Haymitch grips my wrist as if anticipating my next move, but I am as speechless as the Capitol’s torturers have rendered Darius.
Of course Haymitch knows who this is, too! Of course Haymitch is equally affected by Darius becoming an Avox. I wonder what he’s thinking at this moment. Of course, after many years of returning to the Capitol for Games-related stuff, he might be used to seeing people he knows as Avoxes.
But the only time I really feel present is when I purposely knock a dish of peas to the floor and, before anyone can stop me, crouch down to clean them up. Darius is right by me when I send the dish over, and we two are briefly side by side, obscured from view, as we scoop up the peas. For just one moment our hands meet. I can feel his skin, rough under the buttery sauce from the dish. In the tight, desperate clench of our fingers are all the words we will never be able to say.
Haymitch gives me a scowl, then relents. “All right, never mind. Today, in training, you’ve got two jobs. One, stay in love.”
“Obviously,” I say.
“And two, make some friends,” says Haymitch.
Oh man, this ought to be good. Peeta’s a natural, but Katniss, making friends? Recruiting allies? Either way, I’m excited to see who they come up with. I like teams!
Make your own pack if you’d rather. Choose who you like. I’d suggest Chaff and Seeder. Although Finnick’s not to be ignored,” says Haymitch. “Find someone to team up with who might be of some use to you. Remember, you’re not in a ring full of trembling children anymore. These people are all experienced killers, no matter what shape they appear to be in.”
Am I the only one who rolled his eyes when Haymitch suggested, oh, I don’t know, just two random people off the top of my head, how about Chaff and Seeder, the two with whom I’ve become the closest of friends? I mean maybe they would be their best bet, but for some reason I yawned a bit when Haymitch said it.
Enobaria looks to be about thirty and all I can remember about her is that, in hand-to-hand combat, she killed one tribute by ripping open his throat with her teeth. She became so famous for this act that, after she was a victor, she had her teeth cosmetically altered so each one ends in a sharp point like a fang and is inlaid with gold. She has no shortage of admirers in the Capitol.
I WANNA SEE YA GRILL, YA, YA, YA GRILL.
I’d be content to spend the morning alone with him, but after about an hour and a half, someone puts his arms around me from behind, his fingers easily finishing the complicated knot I’ve been sweating over. Of course it’s Finnick, who seems to have spent his childhood doing nothing but wielding tridents and manipulating ropes into fancy knots for nets, I guess. I watch for a minute while he picks up a length of rope, makes a noose, and then pretends to hang himself for my amusement.
The woman, Wiress, is probably around my mother’s age and speaks in a quiet, intelligent voice. But right away I notice she has a habit of dropping off her words in mid-sentence, as if she’s forgotten you’re there. Beetee, the man, is older and somewhat fidgety. He wears glasses but spends a lot of time looking under them. They’re a little strange, but I’m pretty sure neither of them is going to try to make me uncomfortable by stripping naked. And they’re from District 3. Maybe they can even confirm my suspicions of an uprising there.
Hmmm, suddenly these people seem like potential allies. I think either way, they’re going to have to team up with at least one old person. Might as well be them.
I glance around the Training Center. Peeta is at the center of a ribald circle of knife throwers. The morphlings from District 6 are in the camouflage station, painting each other’s faces with bright pink swirls. The male tribute from District 5 is vomiting wine on the sword-fighting floor. Finnick and the old woman from his district are using the archery station. Johanna Mason is naked again and oiling her skin down for a wrestling lesson. I decide to stay put.
Nice, classic, high school cafeteria-style walkthrough of the tributes in the training center. But seriously what is that girl’s PROBLEM?
“The strength of the thread,” Beetee finishes explaining. “Automatically. It rules out human error.” Then he talks about his recent success creating a musical chip that’s tiny enough to be concealed in a flake of glitter but can hold hours of songs. I remember Octavia talking about this during the wedding shoot, and I see a possible chance to allude to the uprising.
“Oh, yeah. My prep team was all upset a few months ago, I think, because they couldn’t get hold of that,” I say casually. “I guess a lot of orders from District Three were getting backed up.”
Beetee examines me under his glasses. “Yes. Did you have any similar backups in coal production, this year?” he asks.
“No. Well, we lost a couple of weeks when they brought in a new Head Peacekeeper and his crew, but nothing major,” I say. “To production, I mean. Two weeks sitting around your house doing nothing just means two weeks of being hungry for most people.”
I think they understand what I’m trying to say. That we’ve had no uprising.
“Oh. That’s a shame,” says Wiress in a slightly disappointed voice. “I found your district very …” She trails off, distracted by something in her head.
“Interesting,” fills in Beetee. “We both did.”
I feel bad, knowing that their district must have suffered much worse than ours. I feel I have to defend my people. “Well, there aren’t very many of us in Twelve,” I say. “Not that you’d know it nowadays by the size of the Peacekeeping force. But I guess we’re interesting enough.”
See, everyone expects District 12 to be like the leaders of the uprising, and they haven’t been able to do anything! But during these games, or after, something will happen. Something has to happen. Gale will organize a rebellion, definitely. Maybe during the games while everyone’s distracted? I don’t know but the suspense is killing me!
