FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,
FernWithy
fernwithy

The Last Tribute: Chapter Seven

The tributes have started training, and Haymitch has a lot more meetings than usual this year.


Chapter Seven
I'm summoned by the Gamemakers early in the morning -- well, ten-thirty, which is early by Games standards -- on the second day of training.

I'm not the only one. When I get there, they're finishing up a meeting with Cashmere, from District One. I can see through their glass walls that there's quite a confrontation going on, but the soundproofing is solid and I can't hear a thing. Seneca Crane is holding up something small and shiny. There are several little boxes beside him at the table.

District tokens, I realize. Other mentors will probably be called in as well. I've been vaguely aware of these meetings in past years, but this is the first time I've been called to one. None of my tributes has carried anything into the arena that the Gamemakers felt a need to question.

Until now, of course.

The elevator opens, and Cinna comes out. He comes over to me. "The pin is her token, isn't it?" he asks. "I found it on the blouse she wore into the Capitol, but she hasn't mentioned anything."

I nod. "A friend gave it to her just before we left."

"A mockingjay?"

"Yes."

He smiles. "I read a poem once about a mockingjay. The poet was standing at the edge of a cliff at the end of the world, and he saw one flying just out of reach."

"I wouldn't quote that poem in there," I say. I have no idea how my scribbled book of handwritten poems ended up in Cinna's hands. Gia took it during my Victory Tour and gave it to Plutarch, and that's the last I heard of it. Apparently, it's been making the rounds. The mockingjay poem was for Maysilee. I wanted to tell her about the bird I saw just beyond the edge of the arena.

I was too late. By the time I saw her, she was bleeding out. I don't remember most of the poems I wrote in a drunken haze that fall after my girl died, but I've dreamed about the mockingjay. Maysilee thought that mockingjays proved that the Capitol couldn't keep its grip on power. She wasn't the only one. The idea of the mockingjay as a direct taunt to the Capitol has had something of a grip on most rebels I know. Mockingjay feathers have quietly appeared (and quickly disappeared, once acknowledged) on people who want to identify themselves as rebels.

I don't think the Capitol has taken any notice of it.

Yet.

There hasn't been any sign of it, anyway.

Cashmere comes out, her jaw clenched, and closes the door behind her.

"What happened?" I ask her.

"Glimmer's friends made a ring with a poisoned spike in it," she says. "She says she didn't know about it. I just spent forty-five minutes convincing the Gamemakers not to send Peacekeepers to interrogate everyone who said goodbye to her."

"She lost the token?" Cinna asks.

She nods dully. "I should have checked it when she was showing it off. They fined me two months' salary."

I doubt any of us believes that the girl didn't know about the poisoned spike, especially Cashmere. I'd guess that the friends all went in on it together, to send as a token if any of them "won" the reaping.

I’m reasonably sure that Madge Undersee didn't poison Katniss's pin, but there's a chance that the Gamemakers could realize it carries something even more dangerous.

The door opens, and a junior Gamemaker beckons us inside. Plutarch is sitting a few seats down from the Head Gamemaker's spot, but he doesn't particularly acknowledge me. This may or may not have anything to do with keeping up appearances. Aside from Plutarch and Crane, I recognize quite a few of the older Gamemakers, who I've dealt with over the years on other matters.

Seneca Crane has the mockingjay pin in his hands. He smiles.

"Mr. Abernathy," he says. "I don't believe we've had the chance to speak much before."

"I try to stay out of trouble," I say.

"Yes, I'm sure you do." He holds up the pin. "This is your female tribute's district token?"

"Yes."

"The pin is rather sharp."

I roll my eyes. "It's also an inch long, not very strong, and has no grounding. Totally useless as a weapon."

"What about poison?"

"It's quite flimsy," Cinna says. "I examined it before I gave it to you. I think the pin is actually gold, which is a soft metal. I think the pin would bend before it could go deep enough to cause serious damage."

I watch the Gamemakers. If they have anything close to as toxic as the fruits in my arena, a scratch could at least cause severe illness. A look passes among them -- clearly, there are some toxic substances in there -- but they don't seem overly concerned. They're probably right. I hope Katniss isn't stupid enough to engage someone in combat close enough to stick them with a hinged pin, no matter what toxins are around. She'd get her neck snapped before she could do anything, though I decide not to mention this.

A woman sitting on Crane's left -- her name is Genesia Kellogg, I think -- clears her throat and says, "There's also the matter of the symbol. The mockingjay."

Several of the other Gamemakers look genuinely confused by this, but not all of them.

I arrange my face in what I hope is polite befuddlement. "Sorry, Ma'am?"

She narrows her eyes. "What does the symbol mean, Mr. Abernathy?"

"To Katniss?"

