I Slide Forward Through My Head, Half Way Backwards
The doors opened up to Special Weaponry with a soprano sigh. Pandora stepped forward.
There hadn't been a chance to really explore the sections of District 13. Even if there had, Pandora wouldn't have taken the opportunity. It seemed pointless. To put it plainly she didn't care.
But the moment she walked into Special Weaponry, Pandora realized, maybe for the first time, that this rebellion might have a chance.
District 13 was made up of tunnels of pale cement, reinforced by invisible steel. There was no life to District 13. It was neither impressive nor disappointing—it was nothing, blank and flavorless. The room Pandora carefully stepped into looked like it was cut from a different cloth. Glass and steel vertebras made up the walls, the floor was sleek and well polished. And the weapons...
"There's so many." She found herself whispering.
Boggs let out a stolid "Hmph", as if it were the dumbest thing she could have said.
It wasn't just the weapons that impressed Pandora, it was the technology, the machinesque nature of the room.
Blades, guns, spears, and arrows of silver, graphite, and gold reflected in her eyes as she followed Boggs. Farther down thick sparring mats and punching bags waited to be tested. A row of screens catalogued the speed and agility of the trainee.
"How did District 13 get all this? Since the first revolution you've been all alone. Dead to the rest of Panem."
"We weren't dead, we were preparing."
It was the watered down version of what the Capitol had at its disposal, the cheap knock-off of a real armory and training program. Pandora wondered if this was enough to defeat President Snow.
The room quickly thinned into a corridor of glass, and as they made their way inside Pandora noted the thickness of the panes. Of course delicate sheets of crystal and glass wouldn't survive in District 13 like they could in the Capitol. Here the leading aesthetic was durability not luxury.
When the funneled corridor widened once more Pandora slowed her steps and arched her eyebrows.
Wires, chunks of technology, and computers filled the small nook, and dead in the center of it all was Beetee. He didn't look up when they entered. He was working on a spear point of an arrow, meticulously working. Pandora narrowed her eyes. District 3. He had been one of the victors that Plutarch had snatched out of the arena. He was older. Quiet.
Her gut reaction was to run the other way. The cafeteria had been a bad enough experience. She didn't need another victor to tell her how evil she was. She already knew the depth of her evil.
"Hello." Boggs's voice echoed.
As if he had been snapped out of hypnotic trance, Beetee lifted his eyes and blinked several times. She saw him glance to her and then back to Boggs.
"Miss Sullivan was easier to find than I expected."
Beetee turned his attention back to the arrow. "Just give me one—" he attached the point to a shaft with a click, "There."
"Miss Sullivan, this is Beetee. He's been heading up the special projects for us. Beetee this is the infamous Pandora Sullivan."
Infamous…what a joke.
She impassively nodded to the aging victor and shifted her weight. Beetee mirrored her actions.
"I trust you can handle this meeting yourself, Beetee?"
Pandora widened her eyes. He was leaving her alone? What was she supposed to get out of this "meeting"? It was starting to feel like District 13 was afraid to have Pandora on her own. They were playing a confusing game of Pass the Psycho.
"It was interesting finally meeting you, Miss Sullivan. I'll be seeing you around."
He spun on his heels and headed back to where they had come from. His footsteps echoed until there was nothing but silence and a series of indistinguishable clicks from the surrounding machines.
Instead of moving toward Beetee, Pandora carefully stepped along the perimeter of the room. Her eyes never left his. Her movements were predatory without meaning to be. She couldn't help that she felt on the defense all the time.
"Don't worry, it's not a trap."
Beetee smiled and started to rummage for something on a nearby table. He was in a wheeled chair because of injuries sustained in the Quarter Quell.
"You're looking at me like you're expecting the worst."
"Better than hoping for the best."
"I don't think that's how that one goes…" he adjusted his glasses.
"I don't trust you."
"You don't have to."
