kawuli (kawuli) wrote,
kawuli
kawuli

Fic: proof that the spirit has not died

proof that the spirit has not died (7358 words) by kawuli
Chapters: 1/6
Fandom: Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games Series - All Media Types
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Original Female Character(s), Original Male Character(s)
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence, District 9 (Hunger Games), District 6, Normal people make the rebellion happen, Minor Character Death, Canon-Typical Violence, (actually not as bad as canon)
Series: Part 3 of These are truly the last days: Panem's rebellion from below
Summary:

"If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. For every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died."
--The Grapes of Wrath

The die is cast, the spark set, the flame growing. Zea finds herself swept up in a world she never dreamed of; Sara has been dreaming of setting this fire for years. What can a few people do against the Capitol? Much more than they ever expected.


“Zea?”

Zea curls tighter. It can't be time to start cutting, she only just fell asleep.

“Zea, come on.” She doesn't recognize the voice. There's a hand on her shoulder, shaking her gently but firmly. “We have to go.”

Still confused, Zea sits up. Peacekeeper uniform, what the…

And then her brain comes back online. It's Sara sleeping next to her, they're in a cave not a tent, it's the middle of the day, and Alister needs her to do… something.

She rubs her eyes, shakes her head to clear it. “What're we doing?” She asks, untangling herself and standing up. Sara curls tighter and sighs but doesn't wake up.

Alister’s mouth is pinched tight. “We need to drop off some material, and we need more vehicles.”

He turns to walk out and Zea follows. When they get outside, Milo is filling sacks of fertilizer from the truck. He smirks when she comes up to help.

“Sorry to pull you away from your fun,” he says, and Zea punches his shoulder, grabs thread and starts sewing up the sacks he’s filled.

Alister helps carry them to the back of the PK transport, still quiet and tense. “Okay,” he says, when they've loaded 10 sacks. “Let’s go.”

Zea looks at Milo, raises an eyebrow. He shakes his head, shrugs. They climb into the high cab, three across, Zea in the middle.

Alister drives fast, just this side of reckless, and instead of the four hours it took them last night, this time they’re in sight of the city in less than two. Alister stops, reaches back for a duffel bag and hands it to Zea.

“Put these on,” he says. Zea opens the bag and sees a Peacekeeper helmet staring back at her. She and Milo climb into the back and suit up.

The gear is a little big on Zea, a little small on Milo, but good enough. When Milo flips the visor over his face Zea bites down on a shudder. He could be anyone behind that mask, which is of course the point.

“Keep your mouths shut,” Alister says. “And do what I tell you.”

Milo sighs. “Look,” he says, tight. “I get it, but you tell us what we're doing here. We’re not your kids to just boss around.”

Alister is pulling on his own helmet, pauses. Stares out the windshield for a minute and then sighs. “The drop is just inside the wall. A guy named Bley.” Zea trades a glance with Milo. “Then we are going down to the loading docks and commandeering a couple of pickups.”

“We know Bley,” Milo says. “And Zea knows some of the cargo loaders.”

Alister shakes his head. “No loaders working. Not since last night.”

Zea tenses. “So what, they have Peacekeepers there?” Alister nods. “We're going to walk up and ask for a couple trucks from a bunch of nervous PKs?”

Alister smiles, but there's no amusement in it. “Yep,” he says. “So keep the visors down and your mouths shut, and follow my lead.”

He turns the key and starts toward the checkpoint.

It's usually easy going passing through toward the city, a couple bored Peacekeepers rifling through things and checking paperwork. Not today. Today there's ten of them, guns at the ready. Alister rolls down his window and flips up his visor as they come to a stop at the gate.

“This is PK 40209, I have orders to report to the cargo docks with my men.” Alister sounds perfectly confident.

One of the checkpoint guards looks at a clipboard. “Not on my list,” he says.

“You think we have time for that?” Alister snaps. “Half the comms are down, the district is in open revolt, and you're worried about paperwork?”

The two men stare at each other for a long moment. Finally the guard looks away. “Proceed,” he says, and the gate swings open.

They turn to follow the wall toward Bley’s house. It's dark inside, but as soon as Alister pulls up, the doors open and Bley comes out, followed by six others. They get the sacks unloaded and into the house, fast, and Alister drives away as soon as the door swings closed.

They head directly for the rail yard. Alister drives up to the Peacekeepers’ office, parks in the middle of the yard and hops down. Milo slides out, and Zea follows, her heart pounding hard and fast.

Alister motions for them to stop in front of the transport as he strides toward the line of Peacekeepers blocking the rail yard. One PK steps forward. Alister talks to him a lot longer than he had at the checkpoint, but finally he turns back to Zea and Milo and nods. Milo steps forward, and Zea follows him. Alister meets them, leads them toward the garage. Once they're away from the others he says, “Change of plans. All non-essential personnel are to be in the square.”