"To District Twelve." She waits a moment. "Was it, or was it not, a symbol used by seditionists?"

"It's just something Katniss's friend gave her -- "

"That’s not what was asked."

"If I may," Plutarch interrupts, "I believe you're right. It was, in fact, used for that purpose."

I try not to react to this, though my instinct is to throttle him. The last thing I wanted was for anyone in the Capitol to make that connection.

"That is a problem," Crane says.

I shake my head. "If it ever was a symbol, it was a long time ago. I doubt Katniss has the slightest idea. To her, it's a gift from a friend. Mockingjays are everywhere around District Twelve." Inspiration strikes. "I heard somewhere that her daddy used to sing to them. The two of them were close. I imagine that's what it means to her. Just bringing a little strength into the arena with her."

Kellogg shakes her head. "What it means to Katniss Everdeen is not the relevant question here. I am concerned about the message it communicates."

Plutarch laughs. "Genny, really. This is my area, if you recall. It was a rebel symbol, but it was only used by a handful of teenage thrill-seekers, well over two decades ago. I know… I was one of them. Even I barely recognized it until you mentioned it."

I re-evaluate Plutarch's approach. It's better than mine, when I think about it. Hoping it would slip by unnoticed was probably too much to ask. But acknowledging it and then devaluing it… that should do the trick, if I don't push too hard.

"Can't say I've heard of it since I was a kid," I say.

Crane pushes a few buttons on the table in front of him. "I'll run it through the databases. If it really hasn't been seen in so long, I can't see the harm in it."

"But -- " Kellogg starts.

"The audience adored her action in stepping up for her sister," Crane says. "I think they'd eat up a connection to her father. There's no reason to reject that if there's nothing to the symbolism."

We all wait awkwardly while the computer scans through its image banks. I guess this is when I'll find out if we're on the Capitol's radar.

It takes about five minutes. Crane watches his screen for no particular reason -- I can see from here that all it's doing is flashing a "wait" signal -- then looks up. "There's nothing here," he says. "I don't see any reason to deny the token." He hands it to Cinna. "Just to be on the safe side, blunt the end of it a little bit."

"All right," Cinna says.

"Good, then." Crane looks out through the glass wall. "Well, that's that. I see our ten-forty-five is already here. Would you be so kind as to send her in?" he asks me.

I stand there stupidly for a minute. I guess I expected more of a fuss, even if I didn't want it. I wonder briefly if the Head Gamemaker is a rebel, though it's unlikely. I'll ask Plutarch. Finally, I just shake it off and thank Seneca Crane. Cinna and I leave as he pulls out another box. Enobaria is outside the door. I send her in.

I can't really discuss this in any depth with Cinna here in the Viewing Center, so we just talk shop while we walk. He's deduced that at least part of the Games uniform, most likely a jacket, will be made of a coarse material that won't snag if pierced with a dull pin. Neither of us can make much of that.

The sponsor meetings are slower today. The further we get from the parade, the more people are watching the leaked "security footage" from training, where Katniss is obeying me, for the most part, about not showing off her skills, though she does go through several survival stations with high marks. She hasn't used a ranged weapon where the cameras can see her. Peeta hasn't lifted weights, but he has flattened a couple of hand-to-hand combat trainers. He's starting to pick up a steady group of fans, though not among the high-rollers. The ones most likely to be impressed by his performance in combat are more impressed by Cato, the boy from District Two. Peeta's picking up fans who are charmed by his smile and the way he talks to Katniss in the footage.

I watch a little of it. He's definitely coming off more charming than she is. They seem to like replaying the bit where he shows her the bread and she laughs obediently.

Finnick tells me at lunch that Annie's tribute, a girl named Charlotte, wants Peeta to join the Career group. I promise to bring it up, but I don't intend to encourage it. I don't want him getting cocky and thinking he can handle the Cornucopia.

I float the idea just before dinner, while Katniss is showering. He's not interested.

"Char's nice," he says. "But they don't want Katniss. They think all she can do is find plants."

"That's a pretty useful skill."

"They want people who can bash their way up to the Cornucopia and get the food that the Gamemakers leave."

"Which you're not going to do," I remind him.

"Don't worry. I'm not in a rush to start killing people. Or to get killed."

"Good." I take a drink from the flask. "When did you get a chance to talk to them, anyway?"

"I just talked to Char while Katniss was in the bathroom. She heard me talking about the bread yesterday and wanted to know how I knew about it." He shrugs. "How many more chances am I going to get to meet people? It seemed like a good opportunity."

I send him to his room to change for dinner, then meet with Effie about what we need to be doing with them. She seems more focused than she's been in a while. I wonder if she's off her pills, or if she's switched them again. Whatever she's doing, I hope she'll keep doing it.

