She thought she was ready. They’ve been planning ever since the card was read, trying to think of all the contingencies. Rokia saw her grandma last night, late, and she’ll be with the girls now, leaving on the train to disappear into the wild north.
But still it sounds like the escort is a couple districts over when she calls out the name—Poppy, not Rokia, and Plutarch said that’s how it would go but she knows better than to trust him. And then—“Chester Phillips,” the escort trills, and Rokia can’t breathe.
“I volunteer,” the voice is uninflected, harsh.
Rokia can see again. Phillips is staring at Terence, his expression completely blank. Terence shrugs one shoulder, his face twists into a sardonic smile, and he steps forward, climbs the steps, and takes Poppy’s hand.
The mood on the train is grim, even more silent than it usually is. Terence and Poppy barely made it onto the train before passing out together in one of the rooms. Even Phillips doesn't seem to mind. Rokia definitely doesn't.
Everything still feels unreal and faraway. She can't make it register, all of what's about to happen, and she doesn't really think she wants to. That much… it might drown her if she tries to think about it all at once. Better to break it down, one day, one job, one moment at a time. She leaves Phillips standing in the dining car and heads for the back of the train to watch the District disappear behind her.
Will she ever make it back? Will any of them?
Finnick and Cashmere and Gloss are off the market and the Capitol is whipped up into Games-crazy like never before. Rokia’s schedule is packed fuller than it's ever been.
They get in at midnight. She's in prep by one, out by three, at a pre-Games party by four. Gets back at ten, goes to Remake, goes to an interview, goes to a photo shoot, goes to the Parade, goes to a party, a house, a car, Remake, another photo shoot, no questions, no answers even when the photographers try to ask.
Back to the Six floor, which reeks of cooking morphling. Rokia's throat goes tight and she wonders where her sisters are, what they're doing, how much they're seeing, what they might know. Wonders where Mom is. She wasn't at the Reaping. Just like the first time Rokia made this trip.
She's still standing in the hallway, paralyzed, when Phillips walks out of the kitchen and sees her. His quick glance turns careful, probing, and he sets down his coffee and walks over to her. Touches her shoulder, says “Rokia?” His eyes search her face, sweep up and down looking for—something.
Rokia squeezes her eyes shut for a second, opens them. “I'm fine,” she says, and it comes out sharper, louder than she meant. She shakes off his hand, steps past into her room.
She barely sees Terence and Poppy. When she does they're high to the point of incoherence, slumped together on the floor, leaned against the couch, syringes and vials never out of reach.
After the first day it's the medical grade stuff, no need to cook it, and the smell fades. One less thing battering at Rokia’s head, that smell, the reminders of home, of places and people she's left behind.
She's at a club, music pounding and too many people and her head spinning, when Gaius Luna pulls her into a private back room. She flinches hard when the door opens and someone is already there, a tall man with a pinched face and jet black hair and a datapad on his knees.
“Rokia,” he says, watching her. “Plutarch sent me.”
Rokia just nods. Luna is sitting in the corner, watching.
“He needs your help,” the tall guy says. “Beetee says you can do it.”
“Do what?” Rokia asks. Her voice sounds loud in her ears.
“Get into the Gamemakers system. Jam hovercraft signals, bring down the force field.” He pauses. “We are hoping it will not be necessary,” he adds, “but once plans are in motion we cannot afford to take a chance.”
Rokia stares. Swallows hard, takes a deep breath. “I can't get in,” she says, “I'm not that good. But if I’m connected…” she pauses. Thinks about it, about the homework Beetee’s given her, tries to play his game of “how must this system be assembled.” There would have to be emergency overrides, in case they need a larger hovercraft than the little corpse collectors. “I could figure it out,” she says. “I need time though.”
The man stands up, hands her his datapad. “Your companion is a Gamemaker. He will provide you with access. He will request your company when you are needed.”
He walks out the door.
Rokia turns. Her…companion…is smiling, snakelike. She takes another deep breath, sits next to him, hands him the datapad. He enters credentials, presses his thumb to the screen, and it comes alive.
Rokia spends precious minutes staring stupidly at the controls before she gives in, digs into the ridiculous little bag she has with her, and pulls out a red stim pill. She crunches it between her teeth and turns back to the job.
Yes, there is an override, she isn't supposed to access it but Plutarch can. Jamming signals, well, that she knows how to do. Overwhelm them with data and they go down. She digs down to find transmission protocols and controls designed to prevent her from doing exactly what she's planning to do. Convinces herself that she can get past those, and there's no way to do a test run without tipping someone off, but as far as she can be, Rokia is confident she can do what she needs.
