Here's a "one-shot" with a backstory behind it: It's an idea I first thought of as a set-up for Gale's adventures in "Hanging Tree", but I decided it would be too complicated and also not fit well with the tone I wanted to set. After further thought, I decided this was worth a vignette-style treatment, and settled on a "late Mockingjay" timeframe. Call it prequel, spinoff or just weird, this was FUN.
The Capitol of Panem was a sprawling megapolis, with a population almost as great as its 12 Districts combined, and itself divided into 12 sectors. The Sectors served its various needs, and had provided a measure of self-sufficiency in the face of the Districts' rebellions. The victorious rebels-turned-rulers were still deciphering the details of the Capitol's functioning. Among those entrusted with the daunting task was Gale Hawthorne, and his duties this day brought him to one of the oldest and most labyrinthine parts of the Capitol, a squeezed-in southerly section widely known as Gray Sector. It was thought to hold the dirtiest of the Capitol's dirty laundry, but it had long since become evident that the pocketed receipts had already been through the spin cycle, the loose change was stuck in the lint filter and every loose sock had lost its mate.
"I must remind you very emphatically," Beetee said, "that this meeting is under the strictest confidentiality. Anything you see or here is classified on the highest level." He pushed a button, a door opened, and Gale stepped inside.
The first thing Gale noticed was a smell of roses. He knew even before he looked, and somehow he was not surprised. Still, he snarled, less in incredulity than in disgust: "You?"
"Me," President Snow said, sipping his tea. "And you. And one more..." A door opened to the next room of the tiny but opulently furnished apartment opened, and in stepped President Coin.
"But you're dead," Gale said. "I wondered about him, because I couldn't see through the crowd and then what they said happened was so convenient, but I saw you die."
"Oh, I can assure you, I died," President Snow said, "I recall the experience quite distinctly. It was not pleasant."
"At least you weren't shot dead at someone else's execution," Coin said. "It was a quite undignified. Not to mention painful."
"Please," Snow said, "let's not get into this argument again?"
"How did this happen?" Gale asked. He was still shaking his head in sheer befuddlement.
"I would expect you to be familiar with the principles," Snow saie. "A little genetic material, a neural scan, a `Mutt' template... But I suppose you mean, why was this done? You really don't need to know the ins and outs. It will suffice to say that certain parties thought it best to preserve our existence, in secrecy."
"I suppose to get more information from you," Gale said. "I remember there were stories..."
Snow laughed. "Yes, I made sure the public had some notion of the technology and its application. Hopelessly impractical, of course, but the fear it inspired: The very idea that one could be brought back to life again and again, tortured and killed in unimaginable ways, forever. The funny thing is, we never tried to emphasize the torture angle. I personally suggested that it was redundant.
"Have you studied Greek mythology, Mr. Hawthorne? They were stories ancient before the Ancients, of anthropomorphic gods, superhuman heroes and all manner of tragedies. There were not many about the afterlife, but they leave a strong impression. The Greeks believed in nothing so banal as being thrown into a lake of fire or a dungeon full of devils. Their idea of divine vengeance was pure psychological torture. For example, one story tells of a man who was required to push a rock uphill, but every time he was halfway, it would slip away from him and roll back to the bottom. Endless repetition... endless tedium... endless futility... a vividly horrific idea of eternity."
"Don't mind him," Coin said. "He loves to prattle about whatever crosses his mind. But I know you would prefer to get to the point, and so do I. You are no doubt wondering, why you were brought here. The fact is, it is not part of any of your duties. Rather, it is honoring our request. We would like to speak to you about your future."
"You're both dead," Gale said, "and you want to talk to me about my future?"
"Oh, not just yours," Snow said. "We both agree, you have great potential. Reasonable intelligence. Strongly driven, which is not quite the same as passionate. The ability to focus, and to see what must be done, and do it. You served the cause of the Rebellion well, and it is long past time for you to serve your own. Do that, and there is nothing there is any obvious reason you could not do... except, of course, have her."
"You're telling me to leave Katniss to Peeta? Still?" Gale snapped.
"No, I am warning you in advance that if you try to win her for yourself, you will fail," Snow said. "I always knew that your relationship with her was always destined to be no more or less than a youthful dalliance, regardless of any developments with Peeta."
"No, you are repeating what I told you," Coin said. Turning to Gale, she continued, "Now, your emotional attachment to Katniss has been quite touching. But what you feel- and as much as she feels in return- is for your past. It is your future, as Cornelius said, that you must think about, and it should be obvious even to you that it is best for both of you to go your seperate ways."
