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The Soldier

Chapter Text

A parachute is slowly drifting down from the sky by the time Katniss awakens the next morning. I tried sleeping near dawn, but was unable to drift off and ended up keeping watch with Finnick, until morning light. Then, after everyone else woke up, the parachute came and now we have another twenty-four rolls of District 3 bread. Everyone gets five and no one says anything how if another person dies, we’ll be able to split the remaining rolls evenly.

            While I eat, I sit next to Katniss. There’s something different about her and the way she’s holding herself. I try to figure out what as I eat my bread, but nothing comes to mind. I’m opening my mouth to ask her what’s wrong the moment I’ve finished my food, but she just takes my hand and pulls me into the water, saying, “Come on. I’ll teach you how to swim.” I nod and act like this is, in fact, what she wants to do, but there’s something about her expression and the way she says this that makes me think she has some sort of ulterior motive for pulling me into the water.

            She teaches me a basic stroke and has me practice it a few times. However, when I look at her to see if I’m doing alright, she seems distracted. I stop swimming just as she calls me over to tell me she figured out how we can rid ourselves of the itchy scabs covering our bodies. However, her true intentions are revealed almost instantly when she says, “Look, the pool is down to eight. I think it’s time we took off.” She says this under her breath, though I’m pretty sure no one else can hear her.

            I nod and think about what she’s said. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave just yet and as soon as I say, “Let’s stick around until Brutus and Enobaria are dead. I think Beetee’s trying to put together some kind of trap for them now. Then, I promise, we’ll go,” that I figure out why.

            If we go now, we’ll have to deal with not only Brutus and Enobaria, but this group as well. Plus Chaff, since no one knows what he’s up to. Though he’s Haymitch’s friend and this makes me automatically protective of him, when I put his life against Katniss’, there is no competition. Katniss comes first. She has always come first and she always will come first. Not to mention, Haymitch specifically told me that she has to come out of the arena alive this time around, so I push aside my thoughts of the man that’s his friend and return them to the now.

            “All right,” Katniss says in response to my earlier statement. “We’ll stay until the Careers are dead. But that’s the end of it.” She turns and waves to Finnick. “Hey, Finnick, come on in! We figured out how to make you pretty again!”

            We spend another fifteen to twenty minutes scouring the scabs from our bodies and helping the others do the same. Then we slather ourselves in the medicine again, though, it doesn’t look nearly as bad now as it did before. In fact, staring at Katniss against the background of the jungle, I think that we might just be able to blend in with the leaves.

            My thoughts are interrupted by Beetee calling us over. When I said he was coming up with a plan, I hadn’t been entirely sure about that. Ever since he’d awakened, he’d been fiddling with his wire and muttering to himself, so I figured he was trying to come up with something. Now, my suspicions are confirmed when I come over and he says, “I think we’ll all agree our next job is to kill Brutus and Enobaria.” There are nods from everyone in the loose circle around him. “I doubt they’ll attack us openly again, now that they’re so outnumbered. We could track them down, I suppose, but it’s dangerous, exhausting work.”

            “Do you think they’ve figured out about the clock?” Katniss asks.

            “If they haven’t, they’ll figure it out soon enough,” Beetee replies. “Perhaps not as specifically as we have. But they must know that at least some of the zones are wired for attacks and that they’re reoccurring in a circular fashion. Also, the fact that our last fight was cut off by Gamemaker intervention will not have gone unnoticed by them. We know it was an attempt to disorient us, but hey must be asking themselves why it was done, and this, too, may lead them to the realization that the arena’s a clock. So I think our best bet will be setting our own trap.”

            “Wait, let me get Johanna up,” Finnick interrupts. “She’ll be rabid if she thinks she missed something this important.”

            “Or not,” Katniss mutters. I don’t say anything, but I don’t disagree. Johanna tends to always be upset about something.

            When she’s joined us, Beetee tells us to move back a bit before he begins drawing in the sand with a stick he must have found near the edge of the forest. He draws the clock and the twelve wedges and then begins pointing things out with the stick, saying, “If you were Brutus and Enobaria, knowing what you do now about the jungle, where would you feel safest?”

            “Where we are now,” I say instantly. “On the beach. It’s the safest place.”

            “So why aren’t they on the beach?” Beetee asks. I know he isn’t trying to, but he sounds like a schoolteacher and I feel like an incompetent student. Somehow I don’t think I’m the only one going through this emotion.