When the kids come out to dinner, we start the training. Katniss doesn't make small talk, which I appreciate. "Since you don't want us at the Cornucopia," she starts out over soup, "how should we get weapons?"

"You can make some, but keep them defensive. Until you can get a bow and arrow, stay away from the other tributes."

"But right now," Effie says, "we need to talk about your camera presence."

"I want to talk about -- "

"She's right," I tell her. "You can survive. I've seen what you've been doing at the plant stations. But you're going to need things, and honestly, you're not coming off all that well."

"But -- "

"No buts," I say. "I get it. The last thing you want to worry about is whether or not they like you. I didn't want to think about it, either. But you have to."

Effie nods. "You need to remember -- both of you -- that at any given moment, you may be on live television. There won't be any way for you to know."

"But you can bet that the cameras are on you, whether you're being shown or not…"

Katniss resists this line of mentoring for most of the meal. I don't blame her, and I do understand her. But that doesn't change the facts of the Games… or the fact that she's caught the imagination of the underground. Can't forget that.

I think about Chaff calling her "Haymitch with a pigtail," and I have a hard time not seeing it. She is like me. She's been taking care of her family, she doesn't feel like she has time for this nonsense, and she knows perfectly well that she's playing against the Gamemakers.

Unfortunately, the pigtail makes a difference. What the audience would tolerate -- sort of -- in me, they'll treat as a serious social failing in a girl. She has to warm up.

Through the meal, we talk about what they should do to hold interest if they're alone (which Katniss insists she will be), and how to interact with anyone they come across that's not actively trying to kill them. After we eat, Effie runs them through scenarios, especially about receiving gifts in the arena. "People will want to know that you appreciate them," she says. "They'll want to feel that they've made a difference."

"Which they will have," I point out.

"But direct thank-yous come off oddly," Effie tells them. "Some tributes try it, but it always sounds rehearsed. Let's practice how you'll express gratitude if someone sends you a parachute…"

Peeta's a natural at this, both in the parachute exercise and the chance-encounter-with-another-tribute exercise. Effie plays the role of a tough girl (hilariously) and he flirts with her. I play a younger boy (not much more successfully) who just doesn't want any trouble, and he tries to reassure me that he doesn't mean any harm and plans to go on his way. He switches roles easily and tries to bring Katniss out, but she's not one for role-playing, much to Effie's frustration. She manages a few stilted, scripted-sounding lines when Effie feeds them to her, and I have the impression that she really is trying, but pretending is not her strong suit. I know from the reaping that she'll do better when she has something real to react to -- she connected with the whole country then -- but at the moment, it's a little worrying.

By the end of the night, even Peeta's patience with us is running thin, so I signal to Effie to let up and let them go to bed. They'll need some rest before individual evaluations tomorrow.

Effie and I stay up for a while and watch an inane movie on television. It's about a boy and a stray cat, and it has nothing to do with the Games. It's mind-numbing and oddly comforting to just sit there with her, at opposite ends of the couch, not talking.

I drink the rest of the flask. It's keeping the worst of the physical cravings at bay, and I've been too busy for the rest until now, and now I'm actually feeling all right. If I could work sixteen hour days then just relax at night all the time, maybe I wouldn't need to drink.

When the movie is over, Effie gets up and goes to bed, giving my shoulder an affectionate squeeze as she passes.

I think about following her. I doubt she'd kick me out, and I don't want to do anything more complicated than sleeping at the moment, but in the end, I don't do it. I don't want to wake up next to the chattering robot that she might well be in the morning.

It turns out to be a good choice. Whatever she takes, she takes it in the morning, and at breakfast, her eyes are too bright and too wide, and she's focused completely on Katniss's chipping nail polish.

"Individual assessments today," I remind the kids. "Katniss, it's time to break out the bow. Has anyone else been using it in training?"

"Glimmer did," Peeta offers. "But she's nowhere near as good as Katniss."

Katniss doesn't bother to argue.

"Other mentors may have given their tributes the same instruction I gave you," I tell her. "But the bow really isn't very common. You may have a unique skill there, so show off."

"Okay."

"And Peeta, throw the heaviest weights you can. Give them a show. They're going to be bored by the time they get to you, so turn on the charm while you're at it."

He nods.

They head downstairs.

Ten minutes later, I get a message to meet with Seeder. I'm glad to get away from Effie, who has been watching Games coverage and speculating about how the other interview outfits will compare to Cinna's work.

Seeder is waiting for me in the mentors' lounge, picking at a bowl of fruit.

"Rue wants an alliance?" I ask, sitting down.

"Maybe. Maybe in the arena, we'll see what happens. But I advised her against it."

I frown. "Why?"

