Chapter 28: Voices and Rats
We walk in silence through the rest of the tunnels. Gale leads ahead with a map in hand while Cato lags behind. Every few seconds Cato looks up at the ceiling, expecting it to collapse again.
When the tunnels had collapsed earlier, Gale, Cato, and I were separated completely from the rest of the group. Unfortunately, now we must have to find a new route to the surface, but even with the map, twists, turns, and cave-ins lead us to dead ends.
Gale stops at a fork in the tunnels; I shine my light on his map for better view.
"The path on the right should lead us directly to the surface-"
"Shh! Did you hear that?" Cato suddenly interjects.
Our eyes fly up to the ceiling.
"No, it's coming from the tunnel on the right. It's like a hiss or something," he whispers.
I listen carefully, hearing the noise he had insinuated. It sounds much like a reptilian hissing, though eerily human at the same time.
"Left tunnel, now," Gale says urgently.
We sprint down the left and find ourselves at another fork, this time with three options.Again, we hear the noise, this time coming from two of the tunnels, this time growling.We run straight down the middle tunnel only to find it caved in with rubble.
We pause to catch our breath.
"Did we loose it, whatever it was?" Cato asks.
"No, I don't think so, but something is holding it back." I say, my voice barely audible.
Then the icy breath crackles from somewhere above, filling the entire tunnel system and echoing among the cement.
"Very good Miss Raze, you have proven to be a very good soldier.Though I shouldn't be surprised, your test results were impressive."
My rapid heart nearly stops for a moment I can't breathe. "Snow," Cato says. He tries to sound calm but I can see his hand shaking in anger.
"President Snow I should think, Mr. Rofter," Snow replies coldly. "My, my, you are just a child after all.With you immature mockery and your childish attempts to enter my household.The tunnels? Not a very bright idea, as you must have already realized." A low rumble follows his voice.
"So you decide to collapse the tunnels on us," Gale cuts in. "It's a good scare, but it won't keep us from getting in forever.Why not just crush us right now?"
"Yes, why not just crush you now? Perhaps because it's more fun to watch you just run around."
"No," I hear myself squeak.
"Excuse me?" Snow asks, amused.
"No, you can't completely collapse the tunnels or the part of the city would collapse in with it. The tunnels are part of the Capitol's structure.You cave us in, and your city becomes one giant sinkhole," I say more confidently.
"Well, I am impressed, Miss Raze.You have come a long way from living out of the storage room."
My blood turns to ice.
"I- how- bu-" I stutter uselessly.
"Two years was it? Two years of taking care of your baby sister all by yourself, too young for a job, too old for the community home. Ah,but your sister was young enough wasn't she? But you were selfish, wanted her all for yourself. And now look at where she is."
"...How?" I manage. "How did you-"
"Oh your a smart girl aren't you? Did you really think after we disposed of your worthless parents that we wouldn't keep an eye on you? And you saw the the whole thing didn't you. Two shots. That's all it took. I bet you have nightmares-"
"Stop!" I scream.
"First your father. Odd man with the too small glasses. Such an idiot. He thought jumping in front of your mother would save her."
"No..." I moan.The images flood back, stabbing my chest and tearing my hear to shreds.Tears leak, I lean against the wall for support.
"And your airhead mother. Oh, you share her bright hair don't you? I bet she loved you, sad to say you didn't love her back. Seeing as you ran away like the coward you are.You should have stood by your parents. Didn't you love them?"
I can only whimper as guilt consumes me.
"Your just as pathetic as your worthless parents." He scoffs. "And your dear sister I'm afraid will have the same fate."
At this I stand up, anger beginning to fill me. Before I can say anything, he speaks again.
"All of you are worthless. Every single one of you pathetic little rebels." I suddenly realize that everyone in the tunnels can hear this. Every soldier in the Rebellion army now knows what a coward I am.
"You're sick," I hear a familiar voice snap from the intercom.
"Ah, Clovey dearest, sad to hear you think so.Why are you even fighting me? I am the only thing you have left. Carver and your parents are gone now. Poor thing. If only Carver would have been as good as a grandchild as you, maybe he could of lived a bit longer."
"Shut up, you worthless piece of shit," Cato barks.
"Watch your language Mr. Rofter.We wouldn't want something happening to your dear family, now would we?"
Suddenly we her an agonizing scream, so shrill and young I cover my ears as my thoughts are consumed with images of Samantha.
Cato's jaw drops. "Bonnie! Don't you-" "
"So you still remember your little sister? How touching. Don't worry, all your little families are still alive. But time is ticking-"
"Stop it!" I hear a voice say on the other end.
"Well hello Miss Ruehler, you don't seem to be in a very good place to make any demands. Just because your father is loyal to me does not mean you get any special treatment. I wonder how that must feel; you mother leaving you when you were just a child, and now your father disowns you.Yes thats right, he disowned you. Just let that sink in: you're one of the few that actually still have living parents and neither of them want the horrible person you have become."
"Leave her alone!" I find myself saying.