Zea opens her mouth to ask why, but Alister’s glare shuts her up before she even starts. The garage door opens as they approach. Two Peacekeepers stand on either side of the door, weapons ready, but Alister doesn't even notice. He motions Milo to one pickup and Zea to the one behind it. “Follow me,” he says, turns on his heel and goes back to the transport.

Zea climbs into the cab. It's smaller than anything she's driven before, lower to the ground, controls clustered close to the steering wheel. She takes a deep breath, turns the key. The engine purrs as it comes to life. When she takes her foot off the brake it edges forward, like it's impatient to get going. In front of her Milo moves out, and Zea follows. Just a tap on the accelerator and the thing jumps forward. “Easy, now,” she says, half to the truck and half to herself.

They move slowly though the streets to the back of the square. There’s Peacekeeper vehicles lining the area, boxing in a crowd bigger than Zea’s seen even at the Reaping. Alister pulls in at the far side of the square, Milo behind him, and Zea lines herself up with them. The others leave the vehicles running, so Zea does too, sits idling with her foot on the brake just in case.

The Justice Building is streaked with soot, the windows broken out, surrounded by water and ash. Not a bomb, but a fire. Zea wonders whose job that was. She's so busy looking at the damaged building it takes a minute to notice the stage in front of it. Like for the Reaping. Zea feels cold, despite the summer heat.

As the square fills, a row of Peacekeepers lines up at the back of the stage.  A transport, just like the one Alister has idling in front of her, pulls up beside the stage. The back doors open, and Peacekeepers start hauling people out. Zea doesn't recognize the first two, but then—Ester. Ester with her hands tied behind her back, one eye swollen almost shut. Dale, behind her. Bran. And Emmer.

Zea can't breathe.

They're led up to the stage, forced to kneel. Rough sacks placed over their heads. The Peacekeepers step back.

Snow’s face appears on the screen, but Zea can't hear what he's saying. All she sees is Emmer. Her overalls have a hole in the knee. She's been meaning to fix that for weeks.

The line of Peacekeepers raises their weapons. The crack is deafening. The bodies fall. The screen goes blank.

The sound of a revving engine cuts thorough the ringing in Zea’s ears. Milo is driving away. She has to follow.

She feels drunk. Dizzy and sick and stupid, but she puts the truck in gear and follows Milo, follows Alister, drives out of the City and away from the silent, slowly dispersing crowd.

 

Alister stops at the checkpoint. Talks to the guards, waves them through. Pulls ahead again, speeds up, and Zea’s world shrinks down to Milo’s tail lights in front of her, the whine of the engine, the sinking sun.

They make it back to the campsite before full dark.

Zea lifts her hands from the steering wheel. They're cramping, stiff from gripping so hard for so long. She feels frozen. Then Lucerne steps out from behind the semi, arms crossed and mouth set, stares down Alister until he takes off his helmet. He nods, walks past toward the cave.

Her door opens. It's Milo.

“Zea,” he says, gentler than she's ever heard him. “Come on, we're here.”

Zea finally unfreezes. She rips the helmet off, slides down from the cab, takes a deep shuddering breath and now, finally, the tears come. She reaches for Milo, unthinking, and he pulls her close, one hand on the back of her head. Doesn't say anything, just lets her cry.

She pulls away eventually, scrubs an arm across her eyes, her runny nose. White, rough, Peacekeeper uniform fabric. She shudders, tears at it until she finds the right zippers, buttons, leaves the thing in a heap and runs up the path to the top of the hill.

The light fades, the stars come out, it's wide-open beautiful and it doesn't matter. Zea sits with her back to a tree, her knees drawn up, looking out toward the city and seeing nothing.

Alister comes up after a while. “Zea,” he says, and she looks up. He looks…tired, mostly. Drops down to sit next to her. “You should eat something,” he says. “Get some sleep.”

Zea snorts. “Right,” she says.

They sit in silence. Finally, Zea bursts out, “Why didn't you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“That I was going to get them all killed. They didn't deserve that, I didn't—”

“Zea,” Alister says, warning, “we blew up the damn Peacekeeper barracks. Every one of those guys we talked to today? Good chance they’ll be examples to the rest of the Peacekeepers, and it sure won't be any prettier than what happened today.”

“But they’re…” the enemy, Zea wants to say. “Working for the Capitol,” is what she settles for.

“They're still people,” Alister snaps. “Good people, most of them, doing their jobs.” He waits for Zea to look over at him. He holds her gaze, steady. “This is a war. People die.”

She looks away. It's not the same. It isn't.

But maybe it's not as big a difference as she thought.

“Come on,” he says. “Eat something, get some sleep. Always helps.”

Zea sighs, lets him help her up, follows him back to camp.

 

Durum’s sitting a little apart from the others, back to the cave wall in the dark away from the fire. Zea grabs a ration bar and a bottle of water and sits next to him.