Her eyes dropped to a leather case he was fumbling with. "Why am I here?"
He ignored the question and continued to mess around with the gadgets all around him.
"Don't they explain anything to you?" He finally asked.
"Well—I guess I should then." He smiled but Pandora didn't smile back. She kept looking at the leather case. "I don't judge you, just so you know."
"You hear things in this place. Must be all the tunnels. Right now people are saying that you're a traitor. That you're a Capitol spy."
"And what do you think?"
He opened the locks of the leather case with a loud snap. "I think they don't know what it's like to be chosen to kill other people in the name of fun and games."
She swallowed hard, "But you do."
"Yes, Miss Sullivan. I'm afraid we both do. The only difference between you and me was that after the games were over my value decreased exponentially while yours rose."
She dropped her gaze to her boots. "Pandora, you can—you can call me Pandora."
"In mathematically theory there is always the unknown. The unknown changes in form and context from experiment to experiment, but one thing is always true of the unknown. It terrifies. You are their unknown, for now, maybe forever."
She inched closer. Beetee noticed out of the corner of his eye and smirked.
"I've been given a run down of your skills and fighting abilities."
The shift in conversation left her even more speechless.
"No offense but I knew little to nothing about you, Miss Sullivan. It was hard to develop weapons for a stranger. Most of my information came from Plutarch Heavensbee. A viable source?"
"He's never seen me fight—except in my games."
"Well his specifications were all I had."
He opened the leather case and peered inside. Pandora couldn't see what he was looking at. She took another step closer.
"I hear you're good with knives and swords."
"And hand-to-hand combat." Adric had been stubborn about what he trained her in. He forced her to learn the art of blades and hands, even when she wanted to use a gun.
"So Heavensbee wasn't completely wrong. Good."
Pandora realized quickly that Plutarch must have broken into the military files the Capitol had on her. No doubt he had made a study out of Pandora Sullivan before he realize she could be a vital asset to this whole revolution. Everything had been in those files. Her agility scores, her understanding of weapons and defense…her kill count. Coin had touched on that the day before with Adric, but Coin was a fool. Hunger Games victor, rebel or soldier—it didn't matter. All had a kill count. Once Pandora would have been horrified by the numbers, but now things were different. The higher the kill count the better you were at surviving.
"I just finished this morning—" As he turned the leather case to face Pandora she parted her lips and tilted her head. "Specifically designed for Pandora Sullivan."
It was a set of knives. Each so complex that Pandora had to squint her eyes and stare for several seconds at a single one before moving to the next. The inventory went as follows: Three katars, short blades grasped in the palm with the point protruding from between the fingers of a fist. These cut shallow, but they hurt. A pair of deer horn knives, X shapes blades with two steel curves crossing. One crescent curve is gripped in a leather bound middle, the other curve becomes a hand guard. Pandora recalled Adric tutoring her with these, but not intensely. And finally her eyes rested on the last one. She stared at it with fascination before picking it out of the velvet and lifting it into the air. It was long and slender with a slight curve to it. One side was serrated while the other was paper-thin. It caught the light and winked a gleaming silver at her. A sword.
"I call that one the Cat's Claw."
"I've never seen a sword like this."
"Designed to both slice and rip. Depending on how you hold it. I constructed a sheath that will allow you to hold the blade across your back."
She churned it in her hand and furrowed her brow, "It's light."
"Yes. All of them are. I figured you'd be carrying all of them when in combat."
She glanced to him. It was strange to hear someone talk about combat. Not hypothetical combat, but actual.
"Those aren't all. Here—"
He handed her a pair of gloves. She was surprised at how heavy they were when she grabbed them. Fingerless and black leather.
"They're called cestuses. For when in hand to hand combat. Inside the leather is steel. You can see the steel poking out just there. Makes each blow harder. Try them on."
