They kill her family. They kill her mother and her father and tiny little Prim, Peacekeeper bullets riddled all throughout their bodies, and she doesn’t know what’s happening but all she knows is that she’s running. She’s alive. She runs, faster than she’s ever run before, throws herself to the ground and crawls under the electrified fence and then she’s running again with Prim’s blood still spattered on her face and mingling with her tears.
Seneca Crane raises his gun behind her and screams her name and all she can do is run.
They stand before him in a line. His breath smells of whisky and he spits in their faces when he talks but they don’t flinch.
“My name is Lt. Haymitch Abernathy,” he says, “and I’m puttin’ together a special team, and I need me eight victors. Eight Career victors.”
The eight of them stand straight and tall, many of them just as strong and built as the day they won. “We will be cruel to the Peacekeepers,” he continues, “and through our cruelty they will know who we are. Because this is what they made you. You are the product of the Capitol, and the Capitol will reap what it has sown, with your knives, and your machetes, and your bare, bloody hands. Sound good?”
They owe him each one hundred Peacekeeper scalps.
This is something they would have never dreamt of before winning the Games. Yet the urge to kill never quite goes away, does it? The state made them this way, and the state taught them that killing is all they are good for. And then the state killed everyone they had left.
“I want my scalps,” says Haymitch, and they salute him again, the District 13 salute.
Johanna Mason, the Capitol’s favorite victor-whore, has made quite a name for herself killing Peacekeepers. A pillow over the face and then a knife to the face, over and over and over again. The bloodstains on the pillowcase are beautiful, symmetrical, a Rorschach test that spells trouble every time.
She’s made quite a name for herself and now, yes, she’s glad you asked, because she’s quite interested in goin’ pro.
They break her out of jail where she’s awaiting execution and they give her a gun but she still prefers sharp objects. The gun is good for battles where the other side is armed but she’ll always have an axe to grind.
They give Cato a club and he bashes in brains when they happen on Peacekeeper trainees in the Districts. He’s so, so good at this.
Clove, the bloodthirsty little one, cheers him on from the sidelines.
She carves the Capitol emblem into their foreheads before she lets them go, and she wipes her knives off on their bright white uniforms.
Lyme and Brutus and Enobaria and Finnick and Gloss and Cato and Clove and Johanna, and Lt. Haymitch Abernathy.
These are the names that strike fear into the hearts of the Peacekeepers. They are idols who have become rebels, and what makes them truly terrifying to their prey is that no one is better suited for this kind of work than they are. They have been trained to kill; they have been trained to relish killing. And they are good at it.
There is no more potent a weapon than one which has been turned back on its creator.
The Capitol is good to the girl. Not that she enjoys a minute of it. She finds a man to forge her documents; meets another who gives her a job. She works for the Capitol Theater, running the shows. She is good at it. She does not enjoy it but she is good at it and she can do it without attracting much attention. Her life here is a carefully stacked house of lies, and she must tread carefully; make eye contact with no one and blend in the best she can.
She watches the Games each year because everyone does. The viewing isn’t mandatory here, as it’s expected that everyone will watch anyway, but the government knows who does and does not and she does not want to attract attention.
The victor this year is a shining young man named Peeta Mellark, beautiful with blond hair that gleams in the sunlight of the closing ceremony. He raises his sword to the sky and he is the pride of Panem.
Peeta Mellark can have any woman he wants. This is what they tell him now. “You’re a victor,” they say, “and you have your pick. Go choose.” But he doesn’t see one he wants until the day he returns to the Capitol from his victory tour and he sees her.
Hair braided down her back, smoking and eating lamb stew in a café and reading the news. He slides into the chair across from her.
“Hello there,” he says, a smile on his face, the one that made the girls back home fall all over themselves when he flashed it around town. “I’m afraid we haven’t met before.”
She exhales smoke and gives him an ambiguous look. “Yes, I’m afraid you’re right.”
“I’m Peeta Mellark.” He says his name as if it means something, because it does mean something now.
“I know,” she says simply.
(He loves her, almost immediately. Later she will tell him, “If you are so desperate for a Capitol girlfriend, I suggest you try one of your District One victors.” She wears no makeup and she does not look like these Capitol girls, dyed and spackled with hair the color of the drinks they sip at parties. He thinks he loves her more the more dismissive she becomes.)
