"Sir, I've got you're bottle—"
Mr. Abernathy cuts me off as he strides past me, banging through the wide, clear double doors of Level 12. He leaves me standing in the lobby, holding a bottle of expensive white wine awkwardly in the air as the click of the glass doors curtly dismisses my usual duties. Although anything usual about the Games have gone out the door long before the surly mentor strode in.
The scenery of the Games Headquarters hasn't changed since I was first forced into the job. Tasteful plush armchairs and sofas are scattered around the spacious entrance to the mentor's lair, an arrangement placed by expert hands to attract maximum numbers of sponsors. Camera crew stations line the exterior of the room along with desk-and-vanity-mirror combinations equipped with professional makeup artists and mountains of beauty products designed to make even the plainest citizen shine bright for the camera. Sparkling statues of past victors strike elaborate poses. The glass walls of the twelfth floor tower over the Capitol, allowing a three-sixty panorama of the chaos churning underneath me.
Only this year the packed crowd of screaming sponsors and television crews that have populated the floors beneath me in the past have now spilled out onto our floor. Candy-colored hair and too-stretched smiles bob past in a constant parade of the well-to-do. Shouts and laughter surround me as sponsors squeeze into spaces long left untouched. All their voices mingle together into a single thought, bouncing around the room. Katniss and Peeta. Peeta and Katniss. They all want to be the first in line to contribute to the best show they will see in years.
The elevator coasts silently onto the twelfth floor as what is surely yet another batch of sponsors pour out. The noise continues for a moment as the newly-arrived, brightly-dressed citizens sweep seamlessly into the horde of cameras and sponsors, then dies down as three pairs of simple shoes squeak onto the shimmering floor. As the last of the rainbow parade of citizens moves away from the elevator, three under-dressed mentors take in the scene in front of them. Surely they are wondering how they found themselves in a pact with a District 12 tribute.
Sponsors trip over themselves to shake hands with the past victors, offer them food and wine. The District 4 victor winks and smiles seductively at the crowd forming around them, but they are mentors this year. They have no time for small talk and endless admiration. I immediately recognize Braz, the middle-aged District 2 victor who made his debut into the Capitol as the winner of a searing-hot desert Games. My mother calls herself his biggest fan, always trying to buy her way into a night with the victor as soon as she catches wind of his arrival into the Capitol. Of course, a measly cook's assistant's wage is hardly enough to win over a victor celebrated for his swordsmanship in the arena. I can just hear my mother now. "It doesn't hurt to try, eh Maren?" she'd say, grinning as she rewatches Braz kill a record number of tributes in the first fifteen minutes of his Games.
Braz leads the Districts 1 and 4 mentors, who I now recognize as younger victors from my time, to the swinging glass doors Mr. Abernathy has just gone through. I avert my eyes, remembering what happened the last time I unknowingly addressed a Capitol official. The scar along my brow bone still gives out a throb of pain every time I see Peacekeeper Chief Justus Jet on my television screen.
"Excuse me, you?—I'm sorry, I can't quite read your nametag…"
"Pardon?" I look up to meet the gaze of Satin Korvin, who won her Games just four years before. I gulp as I remember her crippling hand-to-hand combat skills and graceful agility. It's astonishing that she doesn't exhibit the same cool distance from the underprivileged as the rest of her kind. After all, she is from District 1, and she's definitely a sought after prize in the Capitol. Instead, her casual stance and direct glance make her all the more deadly.
"Has Haymitch even shown up yet? You can get him for us, yes?"
"I—Of course, Ms." Gratefully, I turn toward the doors and stumble through. The casualness the younger victors exude puts me on edge. It feels unnatural, out of place in this world full of rules.
The doors click shut behind me and I'm enveloped in welcoming silence. Large computers with dizzying amounts of buttons dimly light the low-ceilinged room. I follow the scent of liquor until I find Mr. Abernathy slumped in a feather-stuffed chair, staring intently at the wall-sized screen across from us. He clicks a button and the picture zooms in on a light forest with a slow moving stream cutting through it. He zooms in further until the screen is filled with a white bunny hopping slowly through the pine needles.
"Easy pickings," he grumbles roughly in acknowledgement of my presence. His eyes don't stray from the rabbit.
"Sir, Peeta's District allies are here. They want to see you."
"Well, can't keep those sorry suckers waiting, now can I?" Mr. Abernathy extricates himself from the sagging chair and crosses to the widescreen. "It almost makes you think I've got hope yet," he says gruffly as he taps the screen. The picture zooms out until the whole of the 74th Hunger Games arena fills the wall. He turns to me, more lucid than I've seen him in a while. "Keep the wine bottle by the hovercraft control." And he was gone.
I move closer to the video rolling on the screen. The camera pans across a wide field of grain ringing a swampy pool of murky water. To the left, Capitol workers inspect the ground explosives and add the last finishing pieces to the Cornucopia. Menacing spears, shiny knives, and a finely-tuned bow and arrow are shifted around in the gleaming sun.
"Placing any bets this year?"
Startled, I turn to find Finnick Odair, District 4 mentor, sauntering slowly around the control room. He stops to trace his pinky around an open wine bottle standing on the sink counter in District 12's tiny kitchen area.
"What, and miss out on all the fun?" Mr. Finnick flashes me a wide grin, but in the dim lighting of the control room the effect is somewhat chilling. Again, the victor's casual demeanor throws me off guard. How can I joke with someone on such a high pedestal?
"I should go see if Mr. Braz or Ms. Satin are in need of anything." I cast my eyes downward and hurry from the room, but not before I hear Mr. Finnick pour the bottle of liquor down the drain.