The waters are receding.
That was the first surprise. We've been exploring pretty regularly for the forty years since the war, but no one thought to survey the coastlines. No one really lives along River Bay, and no one noticed that it's receded for nearly a mile, shrinking back toward its old, Mississippi River origins. And almost no one lives along the coast. The fishermen in District Four had reported that things "seemed a bit shallow," but it's been gradual, and Four is low-lying, anyway. But after we settled District Fifteen, down in the sweltering forests at the place where the continent narrows, Finny took it upon himself to photograph the east coasts of the Americas, and compared it to an official government map. It's certainly nowhere near its pre-Catastrophic shape, but it's considerably altered as the ice caps have started to grow again.
Ever since that discovery went public, there's been a surge of public support in the explorations, like nothing we've seen since the Great Ingathering.
Which may be how we missed the second surprise, the settlement at Tirafego.
It's on an island at the very tip of South America -- isolated, cold, and far from the disease paths that ravaged so much of the continent. There was some kind of bomb dropped there; maybe the in-gathering assumed total casualties. I don't know -- it doesn't make sense to me. The bombing indicates that there was always a settlement here, even before the climate changed and left the temperatures more temperate. Why wouldn't the gatherers have looked? But they didn't.
At any rate, the climate is cooling again, and the New People, as they're breathlessly called in Panem, crossed the sea and started moving north. A remote sensor someone placed in the high plains and promptly forgot about suddenly came to life, lighting up a console that had been on silent display at the Museum of the Ingathering for decades.
The tour guide, a girl of about eighteen with a high and breathy voice, reported it to the Culture Authority.
The new president, Amelia Farnsworth -- a brusque, middle-aged woman who was born in Eleven, but made her reputation almost single-handedly building District Seventeen, a new settlement on the rocky shores of northeast Panem -- ordered an immediate investigation.
We found the initial group of explorers camping along a river. For the first few months, we thought we were doing hidden surveillance. There were articles and breathless television specials, with aerial footage of campers hunting and fishing ("They look like Katniss and me," Dad said one night, rolling his eyes at the narration about primitive survival techniques). One of our scientists managed to get a bit of tossed-aside fruit, and they traced the DNA. There's a pronounced founder effect, probably accounting for the ubiquitous green eyes in the group. All of the original group they studied (and so far, everyone else we've met) is green-eyed, with light brown skin and black hair. Ginny Dalton, who's our team geneticist, suspects that there may be some congenital diseases ("There almost always are with populations this small"), but we haven't seen any sign of it.
Three months into our stealthy observation, the scientists came back to their own camp to find three of the new people waiting there for them, casually flipping through the aerial photographs. They'd brought the photos they'd been taking, and clearly wanted a trade. The problem was, we couldn't communicate at all, which created a whole new project.
I didn't end up in charge of it because my dad was president before Farnsworth, despite what the papers say. I didn't end up in charge because Mom has a habit of threatening people with axes, either.
I ended up in charge because, when I was ten years old, I went on a dig near District Two, just as a guest, and found a sign written in old Spanish. No one really knew the language -- Plutarch jokes that we don't really know the English that was also on the sign -- and no one else seemed interested, so I started digging for more. I buried myself in the library to get away from reporters, and by the time I got to college, I was more proficient in Spanish and other Latin based languages than anyone else in Panem… which isn't saying much. No one has spoken anything but our odd varieties of English for a very long time. I created my own field of study, and did a paper on how Spanish had impacted what we currently think of as Capitol-based English, which spread to the inner districts when the Capitol started colonizing. I felt very clever, as I recall.
I was the only real choice to be in charge of Panem's first diplomatic delegation, simply because it was clear that they were speaking some kind of Spanish, and they were aware that we were speaking some kind of English. I went to a big Quonset hut that they constructed on the dry plains of central South America. I met their linguist there, and we're still meeting there, every day.
It took us about two minutes to realize that trying to speak was an exercise in futility. Writing was only marginally possible. You'd think that two literate cultures would have been better at keeping the shape of the language recognizable, but I'm here to tell you: It didn't work. The other linguist, whose name is Camila, writes a beautiful line of English prose that uses words I've never seen, spells them in ways I've only encountered in pre-Catastrophic literature, and conjugates verbs in ways that I think pre-date even that. Judging by the look on her face when she reads my Spanish, I guess I'm in the same boat.
At least with writing, we don't have to deal with accents.
