I assumed I would be saving a young girl. The last person I expected to ever see in a place like this was Effie. I suppose I just always figured that she would be taken care of. Out of everyone from our whole District 12 team, she was the one who remained most loyal to the Capitol. How could they do this to her?
Seeing her like this terrified me. All of the hope I had left of my children being alive shattered the moment I saw Effie. For the first time in years, I can see what is real. I'm awake. The Capitol is not a safe place to be anymore. It never was. The war was never over. I never had any children. And right now, I am going to rescue Effie Trinket.
Effie lets out a gasp like she's about to burst into tears at any moment. However, we don't have the time for any of that. The shock of seeing her again already made me waste two more seconds that we desperately needed. Immediately I yank her up and haul her out of her cell as fast as I can. The old Effie would be appalled by this, and probably would have sat me down to listen to a few more of her lessons in etiquette. However, the new Effie doesn't say a word. She even tries her best to cooperate and keep up with my pace.
The time comes to hoist Effie up for Bonnie to pull into the vent. If anyone tried to do this to Effie back when I first met her, she would have been horrified by the very thought of such behavior. But quickly I raise her up. I am actually surprised that I could lift her at all. Although since her imprisonment I doubt she's been eating as well as she used to.
Bonnie grabs Effie and carefully lifts her up, by her arms. We must have less than eight seconds at this point. I haven't been able to keep track of the time as well as I thought I would have. I guess the shock of seeing Effie threw me off.
Finally the last bit of Effie's feet tuck inside the vent. It's my turn now, and I'll need to jump.
I see Bonnie's arms reach down even further than they did the last time. Effie must be holding her legs. Spinging upward as high as I can, Bonnie's hands grab me by my wrists. There can't be more than a few seconds left at this point. Immediately Bonnie hoists me up. She's panicking so she's not as careful with me as she was with Effie. I shoot straight up in to the vent landing on top of the two of them. For a moment we remain still, piled up and crammed together. I just hope we haven't been seen.
"Well I don't hear an alarm so we must have done it," Bonnie says. "I don't hear any guards either." A wave of relief hits me, and I feel my body relax. We are going to be okay, but we need to get out of here fast.
As we untangle and reorganize ourselves in the vent, Bonnie is able to seal the opening and lead us back. Effie follows quietly behind Bonnie, with me trailing after. We remain silent. At first it was just so none of us would start a commotion on our way out, but then the silence just felt comfortable. No alarms going off. No guards running around. It confirmed every hope we had of not getting caught. As we crawl, I realize it was taking us a little longer to get back than it took us to find Effie. Then I remember. We still have one more person to rescue.
I search my memory for who it could possibly be. Who was I with when I was brought here? Bonnie mentioned Peeta, but he won't be there. Bonnie already said he was kept away from all the other prisoners. That just leaves Gale, Cressida and Pollux.
"Bonnie, you said I was taken as soon as I got to the Capitol, right?"
Bonnie replies, "Yeah just barely. They came for you in the middle of the night. Most of you were sleeping so it must have happened pretty fast."
That means we could be going to rescue anyone right now. Bonnie mentioned yesterday that Finnick had been brought in with us. That means there could be others alive too. There could be anyone from squad 451. It was starting to come back to me. Castor, Messalla, Boggs. Any of them could be alive as well.
A mixture of feelings overwhelms me. How many lies could the Capitol have convinced me of over the years? Could any of it have been real? I now know what it must have been like for Peeta, when he arrived at District 13. I don't know what's real. Yes, there is the possibility that everyone I knew to be dead can still alive. But, there is also the possibility that those I assumed were alive could be gone. What about Gale? Is he okay? What about his plot with Coin and Beetee? Did that ever happen? Were they really planning on sacrificing children? If the war never ended, then it can only be assumed that whatever plans they did have never came to fruition.
That's when it hit me. Prim. Did she ever come to the Capitol? Is she alive? Just when I thought everything I loved had been taken from me, something returned. The possibility of getting Prim back had sparked something inside of me. A fighter that I had not seen long since the Hunger Games has resurfaced. Katniss Everdeen, the Girl on Fire.
