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(Arena Control Room)
Franziska Nato toggles a switch and spins a dial, switching to camera 41B and zooming in on Elizabeth Stonem's face. She's one of the four designers of the whole Arena and during the Games itself she's been demoted to switchboard operator. It makes sense of course: she's still only a District 3 flunkie. The Game Master chooses the theme and gives general direction, but a Capitol resident as important as she is can't be expected to draw up and execute blueprints.
The Game Master for the past nine years, Harriet, isn't a Capitol fluff-head though. Franziska has a grudging respect for the sharp and commanding woman. Harriet is an exacting Game Master and Franziska had worked closely with her for years before she had become one of the head designers.
Presently Harriet is standing at the right hand of the President. His presence puts Franziska on edge. He's been spending entire days in the control room since the Games have begun, an unprecedented amount of time. Every day he's come down, every day finding a monitor with Elizabeth Stonem's face, and just staring.
It's why, Franziska suspects, he hasn't complained that they haven't set off something to kill half the large alliance. Even with finely tuned control of the entire Arena, there's no guarantee that Elizabeth Stonem would be one of the survivors. One wrong step, and off goes a cannon. President Foster settles for staring.
But it's time now. Eleven tributes, ten in a single alliance. Franziska has to keep things moving. It's her job after all. Using her fingers she pulls up a holographic view of the arena, little blipping lights indicate the survivors. Most are centralized in a single location. Franziska frowns. It's too many. She toggles a menu open and scrolls through selections. Choosing one, she draws a line through a portion of the forest, the center of the line goes right through the tribute pack.
This is the part she hates. She doesn't hesitate, it's her job. But she doesn't like it.
She taps on the line once, twice, then taps and holds.
That should do it.
For only a moment, she lets herself hope they run.
Cook has been sitting on me for the past half hour.
He's not mad at me. No one in camp seems to be, which is weird. Most seem confused. I don't know why they would be, it's all perfectly simple. Naomi got Emily hurt. Nearly killed. Obviously I could punch her.
Moments after I'd hit Naomi I swung back for another blow only to find my arm caught. Then another arm wrapped around me, picked me up, and swung me so I was facing away from Naomi.
Panic replaced anger as I also lost my view of my sister, and I shrieked and squirmed to no avail. When the arms finally turned me around to let me see, the black boy not in our alliance was picking her up and carrying her into camp, a wary Naomi trailing behind and casting glances my way.
The arms, which I'd figured out were Cook's, followed their path and when the black boy finally set Emily down next to James, Cook put me down too, but before I could manage to get away he'd pinned me to the forest floor and sat on me. I screamed and raged, but he just laughed and let me. I settled down after a while, begrudgingly realizing that Cook had made sure I could see what was going on with Em. James had immediately got to work, not yet taking the knife out. For a little kid, he was good at the medic stuff, reminding us all that he'd been trained from childhood same as Emily, she just had a few years on him. Gone was the normal boyish face he usually wore, replaced by a much more serious and focused look. When James finally yanked out the knife and Emily screamed, I blacked out again in panic, but I came round still pinned and was semi-pleased to find that Cook had suffered some damage and was eying me with new respect.
James finishes up bandaging Emily, examined Naomi, and then came over to me. He critically looks me over for a minute, then says, "She didn't hurt her, you can probably let her up now."
"Are you sure, little man? She tried pretty hard to decapitate Naoms with a single punch," Cook says above me.
James actually rolls his eyes. "Come off it, if Katie wanted to kill Naomi, she'd be dead. She lost her temper, she handled it poorly, but if she really thought Naomi had hurt Emily, she'd have snapped Naomi's neck. She could have, easy. She didn't. Katie's fine." I couldn't believe it. The little twerp… He spoke with such authority I didn't even recognize him. After a moment, Cook stands and James helps me to my feet. Immediately his face falls into a familiar petulant pout, and James says, "You shouldn't have punched Naomi, she saved Em's life."
"Wouldn'ta been in danger if they'd stayed here!" I snap, stamping my foot.
"Course it would, we're in the Games!"
I throw up my arms and grumble. I spot Naomi across the camp, hiding near the Effy girl, and march over to her. Even after his rousing speech about me not really wanting to kill her, James trails after me. Effy glowers at my approach, and Naomi tries to shrink behind her. "Naomi!" I bark, and she flinches. "Don't go putting my sister into dangerous situations, you hear me?"