"It's nothing against Katniss. But Rue's skill…" She looks around to see if anyone's listening. "She moves like a cat… no, not even that. She moves like a bird. I don't think an alliance is going to help her."

"You think Katniss will slow her down?"

Seeder nods. "Not deliberately. But it's a very individual skill, and I don't want her to lose her only advantage."

"So why are we here?"

She takes a while to answer, studying her fruit like she has a script written on it. Finally she says, "Rue's been shadowing Katniss all through training."

"You mentioned something like that."

"I think she may shadow her in the arena, too. I don't think she has any other real plan." She taps her fork on her bowl, then looks up, letting out a frustrated breath. "I'm just going to come out with it, Haymitch. I can't get a read on your girl. Can she be trusted, or should I tell Rue to stay back?"

"Oh," I say. I can't think of anything else. Seeder is one of my oldest friends. I know Katniss is surly, but I don't find her hard to read at all. She's an open book.

At least to me.

I wonder if Seeder thought I was unreadable. Chaff certainly didn't think so. Then again, he was actually paying attention to me when I arrived.

"Well?" she asks.

"You want to know if the girl who was willing to sacrifice her life for her twelve-year-old sister is going to stab Rue in the back while she's sleeping?"

"Something like that." She puts down her fork. "Haymitch, you know it's not unheard of. The first year you mentored, an ally turned on your tribute."

"I know. But… I'm not going to push someone at you that would do that. And you know that's not how I mentor."

"Are you sure about what she's going to do?"

"Yeah. I'm sure."

We sit uncomfortably for a while, then she says, "I'm sorry. But I had to ask. Rue's small, she's not all that strong, and she has a bad case of hero worship. I can't risk someone taking advantage of that."

"Yeah. Of course."

I stay with Seeder while she eats the rest of her breakfast and we talk about other things. We part pleasantly enough, but I'm shaken. I can't entirely put my finger on why.

I decide that it's Katniss.

If even Seeder can't see who she is, then I'm going to have to double down on getting her ready for the public.

I stop at the bar in the Viewing Center. I know it's a bad idea, but I want to still my mind a little bit.

Effie has left instructions to not serve me. The bartender offers to let me bribe him, but the brief stop is enough to bring me to my senses. This is not the time for it.

I'm not in the best of moods for the rest of the day, and I probably snap at Effie more than I need to when she tells me that she's set up a sponsor meeting for me. How I get through the meeting (with a silly young Capitol couple who've just won money in a gardening competition), I don't know, but somehow, I walk away with a small donation pledge.

By the time I get back, Peeta is in his evaluation. The other districts are done, and the mentors' lounge is abandoned.

I go upstairs. Peeta doesn't have a lot to say about his assessment, though Effie is full of questions. It was apparently "all right."

The elevator door opens a few minutes later, and I say, "Hey, sweetheart, how'd it -- "

But Katniss runs, weeping, through the living room, and I hear the door slam behind her.

Peeta and Effie and I all call to her, but there's no response.

"What on Earth is that about?" Effie asks.

"I'm guessing something went wrong at the assessment," I say, and follow her. The door is locked, and I can hear her sobbing on the other side. I wonder if she missed her shots, but that feels wrong. This crying sounds more like the whole thing is finally catching up to her.

Effie comes up beside me and knocks. "Honey, you need to come out so we can talk!"

"Come on, sweetheart," I say. "Nothing's that bad."

No answer.

We keep trying for a little while, but it's no good.

I stop knocking and look at Effie. "Let her cry it out, I guess," I say.

"How bad do you think it is?" she asks quietly.

"No idea. I guess we'll find out."

A bad assessment can hurt with sponsors, but in the arena, it only hurts if it actually means something. Freezing up in front of a judging panel doesn't necessarily mean freezing up in a real survival situation.

Cinna and Portia come by for dinner. They saw Plutarch downstairs, but didn't talk to him. Apparently, he's covered with red punch. Cinna says it's a good look for him.

Effie finally manages to coax Katniss out of her room just as dinner is being served. Her face is blotchy and swollen. No one comments on it.

I give her enough time to feel like we aren't all staring at her. I figure she's probably a little self-conscious. So I keep up with Cinna's small talk about a stylists' meeting and Effie and Peeta's conversation about a singer they both like, at least until Katniss stops looking like she wants to crawl under the table.

"Okay," I finally say, "enough small talk, just how bad were you today?"

Peeta jumps in first. "I don't know that it mattered. By the time I showed up, no one even bothered to look at me."

It's a familiar story. We're last, and they've spent the day drinking and feasting while they judge kids who will mostly be dead soon. They ignored Peeta entirely, then said he could go.

I look at Katniss. "And you, sweetheart?"

Her eyes flash at the word, and she straightens up.

"I shot an arrow at the Gamemakers," she says.
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