I move forward, determined to save whoever awaits me. The climb down is tiring. I can hear poor Effie wheezing ahead of me. She continues without a single complaint though. Effie's probably in the same place I was, when Bonnie got to me yesterday. I didn't care where or how far we were going as long as it was somewhere safe.
Eventually we all come to a complete stop. Ahead of me I hear the clanking of Bonnie's tools. The vent is unhinged and she signals me and Effie to stay put. We do even though I desperately want to find out who we're rescuing.
When Bonnie returns, Effie and I move backward to make room. I try to get a glimpse of the new addition to the group, but it's too dark, and I can't see around Effie. Bonnie locks everything back up, and says that I must now lead the way. Thankfully she can instruct me where to go every time we reach a point where I'm not certain. However since, we don't know where exactly we may be located in the building, we try not to make too much noise. Soon though, I get the hang of it and start to recognize familiar stretches here and there.
Finally, I reach a grating that I'm familiar with. It's the vent that leads back into the garbage facility. Bonnie passes up her bag of tools, and I realize how heavy it is. She really did come prepared. Thankfully I've seen Bonnie unhinge enough vents to have some idea of what to do.
It feels safe to talk now so I call back to the others, while I work at getting the vent open. "Who'd we rescue," I ask.
There is a long pause before Bonnie responds. "I'm not sure. The guy can't talk."
At least now I know who it is. The vent cover falls off and I get out, followed by Effie, Pollux and Bonnie. Pollux stares at me. He has the same look that Effie did when she first saw me. He looks as though he could burst into tears at any moment. Only this time, Pollux runs towards me and wraps his arms around me. I look up at Effie, who can't fight back her sobbing any longer. She grabs hold of me too and I can feel my shirt dampen as it becomes soaked with their tears.
Quickly I glance over toward Bonnie for help. "Hey, don't expect me to jump in there. It's your reunion." This catches Effie's attention, who then releases me and clutches onto Bonnie. Bonnie is somewhat caught off guard by this, and the alarmed expression on her face makes me laugh for the first time since I've woken.
Once Effie releases her grip on Bonnie, Bonnie leads us all to the old mattress and her stash of treasures. Bonnie goes off for a few minutes and returns with what she assumed would be plenty of food for the two new rescues. We both quickly realize that isn't the case.
If I had any concerns about Effie's new behavior before, it was all quickly forgotten after watching her eat. Effie Trinket, the person I once counted on to look presentable and maintain proper etiquette, was gorging herself on everything in sight. It reminds me of how I used to devour my meals just to upset her. I remind myself that she was starving in a cell for over two years. I would probably have done the same. But soon even Pollux was taking notice.
As she finishes, her eyes finally glance away from the food to find all three of us staring at her. Embarrassed, her face quickly changes to a bright shade of pink and her sense of propriety quickly snaps back into place. "Oh my, excuse me. I do suppose it's been a while since I've eaten a nice meal." The color in her cheeks then transforms to a slightly darker shade of pink, when she comes to the realization that she just referred to garbage as a nice meal.
Being reunited with Effie and Pollux gave me back something. Something that I've been missing for a long time. Hope. And I know they aren't the only two friends I have here. Without even thinking, I say, "We are going to save the rest of them. We are going to save them all."
Bonnie perks up immediately. I don't think I've ever seen her as excited as she is now. Quickly she pulls out a pen and a pad of paper. I don't bother asking. At this point I've just accepted that Bonnie has already collected everything you could possibly think of. Bonnie hands me the paper and pen, and tells me to write down any names that I can remember. She instructs me to start with the people that I thought could be of the most importance in escaping the Capitol. Bonnie says after I finish my list, she can listen to see if Cooper picks up any mention of the names, and in the mean time, we can start working on a plan to get everyone out of the Capitol.
I'm not sure whether it's my newly restored hope or Bonnie's enthusiasm. Anything seems possible, especially as I continue listing more and more names of people I once thought to be lost. It isn't until I look over at Pollux and Effie again that I realize we may have gotten carried away. Both look exceedingly uncomfortable by the notion of a massive search and rescue plan.
