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Best of Luck, Mockingjay

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There were two ways Hadley Jackson thought she'd die underground: slow and mundane, withering in her compartment bed, or all at once, booming loud and explosive, deep within the bunker. These were the only ways to die before the war.

Unless, she considers but stops herself. She focuses on the mission - or rather, the Mockingjay's mission, and shoots a Peacekeeper right through the helmet.

Up ahead, what's left of Star Squad 451 clamors down the Transfer while lizard muttations tear toward them, ripping apart Peacekeepers caught in their path.

Between Hadley and the Squad is a pod labeled MEAT GRINDER on the Holo, looking just as it sounds. The whirring of the blades ensure that she and Soldier Leeg (1) will not follow the others to relative safety above ground.

With Soldier Leeg beside her, Hadley feels selfishly comforted that she won't confront these creatures alone. They're both hopeless, though, exhausted and running low on ammo as well as will. Sarabelle Leeg lost her sister but she's still got a father to return to. Hadley is certain that her own sister Rem would borrow Jeremy's aircraft in the Hangar, fly into this damn city, and somehow resurrect her just to kill her again herself if she died. Rem threatened this before they hugged too quickly and Hadley was deployed.

People they've already said goodbye to when they left are waiting for them in District Thirteen. The foreign Squad members are no different, and neither are these Peacekeepers who cry out for family as they die.

They all just want to win and go home. The problem is there's more than one side.

Peeta Mellark pleaded for an armistice back when he was still held captive in the Capitol. But then he was rescued, came to Thirteen all deranged and homicidal, so no one took him or his proposal seriously after that.

Soldier Katniss Everdeen must really be trouble for President Coin to try to martyr her. While only Commander Boggs called her out on it, Hadley could also see Coin's motive; she's farsighted like that. Soldier Leeg (2) was killed during a shoot from an unknowingly active pod before the Squad was too deep into the Capitol to return to Base, and Soldier Mellark was sent as a replacement, over all of the more eligible cadets who have trained their entire lives for combat.

They would have been wasted on the Squad, anyway. Until Commander Boggs detonated a pod that blew off his legs and their assignment went to shit, they were just playing war: aiming at nonliving targets for fake gritty propos, wasting ammo, acting like badass soldiers when real ones died every day. Their skills were rendered useless, filming propaganda instead of fighting.

Hadley wasn't glad when Robert Boggs died on some Capitol citizen's kitchen tiles but she and her comrades finally got to fight the war that they trained for. His death even automatically appointed Hadley as first in command. But her title soon meant nothing; the Mockingjay pulled some assassination plan out of her feathered ass that granted her agency over the Holo and the Squad both.

At least Solider Everdeen is trying to do something productive. She was just as frustrated with the cameras as the rest of the Squad, though that doesn't excuse her; already her plan to kill President Snow has instead killed Soldier Scout Mitchell and Cressida's assistant Messalla, and endangered Soldier Leeg and Hadley herself. She had better know what's she's gotten not only herself but the others into with this little plan of hers.

Best of luck, Mockingjay, Hadley wishes as the girl's long, dark braid swishes around a corner, disappearing, the Squad right behind.

All of the Peacekeepers are silent on the ground. The mutts keep coming, overpowering them. Soldier Leeg cries out as one clamps its maw down into the base of her neck like a lover. Hadley can't shoot enough of them down to help.

A mutt rams into her before she can pull the trigger, and they grapple on the tiles until it pins her with its scaly bulk, raises its claws. Each laceration brings a wave of blood, pain, and more of those blindingly iridescent white mutts by its side.

She can't fight it, can't look at it. Sarabelle is screaming louder than the mutts somewhere to her left. They meets eyes for half a second before the very gold-flecked green eye Hadley was focused on is ripped from its socket. A bloody rope protruding from the empty socket strains Sarabelle's head forward before the mutt severs it at the neck, the eyeball still skewered on its claw. Her mouth gapes open in pain and shock, as does Hadley's.

For reasons she could not confide in anyone, Hadley has never wanted to die at the hands of a living, breathing thing. A bullet, merciful if accurate. An inaccurate bullet, hell but over soon enough. A bullet, a bomb, a rain of shrapnel - they can't consciously make the decision to end her life.

The lizard mutt attacking her knows what it's doing, knows and wants its actions to kill her, and that is the most horrible truth. But it can't detach its claws and simply cease to follow orders that were programmed into its mind since creation. It must kill.

Real or not real? She is going to die.

She'll never again take walks with Rem after lunch and ask about her students and why the food is still the same when everything else has changed and how time has made her so bitter and chuckle when Rem answers, "Maybe it's the soup."

She'll never again wake up grimacing at Jeremy's morning breath and say, a little breathless, "Get off me, you idiot," when he mumbles, "Morning, Had," into her lips and buries his fingers in her blonde hair and she'll never love him again.

And, damn it, she'll never again have her schedule dyed onto her forearm and dread passing little kids in the corridors to go to training and yearn for something an epidemic stole from her, too many months along to not feel the sting of hope as it's ripped away, terminated, because people let her down and she let Jeremy down and she'll never, ever be a mother.

The Mockingjay's a tough one, that's for sure. It's sad to witness the deterioration of not only the rebellion's symbol, but such a strong girl who got caught in a political mess during a time when she needed rest. Hadley once scanned the figure of the girl wandering aimlessly in the corridors, saw her stomach was sunken in, not swollen at the hips like Peeta Mellark said would happen.

She almost reminds Hadley of herself, younger, crossing that blurry line between boys and warfare, too. If Soldier Everdeen kills Snow and survives, she'll have another chance at that family.

Best of luck, Mockingjay.

The mutts have moved on. They must be throwing themselves into the pod; the creatures' shrieking and the blades' whirring are at their loudest. Soon, the MEAT GRINDER clogs up with minced carcasses, enabling the remaining mutts to cross.

She is alone.

Hadley can feel the end nearing as well as she can feel her torso flayed open and her scalp hanging by a hair - maybe literally, she can't see much right now. For some reason, the mutt kept her head on.

The pod has slowed considerably but it's still fast enough. At an excruciating pace, Hadley drags herself to the edge of the MEAT GRINDER. She cannot die at the hands of something the Capitol made live. After a painful turn she has to rest halfway at, ironically enough, she grunts as she tips herself over the edge. There's a dreadful yet relieving sensation of falling, and the blades are so close her when a thought hits her.

She forgot to disarm herself -

Maybe the mutts weren't the only mindless creatures after all.