Rokia groans when she hears the phone ring. It’s in the office, she’s in an access panel installing new avionics after someone managed to fry half the circuitry on this hovercraft.
Yes, they destroyed most of the pilots along with most of the hovercraft when they bombed Eagle Pass, but are they letting small children fly now? Is that why every other time she lets a craft out of her sight it comes back fucked up in ways she hadn’t previously imagined were possible? The craft from 13 are sturdier, but the 13 pilots are also stingier about flying time, and 13 might not be in charge anymore but try telling that to their air command people.
This job is going to take forever to track down all the short circuits and blown fuses and whatever the fuck somebody managed to do, and she does not want to crawl all the way out just to answer the phone when probably it’s another complaint about how they need people or supplies or both flown halfway around the world by yesterday and what’s the holdup?
But someone else picks it up and then yells across the hangar. “Rokia, it’s Phillips for you.”
Rokia sighs, but starts crawling out. She owes Phillips, he’s hurt and he doesn’t have anyone else, he needs her and she’ll do whatever she can… but he wants her to stop doing what she’s doing and rest, wants to baby her even though he’s the one struggling to walk on surgically repaired legs. And she can’t give him what he wants—she has a job to do, she goes to see him when she can, and there’s really nothing she can do given there’s a hospital full of doctors and nurses looking out for him already. That probably makes her a terrible person, but what the fuck else is new.
She picks up the phone in the office, takes a deep breath, and says “Hello?”
“Hi Rokia,” Phillips says, “How’re you doing?”
“I’m fine, busy as usual. What’s up?”
There’s a half-concealed sigh before he answers. “They’ve called a meeting of all the Victors, tomorrow morning. Sounds like they want to talk about where we go now that things are getting settled.”
Oh, things are getting settled, are they? News to her. “Okay,” she says, “I mean, I’ve already got a job, what’re they planning on having us all do?”
Phillips pauses. “Oh. No, I meant literally, which districts to move to.”
Rokia rolls her eyes. She can’t go back to Six, Thirteen is a disturbing fucking anthill, and her job’s here, so what’s to discuss? “I’m not planning on moving,” she says, when the pause gets a little too long for comfort. “Like I said, I’ve already got a job.”
Phillips sighs again. “Well, it might be good to see what the others are planning, anyway.” He sounds tired. He always sounds tired, these days. Rokia wonders if he’s still bitching about painkillers and how he doesn’t need them.
“What time’s the meeting?” she asks, trying to be placating. It comes out a little sharper than she meant it to.
“Nine tomorrow morning,” Phillips says. “In the old Games Complex.”
It’s creepy, the way they’ve turned the place into offices and storage and living spaces without so much as a beat in between. Okay, it’s a big building and somehow managed not to get destroyed or shot at, and they need to do this shit someplace, but really? “Okay,” Rokia says, looking up at the clock on the wall. “I’ll try to make it.”
“Thanks,” Phillips says, gruffer than usual. She didn’t realize she was annoying him that much. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Rokia,” he adds.
“See you,” she echoes, and hangs up.
It’s almost five now. If everything goes well she can finish this job tonight and crash for a few hours in the office before the meeting.
Rokia should know better than to tempt fate and the gods of electrical circuitry like that. When she finally crawls out for the last time, scrambles up to the cockpit to verify that everything’s working as it should, it’s already six in the morning. So either she rushes the checks, assumes everything’s fine, and sleeps for maybe 2 hours, or she does the job properly. And assuming everything’s fine is how this kind of shit gets broken in the first place, so fuck it. She goes to the machine by the office and gets it to dispense coffee after only one kick to the side. Fucking Capitol machines, this thing’s supposed to dispense 37 kinds of hot drinks but it never quite works right, while the drip coffeemaker in Sal’s shop was as old as Rokia, made one kind of hot drink, and worked fine.
She takes the coffee into the cockpit with her, even though she shouldn’t, because nobody else will be in for another hour or two. Runs through the avionics checklist, twice, just because she’s tired and wants to be sure she’s got everything. But yeah, it all checks out, so she powers the thing down, crawls back through the access to make sure all the wiring’s squared away, latches down the panels, and is stepping back by eight o’clock. Enough time to shower and change into cleaner clothes.
