“How did he look?”
“Good. Good. Not, you know... he didn’t seem hurt, or anything. He looked like he hadn’t been sleeping much, but he never used to anyway. He spoke fine. He’s lost a little weight, but he didn’t seem starved or anything. He looked as well as we could hope.”
Mikey listened to Frank’s description and nodded along, trying to calm himself down. For the first time in months, they had confirmation that Gerard was alive. And not just alive; he was apparently in good health and being taken care of. It should have been reason to celebrate.
But it wasn’t.
“Tell me everything he said,” Mikey demanded. Frank looked uncomfortable.
“Tell me! Everyone’s been gossiping about it; you know I’ll hear it all eventually anyway. I want to hear it from you. Tell me.”
“Well...” Frank still looked unsure, but Mikey knew he’d broken Frank’s resistance. “He said his plan all along was to make sure I got out of the arena. He denied that either of us knew anything about what the rebels were planning.” He looked like he didn’t believe the words he was saying, like even now he still couldn’t accept that Gerard would make a sacrifice like that on his behalf. It made Mikey want to slap him. Mikey could see that Gerard was head over heels for Frank. He would have done anything for him. All Frank could give in return was his doubt and his indifference. As far as Mikey was concerned, it was a lousy way to repay someone who had sacrificed their life.
“Tell me the rest,” Mikey insisted, in the face of Frank’s reluctance.
Frank sighed. “He called for a ceasefire. He said that we couldn’t afford to be fighting one another, that we’ll wipe each other out in another war.”
Mikey took that in. “Do you think that’s true?”
Frank scowled. “So what if it is? If we don’t stand up to the Capitol they’ll wipe us out anyway.”
“What else did he say, then?” Mikey asked.
“That’s it?” Mikey didn’t quite believe it. “With all the buzz, I thought he must have said something... I don’t even know what could have been as bad as people were saying.”
“It is bad, Mikey.” Frank noted Mikey’s stubborn look and softened. “I don’t blame Gerard, but a lot of the rebels have turned against him because of what he said.”
“That’s ridiculous! He’s a prisoner, we don’t know what’s happened to him...”
“I know, Mikey, okay? But if people listen to him it could hurt our cause...”
“Who would listen to him? You said yourself, if we don’t bring down the Capitol...”
“Yeah, we know that, and everyone in District 13 knows that. But what about the other districts? The ones where the Capitol has been more indulgent, where they’ve got more support? We’ve been struggling to get them to see what’s going on further out, and then Gerard comes along and says all that stuff, about both sides meeting halfway and preventing more loss of life – oh, and he sounds so reasonable, so why wouldn’t people listen to him?”
Mikey shoved Frank away. “You think he’s switched sides! You think he’s a traitor, too!”
“No, Mikey, I don’t!” Frank held his hands up and pinned Mikey with his gaze. “I don’t think that. I know that... that he must be scared, and worried about what will happen if the Capitol wins.” Frank licked his lips uneasily. “Worried about what might happen to me. But there’s just... we can’t afford to think about contingency plans in case we don’t win this war. We have to put everything into beating the Capitol if we’re going to have any chance. And it will be harder now.”
Mikey had to look away from Frank. “I thought that now, now we know he’s alive...” Mikey’s voice wavered and he had to stop for a moment to breathe. “I thought maybe we could get President Hayman to put a group together to rescue him.”
“Oh.” Frank slumped and he squatted down in front of Mikey. “They can’t do that,” he said gently. “Their army isn’t strong enough, and the Capitol is too powerful.”
Mikey sniffled. He’d known that, really, but it had been hard to let go of hope. “Even if they could save him, they’d just want to put him on trial,” he said. Frank didn’t deny it. “What are we going to do?”
“I think I can get Hayman to agree not to harm Gerard, if we do defeat the Capitol and rescue him.”
Frank sneered. “If I do what she wants. Perform for her, be her symbol.” He grimaced. Ever since Frank had arrived in District 13, the leaders had been after him to join the war effort and he’d been avoiding them. Mikey didn’t really understand why; they needed to win, and Frank knew they did, but he would spend hours sitting in a corner out of sight staring at the wall and was never where he was supposed to be. They didn’t talk about it.
But Frank was willing to put aside whatever was bothering him to save Gerard, and that meant something.
They didn’t drink alcohol in District 13.
They didn’t have a lot of other things, either. Coffee, sugar, meat quite a lot of the time. Other things, too. People, a few specific people. Alicia thought of them often, but right then it was the alcohol that was on her mind.
The entire population of District 13 had been summoned to attend a National Security Assembly. There weren’t enough seats, and the huge underground chamber was crowded and stifling. Alicia desperately wanted a drink, but she hadn’t had one in nearly two months now. Drying out had been hellish. Not like when she’d tried to get sober before the Second Quarter Quell. That had been bad, and she’d tried to stick it out, but eventually she’d given in. There was no giving in here, no alcohol to be had, not unless she decided to leave. And that would be suicide.
President Hayman had called the assembly. Alicia wasn’t sure why, but she could see the president now, standing at a podium and talking to Frank. That was more interesting than what she’d been expecting.
The discussion between Frank and Hayman ended, and Frank stepped away. Hayman tapped the microphone on the podium to confirm it was on. She cleared her throat, and the entire room fell into an expectant silence.
“This Assembly has been called to announce that Frank Iero has agreed to work with us in the resistance against the Capitol.”
Alicia was pleased, but not surprised. Frank had put up a lot of resistance to working with District 13. He had his reasons, Alicia was sure. President Hayman was unpleasant and life in 13 was rigidly controlled. Frank had been through a lot. She’d still figured that his eventual compliance was inevitable. She was relieved that he’d finally come around. Maybe now they could get something done.
“In return for his cooperation, Frank has imposed some conditions.” That declaration sent a buzz of conversation throughout the room. People weren’t pleased. “Therefore, as President of District 13, I pledge that when the rebellion succeeds, Gerard Way, Victoria Asher, Michael Carden and Elizabeth Berg will be fully pardoned for any harm they do to our cause.”
That, Alicia had not expected. She wasn’t sure it was wise. She knew Frank wanted to save Gerard, that he felt guilty for Gerard being lost, but all this was doing was causing resentment among the citizens of 13 and, probably, making an enemy of the president.
“Soldier Iero has pledged himself to our cause in return for this unprecedented request, and so it follows that any failure to uphold his part of this agreement will nullify our obligation. The victors held captive by the Capitol would face justice here in District 13, as would Soldier Iero himself.”
And there it was. Hayman now had Frank exactly where she wanted him, and looking at the unease on Frank’s face, Alicia guessed that he knew that too.
He could hear Vicky again. He wasn’t sure how long had passed since the last time. It was hard to tell. Meals didn’t come on a predictable schedule, and there was no pattern to the lights going on and off.
He was tired, but he didn’t want to sleep. He was vulnerable when he was asleep. Sometimes things changed when he was sleeping and he didn’t notice. Sometimes when he woke up there were people in his cell waiting for him.
Sometimes, while he was asleep, the dreams came. Dreams, or maybe memories. The night before, he’d remembered Brendon. Brendon, who was alive and kind and sweet and everything that didn’t belong in the arena. In Gerard’s dreams, Brendon dug holes to bury mines in, and Frank burrowed up out of one of them and ripped his throat out. With his teeth.
Or maybe it was a memory. Not exactly a memory. Gerard knew he hadn’t been there when Brendon died. But sometimes, here, they played clips of the games. They played them on a screen, and while Gerard watched, they dosed him with something. He tried to remember the word. Tracker-jackers. That was it. He knew that when he was under the influence of the venom the things he saw weren’t really real. That meant Frank wasn’t a monster. Brendon was dead, but Frank hadn’t killed him. Frank was just a person. He thought that was right.
Down the hall, the screams stopped. There was a ringing silence. Gerard didn’t try to predict what would happen next. It was pointless. In this place, things just seemed to happen with no rhyme or reason.
The only thing he could do was hold on to what he knew. Frank. He needed to remember about Frank. What, exactly, he wasn’t sure, but he knew it was important.
Working in the hospital hadn’t been Mikey’s idea. After the bombing of District 12, after losing Gerard and his parents all at once, Mikey had wanted to do... well, nothing. Nothing except maybe kill every Peacekeeper, every Capitol citizen, everyone who had watched his brother in the arena and considered it entertainment. But even in District 13, it seemed that he was too young to be part of their army, and he hadn’t wanted to do anything else. That hadn’t sat too well with those running the district.
Everyone in District 13 worked. Even small children had jobs to do, even if they were simple and didn’t take long. There just weren’t enough resources for people to be idle. And Mikey understood that, intellectually, he did. He just hadn’t been able to make himself care.
It was Linda who’d dragged him to the hospital. She’d taught him some of what she knew, back home. Just a little. It was enough for Mikey to be trusted to empty bedpans and change beds, enough that the doctors thought he could handle being around the sick and injured. He’d grown to like it. Linda was teaching him more, now, and as he learned the doctors were giving him more responsibilities.
Mikey liked it when Linda taught him things. It wasn’t the topic that captivated him, exactly. That was interesting, but not enthralling. It was the way Linda looked while he listened to her, the way she came alive in a way she never seemed to at any other time. It reminded him of his own mother.
Anyway, that was why he was in the casualty ward the day that Travis McCoy walked in, leading Frank and Bob who were supporting a fourth man between them. It took Mikey a few seconds to recognise him. He was filthy and he smelled. The blue in his hair was growing out, he had no eyeliner on, and he wasn’t smiling.
“Pete Wentz?” Mikey gasped.
“Mikey,” said Frank, “get a doctor?”
Mikey didn’t bother looking for a doctor, but instead went straight to Linda. She looked at him oddly when he described what had happened, but she followed when he asked.
“Chained to the wall,” Frank was saying when he got back. “For nothing!”
“Being a puppet for the Capitol isn’t exactly nothing, Frank,” Bob replied. Mikey had to agree. Wentz had never shown any sign of giving a damn about what happened in District 12, even though that was supposed to be his job.
Linda began examining Wentz, who submitted to the poking and prodding with an air of resignation. Frank and Bob moved to the side and continued arguing.
“He couldn’t help it,” Frank insisted. “It’s the way they all are up there. You don’t understand, you haven’t been there.”
Bob scowled, and Mikey wondered why Frank was working so hard to defend Wentz anyway. People just like him were responsible for Gerard being lost.
“Can you pass me that thermometer, Mikey?” Linda asked, forcing his attention back to Wentz. The patient, Mikey reminded himself. Wentz was their patient. That was why they had to take care of him.
“Why is he even here?” Bob said, changing the subject.
“We thought he might be useful,” said McCoy. “Patrick asked us to bring him with us when we left the Capitol. You’ve seen his designs. Wentz might have ideas of how to present you to get the best effect. It’s what he’s done for the Capitol for all these years, after all.”
Wentz flinched away when the thermometer touched his ear. “Keep still,” Linda said, not unkindly.
“Did Patrick want him locked in a cell?” Frank demanded.
“That’s not really relevant now, is it?” McCoy replied. “Patrick isn’t here.”
Wentz whimpered a little at that. “He didn’t,” he mumbled. “He wouldn’t.” The others didn’t acknowledge that he’d spoken.
“He’s going to be fine,” Linda said, interrupting the argument and finishing her exam in one move. “He needs plenty of food at regular intervals to put some weight back on, and to get a good night’s sleep. That’s all.”
McCoy looked Wentz over. “How soon can he start working on Frank’s styling?” he asked.
“Why don’t you just ask him yourself?” Frank snapped. “He’s right there!”
“He’s not an ally, Frank!” McCoy retorted, raising his voice for the first time. “I realise you worked with him in the Capitol and maybe you feel some loyalty because he helped you get through the Games, but he’s still one of them. Still loyal to them, much more than he could ever be to us.”
Wentz kept his eyes down as McCoy spoke, not bothering to argue or deny what he said.
“He’ll be fine to work with Frank tomorrow,” Linda promised. “Provided it’s for short periods only. Why don’t you all clear out of here now so he can rest?”
Once they were gone, Linda said, “Can you get some food, Mikey, and make sure he eats?”
That was easier said than done. District 13 wasn’t given to handing food out to anyone who asked for it. Food was eaten at mealtimes, and each person got exactly as much as they needed and not a bite more. Mikey had to enter Wentz into the hospital database and then get a doctor to confirm what Linda had said, that Wentz needed food straight away. Finally, he was able to return to Wentz’s bed with a plate holding bread and mashed potatoes.
It wasn’t the most appealing meal, and Mikey knew from experience that there was little flavour in the food, but Wentz must have been hungry for he cleared half the plate in less than a minute. When he paused to chew and, presumably, breathe, Wentz glanced at him and said, “You look familiar.”
Mikey felt perhaps a little angrier than the situation warranted. “You know my brother. Gerard.”
“Gerard,” Wentz said, without inflection, like he’d forgotten who that was. It was absurd. “You’re the one he volunteered for,” Wentz said at last.
“Yes,” said Mikey, because there was nothing more to say than that.
“Do you ever wonder...” Wentz trailed off, and Mikey braced himself for whatever he was about to say. “Do you ever wonder if he regrets it, now?”
It was a much easier question than Mikey had expected. “No,” he said. “Never.”
“I think you’re right,” Wentz said after another mouthful. His expression was blank and his gaze was fixed on something far away. “I don’t think he’s ever regretted it for a second.”
They’d tried it on Patrick first. They’d gotten it wrong. Adjusted the dosage before trying it out on Gerard.
They’d made him watch. Strapped Patrick to a table, his head held in place and his eyes taped so he couldn’t close them. They hadn’t just played clips from the Games. They’d used interviews, and promotional events. They’d used the one where Frank’s shirt burned up while he was wearing it. Patrick should have known that Frank wasn’t hurt. He should have remembered it. He was the one who’d designed the shirt. He didn’t seem to, though. Not from the way he screamed.
At the end of every session, when they freed Patrick from the bindings, he would cover his face and rub at his eyes like he could scrub away what he’d seen. He did that every time except the last, when they took the tape away and Patrick’s eyes remained open, not blinking, not moving, seeing nothing.
Alicia wasn’t sure where they’d pulled Pete Wentz from or what he’d done to Frank to make him look like he was ready to walk down the main street of the Capitol, so polished and shiny it hurt to look at him. She didn’t care. She cared what Frank said, and how, and right then none of it was doing much to impress her.
Frank pranced across the soundstage in an outfit which was made to resemble a soldier’s uniform but had clearly been cut to make Frank stand out and emphasise his shoulders and waist. A bandage was wrapped around his arm just so, and another sat on his forehead, tilted to a jaunty angle. The bow he was carrying had been made by Bebe, and Alicia approved of it. She knew it would be a formidable weapon as well as an imposing prop.
