A few days later, Johanna has a breakdown on the training course.
They're testing several of the trainees, including Katniss and Jo, for their readiness for war. I am watching with Plutarch, who wants to get as many of the young victors as he can into a special squad that he'll follow around with a camera. I think Katniss will put up with this for exactly as long as it takes for her to figure out how to get away, but I decide that saying anything about this is likely to be counterproductive. I ask if he means for me to go as well, and he hems and haws and finally says that I am "better in the capacity of a long distance mentor." He checks for bugs quickly, then says, "Also, I think they want to make sure I don't have all of the victors together, for fear you'll make a run for it. You haven't exactly been assimilating to Thirteen. So you and Beetee and Annie are staying here."
"And Peeta, of course."
"Sure. Of course."
Early on, the candidates have to get through an obstacle course, a written tactics test, and a weapons test. Katniss and Jo are about in the middle on the obstacle course. Jo aces tactics, and Katniss is right behind her. Jo's not great with the weapons they have, but she makes it to proficiency. Since all of the weapons are ranged, Katniss scores so high that they take her score out of the reckoning for evaluating the others.
The final exam is a mock battle, staged on a fake Capitol street that they call The Block, where they're supposed to demonstrate mastery over whatever their mentors have deemed their biggest weaknesses. Plutarch hasn't been given the specs, but he guesses that Katniss will have to prove she can follow even an order she thinks is stupid. I don't see where that's helpful, if the order is actually stupid, but I don't say anything about that, either. He doesn't know what they'll do with Johanna, whose problem isn't disobeying orders so much as a tendency to forget she's in a unit at all and just rush in, guns blazing. ("It would make for great footage, though," he says regretfully. "If we could just get her to do it when no one is trying to kill her, too.")
"Are you in on designing these things?" I ask.
"I'm too busy with higher level work. But it does seem my skill set, doesn't it?" He grins. "I do recognize a little tiny arena when I see one. They were actually building a Capitol mock-up for the eighty-first Games. It would have completely discombobulated the more rural districts. Three, Six, and Eight would have had a good chance."
He either doesn't notice the look I give him, or chooses to ignore it.
The first girl being tested, who I immediately like, fails her test by shooting out the machinery to make the constant stream of attackers stop. Apparently, they decided her great weakness was an inability to deal with an onslaught. I think she'd be the one to decide to take out the transports, or do something equally brilliant, but the army thinks she has solved entirely the wrong problem. They're also probably a little bit peeved that she breaks their arena, and costs them a few hours while the other trainees cool their heels in the hall outside. Like kids waiting for a test anywhere, they trade horror stories about what will happen to them. Katniss sits quietly, probably trying to guess. Johanna tosses her pencils at a target she draws on the wall.
They finally get things working again. A boy is expected to get through the course without being distracted by the need to rescue a mechanical civilian girl in a burning building. He manages to both save her and accomplish his mission, which I think should qualify him for a medal, but he ends up failing. A young woman has to capture a Peacekeeper alive instead of killing him because she's ordered to do so. A girl needs to be able to spot dangerous elements in her environment (she fails, missing a waiter in a sidewalk café who has a gun under his tray). A boy must take initiative and figure out how to get back to his unit when he loses contact with his commander.
Johanna goes in next. The street is quiet. Plutarch wonders if they're trying to see how she does during down time, which would actually be a pretty strong challenge for Jo. Or me. So of course, it's not even on their radar.
A target pops up in a window and she shoots it out easily and runs out to check for other dangers. She taps her earpiece, says, "There's nothing here... okay, copy that." She stands up straight and adopts a position as a guard, clearly feeling foolish, but determined to pass the test.
Suddenly, she cocks her head. Plutarch turns up the sound. Something in the arena is hissing. Johanna tenses. I identify the sound just before water starts bursting out of every pipe. She starts to run, but her commander obviously speaks into her earpiece and orders her to stay. Her gun starts twitching around in random directions. Her training clothes are soaked through, plastered to her body. The street has flooded up to her knees. Mechanical Peacekeepers start to rise up, and one of the streetlights blows, throwing out sparks.
Johanna screams and drops her gun into the water.
