Part II: “The Assault”
Katniss and Johanna advanced to Simulated Street Combat (“the Block”) to practice missions. The scenarios are realistic, and Cressida and the crew are on hand to film propos. When Peeta shows up to join training, still guarded, Katniss worries, but Plutarch assures her that he’s there just for the cameras. Panem needs to know that he’s getting better and is with the rebellion, not Snow. Katniss walks away when Plutarch suggests a shot of her and Peeta as a happy couple.
The missions are part of preparation to take control of the train tunnels that allow access to the Capitol. Soldier York sends Katniss and Johanna to take a four-part exam. They do well in physical conditioning, tactics, and weapons; then they wait for the Block part of the exam. Each candidate must face a scenario designed to test her weakness. Katniss takes her turn in an ambush scenario that seems to her to be too easy. Peacekeepers swarm the street, and Katniss spots a fuel container in the street and plans to blow it up to stop them. Then she hears her squadron commander order her to “hit the ground.” The fuel container is such as easy target that she can barely make herself comply, and she admits her weakness: “I cannot take orders.” She flattens her body to the street as another soldier blows up the fuel. The test passed, she earns the rank of soldier and is assigned to 451, Boggs’s sharpshooter unit, with Gale, Finnick, and five soldiers she does not know. In the command room, Plutarch displays a holographic image of a Capitol block. It shows the “pods,” that is, obstacles and booby traps along the street, or at least as many were in place when the holographic map was made several months ago. Katniss and Finnick immediately grasp the similarity of the pods and the arena’s traps and threats. Finnick intones, “Ladies and gentlemen . . .” and Katniss adds, “Let the Seventy-Sixth Hunger Games begin!” and laughs. Plutarch put Soldiers Odair and Everdeen on the team for just this reason, and Katniss feels the urge to get to the woods so that she can “scream. Or curse. Or cry.” Since the mission is classified, Katniss can’t even tell her mother where she’ll be. She is scared but also ready.
Haymitch finds Katniss and Finnick to tell them that Johanna is back in the hospital, sedated. She collapsed during her Block test when the street flooded, overwhelmed by flashbacks to her torture in the Capitol, where she was soaked and shocked. Katniss understands now why Johanna hates the rain and never showers. Finnick and Katniss are “as close to friends as she’s got,” Haymitch says, and Katniss thinks how hard it is that Johanna has nothing of her own, not even a district token. She asks Boggs for a pass to go into the woods, where she gathers fragrant pine needles and ties them in a bundle. At Johanna’s bedside, she watches her friend fight the sedation, clearly afraid to sleep. Katniss hands Johanna the bundle, and Johanna cries as she breathes in the fragrance of her home. She grips Katniss’s wrist and makes her swear on her family’s life that she will kill Snow.
The final days of training fly by. The other team members are Jackson, a middle-aged woman who is second in command; two sisters in their twenties, Leeg 1 and Leeg 2; and Homes and Mitchell, older men who are excellent shots. Cressida and the team will follow their mission to make propos when possible. Katniss and the others object to being, as Plutarch puts it, the “on screen faces of the invasion.” They want to fight, on the front lines, with the other soldiers. But Plutarch corrects them: Their job is “to be as useful to the war effort as possible.” They must try to grasp “the power of the screen.” Katniss quietly vows not to play it safe for Plutarch’s sake.
On the day of the mission, Katniss says goodbye to her family, assuring them that she’s “just one of Plutarch’s televised puppets,” and Prim says that when they next meet, they will be free of Snow’s evil. Katniss decides against saying goodbye to Peeta but takes his pearl as her “token.” In District 12, the team boards cargo trains to travel to a tunnel that leads into the Capitol; then they walk six hours to a crowded rebel camp in a secured area outside the city. The Peacekeepers are in the city proper, and “the booby-trapped streets, empty and inviting,” lie between the enemy forces. The rebels press forward, block by block, triggering pods and trying to keep casualties low.
Three days pass. The team films the soldiers blowing things up, but in fact, they’re just marking time. Katniss uses her down time to study maps of the city, on the sly, and wishing she had access to the Holo, the handheld holographic map that is programmed to answer to the commander’s voice only. In an emergency, any soldier can say, “Nightlock” three times to cause the Holo to explode.
On the fourth morning, Leeg 2 hits a mislabeled pod, and a “sunburst of metal darts” flies out, killing her. As Leeg 1 mourns, Plutarch, always in radio communication, says that a replacement soldier is on the way. The next evening, he arrives—Peeta, free and armed. Boggs takes Peeta’s gun and goes to contact Coin. Peeta is not concerned and reports that Coin sent him because the propos “needed some heating up.” But Katniss knows that, in fact, Coin has decided that Katniss is “of more use to her dead than alive.”
Circumstances force Katniss to evaluate herself from a more mature perspective in the final chapters of Part II. As Peeta grapples with the part she played in the arena and as a victor, she sees the less ethical, more situational aspects of her behavior more clearly. As Johanna struggles with addiction and PTSD, she appreciates more deeply the connections she’s been able to maintain, to people and to home, despite her ordeals. And as she faces her Block test, she admits to her weakness as a soldier and team member, a weakness that is not surprising in someone who has long had to shift for herself. The ability to take others’ perspectives enables Katniss to consider the effect of her actions on others and will drive many of her decisions in Part III.