"The mob has breached the Mansion interior," Beetee said. "A large contingent is veering off in our direction. It appears that they are being guided by the Guards. Hm. A systematic search using their information will uncover the chamber within a matter of hours."
"Without a trained pilot to fly, the escape hoverplane is useless," President Snow said. He glanced at Coin, with a fresh gunshot wound to her head. "It appears that we are going to face the mob together." He smiled.
"What are you smiling for?" Johanna asked rhetorically. "You're the one who was evil dictator for, like, a hundred years!"
"You're the ones who kept me alive to help deal with your mess!" Snow said. "And when I ran things, at least they worked!"
"Jo," Gale said, taking his wife's hand, "remember when you told me, even if we had lost the war and we were on the run, you would still want me? Well, I'd say we've lost, and I'd rather take my chances running than staying here. Are you still with me?"
"What about them?" Jo said, looking at their doubles. Her two doubles gave inviting smiles at Gale. He gave a shake of his head.
"Sorry, girls," he said, "I'm a one-woman man." His doubles gave kicked-puppy looks at Johanna.
"All right, I roll whichever way my man rolls," she said. The doubles immediately turned to each other.
"What about you, Beetee?" Gale asked. "You are my best friend, even if you did try to sell me out. I'll let you come along if you want, and a copilot wouldn't hurt."
"Hm," Beetee said. "I have always felt positive emotional attachments for you, and I suppose being in a hovercraft with Johanna is marginally preferable to facing an angry mob... Incidentally, hm, the mob is outside the door." Even as he spoke, the door began to glow with the heat of a welding laser. Gale opened an secret panel, and a hum of engines sounded from within the tunnel. Beetee ran inside.
"What about me?" Snow said. A hammer began pounding at the door.
"I would rather get my hair done at a chain than spend one more minute with you," Jo said sweetly.
The door came ajar. She laughed as Gale took her hand, and they ran into the tunnel together. Behind them, there was a crash, and the tunnel echoed with Peeta's shout: "GALE!" Then the tunnel shut.
"I checked this over with some airmen after we took the Mansion the first time," Gale said. "As soon as we opened the tunnel, automated systems started prepping the plane. Once we're inside, it will initiate the takeoff sequence." He pulled Johanna through the hatch, just before it snapped shut.
"So the plane will fly itself?" Jo said, following Gale to the cockpit,
"It will take off by itself," Gale said, "but like the airmen say, flying's easy, landing's the hard part."
"Well, Beetee's supersmart," Jo said as she strapped in. "You know how this works, right?"
Beetee glanced at the massive bank of control panels. "No," he said.
The plane took off.
"President Snow, alive and well," Peeta said. "I knew it."
Snow just laughed. "Well done, Mr. Mellark," he said. "You have now played a hand in the downfall of three Presidents. Are you still interested in the job?"
"I'm more interested in seeing how many times we have to execute you before you stay dead," Peeta said. He pointed to the duplicates. "Round them up and put them under guard, but don't hurt them."
The Johannas and the Gales were too absorbed in flirting with each other to protest or even particularly notice as they were rounded up by a mixed band of ex-Rebels and ex-Peacekeepers. There were surprised cries when President Coin sat up. "Ow," she said, gingerly touching her bloody temple. "I have a headache." She was pulled to her feet, and a medic bandaged a shallow scalp wound.
One of a handful of the Capitol's surviving airmen strode in. "It's confirmed, they're gone," he said. He spat at the sealed door of the tunnel. "Pretty Boy finally showed everybody his true colors: Coulda took his chances, but instead, he ran away like the coward he always is."
"Look at me," Peeta said sternly. The airman turned around. "I'll say this once and for always: I've had plenty of problems with Gale Hawthorne, but he's the bravest man I've ever known, and anyone who says different has got a problem with me."
The airman gave a nod. Peeta sighed and pressed his hands against the door. "Gale Hawthorne, I don't know if you could ever been a good president, but you were a good man," he said. "Did you really think this was the only way? Did you think I wouldn't give you a chance?"
"He didn't run from us," someone said. Peeta looked over his shoulder to find Katniss standing behind him. "Not really. Back home, he used to talk about jumping the fence and setting off to live on his own. He talked about it as escaping the Capitol, but I could always tell, it went beyond that. He's the kind of person who could live between the Mountains of Paradise, and he would still climb the peaks or die trying, just to see what was on the other side. I think the one thing that kept him here was wanting to see Panem free. He wanted to know that we would rise up against a bad leader before suffering through generations of oppression, even if the leader was him. Today, we proved that we would, and we set him free"
"So who's in charge now?" Coin called out. "Me? Cornelius? Peeta? You?"
Peeta looked to Anna Paylor. "You're the senior remaining member of the President's administration," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, you're in charge until and unless the Senate appoints someone to take his place. If It came to that, I'd recommend you for the job."
Paylor shook his extended hand. "In a few more years, I might recommend you myself," she said.
A group of men from Twelve came up. "Peeta, we searched the Presidential Bedroom as instructed, and bagged everything sensitive," the leader said. "I thought you should see this..." He held up an old, battered video case of Krull.
Peeta and the mob pondered the find. It was the airman who said: "Well... It does have Liam Neeson..."
"We are currently approaching the air space of the nearest independent state," Beetee said. "They are not signaling clearance to enter their airspace, hm, and I wouldn't recommend it even if they did. But it should be possible to set a course around them, hm, without disengaging the autopilot. That will, however, take us into unexplored territory."
"Then change course," Gale said. "Just go as far as we can go."
Johanna angled her seat to put her hand on his knee. "You like unexplored territory, don't you?" she said.
Gale clasped her hand. "Not as much as I like having someone to explore it with," he said. He looked at her. "You're really okay with this? You're sure you wouldn't rather go back to the Capitol life?"
"I liked the Capitol," she said, "but I love you."
Time passed, and forest gave way to ice. "You know something?" Gale said, almost dreamily. "This is what I always wanted. Whether I saw Panem free or saw Panem fall in a storm of mushroom clouds, whether I was voted out or run out or just wanted out, I wanted to go out running full speed for the horizon. The only problem was, I never wanted to do it alone. I had to wait, for the right person... and I'm glad it's you."
"Just me?" Jo asked with a smile.
Gale touched her belly. "It's nice to have Beetee along, too," he said.
Beetee rolled his eyes. Johanna laughed, and then Gale kissed her. Their lips were still locked when a mountain peeked over the horizon.