Part One: Out-District
I sit in the last car on the train, staring out at the landscape around me. The back windows have retracted, and there's a slight breeze. The smell of the woods and the mountains fills my head. We're in the out-districts now, the no-man's land between District Twelve and District Eleven. My parents once wanted to run away and live in these hills, away from the cruelties of District Twelve.
Of course, people caught out here tend to get sent back to the districts, anyway, if they don't get killed by wild animals or the wild people who are rumored to wander around in violent bands. We stopped for re-fueling about an hour out of Twelve, in a fortified island in the wilderness staffed by people from Six who must have really annoyed someone to draw this duty. I tried to talk to them, but the Games staff pulled me away. Victors are not, apparently, supposed to chat with laborers from other districts.
There's nothing surprising about the landscape. I've seen maps. District Twelve is at the northern end of a mountain chain, and it's probably going to be pretty much the same until we get almost to District Eleven - it's our mountains, our woods, the same ones I see across the fence at home, just… more of it.
Still, I watch. This train moves slower than the one that took me to the Games, and I can actually see the land we're moving through. I catch glimpses of little streams, and of the river whose twisting path the train keeps intersecting. The sun, now quite low in the west, hits it and reflects back bursts of golden light between the trees. I know it's part of a long river system that runs around District Twelve - we've gotten enough mining history to know that's how they used to ship the coal - but if it had a name before, no one knows it anymore. Mr. Chalfant called it the Shipping River. It's really at least three rivers that we know about - one big one that flows southwest, and two smaller ones that join together to form it, somewhere a little to the northeast of District Twelve. I wish I could see that place, where the three rivers meet. There was supposed to be a big city there once. I wonder if there are ruins. I've heard of ruins, but I've never seen them, unless you count the burned out resort in the woods outside Twelve. The train is following the river that meanders up from the south, heading for its headwaters in the mountains. Once we're out of river, I won't have any idea where I am.
I'm actually kind of excited about this. I'm surprised. I wasn't planning on looking forward to anything. It's not that I'm thrilled, or jumping up and down for it. But the idea that I'm actually looking out the windows and being interested by what I see is… unexpected. It's a big country outside the fence.
The door at the back of the car slides open, and Pelagia Pepper comes in. Gia was my escort for the Games, and she'll get me through the Victory Tour. I don't know what made her get demoted from District Seven down to Twelve, but I'm glad I've got her instead of the old escort, Ausonius Glass. He worked in District Twelve for years, and everyone knew he hated us and our tributes. He used to call the families of the dead ones just to torment them.
But Gia's decent. She wrote to me when my mother and brother died, and even came out to take care of me after my girl, Digger, was murdered. She's a rebel. I don't know why anyone in the Capitol would ever rebel - they get everything out of the set-up we have - but I guess she's not the only one.
Also, she's not hard to look at. Once the train got moving and the cameras went off to the districts where we're heading, she shed her wig and got into clothes that actually move with her body. They're still Capitol clothes, but I guess even Capitol people have to be comfortable sometimes. She looks smaller in them. Her long red hair is clipped back with a barrette that has three fish jumping around each other in a circle, and, without the crazy makeup, I can see that her eyes are a pretty shade of green. She looks younger. Not as young as me, but not that much older, either.
"Whatever you're thinking about," she says, sitting down across from me, "put it out of your head."
"I wasn't thinking about anything. Just wondering how old you are."
"Just ten years older than me, then."
"Ten pretty important years."
"I'm not flirting. Just making conversation. How long have you been an escort?"
"Eight years. I started when I was eighteen, right after I finished school." She watches out the window for a while. "I've never been anywhere other than the Capitol, Seven, and Twelve."
"I've only been in Twelve, the Capitol, and the arena, so we're even. Except that the arena isn't a real place, so you're ahead."
She wrinkles her nose. "It's real enough. I visited, so I guess that's on my list now, too. They open it for tourists next month. There's a waiting list."
My stomach turns over. "Tell them to watch out for those squirrels."
"I think they got all of them out."
"You sure? They were tricky little bastards."
"I'm surprised you'd worry about arena tourists."
I shrug. I hadn't meant to sound that way at all. Though I guess it would be a little disproportionate for them to get punished for being stupid and thoughtless by being eaten by vermin. That would be better punishment for the Gamemakers themselves.
Gia doesn't pursue this. "You're going to need to go back to prep. I know you hate it. But they have to get you looking good for the cameras in every district, so get used to it. All you need to do is read a speech, then do whatever the district has planned. It's usually a banquet with some kind of local foods. A dance. Sometimes a tour."
"There will be booze. You will not be drinking it."
I look up, cross. "Hey!"
"Next summer, you're going to have two tributes counting on you to get them sponsors. That will be considerably easier to do if you're not a running joke."