Half of Panem is expecting a full report on the cultural history of these people -- and they expect it yesterday -- and Camila and I have barely gotten the basics of "Hello" and "How are you?" (This is even worse than it sounds, since in their language, it's combined in the single word, "Mostas." She's one-upped me by learning, "Hello" and "How are you?")
I take a deep breath, put my hand on the door to the Quonset hut, and push it open. Camila has beaten me there, as usual. She's smart, and one of the prettiest women I've ever seen. I wish I could have a real conversation with her. Preferably not about politics.
"Hello, Caleb" she says, grinning. "How are you?"
I smile back. "Mostas, Camila."
She thinks for a minute, then gives up on a word and gestures me over to the table, where she's spread out a map. I realize that there's an open canister; it must have just come. It's from Farnsworth -- a map of Panem's lands, which the Council just voted on boundaries for. The southern boundary crosses an isthmus between the continents. There used to be a canal there, or at least that's what the District Three engineers say.
Camila taps it three times, then raises her eyebrows.
I sigh. Boundary conversations are difficult even when everyone speaks the language. I put my hand down on the map, over North America. "Panem," I say, then point to South America. "Tirafego."
She makes an expansive gesture with her hands, then rolls her eyes.
North America is bigger. Of course. We're at that. I move my hand over the tundra to the north of Panem and say, "Frio." I shiver theatrically.
She taps the southern land near Tirafego, and shrugs.
I point to myself six times (somehow, that's come to mean, "the people of Panem"), then write down the population of Panem -- last census, four point seven million, up twenty percent since the war ended. People are taking their repopulation duties seriously (at least if they were never victors; the victors have kept their families small for some reason, which leaves Indigo Abernathy as the closest thing I have to a sibling).
Her eyes go wide.
I tap her shoulder six times.
She writes down, "30,000," then waves her hand to show an approximation. It's many more than we've estimated. I wonder how many settlements they're in.
I decide to attempt some Spanish, even though it both puzzles her and makes her laugh. I point to several districts. "Vivemos aqui, aqui…" I raise my eyebrows, and point to her.
I watch her for a few seconds, while she parses out whatever archaism is in my Spanish, then she nods. "Places?" she says. "Places to live?"
"Yeah… yes. Si."
She starts to touch the map, at the island we know, then in another place in the mountains west of here. Then she stops and makes a cutting off motion with her hand. She doesn't have leave to tell me where their towns are.
I bite my lip. "But how many…" She frowns, and I try to think of another way. I tap each of our districts -- the original thirteen, plus the Capitol, plus the four new ones, and say, "Seventeen," I hold up all of my fingers once, then seven in a second pass.
She raises her eyebrows, and casually shows me eighteen.
Of course. I forgot to count the Capitol. But she knows what I said, anyway.
She holds up four fingers and shrugs. I point to the map and hand her a pen, then point vaguely toward where their contingent is camping. She seems to get it: Can you get them to mark the settlements? She nods, anyway.
She gets a sly smile on her face, and moves the pen over the Atlantic ocean. She points to Africa. "Tirafego."
I tap Eurasia. "Panem."
We both laugh, mostly because neither country has enough people to support much expansion. District Sixteen, in the deserts southwest of the Capitol, is on the verge of collapse as it is, and is always begging for settlers. With thirty thousand souls, I doubt Tirafego is in any shape to handle more than its current four settlements, either.
Neither of us mentions the idea that there could be another small settlement anywhere. I don't know about her people, but I know that Panem -- at least as it is now -- isn't interested in conquering. But I also seriously doubt that there's anything to conquer. We have the sensors all up and running now, and are even dropping new ones. There's nothing.
She points to Australia. I pull a coin out of my pocket and balance it to flip.
She laughs. We get back to the work of learning to talk to each other.
When I get back to camp at sunset, there's a call from Plutarch, wanting to know why I haven't found out how they survived the Catastrophes and why they've hidden all these years.
I shake my head, and start making out the day's report.
Anything from Mags in the direct aftermath of Doolin's death to the actual convo that got alluded to in the challenge where she found out how to reach Blight to her rallying the District post-Annie's games. for queen_bellatrix
Technically speaking, it's not against the law to be Catholic. Or Protestant. Or Jewish. Or pagan.
Technically, we can believe whatever we want, as long as we do it privately. Unapproved public gatherings of any sort are forbidden, though, and religious gatherings are not approved. Seminaries don't exist, and "professional credentials and initiations" may only be issued by Panem, so it's illegal for priests to be ordained. They can't stop men from keeping celibate if they're of a mind to do so, but men who are conspicuously unattached (to women or men) have a tendency to be dragged off for "re-education," accused of all manners of secret debauchery, or, at the very least, ridiculed and derided. No holidays except state holidays are on the calendar, and businesses may not close for non-approved holidays. Only state-licensed therapists may offer counseling. "Divisive" adornments (including all symbols of allegiance to anything other than Panem, which of course includes crucifixes) are summarily removed by the Peacekeepers.
