Part III: “The Assassin”
“I’m the monster. I’m the mutt,” Peeta declares after seeing the footage of him pushing Mitchell to his death. He would rather die than serve as the Capitol’s tool, and he wants a nightlock pill to use if necessary. As in the arena, Katniss must struggle to survive and to keep Peeta alive; she tells him that he is “necessary” to the mission.
The squad looks for food in the apartment and, with Messalla’s help, locates a hoard of canned goods. Katniss experiences conflicting memories as she eats lamb stew: Now the apartment, too, “tastes like the arena.” As they eat, the screen activates and shows the faces of Boggs, the camera crew, and the victors, just as the faces of the dead are shown in the arena. Then Snow praises the Peacekeepers for “ridding the country of the menace called the Mockingjay,” who was after all merely a “poor, unstable girl.” But Beetee breaks in to the Capitol feed, and Coin introduces herself to Panem as leader of the rebellion. She gives Katniss’s eulogyand urges the rebels to remember the Mockingjay when they “waver.” Coin has what she wanted—a martyr, symbolically powerful but silent. “I had no idea how much I meant to her,” Katniss remarks.
Snow’s image appears again, and Katniss thinks that “someone will end up dead” because the emergency channel has been co-opted. He says that when Katniss’s body is found in the ruins, everyone will know that she is merely a “dead girl who could save no one, not even herself.” The squad knows that they have a brief “grace period” before the Capitol fails to find their bodies. Katniss wants to sleep but asks Jackson to teach her how to use the Holo. As they have moved closer to the city center, the number of pods has increased, and Katniss doesn’t know how they will navigate the “bouquet of blinking lights.” The streets and rooftops are too dangerous, so they decide to go underground. The Holo shows fewer pods underground, and they can access the tunnels through a maintenance shaft in the building. They clean the apartment to obscure their point of access and then tellPeeta that he must go with them. Katniss puts the key to the handcuffs in her pocket. They leave the big camera cases in a closet and begin to climb down. Pollux seems faint, and Castor informs them that Pollux was forced to work in the sewers after he became an Avox. The family saved for five years to buy his freedom—five years during which not once did he see sunlight. Peeta breaks the squad’s grim silence to tell Pollux that he is now their “most valuable asset.”
Pollux guides the squad through the tunnels. He knows how to avoid Avoxes at work, shift changes, and cameras. After six hours of slow progress, the squad must rest, so Pollux finds a warm room out of the way. They have four hours to sleep, eat, and think. Pollux, who can’t sleep anyway, studies the Holo with Katniss, mapping out their next moves, as Peeta, cuffed to a pipe, watches. Katniss takes food to Peeta and asks what he meant about some memories not being “shiny.” Katniss strokes his hair to help him fall asleep, and he asks whether she’s really still trying to protect him. “Real,” she says, “that’s what you and I do.”
The respite passes quickly, and as the squad wakes, Katniss hears an odd hiss, “like multiple exhalations that form . . . a single word”—her name.
Thrust into a position of leadership, Katniss wisely relies on the expertise of others. Jackson understands the Holo; Pollux knows the tunnels; Finnick grasps the Capitol’s strategy. Star Squad has become a team—but a team predicated on Katniss’s lie about Coin’s mission. She is torn about this and deeply conflicted about what to do with Peeta, who wants to die so that he causes no more harm and so that the Capitol cannot recapture him. He begs Katniss, “Don’t you see, I want to be out of this?” And she understands his urge but not her unwillingness to let him go. Does she care about him, or about letting Snow win? Has she “turned him into a piece in my private Games?” She cannot say, but she does admit that she is “not motivated by kindness” when she tells him to come “voluntarily” or be dragged unconscious into the tunnels. The moment when the handcuff key taps the pearl in her pocket is symbolic of her struggle to know what she and Peeta are to each other now.
