The first time they try to bring a cargo train in from Seven, the track blows, the train derails, and two crewmembers are killed.
Rokia calls Beetee and they spend two days digging through encrypted databases to find the rest of the traps, encircling the Capitol and triggered by some idiot as the Capitol was falling. They’re just lucky they’ve been using passenger lines so far, but for the heavy cargo loads that have to come in there just aren’t enough clear lines.
Rokia glares at the map for an hour and the hovercraft logs for another hour before realizing she’s going to have to find a ground-based solution. They’re overstretched already, flying cargo and people to all the places the rail lines were destroyed. Getting the rail lines repaired is going to be another huge job, since the same brilliant thinkers who sabotaged their own supply lines when it became clear they were going down also blew up half of district Six when it became clear the rebels were going to take it. They still haven’t got communication lines back up to the mining towns—and Rokia slams the brakes on those lines of thought and turns back to the map.
They can’t get out there on the rail lines themselves, their location information is sketchy and she doesn’t want to find the traps by blowing them up. The access roads haven’t been maintained well and she’s not sure whether the weight of a truck would set off explosives. Finally Rokia flips through her contacts and finds one she hasn’t used in years. The phone number doesn’t connect but she’s got an address, so she walks over.
The shop is more or less intact, but the manager looks nervous when she walks in.
“Hi Aulus, how’s business?” Rokia asks, with a wry grin.
The manager laughs at that. “Well, it’s pretty much shit.”
“So you won’t mind if I borrow one of those all-terrain bikes we put together in what was it? 73?”
He looks at her, eyebrows raised. “Uh, I think we’ve got a couple, yeah, but the boss…”
Rokia glares. “Your boss owes me,” she says, voice flat.
He bites his lip, glancing around. “Look, I—I didn’t know about…” he waves a hand, won’t meet Rokia’s eyes. Funny, she thinks, how squeamish everyone in the Capitol has suddenly become.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rokia says, “Just, let me borrow one of the bikes. We’ll even make up some official paperwork about contributing to reconstruction or something if it’ll make you feel better.”
The man nods, finally, and motions her to follow him. Rokia grins when she sees the bikes, lined up against the wall.
“You’re going to have trouble getting fuel,” he says, “they’re rationing it pretty strictly.”
Rokia shrugs. There’s tanks of fuel behind her shop, and the paperwork goes through the office upstairs. “Just give me a couple litres to get home with.”
He goes to a barrel in the corner and pumps it out. That, Rokia pays for.
She’s on her way back when she realizes that it’s really not a good idea to go tearing out of the Capitol to disarm explosives by herself. Sure, she could probably figure it out on the phone with Beetee, but that’s assuming there’s phone service out where they are (doubtful) and that there aren’t die-hards out in the woods who’d be interested in shooting her (possible). That means the Peacekeepers, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. She groans and turns to head for their barracks.
She pulls up outside, gets off reluctantly and locks the bike. The guards look at her, a little wide-eyed, when she walks up.
“I need to talk to whoever’s in charge,” she says.
They exchange glances and then one nods. “I’ll take you up to see Marius”
Marius is sitting at a desk covered in paperwork, talking on the phone to someone. He looks up at her, and Rokia can see the moment when he recognizes her, when his expression shifts from annoyance at the interruption to recognition and confusion.
“What can I do for you, Rokia?” he asks.
“I need Peacekeeper support for a bomb disposal mission in the borderlands near here.” Marius’s eyebrow twitches up and he stops fidgeting with his paperwork.
“There are explosives on a bunch of the cargo rail lines and we need them off so we can bring supplies in. I know the locations, more or less, but I’m not an explosives expert and there may be people watching those lines, I don’t know. It’d be good to have some backup.”
Marius is giving her a look she’s long since become accustomed to—the one that says “I hear what you are saying but are you sure it’s really you saying it?”
“I guess this kind of request would normally come from the Minister of Transportation, but honestly, I don’t know who that is,” Rokia continues, “I’ve been working with a couple guys from Six to organize this stuff.”
Marius nods. “Okay,” he says, “I know how it is right now. We don’t have free transport until…” he sifts through his papers again, until Rokia cuts in.