“People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!”
After hearing the same line repeated, over and over, for at least two hours, the words didn’t even seem to make sense anymore. Frank could have been talking about the quality of the soup produced by the kitchen, or yesterday’s weather, for all the conviction he put into the words. Alicia sighed and shook her head. This was a waste of time.
She moved away from the wall she’d been standing by and into the middle of the room.
“Alicia,” said McCoy. “We need a little more time to get the shot.”
“Really?” Alicia said derisively. “Do you think you have enough time to do as many takes as you’ll need to get something you can use?”
Frank glared at her, but didn’t protest. They hadn’t spoken since the night they’d been flown to District 13, and Alicia figured he didn’t want to break his streak.
McCoy rolled his eyes. “We know that Frank can pull this off, we’ve seen him do it before.”
“Sure,” Alicia snapped. “When he sang to Jamia while she was dying. When he thought Gerard had died from that electric shock. When he pulled out those poisonous berries to bluff the Capitol with.” She paused for breath and Frank and McCoy both looked at her, speechless. “When something real was happening,” she finished. “You’re not going to get what you need with a script, on a stage. Frank couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag.”
Frank actually opened his mouth at that, looking for all the world like he was about to argue, but his teeth clicked shut just as quickly, and he shrugged, as though to concede the point.
“We can’t exactly drop him onto the battlefield,” McCoy argued.
“Why not?” Alicia challenged. “You can’t exactly use any of the footage you got today, either. Do you have another option I don’t know about?”
McCoy looked thoughtful, but backed out of the room insisting that he needed to talk Alicia’s suggestion over with the President. Alicia let him go and focused her attention on Frank.
He was looking at her, scrutinising her really, as though he was calculating the market value of her teeth. Maybe that was exactly what he was doing. “What is it?” Alicia asked.
Frank pursed his lips. “You didn’t save him,” he said. Alicia didn’t have to ask who Frank was talking about. Gerard wasn’t the only person who had been taken that night, but he might as well have been for all Frank cared. “You promised me.”
Alicia sighed. “You’re the one who let him out of your sight,” she said, rather cruelly, and Frank flinched.
“Okay,” he said, after a second. “Yes. That was me.”
He looked crushed, and Alicia was angry at herself for feeling sorry for him, but she couldn’t help it. “None of us could have predicted everything that could have happened that night,” she said. “Not you, not me. It’s a miracle that any of us got out of there. What matters now is defeating the Capitol. It’s the only way we can save Gerard.”
Frank met her eyes, and something in him seemed to ease. He nodded.
Most of the hospital patients in District 13 were there for fairly minor things. Sickness, small injuries while working. Now that the conflict with the Capitol was heating up, they were starting to see more and more battle injuries, but they weren’t the majority yet.
Mikey was categorising urine samples when the reports came in. A screen in the lab played updates from the battles taking place closer to the Capitol. Mikey was used to hearing regular reports from the battlefront, but this was something different.
“District 8 was attacked two hours ago by Capitol planes, which bombed targets including a hospital containing civilians and children. Frank Iero, the Mockingjay, was on the scene, and had this to say.”
Suddenly Frank was there on the screen, covered in soot and dust, gripping a bow in one hand and bleeding from a wound on his arm.
“It’s time to make some fucking noise!” he shouted. “The Capitol calls for a ceasefire and then attack us like cowards, killing doctors and injured civilians. There can be no peace with them, no compromise. The Capitol cannot be trusted to respect any treaty, and must be brought down.” Frank moved closer to the camera, and Mikey could see the wildness in his eyes and the rage in his clenched jaw. ”President Korse, you may think you can burn us to the ground. You can try, but if we burn, you burn with us!”
The broadcast ended then, and Mikey blinked as he remembered where he was. He had to find Linda.
He hadn’t gone far when she came looking for him. “Mikey,” she said, taking his arm. “It’s Frank... he’s okay, he’s fine, but they took him to District 8...”
“I know,” Mikey interrupted. “I saw.”
“He’s fine, though,” Linda went on. “We saw him. He’s okay, and he’s on his way back.” Her hands were shaking.
“Yeah,” Mikey said. “He’ll be back soon, I’m sure.”
“He didn’t tell me he was going,” Linda said, her voice breaking. “No one told me.”
Mikey didn’t know what to say. “Maybe there wasn’t time,” he said, but he didn’t think he sounded very convincing. There would have been time.
Linda sniffed and pulled herself together with an obvious force of will. “I need to do observations,” she said. “Do you want to come along and take notes for me?”
“I’m supposed to be working in the lab.”
“Oh. Yes, of course.” Linda peered at Mikey’s face. “And you’re okay, aren’t you? Not upset about Frank? He’ll be back soon, safe and sound.”
“Actually, why don’t I come along with you, just for a while?”
The injections didn’t hurt. They scared him, though. He’d never liked needles, ever since the first one to put a tracker in his arm. Now, it took six Peacekeepers to hold him down every time
They showed him something new this time. Not a memory, not something he’d seen before.
Gerard didn’t recognise the district. It wasn’t 12, and it wasn’t 1. It could have been any of the others. Fires burned in the background and the whole area was covered in smoke.
Frank was in the middle of the screen. He was holding a bow, and he was speaking, shouting really, to the camera. At first, he’d seemed to be much smaller than the buildings nearby, but at some point he’d grown so that he towered over them. With a shove from one hand, he pushed down the wall of a house and it collapsed on itself.
“No peace!” he roared, “no compromise!” He breathed a plume of fire from his mouth and it flooded the screen. The end of the table Gerard was strapped to caught fire and he watched his feet in terror, trying to pull them away from the heat to no avail.
“If we burn, you burn with us!”
He’s going to burn me alive, Gerard thought. On the screen, Frank picked up a corpse lying on the ground and ripped at it with his teeth. Gerard screamed, helpless, knowing that at some point the venom had taken over and he’d stopped seeing what was really there, but not able to tell when it had happened, not able to pick out where the line lay between what was real and what was not.
President Hayman was delighted with the results of the trip to District 8. Alicia wished she could share the other woman’s pleasure, but she was too busy being furious at Frank for ignoring her instructions to return to the hovercraft when the Capitol planes moved in.
“Let’s use that footage we got inside the hospital before the attack,” Hayman said. “We can do short, thirty second clips with Frank talking to the patients, the children, the staff. And then we should do some longer pieces with Frank talking about his experiences. Then we should try to find out more about the victims of the hospital attack and do some brief personalised stories about them.”
Alicia could tell Frank wasn’t coping so well with Hayman talking about him like he wasn’t there. She was losing patience herself with the relentless scheming, even though she understood the need for it.
“Frank-“ Hayman said, but she was interrupted by a shout from across the room.
“There’s some kind of special broadcast from the Capitol,” Bebe called, and they hurried over to watch it.
On the screen, Brian Schechter was sitting in the studio where he usually did interviews. Alicia watched closely, because there were only a limited number of things this could be about, and none of them were good.
“This is a special broadcast which concerns the current situation in the Districts,” Schechter said, “And I’d like to welcome back a guest who has something to say about it.”
The camera panned around to reveal the person sitting in the other chair. It was Gerard, of course. The real shock was how much he’d changed. How much weight he’d lost, how worn he looked. It was far too big a difference for a few days to make. So, they must have recorded the other clip ahead of time and kept it until they decided to use it. This was what Gerard looked like now.
Alicia’s gaze was fixed on Gerard. She couldn’t have looked away if she’d tried. If this was how Gerard looked now, the prisoner they were willing to let appear on national television, what shape might the other tributes be in? The ones that hadn’t been seen or heard from since they were taken? Assuming they were even still alive.
”Brian,” Gerard said, and he couldn’t stay still in his seat, twitching and fidgeting like he wanted to be somewhere else.
They’d told him that five thousand people had been killed in the last incident, where Frank rallied a band of rebels in a show of pointless defiance against the Capitol. And Gerard wasn’t sure if he’d been supposed to hear or not, but he’d heard too that the Capitol was going to retaliate. They were going to go on the offensive, take the fighting to District 13. It filled Gerard with terror. Maybe Frank would survive this time. Maybe he’d be lucky, but he couldn’t be lucky forever. Every new slight and taunt from him made Korse angrier, and nothing Gerard said seemed to stop it.
“This fighting can’t continue!” Gerard said angrily to the camera while Brian Schechter nodded along. “The ceasefire isn’t just some, some nice idea, it’s absolutely essential if the species is going to survive!”
Schechter asked a question about Frank; Gerard wasn’t even sure what it was exactly, but a shudder passed through him at the name. “He’s being used!” he snapped. “The people running District 13 are manipulating him, lying to him so that he’ll do their dirty work! They...” Gerard forgot what he was about to say, as the monitors showing the interview being recorded flickered and a new image appeared. He could see Frank, sitting at the bedside of a young girl, aged seven or eight, holding her hand and listening to her talk. “This footage was taken minutes before the District 8 Hospital was bombed by Capitol planes,” a voiceover intoned. “None of the patients survived.”
The room around Gerard had erupted into chaos as people in the studio dashed around, asking what was going on. Someone must have managed to regain control of the broadcast, because Gerard saw his own face reappear on the monitor, looking shocked and unsure.
Schechter looked shaken as well, but he recovered faster than Gerard did, and tried to retake control of the interview. “Gerard, what would you say to Frank if you knew he could hear you?” he asked, and it got Gerard thinking.
What if Frank could hear him? It was obvious that the rebels were doing something to get their own propaganda broadcast across Panem, and Frank was involved in it. He could be watching Gerard right now.
“Frank,” he said, “You need to think. You can’t trust them, you can’t let them use you for their own schemes. Think for yourself. You can turn this around.” Schechter was nodding at him, and Gerard gulped for air, his mind racing, remembering the dark hints that had been dropped. “You won’t get another chance!” he said, becoming more agitated, moving in his chair although he could see the Peacekeepers guarding him becoming twitchy. “If you keep going this way, you’ll end up dead!” He flung his hands up and the Peacekeepers started, a visible tension running through them. “Dead by nightfall!” he shouted, and at last they moved. “Dead by nightfall!” Gerard repeated, because it was his last chance.
The nearest Peacekeeper punched him right in the face, knocking him from his chair to the floor. Gerard gasped and curled up as the second one kicked him. It hurt. They’d played with his mind for weeks, and it had been awful, but they hadn’t physically hurt him before now. They’d saved that for others, made him watch. Now, they weren’t holding back. He struggled, but they held him down with little effort and the one in front of him kicked him, again and again. Gerard tried to get his breath enough to say something else, but darkness crept in around the edges of his vision and soon he could see nothing else.
Mikey knew what to do when the alarms began to sound. With the same ruthless efficiency that they did everything else, District 13 regularly ran evacuation drills and had charts detailing the correct procedures on every wall.
Mikey ran to his assigned ward and started directing the patients to the reinforced shelter. The ones who could walk made their own way as well as they could. The ones who couldn’t get out of their beds had to be wheeled; Mikey grabbed some of the stronger patients to take the first few beds and took the last one himself.
He couldn’t worry about what was going to happen or how much time they had. He saw glimpses of Linda getting her own patients moving, but he had too much to focus on with his own work to worry about her. He was very conscious of time passing as he worked, and getting the last patient down to the shelter prompted an overwhelming surge of relief.
Frank grabbed him as soon as the last patient had been safely handed over. He led Mikey to a part of the shelter where the two of them and Linda had been assigned what Frank called a ‘pod.’
“We’re supposed to wait here until it’s safe,” Frank said, and Mikey could tell he wasn’t impressed by the directive.
They’d been given a box of supplies. Just food and water, the barest minimum rations to get the three of them through two days, and thermal blankets in case the power went out. Linda sifted through the box, categorising and organising its contents.
“You should keep one of these by you,” she said, holding a blanket out to Frank. “You know how you feel the cold.”
“I’m fine,” said Frank. “Just keep it in the box.”
“But if you need it...”
“If I need it later, it will still be there, won’t it?” Frank snapped, turning away. “I’ll take care of myself.”
Mikey sneaked a glance at Linda’s face, catching a glimpse of hurt before her expression blanked. She held the same blanket out to Mikey with a smile, not saying anything, and he took it from her hand with the lightest of touches, as though being too there in that moment would break the fragile peace.
The alarms had gone silent as soon as the shelter doors had slammed closed. There was nothing to obscure the sound of the first bomb landing. The walls shook with the blast, but held firm. Mikey curled up where he sat, and Frank and Linda moved to sit either side of him. Mikey wasn’t sure if they were trying to comfort him or themselves.
They tried things to pass the time and distract themselves from the thunderous noise overhead. Told stories and played mindless games. None of it worked all that well. Every time another explosion happened, they all froze and looked anxiously at the ceiling as though to see the moment when it would cave in. Mikey thought if they were all going to die, he’d rather not know about it beforehand, but that didn’t stop him from looking along with everyone else.
Frank didn’t pay any attention at all to the games and the nervous chatter, keeping his gaze on his knees and not even looking up when the walls creaked and rattled. Mikey gave him a nudge.
“They said that you were the one who figured out they were coming,” he said. “What happened?”
Frank looked at him through empty eyes. “That’s not important,” he said.
“I want to know.”
“Trust me, you don’t.”
“You’re trying to protect me again,” said Mikey, becoming annoyed. “Just tell me the truth. If I had to give you bad news, I’d do it. I wouldn’t tell you a lie to make you feel better for a little while. Tell me.”
Frank scowled, but he ducked his head and answered. “It was Gerard,” he said, and Mikey felt his stomach drop. Maybe he really didn’t want to know. “Bebe was trying to hack through into the Capitol broadcast channels to play our own clips. Brian was doing another interview with Gerard. When Bebe hacked through, Gerard realised we were watching, and he said it.”
“How did he look?” Mikey asked, because he had to, because it was impossible not to.
Frank didn’t answer for quite a long time. “Not great,” he said. “Not really good. I think... I think the last interview was recorded a while before we actually saw it. He looked a lot worse.”
Mikey appreciated that Frank didn’t sugar coat it, but the intensity of his worry increased until it was almost unbearable. “What did they do, when Gerard said that?” he asked.
Frank didn’t reply, but this time it was answer enough.
There was a time, much, much later, when everything went silent. “Is it over?” Mikey wondered.
“Maybe, but I bet they’re not going to let us out yet,” said Frank sourly.
He was right. They were made to wait in the shelter for another five hours before an announcement came that the attack was over and they were allowed to return to their regular quarters. As people left the shelter the tension drained from them almost visibly, except for Frank who remained as tightly coiled as ever. Mikey couldn’t relax either, not with the probability of Gerard being out there somewhere, hurt.
“We have to do something,” Frank muttered, and Mikey didn’t bother to ask what.
