Beyond the Wasteland

Chapter 8: Hidden Truths

It took a moment for Effie to register what was going on and another moment later, the kiss had ended. She stared at Haymitch as if seeing him for the first time and he waited for the slap the never came. He wondered if she was too far gone to react regardless of what he did. "Effie?"

"I..." She paused, unsure of what to do or say, her thoughts and feelings in a painful daze.

"Are you still with me?" He had to ask, because he wasn't sure if she was there it if she was living in death.

Effie nodded slowly, "I'll try..."

That was enough, as long as she wasn't giving up entirely, it would be okay, because if she gave up, he wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to give up as well. "I'll be here, now get some rest."

Effie nodded wordlessly and laid her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and let a restless sleep take her.

xoxox xox xoxox

A few days later, Haymitch had began planning his departure from the island. He assured Effie he would return for her, but she refused and insisted on going. They gathered supplies and were planning to leave on the next trade ship, but they received a pleasant surprise when they found that the ship not only brought supplies, but also Celeste.

Haymitch shared the story of Elsa while Effie met with her village friends, wanting to spend a little more time with them before leaving. The pair boarded the trade ship along with Celeste, heading towards the hub across the rapids and to Meteor.

The hub had changed drastically. Craters and charred debris could be found all around a rustic metal wall that formed an improvised stronghold. The desert dwellers had banded together to defend their land, but those who wished to stick to their morals were less than those who would rather conquer the fertile land of Panem.

Panem was still the main target though, so Snow's followers were focused on their journey there rather than finishing off the desert resistance. Celeste had changed as well, gone was the mask of strength and hope he adopted for a while for his father's sake, it had died along with him. Now Celeste was the leader of the Meteor caravan and the resistance.

"We can't pursue them," Celeste declared as Meteor moved across the desert. "They have better transportation and even if we catch up, they'll overpower us. We need to lead them into a trap and make them step into it. For that," he looked across the room at his fellow resistance soldiers, among whom were Haymitch and Effie. "We will need a hostage. Our spies have found one of their secret none-mobile bases. They believe Snow's heir died during the hub battle," he didn't bother explaining the details of Haymitch's story about Elsa.

"Regardless of the details, she is in fact dead, thus they have elected a new heir. It is rumored that the heir is in that base. The base will be heavily guarded, but I've thought of a few ideas about how to break in, suggestions are still welcome of course." Celeste paused and looked at Effie and Haymitch, "our allies from Panem will provide their knowledge about the technology of the legendary city, they have also been received into the society of the island and learned their trade, which will also be of use to us."

Haymitch and Effie had learned upon their reunion with Celeste that the dwellers of the frozen island didn't share their secrets with everyone. Yet the chief's son had shown them kindness, probably feeling sorry for the couple and their daughter, since that is how he saw them.

The meeting progressed with a plan being put into action. Haymitch would have to be on the mission. He wasn't exactly and expert pilot, but he at least knew more about the enemy's vehicles than any of the desert nomads, plus he had become familiar with the basics about hovercrafts during the rebellion.

Once it was established that Haymitch was going, Effie insisted on going as well. Celeste thought it was a poor strategy for both their Panem allies to be out on the same mission. If they failed, the nomads would lose their link to Panem and their only sources of insight about their technology and behavior. They may see, having lived their lives in Panem, things that the nomads might not take note of, patterns, strategy and intentions, reading between the lines.

None the less, Effie refused to change her mind and not even Haymitch could persuade her. Celeste had no choice but to agree and added himself to the mission. The inhabitants of Meteor protested the departure of their leader, but Celeste insisted that if both Haymitch and Effie were going, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from going to make sure their precious allies were not lost to the dangers they would face. "Besides, now that I think about it, I should go with them and represent our forces when we get to Panem on the airship we'll steal, so I might as well start working with them now."

xoxox xox xoxox

At night, the sand blew against the small vehicle strongly. Effie was afraid they would be blown away every time the armored car was lifted from the sands. The vehicle was only large enough to carry four people, enough for their secret mission, too many would attract too much attention. Sander, a man in his late twenties, would serve as the decoy with a plot to infiltrate the enemy. He would claim he left Meteor and wanted to join them.

His bargaining chip would be to sell out the caravan. They would spot it approaching as per his warning, but it would only be a hallow replica. Sander would warn them of their weapons, which were only fiction, and Snow's followers would focus on taking down the false Meteor. Then when the defenses were down, Celeste, Haymitch and Effie would move in.

Sander parted from the group, approaching the secret base with heavy boots that increased gravity to prevent being blown away. He stood at a spot that seemed to contain nothing and held up his hands. Minutes passed, then at last a pair of white suited guards armed with rifles exited a hidden door in the sand. Words were exchanged, though they were too far for the hidden Haymitch, Effie and Celeste to hear. Their small heavy car had been hidden in case they needed to retreat and were dressed in sand colored garments, held in place by the same kind of boots Sander had.

One of the guards ventured out over a nearby sandy hill, then dashed back in alarm, confirming the story that Sander offered as proof of his new loyalty. In the distance, he could see the tall blurry shadow of a caravan tank approaching. The guard ran too fast and was lifted by the wind, flailing uncontrollably and being carried ever higher. His companion hesitated, then turned away and led Sander inside the base at gun point.

Effie felt disgusted at how easily allies were sacrificed. Snow's followers must be feeling confident with more caravans joining their cause. It didn't take long for soldiers equipped with boots similar to theirs to emerge from the sands along with a few vehicles. This base was not heavily armed, as they were counting on it not being discovered.