She tries to ignore the apartment as she walks through to the bathroom, the way she always does. Fancy, ridiculous, nonsense fluff everywhere, and really she should collect all the worst shit and stuff it into a closet somewhere, but she doesn’t have time for that so she just tries to pretend it’s not there.
She should also—buy? Requisition? Acquire, anyway—some new clothes, given that what she has is what she brought from 13. And that’s 4 grey uniforms and all of them have grease stains somewhere. But that’s even more complicated than getting rid of the bullshit in the apartment so it goes on the “someday when I have time” list, which Rokia’s pretty sure would be a long list if she actually kept track of any of the things on it.
It does amuse her to show up at the door to the Games Complex with her hair wet and wearing greasy grey coveralls. It appears to amuse the guys guarding the door, but they don’t say anything, just wave her in.
Phillips is waiting in the lobby, sitting (for once, thankfully) on a chair near the elevators. He stands up when he sees her, leaning on the back of the chair and on the cane he’s been bullied into using by fed-up nurses. He looks her up and down, gives her a worried smile. “Glad you made it,” he says.
Rokia shrugs. “Managed to finish a job in time,” she says. “Guess we’ll see what these guys have by way of plans.”
Phillips nods, punches the elevator buttons. “Rokia,” he says carefully, as the doors close. “You’re working way too hard, you need to slow down.”
“Says the guy who fought for weeks to be let out of the hospital with two broken legs,” she snipes back, and that’s probably not fair and it’s definitely not nice, but seriously, she’s had enough with that bullshit.
He huffs a laugh. “Fair point,” he says. “But Rokia, I’m serious.”
She shrugs again. “I’m fine, Phillips, there’s just a lot needs doing these days.”
His mouth goes tight, but he stays silent until the elevator doors open and they step out into what used to be the District Four common area and is now full of Victors, sitting and standing variously around a long table.
It’s not everyone, not even everyone who survived (and that’s a hell of a difference), but it’s a lot of people, and Phillips seems at home with them but Rokia doesn’t know these people, doesn’t want them looking at her, doesn’t care where they go, isn’t sure why she let Phillips talk her into coming. She follows him long enough to make sure he finds a chair, then fades back until she can lean against a wall and watch.
It’s odd, really—Phillips seems to think they’re a group, somehow, but what does Rokia have in common with…she digs at her memory for names, but mostly she never knew them so it’s a bit of a lost cause. Some she does recognize—Finnick, standing behind Annie with a hand on her shoulder, Johanna Mason standing, arms crossed, fingers worrying at her sleeve, Lyme from Two bent over a map talking to Phillips’ friend Brutus—but still. There’s not some grand commonality, except they all killed a bunch of kids and got fucked around by the Capitol in reward. Rokia shakes her head, goes in search of coffee.
There’s a machine in the kitchen that makes coffee without even requiring kicking, and someone’s brought snacks. Rokia’s stomach takes the opportunity to remind her she hasn’t actually eaten in who knows how long, so she snags a muffin to go with her coffee and goes back out to watch.
She's not surprised when it's Beetee who stands up to call things to order. She's a little impressed when all he has to say is hello and everybody shuts up. Most of them sit around the table, but Rokia's not the only one hanging back.
“We've been told we are free to leave the Capitol,” Beetee says. “In fact, while they haven’t said it outright, we are in fact being encouraged to leave. Although I doubt anyone requires much encouragement.” There's smiles and soft chuckles at that, and Rokia scowls. Fine for them, not like they've got much to do here anyway, and most of them have districts to go back to that aren't on fire.
“However,” Beetee continues, “given the residual anti-Victor sentiment, I believe it would be wise not to disperse too widely.”
There's some confused looks, because even a war isn't enough to get Beetee to stop talking like he gets bonus points for longer words.
“Speak fucking English, Beetee,” Johanna snaps from the opposite wall.
Beetee shakes his head, continues. “I think we should consolidate—” he sees Johanna’s face and pauses. “Stick together, in a few districts rather than everyone going home.”
“Oh,” Johanna says, shrugs. “Doesn't matter to me,” she adds, but her shoulders tense and she looks down.
There's a pause, as everyone thinks about it. “Makes sense to me,” Phillips says. “Six certainly isn't safe yet.”
Beetee nods. “Nor is Three.”