“Zea?” he asks, squinting.

“Yeah,” she says. Sighs. “You heard?”

Durum nods, reaches an arm around her shoulders. “Radio,” he says. “Happened all over, sounds like.”

Zea shivers. Stares toward the fire. “It’s my fault,” she says. “I should’ve known…” 

“Should don’t get the wheat cut,” Durum says. “Make the best of it, that’s all you can do.”

Zea rips open the ration bar, scowls at it and takes a bite. “You should’ve warned me,” she mutters.

“What would you have done?” Durum asks.

Zea opens her mouth, shuts it again. Would she have backed out? Maybe. Should she have?

Is what they’re fighting for worth getting people killed?

Why does Emmer’s—why does Emmer matter more than the Peacekeepers they attacked?

Did she really think nobody would get hurt?

She knew there’d be consequences, knew Ester would get in some kind of trouble, but no, she’d never expected this.

Durum just waits. Zea stares down at her hands. “I didn’t think they’d…” she swallows, forces the words out. “Kill them.”

Durum sighs. “I know you didn’t,” he says. Pauses. “Do you remember the riots, in Eleven, during the last Games?”

Zea shrugs. “I heard there were riots, that’s all.”

“Zea, those riots got put down with bullets. Who knows how many people were killed. We’ve had it easy here. Don’t let it fool you.”

Zea looks up. Durum’s watching her, eyes narrowed and searching, trying to see. She sighs. “I just… they didn’t ask for this. They weren’t even involved.”

“You think the kids in the Arena asked to be there?”

Zea shakes her head. There’s a lump in her throat again, tears in her eyes. “They were my friends, Durum,” she says. “Emmer was my girl. What kind of a person does that to their friends?”

Durum leans back against the wall. “It’s not your fault, Zea.”

“Without me they’d still be alive.” Zea snaps. “So how is it not my fault?”

“Without you Milo’d still be here,” Durum says, infuriatingly calm and reasonable.

“Maybe,” Zea says. “Maybe you wouldn’t have got the fertilizer and none of this would’ve happened.”

Durum waits, lets her think about that for a minute. “Yeah,” he says finally. “We needed your help, and yeah maybe we would’ve found another way, but maybe not. We can’t live it over again, so there’s no way to know.”

Zea scowls. She knows she’s acting petulant and childish, but she can’t seem to help it.

“What we’re doing matters,” Durum says. “Means no more kids in the Arena, no more Capitol quotas pushing people too hard, too fast for safety. Means nobody gets hauled up and shot like that just to send a message. And it costs, and it’ll keep costing, and it’s up to us to make sure it’s worth it.”

Zea closes her eyes. Takes a deep breath. Looks down at the ration bar she’s been holding, the bottle of water beside her hip. Takes a bite. Takes a drink.

“You know what my grandpa used to say?” Durum says, a little less serious. “He said back in the war—the Dark Days—they’d say ‘Don’t mourn—Organize.’ Comes from way back.”

Zea raises an eyebrow. “You feel guilty, fine,” Durum goes on. “But we need you, Zea, we need you to take that off your shoulders and put it where it belongs.”

“The Capitol,” Zea says, and Durum nods.

“You put all that guilt on them so instead of beating yourself up you can fight the people who’re really responsible.”

Zea takes another bite. The ration bars never taste good, but today it might as well be dust. She drinks some water, thinking. She’s not sure she can do what Durum wants, not yet. But she can try.

She takes a deep breath, lets it out through pursed lips. Durum smiles at her, like she was still his apprentice and she’d made a clean turn in an uneven field.

She finishes the food and water and stands up. “Thanks,” she says.

“Get some sleep,” Durum says. Zea nods, and heads back to her bedroll.

 


 

The radio comes to life mid-afternoon. Wide broadcast, full power from District 13 to cover the whole country.

“Capitol TV is broadcasting live executions in all rebellious districts,” it says, and everyone freezes. Sara goes over to the radio and turns up the volume.

The President’s voice comes on, and Sara tunes it out like always. Then the Thirteen broadcaster comes back, starts reading off the names of the people executed. District 3, District 4, District 5, District 6—

“Fatoumata Diarra, Salif Diarra, Sidi Toure, Jack Dembele…”

There’s some commotion when they get to the District Nine names, but Sara can barely hear it.

Rokia’s mom, everyone from Sal’s shop—except one. Except Matt, and Sara doesn’t even know if she should take that as a good sign.

It’s not just public. It’s personal.

Sara has hated Rokia’s mom ever since she met Rokia, because Mata’s always been an unrepentant addict who couldn’t even manage to give a shit about her kids. But Sal—Sal was an uptight pain in the ass and as loyal to the Capitol as anyone in Panem, and he gave Sara her first job and probably kept Rokia and her girls alive, and the rest of the guys—the Peacekeepers must’ve just rounded up everyone who was at Sal’s and taken them in. And now they’re gone.