As soon as the majority of the enemy forces were far enough, Celeste hurried forward, dragging his feet with the weight of the boots. He approached behind a tank, away from their field of vision, and jumped down as the door began to close. The noise of the artillery masked his entrance and the armory appeared to be empty, the whole of their forces being dispatched to defend against the supposed invasion.

Effie felt rooted to the spot, unable to even drag her feet. Haymitch bent over to press some buttons on Effie's boots. She felt lighter and began to drag her feet along the sand. She lost her footing, walking on air at times since her boots were not set to full power, but Haymitch held her hand and kept her from falling. They caught up to Celeste just in time.

"I was getting worried," Celeste greeted. He had turned his gravity boots off and dropped his sand colored cloak to reveal a clean white uniform underneath. Effie and Haymitch followed his example.

Haymitch and Celeste exchanged a few words, but Effie was busy shaking off her hair out from the sandy turban it was wrapped in. She smoothed it and pinned it up again, pushing it under the helmet Haymitch gave her.

They continued down the tunnel of the area where no one was supposed to be, then waited until an explosion echoed and the lights flickered. That was Sander's signal. It was only a matter of time before Snow's followers realized that Meteor was fake. They would hopefully take Sander to their commander by then. He knew he would be executed anyway, so he would set himself ablaze by drinking a special concoction.

Effie was sure they would be using the mixture as a bomb to be thrown, though she insisted she didn't think it would catch on fire easily enough that way, as it tended to react to contact with bio-matter, and there was no way for it to touch the skin of a foe that was armored from head to toe. They insisted they would find a use for it, but Effie didn't know it would be Sander's willing sacrifice. He must have ran while on fire, punching people and equipment, causing a chain reaction before he finally died.

In the middle of the panic, Celeste saw some men and women in lab coats ahead. They had blended in with the guards and the scientists assumed they were on their side. The few guards that had remained within the base rushed to investigate Sander's commotion. One of the scientists, a woman in her early forties, stopped and demanded with authority, "what is happening?"

Celeste responded by opening fire on all but her. Effie screamed and reached out to stop him, but Haymitch held her back. "You look like you're one of the big shots around here, we're looking for the heir, lead the way, lady."

The lone surviving scientist hesitated, then started walking, leading them through a maze of corridors and many doors she opened with her key card, numerical combinations, finger prints and retinal scans.

Haymitch felt uneasy about how quick she was to comply and feared she was leading them into a trap. He could hear Effie's heavy breaths as she clung to his arm and knew that he could never allow her to know about Sander. The situation reminded him somewhat of Gale and the parachute bombs. They didn't know Sander very well, but he was still human, and Effie was hanging by a thread as it was.

They arrived at a large laboratory lined with tubes containing what appeared to be human children in various stages of prenatal development. "I give you the heir, the new president Snow," the scientist mocked. That's why she was so compliant, they had an army of clones and likely the means to make more.

"What is this?" Celeste demanded in horror. "They're growing humans here as if they were fruits?"

"Clones, genetic copies, but how they turned out depends on how they're," Haymitch couldn't say raised, it wasn't likely in this situation, "programmed," he finished.

"Take your pick," the scientist laughed.

"You..." Celeste shot her.

"Would you stop doing that?" Effie scolded.

"Sorry, but this is war," Celeste replied with bitterness. He had clearly been dwelling on everything that went wrong in his life and all the people he lost far more often than was healthy. This was not the same Celeste they met what felt like an eternity ago.

Haymitch thought they could use the woman to gain access to other areas, but it was too late now and getting into an argument about it wasn't the wisest thing to do at the moment. At least he retrieved her key card. "Let's go," Haymitch walked deeper into the lab, ignoring the clones. He found another door which didn't require much to open from the inside, but retracing their steps back to the lab would be impossible without their unwilling escort.

They moved swiftly through deserted metal corridors until Effie stopped out of breath. Suffocating, in her helmet, she took it off and gasped for breath. Haymitch pulled her arm urgently, but froze when the base shook as the tanks returned and the guards marched back. The false Meteor had been destroyed and the base's defenses were returning. They were trapped, their mission a failure.

A breeze was felt from one of the corridors, carrying sand. Celeste moved towards it, eyes wide at what he saw. The wind picked up with more sand cascading from the opening in the large chamber ahead. He found what he didn't expect to find there, the next stage of their plan. "It's one of their flying machines!" Taking one from their other bases would be harder, plus they had no hostage to lead them to a trap, they had to take this chance. With an insane battle cry, Celeste charged forward.

"Celeste!" Haymitch rushed to stop him just as all hell broke loose.

"No!" Effie screamed in a panic. Haymitch had become her anchor, she kept going because she told herself she couldn't abandon him. She dashed after him and a sharp pain to the back of the shoulder knocked her down.

"Stop!" A voice shouted in the disarray. "That's Effie Trinket, she was teaching the keys to the deceased heir. With Lady Elsa and General Frost dead, she's the only one who knows the keys!"

"Her memories were erased!" Another argued.

"That was an order!" The echoing voice boomed and crossfire ceased, but Effie was near the point of fainting and everything was a blur.

Taking the chance, Celeste pulled Effie up and held his rifle to her temple. "Give us the airship or she dies!" Effie lost consciousness...

To be Continued

Another cliffhanger, enjoy. :D I'm sorry I didn't get this posted before. I was thinking about how terrible it was that I had not updated since posting chapter 8 and then I realized that I never did post 8. So sorry about that! The good news is that I'm done ironing out the details for the rest of the story and with a solid outline, all that's left to do is type.