“We're going back to Four,” Finnick says, leaning back and crossing his arms. “Y’all are welcome to come along, but we're going home regardless.”
Tyde, sitting next to him, leans forward. “Four’s doing okay, relatively,” he says, conciliatory. “And folks are used to the Victors, they're not gonna bug us.”
Brutus and Lyme glance at each other, and then Lyme speaks up. “We’re planning to go back to Two,” she says, a little guarded.
Beetee nods. “Four and Two are sensible options,” he says, which for Beetee is effusive praise.
There's a few unhappy faces though, mostly from outliers. Sure, Four and Two are nice, but they're both Career districts, and even if Rokia was interested in moving, she wouldn't want to throw in with a bunch of Careers just because they've got nice districts.
“What about Nine?” Rokia doesn't remember the name of the old lady who speaks up. “My daughter and her kids are still there, I’m going to stay with them. And Nine’s not in too bad of shape, everything's so spread out they didn't bother trying to bomb much but the railyards.”
Beetee nods, considering. “That's true,” he says. “What do you think the response will be from the general population?”
The woman pauses for a second, probably to decipher what Beetee meant, then shrugs. “They never much cared one way or the other,” she says. “It's pretty live and let live out there, if somebody bugs you there's plenty of space to get away from ‘em.”
Someone chuckles at that. “I wouldn't mind coming with you, Cora,” he says.
“Why Angus, you're too kind,” Cora drawls back, smiling a little.
“Oughta get some guys from 10 in there anyway, y'all could get cattle grazing on all that rye and clover you got in winter.”
“Oh, so you guys are gonna run cattle out on our fields, then? Better keep ‘em out of the wheat.”
“Cora, I'm telling you you can graze that stuff fine, my granddaddy did it—”
“Guys,” someone snaps. “I don't know what the hell you're talking about.”
Cora and Angus look up, smiling. “Sorry,” Cora says. “Point being, you’d all be welcome to come to Nine.”
Beetee looks around the table. “Two, Four, and Nine then,” he says. “Any objections?”
Everyone looks around, but nobody complains. “Then those of us from other districts will decide where to go, and we can begin arranging transportation. Thank you all.”
Things start breaking up, a few people clustering around the Fours, coming up to Cora. Phillips gets up and comes to stand next to Rokia, watching the room. “Where do you want to go?” He asks.
“I told you, I got a job here,” she tries not to snap, but what is his problem with her doing her fucking job?
“Rokia, you heard Beetee, they want us out of the Capitol.”
Rokia shrugs. “Soon as they stop needing me, I'll go. Not till then.”
She glances over at Phillips. He's looking out at the room, mouth pinched tight. “I'll stay with you, then,” he says.
“Why the fuck would you do that?” Rokia snaps, it's out before she can pull it back, tone it down. Why is it so hard to be civil to people these days? Not like people were any less annoying before. She's just out of patience, apparently.
“I'm your mentor,” Phillips says, sounding hurt. “It's my job to look out for you.”
Rokia clamps down on any snap answer she could give to that. Her jaw twinges. She takes a deep breath, lets it out. “You don't have to do that,” she says. “I'm fine on my own. Anyway, you'll go nuts stuck here with nothing to do.”
Phillips sighs. “Well, we don't have to decide today,” he says. “Will you at least think about it?”
“Fine,” Rokia says. “Sure, I'll think about it.”
She looks over again. Phillips’ knuckles are white on his cane, he's standing here and he's been sitting in an uncomfortable chair and he probably fucking walked here to prove some idiotic point, and he's in pain.
“C’mon,” Rokia says. “Let's get you back to the hospital before the nurses decide you've run away and send someone to haul your ass back.”
That gets a little bit of a smile. Good.
There isn't a car outside, which means Phillips probably did walk, and he starts down the road without pausing, moving slow, jerky, breath coming short. Fucking stubborn asshole.
“Let me call for a car,” Rokia says. “It's a ways to walk.”
Phillips stops, straightens, scowls. Then sighs. “Fine,” he says, with bad grace, and Rokia pulls out her phone.
The hospital receptionist laughs when she hears the request. “Oh good, somebody managed to talk some sense into him,” she says. “Car’s on its way.”
“I don't think the hospital is used to dealing with stubborn Sixes,” Rokia says when she hangs up. That gets another tight little smile.