They clung close to her knuckles and skin. The weight wasn't so bad once they were on her hands. A few times she balled her fingers together to get a feel for them. On the fifth time she gripped her hands into fists she saw a blue bolt of electricity surge through the gloves. Her face went pale.
"What was that?!"
"I inlaid the matrix of the gloves with a type of chargeable electricity. Ever used a tazor?"
She stared at him in shock.
"When the cestuses are charged and you punch someone it will send a bolt of electricity into them. Not a lot, but enough to throw your enemy off, and it will burn."
She clutched her hands together, "Interesting."
"Five times to charge."
"Good to remember."
The clock said 18:00 hour, when she finally left Special Weaponry. Beetee kept the weapons. They weren't allowed out of the facility until necessary. Holding those crafted knives gave Pandora chills. It was hard to wrap her head around. Everything in 13 was hard to take in.
In the elevator she glanced to her schedule. She was expecting what it always said for 18:00—Dinnertime—but it was something completely different. Her eyes narrowed. A burst of acid filled her mouth. 18:00—Detox, Report to Hospital.
So Coin was sticking to her demands. Pandora winced. She wished she hadn't agreed to that one. She wasn't some morphling that needed to be drained. She was in control, she was sure. Wasn't she?
Her back pressed hard against the wall. Suddenly her head hurt.
Coin had found the distaste to call her a muttation. Pandora had never felt as insulted as she had in that moment. It made her feel so low. To be call a muttation, as if she was like those wriggling sonar eels, vicious and heartless. But the truth was that it made her feel so low because she knew it was the truth. She had allowed Snow to change her, transforming her from a human girl into a mysterious creature. On her bad days she was a killer, basing all her actions on instinct and obedience. On her good days she was a false shell of velvet. Pull the veil away and you would see the truth, squirming angles as sharp and brittle as a hoarfrost briar patch.
It took all Pandora's shame to follow the schedule. Slowly she swallowed her pride and headed towards the hospital. She had agreed already. If she backed out Coin and the rest of District 13 would be even more suspicious.
The area was ready for her when she arrived. They ushered her into a stark white room. There was a gurney surrounded by strange devices, IVs, and trays of medical equipment. Her palms began to sweat. Hospitals make everyone nervous, but it was becoming a phobia of Pandora's.
"You'll need to put this on."
They tossed her a thin paper gown. It was scratchy.
"Sit right there."
She slipped onto the gurney and leaned back. The helium lights flickered, and Pandora found herself wondering how District 13 was able to get electricity at all.
"How long will this take?" She asked.
"The process normally takes an hour. But first we need to run tests."
Pandora narrowed her eyes. She had her fill of tests back in the Capitol.
First was the blood test. That was simple, expected, and quick. Only a prick of pain and a flash of crimson. But the tests that followed were far stranger.
They forced her to study blocks of shapes and colors in a given order and then reassemble them. Pandora wasn't sure on the etiquette for the reconstructing, but she gave it her best.
Then came the word association. A set of words and numbers were placed in front of her and she had to say the first thing that came to mind—this one was by the far the most nerve-racking, everything she said felt wrong.
On and on these strange psychological and memory tests went. Each one designed to catch Pandora, to demonstrate how unstable she was. It felt like overkill. Making her look unstable was the easiest thing in the world, everything that came out of Pandora's mouth had a slight unhinged tang to it.
After all tests were finished they finally lowered the gurney.
"This will pinch a little."
She watched as the medics strapped her legs and arms down. Not a good sign.
"Are those necessary?"
"Protocol, Miss Sullivan. Please stay still."
The devices were pushed closer.
"Do your best not to scream."
The machines were flipped on. Pandora held her breath and shut her eyes tight. They inserted the IVs before she could blink—one in each arm. It stung, but the pain was nothing to scream about. Her brow furrowed.
"That wasn't so bad."
One medic looked to the other, their faces covered with surgical masks.
"We haven't begun, Miss Sullivan."
Her eyes widened, "Oh."