They are making a film about him, as is the tradition for the more photogenic winners. It’s half footage from his Games, intercut with shots of his life back home, and he convinces the filmmakers to hold the premiere at her theater. There are only two in the Capitol, but hers is smaller, the less grand of the two. Then again, the smaller house will make the guest list for the premiere more exclusive, won’t it? This is how he sells it, and in the end they bite.
She does not care for this cocky blond boy, but when he tells her to get in his car, she gets in the car. She cannot afford to make waves. He takes her to a restaurant and a man is there – a man whose face haunts the night terrors that keep her up for days on end, whose voice she can still hear screaming her name as she runs through the meadow, away from his gun.
Peeta Mellark smiles and dotes on her all throughout the lunch, and Seneca Crane simply watches. He orders her a special dessert, insists that she eat it all in front of him.
He can’t recognize her, can he? Not when she’s been introduced under her assumed name, the one she adopted when she arrived here. Not when Mellark has unknowingly introduced her as an employee of the Capitol Theater. Not with her Capitol clothes and her hair, much glossier and swept up in the popular style, so different from the ragged braid she wore when she turned her back and ran from him.
When she is dismissed from the lunch, she exhales a breath that she realizes she must have been holding the entire time.
When she realizes what this means, that the premiere of the Mellark film will be held at her theater, she paces back and forth in the lobby. Cinna watches her from the balcony above as she works out the specifics of the plan, his hands gripping the banister as he descends the staircase.
“What does this mean?” he asks, and she laughs, harsh and throaty.
“It means,” she says, “we are going to burn down the cinema on Peacekeeper night.”
Boggs has been working for the rebellion for years. It is what he lives for. It is his life. He has been recruited to infiltrate the premiere of the Mellark film, along with Soldier Mason, and plant bombs inside the theater which will blow it sky-high. And, they tell him before the meetup in the basement pub of an opulent Capitol restaurant, his contact inside is Effie Trinket.
Effie Trinket is the Capitol’s best-loved movie star. Her coif is never askew; her ensembles hit the perfect note between glamour and extravagance.
Effie Trinket is a double agent in employ of the rebellion.
God help them all.
They all play a silly little game of charades and sit around shooting the shit for what seems like hours. Trinket is good at this, he admits begrudgingly to himself; she signs an autograph for one of the Peacekeepers, whose wife has just had a baby son, and leaves a bright-pink lipstick kiss on the napkin.
It is Games season, and the televisions scattered around the pub are all playing live footage of the arena. As another tribute falls, the three Peacekeepers give the Capitol salute, three fingers over their heart, and Boggs follows suit.
Next thing he knows, he’s got the barrel of a gun pressed in-between his legs.
“Your salute,” says the Peacekeeper, knowingly. “You aren’t from here.”
Boggs looks around, feigning confusion. “I haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about,” he says. “I’m Capitol born and bred.”
“No,” says the Peacekeeper with a gleeful laugh. “You aren’t.”
“Don’t move,” says Mason, a stony look on her face and one hand on the gun under the table. “Do not move a muscle or I will blow your Peacekeeper balls off.”
Effie Trinket sits in the midst of all this, her legs crossed tightly, a look of utter bewilderment on her face. She knows what’s happened. She knows it’s all gone wrong. But she is not the Capitol’s best-loved movie star for nothing.
The guns all fire at once and then there are bullets everywhere, tearing up the gleaming wood of the pub and throwing dust into the air. Effie throws herself to the ground and plays dead, knowing she’s bleeding out of a sizable hole in her leg, knowing that if she can make it to where she left her purse with the handgun inside, she may make it out of this hellhole alive.
She kills the last Peacekeeper standing and Abernathy and his boys get her out in one piece, and when they’ve got her lying on a table in a remaking center, doing their best to stave off the blood, Abernathy gets rough.
“It was Boggs,” she says for the hundredth time, and she’s really had it up to here with this rudeness. “We all gave the Capitol salute and he gave the salute for District 13. Three fingers over your heart, you know, but here it’s the middle three fingers on your hand, like this – ” she demonstrates “ – and in 13, it’s the last three.”