“Takes one to know one,” Phillips says, stepping back to lean against the warm brick of the building.
The car gets there a couple minutes later. Rokia helps Phillips in, turns to head back to the shop.
“Rokia,” Phillips says. Rokia turns. “Go home, get some rest,” he says. “Please.”
Rokia bits her lip. “Yeah alright,” she says. “I'll come by tomorrow, okay?”
Phillips nods. “Take care,” he says.
“Will do.” Rokia shuts the door and walks away.
She goes to the shop first, because yes okay she told Phillips but she has to check first to see what's scheduled, make sure someone's picking up the craft she finished with this morning, make sure there's nothing urgent. There's a message on her desk to call the transportation office, where she gets an earful about priorities and fleet downtime and the need to ensure supplies are getting out to the agricultural districts in time for planting and equipment to the crews working on the mess of the rail grid. Rokia wonders if this is what Sal had to deal with, if that's why he was always so pissy after getting off the phone with people.
If he were here, he'd know what to do. He'd know how to keep stuff moving through faster, how to allocate people and materials and get everything done. He'd be better at this. But he's gone, because Snow wanted to punish her, and she ran away too quick for him to do anything to her directly. He's not here, so Rokia will have to do it herself. Starting with telling the people on the phone that they're doing the best they can, refraining from bitching that she spent the whole night here trying to get as much done as she could, that they can come down here and see for themselves why shit takes a while.
And then the guys working on the next craft need a spare part that doesn't exist, and Rokia spends an hour tracking down the specs in the old factory database, another two hours turning that into a part file for the CNC, and an hour and a half doing busywork while the machine runs because if she sits down she's going to fall asleep and she needs to check the thing once it comes out.
She needs to find someone else who can make part files and work the CNC, but there never were many, between 3 and 6, and both those districts are so fucked even communication is hard, much less finding people with unusual and specific skills.
Finally, she cleans off the coupling and hands it off, and it’s the middle of the day but she is not going to make it until anything like a reasonable bedtime. Oh well, it's not like she has a sleep schedule to speak of, hasn't since she got to District Thirteen with its 24-hour fluorescent lights. Just another thing Phillips likes to sigh at her about.
It's four blocks to her house. It feels like four miles, and she thinks about skipping it and just crashing in the office, but she doesn't want the guys the to rat her out to Phillips, doesn't want another lecture about working too hard, so she goes home. Crawls into bed in her work clothes and falls asleep.
Phillips calls the next morning. She’s been in the shop since she woke up in the middle of the night, trying to figure out why fuel isn’t getting through the intake system and into the engine. She has her phone with her for once, the sound cuts through the silence and she jumps, bangs her head against the scaffolding and curses while she fishes it out of her pocket.
“Hello?” she says, rubbing her head.
“Hi Rokia,” Phillips says. “Do you want to come over for breakfast, we could talk about the relocation?”
She closes her eyes. No, no she does not want to go, does not want to talk, doesn’t see the fucking point, but if she doesn’t go Phillips will be hurt, so she kind of fucking has to. “Alright,” she says, trying not to snap it out. “I’ll be over in a bit.”
“Great,” Phillips says. “See you soon.”
Rokia sighs, heads out. The sun’s out, it’s painfully bright, getting warm. Rokia walks quickly, head down, and nobody bothers her. She’s only been recognized twice, both times by former… clients, and at least now she can ignore them and keep walking. Neither one decided to follow, and no wonder. They’re used to her prepped and dressed up and polished, and these days she wears baggy grey coveralls and has shop grease embedded in her calluses and under her nails. Not exactly anyone’s fantasy.
But today, as usual, she gets all the way to the hospital without much more than a few uncurious looks. Well, until she gets to Phillips’ room and he looks her over like he’s checking her for loose wires. “Hi Phillips,” she says, shaking off the tension from the walk over and smiling for him. “How’re you doing?”
Phillips’ eyes narrow a little but he sounds like his usual self. “I’m fine,” he says. He’s sitting at the table, a pile of papers in front of him, and Rokia wonders where he got them, what work he’s managed to find to keep himself busy. “Come sit.”
Rokia sits at the chair across from him, shifts sideways to lean against the wall. “You decide where you want to go?” she asks, because if she doesn’t point him some direction, Phillips will end up talking about her.
