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In those dark days

Chapter Text

The Rebellion was begun in an orchard. It was in the orchard that the first Peacekeeper was killed. It was in the orchard that the first blood was spilled. It was in the orchard that Panem first tasted freedom. 

~

There were few Peacekeepers in 11. Simple Farmers are no threat to an Empire—and whatever Panem might call itself, a country, a republic, it was an Empire. There was no need to waste manpower on the citizens who spent their days growing food. Better to send them to 3, where the factories produced all the technical necessities—and some that weren’t so necessary—or to 5, where the electricity essential to running an Empire was generated. Not sending them to spend their days watching over Farmers.

Those who lived in the Capitol might be forgiven for overlooking the Farmers. They lived in a world of luxury, a world of plentiful food and of never-ending pleasure. They had never known long winter nights without electricity to run heating, or dark mornings spent twisting knees and ankles because the matches ran out, but the work still had to be done. The Farmers had, and they had lived through them. 

The Capitol had never lived in a world without food. The Farmers had, and while they could survive without warmth, or without light, they knew that they couldn’t survive without food. No one could. And the Capitol did not control the food, not truly. It was the people; the ones who spent their days in the fields and orchards, growing and harvesting the food of an Empire. And when the people provide, the people can withhold.

~

 There were five of them assigned to Orchard 9. Aspen, Yarrow, Aja, Tulsi, and Larkspur. They picked the apples, had been doing so ever since they finished their schooling. Tulsi was the youngest, a mere sixteen, only a year out of school. The rest weren’t much older. Picking apples was a job for those in the in-between stage of not a child, but not quite an adult. The hours were terrible, and the wage was worse. Working from early in the morning until late at night, through the long, hot hours of midsummer sun, they were lucky if they earned a quarter of what an adult would.

All of them were small and thin, a particular characteristic of those living in the outer districts, well suited to climbing up trees and along branches. Despite all that, Aspen was the only one able to safely venture along the highest branches. That hadn’t stopped the others from doing it; it was a necessary risk to fulfil their daily quota. Failure to do so would result in a day without wages, perhaps two or three if the Peacekeeper supervisor was in a particularly foul mood.

On one particular morning, the five were numbered only four. The eldest of them was missing. At nineteen years old, Yarrow was an unusually old orchard worker. By all rights, he should have moved on to a higher-paying job, harvesting in the fields, or overseeing irrigation. Instead, he was climbing trees and picking fruit.

The reason for his tardiness was unknown but could be easily guessed. Like most boys of nineteen, Yarrow had a sweetheart, a lovely girl with whom he was very much in love with. As was wont to happen in 11, Thrush—the aforementioned sweetheart—had, over the course of their relationship, become pregnant. That had occurred some months before, and Yarrow had informed  them all that they “were expecting the baby any day now.” And so, when Yarrow wasn’t there at the beginning of the day, even Aja—who had a pretty face, but was rather dim-witted—knew that it was because Thrush was giving birth.

Missing work for the birth of a child was a common practice, and most Peacekeepers let it slide. In any case, the Orchard 9’s Peacekeeper was a drunken fool, who could be guaranteed to stumble by the orchard only once a day, and never before midday. The four of them would have to work faster to complete the quota, but none of them begrudged Yarrow for his absence. 

The first two baskets of the day had been filled before Yarrow came running through the trees, his face flushed and a smile threatening to split his head in two. He stopped at the base of a particularly large tree, where a pair of legs suddenly appeared, dangling from a branch. A head soon followed, framed by leaves and twigs. “She had the baby?” Larkspur asked, already knowing the answer.

Yarrow could only nod, so overcome with his excitement and exertion he found himself unable to speak. Larkspur let out a whoop, drawing another head from out of the neighbouring tree.  “What happened?” Aspen called, clutching the branch with the one hand, and using the other to shove a wayward branch out of her face.

“Thrush had the baby!” Larkspur shouted back, her smile almost as wide as Yarrow’s. Aspen’s own face spreads slowly into a grin.

“Boy or girl?” Having recovered the ability of speech, he answered Aspen’s excited question with an enthusiastic shout:

“Girl!” 