I don't stay to watch. I leave Plutarch staring, gape-mouthed, and run down to the course. At the exit end, there are several controllers, dispassionately soaking Johanna while she screams and screams. The room must be completely soundproof, as I can't hear her, but she is on every screen.
I push them aside, ignoring orders to stay out of it, and open the door. Water floods out over my feet and I slosh in. Johanna has climbed up onto a garbage can and clamped her hands over her ears. She screams.
"Jo!" I call. "Jo, come on. We're getting you out of here." I touch her and she strikes out at me blindly, her nails flexing near my eyes. "Come on, it's me, it's Haymitch," I say. "Come on, sweetheart, we'll get you dried off."
I don't hear the people coming up behind me because I'm focused on her, but suddenly, her eyes go wide and she starts grabbing at anything she can use as a weapon. I take her by the wrist, and she bites at my hand.
"Get back!" I yell. "Get back now!" I have no idea whether or not they behave. I put my hands on Johanna's arms. "Jo, you need to calm down. No one's hurting you."
I have no idea if I could have gotten her calmed down on her own, because someone hits her with a tranquilizer dart. I scoop her up and carry her out. She's still too light from her weeks in captivity. I carry her down to the hospital without needing to rest, and put her in her old bed, mostly because I can't think of anywhere else to take her. She starts to wake up, growling low in her throat, when I pull up the sheets.
"It's all right, Johanna," I say.
Her eyes open. She grabs at the collar of my shirt and pulls herself up. "Haymitch..."
"What is it?"
"They're trying to make me... crazy..." She slips off again, and slumps down into the pillows.
A moment later, a plain-faced little man in glasses comes in with a notebook. "What happened?"
"Who in the hell are you?"
"I'm Soldier Mason's psychiatrist."
"Hell of a job," I say.
He frowns and sits down at a little table, then opens a program on his computer. "The damage Soldier Mason endured in the Capitol was severe. I guessed she might have been covering for it. When I spoke to the simulation designers - "
"You told them to douse her?"
He sits up straight. "She has not been properly dealing with the trauma. They asked what her weakness might be. I told them. After all, she will be in the Capitol in autumn and early winter. The army can hardly be expected to compensate for a soldier who will have a breakdown in a rainstorm."
I grab him out of the chair and push him against the wall. "You told them to douse her?"
"I didn't tell them to do anything, Soldier Abernathy. I merely gave my professional opinion -"
I have pulled back my fist to punch him. I have no idea how much time that would have gotten me, chained to which wall. Instead, I feel a warm hand close over mine, with a particularly tight pinch against the nerve in the wrist. A voice says, "Haymitch, don't do it."
The grip, even with the pinch on the nerve, is not strong enough to hold me, but the voice does. I look over my shoulder. Annie Odair is there, dressed in gray, her long, wild hair partially tamed into a ponytail.
"Don't get in trouble, Haymitch," she says. She waits for me to lower my arm and step away, then pulls the psychiatrist out. "I'm sorry, Dr. Webb. Haymitch looks after us. He's upset. But he'll be all right, as long as Johanna is."
"He's treating you, too?" I ask.
"Very kindly," Annie tells me, looking at me very steadily. "He wants to make sure we all fit into our new home. He keeps an eye out to make sure we don't need any extra help."
I start to ask what she means, then remember what Delly said about all the patients in the mental wing, about what Prim said about the difference between crisis care and long term care. All of the psychiatrists on Peeta's case have been Capitol expatriates. Are the others more like the ones Delly overheard talking about sending Peeta down to permanent care?
I take a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Dr. Webb," I say. "Johanna was disturbed by the test. I was angry. She's family. Do you understand that?"
"I suppose," he says coolly. "But I am responsible for her mental health. I will continue to observe. I am also responsible to my district and its needs."
"Of course," I say, and decide that I'm going to get Johanna out of District Thirteen as quickly as I can. In the meantime, she's going to need to keep her mouth under control. Accusing them of deliberately trying to make her crazy is not going to help. "I'll stay with her until she wakes up, if that's okay."
"And you will contact me immediately when she's lucid?"
Annie and I sit on either side of Johanna's bed. "Thanks, Annie," I say.