He leans back and watches her. “Cora’d like me to come to Nine,” he says. “You could learn to fix tractors.”
Rokia doesn’t roll her eyes. “Phillips, I’m sure there’s plenty of people there who know how to fix tractors,” she says. “I told you already, I’m staying here.”
“It’s dangerous,” Phillips says. “They’d like us out, the Victors are too visible a symbol of the old regime.”
“How am I a symbol of anything in a machine shop?” Rokia asks. “Not like people are coming by to take pictures.”
“You can’t stay there all the time, Rokia,” Phillips says. “There’s some people who’d like to shoot you for working for Snow, some people’d like to shoot you for working for Coin, some people’d just like to shoot you because there’s all these guns floating around and why not?” He pauses, stares at her until she looks up and meets his eyes. “You need to be safe, Rokia. The rest comes after that.”
Rokia chews at her lip. “I can’t go,” she says. “I’ll be careful.”
Phillips sighs. Looks at her again. “Rokia, if it’s about Allie and Kadi, I don’t—you can look from Nine, too.”
“They got data links in Nine now?” Rokia snaps. “Databases are here, what’s left of ‘em.”
“I’m sure they’ll notify you if—“
“They’re not using their real names. They’re nobody knows where, with nobody knows who, they’re too young for the Reaping so there’s no DNA on file, and the only thing I know is they were supposed to be up in North Six, where there hasn’t been train service for months, all through the damn winter. They’re not just gonna turn up.” Rokia stops there. Crosses her arms over her chest and glares at Phillips.
“What can you do from here, then?” he asks, quietly.
“Damn sure more than I can do from some cornfield,” Rokia shoots back. “Besides which, there’s maybe three shops that can machine spare parts from scratch and this is the only one that’s not in Six. I’m the only one here who can generate partfiles and get the shit machined and installed. It’ll be slow as shit if they have to call over to Three anytime they need a file for the CNC and half the time it’ll be screwed up somehow because of some damn stupid thing the Threes don’t think to check.”
Phillips sighs. “Then I’m staying here with you,” he says.
“I don’t need a fucking babysitter,” Rokia says. “And you said it yourself, it’s not safe to be wandering around here. They want you in Nine, you should go.”
“Rokia,” he says, voice low. “I’m just trying to look out for you.”
“I’m fine, Phillips,” Rokia says.
He just looks at her. Dammit, she doesn’t need this. “I’ve got work to do,” Rokia says. “See you later?”
Phillips sighs again. “Alright, Rokia,” he says. “I’ll see you later.”
She walks back to the shop annoyed and tense. Her datapad is in the office, and she snatches it up before getting back to mysterious fuel blockages. Pulls up the population database, updated again last night, checks for Allie and Kadi despite what she told Phillips, checks for grandma because that’d at least be something, but nothing comes up. No trace since Reaping Day 75.
Of course there isn’t, there shouldn’t be, if there were it’d mean something bad, no news means the possibility of good news someday, and Six is still too dangerous for a proper census, even if there were the people and the money to do one.
At least here she can keep looking.
She drops the datapad onto the table and goes back to work.
Phillips leaves a week later, after two more halfhearted attempts to get her to come along, semi-serious offers to stay. Beetee comes by once, says he’s going to Two and she should come along. Lyme even comes, stands by the door and watches until Rokia notices her and goes to see what she wants. “You could stay with me for a bit,” Lyme says, like it’s no big deal. “Two’s not far from here.”
Rokia shrugs. Lyme is…complicated. Rokia’s pretty sure she can trust her, but she’s never managed to talk to Lyme just normally. It’s always been an emergency fallback, and in the clear daylight and hum of the shop it’s embarrassing to think about falling asleep on Lyme’s lap on the roof of the Games Center or play-fighting with sticks when Rokia was too wound up to be still. And all that’s over, anyway, no more Games, no more…other stuff, the Twos are going home, apparently taking Beetee with them, and Rokia’s staying here.
“Thanks,” Rokia says, shrugging. “But there’s a lot to do here.”
Lyme nods, glancing around and looking back at Rokia with a look that’s less obviously appraising than Phillips but that’s just as clearly taking in everything. “Okay. Offer’s open if you change your mind.”
Rokia nods. “Sure thing,” she says.
Lyme nods again, turns and disappears.
And that’s the end of it.