"Oh that is precious, standing up for each other like you actually care.Why do you even bother? You stand no chance! We have plenty of reinforcements and I must say, your element of surprise was a complete failure.We have camera's in every tunnel, we can see your every move! It's only a matter of time before I break you.Your Rebellion is futile! Your Rebellion is-!"
Whatever he is about to say gets warbled with the sound of dying electricity and a sharp spat like that of a static radio. Then silence.
"Yes! It worked!" Gale says triumphantly. "We need to move quickly though, it won't be long before they get their power reserves up and running. While Snow was having his pointless rant, I found away out of here." He taps his map. "Lets move."
He turns around and begins to head back the we came. Instead of immediately following him however, I pause. Cato finds my eye.
Sadness. Horror. Dread. Guilt. Pain. Hopelessness.
I see them all when I meet his gaze.
"Come on!" Gale calls.We silently turn and follow him through the tunnel.And that silent voice pierces the the back of my mind.
Just keep pushing on.
"Take my hand, it's dark up ahead."
I obey the old man, and link my finger through his as we press on ahead into the black tunnel, the heavy smell of smoke and dust still lingering behind us. No more of the tunnels had collapsed yet, but every sound sends the two of us on edge as we make our way through the darkness and Snow's eerie voice still echoes in my eardrums.
Beetee is kind, and carefully leads the way as we search for an outlet. He had been relatively quiet since we had started off, but I had appreciated it, for it had given me time alone with my thoughts.
Marvel consumes every one of them.
Beetee suddenly stops short, ripping his hand from mine and finding a ladder on the cement wall. He throws his wrinkling hands around a rung and begins his ascent, and I follow diligently behind the sound of his creaking knuckles.
He pushes open what I realize to be a manhole cover, and we are greeted to the sounds of distant screaming and raining firearms all throughout the city. Already the Capitol has gone dark, though the moon in the cloudy summer night provides some visibility.We find ourselves in an alley, enclosed on either side by towering brick apartment buildings.
Beetee hoists himself out, scanning the area quietly.After a moment, he straightens. "Alright, everything looks safe.We ought to-"
The sudden metallic Pang! of a pan to the back of his skull tells me otherwise.
I scramble up the ladder, watching in horror as the old man falls flat on his back. Shooting out of the manhole, I dash to his side as he moans. "Beetee! Beetee!"
He grunts in response, a small welt forming on the back of his head.
I turn and look up at the boy standing above me, a frightening frying pan in hand with the shape of Beetee's skull clearly mended into the malleable material. The boy himself is as sickly grey as his dulling weapon, his blond hair turned dusty from malnourishment and exposure. His stomach protrudes, swollen with hunger, and his eyes sparkle a desperate hazel, the only spot of color in an otherwise dirty white face. He reminds me of a shriveled ghost, though he can't be more then ten or eleven, and trembling as he holds his makeshift weapon.
"Stay back!" he says, taking Beetee and I in with those crisp hazel irises. "...You're rebellion soldiers!" He stares at me a moment, then his eyes widen in realization and horror as he recognizes the girl with the knives.
Beetee sits up, rubbing his head. "What happened?" he groans, his gun falling from it's holster and on to the cement.
The boy shivers in terror, retreating slowly backwards towards the brick wall and a raggedy box filled with blankets, giving the appearance that it has been made a makeshift shelter for quite some time. His eyes stay on the gun. "P-Please don't hurt me. I-I'm sorry. I didn't know...."
I stand, and he cringes, frightened by the girl who must be only an inch taller than he, though significantly older. As I step towards him, he stumbles backwards, and he falls on his rear, trembling with a blaze of panic. He covers himself with an arm, and raises one leg defensively, preparing to kick me if I dare come any nearer.
I stretch a hand to his. "Hey, it's okay.We are not going to hurt you.We are here to help."
He trembles. "Yeah right.You're just here to take me away and put me in the home Or kill me.That's why you turned the city dark. So nobody could see you hurt me!"
"No, it's not.We are here to help you.We want to make you safe." My voice is soft, and I brush a strand of hair from his eyes as I speak. He shudders at the touch, but doesn't fight back. "I promise. We won't hurt you. Come with us."
"Clove-" Beetee starts.
"Come with us," I interrupt. "We will keep you safe. Get you some food and a nice place to stay."
The boy's eyes spark, hungry for shelter and protection, and he wordlessly takes my hand, unable to pass up so good of an offer. I help him up, then Beetee, and despite the elderly man's worried glance I keep the boy linked to my side.As we start off, I feel his little fingers grip tighter between my own, and the gentle gesture makes my heart melt. Where are his parents? How long has he been living in this box, if that is what he was doing? As I look him over, I find on his cheek, below the layers of grime and dirt, a bruise, shaped similarly to that of a human hand. Who would hurt him, I wonder?
We turn out of the alley, and Beetee begins to fiddle with his communicuff as we make our way down the darkened street. Oddly empty, the avenue echoes our footsteps, swallowing each sound and repelling it back.The boy sends me nervous looks.The maternal side of me somehow steps in, though I had never known to be there at all, and I smile down at the soft warm eyes.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" He stares back. Silent. I feel his fingers loosen between mine.