            “Because we’re here,” Johanna replies, sounding impatient. She’s clearly unimpressed with Beetee’s attempt at patronizing us all, though I don’t think that’s his intent.

            “Exactly,” he says, either pretending not to have noticed Johanna’s impatience or ignoring it completely. “We’re here claiming the beach. Now where would you go?”

            There’s a short silence, then Katniss says, “I’d hide just at the edge of the jungle. So I could escape if an attack came. And so I could spy on us.”

            “Also to eat,” Finnick adds. “The jungle’s full of strange creatures and plants. But by watching us, I’d know the seafood’s safe.”

            Beetee smiles, almost as though he didn’t expect us to figure out this much. “Yes, good. You do see. Now here’s what I propose: a twelve o’clock strike. What happens exactly at noon and at midnight?”

            “The lightning bolt hits the tree,” Katniss says.

            “Yes. So what I’m suggesting is that after the bolt hits at noon, but before it hits at midnight, we run my wire from that tree all the way down to the saltwater, which is, of course, highly conductive. When the bolt strikes, the electricity will travel down the wire and into not only the water but also the surrounding beach, which will still be damp from the ten o’clock wave. Anyone in contact with those surfaces at that moment will be electrocuted,” Beetee quickly explains.

            There’s a small silence while everyone takes in everything Beetee has just said. It makes sense, really. Water is conductive and with that much electricity running down an equally conductive wire, we could, in theory, fry the beach. Then something occurs to me and I say, “Will that wire really be able to conduct that much power, Beetee? It looks so fragile, like it would just burn up.”

            “Oh, it will,” he assures me, making me think he’s just as crazy as Johanna has said all along, but then he adds, “but not until the current has passed through it. It will act something like a fuse, in fact. Except the electricity will travel along it.”

            “How do you know?” Johanna asks, still not convinced.

            “Because I invented it,” Beetee says, sounding slightly surprised, though I’m not sure anyone in this group except himself knew this. “It’s not actually wirein the usual sense. Nor is the lightning natural lightning nor the tree a real tree. You know trees better than any of us, Johanna. It would be destroyed by now, wouldn’t it?”

            “Yes,” she replies, sounding upset to have been proven wrong by Volts.

            “Don’t worry about the wire – it will do just what I say,” Beetee says.

            “And where will we be when this happens?” Finnick asks.

            “Far enough up in the jungle to be safe,” Beetee replies.

            “The Careers will be safe, too, then, unless they’re in the vicinity of the water,” Katniss points out.

            “That’s right,” Beetee says.

            “But all the seafood will be cooked,” I say.

            “Probably more than cooked,” Beetee replies. “We will most likely be eliminating that as a food source for good. But you found other edible things in the jungle, right, Katniss?”

            “Yes. Nuts and rats,” she says. “And we have sponsors.”

            “Well, then. I don’t see that as a problem,” Beetee says. “But as we are allies and this will require all our efforts, the decision of whether or not to attempt it is up to you four.”

            “Why not?” Katniss says, voicing all our thoughts. “If it fails, there’s no harm done. If it works, there’s a decent chance we’ll kill them. And even if we don’t and just kill the seafood, Brutus and Enobaria lose it as a food source, too.”

            “I say we try it,” I tell the others. “Katniss is right.”

            Finnick looks at Johanna and raises his eyebrows, making it clear he won’t go forward without her. “All right,” she says finally. “It’s better than hunting them down in the jungle, anyway. And I doubt they’ll figure out our plan, since we can barely understand it ourselves.”

            Beetee wants to check out the lightning tree before rigging it, so we leave our beach and head to the one bordering the lightning section before heading into the jungle. Unfortunately, Beetee is still took weak from being stabbed in the back to walk on his own, so Finnick and I take turns carrying him. Johanna leads us and Katniss takes the rear.

            When we’re close to the tree, Finnick suggests Katniss take the lead. “Katniss can hear the force field,” he tells Beetee and Johanna.

            “Hear it?” Beetee asks.

            “Only with the ear the Capitol reconstructed,” she replies, but I know he doesn’t buy it. He’s the one that told her about how to spot them in the first place. However, he doesn’t say anything. Probably because he knows that revealing he knows how to truly spot a force field, he’ll get himself in trouble, should he live through the Games. He won’t because I’ll kill him to save Katniss if I have to, but I try not to think about that at the moment.

            “Then by all means, let Katniss go first,” he says. “Force fields are nothing to play around with.”

            No one mentions my brief encounter with death due to the fact I crashed into one.

