This is mostly an excuse to write about how I think the railroads work.
Sara knew she shouldn't expect to see much of the districts they're riding through. She knows the rules, they're not allowed to leave the loading zone, not allowed to fraternize with locals on the loading crews, a long list of "no" that she doesn't really understand.
Until the first time she works the 9-10-11-12 run. Nine and Ten aren't so shocking except for how much space there is. In Ten she learns why everyone transfers off this route as soon as they've got the seniority. Flatbed cars that carried machinery from Six and containers of feed from Nine are loaded with open containers of dried manure, they tack on a couple tanks of what the Ten loading boss calls "slurry" and which Keita tells her is watery pig shit, and the whole damn loading zone smells like a backed up sewer.
But the real shock is when they come into Eleven, and the whole train gets stopped outside a fortified gate, searched inside and out by Peacekeepers with guns strapped to their hips and visors down, even inside. There are as many PKs as crew in the loading zone, and nobody so much as opens their mouths while they unhook the tank cars, shift the manure containers, offload pallets of tesserae.
They don't load anything to replace the containers, flatbed cars stay empty, just a few new pallets to replace the tesserae they offloaded. Once they've been searched again and are on their way out she asks Keita why.
He snorts. "You'll see. Ain't like those dirty miners in Twelve can afford anything 'cept tesserae anyway."
He's right. When they roll into Twelve, Sara's shocked at the contrast. A couple Peacekeepers stand at the fence, but they're leaning back, helmets off, relaxed. A handful of guys pull the pallets of tesserae, and Sara sees one guy slip a sack off the pallet and into a space under the platform where the bricks are broken. He catches her looking and grins, white teeth shining against the coal dust on his face. He kicks the rubble against the hole, hiding his prize.
Sara took tesserae every year she could, so did everyone she knew, but the only people she's seen desperate enough to be selling tesserae grain are the kind of addicts who look like you might see them dead in an alley any day now.
But here--well, she's not the only one who saw the guy. The PKs aren't paying attention, but there's a clutch of kids standing against the fence, eyes huge. They're staring at boxes of shriveled apples, potatoes, cabbages as though it's the jars of candy at a corner store, and one boy's glaring at the crewman who stole the tesserae as though he could burn a hole right through him. The crewman catches it and grins, nods at the kid and raises an eyebrow, and somehow that must be language because the kid scowls and nods back, looks away.
"Sara!" Keita's calling her, and she turns back to setting containers.
It becomes routine, after a while, machinery for grain for shit for coal, round and round eastern Panem, and Sara stops being shocked by it pretty soon. She doesn't forget, though, and when Keita motions her to a corner of the coal yard in Twelve and asks her if she wants to join the Rebellion, she glances over at the kids--different ones every time--and says yes.