I take a tray and start making my way around the food-laden carts that ring the room. Peeta catches up with me at the stew. “How’s it going?”
“Good. Fine. I like the District Three victors,” I say. “Wiress and Beetee.”
“Really?” he asks. “They’re something of a joke to the others.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” I say. I think of how Peeta was always surrounded at school by a crowd of friends. It’s amazing, really, that he ever took any notice of me except to think I was odd.
“Johanna’s nicknamed them Nuts and Volts,” he says. “I think she’s Nuts and he’s Volts.”
“And so I’m stupid for thinking they might be useful. Because of something Johanna Mason said while she was oiling up her breasts for wrestling,” I retort.
“Actually I think the nickname’s been around for years. And I didn’t mean that as an insult. I’m just sharing information,” he says.
“Well, Wiress and Beetee are smart. They invent things. They could tell by sight that a force field had been put up between us and the Gamemakers. And if we have to have allies, I want them.”
I feel like it’d be just like Katniss to make a team of outcasts. Like, the fact that everyone seems to dislike Wiress and Beetee would probably make her want them even more. But I guess it’s still too early to tell who they’re going to team up with.
Cashmere and Gloss, the sister and brother from District 1, invite me over and we make hammocks for a while. They’re polite but cool, and I spend the whole time thinking about how I killed both the tributes from their district, Glimmer and Marvel, last year, and that they probably knew them and might even have been their mentors.
LOL CASHMERE AND GLOSS, I CAN’T.
Also, I guess they’re not too upset about Glimmer and Marvel (lol) if they invited Katniss over to their station. Unless it’s to draw her in and lull her into a false sense of security so they can avenge Glimmer and Marvel (lol) by killing her in the arena? I don’t know why do I even bother trying to predict this shit?
After a while I tune out the trainer and simply try to copy whatever Mags does. When I make a pretty good hook out of a bent nail and fasten it to some strands of my hair, she gives me a toothless smile and an unintelligible comment I think might be praise. Suddenly I remember how she volunteered to replace the young, hysterical woman in her district. It couldn’t be because she thought she had any chance of winning. She did it to save the girl, just like I volunteered last year to save Prim. And I decide I want her on my team.
Great. Now I have to go back and tell Haymitch I want an eighty-year-old and Nuts and Volts for my allies. He’ll love that.
Dream team right here. I still want to learn more about Mags though.
I forget the rest of the gym and the victors and how miserable I am and lose myself in the shooting. When I manage to take down five birds in one round, I realize it’s so quiet I can hear each one hit the floor. I turn and see the majority of the victors have stopped to watch me. Their faces show everything from envy to hatred to admiration.
That’s how you do it, bitch.
And the more I come to know these people, the worse it is. Because, on the whole, I don’t hate them. And some I like. And a lot of them are so damaged that my natural instinct would be to protect them. But all of them must die if I’m to save Peeta.
And that is what the Hunger Games are all about. I kind of want to see all the tributes just have a big sit-in when the Games begin, like an Occupy The Hunger Games. When the gong sounds or whatever, instead of running around killing each other, they just walk up to the Cornucopia and sit in a circle, sharing the food and burning all the weapons in the middle while singing “Kumbaya.”
There’s a lot of kidding about it at lunch. What we might do. Sing, dance, strip, tell jokes. Mags, who I can understand a little better now, decides she’s just going to take a nap.
Hahaha, old people.
We sit in silence awhile and then I blurt out the thing that’s on both our minds. “How are we going to kill these people, Peeta?”
That is what sucks about alliances. No matter how many people you have, how good they are, how much you like each other, at some point you’re going to have to kill each other. It’s its own form of turture that the Gamemakers didn’t even have to create. The tributes do it to themselves. Not that they have much of a choice.
When I go in, I smell the sharp odor of cleaner and notice that one of the mats has been dragged to the center of the room. The mood is very different from last year’s, when the Gamemakers were half drunk and distractedly picking at tidbits from the banquet table. They whisper among themselves, looking somewhat annoyed. What did Peeta do? Something to upset them?
Peeta need I remind you that we’re all here to try to keep YOU alive? So don’t fuck it up!
Suddenly I know just what I’m going to do. Something that will blow anything Peeta did right out of the water. I go over to the knot-tying station and get a length of rope. I start to manipulate it, but it’s hard because I’ve never made this actual knot myself. I’ve only watched Finnick’s clever fingers, and they moved so fast. After about ten minutes, I’ve come up with a respectable noose. I drag one of the target dummies out into the middle of the room and, using some chinning bars, hang it so it dangles by the neck. Tying its hands behind its back would be a nice touch, but I think I might be running out of time. I hurry over to the camouflage station, where some of the other tributes, undoubtedly the morphlings, have made a colossal mess. But I find a partial container of bloodred berry juice that will serve my needs. The flesh-colored fabric of the dummy’s skin makes a good, absorbent canvas. I carefully finger paint the words on its body, concealing them from view. Then I step away quickly to watch the reaction on the Gamemakers’ faces as they read the name on the dummy.