At Overthinking It, we’ve been lucky enough to get our hands on an excerpt from the upcoming Hunger Games Extended Universe novella Dockingjay, about a brave young woman who dares to dream of independence and the open road, set against the backdrop of the nation of Panem’s trucking, shipping, supply management and logistics industry.
Unlike the original Hunger Games trilogy, it goes into great detail explaining the design of the Panem economy and what sort of challenges it runs into trying to provide its decadent Capitol citizenry with finished consumer goods.
I finish the last stroke, fold the faded blue paper, and review. Four hundred pounds of unrefined District 11 sugar cane, A2 grade, by truck to District 10 in two weeks time, then, three weeks later, by train to District 1 for luxury chocolate production. I roll the stubby, brass-tipped pen in my hand. What I had just done carried a death sentence, by the laws of Panem enforced by her white-clad Peacekeepers. President Snow in the Capitol doesn’t take kindly to recording the shipment of intermediate goods. But in these dark days, who did?
I think back to the stories my father used to tell me before he died in that horrible forklift accident. I then pause, and think of the horrible forklift accident. The smear of blood across the concrete floor. The snap of cracking pallets. Packing chestnuts and broken salad bowls. But I figure I’ve done enough of that and go back to thinking about the stories.
I’m just a small girl, with skinned knees and a foam-front hat flopped down over my eyes. My father tells me about the bloody and dreadful history of our people – the people of District 6 Subdistrict 2b.
On that sunny road, I bid goodbye to the dark-skinned man from District 11 and turned toward my truck. In the darkness of my mind, I see my father’s face as clear as I ever have. Flashing back to memories of my father is one of my favorite things. I do it often, even in the middle of important conversations, for inappropriate lengths of time.
My father lifts the brim of my heavy cap, reaching down to brush his hand over my brownie-colored hair. I’m six now, and I look up past his thick salt-and-pepper mustache into the round, reflective, gleaming glasses that show a pair of little me, two little Convoyas, one reflected in each orb. As I force our noses together, my shadow falls across the lenses and I can see his eyes. He laughs.
In ancient times, men wore these tinted glasses to keep out the sun while flying fixed-wing aircraft at many times the speed of sound, fighting flying dogs, or roaming the land on giant hogs, chewing turf and belching smoke. Or so my father tells me. There are always such dreadful muttations in his stories. The glasses are his prized possessions, his “aviatings.” The design is from before Panem, before the persecution of our people.
My father always craved the freedom of the open road during his life. He tells me the open road is like flying. That is why he wears his aviatings, because it is like flying and reminds him of freedom. And aviating is another word for flying. Also the name he always used for himself was Road Eagle, which is about how driving on the open road is like flying.
When Panem is first founded, my father tells me, the President subdivides all people into Districts, each commanded to farm, mine, labor, research, develop or manufacture a specific good or service. Children take up their parents’ trades, and barely anyone from the Districts meet one another. By keeping the people tied to their ancestral labors, the Capitol prevents them from diversifying their economies. It makes sure people in the districts can’t take advantage of market inefficiencies and demand for capital to build personal wealth, which would threaten the power of the President.
It also kept the Districts distrustful of one another, because people don’t like people who do other jobs. My father jokes people like people who do the same jobs even less. I miss my father’s sense of humor.
I put the pen in my pocket and begin walking back to my truck.
My father hands me a bright green plastic plate, which I use as a steering wheel. He explains how keeping whole industries separated by large geographical distances is the only way the Capitol manages to organize and track the production of all its key agricultural and industrial inputs in a continent-wide command economy – but that this is much more an indication of the limits of central planning than that organizing an economy this way is a good idea. Micromanaging a diversified market economy from thousands of miles away by telephone or train is not, as my father says, “feasible.”
