My heart races as I dodge around the tents and soldiers trying to get to the infirmary. A squad number, that's the only information we can give to the medics that'll get us to where we want to go. No one knows the name Rath Peaks and that he's our cousin. There are just too many injured.
"Over there," says Fern, our mother's friend. Chance catches sight of them first and hurries over with me on his heels. Uncle Jensen stands close to Uncle Ron a figure laying still on the ground before them.
My stomach lurches when I see the wound in his stomach. Not because it's making me nauseous, but because I know it's fatal. There's only so much blood someone can lose. I've gotten too good at judging that amount.
"Rath," says Chance as he sits down beside him.
His eyes open slowly and lock on my brother. "Better me than you. Y-you better… take care of her."
Chance nods, "I've got to make it out of this first."
"Ya…" When he sees me he starts to laugh. His eyes pinch shut from the pain, but he still tries to smile. "And here I thought I'd die before I'd see you cry."
I give him a small smile. "There was Nana spray down that last street."
"Huh?" asks Uncle Jensen.
"Pepper spray," I explain.
Rath clutches his stomach, "Ouch. Well… at least you had… a Chance."
"Oi," says Chance with less than enthusiastic humor.
All of us laugh a little, but we know it's causing Rath pain. His eyes go to his father and they're pleading with his. "Please."
My mind goes back on year to the Hunger Games when Cato said the same thing. Rath is asking to die. But Uncle Ron can't and I don't think I could either.
Uncle Jensen gets up and leaves for a minute. He returns with a drink of water. "Drink this. It'll help the pain."
Rath nods as an unseen signal passes between them. I'm about to stop him, but the liquid is already down his throat. Nightlock… my uncle crushed his pill into that water. I clutch onto Chance like a vice as he slips away.
My mind is back to the present and I'm in control… for now. Sweat pours down my face and my limbs protest against the strain. I haven't pushed myself like this since the day Dr. Aurelius was shot. Reaching up I grab the ledge under a window but as I try and haul myself up I lose my grip and crash to the ground. That's when the simulation finishes me off.
My voice carries easily up to the ones in the control room. I can hear the clicks and scraps signaling the reset of the block. District 13 designed this room to resemble a city block within the Capitol complete with mock traps. Every day during the war I had trained on this thing at least three times a week making me the best prepared for the Capitol from home right after Thora. She knew what it was really like in an arena. Now all that fought in the Capitol know what we put our tributes through.
"They're going to blow the dam," says Nana.
Uncle Res stares at the TV, "Finch get out of there."
The promised 'feast' arrives in the arena. It's nothing but a life jacket. But Finch knows what it means and she bolts from the area. The camera… no it's the ground, begins to shake. The Gamemakers added an earthquake to break the dam!
Da pulls me close as the water crashes to the ground taking all the tributes with it. A scream catches in my throat and I can't get it out as the wave slams Finch into a tree.
The next time I make it to the end of the simulation whipping out my gas mask in time before the pseudo-noxious gas fills the room. Anyone who wouldn't get theirs on in time would be knocked out for about fifteen minutes or so, but those that stayed awake would get a buzzing headache. Already my head is pounding.
"Again," I struggle to say this time.
"Truthfully? I don't want you to go," says Raiden. "But I like the idea of knowing you'll be safe. I'll see you when you get back."
He lied. He never came back. He left me just like the rest of my friends! Why did they all have to leave me behind?
Pain radiates from my shoulder where I landed on it during the previous round. Staggering to the starting point I wait for the simulation to start. My vision blurs for just a moment. I can do this… I have to do this.
The gong sounds and I make it two steps before collapsing to my hands and knees. Instead of the sound of machines going in for the kill, I hear them powering down.
The door behind me opens and Luca steps out, "That is enough!"
I stare at him before collapsing to the ground and remember nothing more.
A tray of food and pills waits for me when I wake up. I recognize the pills as pain medication, but not the addicting kind. The throb in my shoulder tells me it would be stupid not to take them especially if I want to rest some more eventually. All of my limbs protest as I get up and grab the tray. Even lifting the stupid thing is difficult but soon I tuck in.
I'm past tears now, but I came dangerously close to wanting Luca to hold me and crying everything out. He's not boyfriend material by any stretch of the imagination (he's my Da's age after all) but he's the only person that I think I could let myself be weak around.
At least I know what's bothering me. I'm not afraid of dying… I'm afraid of living. Dr. Aurelius' main objective for me is for me to figure out what will keep me going day after day. I know what that answer is: the Jabberjays. They're still out there and so long as they live, my family will never be safe. But they will be out of the picture eventually so what then?
I've tried… I've tried to start over and make new friends but now they're getting killed as well. Is this what my life will always be like?
"May the odds be ever in your favor. Or not."
I'm a few bites in when I stop. Dropping the fork, I get up and take a shower. Ally or not I hate Marcus Panthra for what he did. At the same time, something nags at me that it wasn't all it appeared to be. There's only one thing for it. I need to watch the footage again.
"What are you hoping to find?" Sums asks me.
"I don't know," I say as I rewind the tape again to the part right before Jeth and his mother are killed. But I do know. I'm watching Panthra to find out his full involvement that night. He was given a gun and it was pointed towards them. One story that floated around at home is he never misses. So why does it look like all of his shots are wide? He may be ancient, but he's still a good shot.
His missing on purpose… but then why?
The guy next to him hits Jeth in the stomach as he tries to pull his mother behind the wall. Afterwards none of them seem interested in Jeth or his mother. They're as good as dead.
"Sir we must go."
Panthra flexes his grip. No he's not… he's signing something. Sorry girl. But he won't make it.
"May the odds be ever in your favor. Or not."
So he's still on our side. He didn't kill Jeth out of malice or to prove his so called allegiances. Panthra did to Jeth what Uncle Jensen did with Rath. Finished what was going to happen soon anyway. Still doesn't mean I have to like him.