Because of this, our church is a large tackle shop, we celebrate holidays behind closed doors, our priests are outlaws who have to jump trains to meet with each other, and our confessional is an old dock house, used for cleaning fresh catches, with a battered canvas sail hung from the ceiling. The Peacekeepers don't come in here often because it stinks of fish guts, so they always buy the idea that it's a place we repair sails, and they see a different one each time. Every Easter, we dye it to keep up the illusion.
It's still pretty freshly dyed (a kind of dingy green) the week after Doolin Odair died.
Finnick doesn't dare go anywhere. If the Peacekeepers aren't following him, the reporters will. So when Father Quinn -- Tiggy -- slipped him Carolyn's string crucifix yesterday, he couldn't very well follow up on it. She was a newcomer to the faith when she arrived, and like many converts, she became more devout than those of us born to it. Finnick slipped the crucifix over to me, along with a sealed note, then started weeping that his father hadn't even finished with his last catch. Between the two things, I figured out where Carolyn had been hiding since we got word they meant to arrest her for murdering Doolin.
I waited a day, in case anyone noticed me taking something from Finnick, but this morning, I decided that it was time to get myself some penance to atone for my sins.
It's not always easy getting into common areas as a victor, but I've stayed friends with a lot of the fishers over the years, and a lot of the ship owners. Captain Cresta, one of the best of them, makes a great show of inviting me to lunch, then going for a walk along the beach with me, which happens to go by the old dock house. He abruptly remembers a meeting he has to be at, and I say I'll stay down at the shore. As soon as I'm sure I'm alone, I duck inside.
I go up to the sail and say, "Bless me, father, for I have sinned. Been about six months. And I'm real worried about sins catching up with people."
"Bless you, Mags," Tiggy says on the other side. "Do you want to confess?"
"I didn't think so. Give me a second."
I hear him moving around, then there's a creak of hinges as the trapdoor comes up. Beneath us is a small equipment room, and on the floor there, hidden under crates that I hear Tiggy moving, is another trap door. This one leads to what looks like a pumping station under the dock from the outside but is actually where we keep vestments and wafers and anything else that we don't want confiscated.
Including, apparently, Carolyn Odair.
There's another shuffle of movement, then I hear two sets of footsteps coming up. The sail moves, and Tiggy beckons me around.
"I'm glad Finnick knew better than to just follow me," he says. "I was afraid he would. I was afraid the Peacekeepers would. I went halfway around town to make sure they weren't after me."
"Finnick didn't get through that arena by being brainless," I say as I come through.
Tiggy nods, then goes out to keep guard. I hear him move some of the heavy nets. I think he repairs them to keep himself fed.
This side of the curtain is pretty sparse -- just a small table with a pitcher of water on it and a battered, paint-splattered old chair for Tiggy to sit in. There's a window, but it's covered with moth-eaten cheesecloth, lighting the room in a kind of hazy sunshine.
Carolyn is standing there blinking in a patch of that strange sunlight, her eyes deep and somehow bruised. I hug her. "How are you, honey?"
She hugs me back, then pulls away shakily. "How should I be? Doolin's dead. They're framing me, Mags. Finnick knows it's a frame-up, doesn't he?"
"Of course he does. I don't think he'd entertain the idea of you doing this for even a second." I lead her to the chair and sit her down, then lean on the table across from her. "What are going to do? I bet we could get you out of the district. Maybe over into Ten. They're mostly the same as we are, so if you fit here, you'll fit there. It's bigger and easier to get lost in, too. Toffy'd help you get settle somewhere -- "
"No, I'm not leaving. No more running. They've destabilized Finnick's life enough."
"If they have you, they can use you against Finnick."
She looks up, surprised. "I always thought you were a loyalist."
"Everyone does. I like it that way." I smile. "The Capitol did right by me, mostly, once I got out of the arena. So I did right by it. But it's been getting worse since I was a kid. You've seen it. And they have their claws in Finnick now."
"And I don't know how to stop them!" She slams her hand against the table. "Dammit, Mags. When I was still… when I was Gia… I got their claws at least a little bit out of Haymitch, just by my own say-so. Now it's my little boy, and I know what they mean to do with him, and I can't do anything!"