Command economies, he tells me, have problems with scale and distance. When local markets have autonomy, they can recognize market demand or inefficiently used available inputs and diversify. But when all is done by central planning, if a nation (that’s what he says Panem is, a “nation.” I wonder if there are other nations in the world. I wish I had asked him before he died. I’m sure if anyone knew, my father did.) has a sufficiently large population, but insists on central economic planning by a government entity, those inefficiencies and opportunities often go unnoticed, or at least unacted upon, because of information problems or the lack of a profit motive (Check out Perich’s great article on the subject! -Ed). Command economies have difficulty maintaining complex or dynamic supply chains.
When my father mentions supply chains, I smile, because I know he’s talking about us – District 6 Subdistrict 2b; shipping, supply chain management and logistical operations.
It is a lot to take in, but I am six years old, well old enough to learn the ancestral stories that we pass down from generation to generation. In two years, I will be on the loading dock taking down orders. In five, I will be a shift supervisor, or move to the container parks. In seven, perhaps even begin to learn how to drive a truck – the highest honor among our people, shy of managing an entire loading dock, which only thirteen people do in all the nation of Panem.
My father talks about how the Capitol originally attempted to use a national transportation company – I recite to him my favorite words in this story, “the Public-Private Partnership” – to ship raw materials to where they were made into producer goods, and producer goods to where they were made to finished goods.
This is what I am doing with my sugar shipment (Which is really weapons, of course, or is it? Will Bulfinch ever give me the full truth!?) taking the unrefined sugar cane for processing into refined sugar, which will in turn be used to make fancy chocolates. The chocolates would be the color of my hair when my father was touching it and telling me stories. This made me think of my father telling stories again.
“In one respect,” my father tells me in my memory, “an Empire is a system of control; a way of telling people what to do. In another respect, it is a system of privilege; a way of living a highfalutin kind of life. But in a third respect, and I might be biased, but I really see it as the most important of the three, an Empire is a system for moving stuff from one place to another. You do that good, you rule the world. You do that bad, it’s barbarians at the gates. ”
I nod to Helenia and Rob, my two best friends, as I walk past the cab to slam the back of the truck shut. I am so lucky to have them with me on my journeys. Helenia is the smartest girl in the whole district, the only one always able to determine whether last-in-first-out or first-in-first-out inventory management would best help the bookkeepers maintain cash flow, given the volatility of the prices of their goods. I’m sure Rob has a crush on her.
Rob seems to be a bit of a slacker, with his droopy eyes, freckles, and red hair, but every project he’s ever worked on is tremendously successful for some reason, so we assume he must have great talents. He comes from a large family, all of them quirky, most of them presumed brilliant.
It is a shame Helenia and Rob both have crushing morphling addictions. If it weren’t for that, it might feel like a storybook – perfect friendships, capable of overcoming any adversity. We would be like wizards. But unfortunately, this horrible problem and the traumas it has caused in the past and will no doubt cause us in the future subject us to constant physical and emotional distress, and while we do not discuss it for now, it will no doubt eventually destroy us. Unless some combination of the two of us eventually get married for no reason. But we don’t have the luxury of speculation. We have a delivery to make.
I look in the side-view mirror at Rob tying off, the length of inner tube stretched to his bright red lips, his teeth and veins clenched, and I think of my father telling me about the failure of the Capitol’s first attempt at a national logistics solution for its command economy.
The Public-Private Partnership is, of course, too powerful to control. It spans the divisions between Districts the Capitol wanted to enforce. It hires people from whichever district offers the cheapest labor. It bribes influential people in the Capitol to soften its restrictions and give it land rights. It establishes non-Districted corridors for transport through massive public grants. Eventually it begins shipping people as well as goods (Whole towns of people in trains a mile long! Imagine!) to visit other Districts.
The top three levels of the company management, along with most of their employees, and most of their supporters in high places, were tied to the train tracks, all in a row several miles long. It took the President three derailed trains to kill all of them. The fourth finished the job, before he blew up the tracks.
After that came the District Shipping Departments, says my father, the thick plaid arms of his favorite shirt rolled up to the middle of his wrists as he reaches under my armpits with his hamhock hands and lifts me onto his knee. Each DSD (my father loved institutional initialisms so), is only allowed to ship between the District and the Capitol.