"Dear, we don't know how long the four of us can stay hidden. The more people we bring down here the more peacekeepers are going to be searching for us. They'll be making sure we can't get out," Effie utters. "And Katniss, I don't think you realize how serious this situation is. They captured you and they didn't kill you. They kept you alive all this time for a reason. Whatever Snow is planning, it's not going to be something we can easily avoid."
For the moment, everyone falls silent. Effie is right. We can't just save everyone and expect to all get out. Quietly we all sit and think of what to say, but it's Pollux who finally makes the first move. He grabs the pen and paper from my hand, signaling us all to gather round. He scans through the list and begins to mark it up.
The first names on the list are Peeta, Gale and Finnick. He skips Peeta's name altogether and circles both Gale and Finnick. I can feel my heart beating uncontrollably fast. He circles Boggs and Jackson as well. It isn't until he lingers over Castor's name and crosses it out that I realize what he's doing. If they are circled, then they are okay.
However, once Pollux starts crossing out names it doesn't seem like he will stop. One right after another, Mitchell, Homes, Leeg 1 and Leeg 2 are each crossed out. He skips Cressida to cross out Messalla, but then Effie tells him to draw a line through Cressida's name as well. Apparently, Cressida starved to death in her cell a week ago.
It's starting again. I can't tell the difference between what is real and what isn't. Everything seems to be blurring together. Every name Pollux crossed out was someone I knew to be dead. Every name he circled was a gift. Then he got to Cressida. As far as I knew, she was still alive. Cressida lived out the rest of her life after the war. She probably even had children of her own.
As my brain tries to process all of this, I don't realize that some of these thoughts I have said out loud. Concerned looks are exchanged between Bonnie, Effie and Pollux. For a moment no one says anything about it. Then Effie begins to ask questions. "What was it they put in your head? What is it that you remember?"
Effie knows. I'm not sure how she knows, but she does. For the first time, I explain everything. I explain everything that happened, or everything that I thought had happened. I explain the battle in the Capitol and all of the deaths. I explain the plot behind killing off innocent Capitol children, and how Gale and Beetee worked with Coin. Then I explain what happened to Prim and why I had to kill Coin. All three of them seem stunned by this information.
I'm just about to describe my life with Peeta and our kids, when Effie stops me. "That could be it," Effie exclaims. "The Capitol had been using tracker jacker venom to alter your mind. This could be why." As Effie speaks, I can focus on nothing else. She's figured out the reason I'm here. She's figured out the reason I'm alive. "If the Capitol's plan had worked, if their plan had not backfired, with you ending up in a coma, then they would have let you go. Snow would have let District 13 rescue you."
"Rescue me?" I mumble. Then I realize where Effie was going with this. The Capitol had done it before with Peeta. They allowed District 13 to rescue Peeta, so he could come back and kill me. This time their intent was for me to kill Coin. It makes sense. Send the girl who's the face of the rebellion to kill the President of the District leading the rebellion. "Why did it backfire?"
Judging by the looks on all of their faces, this was a question everyone knew the answer to, but me. Anxiously, I await their answer, until Bonnie begins to speak. Of course it was Bonnie. She seems to specialize is delivering unsettling news.
"They were trying to hijack you, Katniss. They were going to turn you into their own personal assassin, like Peeta is now." I freeze at the phrase personal assassin. Could Bonnie be right? Is the real Peeta so far gone now that he's now killing people on the Capitol's behalf? I try to push the thought from my mind, so I can focus on the rest of Bonnie's explanation. "You were different. The venom didn't affect you in the same way. Every time they tried to insert a memory, you would end up unconscious for weeks at a time. They thought they could fix that problem by using what friends you have here, to make the memories seem more natural. Snow would force them to act out certain scenarios, while in the room with you. That's why some memories may seem a bit out of place in comparison to others."
