No one knows what to do.
Generally, after the interviews, it's late. Haymitch and I take the tributes back to the apartment, and we watch the interview recaps, more to fill their hours than to accomplish anything. By the time the recaps are over, it's reasonable to send them to bed. Haymitch is probably right that they don't sleep, but at least it's some time in private to think.
This year, it's five o'clock, and they're gone. There's a special on television about their journey, which is on luxury hovercrafts. They'll get gourmet meals, just as though they were here. They will have comfortable sleeping berths. There are two districts per craft -- Butterfly and River will be traveling with District Eleven. Captains are able to check in for a little while, but until they get landside, where there's a cabled connection for the Games, they won't be able to broadcast.
"Once," Claudius tells us, "signals were able to bounce around the curve of the earth by hitting satellites high in the sky. Now, we must rely on cables, but this arena has been in the works for years. We still have the technology to bring you the Games live. It's actually old technology, used in early Games…"
Here, he goes into a history of the Games when they were played in the empty world outside Panem, before they perfected created biomes. The first Games were played in a vast jungle in South America, and they realized the trouble they would have in broadcasting. That year, there were only highlights, delivered from the site in high speed hover crafts to a Capitol station. The next two years, they stuck close to home, using a rugged seashore northeast of District Twelve, and a hard-packed desert to the west of District Three. During those years, they re-laid cables beneath the oceans and built towers across islands, making it possible to re-visit faraway sites with wild visuals. They went to a desert in Africa with strange, shifting sands and fragile glass sculptures that were created by bombings during the Catastrophes. They visited a volcanic island surrounded by an impossibly blue sea. In Mags's year, they found a high, cold plateau, overrun by wild horses. (In the Viewing Center, I am watching with Mags, who gripes that it was another desert, for all their talk about variety; everyone was chasing down water.)
"Where will we find ourselves this year, as the Games return to their far-flung roots? Only the Gamemakers know for now!"
Haymitch rolls his eyes. "I wonder who talked them into this."
"I wonder if someone really is planning to start another district," Jack says. "Somewhere across the sea. District Fourteen: Tourism."
"Who'd go?" I ask.
Finnick raises his hand. "Sign me up. I'll host tours once a year, put out my best face, then spend the rest of the time keeping the rosebushes trimmed, and fishing for food."
"What about your mother?" Mags asks.
"Well, that would be the deal for doing the tours. Mom comes with me. With an exoneration. And you, of course. That's all I need." He thinks about it. "Maybe Haymitch. You want to come? It'll be the victors' district. We'll all host tours."
"Nobody wants to see me on vacation."
The mentors continue in this vein for a while. I suppose to the outside, it would look callous to joke and laugh at the moment, but I know them. It's nervous prattle, something to fill the hours, just like the specials they're airing on television -- the old Games from far away, tours of the luxury hover crafts, even a history program about the Catastrophes. Something has to fill the time.
Meanwhile, the stylists have gone with their tributes to prepare them at the arena, but the prep teams are milling around nervously. I see Venia, our girl's hairdresser, and talk to her for a while, mainly complimenting her on how well she handled Butterfly's hair. I notice a young man with the District Ten contingent. He looks familiar, but it's almost ten o'clock at night before I realize where I've seen him. He was once the young boy who swept up Philippa's studios so he could study design with her.
I go over to him. "You're not with Philippa's prep team?"
"She didn't have an opening after I finished design school. She got me in with Ten, though." He smiles. "I don’t think she ever introduced us. I'm Cinna Barrett."
"Effie Trinket. What… are you apprenticed to Urban?"
"No. I'm just making ends meet. I'm showing my first collection under my own label this spring, but for now I'm the District Ten skin guy. This is my third year, but… you know. They don't like to show the prep teams. Everyone's just magically done up."
"You have a design degree, and he doesn’t even have you sewing?"
"Not that he knows about." Cinna grins, then shrugs. "He always wants to send them out in these awful clothes that don't move at all. I re-do them whenever I can get my hands on them. He never notices."