A gunshot rings ahead of us. Beetee halts, and the boy plasters to my side, frightened by the sound, his grip now restricting my circulation.
"Don't move," the General whispers.
A stream of moonlight makes its way from behind a cloud, illuminating the street. Ahead of us, a group of peacekeepers hold a grey soldier at hostage, her hands pulled taught behind her back.They force her to her knees, and one grabs her hair, retching her head back with a single vicious thrust.They have yet to see us.
"Please!" she begins to beg. "No! I can give you information! They're plans! I can tell you all they're secrets! Just spare me!"
A single peacekeeper, taller and thicker than the rest, strides forward, laughing as he sets the barrel of his gun to the woman's forehead. "Really darling? Tell us everything then! Wait not a moment more!"
The little boy's hands tighten around me. "That's Cassius!" he whispers in fear. "He's one of the head peacekeepers! He'll kill you!"
Cassius, as the boy had called him, seems to have been born for his role, for he is by far one of the most terrifying human beings I have beheld in my lifetime. His very stature is so bear-like that he practically wobbles under his sheer size, snidely making his way over to the Rebellion woman he holds as gunpoint. "Oh come on, darling. Don't you know anything? It would be a pity to put a bullet through the head of someone as pretty as you."
She shakes, tremoring in her captors hold as Cassius prods her with his rifle. "Uh, um, I uh-"
Cassius laughs, a sound as horrible as that of a dying animal. "Aww, poor thing.You must have wanted out of this so badly! You don't know a thing, do you?"
Beetee motions for us to move, to get out, and takes a step back, however not quite quietly enough. His movement is too rushed, and the Rebellion woman looks over to see her the familiar grey allies and sells us out the moment she recognizes the uniform. "That's one of them! Down there! That's one of the generals! And a tribute!"
The second the guards catch sight of us, Cassius' vicious smile drops, and soon a hungry set of lion-like teeth replace the condescending grin. He pulls the trigger, uncaring for the captive and his crew, for the bullet passes straight through woman's head and into the chest of the guard behind her, killing them both. I release a little gasp of horror, as do Beetee and the boy, and Cassius roars, pointing a gnarled fat finger directly at me. "Bring her back! Alive! Kill the others! Leave no survivors! Kill.Them. All!"
And with that, his troop thunders toward us, lead by the volley of bullets they shoot our way.
"Run!" the boy screams, and pulls my hand back as he goes flying into another alleyway. Beetee narrowly avoids a shot as he pursues, and the boy yanks me down another dark back street.We follow him, lacking of other options, and he skillfully leads us into several deserted alleys, dashing us around close corners with the familiarity of someone who has defiantly lived on the streets most of their life.
"This way!" he cries, pulling us down through a small grated opening in a side brick wall. I scramble in, followed by Beetee, and the boy yanks the grate back into place with a firm pang! The shouts of the peacekeepers are surprisingly distant.
"Keep going!" he cries, leading us into the darkness through another series of tunnels. Beetee and I chase the sound of his footsteps, and though I am positive the peacekeepers are nowhere near us now, we don't stop running until the boy opens up another grate at the end of another tunnel a good ten minutes later. We all emerge into another alleyway, breathing hard as we shuffle exhaustively into the moonlit night. Beetee wheezes.
He coughs once before addressing the boy. "So...now that you've saved our lives, mind telling us your name son?"
The boy looks to me, as if checking for permission, and hesitantly sputters between his ravenous gasps for air. "...Din. Din Plight. But most people just call me Rat."
I exhale. "...I like Din."
He smiles a bit. "...Me too."
Beetee grips his stomach, leaning heavily against the white stucco of the nearest apartment. "That man, Cassius, you said, is he...powerful?"
Din nods. "He's the head peacekeeper for the Capitol, and the most horrible one in all of Panem if you ask me. It's not like there is a lot of crime he has to deal with here, but he's cruel about it when it does happen. He's horrible." Din shudders.
"Is he the one that hit you?" I ask.
Din is silent a moment, then cautiously nods his head. "He caught me running around the other day. I told him my parents were out, couldn't let him know I don't have any, he'd put me straight in a home.And I can't go there, I just can't! So I told him I was just out playing, and he said my family would be ashamed of me. Gave me a nice hit and the most terrifying talk I ever did get.That ain't the worst of it.Any conspirators against the Capitol are immediately put down or go missing. I've heard things..he supposedly tortures them. Electrocution, cuts their limbs off, dangles them upside down until their eyes bulge out.You should hear the stories people come back with.They get worse every time."
Beetee heaves once more, then chuckles snidely. "So, I'm guessing he's dangerous."
Din looks directly in his eye and gives Beetee the most horrendous smirk I have yet to see on a child, so chilling it racks my bones with goosebumps.
"You heard him Mr. General, sir." He points to me. "She lives, no on else. By the end of the night, every one of your pretty grey soldiers will be so butchered and bloody, you would have thought it rained blood. And judging by Cassius' temper from few minutes ago? It just might, Mr. General. It just might."