When she looks up, Luna is slumped on the couch, asleep, his mouth open. Rokia wishes she could just let him sleep, slip out and go back, but she can't afford to take risks now. She shakes his shoulder, gently, and he stirs.
“Hmmmmm, you're pretty when you're concentrating,” he says, smiling.
Rokia's teeth grind at that but she forces herself to relax. To smile as best she can.
He stretches, stands up, takes the datapad from her and tucks it in under his jacket. “Come on,” he says, puts an arm around her when she stands, and leads her out to the car.
She's far too antsy to sleep when she gets back, the buzz of the drug and the adrenaline combining, but Phillips is sitting in the common room when she comes in, drinking coffee and glaring at the television. He looks up when he sees her, eyes narrowed.
Rokia smiles, suppresses near-hysterical giggles, and slips into her room to change.
Rokia’s on the treadmill, music loud in her headphones to drown out all the noise in her head, when Lyme comes in. Lyme nods vaguely in her direction, doesn't really wait for a response before heading to the punching bag hanging from the ceiling.
Rokia keeps running for nearly an hour, but when she's done Lyme is still so intent she doesn't see Rokia leave.
Wiress is waiting in front of the elevators, the morning of the interviews. Rokia doesn't see her at first, intent on getting to her room, to a shower before she collapses.
“Rokia,” she says, quiet. Rokia jumps, turns toward her. Wiress hands her a little wire beetle, eyes on Rokia's hands and not her face. “I made this for you,” she adds.
When Wiress looks up it's like a slap in the face. Wiress’ eyes are too wide, dark-circled, red-rimmed. But she narrows them to glare at Rokia until Rokia holds her gaze, nods. Wiress hits the button for the elevator, stands looking down, hands twisted together.
They step in. Rokia hits the buttons for three and six, leans against the wall. Wiress stands stock still in the exact center until the doors open on the Three floor. Then she turns to look at Rokia again.
“You're a good engineer, Rokia,” she says. “I have enjoyed working together.”
Before Rokia can collect herself enough to answer, Wiress steps through the doors and they slide closed behind her.
When Rokia gets to her room, the little beetle’s shape is imprinted in her palm.
The words rattle around her head while she showers, while she pulls pillows off the bed to nestle between it and the wall, while she tries to force herself to sleep.
Someone catches her arm at a party—no one Rokia recognizes, nothing about him stands out. “The alley. Out back. Someone’s waiting.”
Rokia glances around. Her companion’s on the other side of the room, waiting for her to fetch them new drinks. He’s not watching her.
She slips past the guard, who glances over just long enough to recognize her before looking away, slips through the door without letting it fully open.
Standing behind a dumpster, hidden in shadow, is Joe.
Rokia’s heart pounds. Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong, because Joe doesn’t belong in this part of town, he’ll disappear if he’s caught, this is reckless and stupid and dangerous, so it must be important.
“Joe?” she whispers, coming up close beside him.
He sizes her up in a quick glance and his mouth tightens. “Your girl called me,” he says, in a low rumble. “Train’s leaving at seven minutes past midnight, heading for Eight. You get there, you’re on it.”
Rokia’s mouth goes dry. Phillips told her, weeks ago, they only had contingencies for the ones in the Arena. And Haymitch, because they need someone to wrangle their Mockingjay into what they want. The rest of them, well, they don’t say the word ‘expendable’ but that’s what they mean. Since then, Rokia hasn’t thought about after. She can’t think about anything beyond the night she’ll sit in Gaius Luna’s house and monitor the forcefields. At midnight, as far as she’s concerned, the world will end.
Except maybe not.
Because Sara is stubborn and willful and won’t give up on her.
Joe’s still watching her. Rokia nods. “What about you?” she asks.
His teeth flash white in the dark as he smiles. “I’ll be in Eleven by then. Say hi to Paylor for me.”
Rokia nods again, glances toward the door. “I gotta get back in.”
“Be careful,” Joe warns, his eyes holding hers.
“You too,” Rokia says.
She slips in the door, gets another uncurious glance from the guard, just to make sure she’s not some kid sneaking in.
The music rattles in her chest, flashing lights and throngs of people and it’s too bright, too loud, too much. Rokia takes a deep breath, blows it out through pursed lips and heads for the bar.
Phillips is waiting for her when she gets back. The Games start tomorrow—today? Is it in a few hours or twenty-four and change? Rokia’s head spins when she tries to think too hard.
“Come upstairs with me,” he says, before she’s had a chance to say anything.
She’s about to protest, to say she needs to shower at least, but when she sees the look on his face she stops, nods. He walks to the elevator, shoulders hunched, eyes down, stands still and silent up to the top, up the stairs and onto the roof.