"Why do you do it?"
He thinks about it. "My first year on prep, I was friends with my tribute. He was a nice guy. He couldn't move in the suit Urban had him in, so I snuck in and fixed it. I just figure, why make them uncomfortable on top of everything else, when they don't have to be?"
"Careful -- Haymitch will want you in Twelve if you start talking like that."
Cinna looks over at the table where Haymitch and the others are now arguing about where the next district should be. Haymitch has apparently sent a runner for a few atlases, and is going back and forth between them. "Terrifying," he says.
"You have no idea."
"Actually, I do," he says. "I've talked to Plutarch Heavensbee a little bit -- the Gamemaker?"
"I know him."
Cinna narrows his eyes at me and evaluates me, then shrugs. "He likes Haymitch Abernathy a lot. Says he's an interesting guy. Just for future reference, I wouldn't mind working for District Twelve, if anyone were to ever, say, retire."
"I don't think Twelve has ever been anyone's first choice before."
"It probably doesn't matter. If I don't get a smash collection pretty soon, they won't hire me as a Games stylist anyway. That's why Plutarch hasn't introduced me."
"Can I see your sketches?"
He brightens at this prospect, and runs off to get them. The fashions he shows me when he gets back are both strange and simple. I would feel naked in a lot of them even though I've worn things that show more skin. These just seem to skim the body, like air that's somehow turned to fabric around a woman's body, or water poured over it.
He's pleased with this description. He calls the collection "Elementals." He says that he's been working with a young girl from District Three who got a scholarship for her amazing fabrics. "I was on the judging committee for the scholarship contest," he says. "Don't tell the fashion institute, but I really pushed for her just because I want to poach her as soon as she graduates."
His drawings are quite lovely, even if I don't know what to make of the clothes. They seem alive on the pages. Maybe he can find a niche market. Nothing looks spectacular enough for the Games, but I don't tell him so.
We run out of conversation around midnight, when the Gamemakers start to air recaps of everything that's come so far in these Games. They ignore Butterfly studiously, and mock Johanna's tears.
We get word that the tributes will arrive at the arena at the usual time tomorrow morning, and everyone drifts up to the apartments. I go home.
Sleeping doesn't seem to be on the table. I don't know why it makes such a difference that River and Butterfly are on a hover craft instead of in their rooms. I wouldn't have seen them after this anyway. But I keep thinking of poor River, trying in his muddled way to figure out how he's going to sleep in the middle of the sky. I hope Butterfly's alliance isn't excluding him. Maybe he can bring Johanna to them, and all five of them can work together.
At any rate, I toss and turn in the dark for half an hour before giving it up as a bad job. The increasingly desperate filler programming doesn't help. I can't think of anything else to do, so I finally pull out the book Erastus wrote, Shattering Janus. I stare at the cover, at the two rocks that seem to be glaring warily at each other, at the other one that's hurtling toward them.
I start to read. Most of it, I can't make heads or tails of. The rocks are apparently supposed to be planets. There's a lot of technical language that I don't catch, but the gist of the plot seems to be that the two planets, which are "tidally locked" and spinning around a sun, are in a state of constant war, but now are threatened by an "asteroid," which is going to severely damage one of them, and possibly knock both of them out of their constant orbit. It's apparently a major catastrophe.
The hero is from the poor planet that's about to be hit, and he's reluctantly working with a woman from the rich planet. That part is the same as any romance novel I've read, except with more macho posturing, and a lot more philosophical conversation about symbiosis than I'd expect to find. The love scenes, when they appear, are short and mechanical, and the point of them seems to be to make the heroine stop arguing with the hero's plan for solving the asteroid problem. Since I don't understand the plan -- or the problem, really -- I have no idea whether or not she should argue with it. I assume she probably should. Haymitch says it's better to figure out where you can poke holes in a plan before you try implementing it (if you really have to go with a plan, anyway; he generally doesn't approve of them in survival situations). The book doesn't seem to subscribe to that philosophy. I fall asleep before they actually do anything.