“I can provide transportation,” she says, “I know a guy who makes motorcycles.”
“Motorcycles.” Marius’s voice is deadpan but the corner of his mouth is twitching, just slightly.
“Yeah, I know it’s a little unconventional but it really is the best way, they’re light, they won’t accidentally set something off, and the maintenance roads aren’t in the best of shape.”
Marius nods. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do. Can you come back tomorrow?”
Rokia nods. She wants to leave now, immediately, but tomorrow will do.
When she goes back the next day there are two ex-Peacekeepers in Marius’s office, waiting for her. Marius introduces them as Dash and Selene, who are apparently a demolitions expert and a sniper. Rokia nods.
“You guys know how to drive a motorcycle?” Rokia asks.
“Nope,” Selene says, grinning, “but we’ll learn.”
Rokia smiles back before she notices what she’s doing. They’re young, both of them, and Selene is obviously Two, Career training in her stance. Dash she doesn’t place right away, but it’s not as though she knows much about the Peackeepers.
“OK,” Rokia says, “I’ll have the guys at the shops bring the bikes by and we can do some trial runs and then head out.”
“Hold on a minute,” Marius says. “I need to know where you’re going and what you’re planning.”
Right. Rokia isn’t used to briefing anyone lately, never quite sure who if anyone she’s supposed to be reporting to. She pulls her datapad out of her backpack and sets it on Marius’s desk, projecting the rail system map onto the wall.
She walks through the top priority lines, explains the little they know about how the devices are set up. Dash asks about that part, Selene asks about terrain, Marius watches quietly until they’ve planned out the day’s work, then agrees to it. Rokia thinks these Peacekeepers might not be so bad.
Selene’s face lights up when Aulus shows up with the bikes. Rokia goes over the basics: clutch, brakes, shifting, and they do loops in the parking lot until Selene and Dash can start without stalling or sending the bikes racing ahead. They’re low-powered dirt bikes, which makes it easier—the first time Rokia rode one of Aulus’s racing bikes it had nearly flown out from under her. They’re not going for speed, so Rokia figures they’ll survive on the access roads.
Rokia leads the way out of town, stopping at the gates for the two Peacekeepers to show their badges. Once they’re on the access road Rokia slows down to let Selene go first, so she can set the pace. She’s surprised when Selene doesn’t slow down at all, taking the curves and potholes easily. Dash is a ways behind when they get to the first location Rokia’s marked on her map. They pull over and Selene starts looking around, scouting in circles from the spot where Rokia’s found the explosives, settled into the ties just under the rails. Selene is all business now, serious and straight-faced as she watches the woods. When Dash pulls up he comes over to her and pulls out his kit, just as solemn as he disconnects the pressure plate from the explosives and moves them away from the track. Once everything’s set he calls Selene over.
“I’m going to blow these and then we should take off, because if there’s anyone around they’re going to know exactly where we are.”
Selene nods, hand on her holster as they get the bikes ready to move. Then Dash blows the explosives and they take off.
They break for lunch in a clearing, pulling out field rations and relaxing in the grass. It’s warm in the sun, and Selene pulls off her jacket and sets her pistol on top of it. Rokia’s eyes drift toward the gun. It looks like the standard Peacekeeper-issue, nicer than the ones they made her learn to fire in 13.
Selene glances at her and asks, “Do you know how to shoot?”
Rokia breathes in. “Sure,” she says, trying for nonchalant and missing, “they made us learn in Thirteen.” And that’s a mistake to say because her stupid brain is full of tripwires and she can feel the shock of the recoil in her shoulders and smell gunpowder and she bites her lip and digs her fingernails into the skin of her wrists but it doesn’t stop the images behind her eyes. Cursing to herself, she gets up, shoots Selene a crooked smile by way of apology and walks over to her bag, leaning against her bike. She pulls out a cigarette and lights it, letting the smoke burn away the metallic tang in her mouth. It’s a dirty Six habit and she shouldn’t be doing it, but the long slow drags calm her down and it’s one of the few things that’s got no association with either the Capitol or the war.