Cornelius chuckled. "Besides which, it has surely occurred to you that Katniss is not the safest partner to have an arrangement with." He glanced pointedly at Coin. "By the way, we thought your testimony at the trial was quite moving. Don't worry about the verdict. We have already made sure that that business is sorted out."
"Yes, and it was not a great deal of trouble," Snow said. "No one cared for the idea of executing her. It would be a waste, pure and simple, to put to death a woman who toppled two presidents. Just the knowledge that she still lived would have a powerful effect."
"Yes," Coin said, "she will be an incentive to good government."
"And honesty from the government," Snow added. "But you clearly have much greater potential, if only you would stop squandering it. There was a time when, in symbolic terms alone, you were a force as great as Ms. Everdeen, if not more so, and you were given many opportunities to translate your reputation into real importance. I seriously considered inviting you to come to the Capitol. Instead, you let yourself become, in perception and truly enough, the jilted lover chasing after puppy love and dreams of martyrdom."
"Yes, by the end of the war, your self-destructive tendencies were becoming quite literal, and I made every effort to move you in a different direction," Coin said. "I brought Peeta back to Katniss, and I made sure you received many opportunities to pursue a genuinely suitable partner. Not that you took any real work on my part; women were asking me to make arrangements. I also gave you professional opportunities, culminating the chance to lead the real assault on the Capitol. Instead, you chose to remain with Katniss in the star squad, and that was when I knew how far gone you were. Surely, you knew what they were headed for. Then you were indiscrete enough to make contact with those planning my overthrow..."
"You didn't know about that," Gale said. "If you had, you would have done something."
"Oh, yes," Snow said, "we were both well aware of that little clique. I looked into them before you did. Quite pitiful. It would have been as embarassing for me to give them encouragement as it would have been for my counterpart to have to act against them. Just as well that Katniss rendered them moot."
"I can't believe this is real," Gale said. "I don't."
"What you believe is quite irrelevant," Snow said. "Even what is real should be irrelevant. We are simply laying out for you facts that should be self-evident. Now, let me lay out a plan of action. First, for the foreseeable future, have no further contact with Katniss Everdeen. It is the only way to complete your dissociation from her, both in your own mind and in others' perception. Second, try to do new things, and go in new directions. Consider work outside the military, especially in the public sphere- the broadcasting job offer in 2, for example."
"How do you know about that?" Gale said suspiciously.
"Come now, Mr. Hawthorne, I knew when you kissed Katniss in the middle of the woods," Snow said. "Granting that I could be alive at all, do you think there is anything I could not find out?"
"Then there is one more thing," Coin said. "Try spending time with someone else, and let other people know it. Do not be indiscrete, but conduct yourself as someone with nothing to hide, and also no need to put on appearances. Make your choice with care, but do not waste time. Look at the options you already have: Those you already know, those you have thought of approaching, and especially those who have already approached you."
"Johanna," Gale said.
"Why, yes, we heard about her, back when we were still Presidents," Snow said, smiling. "We both considered it a very promising partnership, certainly far more suitable than you and Ms. Everdeen ever were. I always found Ms. Mason perfectly charming, myself. I considered her my friend, after a fashion, though she was very clear the feeling was never mutual. I think she was one of the only people I met who was entirely open with me, and I could never bring myself to kill her for it. I must say, I have been rather disappointed in you for not reciprocating her interest. I thought you were a man who still believed in the old ways. In my day, honor alone demanded that an unattached man should give at least passing consideration to an interested woman..."
"Johanna did this," Gale said. "She put Beetee up to doing it. How, I don't know, probably one of those computer simulations." He banged on the door, shouting: "Beetee, I'm going to kill you! And her..." For a moment, he stared at nothing in particular.
"You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to take that job. I'll go out there, and when she comes onto me again, I'm not acting scared anymore. I won't shut her out. Who knows, I might even let her in, just enough to show her what it's like to catch what she's been chasing..." The door opened, and he stormed out.
Coin leaned back on the couch. "After all the trouble they went to to bring us back to life," she said, "you would think they could find something better for us to do. I do believe they really are trying to torture us with sheer tedium."
"All the more reason to amuse ourselves," Snow said, bringing over a chess board. "And then, what we did today was far from useless. I think we set him on the right course, or at least got him there sooner rather than later. We may well have changed the course of the history of Panem."
Coin made the opening move. "Do you think they will keep us here long enough for us to find out?"
"Anything is possible," Snow said. "If he goes far enough, the time may come when they bring him to join us on a permanent basis. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Endless repetitions... endless variations... endless promise. All in all, there are worse ways to spend eternity."