Snow and the Capitol don’t know who Sara is—probably, hopefully—but they know Rokia. They know she was involved, and they can’t get to her (thank all that’s good) so they’re going after her friends. Four years of secret meetings in alleys suddenly make perfect sense.

But Sal’s—gone. Matt should have been at the shop, but he wasn’t on the list…could the list be wrong? Was he not there? Are the Peacekeepers keeping him around for some reason?

Can she find out? Should she even try?

Maybe, and probably not, Sara figures pretty quickly. It’ll be hard to track down one person, and the last thing she should be doing is bringing more attention on him. She’ll have to live with not knowing.

Which is hard, when she and Matt and Rokia were Sal’s best workers and his worst pranksters, not to mention best friends for too many years to just forget.

But no, there’s nothing she can do for anyone in Six, so best to focus on what she can do here.

Unfortunately, that’s nothing until Zea and Milo and the PK come back.

Alister. He’s not just some Peacekeeper.

Sara looks around. The three remaining Nines are sitting near the cave opening, close together, heads bent. Sara gets to her feet and goes over.

Lucerne looks up. There are tears on her cheeks, and she’s holding tight to Durum’s hand. She nods at Sara. “Come sit,” she says, patting the ground beside her. Sara does, looks over. Durum looks somber. Virgil looks furious.

Lucerne pats Sara’s leg. “Any of your people on that list?” she asks.

Sara nods. Her voice sounds rough when she answers. “Yeah. Guy I used to work for, couple other guys from his shop. My best friend’s mom.”

“Oh, honey,” Lucerne says. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

Sara swallows a lump in her throat, shakes her head. “Wasn’t for me,” she says, “My friend’s a Victor from Six. She’s in Eight, but… her mom, Sal’s her uncle, it’s her they want.”

Lucerne nods. “I’m sorry,” she says again.

Sara shrugs, not trusting her voice. She takes a few deep breaths, then asks, “People you know here?”

Virgil stands up, walks out toward the truck. Lucerne sighs. “The others on Zea and Milo’s crew,” she says.

Sara tries to feel sorry, but there’s no room. “Oh,” she says, and it comes out flat and heavy. “I’m sorry.”

Lucerne lets go of Durum’s hand to rub his shoulders. Looks out toward the stream, toward Virgil stalking up the path to the lookout.

“It’s real now,” Lucerne says. “For better or worse, it’s real for all of us.”

 

They all tense when they hear the engines that evening, but it’s Alister’s transport in the lead, with two pickups behind. Sara’s not sure what to expect, but it’s not Milo holding Zea while she sobs. When Zea runs up the hill, Sara heads over to follow her, until Alister blocks her path.

“Let her go,” he snaps. “I’ll go get her, but she needs a minute.”

Milo walks up to them. “He’s right,” he says, and Sara doesn’t know any of these people but Milo at least knows Zea, so she backs off.

And then Milo walks past them, goes to hug Lucerne and Durum and Virgil in turns, and Sara chose to come out here, knows they needed someone who knew explosives and knew the radios and knew the railroad, but she feels awfully alone.

Sara turns away from the reunion and sees Alister. Who apparently hasn’t noticed she’s looking because instead of the blank face he seems to wear on instinct, he looks exhausted, and sad, and even more out of place than she is.

“Don’t suppose you’ve got any booze in that truck of yours,” Sara asks, joking but not really.

Alister looks at her, sharp until he sees she’s joking. “Don’t we all wish,” he says, turning to lean against the hood.

“I guess you heard?” Sara says, because talking about anything else just seems inane.

Allister sighs. “We saw,” he says.

“Oh, fuck,” Sara says. “Those were—“

“I know,” Alister cuts her off. “I’m just glad she kept it together long enough to get out of there.”

Sara swallows hard. No wonder Zea’s so upset.

She shoves the heels of her hands into her eyes until she sees sparks. It’s too much for one day, way too much.

There’s nothing to say really, so they’re quiet, until Alister pushes himself up to stand and takes a deep breath. “I should go get her,” he says.

Sara nods, and he’s gone.

 

The others are sitting together, talking in low voices, and Sara should probably join them but, well, she doesn’t. Just goes back to her bedroll and lies down, looking up at the uneven rock above her and wondering where Matt is, where Rokia is and who she’s with, what’s going to happen next and what new horrors are coming.

She’s still there when Zea comes over and lies down. Ceiling inspection seems to be a popular pastime.

Sara looks over. Zea’s face is blotchy and tear-streaked and her eyes are red, her whole face pinched and miserable. “Hey,” Sara says, quiet. Zea looks over at Sara, then away. “I’m sorry about your friends,” she says. It’s inadequate, she knows, but what else is there?

Zea squeezes her eyes closed, her breath hitching. “Emmer and me, we were — I dunno. She was my girl.” Zea’s voice cracks and she pauses, getting herself under control. “And I was out here with you and she—“ Zea stops again, curls up with her back to Sara.