"I want to go home," she says. "Johanna should go home, too."
"I don't think Johanna has anything left in Seven."
"She has Johanna there." Annie tips her head and carefully dries Johanna's face with a corner of the sheet. "Poor Johanna. They hurt her. Peeta kept yelling at them to stop, except when they were hurting him, and she was the one yelling. She couldn't fight. All she wanted was to fight."
About an hour later, Johanna starts to wake up. Annie stays with her. I leave a message at the nurses' station for Webb, then go down to Command to tell Plutarch that there's no way they're going to let Johanna go to the Capitol. I remember what he said about how they didn't want all the victors in one place.
Dalton is right. I need some hobby other than hating Snow. I decide that I will also hate Coin. Maybe Webb as well. Being trapped here in their underground cage, though, I guess I'd better be more subtle about it.
I run into Finnick and Katniss coming out of Command, talking very seriously about whatever they've been meeting on. Both of their hands are stamped "451." I wonder when, exactly, Finnick has been training, given all the grief Katniss got about not showing up. He spent his first weeks here in the hospital, about two blinks short of narcolepsy, and after that, he was spending every deliriously happy second with Annie.
I tell them about Johanna, which no one else bothered to do, then go on to Plutarch, who's back in his production booth. The first words out of his mouth are, "I got them to let Katniss keep her hair."
I hadn't even noticed. I shake my head. "Johanna's not going."
He pauses. "They can't... fix that?"
"It was designed for her to fail."
"I don't think they wanted her to go."
Plutarch stares at his screen, his jaw tight. Finally he says, "This isn't the way it was supposed to happen."
I don't know how long I stare at him before I finally say, "What did you think was going to happen?"
"I thought the districts would all rally together. Throw off Snow. Make the Capitol into a fourteenth district, with everyone having the same voice, at least once the old ruling class was taken out."
"For a Gamemaker, you're pretty naïve."
He's quiet for a long time. "I got involved in the rebellion in secondary school, Haymitch. The Sons of the Founding. We used to meet in the caves and swap stories. Later on, I put your poems into the mix. We…" He stares at the screens. "We were going to make the world over. Just get rid of Snow's regime, and it would have to be all right. We'd give Panem to the people, and they'd… make good choices."
He frowns. "You think they won't. You think people are hopeless."
"Maybe not hopeless. But not prone to making smart long-term decisions."
"I know. I do know that. I've studied history my whole life. But I thought we'd learned. I thought, after losing well over ninety-nine percent of the human population, that maybe we'd have a broader view. It's been done, you know. Sometimes for a few centuries at a time. Right here, it was done."
"I've read books from the time you're talking about. It wasn't paradise."
"Who said anything about paradise? But they let those books be published. People could say what they wanted to and believe what they wanted to, and the government didn't fall just because someone disagreed with it. And it didn't need to fall to get anything changed. Can you even imagine?" He sighs. "Anyway, you know what happened. I lost it up in Games Headquarters, and next thing I knew, I was at Capitol Dreams with a solid case of 'exhaustion.' Mimi Meadowbrook's brother has made up a whole syndrome for it now, but at the time, it was just an excuse. At first, I pretended. I figured if I played along, they'd let me out. But that's not how it works. After a while, you start to think, How can all these nice people be wrong? And if you challenge them, it's a sign of mental illness, anyway, and maybe they're right. You start to doubt everything, and then it all falls apart. I 'realized' that I was wrong. That the biggest problem we could ever have was the barbarian districts getting out of control."
I don't stop him, because he's on a roll, but it doesn't escape my notice that to Plutarch, "the districts" are a nebulous idea in either state. When he's not brainwashed, we're a vague, faceless, virtuous populace who will do the right thing if given the chance. When he is, we're barbarians. In neither case is he looking at actual human beings.
He shakes his head. "Fulvia came back for me. She actually did infiltrate Capitol Dreams, but they never caught her. She wasn't one of their shiny people, so they didn't care. She beat my re-education. She reminded me what we were supposed to believe in."
"Which was districts full of kindly little angels who would all be noble and true once Snow was out of power?"