They had to do something. Frank had been frantic ever since Gerard had been beaten down right there on the monitor before his eyes. Alicia could tell he was going to be useless for the purpose he was supposed to be serving until something was done.
She still wasn’t expecting President Hayman to suggest what she did.
“A rescue expedition?” she asked incredulously. “To the Capitol?”
Hayman looked at her, unmoved by Alicia’s disbelief. “It’s the only way to ensure that Frank continues to perform adequately.”
“I thought we didn’t have enough firepower to orchestrate a rescue.”
“Not before,” Hayman said with a shrug. “But with Frank like he is, we need to make this a priority. You saw the last set of clips we made. He’s been useless.”
So they did have enough might to confront the Capitol directly, if it was for Frank’s benefit. Alicia tried to curb her irrational resentment. It wasn’t really Frank’s fault. “So you’re just going to dash in, grab Gerard, and get out again?”
“If we’re taking the risk, and we can confirm that they’re all being held in the same place, we might as well attempt to rescue the others. The mad girl, and the other one.”
“Vicky-T,” said Alicia at once. “That’s her name,” she said, in response to Hayman’s look.
“We’ll need to put together a team to carry out the expedition,” said Hayman. “If you can think of anyone who would be an asset, you can suggest them.”
“You should send me,” Alicia said, almost before she realised she was going to. Hayman looked surprised, but responded with a brisk nod.
“Agreed,” she said. “Soldier Walker will lead the expedition; you should report to him.”
Alicia was expecting the preparations to take an inordinately long time, while the highest authorities debated every angle of the expedition in exhaustive detail. That was how things tended to go in District 13. But it turned out they could move quickly when there was a need. The very next day they were ready to move out.
The hovercraft left the launch pad at eight o’clock. They were going to travel at speed throughout the night to cover most of the distance to the Capitol, and then hide during the day. The next night, they would need to get past the Capitol’s defences, break into the stronghold where the prisoners were held, and reach their prepared hiding place before dawn. The scale of the task was overwhelming to Alicia, but Walker seemed to feel confident that it could be done.
Although they flew as fast as they could through the night, the ride was smooth. There were ten of them, including the hovercraft pilot and co-pilot. Alicia looked around the cabin. She didn’t know most of the soldiers. Four of them were slumped in their seats up the other end, dozing. Sitting opposite her was a gruff man who’d introduced himself as Talbot. Walker was sitting next to him, still alert even after the hours they’d spent in the air. The tenth soldier was Bob, who’d been accepted to the mission when he volunteered and Alicia vouched for him.
The sky started to lighten sooner than they would have liked. They travelled for twenty minutes or so under the watchful red eyes of the sunrise before finally taking cover in the deep forest their sources had directed them to.
“Try to get some sleep,” said Walker. “We’ll all need to be alert tonight.”
Alicia tried to get comfortable on the hard bench seat of the hovercraft. There wasn’t enough room to stretch out and her arm constantly slipped off the edge. She closed her eyes and willed herself to be still.
After several hours of dozing and waking every few minutes when she tried to move her legs or roll over, Alicia heard quiet movement at the other end of the cabin and sat up, grateful for the diversion.
It was Walker, pulling a green-patterned jacket on over his dark clothes. “What’s going on?” Alicia asked him.
Walker looked at her. “I’m going to do a patrol outside,” he said. “Make sure there’s no one out there.”
“Can I come too?” Alicia asked. “Please,” she added when Walker seemed about to decline. “I can’t sleep and I want a drink so badly it hurts. I need something to do.”
“Fine,” said Walker after a pause. He tossed her a camouflage jacket and they left the hovercraft, walking softly through the forest. Walker kept to the shadows and kept his tread light, and Alicia followed his lead. He kept up a good pace, even being as careful as he was, and after a few minutes Alicia was working up a sweat.
They saw nothing of interest for a good long while. It was nice to get out of the enclosed hovercraft and the scenery was pleasant. Alicia was beginning to relax when Jon froze ahead of her.
He sidestepped behind a tree and Alicia followed suit. He pointed and Alicia followed the gesture to where two young people, a boy and a girl, were walking through the forest.
After her initial fright, Alicia relaxed. The two of them were young and clearly alone. They were both carrying full backpacks and appeared to have been walking for a while. As she watched, the girl took a drink from a flask and handed it over to the boy.
Alicia considered whether they needed to do anything. If she had her directions right, the pair weren’t going to stumble across the hovercraft if they continued on the same path. She looked over at Walker and figured that he had come to the same conclusion. With a nod to her, he followed after the pair and they trailed them for a while until the hovercraft was well behind them.
“Why didn’t you bring them back with you?” Bob wanted to know, later on when they told him about it. “They’re obviously runaways. We could have helped them get to 13.”
Alicia shook her head at him, but let Walker explain.
“Given them a ride in our nice safe hovercraft?” he asked sarcastically.
“It would have been better than leaving them on their own. What if they get caught?”
“If they get caught, they’ll still be better off than if they came with us and our mission failed,” Walker said harshly. “There’s no guarantee we’ll make it out of there tonight.”
Bob nodded, his expression serious, and Walker turned on a monitor near the front of the cabin and brought up a map. “Listen,” he said. “You’ll all need to know this before we get there. We’ve narrowed down the likely location of the prisoners to this area...”
Walker went through the entire plan and all its contingencies three times, and then made each of them repeat the steps back to him. It was annoying, but Alicia understood the necessity, and when they arrived at their safe landing point in the Capitol and Alicia realised that more than two hours had passed, she saw that it had also served the purpose of distracting them and keeping them from getting too nervous.
They hadn’t been able to get very close to where they needed to be, not while keeping the hovercraft hidden. Their contacts in the Capitol and bribery had helped them get through the security patrols but could only take them so far. To get through the few streets between them and where they needed to be, they would dress as servants and walk.
Their landing point was on a private home owned by a rebel sympathiser. They climbed down the stairwell and walked out the front door, slipping onto the street and trying to look as though they belonged. That part was easy.
The government building where they expected to find Gerard and Vicky looked innocuous enough. It didn’t seem like a place where political prisoners would be found. It was like everything else in the Capitol; beautiful on the outside while concealing its true, hideous face underneath.
The main doors weren’t guarded. Walker was sure there was video surveillance, but that wasn’t going to trouble them. He led the way across the polished floor to an elevator, where he selected a lower floor.
They knew that there was only so far down they could go without authorisation. The elevator stopped and they stepped out, following their memories of the map Walker had shown them. They didn’t try to remain concealed, knowing that they wouldn’t attract notice dressed as they were. They would need to stay out of sight once they got into the restricted levels, though. That would be more of a challenge.
A rebel contact had provided what should be a valid passcode for the elevator to the lower levels, but when they reached the elevator bank, two guards were standing outside. Alicia stiffened, but Walker continued walking right past them, keeping his gaze down like all the Capitol servants did. The rest of them followed suit. They turned a corner in the corridor and huddled together, whispering frantically.
“Guards?” Alicia hissed. “There’s not supposed to be guards!”
Walker looked worried. “We have to get past them somehow,” he said.
“How?” Bob wondered.
“If there’s a distraction...”
“Any distraction big enough to make them leave their post would only put the whole complex on alert,” Walker concluded, looking grim.
“What do we do?”
Walker reached down into the trolley he was pushing. The top of it was stacked with an array of cleaning supplies, but he pushed them aside and from underneath removed a weapon. It was an electric prod, capable of immobilising or killing its target. “We take them out,” he said, handing another one to Alicia.
She took it with some reluctance. “We can stun them and drag them somewhere else out of sight.”
“No.” Walker shook his head. “We don’t have time to restrain them, and we can’t risk them waking up and raising the alarm. They have to be killed.”
Alicia nodded acceptance. She didn’t really feel any grief for the Capitol guards they were about to kill, but the idea of ending more lives left her feeling empty.
They coordinated their attack to happen quickly and silently. The guards were startled and didn’t have time to alert anyone else before Walker and Alicia struck. The others came after that to drag the bodies away to a room where they might go unnoticed for a while.
“We have to hurry now,” said Walker. “We can’t count on having much time until they’re discovered.”
They got into the elevator and descended once more. Alicia gripped her prod tight, preparing herself in case there were more guards when the elevator stopped. There were, as it turned out, three of them, and Alicia jumped into action as fast as she could to stop them from sending out an alarm. She got the one nearest to her, and Walker dashed after the one who tried to run away. The third pulled his gun and pointed it at Bob.
They all froze. Up the hallway, not having noticed what was happening, Walker and the third guard were having a tussle which ended with a quick shock from his prod. He looked back at them and noticed the standoff, stilling instantly.
“Drop your weapons.”
Alicia hesitated. She needed to save Bob, but she couldn’t fool herself that the Capitol would show any sort of mercy to them if they surrendered. “No.”
Walker came back towards the group, and the guard noticed him move. “You, stop right there.”
Walker halted, but when the guard had turned towards him, two of the rebels had inched closer to him. “Nobody move!” the guard ordered, obviously realising that the situation was out of his control. Everything happened at once; they all rushed the guard, except for Bob, who dodged out of the way. The guard squeezed off a shot which rang through the hallways but missed Bob thanks to his quick dive. Walker put the man out of his misery and looked around with a hunted expression on his face.
“Someone probably heard that,” he said. “We have to go. Leave the bodies; we don’t have time. Run!”
They raced through the complex, abandoning the original plan of stealth. They didn’t encounter anyone for a few more minutes. When they did, they had advance warning from the sound of running feet, and took up positions where they could defend themselves. It was a group of Capitol soldiers they encountered, not merely guards, and the resulting battle was fierce.
They’d all taken the weapons out of Walker’s trolley and abandoned the cumbersome thing after the fight at the elevator. No longer needing silence, they fought with rifles and Alicia thought her eardrums might burst. She shot one soldier through the shoulder and he collapsed in the middle of the floor. The others paid him no mind, stepping around him as they changed their positions. The last soldier standing shot out the glass panel in a door behind them, and glass showered over their heads dealing tiny, stinging cuts. Alicia grimaced but they ran on.
They reached the first of the heavily fortified areas that had been marked on the map. There was a brief fire fight with the guards outside. They were rushing, knowing that they needed to find Gerard and get out before more guards responded to the alarm.
Bebe had given them a substance which would cause a small explosion, enough to ruin the door but not enough to harm anyone standing on the other side of it. Walker pressed it to the door and triggered the explosion, kicking the door aside impatiently. He peered through and scowled with disappointment.
“It’s not Way,” he said. “It’s one of the others.”
Alicia looked over his shoulder. “Vicky?”
She was sitting on a bed in the corner of the room, huddled in on herself with her arms wrapped around her knees. Alicia could tell it was her, though. She wasn’t sure what gave it away; she couldn’t see Vicky’s face. She just knew. Vicky stilled when she heard her name, and Alicia stumbled into the room towards her, unable to stop herself.
“Vicky?” she repeated. “It’s Alicia. We have to get out of here. Come with me.” She put a hand on Vicky’s arm, and she gasped and twitched away. Alicia pulled her hand back, reluctant to touch Vicky if it would upset her. “Please hurry,” she said nervously.
Vicky got up and moved towards the door, but her steps were tentative. Walker waited impatiently by the door, his watchful eyes flicking from Alicia to the corridor outside and back again. “Hurry,” he said. “We’ve got to find the other two.”
He’d been alone for what seemed like quite a long time. There was noise. Far away at first, but it kept getting closer. And closer. He huddled in the corner, his breath coming shallow and his heartbeat racing. They were coming for him, he was sure of it. He didn’t know why. They’d stopped telling him things, ever since he’d told Brian about the soldiers they were sending after Frank. Maybe Brian wasn’t supposed to know about that. No, he considered, leaning against the wall for support and trying to hide as gunfire sounded nearby. There was something else, some other reason. He just couldn’t remember what it was.
There were footsteps very close by, which abruptly stopped. Gerard froze in the silence. They were coming for him. Maybe it was Frank. Frank, coming to kill him at last, like he’d seen in his dreams. His memories. Whatever they were.
There was a loud explosion and Gerard ducked, putting his arms over his head. With a crash, the door fell inward and someone stepped through. Gerard peered out, expecting to see Frank looming over him.
It wasn’t him, though. It was someone Gerard didn’t know, a man dressed like a servant with scruffy hair. He glanced at Gerard and then looked back over his shoulder.
“It’s him,” he said. “Quick, let’s go.” He looked back to Gerard and reached a hand down to him. “Can you walk?”
Gerard just looked at him, not able to rally enough brainpower together to respond. The man grabbed his arm and pulled. “You need to run.”
Gerard followed him, and found that he could walk after all, and when the man tugged his arm harder, he could even run.
Out in the corridor, it turned out that the man was one of a group of people, some of whom Gerard recognised. Bob was there, looking calm and cool and holding a gun. Alicia was there too. It was strange to see them here when he’d thought they were safe and far away.
“They got you?” he wondered, his heart sinking. No one bothered to answer him.
“Come on,” said the man. “They’re coming now.” He pushed Gerard up the corridor, not too gently, and Alicia tugged along the woman next to her. It was Vicky, Gerard realised after a second. She was unsteady on her feet and leaned heavily against Alicia. Standing next to her was another woman in prisoner’s clothing who looked vaguely familiar, but Gerard didn’t have time to puzzle it out. He put his head down and ran.
They had to stop a few times and fight off Capitol soldiers before they reached the elevator. It had been locked down, of course, and Gerard experienced a spike of panic before realising that plans had apparently been made for this eventuality.
They’d lost the last group of pursuers a few turns back. A couple of the rebels broke into the elevator and one by one they were all hoisted through the roof of the carriage. Bob closed the doors behind them and no sign of their presence remained. It was pitch dark inside the elevator shaft. Gerard gripped his rescuer’s hand tightly, just to reassure himself that he wasn’t alone.
“We need to move quickly,” the man said, bringing out a light just bright enough to illuminate the immediate area. “Every minute that passes gives them more time to broaden the search.”
Everyone pulled out harnesses and started putting them on. One was handed to Gerard and he fumbled with it until Bob moved over to help him. The leader of the group had some device which he attached to the elevator cable, and a long cord leading to that connected to the harnesses until they formed a long string.
Climbing the elevator cable was a miserable experience. The harnesses were uncomfortable and pulled. Someone’s boots were directly in Gerard’s face, and he had to struggle to keep his own legs still or else kick the person below him in the head. It was still dark, the dim light having been extinguished as soon as they were all connected to the cord. It might have been a little better, not being able to see how far down the elevator shaft went, but Gerard was no less aware of the depth for all that, and by the time they reached the top his clothes were soaked in sweat.
