking for. I have the folder in my hands and I know it's important to know the girl in the picture, but I can't find her name. I can't find my own. I don't know why I have burned body parts in the room with me. I am drifting, untethered to anything. As the shots wear off, I start to remember, but when the shots come close together, it takes longer. Sometimes, I haven't even completely come back.

The world becomes strange and fluid. Events come up like a chain of islands. Johanna screaming. Caesar bringing me stew. Snow talking to a guard outside, saying that he's glad things are going the way they are. "Best outcome I could imagine. The Districts will destroy each other before they get near us here." A medic in my cell with me because I got too much of whatever they gave me, and stopped breathing again. It isn't Valentine. I ask for Valentine. The guard laughs, and his teeth seem long and sharp, like needles.

Finally, they lay off whatever they're doing and a few days go by without any shots. My memories start to piece together more firmly. I know my name. I know Katniss's name. I know my family is dead. I ask Johanna how long we've been here.

"Why?"

"I just want to know."

"I don't know," she says. "Couple of weeks, maybe?"

Caesar comes in the next day and tells me that it's been closer to a month. I've lost a lot of days. I ask if he knows what they've been giving me.

He shakes his head. "I don't. Whatever it is, I don't like what it's doing to you. Your hands are shaking."

"They are?" I look down and see my hands. They don't look familiar to me. My fingers are too thin, and, like Caesar says, they are trembling. They've been doing it so long that I guess I haven't noticed.

"Katniss is up and about," Caesar says. "Surveillance spotted her in District Twelve, with an escort from Thirteen."

"How did she look?"

"Snow sent a tape. Would you like to see it?"

I nod.

Caesar keys in some commands, and the constant fire in District Twelve is replaced with a blanket of silent ash. A small, dark-haired girl walks through it. She looks shell-shocked. She raises a talon.

I shake my head. Katniss's hand is a hand again.

The viewpoint switches to a camera hidden in her house. She comes into the kitchen, which is dusty but undamaged. She sits down and mumbles something to herself. I see my own name on her lips. She says, "What am I going to do?"

She wanders her house for a little while, then her sister's cat appears out of nowhere, and she makes a project of catching him. I remember that she says she hates the cat. I think I have laughed at her about it, since she obviously is very fond of him.

The video ends.

I touch the screen.

"Snow has decided to air your interview tonight," Caesar says.

I frown. "My interview?"

"The one we did when you first came out of the arena."

I try to remember. There was something about a cease-fire. "Katniss will see it?" I ask.

He nods. "That's why Snow waited. He wants to remind her that he's got you here."

"Why?"

"To try and keep her from doing anything foolish."

"He doesn't know Katniss," I say. "Can I see her again?"

He obligingly plays the video again, and while I watch, he calls for Valentine to look me over. She seems very shocked to see me. I wonder what I look like. There's no mirror in my cell.

Snow himself visits me the next day, in Caesar's company. He inspects me like he's considering purchasing a half-burned cake. Finally, he grimaces. "All right," he says to Caesar. "You're right. This won't do." He calls the head of the guard and says, "See to it that the boy is fed regularly, and turn off the video feeds at night."

"Might I suggest giving Johanna a reprieve as well?" Caesar says. "She's his ally. When she's hurt, it has an impact on him. If he's going to be lucid in the studio, you need to let him get stronger."

"I'm going to the studio?" I ask.

"We're anticipating an action from Thirteen within the next few days," Snow says. "We may need you to speak again."

"I don't have anything to say."

"These people are using the love of your life," Snow says. "You have nothing to say about that?"

I don't. Katniss looks sad and confused, but she's in one piece. She's safe. They're taking care of her.

I know I'll have to think of something, because if I don't, they'll start working down their lists of people to torture and kill, but my mind is blank. I am allowed to see my interview that night. I sound scripted. I remember that I meant to, but I don't remember why.