Rokia follows him, until he turns abruptly and she nearly walks into him before she notices and stops.
“You get out,” Phillips says, arms crossed tight over his chest. “I know they—“ he lifts a hand to wave. “I know what they said. But you go, get to the cargo docks and get on a train or something. Someone’ll take you.”
“What about you?” Rokia asks.
“Don’t worry about me,” he snaps. “Just go.”
“Joe found me,” Rokia says. “Train’s leaving at 12:07. You could come with me.”
Phillips shakes his head. “I’m staying here,” he says. “Just get out.”
“Phillips—“ Rokia starts, but she doesn’t know what to say. Tears well up in her eyes; she doesn’t want this, whatever it is, it’s too much, too fast, too chaotic. She’s lost, caught on a train hurtling into the night and she doesn’t know where they’ll end up or what will happen when they get there.
But you can’t do anything but get swept along, on a train. Can’t run fast enough the other way to stand still. Just have to settle into the motion till it feels more like solid ground.
“Don’t worry about me,” Phillips repeats—she thinks he’s probably said the same thing five different ways now, but that’s probably for the best.
Rokia nods, finally, then steps in close to Phillips, lets him put his arms around her, hold her against his chest while her eyes leak tears onto his shirt.
She pulls away, scrubs at her eyes. Her Capitol makeup probably won’t even smear. Rokia takes a deep breath. Phillips watches her, and Rokia thought she could read him but right now? She hasn’t got a clue.
“Come on,” Phillips says. “Couple hours till the start, you should get some sleep.”
So it is today. Rokia just nods again and follows him down to her room, her bed, where she falls asleep in her clothes.
Rokia wakes up with a start. The room is dark, but it's always dark, there's no way to tell what time it is, but she feels like she's slept for a while. She looks around, finds her phone. It's noon, she slept for six hours, and Phillips didn't wake her up for the start of the Games.
She's not sure whether she's irritated or relieved. Both, maybe. No point rushing now, in any event. She takes a long, hot shower, puts on soft, worn jeans from home and a t-shirt, pads out into the common room. It's empty. Empty, and silent, and calm, and the contrast to everything that's happened in the past few days puts her teeth on edge. She's waiting for something to break the silence, ambush her in the empty room.
So she sighs, turns on the Games as she heads to the kitchen. The Arena is…odd. Circular, water in the center, an island holding the cornucopia. She can see the platforms, between spokes that make the whole center look like a wheel. Nobody's there, just hovercrafts descending to clear away bodies. Nothing to distinguish one district from another this year, and the camera stays too far away to see faces. But then a list flashes across the bottom of the screen, and partway down she sees it. D6M, Terence’s name.
Just D6M, though. No D6F, so Poppy’s still alive somewhere.
It's strange that this year of all years the whole thing feels distant, unreal, unimportant. It's easier somehow, knowing going in that the tributes weren't coming back out. Knowing it was Terence and Poppy and not a couple kids with families and friends and their whole lives ahead of them. Knowing that, likely as not, she won't be coming back from the Capitol either.
Not a lot of action-movie escapes happen on slow cargo trains. And the hovercraft defecting the Capitol aren't for her. They're for Plutarch’s key contacts only. Priority assets. Months ago, Rokia sat next to Beetee in a hidden room below a fancy Capitol restaurant while they discussed the list, watched as Beetee’s jaw clenched harder as Plutarch told them it was too risky to get anyone out of the mentors’ control room except Haymitch.
“We need intelligence,” Finnick said, his voice tight. “We need someone who knows Two, and nobody worthwhile is on my client list.”
“What are you suggesting?” someone snapped.
Finnick glanced at Rokia. “Lyme,” he said.
The room erupted, quietly. “No,” said a woman with steel-grey hair. “Too uncertain.”
Plutarch looked thoughtful. Beetee kept silent. But the woman was the one deciding, apparently, because they didn't discuss it further.
Beetee is in the Arena now. So is Finnick. There's no way to talk to anyone anymore—the Training Center is even more heavily bugged than before, the stakes too high to risk it. Rokia has been handed an escape, but she can't share it with anyone, not even Eibhlin and Lumina. She has no reason to talk to mentors from Three, and neither does Phillips. She's never worked with either of them, there's no conceivable project she could be asking about. She can't risk looking suspicious, not now. She has a job to do, and she’ll do it, and she can't worry about the rest.
Rokia drinks her coffee, eats oatmeal out of the machine, watches enough of the commentary to be able to talk about the start with whoever she's with tonight, then heads downstairs.