Larkspur let out another whoop, and Aspen laughed delightedly, crowing that she had been right all along. “Tulsi was so sure it would be a boy,” she boasted, “but I knew better.” 

There was the muffled crunch of feet landing on leaves as Aja and Tulsi returned with a new basket, carrying it between them. They stopped when they saw Yarrow, and the basket slithered to the ground. “Yarrow!” Tulsi said in delight, “Does that mean Thrush’s had the baby?”

“It’s a girl!” Aspen told him before Yarrow could even open his mouth. “Not a boy,” she teased, “you were wrong.” Tulsi only shrugged, taking it with surprisingly good grace. If the roles had been reversed, let there be no doubt that there would have been foot-stamping and denial involved. 

Aja didn’t say anything, just gave Yarrow a smile that told him she was glad nothing had gone amiss. With a pang of something like guilt, he remembered that her sister had died giving birth to her son, and the baby had quickly followed its Mother. The idea of such a thing happening to Thrush and his yet-unnamed daughter terrified him.

With a quick glance to the sky, Larkspur said: “It isn’t nearly midday. Halius won’t even have dragged himself out of bed yet. Tell us all about her.”

Yarrow looked uncertain. “Are you sure? Just, it’s only been the four of you, I wouldn’t want you to lose a day's worth of wages just because of me.” 

Aspen plopped down onto the grass, patting the patch beside her. “We won’t. We’re ahead of schedule, anyway.” Still looking uncertain, he sat.

“Well, I suppose a small break couldn’t hurt, could it?”

~

 His face screwed up in distaste, Publicus dragged his fellow Peacekeeper through the narrow doorway of the marketplace. When a timid little boy had come up to him, stammering about a Peacekeeper who had passed out in the marketplace, he had been tempted to punish him for having the insolence to address him, a Peacekeeper of the Capitol. He had only been dissuaded by the thought of the embarrassment that having a Peacekeeper in such an undignified way was going to cause. 

He’d found Halius without any problem. None of the citizens of 11 wanted to get too close to a Peacekeeper, not even one in such a vulnerable position, and there was a circle of empty space around him. 

As he stumbled along with Halius’ weight threatening to drag him over, it occurred to him that there would be no one manning Halius’s post. He almost cursed, but stopped just in time. Swearing was not a dignified thing for a Peacekeeper to do. He would have to do it.

Depositing his load just inside the door of Peacekeeper lodgings, he rummaged in the pocket of Halius’ uniform for his identification, which would say where he was supervising. Flipping the little book open, he scanned the pages for the relevant information. Orchard 9. Five workers. Six basket daily quota. Leaving Halius slumped on the ground, Publicus left the lodgings, stomping his way through town, and to Orchard 9.

~

 When the Peacekeeper came storming into the orchard, Tulsi’s first thought was that it wasn’t midday yet. His second was that they were lucky Aspen had seen a snake, cutting Yarrow’s description short, and returning them to work. His third was that the Peacekeeper looked far too angry to be Halius. 

There came an angry shout from the Peacekeeper who wasn’t Halius. “Workers!” 

Tulsi exchanged a look with Aja, who gave an elegant shrug, and shimmied down the tree, padding off toward the furious figure. Tulsi followed, warily, unsure of how it was going to end. Several thuds from behind let him know that the others were close behind.

The Peacekeeper waited until they were gathered before him to speak again. “Peacekeeper Halius was the supervisor of this orchard.” It was not a question, and the flat, almost emotionless, delivery left them in no doubt of that. 

“And when he did not appear at his post this morning, why was it that none of you reported it to his Commander?” None of them answered, all of them avoiding eye-contact with the livid man, who turned his gaze on Yarrow. “You! Answer me!” 

Jerking his eyes up from his feet, Yarrow opened his mouth, then closed it again. He looked down again. The Peacekeeper’s mouth curled into an ugly snarl. “I told you to answer me!” He shouted, seizing Yarrow by the shoulders, who tried to jump back, only to find himself unable to move. The Peacekeeper’s face smoothed back to a neutrally blank expression, releasing Yarrow, but not stepping back.

When Tulsi stuttered out: “We, uh, well, we thought that we, uh, should just, uh, keep working.” He trailed off as the Peacekeeper turned to look at him, his face taking on a mocking cast.