"Thanks a lot," I mutter, and turn back to the window. I realize we have lost sight of the river, and gone into the unknown. It looks a lot like the known, except without a river. It's kind of disappointing, though I don't know what I expected.
"Haymitch, look at me." I do. She is leaning forward and staring at me intently. "They do treat it as a joke in the Capitol. You know that. I know you've seen it on television."
"But I don't think it's a joke. I think you're trying to drink yourself into an early grave and I don't want to dig it for you."
"I thought the Capitol used machines for that. They'll just use some machine and plant me with the rest of the tributes. And Duronda."
"The point is that I don't want to see your grave being dug at all. Not until you've had a good, long life, full of people you love. Drowning yourself in liquor isn't any less suicide than hanging yourself from a tree."
"I decided to burn the tree instead," I say. "The rope I brought out made a good fuse." I mean to say it coldly, an accusation. But my voice shakes a little. I haven't told anyone about why I was out at the tree. Not Danny, not Chaff. I haven't even mentioned it in the dream conversations I sometimes have with Digger or Maysilee or Mom, though they seem to know. I force my voice to obey me, and toss my head indifferently. "Killing myself seemed like a waste of time."
If Gia's shocked to find out that I was considering this, she doesn't show it. "You should have tossed the booze in. It makes a great accelerant, and then it would be gone, too." She looks at me carefully. "Do you need to talk to someone, Haymitch? Someone a little more qualified than me to… I don't know. Advise you."
I shake my head. "So, no drinking in the districts. What am I allowed to do?"
"Talk to anyone who wants to talk to you. Be careful what you say - the cameras will be there, and trust me when I tell you that anything you say will come back to haunt you."
"You should eat as much as you want, and tell them how good it is, even if you don't like it."
I frown at her, irritated. "I wasn't born in a coal bin. I know how to be a guest. I don't suppose that if I go light on the eating, they'd give the leftovers to hungry people in the districts?"
"They'll throw it out. You know that." I don't answer, and go back to looking at the mountains. She goes on. "Some places might have dancing - do you dance?"
"Yeah. We dance in District Twelve."
"Good." She pauses. "Haymitch… there are likely to be girls. And a lot of them. Sometimes boys, too, depending on the district. Some of them might be poor kids trying to turn a coin or two, but most of them, especially the closer you get to the Capitol, are going to be groupies."
"Is that allowed?" I ask. I can't see myself spending that kind of time with girls without my mind flashing on pulling Digger's body off the fence, but I'm curious.
"It's allowed. They revisit the question every year - whether or not to give male victors on the tour the same shots you get in the arena - but for now, it's allowed. I won't forbid you, either. But I don't recommend it. You won't ever see the girls again. And frankly, you don't want to take the chance of the Gamemakers surprising you thirteen years down the line with a closely related tribute from another district. That would be irresistible entertainment for them. Even in the unlikely event that the girls are careful, it wouldn't be any better for you than the booze."
"The booze keeps the nightmares away."
"Sure it does."
There's nothing else to say on the subject. Gia sits with me in the train car until the sun sets, then packs me off to bed, since I'll have an early morning with the preps. I change into silk pajamas and crawl into bed. The bed on the train is narrower than the one at home, and it takes me a while to adjust to it. Once I do, I lie awake in the darkness, staring at the stars and shadows sliding past the window. The train stops once. All I can see is a tall metal tower. I have no idea what they're doing. I've just about decided to get up and have a look at the tower when we start moving again. I sigh. It's been a while since I've tried to get to sleep with no chemical help.
After what seems like forever, I finally slip into a thin sleep. I dream vaguely that I'm surrounded by groupies, and someone tells me I'm allowed to do anything I want with them. In the dream, this seems okay, until they turn into mutts with sharp claws and huge teeth, and start ripping me apart.
I wake up in a grayish pink dawn and jump out of bed, feeling in some way like the mutts are under it and coming after me. I stand by the window for a few minutes, breathing hard, until the idea starts to fade.
I need to ask for something to help me sleep deeper. Or maybe I should go to sleep in the day, when I'm not imagining things in the shadows. I guess I won't have that opportunity on the tour, though.
I look out the window. We are going around the edge of a large lake in the mountains. High up on the shore, there's an ancient, overgrown tumble of stones that looks like it was once the foundation of a grand house of some kind. I wonder who lived there, and what it was like to wake up every morning and look across the water. There must be people in the Capitol who can look across the lake there, but there are so many people there. This would be different. A large water bird lands and sends up a spray from the surface. I open the window. Birds are singing in the woods.
I want to get off the train, just jump out and run into the woods. Maybe one of those bands of violent out-district raiders will take me in. Hell, I'm not exactly a pacifist. I proved that in the arena. Maybe I'd fit right in. Maybe they live in the ruined house up there, and they're just getting up to hunt up breakfast now.