A regular television feed is wired into my cell, and it gives me a reprieve from the videos, but I'm suspicious of it after a day. I watched a lot of Capitol television with Katniss, and I don’t remember it being so... directed. There are baking shows and painting shows, wrestling tournaments, movies made from books I've liked -- in fact, it's everything the Capitol has a reason to believe I'll be interested in, with the exception of the news reports that air on a regular basis. Some of these are fluff, but others report on rebel activity. Frightened Capitol citizens talk about what they'll do in case of emergencies. Images are shown of rebels captured in Eight. I don't know them, but I'm fairly sure the images are tampered with, since they look universally threatening.

Two days after my interview airs, someone in District Eight sets fire to the mayor's house. Snow declares it any attack on Capitol interests to be an attack on the Capitol. The next morning, he sends in bombers. It's aired live, and analyzed on the afternoon shows. District Eight is bigger than District Twelve, but it's all horribly familiar. Buildings falling in, people running and screaming. People trapped. I look over at my mother's hand.

In the evening, there are problems with the feed, flickers in the picture, moments of dead air. The commentators apologize for the technical problems, but they look and sound spooked.

"What's going on?" Johanna asks through the vent. "I've been listening."

"I don't know."

"I'm more than happy to discuss it with you."

I look up. Snow is standing at my cell door, looking furious.

"What is it?"

"Your friends in Thirteen have been busy," he says, and touches a button beside the door. "This has been airing in the districts for two hours. We haven't been able to block it."

The visual on my screen changes, flickers. The bombers disappear. The commentators disappear.

Staring out from my screen, covered in feathers, ash, and blood, is Katniss Everdeen.
8 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2013 02:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is awesome. I find the idea of Ceasar being a victor plausible and very interesting. I think there's a mistake though. In the paragraph that starts: then there are the days Snow visits... It says he brings things from eleven. Shouldn't that be twelve though? Anyway looking forward to reading more!
Robin
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2013 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oops! Yes, it should. I'll fix that. Thanks!
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2013 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

The More...

You tell us about District 8, the more I like them. Creating their own Reaping Balls? It's not like deep seated goodness and decency doesn't exist in any of the other Districts, but not on the broad societal level that there seems to be in District 8. How do you account for it?

Also, I wonder what Haymitch's reaction would be to being nominated for president. I would love to see that. And Ceasar's certainly right about Haymich not being about purges. Will Peeta remember enough of these conversations with Ceasar to tell him someday? I'll have to try to remember this for your next one-shots call.

Sara Libby
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 7th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The More...

Yes, I was thinking the same thing about District Eight -- in a way, it took some serious stones to do what they did.

I really like this development; it would never have occurred to me in a million years, but the way you present it, it makes a lot of sense. If there's any victor who would turn his back on his district for the Capitol, it would be the one whose district threw him into the Games deliberately, wouldn't it? And I get the sense that Snow in his younger days was more astute about that sort of thing and realized that in Caesar/Charlie he had a valuable commodity which had to be handled at least somewhat carefully.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2013 08:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The More...

By the time we get to the canon, I think Snow is really bloated with power. He makes a lot of dumb mistakes that more or less guarantee the rebellion (Dear Snow, check the evil overload list), though he's powerful enough to cover for them for a little while. Even he acknowledges that Coin played him, mostly by using his obsession with the fact that Katniss dared to defy him. If he'd shrugged it off and let it go, he would have been looking in the right direction.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 8th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The More...

Yes, there's no way he could have been like that for his whole career, because if he had, that career would have been a lot shorter.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2013 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The More...

Ultimately, I think it's that it's an urban area where no one can get away from anyone because they live in such tight quarters. How could you look someone in the eye in the tenement lobby if you voted for her kid to go die?

I think Haymitch would be flabbergasted.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: March 8th, 2013 03:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Loved Caesar's background story, since we know absolutely so little about him. I liked this chapter and can't wait for more.
8 comments or Leave a comment