She digs through the bag again and pulls out a bagful of tools. She’s got the clutch housing off and the tension adjusted when she notices Selene again, walking up in front of her, the bike between the two of them. She’s holding herself casual but Rokia’s got enough public experience to know it’s an act. It’s not by accident Selene’s keeping her distance, either, but Rokia’s ability to be embarrassed has taken a hell of a hit in the last five years so she just smiles at Selene instead of worrying about it.
“What’re you doing?” Selene asks, and apparently they’re going to just ignore that minor freakout, which is fine with Rokia.
“Adjusting the clutch tension. With new bikes the cables stretch a little, you get play in it.” Usually you wait a couple hundred kilometers to bother adjusting it, too, but Rokia’s going to plead extenuating circumstances.
“Can you show me how?” Selene asks.
Rokia looks up, sharp. But Selene’s not just saying it to be nice, she actually looks excited. Rokia grins. “Sure, I’m about done here but I’ll show you on yours.” She fits the coverplate back on and they move to Selene’s bike. Dash comes over and watches, while Rokia shows Selene on her own bike and Selene practices on Dash’s. By the time they’re finished Rokia’s actually relaxed.
By the time they get all the tracks cleared the sun’s getting low. Rokia’s leading the way back to the Capitol when Selene races past her, throttle wide open. Okay, then, she thinks, and leans forward, weaving around the potholes on the dirt road. Selene’s fast and reckless but Rokia knows the bike and before long Selene has to slow down to navigate a particularly bad section and Rokia slips past. She leans into the curves, enjoying the wind and the noise and the focus. Selene’s not far behind, but Rokia beats her to the city checkpoint. She flips up her visor when Selene pulls in, and Selene’s grin splits her face, her eyes are wide and cheeks flushed and Rokia laughs.
“Having fun?” she asks.
“Oh yeah,” Selene says, “you sure there aren’t more tracks to disarm?”
Rokia pretends to think about it. “Well…” she says, “we maybe ought to just check the condition of some of the others. Could’ve been some damage, you know.”
Selene laughs. “Yeah,” she says, “you can’t be too careful.”
Dash pulls up then, looks between the two of them and shakes his head. “What was that?” he asks, and he’s smiling enough that Rokia doesn’t think he’s actually mad, but he doesn’t look excited either.
When they get back to the Peacekeeper barracks Selene pulls out a piece of paper and scribbles her number.
“Here,” she says, handing it to Rokia, “give me a call sometime and we’ll go check those other lines.”
Rokia pockets it. “Sure thing,” she says, and waves to Dash and Selene as she heads back.
The next week is packed full of minor catastrophes, but finally a series of meetings with the new government leaves Rokia irritable and needing a break. Everything in her office, everything in the shop, it all reminds her of someone and she can’t get out of her own head. She paces in her office for a while, enters Selene’s number into her phone, glares at it, and finally punches the call button before she can talk herself out of it.
Selene picks up. “Hello?”
“Hi, um, Selene? This is Rokia” Who talks on the phone to important people about work stuff several times per day but apparently gets nervous calling people to go have fun.
“Rokia!” Selene sounds genuinely pleased, and Rokia relaxes a little. “Please tell me you want to take the bikes out again.”
Rokia smiles and takes a deep breath. “Yeah, actually, I do. Are you free?”
Selene hums over the phone. “I could get free. Gimme an hour?”
Rokia was half-expecting Selene to brush her off, and definitely not expecting her to be able to go right away. “Perfect. I’ll stop by.”
She leaves the helmet behind. She wants the wind in her face and the smells of the sagebrush and pine trees and if she’s managed to survive an Arena and a war she’s not going to die in a fucking motorcycle crash.
When Rokia pulls up to the barracks, Selene’s waiting for her, and they don’t stop to say more than quick hellos before heading out. They do actually check one of the railroad lines, racing out along the access road until they crest the top of the ridge and as if planned they both slow to a stop. The mountains stretch out towards Two and the sun’s setting behind them and Rokia’s breathing hard but the knot in her stomach is gone.
They ride back slower, leapfrogging each other on straightaways and leaning into turns and by the time Rokia gets home it’s dark. Her datapad flashes with messages but she flips it over and goes to sleep.