But of course the Capitol gets, and my father waits for me to say it – “No finished goods!” The people of the Capitol are already far too decadent and distracted to take producer goods shipments and manufacture finished goods on site.
For example, a Capitol resident may think a holo or other handheld information device comes from District 3. But making microprocessors requires both more common and rare earth elements from the mineral mining in District 2 and acids (like sulfuric acid) that are most cheaply made using byproducts of the coal mining in District 12. Some medical devices even use silk in microchip construction, which requires imports from District 8.
So, the President permits the DSDs to ship transdistrict, but only with special letters of permit from the Capitol as to which Districts they can visit and when. The Capitol charters them with limited rights as public trading companies, fixes prices, and attempts to heavily regulate inter-District trade with next to no local control of the system.
But this gives the people, our ancestors, another powerful weapon – “Institutional knowledge.” It is not before too long that almost nobody in the Capitol or anywhere else knows where goods are shipped to and from, except for the truckers, stevedores, and bureaucrats in the DSD that load the shipments and track the bills of lading.
I pat my leather purse, where I keep my bills of lading. .
I think about how a bill of lading is a guarantee between someone shipping goods and someone carrying goods that the goods are arriving at their determined destinations at their determined times. My father drilled their importance into my head – they were critical, even thousands of years ago, before Panem, to supply chains and logistics, and yet few people knew they existed.
In each destination along a shipping route, the bill of lading is signed by the carrier and someone receiving the goods. The bills of lading in my purse are a dozen death warrants.
A bill of lading was once coupled with a letter of credit, according to my father and the ancient scrolls in our district temples. The bill of lading guarantees the shipment, and the letter of credit guarantees the payment at the end. But nobody has seen a letter of credit in hundreds of years. According to some very knowledgeable people who are always right about everything, letters of credit were once issued by people even worse than the President Snow! I can hardly imagine such a horrifying place as to house such monsters, and while letters of credit certainly seem useful and important to global trade, I am glad that whatever monsters ever provided them were expunged from the Earth during one of our semi-regular cataclysms.
My father continues his story, and I smile at the sonorous tones of his voice, resounding within the acoustics of memory. Without the knowledge to track the shipments, and with such gross imbalances between supply and demand in the various districts, it is not too long before only a small fraction of the shipments departing from a district meet their intended destination. The truckers are stealing shipments, and the DSDs are rerouting them. The very control of the economy begins to slip. People across Panem begin to enjoy dangerously frequent breakfast.
As punishment, the Capitol designs special techno-organic Monster Trucks, which pour forth from the mountains into the Districts, trained to hunger for the scent of DSD workers. They devour the organizations person by bloody person. Panem also dissolves their incorporation and revokes their charters, but the latter is largely cosmetic once the Monsters have had their way.
I hop over a dormant tracker jacker hive as I amble toward the cab of the truck. In my mind’s eye, I see my father’s puffy orange vest. I feel his rough jeans against my feet, caked with hard, flaky remnants from thousands of roadside coffees and slices of pie – before the Capitol banned roadside pie and boiled all the line cooks and diner waitresses in giant steaming coffee cups on some paper-thin rationalization that it would narrow the budget deficit.
After the DSDs, the Capitol tried a vertically integrated model, where the shipping of goods was put under the organizations that developed and manufactured those same specific goods, rather than kept as a separate function. The same District 12 leaders who managed the coal industry would manage the shipment and delivery of key industrial inputs and outputs. But that started providing the Districts with too much intelligence on happenings in the outside world, and it gave the Districts a lever for engaging in competition for key resources without going through the Capitol — the shipping apparatus — which the Capitol could not abide. The so called “baron-robbers” were forced to watch their children thrown to lion and shark muttations, the lions trained to swim briefly before drowning, and the sharks genetically engineered to walk on land for a few spare moments before suffocating — but both abominations quite thoroughly lethal in the spare moments they used to savage the helpless youngsters.