Naomi looks startled that that's all I say and she nods.
Then suddenly, the ground begins to quake.
I turn and run for Emily, but just as I do, a fissure opens in front of me and I have to backpedal, nearly falling in. A hand grabs me and pulls me back from danger. I manage to scramble back, but both James and a startled JJ scream and start to fall in, causing me and my rescuer (fucking Naomi) to leap back towards the edge, reaching for their hands as they disappear over the edge. I grab JJ and Naomi grabs James, and we hold on for dear life.
Behind me Effy shrieks, and when I look across the way I see that Cook barely has a hold of her friend Panda, her legs dangling into oblivion. Thomas is holding my Emily in his arms and he stands well back from the fissure, while Freddie grabs Cook's ankles as he too starts to slide forward. I pull JJ up and push him toward Effy, then help a gasping Naomi pull up James.
Effy is still uselessly screaming behind us, tears streaming down her face. Panda is screaming, too, but she definitely has more reason to be. The ground finally stops shaking, and I pace like a wildcat by the edge of the fissure, trying to figure out if I can jump across it to Emily's side.
Panda screams again, and all my senses go on high alert, because that isn't just a fear scream, that's a pain scream. I look down into the darkness and jump back. "Mutts!" I yell. Cook and Freddie can't see down past Panda, where a giant lizard dragon has clamped its jaws on Panda's leg.
Anyone else would let Pandora go and cut their losses, but Cook holds on, and Thomas puts Emily down to join the boys' chain to pull her up. Effy screams, "Save her, save her!" between sobs and behind me Naomi yells, "Katie!", and I turn just as she tosses me her trident. I think she wants me to toss it at the mutt holding Panda, before I see a set of claws come over our own side. Then another.
You've got to be kidding me. Stuck with the blubbering mess, the uselessly injured Career, and two boys who can't fight for shit, and I gotta fight two mutts? The lizard's head emerges from the pit, and it hisses and flares a giant frill around its neck as I stab toward it to keep it at bay. "Where's my sword?" I yell at Naomi. I can wield a trident, but a sword is my specialty weapon.
"It fell in I think!" She yells back. Fuck. What else have we lost? The lizard and its second pal start to snake up from the fissure and I tighten my grip. Well, this is what I have. Time to do this. Can't think of Em, she's farther than all of us from the fissure. Gotta fight, gotta win, gotta get to her.
The mutts emerge and dart toward me, fast and lethal, and soon they're running around me as I fend them off. One lunges and I dodge just as the other starts to pounce as well, and I realize they're programmed to work in tandem. Probably function on a hive mind. They focus on me, the threat with the weapon, and I catch one by the tail as the other jumps and sinks its teeth into my arm. The trident is buried in the ground, trapping one, so I let go and punch the mutt in the face in succession to try and dislodge it from my arm. Just as I get it off the other splits its tail in half to wiggle free. Fuck, fuck. With their hive mind, two against one is near lethal. I can win, but not without serious injury on my side, an injury I can't afford. Neither can Emily, or the losers behind me. I yell at the top of my lungs, "You lot, take one! Four against one, most of you will survive! You won't survive without me if I get too roughed up!"
I don't turn to look, but behind me I hear Naomi start to take charge. I fend off the mutts for a few more seconds, then manage to grab one and launch it away from me, toward Naomi and them. No practice rounds, this is all or nothing.
I whip around in time to clash with the other mutt, managing to deflect a swipe that would have taken off my injured arm. The lizard rears back, its throat puffs, and I manage to take in a deep breath just before it spits out a viscous liquid that hits my chest and neck. Immediately it starts to burn away my jumper and the flesh of my neck starts to blister. I swear and shed my jumper before it starts to eat away at my shirt, throwing it at the lizard to blind it and following right behind to ram the trident through the lizard's chest.
I spin around to see the four losers on my side of the fissure stomping on a flailing lizard. Pretty sure three have it handled, I grab the nearest tribute, a shocked JJ, and tear off his jumper to wipe at the venom still on my neck. He tries to protest, but I shove him away, grabbing the trident back and skewering the second lizard.