Well, shit.

Sara sighs. She doesn’t feel guilty. A few supposed-to-be-fake kisses and adrenaline-fueled affection isn’t worth the trouble. She gets why Zea feels like shit about it, Sara just doesn’t have anything to say.

“It’s not your fault,” she says finally, because she should say something.

Zea laughs, choked and tear-filled. “You and Durum,” she says. “I mean fine, it’s the Capitol’s fault mostly, but if it hadn’t been for me—okay, me and Milo—they’d be fine, so…it’s kinda on me.”

“You didn’t know he’d do this,” Sara says.

“No!” Zea says, “I mean, I guess I knew there’d be trouble, but—not this.”

She turns back toward Sara. “I didn’t know,” she says, trails off.

“Zea,” Sara says, “This is why we’re here.”

“Durum said they shot rioters in Eleven,” Zea says, “Did that happen in Six?”

Sara shrugs. “Not much rioting in Six. But sure, every once in a while they pick up some drug dealer or someone who threw rocks at the Peacekeepers. Not usually so much of a production.”

Zea looks thoughtful. “I’ve always been out,” she says, “Depots don’t get much news and crews get less, I didn’t—“ she stops, sighs. “Sorry,” she adds. “I guess I sound like a dumb hick, but it’s all new to me.”

Sara shrugs one shoulder, difficult to do sideways but whatever. “It’s good,” she says. “You were lucky.”

Zea yawns hugely. She was up and away well before Sara got up, girl must be worn out. “Get some sleep,” Sara says. “You’ll feel better in the morning.”

Zea chuckles at that, but she stretches, gets comfortable. “G’night Sara,” she says.

“G’night,” Sara echoes.

Zea falls asleep before Sara does, but not by much.

 


 

Virgil wakes Sara up the next morning. “Radio’s sending something coded. Said D9.”

That wakes her up all the way. She scrambles up toward the radio.

Voice messages, repeating. D3, D8, D6, and then, “D9: The arrow will not pass.”

It repeats twice. Sara looks up at Virgil. “Get everyone up, we’ve got work to do.”

Sara closes her eyes and tries to picture the railroad map.

When she opens them everyone’s looking at her, standing in a rough half-circle.

“We need to disable three lines,” she says. “Ten to Eight and Five to Eight, up north. They’re moving Peacekeepers out of Two towards Eight and Six and those are the quickest lines.”

“They could come through Ten from the South,” Allister says.

“Yeah. That’s the third line.”

Alister looks around. It’s quiet, everyone tense and waiting because somehow he’s become the one in charge. “Okay,” he says, taking a deep breath. “Three teams, one for each line. Zea and Milo and I will drive. Sara, with me, Lucerne with Zea, Virgil with Milo.”

Virgil’s eyebrows shoot up. “You sure you don’t want me or Milo to go with Zea? There’s a lot of weight to haul around.”

Zea laughs. It breaks the tension, especially when Milo and Durum start chuckling too. “Virg, you townie,” Milo says.

“You think I don’t throw around hundred pound sacks same as Milo?” Zea asks. “We’ll be fine.”

Virgil looks a little put out, but he subsides.

“You guys get the south line,” Alister says. “Blow it close to the city—outside the checkpoints but well before the first of the Depots. We’ll need to come back past that line and the further west we have to go the longer we’re out in the open.”

Milo nods. “A nice little explosion close in’ll keep everybody busy,” he says, sarcastic.

“Yep,” Alister goes on. “But wait until we’re well past. They called all the Peacekeepers in to deal with the city, so they’ll just have a few patrols out along the rails and the fence. But as soon as we blow one line they’ll send more patrols up to the northern lines, and we need to get there first.”

“We only have the two long distance radios,” Milo points out. “And one of ‘em should stay here with Durum in case there’s more news.”

Sara bites her lip. The other one’s coming with her because they made her promise, when they gave it to her. They trust these guys, so much as that’s possible, that’s why Durum and Lucerne know the codes and the frequencies but Joe gave both of them to her, because he’s known her since she was eighteen doing ridealongs and he knows what she can do and what she’s willing to do and she promised if he called her, she would be the one answering.

Alister glances at her. “We’ll take the other,” he says, and nobody questions it coming from him. “And we need to agree on a time before we go out.”

“It’ll take a while to get up to those northern lines,” Zea says, quiet. “That’s all the way up in spring wheat country, that’s at least a day from the city.”

Alister nods. “It’ll be faster in these vehicles than hauling machinery,” he says. “I’d guess 10 hours or so.”

Zea tilts her head to one side, considering. Then she glances at Milo, who shrugs. “Yeah, maybe,” Zea says.

Alister nods.

“Zea and Lucerne, we will travel together as far as the first line, then Sara and I will go on to the second.”