I immediately stop Bonnie. What she's just revealed to me has triggered a sinister thought. A thought that I hope isn't true. "Pollux, the people you've scratched off the list. Were any of them killed in front of me?"
I can see tears well up in his eyes as he nods. I can't breathe. The lines of reality have blurred even more. Some of the memories that I have are not just manufactured. Some have been played out in front of me to watch. People, who were there to protect me, were executed in front of my very eyes, just so the Capitol could make me believe what they wanted me to. Now there is nothing I can do except ask Bonnie to continue.
Bonnie explains, "The memories weren't fitting together properly. Each time you fell asleep, your mind would try to stitch them together on its own. Then you would come to, and they would try again. Eventually, the time came when they inserted a memory so awful that you didn't wake until yesterday. They gave you a memory so evil that their number one priority would become yours."
Prim. The Capitol has taken my sister and used her as a trigger for me. They knew it had to be her to break me. They have the evidence on camera. The girl who's sister volunteered at the Reaping to save her. Of course it had to be her.
But it didn't work. I never left. I was never rescued. I never killed Coin, and now I know Prim wasn't killed either. So now what? Where does that leave Snow in his master plan? Why am I still alive? I ask, but neither Effie nor Bonnie has an answer for me. Fortunately, Pollux does.
He scribbles away on a fresh scrap of paper. We wait in silence until he finishes. By the time he's ready to show us, it seems he's created a diagram of 26 rooms that are on floor 45 of the containment building. Each is designated by a set of two numbers. It's unclear what the numbers mean until he begins adding names to them. In room 13-2 Pollux writes the name Boggs. He continues by adding Jackson to 13-1, Gale to 12-2 and my name to 12-1. Pollux looks up at all of us for confirmation that we understand. He probably takes the shocked expressions on our faces as evidence that we do.
Two from every District, and this time 13 is included. Could they really be planning another Hunger Games in the middle of a war? What could Snow possibly be hoping to accomplish? Whatever it is, now we know what we need to do to stop him. Tomorrow we go to rescue everyone on floor 45.
I'm restless the whole night. I sense that Pollux is too. In the background Effie snores, while Bonnie remains undisturbed, smiling in her sleep. Living on her own for the past couple of years, Bonnie has become fearless. Now she at least has company. This is probably the happiest she's been in a long time. Pollux on the other hand has managed to survive living in a cell the whole time. By no means is he ready to go back near another one. I'm not so sure I am either. I was apprehensive enough about rescuing Effie and Pollux today. The thought of somehow climbing to the 45th floor and opening all the cells seems next to impossible.
I would rather just try to make a break for it. Take Bonnie, Effie and Pollux and get out of the city. But how can we leave knowing about everyone who is left trapped upstairs, waiting to become a part of whatever twisted plot Snow is preparing. If any of us are getting out of here, then we are taking out Snow's plans in the process.
The next morning, I awake, surprised that I actually got some sleep. Bonnie is clearly taking inventory, which is substantially more than yesterday. Bonnie has four packs prepared, one for each of us. All of her tools are dispersed amongst the four. If we're successful again today, it seems that Bonnie is not planning on us returning to the garbage facility.
Next to Bonnie is Pollux, trying to go over some diagrams that he drew up. He must have gotten no sleep at all, judging by how many there are now. Bonnie tries to give him some food, but he won't take it. He's too focused to bother. I try to eat something, but my stomach doesn't seem to want anything right now. All I can do is sit and wait.
Effie is off to the side snacking on some scraps and clutching onto Cooper, listening intently for any signs of activity. The oddest thing about her is that she looks just like the old Effie. Bonnie must have had some makeup and clothing for her. I can't imagine why she would choose to dress up today of all days. The whole point of this rescue mission is that we can't be seen. Who is she trying to impress anyway? It's going to be ridiculous with her running around in those big heels. I shoot her a questionable look, but she doesn't seem to understand why. I guess the new Effie isn't that different from the old one after all.
In the vents, no one makes a sound. Nothing can go wrong today. We can't be heard, and we can't be seen. I'm focused only on our mission. All I can think about is rescuing Gale, Boggs, Jackson and anyone else we can get to. Bonnie and Pollux have managed to come up with a route that takes us by the least amount of peacekeepers.