“You thought, did you?” He said, advancing on the boy, who paled and started stumbling back. “You thought you should keep working?” Tulsi tripped over a root and went sprawling across the ground. The Peacekeeper stopped beside him, casting a shadow over the boy. They watched on in horror as the Peacekeeper reached for the baton hanging at his belt. Aspen gasped as the baton was brought down upon Tulsi, cracking of his forearms, which he had raised in an attempt to protect himself, although she quickly stifled the noise. The second blow hit Tulsi straight across his chest, and he tried to curl in on himself, only to find himself pinned by the Peacekeeper’s foot.

The Peacekeeper had brought his arm back for another hit, when there was a faint swish, and a starburst of pain across the back of his head, and he dropped into the grass, landing heavily on the sobbing boy. 

Aja dropped the branch she was holding, staring at the crumpled body of the Peacekeeper. The back of his head leaked blood, and, when Yarrow and Larkspur rolled him off Tulsi, she saw that his eyes were wide and unseeing, carrying the blankness of death. 

When she saw that he was dead, Aspen collapsed to her knees, squeezing her head tightly with her fingers, as though that would make it all go away. Larkspur went to her, and tried to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. Aspen spun away from her with a gasping scream, and fell to the ground, shaking and sobbing.

Yarrow turned to look at Aja, the horror evident on his face. “What have you done?” He asked, but Aja ignored him, humming quietly as she glided back to the orchard, leaving them where they were; Tulsi still curled up in pain, Yarrow staring at her retreating figure, and Larkspur looking on helplessly as Aspen began to scream.

~

 She was still screaming when they were lined up in the town square, a single Peacekeeper standing before them. Behind them was the rest of 11, standing silent and fearful. With a quick blow to the head from the Peacekeeper, Aspen fell silent, though she shuddered with the effort, her shoulders jostling Tulsi and Larkspur, who stood either of her.

“Kneel,” the Peacekeeper commanded. They obeyed, dropping down onto the hard stones of the courtyard. Tulsi flinched at the pain in his ribs. “Were you responsible for the death of Peacekeeper Halius?” 

Yarrow longed to deny it, to jump to his feet and run, far away from the square, and from Peacekeepers, and from Panem. But he thought of Thrush, trapped in the crowd with their daughter, his daughter who he would never know the name of. And so he joined the others, and voiced his assent to the accusation.

Larkspur’s blood ran cold when the Peacekeepers pulled his gun from its holster, and levelled it at them. He was close enough that she had a clear view down the barrel of it, but the inside was swamped with darkness and she couldn’t see a thing. He was close enough that there was only a second between him pulling the trigger, and her limp body striking the cobbles.

Nothing in the world could have stopped Aspen from screaming then. Except for the gun, which silenced her with a bang. She joined Larkspur, her blood pooling between two stones. Tulsi struggles against his bonds, his eyes wide and terrified, tears streaming down his young face. When the Peacekeeper turns to him, he struggles harder, pulling desperately against the rope that tied his hands. But his efforts were in vain, and he too falls limply to the ground.

When it turned on him, Yarrow pleaded. “Please, no, please, I have a daughter, please don’t, please, no, ple-“ The Peacekeeper silenced him with a bullet, and a fourth body hits the ground. There was a desperate scream from the crowd, a young woman holding a baby to her breast. She stood there, staring at the unmoving body of Yarrow. And old woman embraced her, shushing her and watching the surrounding Peacekeepers carefully. The young woman stopped screaming, her cries dissolving into shuddering sobs.

Aja watched it all, her face just as serene as always. There had been no reaction to the deaths of the others, just a cool stare. When it was her turn, she didn’t cry. She didn’t scream, she didn’t beg. She looked the Peacekeeper in the eye, and as his finger curled and the trigger and pulled, she smiled.

And she was still smiling when her body struck the cobblestones, her eyes wide and vacant, a trail of blood dripping down her forehead and across the side of her nose.

~

 And so it was the Rebellion began. In an orchard, with five children and a Peacekeeper, with fear and death. The Rebellion began in District 11.

The Rebellion was begun by Farmers.