Of course, I'm pretty useless as a hunter. I can't hit the broad side of a barn, and I doubt I could outrun a wild animal, tackle it down, and slit its throat. So I'd probably starve.
But it looks so quiet out there. Maybe it would be okay to starve out in the woods. I could just wait until I got weak, then sit down and wait to slip away. I've seen people on the Seam starve. It's not pretty, but I think I could handle it. And hey, it's winter. Maybe I'd freeze to death first.
The door opens and I turn to find the teenage boy from the production team coming in, looking unconcerned until he turns around and sees me out of bed. "Oh!" he says. "I thought you'd be sleeping. They sent me to wake you up."
"Woke up on my own. Do you know what this lake is called?"
"They mostly don't name things in the out-districts. I have some old books, but even they don't list a lot of this stuff. I'm Plutarch Heavensbee. Gamemakers' apprentice." He holds out his hand, and I see a flash of paper with a mockingjay drawn on it. I recognize him from the banquet after I got out of the hospital. I remember Chaff telling me that they have a Gamemakers' apprentice on the team, and I guess this is probably him, but until Chaff or Gia tells me for sure, I decide not to make assumptions, in case he's a plant.
I shake his hand. "Haymitch Abernathy. You like old books?"
"Yeah. Old books, old papers… there's a whole stash of them in the Capitol library. Nobody ever uses them except for me." He opens my closet and starts checking the wardrobe against a list he has. I have no idea what's in this closet, honestly. They didn't bring any of my clothes from home. "Do you know that a country - the one that used to be where Panem is - actually started a revolution for the right to 'pursue happiness'? It's an old form of the language, and it took me a while to translate forward, and I still didn't believe it when I read it. But it's right there in black and white."
"Yeah, well, I've read stories by people who actually lived there. They didn't seem to get very far with the pursuit."
"Well, stories are… just stories." He gives me a condescending little smile.
"Except that they're put together by people who know what's going on around them, better than a bunch of historians would."
He shrugs. "Personally, I like poems, if I'm going to go for the artistic bit. I read some good ones yesterday. I think I'm going to share them with my girl. She knows lots of people who appreciate poetry."
I don't respond, though of course I know what he means. If Gia gave this boy my book, that must mean he's our inside spy, but something about him rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the way he shrugged off the idea that the stories had anything to offer. Or that condescending smirk, like I couldn't possibly have read the kind of papers he's talking about. I've read them in Capitol-approved translations, of course. It's not like we have the actual papers. But I've learned to read between the lines of what the Capitol decides it's okay for me to know… a skill I'll bet this well-put-together Capitol boy never even thought about.
He finally finds whatever my stylist, Lepidus, has decided I'm supposed to wear, and slings it over his arm. "Come on. Your preps are all set up. I'm jealous. They have this lotion in there… best smelling stuff I ever came across, and they won't let me have any. Apparently, it's your new scent."
"I have a scent?"
"Some signature thing. At least they picked a good smell."
I think about how much my house stinks when I don't clean it for a while. Doesn't sound like they picked anything representative of me.
Plutarch talks about fashion and television as we go up the length of the train to the prep cars. We grab pastries off a passing cart, then he stops at a door and tells me this is where I need to be. He goes on, strutting self-importantly, carrying my clothes to some other place.
I go in.
The prep area on the train is much fancier than the prep area I had for the Games last summer. Then, Beech Berryhill and I shared a utilitarian area. I had a canvas tub that had obviously been wheeled in just because they didn't have enough equipment for double the tributes. This time, it all resembles a very nice bathroom. It's a long room, the full length of a train car, and the fixtures are all gleaming brass. The tub seems to be either marble or something that looks an awful lot like it. There's a special sink that has a dip in it, which I think is for hair, since Medusa is messing around with it, and a comfortable looking reclining chair surrounded by little rolling tables covered with bottles I don't recognize.
There is some kind of cologne in the steam. I haven't worn much in the way of cologne. I figured it would all smell like flowers or something. But Plutarch's right - this one's not bad at all. Smells kind of like autumn, with falling leaves and rain. I have no idea what it's supposed to have to do with me, but I decide it will be okay if they put it on me.
"Do you like it?" Igerna asks. She's my skin care expert. "I helped design it. It's called Twelve. It's all the rage. It's the base scent for all the products we'll use. Well, at least the products that have scent."
"It could definitely be worse," I tell her. "What are we doing that didn't already get done yesterday?"
"Oh, honey, we barely scratched the surface yesterday," Fabiola says. "I have to clean your teeth - you'll be close enough for people to smell your breath - and your skin… oh, your skin is in terrible shape. You haven't been using your exfoliating settings, have you?"
Since I have no idea what she's talking about, I guess I haven't. There's no point in trying to delay things. I let them strip me down and start working.