Zea glances at Sara, takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

Alister doesn’t say anything to Sara, just looks at her and nods. “Let’s get moving,” he says.

 

Sara had been assembling detonators with Virgil yesterday, before the radio put everything on hold, and he starts loading them into the trucks. Alister and Milo are loading up diesel and fertilizer. Zea looks over, eyes wide.

“Ready?” Sara asks.

Zea laughs weakly. “Scared shitless,” she says, “but what the hell, let’s go make some trouble.”

Sara grins. “That’s the spirit,” she says. She steps up to hug Zea, hoping that’s okay. Zea steps into it, holds Sara tight for a second before letting go.

“Be careful,” Zea says, quiet.

Sara nods. “You too,” she says. Zea takes a deep breath, nods once, and heads for her truck.

Sara should probably be more scared than she is. It’s probably stupid to be practically giddy about this crazy-ass plan. But she’s been waiting for years to hit back at these bastards, and it’s finally time.

She finds Alister checking the fuel tank. “We’re gonna have to stop,” he says. “Let’s just hope the Depot Peacekeepers really were recalled.” Sara shrugs. They were or they weren’t, there’s nothing to do but hope and see what happens.

“Cross that bridge when we get to it,” she says.

One corner of Alister’s mouth lifts slightly. “You’re pretty chipper,” he says, climbing in. Sara goes around, climbs into the passenger seat.

“Ready to do something finally,” she says. It’s surprisingly hard to sit still.

“Relax, we’ve got a lot of driving to do,” Alister says, pulling out. Zea falls in behind, Milo, Virgil and Durum watching solemnly from the cave.

As soon as they’re out of the ravine, Alister tunes the radio to Peacekeeper frequencies. It’s mostly nonsense to Sara, squad numbers and quadrants and whatever else.

“Anything important?” she asks after a few minutes.

Alister shakes his head. “Not for us,” he says. “Our friend Bley and his people seem to be keeping them pretty busy in town.”

“Good,” Sara says.

“They’re mostly worried about the storage,” Alister adds. “Grain and fuel.”

“Useful things to have,” Sara says.

This time Alister looks straight at her, one eyebrow raised. Sara smiles back and tries to look innocent. Finally he shakes his head and looks back at the road ahead.

 


 

They swing west, wide of the city. Alister picks up the pace as soon as they’re on pavement, faster than Zea’s ever driven, and the whine of the engine and the rush of the scenery flying past keeps her full attention until she gets used to it.

Lucerne’s sitting ramrod-straight in the passenger seat, watching out the windshield as the scenery goes by. She notices Zea glancing at her and looks over. Smiles, shifts a little.

“It’s good to get out of the city,”Lucerne says, just audible over the engine.

Zea nods. “You were out in the country?” she asks, curious suddenly.

“Oh yes,” Lucerne says. “We were out at the depots, until my husband died—my first husband.”

“Oh,” Zea says, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Lucerne sighs. “It was a long time ago. Accident with the sprayers, lost a tire and it flipped.”

Zea shudders. The sprayers are tall, bug-like things with wide arms, seats high up and precarious. Lucerne shakes her head. “I wanted to be reassigned to a crew, I drove truck more than he did, but they sent me to the city instead. Inventory for crews in and out. Inside, at a desk, no windows.”

Zea makes a face. Lucerne laughs. “I got used to it I guess, but I never much liked it.”

They drive in silence for a while after that.

“We’ll be pretty well cut off if all this goes right,” Lucerne says, as they cross the southern track.

“Oh?” Zea tries to think where the rail lines go but she’s never seen a full map.

“Well, we’re cutting the lines to anything west of here, and the line to 11 comes off this one, out west a ways. So we’re just linked to 6, and wherever else from there.”

Zea shrugs. “Guess we’ll have to survive without meat,” she says.

Lucerne shakes her head. “I just hope someone’s thought this through,” she says, a little sharp. “Them railroaders know where the lines go but I don’t know that they have a handle on what’ll happen this winter when nobody’s got tesserae because there’s no way to ship ‘em.”

Zea scowls out at the landscape. Corn country, empty now the corn’s tall enough the folks from the depots aren’t out spraying. And Zea’s never really thought about all of this as food, except in the abstract. Sure, District Nine feeds Panem, they all learned that before they were even old enough to go to school. But it’s this corn, and the wheat that needs cutting, and everything else that’ll have to be brought in because it can’t stay in the fields. And if the Capitol’s not making the calls, who is? Is someone going into the management office and making sure the crews are on schedule? Getting someone to fill in where—Zea swallows hard—where Ester’s crew was supposed to be?

Beside her, Lucerne sighs. “Not my job to worry about that, I suppose,” she says, “But I’m doing it anyway.”

 

They stop at a depot, nine hours after they left. Zea’s not sure why Alister picked this place, but maybe one’s as good as another.