I dream about two worlds, revolving around each other in an angry dance, both waiting for inevitable destruction. In my dream, the hero looks like Haymitch, and he keeps declaring, "There has to be a way!" Only every time he tries something, one of the tributes we've lost appears, and he starts drinking. I try to comfort him, but I seem to be mechanical, and he says I should feel bad, anyway.
I wake up in the morning feeling like I never went to sleep, and spend the escorts' meeting drinking strong coffee. The only new piece of information is that, due to the arena's distance this year, we will only be able to get materials listed in the gift book. If it's not in the book, it's not possible.
Haymitch doesn't seem too disturbed by the news. He's been going through the list, and he says it's reasonably inclusive. He expects it may be a bit cooler than here but nothing too cold. Water bottles are available, but may not be necessary, given the rain protection that's available. There are a handful of weapons, so tributes won't have to depend on the Cornucopia if they have sponsors. If it turns out he's right about the water (and if she doesn't rush the Cornucopia), he thinks we can swing a slingshot for Butterfly. He and Jack are going to go in for an axe for Johanna. She should be able to teach River how to use it so they can keep watch.
"Axes aren't usual, are they?" Jack asks. "I don't remember seeing one in the weapons pile. I'd have gone for that."
"Lumber?" Haymitch suggests. "An axe could mean a lot of tree clearing."
"With those little axes? Let's hope not."
They're interrupted by the Games anthem, this year played on a kind of mournful string instrument. The arena map comes up, surrounded by panoramic views of the arena itself.
Haymitch swears under his breath, but I'm not sure why -- it's a woodland arena, which is usually good for our tributes, and it has a natural river included beneath the force field. The weather seems temperate in the scenes they're showing underneath the music -- a sort of irregular land, with small hillocks covered in vines and leaves. A few wide paths wind among the trees.
"They're buildings," Haymitch says. "And roads. It's a city. Or what's left of one."
The main view switches to the tributes' tubes. This year, they're following the girl from Four, who has the unlikely name of "Collie." She rises up into the green world above, and I see the other tributes blinking in the sunlight. Butterfly is two spaces down from her. The Cornucopia is set at a bend in the river, and the tributes are in a semi-circle around it.
The gong sounds.
Butterfly and the two tributes from Eleven do as they were told and run fast. River steps off his platform and looks around, confused, until Johanna actually tackles him out of the way and sweeps him off into the dark woods.
The battle at the Cornucopia is the same as ever -- bloody and brutal. It leaves six tributes dead. Both of the kids from Eight, the boys from Five and Three, the girls from Six and Ten. The inner district alliance jokes about keeping the gender balance even while they claim the weapons and supplies. The other tributes who survived run.
"Welcome to the Sixty-Ninth Annual Hunger Games!" Claudius says, and his face appears in a split screen. "What an opening! And what an arena! This year, the Gamemakers have chosen to use a natural arena, in the ruins of a city in what was once called the Black Forest. Doesn't it sound like a fairy tale? But make no mistake -- the ruins of Europe aren't for the faint of heart. While there are natural resources, there are also natural dangers. Who can manage a totally natural environment? Who will be left ruined along with the city? Who do the odds favor?"
"They've lost their damned minds," Haymitch says. "A natural environment? Are they serious?"
"What's wrong with a natural environment?" I ask
"Mother Nature makes the Gamemakers look like amateurs. Are they really arrogant enough…" He shakes his head. "Of course they are. Never mind."
"What's really going on?" Jack asks. "Natural arena… they just had to put up a force field and dig some tunnels. What did they switch it from?"
Chaff leans over. "I'm sure it was always the plan. They never need to deviate for anything." He stares at Jack until Jack nods and agrees.
