So that’s it.
The reason Rafe hates me. It’s not because of who I am, nor simply because of what I am or what I do, but because of who I do it with.
Those Peacekeeper Pigs, he’d said. Did you act like they didn’t murder our parents?
Rafe and I were orphaned the same year, for the same reason. It was nine years ago, the year we would both turn nine years old; though it happened before my birthday. The year following the 46th Hunger Games. That year, Flax Flannigan of District 8 was the victor.
But Flax was too gentle a soul. It was a fluke that he survived the Games. He couldn’t survive the consequences, the guilt, the nightmares. He couldn’t survive the cost of survival. Flax Flannigan was less a victor than a delayed victim. When he returned home to us, he returned dead inside. He became withdrawn and paranoid. By the time his victory tour was due, he had become a complete recluse. Unlike so many other victors, he had no addiction to take refuge in. He was ever alone with his memories, clear as day in sobriety. About a week after he completed his tour, Flax Flannigan hanged himself with a linen scarf produced in the factories of District 8. It had been his tribute token.
Unrest spread through the district. The people of 8 have always been fiery. The strong core of the rebel faction has never truly been stamped out by the Capitol. Flax’s death leant strength to the insurgents’ manifesto, but the tension didn’t come to a head until the next month, when the Capitol stopped Flax’s victory gifts early. They should have continued for the full year, but we only received them for just over half. Adding insult to several injuries, the Capitol played Flax’s death as an accident. Suicide just doesn’t fit well into their Games’ façade of honour and glory. They tell their citizens that all victors live happily ever after – even if what makes them ‘happy’ is a morphling addiction or crippling alcoholism. Victors cherish the new life the beneficent Capitol has given them. They die old and fulfilled on a bed of roses, surrounded by friends and admirers. They don’t dangle from ceiling beams.
My parents had been members of the underground network. So had Rafe’s. They were among those who, after the stop of the gifts, decided to demonstrate in front of the Justice Building. Twenty-one factories went on strike, severely slowing the production and distribution of Panem’s textiles. The occupation of the town centre swelled to something like fifty thousand in under a week. The Capitol sent in additional Peacekeeper forces in an attempt to dissemble the mob. Martial law was imposed. Thousands were forced back into their homes and their jobs under penalty of arrest, corporal punishment, or death. The healers couldn’t keep pace with the influx of injuries from the Peacekeeper’s brutal beatings. It’s said that several people died from infection or internal haemorrhaging over the course of the fighting and after. Others were killed on the spot in skirmishes or when mobs failed to disperse. Just over a hundred of our people were declared traitors and whisked away in hovercrafts never to be seen again. They will be here in the Capitol somewhere, serving as silent Avoxes.
But despite the fighting spirit that pervades District 8, the demonstration lacked cohesion. Without clear leadership or even a figurehead to rally behind, the rebels became divisive. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the divided are conquered. You lose the strength of numbers. Because of this, the reign of fear worked on the majority, who had only wished to protest; not to fight, not to die. If the fifty thousand had taken a week to assemble, it took only days for most of them to submit. The occupation of the town square dwindled. Only the hard core of the resistance remained. Rafe’s and my parents were among them.
On the last day of the occupation, there was a massacre. The Peacekeepers’ patience – if you could call it that – had run dry. In the single bloodiest incident of the entire revolt, the crowd in front of the House of Justice was sprayed with bullets. Those on the front lines were killed, totalling thirty-seven. A further forty-five were injured, twenty-three taken into custody. A few days later, fifteen of those twenty-three were publicly executed for treason. My parents were among the thirty-seven who died in the line of fire.
Most of the incident was swept under the rug, kept quiet from the people of the Capitol and the other districts. They don’t televise that kind of large-scale open rebellion. The Dark Days are over, remember? What they did televise was the execution of fifteen scapegoats announced to have been caught carrying out a terrorist attack on a textile mill. An attack in which thirty-seven workers were killed on the job, and forty-five of Panem’s loyal patriots were injured. Small scale. Swift and sure. Seen by the Capitol’s watchful eye, stamped out by the Capitol’s sturdy boot before it could escalate. Wrapped up all neat and tidy, with fifteen bodies to serve as a reminder of what happens to those who disobey.
And, just to prove to us how magnanimous our government can be, a group of freshly orphaned children were presented with medals of valour the very same day. The children of the thirty-seven hardworking citizens who were killed in the vicious terrorist attack on the mill. I remember how heavy the medal had felt when Mayor Card draped it around my neck. After the ceremony, we were treated to a big dinner in the Justice Building, before we were packed off to the District 8 Home for Girls and Home for Boys. Most of us never saw that much food before or since. Except me, now, and look where I had to come to get it.
Years onward, and I get most of my business from uptowners like the Mayor, and from Peacekeepers. They’re the only folk in District 8 that can afford to pay me and buy the contraceptives I demand in my terms of service. They’re also pretty much the only folk with any free time to fill with idle pleasures such as made-to-order sex and stripteases. It was no big secret among the other girls at the Home. Hell, I wasn’t even the only one in the business. It’s no surprise that the word spread to the Home for Boys as well. So for five years Rafe has watched as I opened my legs to our enemies in exchange for bread. Watched as I smiled and laughed with them and called them by name. To Rafe, I’m a traitor of the worst kind.
I can’t speak for some of the other Peacekeepers I’ve done business with over the years, but Marcus Flint didn’t kill either of our parents. He didn’t come to District 8 until almost three years later. That’s when he started his first twenty year service, fresh out of training. He’s still a pig and a pervert and a Peacekeeper, but he’s innocent of orphaning us, if nothing else. Sometimes I wonder if I would feel differently about him if he weren’t the man who purchased a thirteen-year-old girl’s virginity. I wonder if I wouldn’t judge him so harshly. Then I think that maybe it’s the opposite. I’m actually somewhat fond of the slime ball, for sentimental reasons, and for being the first and most important step in my journey of survival.
Well, what does Rafe know? If he would rather be a principled corpse, that’s his prerogative. For myself, I choose to use the faculties and the resources available to me to live another day, grow stronger, and fight back. That’s what I’m doing, what I’m working toward. Even if he doesn’t see it. I want to live, because the dead can’t fight back.