If I had not seen it with my own eyes as I got older, I still would not believe one government could come up with so many bizarre and hellish ways to punish people.
Some in the Capitol whispered that the districts should handle their own shipping, but whenever they spoke up, muttations soon followed, murdering their entire families and slicing off their limbs before boiling their heads in locally sourced acid.
It got to be that very few people in Panem even wanted to work in logistics anymore.
This part of the story always makes me gasp, and my father knows it. How could someone not want to work in logistics?
So, the Capitol decides to rebrand District 6, which had previously been the music district, as the transportation district. It forces thousands of residents from all the other Districts to move there and tasks them with solving Panem’s logistical supply chain problems without allowing any of the Districts to actually talk to one another, but still being able to produce complex, multi-stage finished goods like televisions or tater tots.
And then my father tells me how District 6 fell into a deep depression, and most of the population became addicted to morphling, so the Capitol created a series of tightly controlled subdistricts to continue to work on the problem, periodically razing entire subdistricts to the ground for having the audacity to work on the problem. I climb into my seat and look back at Rob drooling onto the shoulder of his jacket in the back of the cab.
Nowadays, to fuel up, truckers from the loading dock subdistrict have to go to the diesel station subdistrict, and then they have to proceed back through the other subdistricts, through their plan, and back to the refeuling subdistrict — and if they don’t make it, they die, either from exposure, starvation, or being shot on the streets, which are all clearly marked with NO STOPPING OR STANDING signs.
The reality is that most of District 6 that actually conducts shipping or logistical work does it illegally, hoping the Capitol will never bother to fill out the proper forms to understand why. Because a place like Panem is not designed with logistics in mind — that is our curse as a people, but also, I am convinced, the source of the eventual downfall of our evil overlords.
“See, Convoya, you can’t just do shipping in a place,” I hear my father say to me, as I start up the truck. It is his croaking, dying voice to me now. His last words, which I hear every night. “Shipping, supply management and logistics happen everywhere. We’ll be everywhere in the night. Wherever there’s a crate being loaded onto a train, we’ll be there. Wherever there is an invoice that is ambiguously dated at either the date of purchase or the date of delivery, we’ll be there. Wherever there’s a….”
“Such lovely brown hair,” he’s really really dying now, stroking my chocolate locks. “To think what… brown… could do… for this country….”
And my father dies, as he does every time I start the car. And I pull out of the driveway onto the main road, singing in my head the early strains of the song he taught me as a child. Very few of the words mean anything to anyone anymore; it has been passed down for hundreds of years in our sacred scrolls.
It was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth, pullin’ logs.
Cab over Pete with a reefer on,
And a Jimmy, haulin hogs.
We’s heading for bear on eye one oh
Bout a mile outta Shaky Town.
I said, ‘Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck
And I’m about to put the hammer down.’
Cause we got a little old Convoy
Rockin’ through the night.
Yeah, we got a little old Convoy.
Ain’t she a beautiful sight?
Come on and join our Convoy,
Ain’t nothin’ gonna get in our way.
We’re gonna ride this trucking convoy
Across the you essay.
The last word, the word I’m named for, draws out like a dirge over the rumbling engine as I shift up gears and get my truck going toward the Coastacoast. My father in my memory tells me I’m named for the legendary Convoy, a group of shipping and logistics professionals so powerful they were unstoppable and overthrew the government. Because shipping is important, and is a way of exerting economic and social power. Which is why I am named Convoy, like the way that truckers exert economic and social power.
Suddenly, a bomb went off. I could see Descereaux on the right side of the truck, totally dead. The chapter was over.
The Hunger Games Original Trilogy’s biggest flaw was it didn’t go into the real nitty gritty on how to run a dystopian hellscape. Thankfully, the Extended Universe looks to be making up for everything that ruined the Hunger Games — just like how Empire Strikes Back sucked because there were only one or two scenes with IG-88 in them.
What are you looking for in the HGEU? Sound off in the comments!