They waited in silence for several minutes. Gerard had had the importance impressed on him enough that he kept quiet. They needed to ensure that the room was deserted before they entered it. They needed to get out of the building without being followed, and hope that the search had not yet expanded beyond the lower levels.
The elevator doors opened a crack and the person above Gerard swung through them. “Hurry!” he hissed, pulling Gerard towards the sliver of light.
Gerard was relieved to emerge onto solid ground. The rest of them spilled out of the elevator shaft and immediately got on the move, slipping out of the room into a narrow corridor that was probably used by the Capitol servants to get from one place to another unobtrusively. It suited their purposes perfectly, as long as they didn’t encounter anyone.
“We have to make sure that we’re not followed out of the building, because our hovercraft won’t be able to withstand an aerial assault,” Alicia explained.
“One of our contacts was supposed to pass along a false sighting of us on the other side of the complex if something like this happened,” said the group’s leader. “That should happen in about three minutes,” he added, checking his watch.
“How will we know if they have?” Alicia asked.
“We won’t,” the man replied with a grimace. “We just have to trust and hope for the best.”
Alicia’s expression clearly stated what she thought of that, and Gerard had to agree. He wasn’t inclined to trust anyone who lived in the Capitol.
They waited the three minutes, and then another thirty seconds to give any guards nearby time to respond. It worked, and they emerged from their secluded hallway to a deserted foyer. A few guards remained around each exit, but they were few enough that it was easy to stay out of their sight. When they reached a side door, they surprised the guards there and quickly disposed of them before an alarm could be raised. And a minute later, they were free and walking briskly down the street in the cool air.
At first they had tried to deny Mikey the right to visit Gerard in the hospital. He hadn’t stood for that.
Gerard was locked in a room – in a cell, and his hands were cuffed to the bed. Mikey didn’t like it, but he didn’t argue with it. He’d seen the bruises on Frank’s neck.
When Gerard first saw Mikey he looked confused. “Are you really here?” he asked, and Mikey assured him he was. Gerard just asked him again a few minutes later, though. He didn’t seem to believe it.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” he asked next, and Mikey’s breath caught in his throat.
“They’re not here,” he said, his voice growing raspy. Gerard seemed to notice his unease; he stiffened, but didn’t ask about their parents again.
“What is this place?” he asked instead.
“District 13?” Mikey said.
“District 12...” Gerard began, and Mikey held his breath. “District 12 was... was attacked?” Mikey wasn’t sure whether to confirm that or not, but Gerard went on regardless of his response. “The Capitol attacked 12, and it’s gone,” he added, sounding more confident. “Because of Frank,” he finished, starting to become agitated.
“No, Gerard, it wasn’t Frank’s fault...”
“He was helping the rebels, so they went after 12 as punishment,” Gerard snapped. “You can’t trust him, Mikey! Where did he go?”
“You need to stay away from him. He can’t be trusted, he’s not...” Gerard looked around at the walls suspiciously, as though he thought they were being spied on. Of course, they were being observed by the medical staff but there was no way Gerard could know that. “He’s not human,” he whispered. “He’s something, some creation of the Capitol. They made him and set him loose. There’s no knowing what he’ll do.”
“That doesn’t make any sense, Gerard...”
“You need to stay away!” Gerard cried out, reaching for Mikey’s hand. His cuffs were too short and kept him from making contact. Mikey wanted to reach out to Gerard and try to comfort him, but at the same time, he was afraid to.
A light over the door blinked on and off, a signal to Mikey that it was time to leave. He’d thought, when the doctors explained that he wouldn’t be allowed to stay for long, that he’d find it hard to walk out of the room, but he was slightly ashamed to find it was actually a relief. He didn’t want to stay there with Gerard any longer.
It was starting to seem as though rescuing Gerard hadn’t paid off at all.
Alicia had the thought, and then cursed herself for it. She liked Gerard. Saving him was a good thing in and of itself. She was absorbing too much of District 13’s ruthlessly mercenary viewpoint. All the district leaders were terribly upset, not that Gerard was in such poor condition or that Frank was so affected by it, but that Frank wasn’t being useful to them. They tried to hide it, of course, for propriety’s sake, but they didn’t do as well as perhaps they thought.
Frank had been in such a state after realising how strong a hold the Capitol’s brainwashing had on Gerard, he’d begged to be sent somewhere else. He’d been sent to District 2, where the last of the Capitol supporters there were making their final stand. Alicia communicated with him every day, letting him know of Gerard’s progress. She rarely had much to say.
Mikey had been persistent, demanding that Gerard receive every comfort, that every possible form of help be offered to him. It had been his idea to use the same tactics the Capitol had to calm Gerard and bring his mind back to reality. Show him footage combined with sedatives and let him realise that his nightmarish memories were really just hallucinations. The results so far had been small, but better than any other method had yielded.
Alicia divided her time between Gerard and Vicky-T, who was still in the hospital. Vicky wasn’t hurt in the way that Gerard was hurt. Her mind was her own, and her physical injuries were also minor. She wasn’t well, though. She seemed content to sleep all day and reacted to Alicia’s presence with mild disinterest. Alicia knew it was selfish, but she felt hurt.
“Do you want something to eat?” she asked. “I’m sure I can get them to let me bring in something better than that slop they call lunch.” She wasn’t actually sure of that at all, but she would try if it would make Vicky smile.
“Mm,” she said. “Not hungry.”
Alicia huffed irritably. “I could draw you a bath,” she offered. It was slightly self-motivated, she could admit that. Vicky was filthy.
“No,” Vicky said, more sharply.
“It’s no trouble. And you’ll feel better.”
“I said no! Get out, Alicia. Just get out.”
Stung, she stormed out of the room.
Alicia went to the room where Gerard was being held. He was talking to Ray, because he was someone Gerard knew from before and who he wouldn’t instantly associate with Frank, who seemed to set off most of Gerard’s rages. She sat and observed from the side room.
They were talking about songs Ray had written and ones he wanted to write, although as far as Alicia knew he’d lost his guitar when 12 was bombed and hadn’t gained another one. Ray sang a few lines, and Gerard laughed.
“I remember that song,” he said, and Alicia moved forward to the edge of her seat. “I never liked it all that much.” Ray nodded and his expression didn’t falter. “It was Frank’s favourite, though, I think.”
Alicia froze, and she could see Ray through the glass doing exactly the same thing, not able to decide how to react to Gerard bringing up Frank, the topic he’d been instructed to avoid. Silently, Alicia hoped for him to continue. Gerard had brought Frank up himself and seemed calm. It would be good to see what happened next. Ray seemed to reach the same conclusion.
“You think so?” he asked.
“I’m not sure. It’s hard to know if I remember right. I know I didn’t like it, though. I thought the lyrics were stupid.”
“Tom wrote those,” said Ray, becoming more serious. Tom was dead now. Nearly everyone from District 12 was.
“I bet I could write better ones,” Gerard said thoughtfully.
Frank was pleased when he heard the news, but Alicia didn’t think he understood its full import. It was essentially proof that the Capitol’s conditioning could be undone. She supposed it was just too small a step for Frank to see it that way. Besides, he had other things on his mind.
He was in District 2, where the last Capitol supporters had barricaded themselves inside an underground military complex where they could hold off the rebels with ease. Bebe had created explosives which would collapse the main entrances and block off the supply routes, and Bob was there in person to implement them, but Frank was reluctant. Alicia tried to referee the argument over the radio link, but it didn’t work so well.
“They do what??” Frank demanded.
“There’s a secondary explosion,” Bob explained. “The first one targets those near the entrances, and when others come to their aid, there’ll be a second explosion which will inflict an even greater number of casualties.”
It was genius, Alicia could see that. A sick, twisted kind of genius.
“It’s wrong!” Frank snapped. “How can you not see that?”
“It’s nothing the Capitol wouldn’t do, or hasn’t done,” Bob insisted.
“This is a war,” Alicia added. “Anything that brings it to an end faster will save lives in the long run.”
“You can’t attack people who are just coming to help the injured.”
“Okay,” said Bob. “Just normal explosives. We’ll cave the entrances in and they’ll be trapped. Same result.”
In the end, they blocked all the tunnels save one, and the Capitol loyalists who emerged from the remaining opening ran into the full force of the Rebel army. The ones who resisted were killed, the rest taken prisoner. When things were as good as finished, Alicia received new instructions from 13’s leaders. They wanted Frank to give a speech, something they could use to create more propaganda. Alicia passed the lines along to him, and Frank actually managed to deliver them with conviction. It was going splendidly until one last loyalist appeared, rifle in his hands, eyes trained on Frank.
Frank tried, he really did, turning towards the man and directing his words straight at him, trying to convince the newcomer of the truth of the rebel cause. It was good stuff, Alicia could admit that, even as she ordered Frank to get out of the way and let the soldiers take the man out. He ignored her.
And then he was shot.
Alicia had been hoping to run into Mikey before Linda Iero. It was cowardly, but she found Mikey easier to talk to. But it was Linda who spotted her outside the cafeteria and came directly her way.
“Do you have any news about Frank?” she asked, eyes huge, almost pleading. Alicia had to look away.
“He’s fine,” she said. “He’s being transported back as we speak.”
“But?” Linda asked, hearing something off in Alicia’s tone, maybe, and stiffening.
“There was... he was shot at, by one of the loyalists. But he was wearing body armour, he wasn’t hurt.” At least, she hoped not. She didn’t actually know.
Linda took that news in like she didn’t know what to do with it. “Oh,” she said. “Well, that’s good.”
Her subdued reaction filled Alicia with guilt. “I’m sorry I didn’t come to find you sooner...”
Linda gave a small laugh. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s how it is.” She looked away. “No one tells me about any of it. I didn’t even know he’d left District 13, not until it came up on the propos.”
Alicia felt small, and lost for words. “I need to find Mikey, and make sure he eats,” Linda added. “He’ll forget if no one reminds him; he’s so worried about Gerard.” And then she was gone.
It had been frightening at first, to see Mikey. He kept forgetting that he’d been rescued. Saved. He was safe now. It was hard to remember. He’d thought that Mikey had been taken by the Capitol, and that they were going to hurt him.
He hadn’t voiced his fears. It was dangerous to give too much away. And he always remembered quickly enough that he was in District 13 now. It was just difficult to hold onto the knowledge for any length of time.
He’d started making a list. A list of the things he knew were true. His name was Gerard. Mikey was his brother. His parents were dead. He was only mostly sure of that last one, not completely. But Mikey said they were dead, and he trusted Mikey.
He was in District 13. He knew that was true, because he wasn’t in the Capitol, and this wasn’t like any other place in Panem.
They were fighting the Capitol. He knew they were doing that, District 13 along with the other districts. They’d talked about it in the Capitol too. There, they’d been angry about it. It was a terrible thing. They were going to destroy the world, wipe out the remains of the human race. Here, when it came up, people insisted it had to be done. If the Capitol wasn’t defeated, they were going to be the ones to wipe out humanity. Gerard couldn’t be sure who was right. He didn’t like the Capitol, but so far he didn’t like this new place all that much either.
No one brought the topic up much though, because it was too close to Frank. Frank wasn’t on his list. He didn’t know what was true about Frank. He thought maybe Frank belonged to the Capitol. It would make a beautiful and terrible sense if it was true. The way he’d caught Gerard, the hold that Frank had on his emotions. It was their perfect weapon. And now he was the figurehead of their rebellion. The Capitol’s secret weapon.
He’d tried to warn people, but they thought it was a symptom of his madness. Maybe it was. Or maybe the true madness was his desire to believe that Frank was good after all. And when the evidence was all memories and ideas he held in his mind, how could he ever prove one theory over the other?
Vicky-T was a horrible patient. She’d be co-operative to Mikey’s face, but the moment his back was turned she’d totally disregard the doctor’s instructions, and to cap it off she kept sneaking into Frank’s room to steal the morphine from his IV. Mikey knew because he’d caught her at it.
He’d been spending a lot of time in the hospital with Frank and occasionally Vicky, more than his regular hours required. He wasn’t trying to avoid Linda, exactly, it was just that her constant attentiveness was becoming sort of tiring. Mikey understood that she was frightened for Frank and felt helpless to do anything to protect him, but Mikey didn’t need to be protected. In 13, he was safe. As safe as anyone else, anyway.
Frank was getting antsy too, so Mikey figured he’d benefit from the company anyway. The district leaders were planning to send forces in to the Capitol soon. The fighting in District 1 was nearly over, the Capitol’s forces more or less overwhelmed by the District’s greater numbers, but everyone knew that things in the Capitol would be more difficult. There would be defences there that District 13’s minds had probably never imagined. Still, Frank wanted to be there. He was determined to go in and be present when the Capitol fell. He confided to Mikey that President Hayman had promised he could be the one to kill Korse, and he wanted to do it. He got a bloodthirsty glint in his eyes whenever he talked about it which Mikey found unsettling.
The military leaders were reluctant to let Frank go, though. While the body armour he’d been wearing in District 2 had saved his life, the impact from the bullet had broken several of his ribs. And on top of that, Frank had refused to attend any of the training District 13 offered, even though he’d been instructed to. Mikey wasn’t surprised that it had come back to haunt him, but Frank, for his part, wasn’t about to give up there. Which was how he ended up going through an invasive and painful procedure to speed up the healing of his ribs.
Mikey didn’t really understand how it worked. He’d asked Linda about it, and she’d explained it as much as she could, but Mikey thought she didn’t fully know how it worked herself and there were still a lot of gaps in his medical knowledge that kept him from truly understanding. She didn’t like it though, he could tell that from the set of her eyes and the twist of her lips when she talked about it.
Frank hadn’t told Linda what he was doing, and he’d asked Mikey to keep it to himself as well, which Mikey resented. He liked Linda, and he didn’t enjoy lying to the people he liked. He’d said, “I don’t want you to put me in between you and your mom. If you want to lie to her, you should do it your own damn self.”
Frank was set on his course, though, and he’d said with a scowl, “I’m not asking you to make shit up, Mikey, just don’t fucking mention it to her, okay? It’s not like this concerns you.”
He’d apologised later, but Mikey still hadn’t spoken to him for the rest of the day.
District 13 might not have technology on the same level as the Capitol, but they did well enough. Giving personalised training to the scores of recruits who wanted to be part of the fighting was no small task, but the tech they had was up to it.
Vicky had insisted on taking part. Privately, Alicia thought she was stupid. The military leaders had offered her a safe leadership position back in headquarters, and Alicia had accepted it. Vicky could have done something similar, but instead she wanted to go to the Capitol for... Alicia wasn’t sure what, exactly. Probably revenge, or something equally stupid.
The problem was that, having accepted a role in the training process, Alicia had the temptation of rigging Vicky’s assessment so that she wouldn’t pass.