They nodded and moved towards the machines.
"How—how exactly is this going to work?" Pandora's voice went high at the end. She felt beads of sweat trickled down her neck.
"The process is similar to distillation. We're simply going to filter away all those toxins that could be left over."
"I think I—" she tensed her arms, trying to wiggle out of the restraints, "—I'd like a minute. Please—I just—"
Instead of listening the medics began adjusting dials and meters.
"Hey—" she rubbed her lips together. "—I said I want a minute!"
"Calm down. You'll make it worse if you struggle."
"Get these off me!"
Flickers of the past clouded her vision. Pandora being pumped of serum with a needle in her brain. Pandora's bleeding out in an operating room. Needles. Bright lights. Blood. Always Blood. She tried to catch her breath but the memories kept coming.
"I can't do this!"
"Press the button."
"Are you sure? She seems—"
"We have our orders."
Pandora gritted her teeth in preparation. She threw her head back and pressed her lips together. She heard the machines fizzle as the obedient medic began the procedure.
Think of a song. Hum any song. Anything. Think of anything. An hour's not long. It's not long at all. You can do this. Think of anything. Sing anything.
There was a few seconds delay before the solution hit her veins, but when it did, Pandora realized why they had warned her. Her mouth opened with a shaking cry.
The solution was working its way through her body with painful efficiency. It wasn't only her veins that were being torn apart. It was her muscles. Her organs. Her brain. Most of all it was her brain. She jerked her head from left to right. Pandora's vision was suddenly obstructed by hundreds of tiny rainbow dots swirling in a terrible dance.
Think of anything.
"Are you looking at this? It's worse than we estimated."
No, no, no. It's worse? She knew what they meant. She knew it then. It's not worse. I am. I'm what's worse. A lost cause.
"Keep the solution steady."
Tears started rolling out of Pandora's eyes. Shredding. That was the only word for this pain. They were ripping away what the Capitol had welded to the old her. She could literally feel each particle being scattered and cleansed.
"Just breath, Miss Sullivan." Someone whispered to her. "Breath. You'll feel better when all this is over."
Through trembling lips she whistled a breath. "My head—it hurts—"
"I know. Stay strong. We're fixing things."
Think of anything.
Pandora panted. She needed to latch onto something. Through the pain and ripping, she closed her eyes. At first she tried to imagine a forest, green and lush, but that didn't work. The moment she imagined thick pines she also saw her brothers hanging from the branches. Then she thought of the way the rain fell onto glass and traveled down in rivers. Still the pain was overwhelming, but that wasn't what was scaring her. She was afraid she would forget everything again.
"If we stop now we'll just have to start over."
Don't forget. Don't forget. Don't forget.
Pandora thought of the night she had been saved from the windowless cell and carted onto the hovercraft. She remembered how Adric leaned over. He had pulled on her earlobe. His blond hair had fallen into his eyes. He had smiled, just a little. He smiled.
Think of that smile. Concentrate on the smile.
She let out a wail. The memory of his smile quickly transformed into one of him crying and screaming.
Where are you Adric?
The minutes rolled on. Her eyes would open only to shut once more. Her senses were on overload. She could taste the oxygen in the room. Hear a deafening buzzing.
Pain. Pain. So much pain…and then…
It came to a halt.
Pandora gasped for air.
She felt the IVs slip out of her arms. Her head rolled back.
She tried to sit up but it was still hard to see.
"You need to remain horizontal, Miss Sullivan! No!"
"I need to get out of here—" Somehow she found her footing only to stagger in place.
She heard the medics scuttling around her.
"Get out of my—" a lightness was taking hold. She clasped her hands on either side of her head. It felt like her skull would turn into a hot air balloon and crash into the ceiling. Her lips turned cold. The blood was rushing away from her cheeks.
"She's going to faint!" Someone squawked.
Three seconds later everything went black for Pandora and she collapsed to the ground.