"Europe was once a glorious land," Claudius tells us. "It was studded with castles and museums and great works of art. Some were rescued from the Catastrophes and brought here to Panem by the thousands of refugees who took shelter here during the in-gathering, but much of it is lost forever. Our broken city was in a nation called Germany. There was no great destruction of the land, though the Rhein river did flood at one point, and some kind of contagion ravaged the land. Not to worry, though! Our technicians have done thorough scans of the air and water, and found no remnants of the contagion.
"Much of continental Europe is believed to have been destroyed by the vicious wars between its nations as the rising seas pushed the huge population inland… a sobering lesson about the cost of non-cooperation. Had they known the peace of Panem, built on our mutual trust and loyalty, perhaps we would have a friendly partner across the sea, instead of the wilderness that ranges across the continent.
"But what a glorious wilderness it is! Our Gamemakers and their technicians have thoroughly explored the area around the arena…"
As the tributes are now moving out and away from each other, the coverage cuts to footage of the Games technicians, setting up the arena and checking the sensors for signs of nearby human life (this is almost certainly scripted, as it looks like any number of movies about the in-gathering, right down to the dramatically tragic shake of the head, as no survivors are located). The location for the arena had to be scouted, and the footage they gathered of the broken world is striking. There is a small sea to the south of the continent, where we can see the vast volcanic crater left by the Flegrei eruption. Shallow seas and tiny, low-lying islands dot the northern ocean. In some places, they were able to see the roads and byways of countries now submerged. It is wild and beautiful, and I suspect this will be a popular tourist arena in years to come.
When they return to the Games, they cut first to the inner district kids, who have claimed a good stretch along the river banks. Shimmer suggests that they go as far upstream as they can, then send poison downstream, but no one else thinks this is a good idea. Most want to get to hunting, but Finnick's tribute, Keefe, convinces them to get a virtual fortress built in their area instead, and they move on to cutting down trees.
Meanwhile, Butterfly and the District Eleven tributes are deep in the woods. The map shows them a solid distance from the river, but they've found a calm pool, and are resting beside it. Butterfly seems to be allergic to something. She keeps scratching her arms.
"I might just move in here," Aster says. "This is nicer than the orchards. There are cherry trees. I love cherries! I think I saw some pears while we were running, too." She scratches at her arm. "Wonder about the animals, though. This much food, there will be a lot of them."
"I've sure heard something shuffling," Butterfly says. "We should probably figure out what to do about weapons…"
They continue talking about this, even as Haymitch orders a slingshot, and Chaff and Seeder get knives. The coverage hops around a little, catching up with Johanna and River, who are eating cherries and hiding in a deep hole (Haymitch groans and mutters something about "high ground"). The two kids from District Nine have joined up, and taken over a small stone building that is intact under the foliage and gives them a good view from up on its rise. A few small alliances are wandering, and one or two singletons seem to be hunting.
Claudius is about to start more patter when he suddenly raises his hand to his earpiece and says, "We have developments from our outer district alliance!"
They cut back to Butterfly's camp. There's no more talk of settling in and eating cherries. The kids have uncovered a nest of rats -- big ones. The parachute with Butterfly's slingshot and the two knives comes down, but it's too late for Sorrel. He's overrun by the nasty little things.
Butterfly grabs the parachute and reaches blindly at the knife. She and Aster are able to kill about two dozen rats, but in the end, they have to run for a new hiding spot. The cannon goes off for Sorrel, and Chaff goes to call his parents.
The girls stare at each other.
"Mutts?" Butterfly asks.
Aster stares back along the path, panting heavily. "I guess so. Sorrel -- he -- we need to --"
"The cannon went off," Butterfly says. "I heard it." She digs at her arm, then wrinkles her nose. "Something bit me," she says.
"Yeah, me, too. Nothing big, though. It's just itchy." Aster wipes at her face. "Sorrel… he's my friend…"
"I know." Butterfly looks around. "We need to find shelter. You can do your mourning once we have it."
They move on.
There are no more deaths the first day. The tributes all look for shelter. There are more rats, but none in nests the size of the one Sorrel found. They settle in. The inner district kids go hunting, but come back with only food.