She shouldn’t do it. Vicky would be pissed as hell if she figured it out, would probably never forgive the betrayal (she didn’t forgive easily), but the temptation was there anyway. It had to be better to have Vicky safe in 13, even if she was furious, than to let her go off to the Capitol and get killed. It was bad enough that Frank seemed set on doing the same thing, bad enough that it looked like President Hayman was going to let him. There wasn’t much she could do about that, but for Vicky- Alicia could hardly let the opportunity pass.
Down on the training ground, William Beckett was running a course based around scaling high walls and reaching barely-accessible areas. The training ground was mocked up to look like a city that had been half-destroyed, but the buildings could be moved and new obstacles added with the touch of a few keys. The courses were supposed to be based around each recruit’s weaknesses, but Alicia wasn’t sure how they’d determined Beckett’s weakness was climbing. Perhaps they doubted his physical strength; he did have a deceptively slender build. He passed with flying colours, of course. Beckett had been in peak physical condition when he’d won his Games, and had maintained that form ever since.
And then it was Vicky’s turn. The most cursory of observations would have exposed Vicky’s weaknesses, so when as they were setting up the simulation, all Alicia needed to do was turn to the technician and say, “Can you flood the ground?”
Vicky didn’t connect her failure to Alicia. Alicia thought maybe it didn’t occur to Vicky that she had the power to influence the simulation like she had.
“I’m sorry you didn’t get through,” Alicia said afterwards, even sort of meaning it. “But there’s plenty of other work that needs doing. You won’t have much time to sit around.”
“What’s the point of me coming out of that hole just to hang around here and be useless?” Vicky asked, still shaking slightly from the shock of the water. “You should have just left me there to...”
Alicia grabbed her arm. “Stop,” she said. “You stop that right now. It’s bullshit, and you know it is.”
Her words had the desired effect, and Vicky looked at her, quiet and wide-eyed.
“You’re not useless,” she added. “You matter. You matter to me. Saving you was worth it. It doesn’t matter what it cost. It was worth it.”
Alicia thought for a second Vicky was going to cry, but she was stubborn. She didn’t. But she stopped calling herself useless.
Gerard had been in District 13 for weeks. Maybe months, he wasn’t quite sure, and time seemed a lot less important now than it once had. But it had been a while, and even so, he didn’t think he was getting better. He didn’t think he was any less confused. The things that he’d been told in the Capitol were still there, and the other, contradictory things he’d learned in 13 were lying over the top. Sometimes it was easier to believe one version of events, and sometimes the other. Neither prevailed for long.
He thought maybe they were getting more aggressive now, pushier about getting him to agree with the District 13 version of what was going on. They were bringing up Frank a lot more, and being very insistent about getting Gerard to agree that he wasn’t a mutant created by the Capitol, that he wasn’t actually loyal to them and actively working to kill the rebels. Gerard wasn’t sure whether he did believe that, or not. Sometimes he did, sure. Sometimes he thought he was a bright yellow flower, growing in the sunshine and waiting to be picked. Usually he was just very confused.
So, with all that going on, he was taken by surprise when someone told him that Frank wasn’t even in District 13 anymore, that he’d gone off to the Capitol to take part in the fighting. Not by the news itself, because when Gerard took the time to think about it, it made perfect sense. But by how he reacted to it.
“He can’t go to the Capitol!” Gerard yelled. “He’ll get killed out there, killed or captured, and you have no idea what they’ll do to him! I know! You don’t know what they’ll do, but I do! You can’t let him go out there!”
“He’s already gone, Gee,” Ray said, trying to stay calm and make his voice soothing, for all the good it would do when he was delivering news as awful as that. “He’s there already, but we’re in touch with his unit every day, and they’re all fine!”
Gerard turned his face away, refusing to listen. Ray could try to soothe him as long as he liked, but Gerard knew that he didn’t really know anything and didn’t really have any say in what was going on. He was just the one they got to talk to Gerard because he was someone Gerard knew and might be convinced to trust.
Ray left after that, promising to return the next day. Maybe he was hoping that Gerard would forget all about it. He didn’t, though.
“How many of them?” Gerard demanded.
“Eight, including Frank.”
“And you just let them go? Do they even know what he is, what he’s capable of?”
“I know you don’t believe me,” Gerard snapped. “You think I’m crazy. Well, whatever. I know I’m not. Frank is bad news. If you’ve got people out there with him, they’re in danger. Seriously, the best thing any one of them could do right now is take Frank out.”
“Gerard!” Ray cried, sounding shocked.
Ray looked sad. “When I remember how in love you two were...” he said.
“It was a lie, Ray,” Gerard said bitterly. “All of it was. Just a show for the cameras. You’ve got to know what’s real and what’s not.”
It wasn’t Ray who came to tell him that he was going to be sent out to join Frank’s unit in the Capitol. It was someone else, a woman he didn’t know. She was older, and handsome, in a professional looking suit. Gerard wasn’t expecting it. He didn’t feel ready, ready to leave his safe, secluded room, ready to return to the Capitol, ready to see Frank again. But she seemed to think he was. And really, if the opportunity was there, he couldn’t turn it down.
Mikey was angry. Furious, even. This, he realised, must be how Linda felt every time she learned that Frank had gone off on another incredibly dangerous mission and she hadn’t been told.
Sure, it wasn’t like he should really have any say over what Gerard did – he was Gerard’s little brother, after all, even though lately it felt like it was the other way around. But Gerard was all the family he had left, and it would have been nice if someone, somewhere, could have considered that before deciding to send him right to the front lines in the Capitol. Especially because he still wasn’t well.
“I just don’t understand it,” he said to Alicia the one time they discussed it. “There’s no way he was ready to be sent out into the fighting. His mind still isn’t right, how can they even be sure he won’t try to kill Frank again?”
Alicia hummed at that and didn’t really answer. Vicky had just stepped out of the room to fetch something, and it seemed like most of Alicia’s concentration had followed her. “I don’t want to lose my brother again,” he said, hating the way his voice sounded high and shaky. Alicia looked distinctly uncomfortable at his show of emotion, and Mikey said, “Ah, shit. Never mind, l’m just gonna-“
“Mikey,” she said, stopping him with a touch to his arm, “I’m sorry. I know this sucks. But Frank and Walker and the rest of them will look out for Gerard. You know they will. They’ll make sure he’s safe.”
Mikey nodded and pointedly didn’t ask who was going to keep them safe. He knew there were no good answers, and if he didn’t want to hear bad ones then he needed to not ask the questions. “I know,” he said, relieved to have regained control of his voice.
He made an excuse to leave soon after that, anyway. Alicia couldn’t do anything to actually help him, and if he stayed near her she would feel like she had to try anyway. He’d rather be alone.
It was soon after that that he learned they were looking for volunteers with medical training to follow the military units to the Capitol and help care for the injured. With Gerard and Frank already there, and nearly everyone else he knew being dead, Mikey couldn’t really think of a reason not to put his name down.
Alicia made a point of talking to Frank every day, and he wasn’t coping with the situation. He wouldn’t admit it, of course, but she could tell. He had always been a man of few words, but now he was so terse on the radio, responding to Alicia’s questions in short sentences – monosyllabic where he could get away with it – that she was becoming worried about what it meant. Walker was there with him, leading the team of soldiers and, he constantly reassured her, keeping an eye on everything. It was the only thing that made the situation tolerable. They weren’t willing to discuss it over the radio, too aware of the potential for someone overhearing it that wasn’t meant to, but they all suspected that Gerard had been sent out to Frank for reasons that were less than noble.
Nothing good would come from suggesting that President Hayman was trying to arrange Frank’s murder by brainwashed tribute, so Alicia kept her worry to herself. The reports coming back from the Capitol were fucking scary. The inner districts had been well defended, with traps and weapons that they’d never anticipated, but the Capitol was on a level of its own. 13 was winning still, but at a heavy cost.
Alicia’s job was supposed to be keeping tabs on the activity of Capitol soldiers in the contested area and making sure that it got passed along to the rebel units fighting there. Each unit had its own contact in District 13, so all Alicia needed to do was pass the reports along to them. She wasn’t the only one assigned to the task; there was a team of people all working together to lessen the chance of something important being missed, but Alicia didn’t much like to work with others and mostly kept to herself. Mostly.
“Is the war over yet?” Vicky asked, plonking herself down in the seat next to Alicia’s and looking up at the numerous screens displaying visual feeds from the Capitol. It was the same thing she said every time she came into the control room after finishing the day’s training. Alicia didn’t bother to answer.
“Hey,” she said instead, looking away from the screen for a moment. Vicky looked tired, physically tired, and although she’d clearly wiped her face and washed her hands, her clothes were dirty, with mud on the knees and cuffs of her trousers and grass seeds stuck to the front of her jacket. Her aversion to water was getting better, but wasn’t completely gone.
In case District 13 was attacked again, the district leaders had put together a force to defend it, everyone who had wanted to go to the Capitol but hadn’t been able to for one reason or another. The reject soldiers, Vicky had called them, but she’d been one of the first volunteers. Alicia knew it wasn’t what she really wanted to do, but she was selfishly relieved to have her relatively safe. Thanks to Alicia’s assigned task tracking the enemy’s movements, she knew exactly how dangerous it was in the Capitol. Every day, District 13 played footage of Frank and the rest of his team fighting. It was a messy, dirty business, where the ground was never safe to walk on and you never knew if the people about to come around the corner at you would be trained soldiers or a group of fleeing civilians.
Alicia returned her attention to the monitors. It was nice to see Vicky but she couldn’t let her focus waver from the task she’d been given. That would be disaster. She noticed an incoming transmission from the central rebel base in the Capitol, and answered it quickly.
“Another two blocks secured, four miles north of the central target zone,” reported the soldier on the other end.
“Casualties?” Alicia responded immediately, and recorded the answer as it came. She could see Vicky moving on the seat beside her, but didn’t pay too much attention.
“We’re nearly ready for another assault on the eastern border, but we could use a distraction, if you’ve got some good footage ready,” said the reporting soldier. Alicia nodded. The defences on the eastern side of the Capitol had been particularly difficult to breach. She considered the footage they’d been receiving and editing, and wondered how it could best be used to take the Capitol army’s attention away.
“We’ll work on that and get back to you – will two hours be soon enough?”
After receiving the soldier’s confirmation, Alicia ended the transmission and glanced over at Vicky. “What do you have there?”
It was food, as it turned out. Bread and some kind of jam that Vicky must have smuggled away from the kitchens.
“You’re not supposed to take food out of the dining area,” Alicia said stupidly.
“I’m not,” Vicky pointed out. “They make an exception for you.”
“Only so I can keep monitoring the feeds.”
Vicky shrugged. “So if someone tattles, I’ll say it’s yours and you kindly decided to share.”
“But it’s not dinnertime, and sharing isn’t allowed.”
Vicky paused in spreading the jam across the bread. “So, are you saying you don’t want any?”
Alicia relented. “Hand it over.”
It was simple food, but in District 13 that was all they had. The idea that eating could be pleasurable didn’t seem to register. Even something as simple as plum jam was a luxury, and Alicia enjoyed the diversion.
“Want to watch some footage with me, and see if we can put together something to keep the Capitol occupied while they’re being attacked?”
She knew Vicky’s agreement was a foregone conclusion. She didn’t like being by herself, and with so many people gone to fight there wasn’t much company to be had. No reason to think she’d sought out Alicia in particular.
After ten minutes of flicking through footage, Vicky said “What are we trying to do, exactly? Piss off the Capitol citizens so that the Peacekeepers have to subdue them as well as fight us?”
“Uh, maybe. If you think there’s a way we can do that.”
“Not really,” said Vicky, “but what if we can make them think the attack’s going to be something different to what it actually is?”
“You mean, tell them we’re going to attack from the air, and then use snipers instead or something?”
“Well, we can’t tell them. They wouldn’t fall for it. We’d have to make it look like we’d slipped up, like there’s clues in the footage we didn’t intend...”
“But it would have to be too obvious to be missed, or it’ll be wasted.” Alicia thought the idea over. “Our soldiers outnumber the Peacekeepers now. The real problem is their damn booby-traps. I don’t think we can trick our way around those.”
“Yeah.” Vicky frowned. “But the soldiers have been getting through them, haven’t they?”
“Some of them. Most of them can be triggered if you shoot the right spot, but all down the eastern edge of the Capitol...” Alicia indicated the area on a map. “Most of these traps are shielded, and concealed. There’s no way to know they’re there until it’s too late.”
“Huh. So how is the unit planning to get through this time?”
“He didn’t say.” Alicia frowned over at the headset. “Maybe we can get the Peacekeepers to think we’re going to come from the other direction...”
“So they’ll pull the troops back and let our guys take care of the traps without interference?”
Alicia nodded, bringing up more footage on her terminal. “Find anything you can of this area of the map,” she said, indicating a spot on the western side of the Capitol. “There’s fewer traps; the Peacekeepers have a heavy presence there to compensate. It won’t take much to convince them that we’re going to try to come that way. Try to find shots of big groups of soldiers, ones that we haven’t already used. We need to have something roughly put together before we take the idea to anyone else.”
An hour later, with the clips and a rough script turned over to those who had the skill to make what was needed, they had a plan that could potentially break the Capitol’s defences for good. Alicia was relieved from duty to get a few hours sleep, and she walked with Vicky through the halls back to their rooms.
“It could all be over tomorrow,” Vicky said when they stopped at the junction where her hall branched off Alicia’s. “Really over.”
“I’m not sure it will ever be really over,” Alicia said absently. She wasn’t really concentrating on what she was saying, being more occupied by how close Vicky was standing. She was still surprised by the soft touch of fingers to the back of her hand.
“Who knows, but with the Capitol gone we’ll be able to decide for ourselves what comes next,” Vicky said, her fingers lingering on Alicia’s for a moment before she moved away. “I’ll be happy with that.”
Alicia stood in the hallway for a minute after Vicky was gone, a little stunned, which was how Linda caught her unaware.
“Did you know about this?” she asked.
Alicia blinked. “Know about what?” she said, because there were lots of things she knew about, their latest plan to mislead the Capitol being just one example, but she couldn’t figure out exactly what Linda would be referring to.
“They’re asking for volunteers to form a medical team to go to the Capitol,” she said. “And Mikey’s put his name down.”
“That...” Alicia stopped, unable to think of a word, just breathing and trying to make sense of what Linda had said. “He can’t... he’s only fourteen!”
“That doesn’t matter,” said Linda. “They need everyone they can get, and Mikey’s more experienced than most. I’m sorry,” she added, looking guilty. “I thought maybe he’d told you and you were keeping it from me. I was upset.”
“It’s okay,” said Alicia absently. “I’d be upset too. But at least he told you,” she added.
