FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

The Big Empty: Chapter Nine

Effrim and the others escaped from the raiders and were picked up by a District One patrol. As they head back to the rebel camp, they hear gunfire in the distance.

Chapter Nine
"How'd you find us?" Misty asks as we head toward what I'm hoping is the rebel camp.

The scout, whose name patch says "Rathfon," glances back over her shoulder. "The birds," she says. "We had people out last night, looking for Capitol snipers. They heard the birds singing the old school fight song. None of us needed to send a signal, so we guessed there was someone in trouble."

"And you sent soldiers out when there was a battle going on?" Reilly says.

"Not many. But we've had enough troubles with the raiders that we figured they had a good sized crew, and we know they take prisoners. They were around the battlefield at Bloody Meadow."

I'm guessing that the battlefield didn't have a name until it became bloody. I don't mention that Spicer and I were there. He doesn't, either.

"Who's fighting now?" I ask.

"Who isn't?" Rathfon guides the hoversled around a curve and up a hill. "The Capitol was massing at the bridge again, but we decided to stop them here. We -- the troops from One -- were the advance, but we've got people from all over. We boxed them in. Eight's holding the northern line. They're not getting to the bridge."

"My dad died at the Battle of the Bridge," Misty says.

Rathfon nods grimly. "And we're going to hold it, honey. No matter what it costs. We have them backed up against the Ohio River, and Nine's holding the northern bank. We're not letting the outer districts be cut off again."

"They have hovercrafts," Juliana says. "They'll get over without your stupid bridge."

"You're Capitol?" Rathfon guesses, her jaw clenched. Juliana nods proudly. Rathfon makes a kind of hissing sound. "Great. This isn't a can of worms. It's a can of rattlesnakes. The rest of you?"

"We're from the districts," Duronda says quickly.

"Any particular district?"

"A few."

Rathfon raises an eyebrow, but doesn't push. She steers the sled around another bend, and the rebel camp appears out of nowhere. It's surrounded by a kind of camouflaged mesh, and the tents inside are the same color as the mud. Vehicles are buzzing back and forth, and more sleds are bringing in wounded to a large hospital tent.

There's not really time for anyone to wonder about our provenance. As soon as we're in, Rathfon is sent off to report to a superior, and a harried clerk from District Six shoos us into a tent that looks like a bar on the inside, though a hastily made sign says "R&R: No alcoholic beverages will be tolerated."

"Settle in," the clerk says. "The shooting's slowing down. Someone should be able to take care of you soon." He flips on the television absently, then runs back out.

"Why didn't you say what district you're from?" Reilly asks Duronda.

Misty smiles. "We… we left in kind of a hurry. I'm not in a particular rush to meet the commanders."

"I doubt they're Thirteen," Duronda snorts. "Too much actual shooting going on."

Reilly frowns. "My mother worked with soldiers from Thirteen. They were on the front lines just like everyone else."

"Yeah, right."

"It's true!"

"I thought all you district people loved Thirteen," Juliana says. "Isn't that the whole point? Putting them in charge?"

"It's to get the Capitol leeches off our necks," Duronda says. "After that, Thirteen can go hang itself."

No one knows quite what to say to this, and the silence spins out awkwardly. In Trajan's camp, we all had something in common. Here, we don't know where we stand.

I go over to a group of folding chairs near the television and sit down. I don't really want to watch the silly situation comedy that's playing -- I don't even know why the Capitol bothers with a signal out here, let alone why the rebels are tuned to it -- but I do want to think.

Misty's right. We shouldn't rush to meet the commanders. They may or may not be from Thirteen, but they'll certainly have access to District Twelve's complaints, and maybe a list of people who've gone missing. They'll ship us back for whatever "lessons" they want to give us.

The chair beside me scrapes the floor, and I'm not surprised to look over and see Misty in it. She watches the show for a few seconds (a group of very pretty girls is chasing a wet and soapy dog around the Capitol for some reason), then says, "You don't want to go back, do you?"

"Not without Dad."

"Yeah. Not to mention the whipping we'll probably get."