He snorts. "Something like that." He looks at me. "I really believed it, Haymitch. Completely. I never thought they'd…" He gestures vaguely at one of the screens, which shows The Block, now dark and empty. "It doesn't make sense that they'd hurt Johanna."
I feel for him - and I admire the mental strength it took to get out of Dreams - but he also really believed that the Capitol wouldn't hurt Effie, that they'd never bother with Peeta's prep team. Plutarch's naïveté gets people killed.
I just miss Katniss at dinner, and Boggs tells me that she's going to have a crazy training schedule for the next few days, along with Finnick and Gale. I visit Johanna in the hospital. She's holding tightly to a little bundle of pine needles, wrapped in a bandage, that she says Katniss gave her. "I haven't had a regular present for a long time," she explains, her voice weak and whispery. "Not since my parents died, really. I don't know why Katniss gave me one."
"I guess she figured you needed one."
Johanna looks away. "I can't believe I broke."
"Everyone breaks sometimes."
"Not over getting wet."
I sit with her until the drugs kick in, then go down to Peeta.
Delly is still there, and Peeta is working on homework with her. I can tell that she doesn't find this remotely unusual, so I guess that, for some reason, she's been bringing him homework for a while. Victors aren't required to finish school (which means, in effect, that they aren't permitted to, since they have other duties), which I always thought was one of the few perks. I made an effort to keep learning, but I did it much faster than they ever let me do it in the classroom. Peeta seems to have decided that he's finishing school, whether anyone recognizes it or not.
More bizarrely, he seems very concerned with the doings of the various other students, including strangers from Thirteen who he couldn't possibly know. What do they do here? Are there clubs? Sports? Who's good at what? Delly answers him indulgently, with as much detail as she can muster.
After she leaves, I ask him what that's about.
"I don't know." He shrugs. "I guess I just wish I were like them sometimes." He looks up cautiously. "At training, I heard someone say Katniss had a test today."
"She passed it," I tell him.
"Is she going away?"
"Will I see her?"
"That's up to her. Every time you see her, you say something that hurts her." I wait for him to say something, and he doesn't. "Do you want to see her?"
"Maybe. I don't know." He picks up the notebook, which now has doodles over doodles, tiny pictures around the wires, and weird abstractions picked up off the scribbles. He looks for a new place to draw and doesn't find one. "I just don't feel like we've figured anything out."
I don't know what Katniss wants, because she is in training twelve to eighteen hours a day. She eats with her unit. I catch glimpses of her now and then, but only because Plutarch still has cameras on her. He tells me proudly that she's the only one who didn't object to being part of what he's calling "the Star Squad" - a team of soldiers going to the Capitol mostly to shoot propos. I imagine hearing this through Katniss's ears, and am reasonably certain that she didn't bother arguing because she has no intention of following his directions anyway.
Finnick makes an effort to invite me over at night, after he's finished training. He's exhausted, but he and Annie have made their tiny apartment comfortable, and, while I'm careful to leave early enough to give them time to be together, they do seem glad to have me over. "I'd have never made it through everything without you," Finnick says. "And Annie wouldn't have made it through her Games if you hadn't kept me on an even keel in the Viewing Center. We owe you a lot."
"You don't owe me a damned thing," I say.
I try to arrange time with Katniss before she goes, but it's useless. She's given a few minutes with her mother and sister in the hospital the morning before she ships out, but I am rudely informed by a handler that this is only for family. I ask if someone will at least bring her a note. They agree, like it's the most arduous task ever, and I stare at a blank piece of paper for a long time before writing, "Stay alive, sweetheart." Maybe it's not everything there is to say, but with Katniss, I don't need to say everything.
The rule against non-family goodbyes apparently only applies to Katniss (or maybe only to me), because when I go down to sit with Johanna - now mostly out of it on heavy sedatives - I find Gale there. He looks disappointed. His hunting knife is held loosely in one hand. When I come in, he looks up. "I... I guess I just figured I'd drop by to say goodbye. In case... well, in case." He holds up the knife. "I was going to give her this. I have an official one from the army now, and... well, on the way out of the Capitol, she said to keep her armed. I gave her this then. I thought... I wanted her to have it. I didn't want to mess with a will. I figured it would get confiscated if I didn't actually put it in her hand."