Linda gave a soft little laugh. “He didn’t tell me,” she said sharply. “One of the doctors let it slip. In the middle of a surgery, no less, they’re lucky I didn’t stitch someone’s fingers together. I just can’t work out what he’s thinking!” she exploded. “It’s not enough that Gerard and... and Frank are already out there doing who knows what, he’s got to put himself in harm’s way, too?”
“He just wants to help,” Alicia said. “Maybe if you talk to him, you can make him see reason.”
“It’s too late. They leave tomorrow and I don’t think they’ll let Mikey change his mind.” Linda was wringing her hands, her shoulders stiff, and Alicia realised there was something she hadn’t said.
“What did you do?” she demanded.
“I’m not going to let Mikey go by himself. He’s far too young. When I learned what he’d done, I volunteered as well.”
Alicia felt her jaw drop, but Linda set a cutting glare her way and she carefully closed her mouth. “Oh,” she said. “I hope you know what you’re getting into,” she added, but then, realising that that wasn’t particularly helpful, said, “Be careful, then, and take care of him.”
“I mean to.”
Things had been getting better for a while. Easier, easier to tell the difference between the real memories and the ones that had been made up to hurt. But now that Gerard was back in the Capitol, a place that he’d had no interest in ever seeing again, things weren’t going quite as well.
He’d only been there for a day. The unit had been watching him like a hawk ever since he’d arrived, as though they expected him to jump on Frank and try to unscrew his head at the slightest opportunity. He wouldn’t, though, he’d at least got control of those impulses, even if he still had some doubts about whether Frank was going to try to murder them all in their sleep.
A couple of the unit’s members were supposedly there just to handle the cameras. Ray was one of them, and it was nice to have the familiar face there. Gerard figured he must have volunteered for the mission; more than that, he must have begged to be allowed to go, Ray who’d never held a gun or taken a life before. They’d been issued guns, though, just like the rest of the unit, because they were in a war zone, and just because this was being fought with images as well as weapons, it didn’t mean that they didn’t need the latter. Everyone had a gun. Everyone except Gerard. They’d taken the one he’d been issued as soon as he’d arrived.
There were other familiar faces there as well. The man who’d come to save him from the Capitol, whose name Gerard had learned was Walker. A couple of the others from that expedition had come along as well, named Talbot and Crawford. And William Beckett was there, William who’d saved Gerard’s life in the arena and let his fellow District 4 tribute die to do it. And of course, Frank, whose face was both familiar and unfamiliar now.
As far as Gerard could understand it, their presence in the Capitol was supposed to be mostly for show, but there wasn’t exactly anywhere safe to hide in between making propaganda for the rebellion. They were constantly in danger and stayed on the move to avoid the Capitol’s soldiers catching up with them. Their presence wasn’t exactly a secret, after all, and Korse would certainly love to get his hands on them.
As they moved further into the Capitol, the traps laid around the area became more numerous and more inventive. They had a narrow escape with one trap that sent plumes of fire roaring up out of the ground. A couple of the others were burned, not too badly, but painfully. A sleeve of Gerard’s jacket caught fire, but they beat the flames out before he could be hurt. They ran from the area, dodging side to side and trying to predict where the next fire would spring up, and with only that in their thoughts, it wasn’t too surprising that the next trap caught them completely unaware.
It was Walker who walked into it. Gerard didn’t even know his first name. Just Walker. A small, mildly hysterical part of his mind was giggling over the pun, Walker walking into a trap, while the rest of him was hoping that he was having a relapse, seeing things that weren’t real again. Walker was a good couple of steps in front of the rest of them when the trap exploded with a deafening noise, leaving nothing behind.
It seemed like they were all too shocked to react at first. Then Frank screamed, “No!” and the rest of them had to grab him to stop him rushing towards where the explosion had happened. They had no way of knowing whether the trap was defunct now, or if it could be triggered again.
They dragged Frank away and broke into the nearest building. After breaking down a few more doors, they found their way into a small apartment. It was deserted, like all this part of the Capitol was. It was somewhere they should be safe, not for long, but for an hour or two at least.
Frank was still upset. They all were, but looking around the room Gerard noticed the way they were all watching him expectantly.
“What now?” asked Bob.
“We still have to go on with the mission,” said one of the soldiers. Not one of the ones whose name Gerard had managed to remember. “We still have to get the footage and send it back; people need to see what’s going on.”
Bob hadn’t looked away from Frank during the speech, and once it was over, he said, “But that’s not why you came, is it, Frank?”
Frank looked up, seeming startled. “I came to kill Korse,” he said, his voice as harsh as the words.
“Well, we’re not likely to just run into him...” said Crawford.
“Not around here, we’re not,” Frank said. “I’m heading towards the palace; I’m going to try to find him.”
“You can’t!” objected the first soldier. “It’s against our orders. President Hayman will declare it treason...”
“So let her.” Frank stood up and dusted off his clothes. “You don’t have to come if you don’t want to. You can stay and carry on with your mission. But I’m going.” He looked across the room and his eyes met Gerard’s. Startled, Gerard looked away, and when he’d regained control of himself and looked back, Frank had dropped his gaze.
There was quiet in the room, and Gerard realised that they were going to agree. They were all going to follow Frank on his fairly ridiculous-sounding mission. If they did that, he had to wonder what was going to happen to him. They couldn’t go hunting for President Korse if they were dragging along Gerard. They’d have to leave him behind, leave him to be killed or captured by Peacekeepers and taken back to the compound where they’d drugged him and taken his memories away.
“You should kill me,” he said, interrupting the debate about how they could find Korse. “Before you go. You can’t take me along, you can’t fight if you’re watching me.” Their distrust hurt, but Gerard couldn’t blame them for it. He knew at any given moment he was on the verge of snapping and going for Frank’s throat. They had to consider the mission.
“We’re not going to kill you,” Frank said, and he sounded appalled, which was pretty funny considering that the day before he’d overheard Frank say that Gerard was no different from one of the Capitol’s mutants and that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill him if he needed to. And nor should he; Gerard was too dangerous to have just wandering around.
“Then what?” Gerard asked frantically. “If you just leave me here, it’ll only be a matter of time before Peacekeepers find me, and I don’t want that, okay?” Even talking about it scared the shit out of him. Gerard thought maybe he shouldn’t feel that way, but he was pretty sure being dead was the only way he could be safe now, the only way he couldn’t be hurt and the only way he could avoid being used to hurt anyone else. He was just so tired of being afraid and tired of trying to figure out what everyone else was planning, whether their motivations were real or not. He wanted it to stop.
“You’ll have to come with us,” Frank declared after a minute’s thought. Gerard wanted to object, but finding the energy just seemed to be beyond his reach.
They determined that going through the street was too dangerous, and broke into the sewer system. It was dark down there, and oddly cold but humid. Gerard had no idea which way they should go, but Frank seemed to know. He had some kind of map. There were fewer traps underground, enough to make them wary but much less than up above. They travelled what seemed like a long way, but the tunnels were winding and the footing was pretty bad, so Gerard knew they were moving slowly. They stopped eventually, ate a small meal from their supplies, and settled down to get a few hours of sleep after setting up a watch schedule. Gerard wasn’t assigned a watch, of course. He knew that he was one of the things the sentries were supposed to be watching, but it was hard to care. Not when it meant he could sleep uninterrupted.
At least, that was the plan. His sleep was restless, troubled with dreams. He kept dreaming that they were being chased, that there were people looking for him and Frank and they always knew where to find them, no matter how well they hid. It was hard to dismiss it as just a dream when it so closely resembled what was actually happening. Gerard grumbled and shifted to get more comfortable. He did that twice more before sitting bolt upright, every muscle tense.
“What’s wrong, Gerard?” asked Ray, who was taking the watch. “Did you hear something?”
He thought maybe he sort of had. It wasn’t exactly a sound, though – it was more like a memory. Something was wrong. He wasn’t sure what it was or how he knew, but as soon as he acknowledged it, the feeling grew to be almost unbearable.
“I think we should get out of here,” he said, standing up. Around him, the others were stirring and groaning. “Guys!” he said. “Guys, come on! We need to move!”
“Whass goin’ on?” Bob mumbled, still half asleep for all that his eyes were open. Gerard didn’t bother to reply or explain any more – not that he could. He shouldered his pack and moved to the edge of the group, then stood fidgeting restlessly while the rest of them started to pack. Lucky it was so close to the time they’d agreed to move on anyway, or he would have had to work a lot harder to convince them.
They were just setting out when the sound of footsteps reached their ears. They all froze, standing still by the walls of the sewer, but in the silence the noise of marching continued. It wasn’t them, not an echo of their own movements. It was something else.
“Hurry,” Frank whispered, and they all broke into an unsteady, shuffling run.
Gerard was somewhere in the middle of the group, Bob’s hand on his elbow propelling him onwards. He was tempted to look back, try to see who or what was following them, but the pace was so rushed he didn’t dare. “Faster,” Bob hissed, but really they were going as fast as they could. The ground was uneven and they often had to slow down to duck under pipes and supports.
A gunshot sounded, very close, and Gerard nearly jumped right out of his skin. He looked back, then, couldn’t help himself. He might not know most of the soldiers, but if one of them was hurt, he wanted to know. They were all fine, though, on their feet still, and he realised that one of them had fired the shot. One of them had fired the shot towards a group of people advancing behind them.
Gerard blinked and tried to peer closer, but Bob pulled on his arm and he had to start running again. More gunshots followed, some from their own people but others from their pursuers. They ducked around a corner and tried to speed up.
They were dressed all in white, a bit like Peacekeepers, but their faces were... wrong. Not quite human. Their faces were white, not the natural white of pale flesh but the flat white of a painted wall. They were red lipped, with mouths permanently open in snarls, revealing long sharp teeth. They all had wild, tangled black hair, and each one was carrying a gun. Gerard tried to move more quickly. It sounded like they were getting closer.
A few more twists and turns went by, a few more exchanges of gunfire, and then one of them, someone at the back of the group, fell with a cry. They all stopped at once, gathered around her, and tried to hold off the things. She’d been shot in the gut, though, and couldn’t really move well. She kept saying, “Leave me here, leave me,” but no one wanted to listen. There were nearly as many of them as there were the white things, anyway – Gerard wasn’t sure what to call them, but with those teeth they reminded him of a storybook he’d had when he was young, about a monster called Dracula. In the pictures, he’d looked a bit like that.
Then another group appeared, farther off down an adjoining tunnel. Too many to fight, and the wounded woman yelled, “GO!” while feebly pushing Bob’s hands away.
They ran, and Gerard didn’t want to look back but he couldn’t help himself. The woman was on the ground, clutching her gun and firing wildly at the things, the Dracula-looking creatures, as they closed in. She hit one of them, and it stumbled but kept coming, and Gerard was ashamed of his disappointment that she hadn’t damaged them more.
In such a rush to get away, they forgot to keep checking for traps, and it came back on them horribly when two of them got a bit too close to the far wall. Blades suddenly slashed out from the wall and the floor and the ceiling and cut them to pieces. It was over so fast that Gerard found himself looking around wildly to make sure that it wasn’t Frank who was killed. He wasn’t sure when it had happened, but somehow he’d become pretty committed to the idea that he wanted Frank to live, and he was willing to roll with it.
They ran on down the tunnel, trying to be a bit more cautious, and so they heard when the blade trap was set off again and took out a few of the Draculas. Gerard reasoned that the Dracs couldn’t know where the traps were either.
They kept moving, and if they pushed as fast as they could they managed to keep the Dracs from getting too close, but they couldn’t ever lose them entirely. It was bad news, because they couldn’t just race around the tunnels forever, but even assuming they could find their way back up to the surface, they couldn’t afford to have the Dracs following them. It would draw far too much attention when they needed to be hidden. But the appearance of yet another party of Dracs, which managed to take out two more of the soldiers, convinced them that there’s no other way.
“Up here, there’s supposed to be a way out up here,” Frank ordered, leading them left at an intersection. “And be careful,” he added, “There’s a trap here, one of those bullet ones.” He showed them on his tablet, which had a grainy map of the nearest tunnels and showed where the traps were hidden.
The ladder was a problem, because they couldn’t really defend themselves while they were climbing it, and it was a long way up. The Dracs would be at the bottom of the ladder by the time they reached the top, and they’d be vulnerable the whole time.
“You two go up,” Bob said to Frank and Gerard, “And Ray and I will hold them back down here. Then you can cover us from up there.” It was the best plan they could come up with in no time at all, so Frank rushed to the ladder with Gerard close behind. They climbed as fast as they could, always aware of the Dracs closing in on Ray and Bob down below. The sound of gunfire got closer and closer, and before they’d even reached the top Bob was shoving Ray towards the ladder and trying to follow him while still facing out into the tunnel and holding the Dracs off.
Frank reached the end of the ladder and shoved the hatch open, squeezing through and pulling Gerard after him. He leaned back through the opening and looked down into the tunnel, but Gerard, sitting behind Frank and holding him to ensure he didn’t fall, could see that the tunnel was too full of Dracs for one person or even two to hold them off any longer. Ray was halfway up the ladder and Bob was still close to the bottom, not willing to turn his back on the Dracs long enough to climb.
“Trigger the bullet trap,” Gerard suggested, because they’d found that a well placed bullet could usually set them off.
“It might hit Bob,” Frank said, but he was adjusting his aim as he spoke. According to the map, the trigger point for the trap was a particular point on the floor, and Frank fired on it over and over without success. “It’s not working,” he snapped, frustrated.
“Is it the right spot?” Gerard asked, double checking on the tablet.
“It is, I’m sure of it,” said Frank, and Gerard was discouraged to see that he was right. Bob had realised what Frank was trying to do, and shot at the same point a few times himself with the same result. He had to stop after a moment, because the Dracs’ aim improved considerably when they weren’t being shot at.
“It must be shielded,” Frank realised, sounding defeated. “It won’t work. They’re just going to keep coming after us.”
Ray had reached the top of the ladder, and Frank had to move aside to let him through. Ray paused, though, in the hatch, looking down at Bob.
“Hurry up!” he yelled. “Bob! Come on!” Frank grabbed Ray’s shirt and pulled. He started to come through and then pulled away. “Bob!” he shouted again, and then repeated “Bob!” in a scream. “Fuck, no!”
Frank grabbed one arm and Gerard the other. They hauled him through as far below they heard a roar of gunfire.
Ray collapsed onto the ground and picked himself up after a moment, running back to the hatch and shoving it closed.
“Bob?” Gerard asked quietly.
“He ran into the trap,” Ray answered, and his voice sounded thick. “He just...”
“We need to get away from here,” said Frank, and if the words sounded harsh Gerard knew it was only because he was right.
They hid in an abandoned shop a block away from where they’d left the sewers. Their underground travel had brought them from the war-ravaged part of the Capitol to an area where civilians were still around, although they were mostly staying off the streets. They sat behind the counter, hidden by racks of clothes, and looked at one another.