"So what's the next step? We escape from our own people?"

"You're the one with the plans."

"It's hard to come up with tactics if I don't know the strategy. What are we doing?"

"I don't know." On television, one of the girls catches the dog, and it drags her into the lake. Canned laughter covers up the splash, then she hugs and kisses the dog and the credits run. "I kind of forgot what we were doing for a while. Except for getting away from Trajan. I'm sorry."

She shrugs. "We all got ourselves into that mess. I thought they might be our people. Duronda wanted the guns. You were sick of seeing our faces."

"That's not true!"

"Sure it is." She smiles. "We were sick of you, too. And each other. We'd been walking for a while. Anyway, it's not your fault any more than ours."

"I almost hit you."

"Which is why it was time to get out. And we didn't just get ourselves out, Effrim." She looks at the others. "We got everyone. For what it's worth, I think we proved we can do this."


We're quiet for a few minutes. On television, they switch from the comedy to a noon news broadcast. The broadcasts from Thirteen always lead with the war. And then there's more war, and they finish up with the war. Maybe that's why they have this one tuned to the Capitol. They can hear the war out the window. Here, we just see a report on the re-opened Green Tower school. They interview kids being groomed for government positions. A boy a year or so older than Duronda, with the unlikely name of Coriolanus Snow, is trying to set up intermural sports with the other Capitol schools.

"Sports are something we love, part of our life here in the Capitol! We can't let the traitors stop us from being alive!" he announces, pounding his fist on a podium.

Several other kids cheer, and the adults in the room give him respectful applause.

Misty rolls her eyes and gives my elbow a tug. We go over and join the others.

No one at camp has time for us that day. The wounded keep coming in. I eavesdrop on the fringes of conversation at a hastily prepared dinner, and gather that the Capitol is taking on a lot of wounded as well, and the fighting doesn't seem anywhere near an end. There's some kind of air battle going on over the plains, which is keeping the bombers out on both sides.

"I don't understand how it can be even on the field," Reilly says, picking at some canned fish. "There are thirteen districts, and only one Capitol."

"They've got better weapons," Duronda says.

"They're smarter," Juliana counters.

"Oh, yeah, they're brilliant, pushing so hard that we have to rebel -- "

" -- right, like paying taxes is so bad for getting a system that protects you from people like Trajan -- "

"He was Capitol, you stupid little -- "

Claire starts crying, burying her face in her dolly's ragged dress.

I stand up and put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Knock it off. There's enough of that out there." I point vaguely toward the direction the gunshot sounds and explosions are coming from. "There are Thirteen districts, but we're small. Dad said that a third of Panem's population lives in the Capitol. They can wield a pretty good sized army, and they have better weapons." I look at Duronda. "And they're not dumb. If they were dumb, we'd have already won."

"Savages," Juliana whispers.

"And you might want to re-think your attitude," Misty points out. "You're in the middle of a rebel camp, and the worst thing you're getting is a can of fish."

Juliana shoves her can away and leaves the table. I start to follow, but Spicer grabs my arm.

"Let her go," he says. "She had it bad in Two. Mob was hunting her when we found her. And I saw her parents, down in that pit. They'd been left there a couple of days. The flies…" He shudders. "Just, let her be."

"What did her parents do?" Duronda asks.

Spicer looks at her coolly. "No idea. What, exactly, do you think would rate being thrown in a pit and stoned in front of their daughter? Collecting taxes?"

"Capitol's no better," Duronda sniffs.

"No argument."

Another awkward silence falls. I wonder if my father saw something like what happened to Juliana's parents.

There are no spare cots in the camp -- not with all the wounded -- so they have us set up our bed rolls in the supply tent. There's nervous joking about the raiders coming, though we don't think they're in any shape for it. Juliana and Duronda come to a truce, at least for the night.