When we finally do come to a stop, I hear more than just the clanking of Bonnie's tools unhinging the vent. There is something else out there. I can't make it out at first, but then I see it speed downward as a rush of wind shoots throughout the ventilation shaft.
"Bonnie, you brought us to an elevator?"
"Yep, Pollux and I figured this would be the fastest way to the 45th floor. We are just above the main floor so we should have plenty of opportunities to hop aboard. Once we are all on. We can wait and make sure there is no one inside so Effie can climb in and make the elevator go up to 45." At least now I understand why Effie's all dressed up. She'll need to blend in just in case she's seen. For the first time ever there is no one who can blend in better than Effie Trinket.
When the elevator finally comes to a complete stop on the main floor, we all pile out onto the top. Bonnie tells us to hold on tight and wait for a moment. When nothing happens she's able to open a hatch and poke her head inside the elevator. There must not be anyone inside because she instantly signals for Effie to scurry in. Once I see Effie drop out of sight, I brace myself, but nothing happens.
"I need a keycard to access the 45th floor," Effie whispers from below.
Bonnie rummages through her pack and tosses one down. "Try this one," Bonnie whispers back. I didn't notice before, but she has actually managed to collect quite a few keycards. This girl alone has probably had access to every area in the building and no one has known. I think it's now fair to say that most of what Bonnie has collected, over the years, wasn't found in the garbage.
Bonnie closes the hatch and crouches down. We move only slightly at first and then elevate so quickly the walls blur together. I start to feel nauseous, so I close my eyes. This lasts only a couple of seconds before we stop. Bonnie opens the hatch and I can hear a man questioning Effie.
"Excuse me Miss, I don't believe you're authorized to be up here. Are you lost?"
Effie sounds just like her old self again, and pulls off quite an impressive argument too. In most cases she probably would have been let past without any questions. This man, however, doesn't seem to care what Effie has to say. He advances toward her until Effie is backed into the corner of the elevator. That's when Bonnie jumps down, wrench in hand. This attracts the attention of another guard, which then results in Pollux following after Bonnie. Panicked, I jump down after everyone to find that I've landed on top of three unconscious peacekeepers.
If someone had ever asked me to pick three people to break into a high security floor in the Capitol, I don't think Effie, Bonnie or Pollux would have even come to mind. Now that I'm here, I'm wondering how I got so lucky to end up with these three.
As I look ahead there doesn't seem to be any more peacekeepers around. The entire hallway looks as though it's made of white light. The floor is covered with white tiles, while the walls are all painted white. On top of that all twenty-six cells seem to be made of some sort of glass, which shine brilliantly under the white light.
Effie, Bonnie and Pollux all stop at the first two cells to see if there's a way to get them open. After none of Bonnie's keycards work, she starts to go to work with her tools. I gaze into the cells for District 1. I don't recognize the man or the woman. As I walk down the hall, there is no one I know in the cells for Districts 2 or 3 either. They all seem to be soldiers plucked from the battlefield. Then I see the girl in cell 4-1. She's the first one that I've seen, who actually looks like she's young enough to be in a typical Hunger Games.
As I turn, to see cell 4-2, sure enough, there's Finnick Odair, lying on a cot. I start pounding on the glass, and even start to hit it with whatever tools I think would do the most damage. Not a single dent or crack appears on the pristine glass, but Finnick notices. He pulls himself upright. At first, a look of confusion crosses his face. Then he smiles and I can see his mouth say, "Katniss," but I can't hear his voice through the glass.
"Bonnie, have you figured out how to get the cells open yet?"
"Almost, just give me a few more seconds."