Abernathy laughs. “Is that so, sweetheart?” he asks. “You know, back home we got a word for what we call a situation like this. We call it suspicious. And this is lookin’ mighty suspicious.”
Effie grimaces. His hand is heavy on her leg and her blood is all over his fingers and her wig is askew and she wants to know what she has to do to get a shot of morphling or some kind of salve for this hole in her leg. “I’ll tell you what’s not suspicious,” she says through gritted teeth. “A piece of information we received before Boggs and Mason got themselves all shot up.”
She forces herself up onto her elbows and gasps out a harsh breath. “President Snow is attending the premiere.”
She is in a red dress, cut wide down the back to emphasize her sharp shoulders, and she stares herself down in the mirror as she swipes lipstick across her mouth. There is a gold pin at her breast and a knife strapped to her leg.
“Twirl for me,” Cinna instructs her, and when she does, the hem of her dress bursts into flames.
They have made a special film, you see. One just for the Peacekeepers. One just for the President.
He catches her lips in a fierce kiss and she knows this will be the last night of her life.
“Seneca Crane,” she coos, swooping in for one, two, three cheek-kisses. Her leg is all bound up in a cast and she’s limping and in quite a lot of pain, and the buffoons behind her – Haymitch, Cato, Finnick – are not helping, but she is a professional and she will sell this scene with all she’s got, even if it kills her. Seneca looks razor-sharp as ever; a special guest of the President’s; he looks her up and down approvingly as they back away from each other to converse.
“Effie, really, what have you done now?” he laughs, gesturing to her leg. She rolls her eyes, all self-deprecating affectation.
“Oh, honestly, it’s the funniest story,” she says with a little smile. “You know the stairs at the Dark Days Monument? I thought I’d climb them, the other day, just for exercise, and plunk! Fell right down, broke my leg clean in half.”
Seneca smiles, wolflike, more than a touch of the lupine predator to the way he bares his teeth with unchanged eyes. “How unlike you, Effie,” he says. “I know you aren’t one for unnecessary physical exertion. Who are your friends?”
She smiles back, brightly, summoning every acting class she’s ever taken. “These three are working with me on my new film, of course.” Their disguises are very good – under the wigs and makeup, they could be any three Capitol men, with their maniacally bright smiles and gaudy waistcoats. Of course, the little question of Haymitch’s District 12 accent remains problematic, but she can work around it. “Please, let me introduce you – Seneca, this is Lucius – ”
“Hello,” says Finnick in his signature purr.
“Gordian – ”
“How are you?” asks Cato, doing his best to affect the Capitol accent.
Haymitch holds out a hand. “How’re you doin’.”
Seneca raises an eyebrow and Effie can feel her stomach plummet.
“Effie,” he says calmly. “If it isn’t too much trouble, may I speak to you privately?”
She says yes. She has no choice, really; he is the President’s favorite.
When he draws from his waistcoat pocket a napkin with her autograph on it, she demurs politely, explaining that yes, she was at the restaurant, but really, she has no idea what he’s on about, a shootout and rebel forces, what?
When he asks her to try on the shoe found at the scene, she demurs politely, but again, she has no choice.
When he pins her to the ground, strangles her, crushes her windpipe with his forearm – well, that is that.
He is in luck, he thinks, as he takes Abernathy and the other, the young woman, into custody.
“My terms are simple,” says Seneca. “You get the theater. You blow it up. You get Snow; you get half of Snow’s high command. Your leader, Coin? She takes over.” He pauses, smiling, hoping for any kind of recognition from his prisoners, who sit statue-still in front of his desk. He gets nothing. “And in return, all I ask is – immunity. A home in District 2. I will not be prosecuted for any kind of crime.”
Haymitch barks out a laugh. “Unlikely.”
“Do you think this is up for bargain?” Seneca asks. “I know,” he says, as they sit in this tiny little room, far away from the theater where the operation is about to unfold. “I know all about your little plan.”
Haymitch stares straight ahead. Clove does not flinch; does not blink; she is as hard and unmoving as the stone they quarry in her district.
“And I know all about you two,” Seneca continues. “Haymitch the Hellraiser, they call you here… and the Little One.”
This breaks her concentration.
“The Little One?” she asks, incredulous, yet still modulating her voice to sound bored. “The Capitol’s nickname for me is the Little One?”
