The Careers all score sevens, eights and nines. Glitz gets the best score of ten. The little girl from 6, Hope, gets a two. I also get a ten, tied with Glitz. All I did was throw some knifes and shoot arrows, but so few tributes could use a bow with efficiency. I must have been the best. Marla gets only a four, but as Blight said, she could be hiding her talent to kill. The boy of District 11 gets an eight and the girl of 12 gets a seven: the two best scores of a non-Career tribute.
At dinner, Electra tries to strike up a conversation about some celebrity here in the Capitol. Foxer and Marla's stylist participate, but when the chat is directed to Blight and Harva they shut her out so fast you might think Electra was asking for a few organs. "Come on, you can't tell me that neither of you haven't even seen any of his performances on television!" she guffaws. Her face turns serious. "You do have televisions don't you?"
"Yes we do, Electra," says an annoyed Blight. On my government issued device back in 7 we only get propaganda and Hunger Games news and the Hunger Games themselves. I'm sure at the sublime Victor's Village televisions have something else than strictly monitored programs. So the victors may have the option to watch this famous figure, but I surely wouldn't if I had the choice.
Now I'm thinking of what life I would live if I were born to Capitol blood. Would I watch this performer and ogle at his talent; would I have gotten altercations done by this age? Maybe implant some precious jewels into my skin, or a full-body tattoo depicting a fight scene of my favorite Games. But of course, I wouldn't have the same look of disgust I do now if I lived in the Capitol. Maybe my biggest fear would be a boring Hunger Games.
"Tomorrow is interview prep. My favorite!" Electra spews as we dismiss from the table, and leave for our rooms. "Be ready extra, extra early!"
I try to sleep but my eyes are hell bent on staying open. In attempt to get some vital rest, I order a cup of tea from the voice box machine. One simply says the name of a food or beverage and seconds later it appears. But the tea is much too different than I'm used to. I try ordering again, being much more specific this time. No, it's wrong too: so bitter and the taste it leaves in my mouth is revolting. I don't know if it's the flavor of the tea or the lingering sting of the Capitol's complete superiority over the districts that makes me throw the cup across the room. It hits a white wall, staining it green where the glass shatters.
A knock on my door seconds later that I don't respond to. The door opens, an Avox walks in. He takes survey of what's happened and begins to pick up the shards of glass. "No, just leave it." He looks up at me with worried eyes then continues collecting the pieces. "I said go! I don't want you!" He gets up and exits the room quietly. The closing of the door makes me fall back on the bed. I get little sleep, and what sleep I do manage is brimming with nightmares. Rekker chases me down a narrow hallway, when I discover the wall in my path, he laughs like a madman. He finally reveals the devilish blade and I scream.
"Now," Electra orders, "sit like I am." I copy her pose: legs crossed with laced fingers over the top knee. Then she has me repeat absurd, vulgar things with a straight face for a while.
"I ate a bucket of pig's eyes this morning. Did you know that I have a stack of human hearts in my cupboard? Both taste great lightly boiled." I beam. Certainly this will be of no use. Really, where does she come up with this? This woman need professional help.
Finally, after hours of Electra's torments, it's Blight's turn to coach me. "If you make me say anything about mutilating, I will hurt you," I say, as I joke, and at the same time not.
"Ha, alright." I sit on a couch, and instinctively succumb to the pose Electra had me in for hours. "I think you've already formed your character. The chariot ride made you questionably strong. But now that you've shown to the other tributes that you're not afraid of the strongest of strong, and you've gotten the highest score, tied only with that girl from One-"
"Glitz," I interrupt.
"Yes, Glitz, whatever," he says uninterested in her name. "You're brutal. You're arrogant. You're going to be the victor, this you know. The Sixty-sixth Hunger Games were over when you were reaped. But, like I said before, do not threaten the Careers. I know you're officially in with them-I've spoken with their mentors-but you're still the outsider. When tension grows, you'll be the first target."
The Hunger Games interview. I always knew-before being reaped even-I'd do wonderfully with that part of the Games. The questions Caesar Flickerman asked would be so easily twisted around making the Capitol look like monsters, or making the tribute a star. Laughs at every turn. They would hang on every word. The interviews will be mine.
The rest of the day is spent working out the few wrinkles of our plan. Blight asks me questions and I give responses with little time to think. We go over each question and possible answers. "Have you done this before?" he jokes.
As he goes over how Caesar usually acts I find myself wondering about Marla and how she is being coached. "Blight," I say in the middle of his sentence. "How did Harva win?"
He sighs heavily. "She was showered in gifts from sponsors. She was quite the looker in her youth and could handle herself in the Training Center," he says. "Why do you ask?"