I take the knife and tuck it into my boot. "They won't let her have it in the hospital. I'll give it to her when she gets out."
"They really did a number on her, didn't they?" He shakes his head, then takes a deep breath and says, "Haymitch, if I die, will you make sure my mom and Rory and Vick and Posy are okay? I do, um... know. Mom told me that you were, um, friends."
"We are friends, and of course I will. Count on it. Will you do something for me? I guess I don't really need to ask, but... I need to ask. Keep an eye on Katniss. Please. Don't let her get hurt. Please." I feel something wet on my eyelashes, and turn away before he can notice. "Just... keep her alive. As far as you can."
"You were right. That's one thing you don't need to ask. I've got her back, no matter what. Goodbye, Haymitch."
I turn around to face him and hold out my hand. "Goodbye, Gale. Take care."
He shakes my hand and leaves. I hope he's going to go spend the rest of whatever time they have with Hazelle.
I watch the troop transport leave from the production booth, then go down to Peeta's observation room. He's out on the training range. They've accelerated it. Plutarch says it's so it will look like he's on his way, and Snow will fear the righteous retribution that's coming. Or something. I watch from the cameras for a while, while he climbs nets and hefts heavy boxes of equipment. His guards are more or less ignoring him, and everything seems to be fine. He even helps a younger trainee pack her kit properly.
I try to reach Katniss over her earpiece, which is one of the dumber things I've tried. She's not suited up, and as far as I know, I'm not connected to her anymore. I certainly haven't been given any duties. I wander back up to the hospital. At the nurses' station, I see the note I wrote to Katniss, with a pinned slip on it, reminding someone to give it to her. I don't seem to have the energy to be angry.
I go and sit with Johanna. She swims up from the drugs long enough to ask for her pine needles, which I fetch for her from the nightstand, then goes back to sleep. I go home and look at Effie's pictures. If Snow hasn't had her killed yet, he will soon. Rebels are already camped down by the Capitol railroad station.
Neither Hazelle nor Ruth is at dinner, and I find them at the Everdeens' apartment, with Prim and the younger Hawthornes and Annie, all huddled together. Prim holds out her hand to me, and I join the circle. No one says anything, but no one gets up to leave, either. One by one, we drop off, crammed onto the floor of the tiny space, and we don't get up until the lights-on alert blares. I have to stumble down to my apartment to get my schedule, and I'm already running late for farm duty.
It's backbreaking work, putting the fields down for the winter, and I'm far from the only one worrying about soldiers in the Capitol, or headed there. There is no singing today.
I go to the hospital after dinner. Peeta's having some kind of medical tests done, so I go to visit Johanna. Her bed is empty. In the wastebasket, I see a spill of pine needles and a twisted bit of bandage. I scoop it out and put it back together, then grab the first nurse I see.
"Where's Johanna Mason?" I demand.
"She was moved to long term care," he says. "She didn't seem to be improving."
"It's a restricted area, family only - "
"I'm her only damned family. You tell me where she is. Now, or I promise you're going to find out exactly how I made it through the arena."
He pulls away and straightens his white smock. "I'll have to clear it," he says.
"It's clear enough," Prim Everdeen says, coming out from the little room behind the desk. "I checked the regs. As a mentor, Haymitch does have legal guardianship of tributes." She does not point out that I have no guardianship whatsoever of adult tributes from another district when the Games aren't on, but what she says is true enough that she can't actually be accused of lying. "I'll show him down there." She leads me to the elevators and punches a few buttons.
"You've been down there?" I ask.
She nods. "I've been trained there. They want me to be a doctor. I have to learn everything. I'm going as a combat medic as soon as we get more solid control."
"You're thirteen years old. You've got no business in combat."
"If I don't go, they'll stop training me," she says. "I already had this fight with Mom this morning. Anyway, it'll only be after we have control."
The elevator seems to move for a very long time. I can't think of anything to say to Prim. Finally, it stops, and she leads the way into a huge, cavernous ward. I don't know how far underground we are. There are dozens and dozens of beds, separated by white curtains. There is some soft moaning and muttering, but no other sound comes from the patients.
Prim brings me to a desk and says, "Soldier Dempsey?"