When they drive up to the house, a man comes out holding a pitchfork and waving it toward the cars, as if it’d be any use against Peacekeepers with guns.

Alister usually takes the lead, but Zea makes the executive decision that right now that might not be a good idea. She opens her door as soon as she’s stopped and jumps down.

The man stops. “You’re not Capitol,” he says, frowning.

“No,” Zea says. “None of us are.”

Alister comes up behind her. The man’s eyes narrow—Alister’s not in a Peacekeeper uniform but some things are obvious even without it. But then Lucerne and Sara show up, and he goes back to just looking confused.

“We need fuel,” Zea says. “We’re—“

“Don’t tell me,” the man says, just as Alister says “Zea—“

“Fill up and get out of here,” the man says, and turns and walks inside.

 

It’s near dark when they reach the first track. Alister pulls straight into a cornfield, so despite being appalled at the destruction, Zea pulls in beside him. The corn’s high enough it reaches to the top of the pickup. Best cover they’re gonna get out here.

They get down, collect between the two vehicles. Zea thinks she can hear water, over the sound of the wind.

“There’s a bridge,” Alister says. “Just down the track.”

“Don’t put it all in one place,” Sara says. “You want to take down the supports, twist up the track as much as you can on either side.”

Zea swallows hard. Lucerne nods, thoughtfully.

“Detonate it and get out,” Alister says. “Don’t wait for us. Go west at least 30 miles before you head south, they’ll be coming up from the city fast and you don’t want to run into anybody.”

Lucerne climbs onto the truck, starts pulling out detonators. Zea hesitates, steps toward Sara. “Good luck,” she says, hugging her and trying not to think of it as the last time.

“Thanks,” Sara says, and she’s smiling, eyes sparkling with excitement. “See you back at camp.”

Zea nods, heads back to see how she can help.

 


 

Once they leave the others, Alister speeds up. Sara’d thought they’d been going fast before—sure, not compared to the passenger trains but a lot faster than she’s ever gone in a car. But now Alister’s damn near flying, brows furrowed in concentration. He only slows down just before the tracks.

“How’d you know it was here?” Sara asks, because she couldn’t see anything until they were nearly on top of it.

“Odometer,” Alister says, pointing to something in the controls. “It’s 127 miles between the tracks.”

Sara looks at the clock. “So we’ve been going a hundred miles an hour?”

Alister looks pleased with himself. If you know what to look for, and Sara’s starting to learn the signs. “Yeah,” he says. Sara turns on the radio, scans through the frequencies. They pick up something faint on one of the Peacekeeper channels. Alister leans forward and listens for a minute, then shakes his head.

“They’re sending people. We’ll have time, but let’s get moving.”

There’s a bridge here too, not big but it’s as good a target as they’re gonna get. Sara’s been tracking this kind of thing for years now, but this wasn’t her route. Alister must’ve been keeping track himself.

Detonators, explosives, wiring—Sara’s always been good with wiring, when she worked at Sal’s Rokia would make her do the fiddly soldering jobs. Her fingers don’t falter, but Sara does bite her lip. Sal would hate that she’s doing this. Always said the seedier parts of District Six were all the evidence anyone could want that Capitol control was necessary. And he’d worked his way up from nothing and now he has good Capitol contracts, so what was holding anyone else back?

Nobody ever argued, not really. No point looking for trouble. But Sara’d always rolled her eyes in private. And after Rokia, well, it’d taken a hell of a lot of willpower not to go set something on fire just for the satisfaction it’d bring.

Good things come to those who wait, Mom always said. Sara smiles to herself, and packs the fuel in under the rails.

Alister’s as fast as she is, they meet back at the truck less than an hour later with six charges ready to go. Alister backs the truck away, while Sara unrolls the wire to what he decides is a safe distance. She hands him the wires and he opens the hood. Clips one wire to the battery, looks over at her.

Sara nods.

She’s watching when everything blows, 1-2-3-4-5-6 fast as you can say it. Sal would hate it but it’s for him anyway, for him and for Sidi and for Rokia and for all of Panem and for Sara herself, and it’s fucking gorgeous.

Her ears are ringing, but she can hear Alister yell, “Come on, let’s go,” and she doesn’t even have her door closed when he starts moving.

 

They race west, along the access road. Sara keeps checking the radio but the only signal’s the one they found before, getting fainter as they go. So they’re in the clear for now.

They pass a Depot, and Alister turns south. Slows down again and says “Check for signals, we’re close to the tracks.”

She’s been checking, she’s not stupid, but she doesn’t say anything, just turns the dial. “There,” Alister says, and Sara stops. Not one of the standard bands, and it sounds like static, but then she hears it. Faint clicks she wouldn’t notice—hadn’t noticed, and Alister leans forward to hear, closes his eyes.

Sara tries to breathe quietly.