Seneca shrugs. “To be fair, I expected someone much smaller, but… here we are.” He clears his throat and continues. “As I was saying – I know all about your little plan. I can have Peacekeepers swarming the building at a moment’s notice. I can kill you two, easily. But I will let you execute it – on my terms.”
Haymitch breathes in. Weighs his options.
“Deal,” he finally says.
And Seneca smiles.
Everyone loves the Peeta Mellark film. Everyone, that is, but Peeta Mellark.
He has no interest in seeing his face onscreen; it makes his insides twist in a way that he doesn’t like. His voice sounds different, not like himself, and watching his kills writ large in front of him is so, so uncomfortable. He gives a few good speeches within this thing, but all in all, he knows he’s not missing much.
He wanders through the theater until he reaches the room he is looking for.
“Hello,” he smiles as he pops his head through the door.
The girl inhales sharply, turning and shaking her head. “You have to go,” she urges him, pushing him toward the door, but he laughs.
“I just want to sit and chat,” he says warmly. “Please. You have to understand, it’s really frankly embarrassing, sitting and watching yourself on that big a screen.”
She heaves a sigh. “I’m sure it’s torture. You really need to leave.”
He frowns. He can have anyone he wants. That’s what they told him. But he doesn’t want to force her hand – he loves her, though he barely knows her, and he’s sure that if he just sticks around, he can talk his way into her heart. It’s what he is best at, best in the world.
“Look,” he says, more threatening than he’d like, but desperate times mean that desperate measures are called for. “I’ve been more than diplomatic about this. I would really prefer that you sit and talk with me for a moment.”
He turns to bolt the door, and that’s when he feels a blade in his back.
It comes and goes two, three, four times and he can feel himself sliding down the door, bleeding from a couple vital spots. He falls onto the floor and from where he’s lying he can see himself onscreen, and isn’t it funny to watch himself killing even as he dies, he thinks, as he starts to drift away – but no, then he comes back a little, he pulls himself together, because he knows there is a knife in his jacket, because one can never be too careful.
The girl is staring at his prostrate body in horror, and she barely seems to register his movement as he goes for the blade. She barely seems to register that he’s moved at all until his combat knife is buried in her throat.
She falls to the ground, silent and motionless, and their blood spills together onto the floor of the theater, the victor and the rebel.
Onscreen, Peeta Mellark is screaming at the bodies of tributes that litter the Cornucopia. “Who wants to send a message to the Capitol?!” he implores them, holding his spear up high, and suddenly there is a break in sound and a new image flickers onscreen.
The girl looks straight into the camera as she speaks. “I have a message for the Capitol,” she says. “You are all going to die.”
Cinna has locked the doors of the theater; bolted them shut and there’s no getting out now.
“My name is Katniss Everdeen,” says the spectre on the screen, “and I am the face of District Twelve’s vengeance.”
And then her voice is only a whisper, but it is amplified still over the hubbub of the citizens inside the theater.
“Burn it down, Cinna.”
He flicks his cigarette into the pool of gasoline behind the screen and sets the girl on fire.
When the flames envelope the theater, Finnick and Cato rush into the fray; Finnick with his trident and Cato with his sword, slicing and spearing anyone who gets in their way.
The President sits, frozen, in his chair, watching the image flicker and die away as the girl in the film laughs, horribly, maniacally. And then he has a sword through his chest.
And then there is a terrible explosion.
In District 2, they stand in a field, in the woods. There’s a Peacekeeper gun at both their backs, but they’ve been unshackled, and Seneca turns to face them as the hovercraft disappears.
“Well, then,” he begins. “You have the terms of our agreement.”
“Yeah,” says Haymitch. “Only how’s about we make a little minor adjustment?”
Seneca barely has time to blink before the Peacekeeper circling them has a knife in his throat. He could have sworn they’d done a complete search of the little one. But she’s got another blade in her fingers now, and as she and Haymitch gain on him, slowly, yet steadily, he can feel the bile rising in his throat.
“We made a deal,” he reminds them, insistently. And they both just smile.
There’s blood dripping all over his face from the cut in his forehead, and as Haymitch presses his boot against Seneca’s spleen, he looks down at their work, beatific.
“You know somethin’, Clove?” he asks, smug as hell. “This may just be our masterpiece.”