First, there's a bath, full of scented moisturizers. It's not as harsh as the first bath at the Games - I don't have years' worth of coal dust embedded in my skin - but not quite as gentle as the second one. They don't pay much attention to me (in some ways, I'm grateful for this), and just talk while they turn me this way and that and scrub. Igerna has just broken up with her lover, and this is the main topic of conversation. Apparently, he didn't want "an adventure," which I gather to be something about sex, but never do figure out just what, since they all seem to know and aren't really thinking of me as being in the conversation. Fabiola suggests a few other men they all seem to know. One of these names causes Medusa to make a sound like an angry cat, though I guess from how they're talking, and the fact that Igerna licks her lips like she's contemplating a fine meal, that it means something else to them. I am folded over like an omelet, and they start working on the skin of my back.
After the bath, I'm allowed to put on underwear while they take care of my hair at the sink. It feels good to have someone washing my hair and caressing my head. They are now in the middle of an animated conversation about a soap opera that's just had a particularly tantalizing cliffhanger ending. I'm ashamed to admit that I've been watching the stupid thing - mostly drunk, but sometimes sober, if I just want to go brainless for a while - so I don't offer my opinion on the subject of whether or not Caius Lowell is actually dead from his second overdose in two months, or whether his girlfriend, Amica, will get caught after she murdered his dealer. I have watched the show for long enough to know that she will get caught, and he'll come out of his coma just in time to testify at her trial that she was only doing the world a favor. She'll be acquitted, then they'll move on to the next plot. It's a love triangle already brewing with Caius's best friend Rufus being caught between the lovely district-girl-secretly-hiding-in-the-Capitol (this is a common, but impossible, figure on Capitol television) and a dark and dangerous Avox boy who works in the tunnels under his apartment and has taken to appearing for maintenance when Rufus is home. Since neither choice will be permitted by the Capitol, I figure that Rufus is being written out of the show.
I am annoyed with myself for having a theory on the subject.
Prep takes the better part of two hours, and after it, I'm allowed to go eat (though I'm not allowed to put on my public appearance clothes until I'm finished, and will have one more hair session). When I get to the table, Gia hands me a stack of index cards. "This is the speech," she says. "Stick to it. Things are a little tense in Eleven."
She looks around at the other people in the dining car, mostly camera crews and other members of the production team. "I don't have any details. But the word is that we're to be in and out as quickly as possible."
"Will Chaff and Seeder be there?"
"Maybe at the banquet, though it depends on a lot of things. As a rule, local victors aren't in the crowd during the speeches. They tend to draw too much attention. Ollie - Blight - was usually asked to put in only a short appearance at the banquet." She smiles and squeezes my hand. "I'll see what I can do. I know they're your friends."
She goes off to make calls.
Two women wearing camera harnesses giggle, one of them pointing after Gia. They whisper to each other, then look at me and burst out laughing again.
"You got something to say?" I ask them.
"Not at all. We just… heard that Pelagia Pepper takes very good care of her victors." With this, they jostle each other outside. A few other people are smirking. I pick up a knife and smirk back at them. They quickly go back to their other business.
I go back to my car, but I'm still not allowed to put on my public appearance clothes, so I just lounge on my bed and poke around at a shelf full of glossy looking books that someone has thought to put here for me. The first one is a current hot seller about… me. There are pictures of Mom and Lacklen and Digger in it, and pictures from the Games. Though Digger is identified as my "special someone," the pictures make it quite clear that the author prefers a tragic love story with Maysilee. Looking at the cozy stills from the arena, I'd probably think it myself, if I didn't know that we were both scared to death, covered in injuries, and stinking to high heaven.
I decide not to read it. The next book is a romance novel, which I don't bother with (though the model on the cover has disgustingly familiar black curls). I finally settle on a detective story, though there's a lot of nonsense to sort through before it finally gets around to the crime.
I feel the train slow down just after someone brings me lunch, and I look out the window. We're coming in from the out-districts now. We're entering District Eleven.
The whole sky seems to be taken up by a high, electrified fence, guarded by armed Peacekeepers. This isn't like Twelve, where you just go through a small station to the other side of the fence to board the train. This isn't like anything I imagined, even in Panem.
The car I'm in passes through the gate, and I see Peacekeepers with machine guns lining the track, standing close enough that they can actually look in and see me. I don't know how Chaff could have come through here hiding on a train. There's an "inspection station," and I have a feeling that if this weren't a Capitol train, those Peacekeepers would be searching every inch of it.
We're clear of the fence soon enough, but its shadow seems to stay with us, even as we travel the miles and miles of fields between the fence and the main town. Sometimes I see people toiling in the fields, and once, I see a huge agricultural machine that does something I don't understand. There are rolling hills - I can see that the earth is actually red here, just like I've read about in books - and trees and flowers and animals, just like anywhere else.
But District Eleven isn't just like anywhere else, not with the shadow of that fence hanging over it.
District Eleven is a prison.