I look around, out of reflex. Carolyn has never outright admitted to me that she was Pelagia Pepper, but we knew each other reasonably well in the Capitol. I watched her fall in love with Ollie Hedge, and I knew it would end badly. I tried to warn her off of it once, but she was so naïve that she shrugged it off. Ollie worked out her escape with Doolin, but he knew she'd need the District Four victors to make it work -- one person shouting, "That's Gia Pepper!" would have been the end.
We all knew Gia, but when Doolin showed up with his new bride, we all met her for the first time. There weren't even snide comments about how she looked like Gia. We've gone on like that for years, and Gia has slipped into the past. Carolyn is the reality.
Except that she used to be Gia, and she once did for another boy what she can no longer do for her own.
The first thing that comes to my mind is to ask her how to reach her people -- her rebels -- in the Capitol, but further thought suggests that this isn't a good idea. She's barely accepting that I’m not a loyalist. If I demand to know her contacts, she'll cut me off, and assume I'm spying. I would if I were her, anyway. Instead, I say, "We'll look after him as best we can. Everyone took a shine to him. Jack Anderson already risked an assault charge against a Capitol citizen for him."
"What about Ollie?"
I don't say anything. Blight Hedge has made a fifteen year career of trying to get even with Carolyn for her quick marriage. I don't know if he thought she was going to come down here and join the "ladies' brigade" (our convent, which masquerades as sea widows in a communal home), or if he just thought she'd pine away, but either way, he took it very personally when she married Doolin and bore him a child. I think he'd end up on Finnick's side, if it came to it, but I can't promise it. Instead I say, "Haymitch is looking after him. And I don't think he has the slightest idea who his mother is, so it's all about Finnick himself. You know that's good."
She nods. "Yes. But none of you can do anything. You couldn't do anything for the poor Anderson boy."
There's no arguing with that. I reach into my pocket and hand her Finnick's sealed note. "He's probably telling you to get safe," I say.
She unseals the note, reads it, then shakes her head. She hands me the note.
It's very short: I miss you, Mom. Please come home. They can't put you in jail for something you didn't do, and I need you. Love, Finnick.
I close my eyes slowly, then open them again. "Carolyn, he's fourteen. He probably believes it. But I can explain -- "
"They'll take you right in. They'll put you in jail, and we both know that the real crime you'll be in for is being Pelagia Pepper. For sneaking out under Snow's nose, and using his own tribute train to do it. You'll never see the outside of another cell."
"But there'll be visiting hours."
"Not if they drag you to the Capitol."
"They won't, for a local crime."
"They could hang you."
She shakes her head. "They won't. Like you said, they can use me."
"And you'd let them?"
"I don't know what to do, Mags! This is a long game. The longest one. I don't know how to win it. I don't know who my allies are. I don't -- "
"I'm your ally. Finnick's your ally. Hell, Blight probably is, if you push him hard enough. And Haymitch. But you have to run. I'll explain it to Finnick. He must know. Somewhere inside him, he has to know that they wouldn't give you a chance. Does he know who you are?"
"He knows I'm from the Capitol. I raised him with Capitol manners. I didn't tell him who I was there."
"He's not crazy, Carolyn. He'll understand. And if you don't go, they'll hold you over his head for the rest of your life."
She puts her head down and starts to weep. I put my hands on her shoulders as comfortingly as I can (comforting has never been my strong suit). Finally, she sits up and nods. "You'll take care of him?"
"As well as I can. We all will."
She cries a little bit more, then gets herself together. She's like Finnick that way. She feels very deeply, but she can build a wall around herself when she needs to. I hug her again before I go, and tell her that I can contact Toffy Taggart, but she says that she needs to break away from the victors, or she'll be traced. She knows some of Doolin's contacts in Eleven.
She goes back to the storage room. I talk to Tiggy for a few minutes, then go home. Finnick looks at me eagerly when I cross into Victors' Village, but I shake my head.
Three days later, there is a huge commotion in town, as the Gulf Patrol Peacekeepers drag in a raft. It's handmade, and has a fairly freshly dyed dingy green sail. Carolyn is cuffed and shoved onto the shore, and the raft is set to the flame.
She swears that she stole everything from Tiggy, but they whip him anyway. They tend to do that whenever something suspicious happens in Four.
The trial is barely even a formality. She's convicted without a single witness being allowed to speak for her. ("The evidence speaks for itself," the judge says, although no reasonable evidence is presented.)
She's in jail within the month.
Finnick never misses visiting hours.