Chapter 37

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- Finnick's P.O.V -

Katniss and I head to the woods for some fresh air after seeing both Vivianna and Peeta looking half dead in their latest interviews. "I haven't heard one word about it. No one's told you anything?" I say and she shakes her head. I pause slightly before I ask, "Not even Gale?" When she doesn't answer, I add, "Maybe he's trying to find a time to tell you privately."

"Maybe," she says but she sounds unconvinced. We stay silent so long that a buck wanders into range. Katniss takes it down easily with an arrow and I haul it back to the fence. Venison for dinner, then.

~

People have crowded into Command, but there's a saved seat between myself and Plutarch specially for Katniss, and she slides into it with apprehension. The screens are already up on the table, showing the regular Capitol feed.

"What's going on? Aren't we seeing the Twelve propos?" she asks.

"Oh, no," says Plutarch. "I mean, possibly. I don't know exactly what footage Beetee plans to use."

"Beetee thinks he's found a way to break into the feed nationwide," I tell her. "So that our propos will air in the Capitol, too. He's down working on it in Special Defense now. There's live programming tonight. Snow's making an appearance or something. I think it's starting."

The Capitol seal appears, underscored by the anthem. Then I'm staring directly into President Snow's snake eyes as he greets the nation. He seems barricaded behind his podium, but the white rose in his lapel is in full view. There mere sight of him makes me want to rush forward and launch an attack on him, but that would be pointless. The camera pulls back to include Peeta and Vivianna, off to one side in front of a projected map of Panem. They both look pale and ghostly, Anna's eyes dark and cloudy looking. I squeeze my eyes shut, praying it's not real but when I open them, there she is, looking out into the distance, into nothing.

"They're worse," Katniss whispers. I grasp her hand, to give both of us an anchor, and we try to hang on desperately. Peeta begins to speak in a frustrated tone about the need for the cease-fire whilst Anna remains silent. He highlights the damage done to key infrastructure in various districts, and as he speaks, parts of the map light up, showing images of the destruction. A broken dam in 7. A derailed train with a pool of toxic waste spilling from the tank cars. A granary collapsing after a fire. All of these he attributes to rebel action.

Bam! Without warning, Katniss is suddenly on television, standing in the rubble of the bakery. Plutarch jumps to his feet. "He did it! Beetee broke in!"

The room's buzzing with reaction when Peeta and Anna are back, distracted. They've seen Katniss on the monitor. Peeta tries to pick up his speech by moving on to the bombing of a water purification plant, when a clip of me talking about Rue replaces him and Anna cries out loudly, involuntarily, - a sob emitting her throat as her hand flies to her mouth. And then the whole thing breaks down into a broadcast battle, as the Capitol tech masters try to fend off Beetee's attack. But they are unprepared, and Beetee, apparently anticipating he would not hold on to control, has an arsenal of five- to ten-second clips to work with. We watch the official presentation deteriorate as it's peppered with choice shots from the propos.

Plutarch's in spasms of delight and most everybody is cheering Beetee on, but I remains still and speechless, thinking about Vivianna. I meet Haymitch's eyes from across the room and see my own dread mirrored back. The recognition that with every cheer, Anna slips even farther from our grasp. The Capitol seal's back up, accompanied by a flat audio tone. This lasts about twenty seconds before Snow, Anna and Peeta return. The set is in turmoil. We're hearing frantic exchanges from their booth. Snow plows forward, saying that clearly the rebels are now attempting to disrupt the dissemination of information they find incriminating, but both truth and justice will reign. The full broadcast will resume when security has been reinstated.

He leans towards Anna and stops inches away from her face and I see her visibly wince. "Vivianna, do you have any parting thoughts for Finnick Odair?"

"Finnick," she closes her eyes and sighs my name, making my heart ache. She looks at Snow and struggles to swallow before looking to the camera. "My love...where will this take us? Think about what will come, tomorrow...and the next day..think ahead." she says it with such fervour I can't help but feel like she's trying to tell me something. I clench my fist.