There's a lot of coverage on the street of people who are fascinated with the arena. They love the natural setting, and many of them talk about expanding Panem. Quite a few are disturbed by the rats. The Gamemakers say they aren't mutts and can't be called back, but they are, after all, only rats. They're not going to make pointed attacks on people unless they're disturbed.
"Natural animals," a Gamemaker named Jovian says, "will largely avoid humans, as we're bigger than they are and not a good risk to attack. The mutts we generally use have the physical structure and biology of animals for the most part, but grown around brains and central nervous systems which are computerized and connected to Games headquarters. We could cause mutt rats to attack, but natural rats will not do so unless provoked."
This seems to assuage people on the streets, who don't want to see another rat attack. Haymitch is less excited.
"Rats are nasty, and they will attack," he says. "And also… they could have called those squirrels off me with the click of a button. Apparently, it would have been all right for me to be eaten by rodents."
"The people didn't like that, either," Seeder says. "They thought it was disgusting."
"I'm surprised it made the highlight reel."
"The highlight reel doesn't show them eating your earlobe."
Over the next three days, there are only two deaths. The inner district kids manage to hunt down Ford Yazzie from Six, and Pense Charna from Three has the misfortune of successfully tracking the kids from District Nine. They are still in their little stone shelter. They don't allow him to leave it, and move his body far away so that anyone watching the claw come down for him can't follow it to their location.
Johanna and River keep following trails, looking for shelter. They run into Raven Clemm from Five and ask if she'd like to join them, but she says that she can cry without coaching, and that's all Johanna's good for. They try to chase her, but neither of them seems able to really attack, even though Johanna now has an axe and River could break Raven in half without thinking twice about it (not that he would do so unless Johanna ordered him to). They finally call it a night when they find another ruined building and hide in the cellar hole. Johanna has to kill a rat, but it seems to be alone, at least.
After they eat -- they cook the rat over a small fire and have some fruit from the trees -- River tells Johanna that she's good for many things other than crying. She catches food for them, and she always takes care of him, and he knows she always will.
"I can't," she says. "Do you get that? I couldn't take care of my brother, and I'm probably going to screw up with you!" She turns away, and wipes her face.
The crying is all that the main broadcast shows -- in the evening, for the recaps during mandatory viewing, they explicitly make it look like she's crying over being called a crybaby. Jack fumes.
Meanwhile, Butterfly and Aster aren't doing much. Aster is having a hard time getting up to hunt, and Butterfly is complaining about a headache. A large, swollen area appears on the underside of her jaw. Aster gets one under her arm, then another on her neck. Their trackers report that they've both spiked fevers.
Plutarch Heavensbee comes down and sits between Haymitch and Chaff. "We're not running this on the air," he says. "We don't know where this is coming from. We have antibiotics on the way, no charge. It's not supposed to be part of the arena."
"Why not? Isn't it supposed to be 'natural'?" Haymitch asks.
"We didn't know." Plutarch looks around. "We want to kill it as quickly as we can. It looks like… well, let's just say the rats themselves weren't the worst thing they came across. Right now, it's containable. We have sweepers we can send in after the rats, and once they're gone, it should be all right. But we have to keep this from going airborne. If it goes airborne, we have a real problem on our hands."
"I already have a real problem," Haymitch says.
The medicine is still on the way when both girls are huddled in the dark, crumbled remains of a building, unable to do much of anything. On the broadcast, all they say is that the girls are tired. They're shot in the shadows, so no one can see the swellings all over their bodies. The medicine still hasn't arrived when Aster slips away in the middle of the night. Butterfly is too weak to do anything for her.
The inner district kids find Butterfly the next morning. The fierce fighter who challenged everything is gone, and the girl left behind is weak and feverish, malformed from the swollen glands all over her body.
Keefe raises his sword and kills her without any fight. A spray of blood goes into the air.
Keefe breathes it in.
The plague is airborne.