None of them wanted to be the first to speak. Ray’s lips were moving soundlessly, like the words just wouldn’t come. Frank looked like he was a thousand miles away. Gerard drew a deep breath, and said, “What now?”
“They’re all gone,” Ray said, and Gerard shook his head at him.
“Frank,” he asks, scooting across the floor towards him. A voice was screaming in his head, telling him to be wary, that Frank wasn’t safe. He tried to block it out. He just needed a few minutes more to figure out what Frank was going to do, and then he could stop himself from losing his mind. “We can’t just stay here.”
“Nowhere else to go,” said Frank, his eyes on the floor. “Ray’s right. They’re all dead. I got them all killed. It’s my fault.”
“They chose to come,” Gerard argued. The thought rose in him, unbidden, that Frank had set it up perfectly for everyone to die without him being implicated. Gerard tried to shake the thought free. It wasn’t true, wasn’t real. “They chose to come because they believed in what you believe in. They wanted Korse dead, and they trusted you to make that happen, and when you said what you were planning, each of them chose to help, knowing that the risk was high.”
Frank didn’t look up. His fists rested on his knees, clenched tight. “I shouldn’t have made a promise I couldn’t keep,” he said. “There’s no way I can get to Korse. It was a stupid idea. Stupid. Stupid...”
“Stop that.” Gerard grabbed one of Frank’s hands and gave it a little shake.
“We can still try, right?” Ray asked, looking at the gun he’d laid down beside him.
“That’s right,” said Gerard, trying to sound sure. “He’s still alive, and we’re still alive, and there’s no way I’m going to give up without trying to take him with me, not after everything he’s done.” He looked at Frank, trying to see if he was paying attention.
“I think there’s enough blood on my hands already, don’t you?” Frank asked. Gerard’s breath caught in his lungs, sharp and painful. He nearly choked on it. So much blood. Bert, and Mike, and Amanda, and Brendon, Jamia, and his parents, everyone else who had died in District 12, and pretty soon him, as well...
The television screen in the shop flickered to life, and they all froze for a moment, startled, before Frank said, “It’s okay, they’re programmed to turn on for special broadcasts just like in District 12.”
The report was about them. Of course it was; who else? They’d figured out that Walker was killed yesterday, and maybe they knew about the Dracs chasing them through the sewers, but they must not have known yet what the outcome was, because photographs were shown of all the rest of them. William. Bob. Gerard stared at him, but Frank looked away.
They warned Capitol citizens that if they saw any of the rebels, they should notify the authorities and not try to intervene themselves. Apparently, earlier in the day, a crowd of people had beaten to death a young man who looked like Gerard. They showed his photo too, and Gerard studied it closely, looking for the resemblance. There wasn’t much, he didn’t think. Not much to mean the difference between life and death, but enough. It was enough.
“There’s just as much blood on my hands,” he said to Frank. “If you’re responsible for them, aren’t I responsible for him?”
Frank shook his head, but Gerard didn’t listen. “They killed him because of me,” he said. “My fault.”
“And neither did you.”
“It’s not the same, Gerard!”
Gerard shrugged. He moved to stand up before remembering that they had to keep out of sight. “What now? You going to hide down here until the rebels come through?”
Frank blinked at him. “And let President Hayman keep me from killing Korse? Fuck, no.”
It had been a day since Frank and his unit had dropped off the radar. Alicia had made the mistake, when he hadn’t responded to any attempts to make contact, of saying to Vicky, “See? This is why I didn’t want you going to the Capitol. I’ve lost enough people already.”
“That’s my decision to make,” Vicky had snapped, and she hadn’t spoken to Alicia for several hours afterwards. She’d relented eventually, but Alicia thought it was more for pragmatic reasons than because Vicky had forgiven her.
Alicia hadn’t had much time to worry about Frank and the rest of them, or her argument with Vicky, because their plan to feed false information to the Capitol had gone ahead and since then, it had been a non-stop race to keep the different units in contact with one another and informed of the Peacekeeper’s movements. She was gratified to see it go so successfully.
The Capitol pulled most of the Peacekeepers from the rest of the city to protect the western edge they expected to be attacked, and the rebel soldiers advanced through the heavily booby-trapped eastern side. They were using small, simple remote-controlled robots that Bebe had designed. They were hastily made but they triggered even the traps which were shielded from gunfire, and that was all they needed.
The district was still mobilised for defence at any moment, but it was clear that that wasn’t going to be an issue. The Capitol was on the brink of falling. The rebels had moved through the streets and taken block after block, overwhelming the Peacekeepers in the end through sheer force of numbers. The Capitol. They should have been more cautious about making such bitter enemies of the districts.
As the fighting died down, Alicia was left without much to do besides try to contact Frank again and again. President Hayman had been furious when he deviated from the plan. She insisted it was because he was a danger to the other rebel’s movements, but Alicia didn’t really believe that. Frank and the people with him were smart enough to stay out of the way and not interfere, to get to where they needed to be. The president was angry because her plan hadn’t worked; the one where Gerard killed Frank and got him out of the way for her.
Alicia looked up when the door opened. It was Vicky, looking bored and irritated. She met Alicia’s gaze squarely, a slight frown on her face, but didn’t speak, coming to sit at Alicia’s side in silence.
“There’s no news,” said Alicia.
“Yeah, me either,” said Vicky. “Who would have thought war would be so fucking dull?” They watched a monitor playing a live feed of the main square of the Capitol. It was crowded, packed to the edges with terrified Capitol citizens who had fled their homes and were looking for a safe place. “Is that really all that’s left?” Vicky wondered, and Alicia gave a nod.
“We’ll have the president’s palace too, soon enough,” she said. “Within the day, it’ll all be over.”
“Who’s behind those barricades?” Vicky asked, pointing to where temporary fences had been erected and enclosed groups of children like a moat surrounding the palace.
“They’re kids,” Alicia said with a snort. “Capitol kids. They’re children, and Korse is using them as his fucking human shield. That’s how desperate they are; the only defence they have left is betting that we’re more merciful than they are.”
Vicky sat, entranced by the sight. “Are we?” she asked. Alicia didn’t answer.
Mikey wondered what it would have been like to see the Capitol before all this happened. Back when it was a beautiful, glittering, magical city, the one that they saw on television. It was different, flying over it when it was all but abandoned, when parts of it were on fire and buildings were lying in ruins.
The transporter was flying straight to the heart of the Capitol, where the last of the fighting was taking place. Other groups of medics had been sent to other sites in the city throughout the fighting, but they were the last. The battle was supposed to end today.
Mikey looked at Linda, sitting in the seat beside him. She was sitting straight and stiff, gripping the seat tightly with both hands. Mikey might have thought she was nervous about flying – it was the first time for both of them – but he knew she was more worried about Frank. Neither of them had heard any news about him or Frank since they’d left District 13, and it wasn’t like that was unexpected – it had been made clear to both of them that keeping them informed of Frank and Gerard’s movements was not a priority – but the unknown was still a weight hanging over both of them.
The transporter landed in a small open area just south of the main square. It hadn’t always been open; a couple of buildings had been levelled and Mikey wondered if they’d done it just to provide a safe place for aircraft to land or if it was simply a fortunate coincidence. They left the transporter and Mikey followed the person in front of them as they were given brusque directions. Walk quickly, get a medikit from here, don’t stop, don’t be distracted, don’t deviate from the path. They walked quickly through the streets, the streets which had been made nominally safe by the presence of rebel soldiers. Mikey couldn’t help looking around him; he’d never really thought that he’d see the Capitol. And besides, somewhere in this city was Gerard. He was somewhere here, and Mikey couldn’t shake the thought that he was just around the next corner.
That changed, though, when they finally reached the main square. A soldier ahead of them held up one hand and directed them to stop. The square hadn’t been won yet; it was the last place in the Capitol where the rebels didn’t yet have power. The square and the palace behind it. Mikey looked through the masses of people and saw some kind of barrier through the crowd, children herded behind it. Sheltered there to keep them safe, he foolishly thought. Then the Capitol plane flew over.
It dropped things – little silver packages. Gifts. Mikey knew that; every year in the Hunger Games they sent little packages on parachutes just like that to the tributes who had sponsors. It was entirely possible that the Capitol was handing out emergency supplies to its citizens in this way. The children knew it too. They ripped the wrappings open, greedily tore into the packages and Mikey looked on for a few seconds of relative peace.
And then they exploded.
It was loud. The explosion was loud but the screams that followed were somehow even louder, in Mikey’s ears at least if not in fact. The soldier nearest them gave a wave and Mikey stumbled forwards, not even thinking, clutching his medikit and walking towards where the injured children were crying out. Linda was just ahead of him and he followed her as they made their way through the crush of people towards the work they’d come to do.
Suddenly, a hand closed around Mikey’s arm and pulled him aside.
He was startled and looked around, ready for a fight, heart beating hard, but when he saw who had grabbed him it nearly stopped. It was only at the last moment that he remembered to lower his voice.
He looked ridiculous, all dressed up in Capitol clothing. A bright green jacket with glittery glass cut to look like jewels stuck all over it. He was wearing a wig in a ridiculous shade of orange, and he’d even put make-up on, some kind of powder to darken his skin and eyeliner and lipstick to change the shape of his eyes and mouth slightly. Not enough to keep Mikey from recognising him, but Mikey was his brother. It seemed to have worked on everyone else.
“What the hell are you doing here, Mikey?” Gerard hissed. “It’s not safe!”
“No kidding!” Mikey snapped. He glanced back towards the barriers where the children were still crying out. Linda glanced back at him from far ahead, and Mikey waved her on. “I’m here to help. To work. Why are you here? Don’t you know they beat someone to death earlier today just because he looked like you?”
“I know.” Gerard looked scared but determined. “We need to end it now. What they’ve done-” He waved a hand at the scores of Capitol children that had been bombed by their own side, just to... what? As far as Mikey could tell, there wasn’t even anything they could hope to achieve by it. They’d just done it.
“I have to go,” said Mikey. “I’m needed over there. And you should get out of here.” He moved away from Gerard, forcing himself not to look back, knowing that if he paid too much attention to Gerard it might cause other people to notice him too. He made himself look ahead to Linda, already wrapping gauze around a child’s arm. He walked that way, although he knew that Gerard was following him, refusing to leave. It was infuriating.
That was when the second explosion happened.
Gerard came close to a panic attack when he woke up. He was lying on a bed, surrounded by machines that were beeping and whirring, a harsh bright light shining down on him from the ceiling. He gasped and tried to stand up from the bed, but moving sent spikes of pain through his limbs. He kept going though, because there was something he needed to do. He wasn’t sure what, exactly, but it would come to him. He just had to keep moving.
He got up from the bed and made it halfway across the room, grimacing and wincing with every step, when the door slid open and someone stepped through it.
“Alicia?” Gerard asked, confused. “You’re not... here?”
Alicia gave him a withering look, but didn’t bother to comment. “You’re not supposed to be out of bed yet.”
“What’s going on? Where are we? Are we in danger?”
“The rebellion is over, Gerard. We won.”
Gerard made his way back on suddenly wobbly legs to sit on the edge of the bed. “We did?” He paused for a moment. “What happened? Where’s Mikey? And Frank, did you find him? And Ray?”
“They’re all fine,” Alicia said, but there was a faint tightness around her eyes that made Gerard nervous. “Mikey’s a bit knocked around from the explosion, like you were. He woke up this morning. Ray and Frank were there too, but not as close. They weren’t hurt.”
Gerard nodded. Everything Alicia was saying was good news, but she wasn’t acting as though it was good news. “There’s something else,” Gerard said, certain. Alicia winced slightly. “They weren’t hurt, maybe, but someone was.” She didn’t meet his gaze, and in a second, he had the answer. “Linda.” She jerked, and the air rushed from Gerard’s lungs. “Linda. Is she...”
“She was right in there when the bombs went off,” Alicia explained. “Right in the middle of it all. I’m sorry.”
“He’s... handling it,” Alicia said, but there was too much she wasn’t saying in that sentence. Gerard tried to breathe and not imagine what Frank was going through right then, grieving for his mother while everyone else was celebrating.
“What the hell happened?” Gerard asked. “Why did Korse decide to drop bombs on Capitol children? What was it supposed to gain him?”
Alicia was quiet, and when Gerard looked at her, her face was drawn, lips pressed tightly together.
“What?” Gerard demanded. “Did he manage to get away somehow?”
“No, he’s in custody.”
“Why did he say he did it, then?”
“He hasn’t said why,” Alicia said.
Gerard watched her for another second, then shifted, startled. “You don’t think it was him at all!”
She looked away. “I didn’t say that-”
“But it’s true, isn’t it? So who would...” Gerard realised what the alternative was, if Korse hadn’t dropped those bombs, and the pain of it took his breath away. “It must have been Hayman. And she made it look like Capitol bombs – to destroy support for him? Or just to get past the barrier he’d made out of children?”
Alicia glared at him, and Gerard, too furious to think deeply on what it meant, said, “What should we do? We can’t let her get away with it!”
“And what would you like to do about it, Gerard?” Alicia asked, her tone mocking. “If she dropped those bombs just to convince everyone that Korse was evil enough to do it, what do you suppose she’ll do to someone spreading talk like that around? Saying that she murdered children? Trying to destabilise her power?”
Gerard listened unwillingly. “There has to be something...”
“We can wait. That’s all. We don’t have any proof. The whole idea sounds like a mad conspiracy theory, you know that, right? She’ll slip up eventually.”
“Yeah, by killing someone else, hurting someone else! We can’t just wait for her to take another life to prove how bad she is, we have to move now!”
“I’ve risked enough, Gerard!” Alicia snapped, her voice rising. He shrank back. “And so have you,” she added, softer. “We’ve done well. You and Frank and Mikey are safe, Vicky is getting better. I didn’t think we’d come out of it nearly so well. I just want... I just want. That. Just that.”
She sounded broken, and Gerard wanted to comfort her, reassure her that it was enough, they’d done enough and deserved to enjoy the respite they’d earned. He couldn’t, though. There was too much still to be done. But maybe he would have to manage it on his own.
Gerard had still been asleep when Mikey woke up. He’d sat with him for a short while before going to see Frank, who hadn’t been hurt in the explosion but had accumulated enough injuries fighting his way through the Capitol that they’d brought him to the hospital anyway.
Mikey had gone to Frank’s ward with dread in his heart, not wanting to have to be the one to tell Frank that his mother was dead. He was selfishly relieved when he arrived and realised that Frank already knew. Knew because he’d been there as well, had seen his mother killed with his own eyes.
“It’s my fault,” Frank said, and although Mikey tried to convince him he was wrong, he wouldn’t listen.