Alister sits up. “Increased patrols on the lines. Shoot intruders on sight. They’re sending Peacekeepers and track maintenance from Ten. Get that line open and keep it that way.”

He puts the truck in gear, flies over the tracks and keeps going south.

Sara keeps scanning the radio, until after a few hours something comes clear. Alister slows down, flips off his headlights, but doesn’t stop.

“Patrols?” Sara asks, because that’s what it sounds like but she can’t be sure.

Alister nods. She hears a locomotive code. And a time. 0338 at the 10-11 junction.

“They’re getting here that fast?” she whispers. Alister nods, still concentrating but not on the radio. Looking outside.

Then he looks over at her. “Do you know how to make a pressure detonator?” he asks.

Sara tries to remember. Track deflects, closes a circuit… “Yeah, I think so,” she says.

“Good. Better to have two, and we haven’t got much time.”

Sara grins. Alister shakes his head, but he looks amused.

 

It’s not till she’s finished the detonator and Alister’s checking it that she thinks about the guys on the engine. This thing she just made will trigger an explosion as soon as the weight of the train gets to it. That means it’s those guys who’ll take the brunt of it.  They don’t have nearly enough explosives to blow up the whole engine, but it’s not going to be pretty. But they need to stop this train, slow down repairs, and a derailment’s harder to fix than just replacing a section of track. They’re here. It’s the right thing to do.

Alister looks up from the wires. “Looks good,” he says. “Now let’s see if we can sneak through between patrols.”

They do. Alister pulls the truck into a cornfield on the other side, and they wait. A truck goes past, Peacekeepers lining both sides, rifles pointing outwards, ready to fire. Alister hugs the edge of the field, looks up and down, and they run. Alister places the detonators under the tracks, while Sara digs in two sacks of fuel further down. Alister comes over as she’s finishing, helps shovel gravel back over. It wouldn’t stand up in daylight, but the moon’s only half full, and the track’s too high from the road for the headlights to really hit it.

And anyway, it’s the best they can do, because there’s headlights out near the horizon, coming toward them fast.

They duck into the cornfield, running up the rows until Alister grabs her hand and pulls her down, hard. He rolls over so he’s flat on his stomach, head down, and Sara follows. She hears, more than sees, the truck roll past, but when the sound’s faded and the headlights disappeared, she sits up.

“What was that for?” she asks, annoyed, trying to brush dirt off and really only spreading it around. “We were way far in.”

Alister sighs. Goes around to stand behind her, grabs her shoulders and points them toward the tracks. “Straight rows,” he says, as though she’s a particularly dull 12 year old. “Easy to see down when they’re lined up.”

He turns and walks toward the truck without looking to see if Sara’s coming.

She glares at his back for a minute, then sighs and follows.

 

Alister keeps his lights off for the first few miles after that, before apparently deciding that speed is better than stealth and taking off at his usual breakneck pace, headlights bouncing when they hit a pothole. Sara watches the clock as she scans with the radio, makes sure that when the train hits those detonators they’re ready.

“What the fuck!” is the first thing they hear clearly, right around 4:00. Followed by requests for medics and overlapping orders for sending out patrols, and Alister speeds up. They’re too far away to hear the explosion, but the confusion on the radio is almost as good.

Sara keeps listening. Once the initial chaos has subsided, it gets a lot quieter, patrols checking in and requests to send to headquarters and most of it too much jargon for Sara to really understand.

It’s getting light by the time they reach the track toward camp. Light enough Sara can see Zea, pacing by the stream, and Milo running down the path from the hilltop lookout. Sara grins, and she thinks Alister’s shoulders relax a little. They pull in, hop down, and Alister looks totally shocked when Milo careens into him, wraps him in a bear hug.

“Hell yeah,” Milo says, stepping back. “You too,” he says, hugs Sara. “You guys have some kinda balls—I assume that was you just now?”

“Yep,” Sara says, still grinning. “That was us.”

Milo’s shaking his head. Alister, having recovered his usual dignity, asks, “Everything else according to plan?”

Zea comes up behind them, laughing a little. “No problem,” she says. She steps up next to Sara, and Sara turns to hug her. Zea holds tight for a second, then lets out a long breath. “You guys had us worried, we thought you’d be here by now, and then with all the commotion…” Zea shrugs. “Anyway welcome back, Lucerne says come eat something and get some sleep.”

They all follow Zea back. Lucerne’s made actual food somehow, and it smells amazing. “Durum caught us a rabbit,” Lucerne says, dishing out some kind of soup. “I’m sick of those ration bars and I’m sure you are too.”

Alister takes his bowl and starts to head outside. “Son, come in here and sit down,” Lucerne says, and Alister’s usually the one with the voice that makes you do what he’s telling you before you’ve even heard it, but Lucerne’s got a pretty good version of her own. Alister turns around, one eyebrow raised. Lucerne just stares him down until he shakes his head and sits, back to the stone wall.

 

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