I turn back to the hole in the earth, scanning frantically for Emily. She looks pale and strained, but she's attending to an even worse looking Pandora away from the three boys, who valiantly fight with their own two mutt lizards, though it's clear Cook is the only one with any training. Thomas, to my surprise, holds his own, but squirrel boy Freddie spends half of his time dodging Cook and Thommo's attacks as well as the lizards'. I start to measure the gap's distance again, but it's too far. Even on my best day I couldn't clear it. It splits the Arena in half as far as the eye can see, and I start to panic. Maybe if I use the trident as a pole, I could vault the abyss. The boys are down to one mutt, largely due to Cook's fighting skills. Thomas is strong, but not nearly precise enough in his attacks to do much damage to these particular mutts. And Freddie is just a mess.
Cook has managed to retain a sword, the bastard. He must have had it strapped to his waist. Mine was on my waist before the Naomi incident, but I hadn't noticed it being taken, hadn't noticed it was missing until I needed it. Stupid, stupid Katie. Always know where your weapons are. I'd been too distracted, which was always my problem. All my attention devoted to finding Emily, protecting Emily. So much for all my training.
JJ has joined me by the abyss, face pale and unsettled. I hear him muttering under his breath, as he does, and I ignore him until I hear him say "Emily". I turn in alarm, demanding, "You what?" but JJ ignores me. I growl, grabbing JJ by the throat with both hands. This finally gets his attention and he looks at me fearfully as he claws at my hands around his neck. "Never ignore me. What were you muttering about my sister?"
"Katie!" Naomi yells, running up to me and trying to wrestle JJ from my grip. I shake her off easily.
"No, I am fucking done with this kid and his creepy ways, he's a danger to my game," I snarl, shaking him soundly. I can't let him keep running us around like chess pieces, letting his knowledge of arenas govern us. Gamemakers don't like tributes with inside information. They can be entertaining, but Gamemakers never want it to seem like a tribute can know what to expect. Can manipulate the Games. That is dangerous, grounds for being taken out. I've made up my mind.
I start to tow JJ toward the abyss, ignoring screams and shouts from both sides, ignoring Emily's heartbroken, "Katie, no!", until a rasping voice coming from my intended victim says, "Fazer." I freeze and look at JJ in disbelief. What? Fazer… he can't know the Fazer girl helped me, can he? Does he plan to rat her out before he dies? Do I need to snap his neck before tossing him in to save her hide? JJ's face is turning blue and he still scrambles at my hands, but the kid manages to croak, "Fazer Game."
I relax, starting to get what he's saying, and the spark of understanding makes me shove JJ away from me, safe from death for now. "What are you on about, spit it out." From all sides there's a collective sigh of relief that I didn't kill him. These fucking morons.
JJ picks himself up, keeping a wary distance from me. "You know the Ronnie Fazer Games?"
"Everyone does," I snap. It was one of the most popular Games to date.
"Ronnie Fazer had an alliance of himself and three others that got to the end of the game," JJ says slowly. I nearly throttle him again for explaining when I'd clearly said I knew what he was talking about, but stop myself when I notice the others are all listening. JJ continues, "They'd become friends. So when they parted ways, they shook hands, separated, and slaughtered each other when they found each other again." My lips are set in a grim line. Yes, that had been a popular game, because the message had been clear. Alliances meant nothing. Try to combine forces, and all but one will always fall.
The Capitol residents love to see people who care about one another kill each other.
"We're bigger than the Fazer alliance ever was," JJ says, warming to the topic enough that he actually smiles. "If we wait til we kill Crispin before we turn on one other, we'll be the most talked about Games in history! An alliance ten strong who weeded everyone else out, then took out their own friends."
"You toss that word around, I ain't friends with any of you," I say with a shake of my head. But I can already picture it. Whoever wins (Emily) will spend the rest of their days as the absolute favorite to interview. What was it like seeing so-and-so skewer so-and-so? How could so-and-so turn on so-and-so? Tell us all the grisly details, tell us what it was like to turn on your friends. Tell us how you live with yourself.
The most popular Games. The most psychologically scarring. But we'd already trapped ourselves into it. An alliance of ten with one enemy left. JJ planned this, to pull a Fazer. Not only a Fazer, though. A Fazer with the Cook boy and the Fitch twins, the most famous tributes ever. He used us. I can see the realization dawn on every single person, see Cook's face fall, then harden. I think JJ just broke Cook's heart.
What a little monster.