They’d dropped the subject and were trying to find other topics to talk about when they heard someone approaching the room. Mikey recognised Gerard from the sound of his footsteps and sat up straighter. He poked his head through the door and looked in at them, his eyes huge and dark in his pale face. It was almost painful to look at him; when he’d left District 13 he’d just been beginning to recover from his stint in the Capitol, but all that progress was gone now.
“I’m sorry,” Gerard said, his voice choked.
Frank looked thoughtful, then shook his head. “Korse’s fault,” he said, and then, in a voice so drained of emotion it frightened Mikey, “I’m going to cut out his heart.”
For a second, it looked like Gerard was trying to make a decision about something. “Frank,” he said tentatively. “Why would Korse drop bombs on children from the Capitol, ones that he was using to shield the palace from the rebels?”
Frank looked at Gerard sharply, and he added, “Bombs that were made to detonate in two groups, so that the second would take the medics who came to tend the victims of the first?”
“Stop,” said Frank, and when Gerard made to continue, he snapped, “No! Shut up! It was Korse behind this! It was Korse, but we caught him and we’re going to kill him, so now it’s over!” He wouldn’t listen to anything else, and when Gerard tried to make him he struggled up from the bed and limped out of the room.
Korse was to be executed. Publicly, so that everyone could see for themselves that he was dead.
Alicia had thought that the meeting would be about how to arrange the execution. Where it was going to be done, and when, and how. Frank insisted that he would be the one to do it. He wanted revenge, and it seemed the destruction wreaked on the Capitol hadn’t been enough for him.
But President Hayman had raised another matter before the discussion came around to the execution. At the beginning of the meeting, someone had raised a toast – that had been happening a lot – someone had toasted the end of the Hunger Games. And Hayman had said, “Not necessarily.”
It wasn’t justice that she was proposing, not even revenge. It was retribution, and Alicia couldn’t see it ending well. A new round of Hunger Games, taking the children of the Capitol citizens who had supported the old regime. It wouldn’t help Panem heal; it would just breed more resentment. In a few more generations, the Capitol would be the rebels, overthrowing the cruel districts. It couldn’t be allowed to happen.
“You can’t be serious about this idea,” Gerard said angrily. The look Hayman gave him made him recoil. She seemed furious that Gerard would even consider disagreeing with her. “This is what we were trying to stop! I won’t support it. I won’t have anything to do with it.”
“What do the rest of you think?” Hayman asked, looking across to the others gathered there. Vicky was there, along with Alicia, Frank, and Gerard. Bebe. The military strategists that Alicia had worked with back in 13. Travis McCoy. They wore expressions varying from discomfort to mild interest. “You’ve all suffered for the whims of the Capitol. Some of you have been made to play in their Games, for entertainment.” The president glanced back at Alicia and Vicky beside her. “All of you have lost people,” she added, letting her gaze move across the room. “Friends. Family.” Her eyes landed on Gerard and Frank, the latter of whom was looking at her with a strange light in his eyes. “I’ll put it to you all. We can vote on it. But I, for one, don’t want to see the sacrifices and suffering of the Capitol’s victims simply forgotten. Afterwards,” she added, as though an afterthought, “we can determine the manner of Korse’s execution.”
“My vote is no,” Gerard said fiercely.
“So is mine,” said Bebe, and a few of the others assembled added their voices. With each vote, the president’s face grew stiffer, angrier. Alicia watched until the president noticed her and smoothed her face into a more neutral expression. What is she thinking? Alicia wondered. Does she really crave blood so much? Or is it the power that she wants? Why else would she be so furious that the rest of them are going against her will? And what will she do next, if this endeavour fails?
“I vote yes,” Alicia said, just to see what would happen. Hayman stared at her, surprised but seemingly pleased. Vicky gave her a look, too, but Alicia glanced at her and Vicky said,
“So do I.”
Gerard looked disgusted, which might have bothered Alicia more if she hadn’t been occupied with wondering if the woman they’d put in power was any better than Korse. There were a few more yes votes to follow, and by the time everyone but Frank had made their choice, they were split evenly. The president looked almost gleeful, but her triumph faltered as she turned towards Frank, who seemed deep in thought.
“So many people died because of the Capitol,” Frank said. “They all deserve more. They deserve this – I vote yes.”
Gerard wrenched his arm away from Frank, mouth twisting in revulsion. He stormed out of the room, and Frank watched him go, looking lost. Alicia thought she almost felt badly for him. If she could still feel such things.
Gerard hadn’t really wanted to go to the execution. He’d seen enough death, and he had no desire to ever see Korse again at all. He didn’t want to see Frank much, either, still too upset at the way he’d put his support behind the new Hunger Games. But Mikey had decided to go, and when Gerard had said he wouldn’t, Mikey had looked at him, that sad lost look he’d had on his face almost constantly since Linda had been killed. Gerard would do anything to keep Mikey from looking like that.
They’d built a new stage for this grim play, out in front of the palace where Korse had lived. Over the ground where a plane, a plane with Capitol markings, had dropped bombs on Capitol children. President Hayman wanted everyone to see every last trace of the Capitol’s power vanquished.
Frank had been dressed in some elaborate outfit. Not one of Patrick’s, but still, he looked good. Gerard had heard that Pete had been flown out from 13 to get Frank ready for this public appearance. Frank carried his bow, the showy one that Bebe had made, and he held an arrow. Korse was restrained at the other end of the stage. The two men looked at one another, glares so filled with hate and loathing that the air crackled with it.
Frank didn’t draw the moment out. Gerard glimpsed Hayman’s displeased face and thought that she must have wanted more of a show, but Frank was almost perfunctory in the way he nocked his arrow, drew, and aimed before letting it fly.
Gerard remembered when Frank had been younger. More innocent, but not completely so. Not in District 12. But he’d always had a core of kindness, of mercy, that had made Gerard fall in love with him. The Capitol had taken that away, too, because Frank didn’t let Korse die instantaneously, as he could have done. He didn’t shoot him in the heart; he missed, probably by no more than an inch, and Korse gasped and choked, blood slowly staining his lips and running down his chin as he drowned in his own blood. The Capitol had made Frank cruel.
And the Capitol had made Frank sly, because no one had noticed the second arrow that he’d tucked into his boot and quickly removed while everyone was watching Korse’s dying breaths. He didn’t miss a second time. He didn’t falter or hesitate, and the second arrow found President Hayman’s heart.
Mikey wanted to speak for Frank at the trial, but Gerard wouldn’t let him. “We need to convince everyone that Frank didn’t know what he was doing, Mikey, not that Hayman was unhinged and deserved to die.”
Mikey glared balefully at his brother. “Someone should speak up for him,” he said, and Gerard rolled his eyes.
“I can’t, Mikey. After the stuff the Capitol filmed me saying, it wouldn’t help for me to come to Frank’s defence.”
Mikey scowled and shrugged. He didn’t care.
Frank wasn’t allowed to attend the trial. He’d been locked up in isolation ever since he’d killed the president, and apparently hadn’t even spoken to anyone. The trial was just a bunch of people talking about what should happen. Most of them had never even met Frank. It made Mikey furious. They were supposed to be better than this. They were supposed to be the good ones, and their victory was supposed to make things better. This, this farce of a trial, was Capitol bullshit.
Still, some Capitol head-doctor and a few other people argued convincingly that Frank’s actions were the result of post-traumatic stress and grief. The judgement eventually reached was that Frank would not be executed, but should return to District 12 and continue receiving psychiatric treatment. Mikey looked over at Gerard when he heard that, and Gerard responded with a smile and a nod. This was good news, the best they could have hoped for.
Alicia wasn’t overjoyed to be given the task of watching Frank and making sure he didn’t assassinate anyone else, but it meant she would have something to do, and she had a feeling she would be in need of something to do.
It was just that she hadn’t really planned on returning to District 12, but that was where Frank was being sent. When she’d thought about what she might do, she’d imagined wandering around Panem, going to all the different districts where travel used to be restricted. Maybe having someone go with her.
She didn’t think Vicky would choose to follow her to District 12.
The railway had been sabotaged in several places during the fighting, so they flew back to 12 in a hovercraft. Large parts of the town had burned to the ground when it had been bombed, but the fine houses built for victors and their families to live in were far enough away from the town centre to have escaped damage. And no-one had ever lived there aside from Alicia, and Frank and Gerard and their families, which made them much more appealing than homes belonging to people they’d known who were now dead.
Other people were slowly returning to the district, too. Ray did. The mayor’s house was one of those which had been destroyed, and he ended up taking over an empty room in Frank’s enormous house. The victor’s houses became popular places to settle, being as large and comfortable and free of history as they were. There were always people around, and it got on Alicia’s nerves, although Frank seemed to like it so long as no-one bothered him.
Alicia was supposed to be keeping an eye Frank, but in reality she saw little of him. He spent a lot of time wandering around, walking through the woods and the remains of the town. Alicia wasn’t sure what he did exactly, but it kept him busy and she had no real desire to see him much. She just wished she had some other way to pass the time.
Being back in the house she’d occupied ever since winning her own Games was uncomfortable. The years she’d spent drinking herself into a stupor had kept her from noticing or caring how run down the place had become. She didn’t want to return to that, but it meant she couldn’t ignore the filthy floors and walls, the layer of dust across everything and the piles of garbage scattered everywhere. Every few days she resolved to jump in and clean the place up, turn it into somewhere nice to live like it had been when it was new. She never got very far, though, before her motivation ran out and she spent the rest of the day sitting and staring into space, wishing she could get her hands on a bottle of white liquor. Just one.
They’d set Frank up with appointments to talk to a psychiatrist, and they’d offered to do the same for Alicia. She’d never taken advantage of the opportunity, though. She’d handled her own problems her own way for long enough, and wasn’t about to change that now. The times when she saw Frank, she looked at him and wondered if it was helping him, making him better, happier, whole. She couldn’t tell, and didn’t want to ask.
It took months, but the damage caused by the war was slowly repaired. The rubble was cleared and new houses built. They started producing regular television again. Most of it was just news about the rebellion and the reconstruction. Frank and Gerard’s names were mentioned all the time, and Alicia heard her own frequently enough as well, along with other people she knew, or had known. Jon Walker, William Beckett, and the rest of the unit were remembered as heroes. News – gossip, really – about other rebel leaders was popular. Elizabeth Berg had settled in the Capitol. Gerard was there, too, meeting in person with the same psychiatrist who was treating Frank over the phone. No-one seemed to know where Vicky-T had gone, or what she was doing.
The railway line was fixed too, eventually. The first train to travel along it arrived in District 12 on a Thursday. Most of the town turned out to meet it, and Alicia figured that people must be desperate for entertainment. She didn’t bother to go, and neither did Frank. She’d decided that if she was never going to successfully make the inside of the house an appealing place to be, maybe she could grow a nice garden instead, and she was pulling weeds. It was difficult; she didn’t have gloves, or tools, and wasn’t sure how to tell the weeds apart from the other plants. After an hour or so the idea had lost its appeal and she went inside to wash her hands and possibly change into clean clothes, assuming she had some. And a knock came at the door.
People didn’t knock on her door. She wasn’t welcoming to visitors. Alicia considered ignoring it, but the person knocked again, louder and longer. She was preparing a scathing verbal assault when she yanked the door open and Vicky was on the other side.
Alicia blinked at her. It felt like several long minutes passed before Vicky said, “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” said Alicia, belatedly realising that she’d moved all the kitchen chairs into the hall a month earlier to clean the floor and never got around to putting them back, and she never went into the living room because she still hadn’t cleared out all the empty bottles. But she’d already said yes, so she stepped back and let Vicky come inside.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Gerard and Mikey wanted to come home, so I came with them.”
Alicia nodded, but decided after a second that that didn’t really answer her question. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you. It’s been months.”
“You could have called. I have a phone.”
“Well...” Alicia tried to think of a retort, but came up blank.
“And you never really said goodbye.”
“Well, I...” Alicia shrugged. “I’m sorry. That was cowardly of me.”
“Yeah, it was. And you never asked me to come with you.”
“I didn’t think you’d want to.”
Vicky rolled her eyes at that. “Stupid,” she snapped. Alicia recoiled, and Vicky took her wrist. “There’re not many people I spend time with by choice,” she said. “And there’re not many people I let get close. There’re not many people I’d bother to follow across the entire country. I wish I could hate you for making me do all those things for you, but it’s too late for that.”
Alicia realised her mouth was hanging open and quickly shut it. “I didn’t know.”
Vicky leaned in closer, her hands coming up to Alicia’s shoulders. “I’ve kissed plenty of people,” she said, quieter, “but none that I loved.”
“Nor have I,” said Alicia, almost breathless.
“So many things have changed,” said Vicky, sliding one hand across to rub Alicia’s jaw with her thumb. “And I think that should be one of them.”
In District 12 they built a school out of logs and tar. They found a teacher, eventually. It was a long process to decide on one, but eventually even those who vehemently disagreed at first have to admit that the right choice was made.
In that little classroom, a girl grew tired of the problem she was trying to solve and raised her hand.
“Why do we have to be able to tell the difference between igneous and send-a-men-tary rocks?” she asked.
The answer to this question used to be, because one day you’ll probably be a miner, and knowing the difference could save your life. But it wasn’t anymore, and their teacher had a different answer.
He thought it over for a minute, biting down on one side of his lip with fingers twitching. “Because,” he said at last, and the other children looked up from their work too, knowing the signs of a good ramble when they saw them. “You have to know how to ask the right questions.”
You had to know how to ask the right questions. It was the only way to know for sure what was real, what was true, and what wasn’t. He was better at it now. Only rarely woke up in the night, heart pounding and afraid that his friends were his enemies. He’d learned the right questions, though, to make the panic stop, and Frank was always there to say “I love you” and “you’re safe” and “I won’t leave you”.
The children weren’t quite satisfied with his answer. A boy stuck his hand up and asked, “But what does that have to do with rocks, Uncle Gerard?”
Gerard hesitated, then picked up one of the sample rocks he’d brought to the classroom. “What is this?” he asked, and let the answers come and open up other questions. He kept going until he found a question they couldn’t answer, and said, “Well, then. How can we find out?”
“You could tell us,” said his nephew. He was a lot more used to Gerard than the rest of the children, and so always the first to make it clear when he was less than convinced.
“But what if I tell you wrong?” Gerard pointed out. “How would you know?”
“I’d check with my dad,” volunteered another girl. “He’d say if he thought you weren’t right.”
“He definitely would, Gracie,” Gerard allowed. “Let’s work out some more ways to find out what we want to know...”
One day the work of rebuilding Panem would pass to them. Gerard wanted to be sure that when it did, they’d know how to ask the right questions.
He’d always wanted to save lives.