And then Snow asks Peeta if, given tonight's demonstration, he has any parting thoughts for Katniss Everdeen. At the mention of her name, Peeta's face contorts in effort. "Katniss...how do you think this will end? What will be left? No one is safe. Not in the Capitol. Not in the districts. And you...in Thirteen..." He inhales sharply, as if fighting for air; his eyes look insane. "Dead by morning!"

Off camera, Snow orders, "End it!" Beetee throws the whole thing into chaos by flashing a still shot of Katniss standing in front of the hospital at three-second intervals. But between the images, we are privy to the real-life action being played out on the set. Peeta's attempting to continue speaking, Anna screaming my name. The camera knocked down to record the white tiled floor. The scuffle of boots. The impact of the blow that's inseparable from Peeta's cry of pain. Another blow, another scream. And red blood as it splatters the tiles.

I fly up and look to Haymitch, his eyes as shiny as my own. The room's in an uproar. Questions and demands ring out as they try to decipher Vivianna and Peeta's words. "Think about what will come, tomorrow," "And you...in Thirteen...dead by morning!" Yet no one is asking about the messenger whose blood has been replaced by static. A voice calls the others to attention. "Shut up!" Every pair of eyes falls on Haymitch. "It's not some big mystery! The pair's telling us we're about to be attacked. Here. In Thirteen."

"How would they have that information?"

"Why should we trust them?"

"How do you know?"

Haymitch gives a growl of frustration. "They're beating them bloody while we speak. What more do you need? Katniss, Finnick, help me out here!"

I can't speak out of fear of what they're doing to her so I just nod.

"Haymitch's right," Katniss says for us. "I don't know where Peeta and Anna got the information. Or if it's true. But they believe it is. And they're--"

"You don't know them," Haymitch says to Coin. "We do. Get your people ready."

The president doesn't seem alarmed, only somewhat perplexed, by this turn in events. She mulls over the words, tapping one finger lightly on the rim of the control board in front of her. When she speaks, she addresses Haymitch in an even voice. "Of course, we have prepared for such a scenario. Although we have decades of support for the assumption that further direct attacks on Thirteen would be counterproductive to the Capitol's cause. Nuclear missiles would release radiation into the atmosphere, with incalculable environmental results. Even routine bombing could badly damage our military compound, which we know they hope to regain. And, of course, they invite a counterstrike. It is conceivable that, given our current alliance with the rebels, those would be viewed as acceptable risks."

"You think so?" says Haymitch.

"I do. At any rate, we're overdue for a Level Five security drill," says Coin. "Let's proceed with the lockdown." She begins to type rapidly on her keyboard, authorizing her decision. The moment she raises her head, it begins.

No experience has prepared me for the wordless, eardrum piercing, fear-inducing sirens that now permeate 13. There would be no disregarding this sound, which seems designed to throw the whole population into a frenzy. But this is 13 and that doesn't happen.

Boggs guides Katniss and I out of Command, along the hall to a doorway, and onto a wide stairway. Streams of people are converging to form a river that flows only downward. No one shrieks or tries to push ahead. Even the children don't resist. We descend, flight after flight, speechless, because no word could be heard above this sound.

Groups of people begin to veer off into marked doorways and still Boggs directs me downward, until finally the stairs end at the edge of an enormous cavern. Katniss starts to walk straight in and Boggs stops her, shows me that we must wave our schedule in front of a scanner so that we're accounted for. No doubt the information's going to some computer somewhere to make sure no one's gone astray. The place seems unable to decide if it's natural or man-made. Certain areas of the walls are stone, while steel beams and concrete heavily reinforce others. Sleeping bunks are hewn right into the rock walls. There's a kitchen, bathrooms, a first-aid station. This place was designed for an extended stay.

White signs with letters or numbers are placed at intervals around the cavern. Boggs tells me to report to the area that matches our assigned quarters and I leave nervously to find it, blocking everything out as I sit on my bunk, a length of rope in my hands, knotting and unknotting frantically.

"Anna," I whisper quietly. "If you can hear me, I love you, I love you, I love you. Be safe, I love you, I love you, I love you,"


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