            Katniss moves up in front of us and throws nuts at the force field, which I spot even before she does so, due to the fact there’s a small fuzzy square to her right. She throws a nut in that direction and it bounces away sizzling.

            “Just stay below the lightning tree,” she tells everyone else.

            We each are given duties the moment we reach the tree. Finnick is to guard Beetee while eh examines the tree and Johanna will tap for water. I gather nuts and Katniss hunts. She returns a short while later with three of them and after she cleans them, the both of us sit down behind the line she drew with a stick near the force field and throw cubes of meat as well as nuts at it to make them edible.

            Beetee messes with the tree for longer than I could ever count and, at one point, throws a stick at the force field for no reason any of us can figure, though he says, “Well, that explains a lot.” Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Katniss trying not to laugh.

            When the clicks start up from the section of the forest near us, we all listen intently. Beetee eventually says, “It’s not mechanical,” though I don’t feel that really explains anything.

            “I’d guess insects,” Katniss says. “Maybe beetles.”

            “Something with pincers,” Finnick replies.

            The clicking grows louder as though our words have made it all the more eager to find a way to break out of its confines, so it can strip the flesh from our bones. I have a feeling it could do that in only a few seconds.

            “We should get out of here, anyway,” Johanna says. “There’s less than an hour before the lightning starts.”

            We end up not going very far, only to the tree of the same height in the blood-rain section. We have a small picnic and right before the lightning strikes, Beetee tells Katniss to climb our tree to see what’s going on in the lightning section. She returns shortly after a bright light illuminates the sky above us and tells Beetee what she saw. I can’t tell if Beetee is truly pleased with the way she explains things, but he at least acts satisfied.

            After that, we return to the beach, taking our time getting there. Once we arrive, Beetee tells us we’ve done good and have the rest of the day to ourselves. However, we end up working anyway, since this could be our last chance for seafood. Finnick, Johanna, and Katniss dive for shellfish, while the rest of us try our hand at spearing them. Katniss seems to enjoy diving, though I don’t know why. Unfortunately, I can’t swim, so I am no help in this department.

            Once we have enough food, Finnick, Katniss, and I clean and lay it all out, while Johanna stands water. I am in charge of a small pile of oysters. I take my time with them, prying them open, throwing the shells aside, and setting the meat on a leaf that Finnick pulled from the forest. I pry open my second to last one and find something glimmering inside. It takes me a moment to recognize what it is and once I do, I laugh. “Hey, look at this!” I hold up a perfect pearl about the size of a pea. I grin conspiratorially and say, “You know, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns into pearls.”

            “No, it doesn’t,” Finnick replies, but my comment wasn’t meant for him. Katniss laughs and I know she’s understood what I was saying. Last year that was how Effie presented us to the citizens of the Capitol: as coal covered pearls.

            I rinse off the pearl in the water, half terrified I’ll accidentally drop it and be unable to find it again. Once I’m finished, I hand it to Katniss, saying, “For you.” I watch her examine it and she smiles at me, but there is something in that smile and her small, “Thanks,” that makes the happiness that had filled me only moments ago vanish.

            “The locket didn’t work, did it?” I say this as more of a statement than a question. Finnick is right there. He can hear every word I’m saying, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll all be dead soon anyway and I don’t care if he knows about my present to Katniss. I swallow hard, fearful that somehow she will find a way to die and let me live. “Katniss?”

            “It worked,” she says.

            “But not the way I wanted it to,” I say, averting my gaze. I can tell from her tone of voice that she’s lying. I keep my eyes on my oysters after that, not sure if I’m simply refusing to look at her or if I can’t.

            We’re just about to eat our seafood when another parachute appears and this time we get twenty-four rolls and some spicy red sauce. We have a feast and the sauce ends up tasting very good on our seafood. We eat until we can eat no more, but it isn’t everything. We throw our remaining food back into the water, so Brutus and Enobaria can’t get to it once we leave.

            We have nothing to do now, other than wait. Katniss and I sit on the edge of the water, holding hands, not speaking. I said what I was going to last night. There is really nothing else for me to say. I wish I had more words that could make her understand just how much she needs to live, but I know now that no matter what I do or say, I won’t convince her of this. The locket was my last best hope and it turned out that the powers Haymitch claimed it had were useless. Perhaps it might have worked on someone else. Katniss is just too stubborn.

            Out of the corner of my eye, I see her put the pearl in the small pouch she made out of the parachute that came when we received the medicine. I hope she’ll keep cherish it even after I’m gone.