By morning, the battle seems to have hit a lull while both sides tend to their wounded. It's a cease-fire, not a victory by either side, and we stay on high alert. There are many more soldiers in camp now, and a lieutenant from District Four named Nita Donovan calls us all in to what seems to be a supply room with a table and a bare lightbulb in it. Claire and Tongue-Tie are too young to answer questions, so they're sent off with a young soldier from Eight, who promises that he knows a lot of good games, and has little sisters he used to play with.

"I thought this was a District One camp," Duronda says.

"This is a hospital camp, in case you missed all the wounded," Donovan snaps, then sits down, rubbing her head. "Sorry. I know you've had it rough." She looks at me, then at Spicer. "You were spotted in surveillance photos. The raiders had you working the battlefield?"

I look down.

"Effrim didn't have a choice," Spicer says.

"I don't guess either of you did. You're not in any trouble. It's their M.O. We've seen it before. They used to raid Four and carry people away even before the war. We have a task force on the subject. No good to win the war if we can't keep the peace out there." She brings out a recorder. "Now… who are you, and how did you end up in the woods?"

The others tell their stories. Misty and Duronda and I stretch the truth a little bit, just claiming that we'd been "wandering" after a little trouble at home. We give our first names. Donovan is unimpressed with our performance.

"I'm going to find out who you are," she says. "You're all too young to be guilty of much more than bad judgment, but we need to get you sent home."

"We'd just like to go on our way," I tell her. "There are things we need to finish."

"Things you need to finish." She shakes her head. "I'm guessing school's one of the things you need to finish. Maybe some math homework. I'm not sending you back out into a war zone."

"Maybe that should be our choice," Misty says.

Donovan smiles. "I've got a little girl like you," she says. "Her name's Maggie-Ann. She's even got pretty curls like you. She's four. I don't let her decide what she wants for dinner yet, or what time to go to bed. I imagine she thinks it's awfully unfair, but you know what? I'm the grown-up. It's my job to do the right thing."

"We're not four," Duronda says.

"No. But you're not as old as you think, either. I'll let you set your own bedtime, but as to taking a stroll through a war zone? Not on my watch."

"But -- "

"You can have your little rebellion for now. Lord knows, I'm not one to discourage a good temper tantrum. But you're not walking out of this camp on your own, if I have to physically lock you down to keep you from doing it." She stares at Misty for a minute, then turns her attention to Juliana. "These others, I can get back to their districts pretty easily. But how are we going to get you back to your people in the Capitol? Do you have anyone there to take care of you?"

"You're not planning to ransom me?"

"We're not raiders."

"You're not going to keep me as a prisoner?"

"Well, as I said to your friends, I'll lock you up before I let you go wandering through the war, but I'd rather not. If I can contact someone in the Capitol camp, will they have someone to return you to?"

"My mother's brother would probably take me. And if not, we have civilized ways of helping orphans!" She juts out her chin.

Donovan nods in an understanding way. "All right, then. I'll work some diplomatic contacts. The rest of you, I want the names of your nearest and dearest in your districts. We have the trains under pretty solid control, and we doglegged a track down to the camp on the north bank."

"I don't have anyone," Reilly says.

"You're from four. The Captains' Council will take care of you."

"Right. Can Claire come with me?"


"The little girl from Seven. I've been taking care of her. She'll be scared without me."

"And the little boy? Is he from Seven, too? The one that doesn't talk."

"We don't know," Spicer says. "His parents were dead when we found him." He leans forward. "You said you had a task force on the raiders?"


"Can I talk to them? I've been in the camp for a really long time. I know a lot. I can help."

"I'm not sending you out there, either."

"I can help behind the lines."

She considers this, then nods. "All right. I'll put you in with Commander Morelle. He's in charge of the task force."

I guess I'd sort of assumed that Spicer would be coming with us, but he barely even turns to acknowledge us before we leave the makeshift briefing room, and just gives me a friendly wave when Donovan steers him toward an officer's tent.