As I look into Finnick's sea green eyes, I am reminded of the last time I saw him. Having to watch him die, and thinking I would never see him again. Knowing that I had just lost one of the closest friends I had made, since entering the Hunger Games. I know that I had believed Pollux and Bonnie when they said he was here. However, this is the first person I've seen alive, whom I had watched die. My head throbs as if someone else is stitching my head together. I can feel the memories in my mind readjust in order to make sense of this. Could Bonnie have been right about that too? Could my own mind have been playing tricks on me just as the Capitol tried to with the venom? How do I tell the difference between the memories created by the Capitol and the memories I created myself to piece everything together?
I need to focus. There is no time to analyze what the Capitol has done to me. Right now I just need find a way to get Finnick out of here, along with all the other prisoners. It doesn't look like Bonnie has opened any of the cells yet so I start working on Finnick's cell with what tools Bonnie has packed for me. That's when I hear someone else coming.
Expecting another peacekeeper I clutch onto a wrench, and prepare to charge down the hall. But it's not a peacekeeper. It's him. It's Peeta. And he's not down the hall. He's right beside me. For a moment it's as if I can't process it. I've stopped thinking. All I've wanted, since I woke in confinement was to find him, and now I have. My first instinct is to drop the wrench and wrap my arms around him. For some reason he didn't expect this. He seems alarmed by my very touch.
I can hear Bonnie screaming at me. "Katniss, run! You need to run!" That's when I remember. This Peeta doesn't know me. This Peeta will probably kill me.
I let go so I can run back to the others, but I can't. His arms are the ones wrapped around me now, and he isn't letting go. Two guards appear from behind him and take off after the others. I try to break free but his grip on me is so tight that I can't breathe. As I struggle, my pack falls to the ground. I can see the peacekeepers get to Pollux. He's immediately tackled to the ground by one of them. The other chases Effie and Bonnie as they try to get back to the elevator. Bonnie is able to make it back just as the peacekeeper grabs Effie and throws her to the floor. He then turns to grab Bonnie, but she's already gone.
A few of the unconscious peacekeepers start to come to. The one, who had thrown Effie, calls back to Peeta. "Should we pursue the other one?"
"No. We'll get to her eventually. Take those two down to 44 and add them to the Capitol tributes." At first, I'm so caught off guard by the cold tone in Peeta's voice that I almost don't hear him say it. Capitol tributes. Could I have misheard? I've heard both of those words uttered in the same sentence before, but never paired together.
I thrash and kick and fight with all my might to escape Peeta. The only hope I have is that I can somehow breakaway and reach Pollux and Effie so we can get back to the vents. But it's no use. Lying on a hospital bed for two years destroyed all the training I had with Johanna. By the looks of Peeta, he has most likely spent his two years training alongside peacekeepers. There's no way for me to overtake him.
All the other peacekeepers carry Effie and Pollux away, leaving me alone with Peeta. He turns, forcing me to walk with him down the hall. He doesn't say a word to me, or even look at me. I try to speak to him calmly. I tell him he's under the Capitol's influence. I tell him he's been hijacked, that they used tracker jacker venom on him. He continues walking without a word.
We pass the cells for District 10 and I don't recognize either prisoner. I don't know what to say to him. I have to say something to make him realize what he's doing. We're almost there now. I'm running out of options so I decide to fight crazy with crazy.
"Please Peeta! We need to find our children." This seems to affect him enough to make him stop, so I keep going. "There are two of them Peeta. We have a girl and a boy. Please, let's just find them and go home." His hand tightens on my arm. It hurts. We move faster towards the District 12 cells, where he throws me against the door. He places his hand on the cell to be scanned. Quickly the door behind me opens and he pushes me into the cell. Before the door closes, Peeta finally says something to me.
"I don't know you."
The door seals itself, as I stand there frozen. I can't move. The one person I counted on to get out of this. The person I expected to come and save me. The person I loved. He no longer knows who I am.
At this moment, I'm not sure who looks more hopeless, me or the familiar prisoner in the cell across from me. We both stand there motionless, staring at one another for what feels like hours. We don't bother speaking since there'd be no way to hear a voice through the glass.
Eventually I need to lie down, but Gale continues to stand there. He remains perfectly still with a pained expression that lets me know he wished there was something he could do.
End of Chapter 2
M. Cooper Jinks