For the lunchtime intermission show, Muffie introduced a trio of his "cousins", the aberts. A series of clips showed how Ancient gengineering had produced their species from a common squirrel. Then the trained aberts went into a "reenactment" of their role in La Guerra Del Norte. An abert with an aviator's cap sailed by in a butterfly-shaped glider, waving with his paw. Delly squealed and waved back. "I bet that's the one I held!" she said. "It's black! Aren't they adorable?"

"They're all black," Napoleon said. "They're all from the Mountain Territory subspecies, which is characteristically black, but three of them have been dyed to look like other types. The other subspecies are either harder to train or harder to breed, or both, and aberts of different subspecies can't be displayed together because they will kill each other on sight, or rather scent..."

Delly was already back to chattering about Schuyler Grey's pronouncement, with a note of vindication added to her usual excessive cheer. "See? I knew Foxy's in love! You know, she told me, as soon as he looked at her, she wanted to marry him."

"Hm, yes, it's common in Cygni courtship," Beetee said. "What you would think of as romantic love really has very little to do with it. Mr. Grey didn't precisely say that she is in love with Gale. Strictly speaking, hm, he said she would love him when she died. Then he said something else, hm, and Lord Flickerman definitely gave a signal to cut him off."


Gale, Vixen and the rest of the crew were escorted with Snow straight for the Maidens' Boxes. Gale whispered to her as they walked, "Listen... I don't understand how I feel about you myself. But if there's one thing I know, it's that I want to be with you, and that's never going to change."

"He didn't say it would," Vixen said softly.

They reached a dining room looking down on the ring. Asher promptly helped himself to a table laden with food. Gale halted in his tracks. "The Gamemasters wanted to do this in the Ring," Snow said. "I told them this should be a private moment."

A young man and two young women, obviously from One, approached Marvel. Two walked like they would prefer to be doing something else, but one stepped forward and embraced him. "Persephone," he said.

Two other women who looked like Katniss' trainer, one middle-aged and one young, approached Vixen. The older woman gave a decidedly forced smile. "Mom," Vixen said.

Gale's eyes turned to the last four, all from Twelve. There was an old woman he knew to be Asher's great-aunt, whom everyone thought of as his grandmother. There was a boy in his early teens who didn't look happy to be there, and a woman with a little girl in his arms who just stared. "Mama?" Gale said hoarsely.

Hazelle Hawthorne shuffled forward, with Rory staying protectively at her side. She kissed Gale on the cheek, and then moved past him, toward Vixen. Hazelle approached her daughter-in-law with halting steps, staring at her. She pressed a hand to Vixen's cheek, as if she was a phantom that might vanish in a moment. Gale took a step closer, ready to intervene, but then Mama looked over her shoulder at him, and he froze under her gaze. Mama looked back to Foxy, and suddenly embraced her. Hazelle's whole body heaved with sobs, while Vixen rubbed her back awkwardly.

Meanwhile, the old woman walked up to Asher. "Anything good?" she said.

Two dogfighting aberts made another pass. Senor Oro shook his paw as Rockie escaped yet another ramming attack. "Look, Mama!" Posey said. "It's Rocky the frying squirrel!"

"Flying squirrel," Hazelle said. "There's no such thing as a frying squirrel. Now come sit down."

"There's Sparky the Frying Squirrel," Vixen said. She sat in Gale's lap, with his mother on their right and her mother Mara on the left. She hadn't said a word to Hazelle or to her own mother and half sister, but she had responded intermittently to Posey's chatter. "He's in the films they show us in school. He teaches us not to play with wires."

The meal consisted almost entirely of food from District Twelve, including strawberries, pine nuts, and a wild turkey. Gale guessed that it was the Capitol's idea of the food of the common citizens. Vixen munched off his plate, while Hazelle sniffled intermittently and his mother-in-law Mara intermittently chattered at the couple, almost exactly the way Foxy did in their "intimate" moments. She mostly told random anecdotes about Foxy, whom she called by a pet name Fro, which was evidently short for Afrodita. He listened with moderate interest as Mara told the story of Foxy's photo.

"We don't take many pictures, and most of the time we just take the family to a portrait studio at the Arc," she said. "But Fro would always run off. So what finally happened was, her half-aunt borrowed a portable camera, and we got her baby half-sister to go in and take the picture while she was looking out the window. We blew it up as big as we could and put it on the wall with our family portraits, and sent copies to all the family. After she was Reaped, some men from the Capitol came to interview us, and asked if we had any photos... I swear, we didn't give it to them." Vixen just kept munching on sliced turkey, while Posey tugged on her hair.

"So you're from Five?" Posey said. Vixen nodded. "Is that the furthest District from Twelve?" Vixen shrugged. Then Posey leaned close and said in an awed whisper: "Does Santa Clause come to Five?"

Vixen twisted around and smiled. "Sure, Santa visits Five," she said. Gale looked at her cautiously. The Capitol had reintroduced the Ancient myth to Twelve in a perfunctory effort to promote consumer spending, and Posey had been pestering people about it ever since. "Every year on Saturnalia Evet, he flies through the sky on his trailer pulled by thirteen javelinas, and comes down the air conditioning vents of our shacks. If we've been good, he takes the churros and tequila we leave out for him and goes away. But if we've been bad, he takes our presents."

"That was a mean trick," Gale murmured in Vixen's ear.

"Trick?" she said. "I used to stay up all night with Jonny's varmint gun waiting to pop the bastard."

President Snow evidently decided to pry a few words out of Gale. "Mr. Hawthorne," he said, "you might be interested to know that all of this food was donated by a restaurant that specializes in District Twelve ethnic cuisine. They seemed very hopeful that you would find their food … authentic. Would you say they have succeeded?"