He's back that night, and the bunch of us from Trajan's camp stay together for the most part over the next few days. There's another outbreak of fighting, and I see the wounded come in. There's a unit from Twelve, and I talk to Misty about whether or not to go visit them. We finally decide to -- they've figured out our accents anyway, and it seems rude to let people from home go unvisited. We see one of the Gormley boys, who's one of Pappy Angus's natural grandsons. His name is Jimmy. The commander inevitably asks him who we are, and, despite spending half an hour talking to us, he claims that we're strangers, and thinks Duronda's name is Lucinda. He winks when she leaves. "I know how things are there," he says. "Got a few whip marks from when they first put Pappy in the gray pajamas. I don't blame you for not being in a rush."

"You hear anything about my dad?" I ask.

"Not a lot. We lost him outside District Four."

"Is he really trying to make people desert?"

Jimmy looks around. "Don't you make a fuss or tell anyone. Your daddy wasn't trying to make people desert, at least not the last time I saw him. He was having it out with our commander from Thirteen, and they were going to court martial him."

"What was it about?"

He looks down. "I don't want to talk about it. But Dale was in the right. The rest of us refused an order the commander gave, and… well, we might have helped Dale get out, just a little bit. That's probably where this 'sedition' business came into it. Encouraging dissent." He wrinkles his nose. "There are necessary evils sometimes, but I wonder how necessary this one is." He stops talking abruptly and I follow his gaze to where an orderly from Thirteen is making rounds. We change the subject to next year's harvest festival, and the silly things on Capitol television.

They find Claire's family first. She was snatched right out of a logging camp, with no tragic battle to account for it. Her parents are thrilled. They also offer to take in Reilly, and the rest of us if our parents can't be found. Spicer declines. He's been offered a spot as an advisor to the task force, and given a new uniform. The rest of us decline because we have other business. We go with Claire and Reilly to a train which will take them to District Six, where they'll pick up another to take them out to Seven. "Another forest," Reilly mutters self-consciously. "Well… I'll, um… maybe I'll see you again sometime." He picks Claire up and says, "Are you ready to have me for a big brother?"

She grins around her fist and nods, then blows kisses to the rest of us.

They board the train and disappear.

We go back to camp. Except for Spicer's contributions to the raider task force, they don't ask us for anything. They just watch us and feed us. We watch television. Sometimes, it's tuned to dour news stories from Thirteen, but it's mostly left on Capitol view. They're having fashion shows, which seems very surreal. There's more talk about not letting the war disrupt their lives. They make a big deal out of the inaugural intermural sports event, the one set up from the Tower. It's a fast-paced ball game with two netted goals, one at either end. The Tower school kids, led by the one who was on television the other day, win a brutal game against something called the "practical school." Boys and girls are on different teams, and on the girls' team, the university school beats the arts school.

All vital information, as Duronda says.

We watch both games, and the follow-up games, along with several hours of a very strange show about a scientist who's trying to reclaim the flooded lands, and gets visions about the past, where he can talk to people and tell them that a better way is coming. They're always grateful.

It takes three days for Donovan to establish a diplomatic contact with the Capitol command, but when they learn that a Capitol child is taking refuge here, they arrange to come over under a truce flag to get her. The night before they come, Juliana stays up and spends all her time talking to Duronda, of all things, and the two of them hug before we get dressed up for the ceremony. I give her the locket that the Capitol woman lost on the battlefield. Maybe it can go back to whoever the hair inside it belongs to.

The diplomatic team from the Capitol arrives on a hoversled, which is apparently the only kind of vehicle they can really use in this terrain without roads. They're all in dress uniforms, which are blindingly white, and the sled flies the red and black flag of the Capitol.

The rebellion doesn't have dress uniforms. I'm sure Thirteen considers it a waste of money and a vanity. But we do show up clean and pressed, and when Donovan steps forward with Juliana, I guess it all looks good enough.

The head of the Capitol delegation steps up. He doesn't look like the Capitol dandies we see on television. He's quite formal looking, and not even wearing a wig. "Juliana Dorrance?"

Juliana steps up. "Yes, sir."

"Your uncle has been located, and he is delighted to take custody, if the arrangement is suitable to you."

She nods, then looks at us. "I want to say that the rebel custody here has been exemplary. And that these others from the districts are my friends." She nods to Duronda, then follows the Capitol man to the sled.