"Just wanted some insight on how Marla might be coached. Do you think she'll take the same angle?"
"Honestly, I have no idea. I can never predict Harva's intentions. She's been at this for quite some time. But I don't think that Marla pulled a high enough score to go along that path. She attractive enough to turn a few heads but she'll have to rock the interviews to pull in sponsors. On the other hand, with what you've accomplished, you'll get a large majority of the sponsors even doing moderately at the interviews, especially when it's shown you're with the Careers. We shouldn't see this as an option; we need to capitalize on all the good you've done."
The day concludes so slowly. I feel like a feather that's detached from a bird's wing in mid flight, the ground so long away-watching the people meander about, blowing on me when I'm in the way. All Blight said to me was very helpful and I'm glad we're on the same page now. The whole day tomorrow, up to the hour of the interview, will be spent with the preppy females and Foxer, preparing me for the interviews.
"Violet!" one of my stylist yells at the other who's working on my fingernails. "How many time have I told you, use the triangular funnel clip when dealing with second-degree chipping!" They speak in another language.
"Sorry," she says weakly. "I thought it was only first-degree." Her silver tattoos shimmer in the bright lights.
"Nincompoop," she says under her breath. "Let me do it." She has an honest sting in her voice. The woman with branch like eyelashes takes great pride in her work. The third one, the orange haired one, stays silent as she runs some sort of shampoo into my hair.
Dying my hair another shade lighter making it blonde now. Adding a bit of makeup to hide small blemishes and imperfections. Trimming my hair again to make it more manageable and mature looking. I look to the mirror on the ceiling and into the eyes of another person.
Foxer arrives not soon enough because when he does my prep team lines up and he closely examines their work. Running his hands through my hair. Checking my fingernails with a certain method. Shining a dull light in my face to test the makeup. "Great, good job you three." The word has an instant effect on the stylists; a sigh of relief crosses each.
My stylist dismisses the team and he sits next to me, but it's me who speaks first. "I have to thank you, for setting the ball rolling on my persona. Really, I think it's just what I need to face them," I say, leaving out my distress about him totally changing my appearance. But was that not my plan? Get as many sponsors as I can and then wait out the others? Of course, with the added element of the looming Careers who'll be so close.
He gives a sincere smile. "Like I said, don't let them forget you."
I stand on the interview stage, in my fitted suit with a long black lapel over a pearly white front and an eerie black flower in the breast pocket. The audience is in an uproar of excitement. To my right is Marla in a black and white dress that hugs her body tightly. On my left is the girl from 8 in her grey dress that seems to ripple at every motion. Like she's wearing a pond of grey liquid. It's quite entrancing to look at.
The girl from District 2, Victory, only talks about how much she wants to get in the arena and "have fun". I must be vigilant with that one. Bast tells us of her family tree, many members have been in the Games, one has came out victorious. Brill brushes off Caesar's praise of his high training score.
Caesar works magic. Easing the shy into a state of sanguine. The weak look strong, the strong look even more menacing. Even making shy, little Hope laugh at a dumb joke.
It's Marla's turn now. Caesar makes a polite comment on her dress. "Thank you so much, my stylist is a genius!"
"And how are you liking the Capitol so far, Marla?"
"Oh, I just love it here! Everyone is so nice!" Marla vomits girlishness and brightness. She's a completely different person than the one I have been sharing a dwelling with.
Now they're calling Flick Mistral. I stand and move to shake Caesar's blueish hand. "Flick, you look dashing!" He waves his hands, ushering the audience to look at my suit. They ooh and awe at the black and white thing like sheep.
I look out to the people of the Capitol. This game is so much more intricate than these dense people think. They see it as entertainment. Whereas we, the tributes, see it as a struggle to keep sane with our pending death. We have to bare the weight of dying horrifically and keeping a smile on our faces. More than I want to go home, I want the Capitol to see exactly what we go through as tributes. More than anything right now, I want my interview with Caesar to be an accolade to the tortures these Capitol dogs have put the districts through. And they'd have to air it. But that's not how this game is played. And that's not how I get home.
"As do you." I speak in a solemn tongue. He really does look nice, for an affected Capitol creature. His deep blue, light bulb adorned attire is illuminating. We take our seats.
"Firstly, I must ask, a score of ten? It's remarkable, a favorable score indeed." He pauses so the audience can agree with him. Heads nod, some cheer, I hear one whistle and I try to fake holding in a smile. "How'd you do it?"
"Oh, it was easy." Why not give details? All the tributes saw me display all of my skill to the best of my ability and it's just a matter of time until the rest of the country sees. "Threw some knifes, shot some arrows. Do you know of The Gauntlet?" I ask.