The search is over, only Boggs’s body was recovered, and “Snow can’t tolerate being made to look like a fool.” Now the Capitol has “unleashed” something into the tunnels to track the squad. Katniss jumps as the eerie, hissed version of her name comes from Peeta’s lips. She aims an arrow, but suddenly he yells in alarm, “Katniss! Get out of here!” Katniss advises splitting up, since the thing wants only her, but the squad and crew refuse to leave her. They divide their weapons, and Katniss shows Cressida and Messalla how to aim and fire. They flee their hiding place. They have a lead on the source of the hissing, but Katniss knows that mutts are usually fast. They try to move fast, too, but haste results in noise, despite their care. They advance about three blocks and begin to hear the “[t]hick, guttural” screams of Avoxes as the mutts come across them, killing anything that stands between them and Katniss. Again, she thinks, people are dying because of her: “Friends, allies, complete strangers . . . .” As the hissed name gets louder, Katniss begins to gag on the smell of Snow’s roses. She starts to shake. In her fear, she staggers out into the underground road that is the Transfer and shoots a pod of rats with anarrow. She runs for the intersection ahead, telling the others to stay with her. She intends to get past a pod called the “MEAT GRINDER” and then deploy it to stop the mutts. But another pod activates, creating a column of golden light that confinesMessalla as “the flesh melts off his body like candle wax.” Peeta yells that they can’t help Messalla and moves them on.
Peacekeepers rush into the Transfer, shooting, and the squad sharpshooters pick them off. Then the pale white mutts catch up to them. They decapitate the Peacekeepers (even the dead ones) and “skitter” forward on their bellies. Katniss and the others move past the Meat Grinder pod, and she shoots it. “Huge mechanical teeth” destroy the tiled floor and everything on it as Katniss decides that they must get above ground. Pollux leads them over the main sewer, which they cross on a narrow bridge. Katniss realizes that Leeg 1 and Jackson are no longer with them; they remained at the Meat Grinder to fire on mutts that made it across, Homes said. Katniss wants to go back for them, but Homes says no. , Gale destroys the far end of the bridge with an explosive arrow to slow their advance. They shriek and howl as they fling themselves into the toxic sewer, trying to reach her, and they are hard to kill. The horrid smell of roses prevails even over the stench of sewer waste: “It’s as if Snow’s breathing right in my face, telling me it’s time to die.” Someone pulls the immobilized Katniss to the ladder and yells at her to climb. She sees that Pollux is above her, Peeta and Cressida below. At the top, she turns to pull Peeta and Cressida up, and Gale yells at her to keep climbing. He has a gash in his neck from a mutt’s attempt to decapitate him—and he’s alone. Homes and Finnick are “not coming,” Gale says—only mutts. She shines the scope light of Cressida’s gun down into the tunnel and sees Finnick, trying to hang on the ladder as three mutts leap at him. A mutt “yanks back [Finnick’s] head to take the death bite.
Katniss gives the Holo the nightlock command and lets it fall into the tunnel, where it explodes, showing her with “bits of mutt and human flesh” before Pollux closes the pipe. Five are left now; later, Katniss thinks, “the human feelings will come.” Now they must flee. They bandage Gale’s neck. Peeta is in the thrall of his programming, “eyes like black pools,” and Katniss is filled with hatred at the thought of having to kill him: She does the only thing she thinks can bring Peeta back—she kisses him and begs him to stay. He regains control, and they climb into a utility room. As they emerge, the wealthy Capitol woman who lives in the apartment opens the door and prepares to call for help. Katniss must shoot her.
The tunnels under the Capitol, running with foul sewage at their worst and the prison of Avoxes in their cleaner parts, are an appropriate setting for the horrible events of this chapter, which claims the lives of five of Katniss’s companions. Finnick’s death is particularly terrible; having just been reunited with his beloved Annie, now a husband and also the ground of her sanity, he dies protecting Katniss, as he was prepared to do in the Quarter Quell arena. Realistic readers know that cities must have underground sewers and water mains, but the tunnels under the Capitol function metaphorically as well. The Avoxes are not paid municipal workers but slaves, prisoners doing penance, whose families must buy their freedom. As with the buried street pods, the underground is the ugly reality of the leisured Capitol; only through slavery, oppression, and exploitation can Snow’s beautiful city, where food appears in variety and quantity and pageantry proceeds in its yearly cycle, exist.