Phillips is sitting at the console, back straight as always, arms folded across his chest. It's unusually quiet, the air heavy with tension. Nobody’s joking, negotiating, needling each other. One and Two are on the phones, on and off, speaking to each other, but no one else says a word. Lumina, at Three, is staring intently at her monitor, and next to her Odysseus is watching the big screen above them, face blank, checking what's being broadcast to the country.
Phillips looks over when she sits down, but nobody else seems to notice. “You’re up,” he says, softly. Rokia nods.
She only gets to stay a couple hours before she's being called in for prep. A few eyes follow her as she goes, bland curiosity mostly, hard-eyed calculation from Dexter at the One seat.
Remake is unusually quiet. Unusually empty. She tries not to think about it.
Gaius Luna sends for her the morning of the third day. The knock on the door wakes her up, and she jumps up so fast the room spins and she has to sit back down on the bed till her vision clears.
An Avox passes her a white card, rose-scented. She opens it, reads the name, the instructions— “bring equipment”— and nods.
“I'll head down to Remake in a minute,” she says. He nods, walks away.
Rokia takes a deep breath, picks up the bag she's had ready for this since that first meeting in the club, and goes to find Phillips.
He's asleep on the couch in the common room.
“Phillips,” she says, quiet, then louder—and then he wakes up, startled.
She waits for him to sit up, hands him the card. “I have to go,” she says, mindful of the bugs. “He has me till tomorrow morning.”
Phillips knows the bread code as well as anyone in the Arena does. He looks up at her, then stands. He hesitates for a second, then pulls her into a tight hug. “Be careful,” he says, bent close enough she can feel his breath on the top of her head. Feels his throats work as he swallows. “I love you, Rokia,” he whispers, and pulls away.
Rokia blinks back tears. “You too,” she manages, low and choked, and then she turns away, walks out the door, and pushes the elevator button to take her down to Remake.
Luna’s house is extravagant, huge and ornate and ridiculous, and Rokia feels small just knocking on the door.
“Bring equipment” means she's dressed in black, in almost nothing, a jacket she can let drop once she's inside as a gesture towards not scandalizing the neighbors.
Luna’s eyes go wide and hungry when he sees her, and it's stupid but Rokia had hoped to skip this part. Hoped that maybe given everything he'd let her set up in his private study, monitor things and just…not be this, just for today. But no. Given what he must have paid for 24 hours of her time in the middle of the most exciting Games anyone can remember, he wants at least some of his money’s worth.
At least he doesn't drag it out too long. Lets her shower and change into the clothes in her bag, shows her up to the study and helps her get the other equipment she brought plugged in. Rokia pulls up the video feeds. All the mentor feeds are there, the broadcast feed, a line to the Gamemakers control room and one to the mentors. Plutarch is pacing in the Gamemakers room. The mentors room is silent and tense, everyone watching their monitors.
A message flashes through. “Access granted. PH.”
Another screen appears: Plutarch’s control terminal. Rokia takes a deep breath, and starts worming her way into the Arena’s systems, looking for the code she needs to shut down power to the force field, jam hovercraft communications as best she can.
She's still working when Luna comes in, comes up behind her and trails fingers down her neck, across her shoulders. Rokia doesn't scream. Just imagines his fingers trailing acid and fire down to her spine, eating away everything and leaving her only a skeleton. Then she takes a deep breath and smiles up at him.
“I thought we should have a nice dinner,” Luna says, “while we have the chance.”
Skies above, he likes her. He thinks there's something to this, beyond money and power and convenience. Rokia suddenly cares even less for the mountain of trouble that's going to land on his head for all of this.
But she can't say no.
“Sure,” she says, brightly. “I'll just get ready.”
Remake prepared her for this. Her hair’s set, her makeup’s impermeable, there's a dress and a new set of lingerie in with her things, something she could wear to a fancy place.
She takes everything into the bathroom, because fuck it, the world's ending, she's not making getting dressed for dinner into a fucking striptease.
She avoids looking in the mirror, except for a quick glance to make sure she's presentable, and goes out.
Luna looks annoyed, but smiles when he looks at her. Hooks an arm around her waist, fingers curling around her hipbone, pulls her close. “Hm, lovely,” he says, steering her toward the door. “We’d better go before I get distracted.”
Rokia smiles sweetly. “How about a drink first? To relax?”
He chuckles, changes direction. Rokia reaches for one of the decanters on the bar, lets the sleeping pill drop from her fingers and dissolve in the amber liquid, then hands him his glass.