A young woman wheels a desk chair over. "Soldier Everdeen! I heard your sister shipped out."
Prim nods, but doesn't engage. "This is Soldier Haymitch Abernathy. He's guardian to Soldier Johanna Mason."
Dempsey frowns. "That's irregular."
Prim smiles faintly. "Oh, you don't know how the Games are in the other districts. Mentors have a lot of legal responsibilities to tributes. Johanna was a tribute in the last Games, so it's all right."
"If you say so," Dempsey tells her. "I sure can't follow Capitol laws, especially about the Games." She fishes for a pass, which she scans into the computer, then signals me to put the schedule on my arm near the scanner. The two are matched. "How often will you visit?" she asks.
"Every day after work, if I can," I tell her.
She looks surprised, but keys it in. "The scheduler will take care of it from here."
"Come on," Prim says. "I'll show you where she is now."
We go along the row of beds, each with a clipboard hanging from the end, with the seal of District Thirteen and a name imprinted on it. We pass Harrison, Walter and Mullis, Olive is awake and gives us a drugged wave. Bernays, Bonnie has a cane beside her bed, but cobwebs twist around the base of it. Frisch, Tillie. Pride, Archie. The names march on.
Mason, Joanne is about halfway down the ward. "Why did they change her name?" I ask.
Prim snorts. "They only have a little pool of names here, and you have to pick it off a list on the computer. They can add stuff if they have to, but they usually don't bother. If the person isn't awake to complain, they just pick what seems closest."
We go into the curtained off area. Johanna's eyes are open. "Haymitch," she says. "They moved me. They took - "
I pull out the little sachet Katniss made and show it to her. She sighs. "They've left?"
"They left yesterday," Prim says, then takes Johanna's hand and leans close, like she means to kiss her cheek. "You're feeling more awake, but don't let them know. I switched your tranks for saline. You need to wake up and not let them think you're crazy. Just come up a little at a time."
Johanna nods, wide-eyed, as Prim pulls away. "Thank you," she says.
"You take care of yourself, now," Prim says loudly, in the irritating, condescending tone of medics everywhere. She smiles and waves, then moves on down the ward to check on other patients.
"You have another gift," I say, and lift the cuff of my pants to show her Gale's knife. "He wanted me to give it to you. I will as soon as we get you better."
"I should be there," she whispers.
"Me, too," I say. "What do you need down here?"
She decides that she just wants someone to talk to. She asks me to keep up on the news and bring it to her. When I go upstairs later, Peeta makes the same request, since he feels he's being kept out of the loop, even though he's in hard training. He requests to be moved to an apartment and is denied. Ruth offers to keep an eye on him if he moves into Katniss and Johanna's apartment, but they turn her down as well.
There's not much news for the first few days of the Star Squad's sojourn in the Capitol. There are some uninspiring videos of obviously staged battles that are apparently waged against hostile glass buildings, since nothing else fires back. It looks like they're in a residential area. Finnick is shown sneaking through an alley. Katniss shoots some blue glass into the street. They don't have her in the mockingjay getup. I ask about it. Coin tells me that the Mockingjay has done her job, and now Soldier Everdeen is meant to be shown as just one member of a team - a soldier obeying orders from her superiors.
There's just not that much to pass on to my charges, no matter how much they beg. Peeta asks to see the propos, and draws a picture of Gale, of all things, firing up at a balcony. He asks me to take it to Hazelle, and she struggles a little bit not to cry when I give it to her at her desk in the jugs.
On their fifth day, Wilhelmina Leeg is killed by an unexpected booby trap that fires a dart into her brain. We spend most of the afternoon debating who is to be sent to replace her, like she's a faulty cog in the machine. Coin remains silent through this argument, then holds a closed meeting with Plutarch and other senior staff. I don't wait for the outcome.
The next morning, I go to Peeta's room, meaning to tell him that the squad has suffered a casualty.
I discover that his bed his empty. The observation room has been abandoned except for an extremely distraught Delly Cartwright, who is holding the battered notebook like a lifeline. Dalton and his janitorial crew are cleaning up.
Peeta Mellark has been sent straight from psychiatric observation to the front lines of the war.