"Yes, yes I do."
"Thirty-two seconds. They said I was two seconds shy of beating some record."
"Truly? You must be quick on your feet," speculates Caesar. The Capitol's amusement grows. "If you don't mind me asking, back at your reaping, what were you thinking when your name was called?" As if I had any choice at all here, I think. My answer might as well be mandatory.
I take a sigh, thinking of what to say. "Well I'd be lying if I didn't say I was scared at first."
"Has something changed your mind?" he pries.
"Yes," I say, "looking at some of my competitors, I think I'll do fine."
"Oh really? But who do you think looks the most formidable?"
"Hm." I survey the tributes. "That pretty thing on the end. Glitz."
"I think you've got a good eye there, Flick."
Caesar asks me about the Capitol, home, my mentor. I answer well, being polite and truthful, and arrogant when the time come. But it's when he asks about my strategy in the Games that I choke. Do I tell him about my alliance with the Careers? All six of them have spoken and none mentioned me. Could that mean they don't want the country to know just yet? Would Glitz pull this charade just for my certain death? Actually, I think she would. Snaking her way into my mind for the sole purpose of killing me off. Could they be lying about the whole thing? No, that is not the case. I don't accept it.
"I've been given very strong allies," I say after a few seconds of deliberation.
"And who might they be?"
"I can't tell you," I say. "That would spoil the fun, Caesar. Everyone must wait and see." The buzzer sounds just then, ending my interview.
"And wait we will." There's a good amount of applause. More whistles.
I find my chair, passing the girl from 8 with the dress that seems to be made of some cross between a liquid and solid. Its influxes of grey pulse so rhythmically.
I exhale harshly. Good thing they can't hear my heart beating so fast, I say to myself. For a second I think of saying a few words to Marla, but that thought leaves me soon enough
Few tributes stand out during the last half of the interviews. The pair from 10 reveal they are brother and sister. The boy from 11 speaks of his young brother and Caesar wishes him the best of luck. The best of luck to us all. Finishing with the boy from 12. He speaks quietly. Caesar tries to poke him along into answering the questions. I remember him from the reaping. Wearing a ragged shirt, blackened from coal I'm sure. Impossibly frail. Sickly olive colored skin. A permanent frown on his dirty face. The makeup does little to tarnish the image I have for the poor kids in District 12. It is one of the poorest district, with next to the most tesserae taken. Second only to the over-populated District 11.
Maybe life in 7 wasn't so bad.
The twenty-four tributes stand for one last serenade of the anthem and we're rushed into cars. In the elevator, Hope and her district partner ride with us. I can't help but stare. Stare at this child whose life has a maximum of a week left in it. And if she's lucky, less. But I have the same fate, and I must start worrying about myself. Not this girl. Not the nice boy from District 4. No one else.
Marla and I reach the seventh floor and find our team waiting. Once we go in our rooms for sleep, we'll never see them again. Unless one of us wins, that is. "Oh, you two have been the greatest tributes," Electra says with tears in her artificial eyes. "I wish you the best." She gives us hugs and scoots away. I think of how many times she's said that same line.
Right then the whole world comes down on me. I come to fruition about it all. The arena is just hours away. Electra's tears drop to the floor just as my hopes sink through to oblivion.
I give Harva a brief nod, likely the last gesture I will give her. She takes Marla under her arm and they walk off. When they're out of earshot Blight speaks, talking very quickly. "Listen close, don't trust anyone in there, they're all out for themselves," he tells me. "Leave when the Careers make up half the remaining tributes, or before. Don't get attached to anyone. That was my single biggest mistake."
I manage a quip. "And look where you are."
"Always a trooper. I mean it, though. Only worry about yourself. If you get a chance to kill one, even if it's not by your hand, take it." I nod. He brings me in close for a last hug. "You can do it, you're tough." He sounds like Leto during our last minutes together.
I close the door to my room and lay awake in bed for hours and finally I can't take it. I'm starting to feel claustrophobic. I need air. I need to breathe. I need to see more things before the bloody arena.
On the balcony I look over the edge, finding hundreds of people flooding the candy colored streets. Cars honking their horns trying to get by. From here they all look like ants. Small and insignificant and pointless, but soon that will be me. I will be the ant, and the Capitol will watch as I die.
I notice there are no birds. What did they do to them? I wonder. Is the a barrier preventing their access, just as one does to protect my life? Which is a funny thought because I'm going to be far beyond protection in less than twelve hours.