We all watch until they're gone.

Tongue-Tie is the hardest. He spends his days with the camp psychiatrist, who finally manages to get him to say "Hello" and "I'm fine," but isn't able to pull a name out of his memory. They run blood tests, and don't even find lateral links to anyone genetically. The best anyone can guess is that he's out-district born, and his parents were, as well. Spicer says that it happens sometimes. No one knows quite what to do with him.

I end up taking him with me while we visit patients, which is about the only thing we can do while Donovan tries to work out where we belong. The patients like seeing him, even though he doesn't talk. A lot of them have little kids, and I guess they're all pretending to be parents with him for a little while. A lady from Four tells him about the ocean, and a man from Eleven holds him on his lap and tells him stories about birds. Jimmy Gormley sits with him patiently and tries to get him to point out the letters in his name. Unless his name is Pgnafitials, this doesn't work, but Jimmy takes a particular shine to him. He's allowed a call to his wife, who didn't join the army because she was pregnant, and asks if they can take in the quiet little boy. I guess she says yes, because Jimmy promises Tongue-Tie that he's got a new mama and papa now.

Tongue-Tie seems amenable to it.

"I've got to give you a real name, if you can't tell me the one you've got. Do you want to be Maple, like the tree?" Tongue-Tie wrinkles his nose. "How about Cattail? You want to be a tough boy named Duronda?" He winks in her direction, but Tongue-Tie shakes his head. "Effrim?" I'm pleased to see that this gets a moment's thought before a rejection. "Angus, like my pappy?" Another head shake. "Jimmy, like me?"

Tongue-Tie smiles, and becomes Jimmy Gormley, Junior.

Jimmy Senior doesn't seem to be recovering very quickly, so he ends up going home on the train along with Junior.

I ask him to give Pappy Angus my best.

He raises an eyebrow. "Can't very well do that when I don't rightly know who you are, now can I?"

"Good point. But tell him anyway."

Donovan wants Misty and Duronda and me on the train as well, but we refuse. She says the next train for Twelve leaves in a week, and we'll be on it, with names or without them. We start to plan our escape.

"You guys are nuts," Spicer says that night. "If I had people to go back to, I would."

"We don't," Misty says. "My parents are dead. Effrim and Duronda have both lost one, and the others are in the war. We live at the Community Home."

"They're going to find out who you are," Spicer says. "They have the government genetic databases. That's what they were looking through for Tongue-Tie. I mean, Jimmy."

It's a good point, but not one we can do much about. I'm surprised they haven't found out already, unless there's some kind of glitch in the system.

I talk to Misty and Duronda. It's strange, but the military camp is the first place I've been where I don't feel like we're being spied on. None of us want to go back, and none of us want to give them any more information than they have.

The week is nearly up and we still haven't figured out a good plan of escape when the hoversled comes in from the other side of the river.

The older man who gets out has a kindly sort of face, and he's wearing a patch of very fancy fabric on his arm.

He comes to us while we're watching television again. At the moment, it's a movie about a pretty girl who's raising a mountain lion cub for some reason. The man turns it off.

"My name is Commander Rose," he says. "I'll be taking custody of you now."

"Why?" Duronda asks. "We're leaving."

"Well, you're leaving the hospital camp, anyway." Rose sits down across from us and squints into the darkness of the officers' club. "We've been handling our research carefully. We know who you are." He looks at us. "Effrim Everdeen. Misty Magill. Duronda Carson."

We don't confirm it.

"There's a warrant out from Twelve for all three of you."

  • Dia challenge 4

    Harris, Mags, Finnick and the other Four victors in the afterlife, discussing the changes in Four, etc. for Anon 1 Okay. They're Catholic, so I…

  • Dia challenge 3

    Chicharrón being forgotten is what really made me bawl and he was snatched away before we got to know him so maybe a friendship piece between him…

  • Dia challenge 2

    I remember one of your earlier Coco fics mentioned that Franco fell for Elena because of the great cowboy boots she made. Could you do one with the…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.