"Well, it's the same kinds of food we get at home," Gale said neutrally. Then he added, "But it's way better than we'd ever have ourselves. A rich Town family might serve this stuff at a wedding feast. Otherwise, it would all go straight to the Capitol traders... which is where this came from, right?"

Snow chuckled. "Not exactly," he said. "The members of the Ethnic Cuisine Guild are very scrupulous in using the same plant and animal products grown in Twelve. They even use your bacterial cultures to make the cheese. But everything here was grown outside of Twelve. The grain is grown in the Desert Territory, while the turkey and the pine nuts are from a managed wilderness in the Mountain Territory. The strawberries, fittingly enough, were grown in an agridome in District Five."

"Of course," Gale said, "because the Capitol does everything better."

"Actually, ethnic cuisine enthusiasts are very unhappy with the arrangement," Snow said. "A contingent of leading patrons split from the guild over their licensing of foods like these. They started their own Native Cuisine Guild, for those who insist that proper ethnic cuisine should be made only from ingredients grown in Twelve. Then there is the Authentic Cuisine Guild, which insists on food prepared in District Twelve."

Gale's mind was more than moderately boggled, but it rang true. He thought of the occasional strangers who beat their way through the Seam, trying to dress and even talk like the locals. More than one had sought him out by name, and asked him all kinds of questions about minutia that he never paid attention to, and somehow he had never found the courage to say that a bird was a bird and a weed was a weed. Once again, he could see bait to ask more questions. Instead, he asked, "Why doesn't the Capitol give us accurate maps?"

Snow laughed. "Well, Mr. Hawthorne, the main thing to understand is that any map you would have seen in your District would have first circulated in the Capitol," he said. "There are private collections with more than a thousand maps, all radically different. Among us, there is a shared understanding that such maps are not intended to show literal geography, but rather to symbolize the qualities of Panem: Our continuity with Ancient civilization, the centrality of the Capitol, and the equitable distribution of resources and industries among the Districts."

Hazelle ventured to speak up: "But what if you need to know where you're going?"

Snow smiled wider, the way a teacher would smile at a "special" pupil. "Why would we?" he said. "If we travel, it is almost always by train, and there aren't many choices about where a train can go. Even pilots and mariners stay on well-established, safe traffic lanes." His smile turned a little wistful. "If you ladies don't mind, I would like to talk to your man in private. The Mrs. can join us if she wants."


"You're my Foxy Girl," Gale said as he opened his tunic. "You are my one and only, and I will be your boy..." He turned Vixen around and opened a flap in the back of her tunic.

"No," she protested, "I need to see your eyes..."

Snow paused the recording and turned to Gale with a smile. "We only installed the audio pickup the season before last," he said. "The cameras have been there all along. I have a crew of Capitol Avoces monitoring the feed- they are full avoces by choice, but the duty seems to improve their morale. They have instructions to forward any footage of persons of special interest to me. I gave them your name and biometrics on the advice of several of my advisers, but I was truly surprised when they forwarded the first recording. I found it especially... insightful."

"I get it," Gale said. "This is blackmail. So what do you think I can give you?"

"Blackmail?" Snow chuckled, and clutched his heart theatrically. "You wound me, Mr. Hawthorne! Using a recording like this for petty blackmail would be even baser than voyeurism. I reviewed these recordings for the insights they would offer into your personality. I decided some time ago that there was nothing more to be learned. The recordings have already been scrubbed from the Capitol data matrix." He removed a data crystal from a socket under the screen and handed it to Gale. "I saved this for you. I truly believe that you can learn a great deal from it." Vixen swiped it and tucked it away.

"But I really brought you here to show you this," Snow said. He put in another crystal, and a montage of photos began. It took a moment for Gale to work out the scale of what he was seeing. It was a wall, ranging from one hundred to more than 500 feet high, made mostly of a glassy black substance. In many places, earth and very solid rock had eroded away to expose foundations that went hundreds of feet deeper, while in others, soil had piled up in hills like great ramps. It stretched through mountains, forest, desert, and even the coastal wetlands of a sea, for miles... and miles... and miles... and miles. A final map showed what had to be thousands of miles of wall, extending across the border between the Polar Waste and the Plains Provinces, then steadily south and east down to a jag across the Minor Peninsula that marked the border of the Province of Madera Roja and the otherwise arbitrary-looking boundary of Four.

"This is the Wall of Erebor," Snow said. The name belonged to a legendary tyrant supposed to have been conquered by Ouranos and Kronos. "A misnomer; the historic Erebor, if he existed, would have come thousands of years later. In fact, we know from carbon dating of human remains that the Wall is ten thousand years old, and almost self-evidently marking the breakup of the original Panamerican Union. Credible tradition says that it was built by two states called Cascadia and Absaroka to mark their border. That would imply that it was not intended to be a practical defensive fortification, and it certainly has proven ineffective in all recorded experience. There are two theories about the subsequent history. One is that the nations collapsed and their peoples died out, leaving their former territory to newly-arrived peoples that founded new nations on their ruins. The other is that, while the area undoubtedly underwent many changes, there was at least an unbroken succession of civilizations and interrelated peoples."

Gale nodded and smiled. "Which would mean the forefathers of Capitol were people who spent ten millenia hiding behind a wall they knew was useless. So much for the spirit of curiosity."

"The Capitolite's idea of curiosity is to travel ten thousand miles an air-conditioned luxury train car, and say they experienced wild new places because they looked out the window," Snow said, sounding sad and sardonic at once. "Yet, when you think about it, even that is more than might be expected. It's a small ember, and there are those who believe that, for better or worse, someone like you is all that is needed to make a fire. I suggest you keep that in mind... especially when you are deciding what to do in public."

"Sparky's curious," Vixen said. She kissed Gale on the cheek. "I like Sparky."