Maybe not. I have allies. They might not try purposely to save me, but perhaps I could... I don't know, it's all very circumstantial. I do know one thing, however. That is my plan. My plan is to have the Careers do the dirty work of killing. Then when the arena contains only a few tributes, I will leave the false cooperation. Taking, and/or, destroying supplies as I do. And last, pray once I'm in the final three, the other two will simultaneously kill one another. But that never happens. Though it did to a tribute a few years ago, Melos. He was crowned victor without any kills under his belt. I am infinitely envious.
My plan is well formed and I am content with it. I know what I am to do, how to do it. The only variables are my allies' mindsets and the Gamemakers' blood lust. In past slaughters, both have been chaotic.
District 7 comes to my dull thoughts. My father enters my mind and Moxie too. But they both dissolve eventually and reform into Leto. All I can do is guess about my friend. I allow myself to think about my home that's a million miles away from my grasp. Staring at my hands I think of where I've been cut or bruised by the my forest. I remember when I was first starting out and a snare went off as I was setting it and its wire sliced my hand. I'd go back to the blood and cold of District 7 in a heartbeat.
I make my way back to my room where sleep never comes, but my stylist does eventually and I dress in simple garb. Following Foxer to the roof carries the same terrifying feelings as when I walked to the reaping stage. I have the life altering fate. The same quiver thinking of what is to come. The only difference now: I have but hours before the arena. Probably less. I pray for less.
"This is your tracker, Mister Mistral," says a lady in an overcoat, once aboard the hovercraft with Foxer. "Don't move now." She injects a needle in my arm and I cringe.
We fly for some time. I see birds beside us. To my surprise, I am able to eat. It must be because I've fully let my fears go. I know my fate, it can't change. Or eating takes up all the brainpower I have left. And worrying uses up so much.
The aircraft descends, taking us into the catacombs under the arena itself. Whatever comforting word the Capitol has come up with means nothing to me. Stockyard is what I know it as in District 7. The place where cattle go before being slaughtered. Killed for food: killed for fun. I wonder if the tributes from District 10 have some different feel for this place. They must work with places similar in function.
Foxer helps me dress in the clothes assigned to the tributes. This year's is a snow suit the color of one's pupil. It's spooky, how every fiber is black. The zippers cutting down the middle and covering the pockets. The string tightening the hood. I slip on the glossy leggings, they're tight enough so running in them should be simple. An undershirt and a thick, sleek jacket. Black boots. "Expect snow, lots of it," Foxer says placing a small blue pill in my palm. "Here, take this. Every male tribute is required to take it. Stops hair growth."
"Gotta have me stay pretty," I say downing the tablet.
Snow. I am facing an arena with snow. This is good. It snowed in 7 most of the year, for we are farthest north than any other district. I've grown in this climate all my life. I've the upper hand against tributes from hotter district like 11 or 4.
I can only hope for some form of a forest, trees at the very least. But I remember the second Quell. Acres of colorful fruits and flowers that looked harmless, helpful even. Everything was deadly. Fruit inflicted a virus that made bones to break like glass. Flowers shot darts that grew tumors which painfully exploded in blood and puss. The agony these people endured is beyond anything I could fathom. All of the years that stuck with me fill my mind with their harrowing images. When a year with no weapons presenting themselves, tributes resorted to eye-gouging, strangling, beating faces past recognition. Another year, acid rain melted away flesh. A huge flying mutt, even the most mighty of tributes cowered like abused dogs. Poison that altered a small tribute boy's mind viciously he tore out throats, smeared his victims blood on himself for camouflage, tortured others once they were crippled by his horrible traps.
All I can do is pray that I meet none of these fates. Tributes burned alive, eaten alive. What were their last thoughts? Or possibly too consumed by pain to form a clear thought? But I must be strong. For Leto. For Moxie. Her child died in this game, her husband to mostly. She'll be going through the game again.
A female's voice comes through a speaker, telling me that launch is in sixty seconds. Foxer guides me to the spot that will lift me into the arena. "I see you've got a token. What is it?"
I had forgotten about this little thing. I hold it up to see it clearer. "A bear's claw. My friend said it would bring good luck." When I place it over my jacket I'm glad it disrupts the blackness that engulfs me.
"Let's hope it does," he says simply.
Foxer extends an arm and places it on my shoulder, but that doesn't last because a glass falls, trapping me inside the cylindrical tomb. My stylist puts his hand on the glass. Ferocious, he mouths. I nod.
"Ferocious," I say to myself.
And I'm ascending to the arena. In seconds I'm blinded by a white world reflecting light every which way. A roar comes, the known communicator between tribute and Capital. Claudius Templesmith's voice shakes through me.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games begin!"