She can’t say no, but she doesn’t have time for this, and Rokia’s not wasting these hours. She sips at her drink, watches as Luna drinks his, sways a little. “Come sit,” she suggests, taking his hand and pulling him over to the ornate couch. He reaches for her automatically, but can’t do more than paw ineffectually before he’s out.
And good riddance.
Rokia pulls up the video feeds again. The broadcast feed from the Arena, the Three mentors’ feed, the surveillance camera in the mentor control room.
Lyme’s sitting in one of the D2 mentor seats. Rokia scowls. All hell is going to break loose in that room as soon as they blow the Arena. Lyme may be Two but Rokia knows just how far her allegiance to the Capitol doesn’t go, and if Rokia knows then so does Snow.
Is there some way she can get Lyme out of the room? She pulls up the feed for D2M. Brutus and Enobaria are planning something, stalking through the jungle. Lyme’s posture on the control room feed is taut, pressed toward the screen. No, even if the building were burning around her Lyme would stay and watch, because there’s nothing else she can do.
There are two hovercraft set to leave just after midnight. Six people flying out from the Games Complex hangar. Two craft, one planned and one for backup, in case something happens to the first one and because Thirteen wants all the equipment they can get their hands on.
Plutarch has access to everything in the Games Complex. Rokia looks through camera feeds until she finds the ones for the hangars. Hangar 10: the cargo craft, Wiress’ new design, shielded from electrical storms, fly-by-wire optional, the one that will take Plutarch and Haymitch out to pick up the Mockingjay.
She’s not sure which hangars have the other craft, until she goes looking for the communication system and realizes someone’s disabled any calls into hangars 13 and 15 from outside the Games Complex. Bingo.
The craft in 13 is bigger, Peacekeeper use, missiles loaded under the wing, snug against the belly of the craft. Fifteen must be the backup: it’s sleek, small, highest top speed of anything in the Capitol but no missiles. The kind of thing you take if your plan’s fallen apart and you just need to get out.
So. That’s another escape route.
Rokia looks back at the mentors. How can she get someone the message? She can’t exactly call Phillips and tell him. The mentor consoles?
They’re hardwired. To get in, she would have to reset the whole system—and that’d be like sending up a flare to tell everyone something was wrong.
Unless the console resets on its own.
Unless the tribute dies.
And Plutarch is the one who orders the cannons, and right now Rokia is Plutarch.
Rokia looks back at the Arena. Beetee is winding wire around the tree, while the others watch.
She looks around the mentors’ room, at the faces of the alliance members. They’re set, determined, unafraid. Eibhlin and Lumina have their shoulders pressed together, hands clasped.
If the forcefield blows, all bets are off. Every Arena system will short out, most likely, and who knows what the consoles will do. And Rokia needs to be on her way out of here as soon as it does, if she wants to make the train. Sara will kill her if she stays, waiting to get someone else out before herself.
She needs a cannon. Needs the cannon to reset the mentors’ readout when their tribute’s vitals flatline. It’s an opening.
If it’s close, she tells herself. If it’s near enough to midnight, if the tribute’s near enough to pass, if it’s Beetee or Finnick or—yes, if it’s Brutus she’s asking Lyme.
She sends a message to the pilot in Hangar 15: Stand by for additional passenger, arriving by 00:10.
He can’t respond, but she sees him on the surveillance feed, sitting in the cockpit, and he nods, as if he knows she’s watching. Maybe he does.
The Arena feeds burst to life. Johanna knocks Katniss down, cuts out her tracker and takes off. Brutus and Enobaria crash through the underbrush and onto the beach.
Beetee tries to jam a knife into the forcefield and falls back, unconscious. Rokia hovers over the signal for the cannon, but it’s too soon, still ten minutes until midnight, and his heartbeat stutters but settles, his breathing light but steady. She waits.
Katniss stumbles up to the tree. Enobaria follows Finnick up moments later—
And the D2M vitals screen flashes red.
On the video feed, Brutus falls to the ground, muscles spasming.
Two minutes to midnight. Heartbeat irregular, racing then dropping, and now, this, Rokia can do something.
Brutus’ breath shudders out.
Rokia triggers the cannon, pushes the message through while the vitals readout resets.
Rokia sees when Lyme reads it—she freezes completely, forgets to breathe. The hovercraft comes—fast, they’re not usually that fast—and as the claw lifts Brutus up, Lyme stands up, walks out without a word.
Katniss looks at Finnick, at Enobaria, up at the forcefield. “Do it,” Rokia whispers. “Come on.” People have died for this. Will die for this. Make it mean something. Make this the first spark that sets the building on fire.
Katniss winds the fine wire around an arrow, points it toward the sky, and fires.
Lightning shoots down, and every Arena screen goes blank.