Uncharted Waters

The Hunger Games © Suzanne Collins


(5)


When we reach the fourth floor of the Training Center, the designated floor for District 4, Reid Fischer and I find Lydia, Mags, and our respective stylists waiting for us in the dining room for supper. They congratulate us with kind words and embraces, though I really feel like the credit goes to the stylists. They were the ones who got us noticed. We just stood there. My prep team takes me to my room, where they strip me of my costume, help me into a bath, and leave the clothes I had worn earlier on the train on my bed. They leave and I relax in the tub, fix the level of warmth on the button pad, and led the water ease my nerves and soak away the glitter and the make-up and the sea salt smell. I wouldn't mind bathing until my skin looked as wrinkled as Mags', but I'm famished and need something in my system.

Dressing into my white blouse and flower-printed skirt, I notice that the small piece of rope is still in the skirt pocket. I was worried that when my prep team removed my clothes at the Remake Center, I'd lost this tiny memento forever. I remember that every tribute is allowed one token from home to represent their district. Maybe this could be mine. I fashion the rope into a simple bracelet around my wrist and head for the dining room, where everyone else has started eating already. My mouth waters at the sight of our supper. There are racks of lamb, sliced honey ham, salad with multiple choices of sauces, chicken-flavored soup, cream puffs, and an assortment of fruits and bread. I try everything since I barely ate on the train, including the wine that a server in a white tunic offers me. Lydia calls him an Avox. Apparently, these Avox servants are criminals, perpetually removed of their ability to speak and forced into servitude as punishment. And here I thought the Capitol was only cruel to tributes. They're also cruel to criminals too. I wonder what kind of crime justifies cutting a person's tongue out, and I hastily decide that I don't want to know.

Reid Fischer is in the middle of a conversation with his stylist about the opening ceremonies when I notice that Finnick Odair isn't among us. Usually, by now, he'd smile at me mockingly or bother me with questions that I cannot fathom an answer to. "We're one person short," I say.

Lydia swallows a piece of lamb before answering. "Finnick left early for some previous engagement before the opening ceremonies," she tells me. "I'm sure he'll return in the next few hours, but it's rather unprofessional of him to be running off when he should be mentoring you two."

"Oh, I see," I reply, feigning disinterest. Finnick Odair probably has his reasons, but Lydia does have a point. With Mags not being the most coherent mentor around, I was hoping Finnick Odair would comment on the opening ceremonies, critique us on what we could have done better, and advise us on strategies for training tomorrow. But he's not here and I'm annoyed and rattled by the stunt he pulled. Does he leave a lot without so much as a word and ultimately forces his job onto Mags and his tributes to fend for themselves? A small part of me wants to justify his reasons or defend him since I don't even know Finnick Odair and shouldn't judge him so rashly, but what's the point of having a mentor if he's not mentoring us?

After dinner, we all end up in the sitting room and converse a while longer. I notice Mags leaving the room for a minute to give Reid Fischer a brown sack. Reid Fischer thanks her and stuffs it into his pocket. I wonder what it is and why I didn't get one too. I don't think Mags is the type to play favorites, but no one seems to pay any attention to this so I try not to either. As evening hours begin to wane, the stylists and Lydia retire early. Mags does the same after talking to Reid Fischer and me, either about the opening ceremonies or training tomorrow, I can't tell which, and Reid Fischer and I are left to our own devices.

"What did Mags give you?" I ask, eying him.

Reid Fischer laughs lightly. "Some materials. Like seaweed and other things," he explains, shrugging. "I want to try to make fishhooks out of them like she does. It might come in handy for the Games."

"Oh." I hadn't really thought about how I'd scavenge for food. I figure I'd just eat berries or trap any animal that comes my way, but surely there would be water somewhere in the arena. If not, everyone would die of dehydration, and that wouldn't be very entertaining. Perhaps, I'm underestimating my co-tribute. He clearly has other things on his mind other than enjoying himself. "Think you can teach me once you got it figured out?"

"Sure," he agrees. The conversation dies after that, and I kind of feel like going to my room too so I can stretch and perform some exercises before bed. Before I can get up to leave, Reid Fischer asks, "Do you want to check out the balcony? It has a great view." I want to reject Reid Fischer's offer. After all, I didn't come here to make friends. I came here to win. But I've never been on a balcony before, so I end up agreeing on a whim. We enter the balcony from the dining room, and the sight leaves me speechless. The evening lights of the Capitol glistens like stars in the night sky. I rest my elbows against the railing and take in the moment. It's strange how a place that seemed so scary can look so serene.

"I wish I could live here," Reid Fischer says suddenly.

"Here? In the Capitol?" I glance at him, puzzled.

"Look how lively and happy everyone is." I look below at the people making conversation and laughter. Everyone seems to be having a good time. "There's no anger or sadness or pain," he says. "Just happy people who don't have a care in the world."

Of course, they don't have a care in the world. They're not the ones who have to compete in the Games. They're not the ones who lose their children, their siblings, their friends, or their loved ones to a mass-slaughter for fame and fortune. The Capitol is the unassuming audience, and we are forced to kill each other for their entertainment. I forget the pretty lights of the Capitol and only remember my mother, my hauntingly beautiful and dead mother, and I am reminded of why I'd been running from these Games for so long and why I decided to face it now.

"I think I should sleep soon," I say quietly. "We do have training tomorrow."

He blinks as though he had forgotten. "Right," he agrees. "Good night."

"… Night."

As I pass the elevators, I unravel my piece of rope and begin knotting it on the way, trying to distract myself. How can Reid Fischer see the Capitol with such an incessantly positive outlook? He knows what the Hunger Games is and what it does to people. So, why all this praise and excitement? I exhale. And he should really stop with the nice and pleasant act because it won't get him anywhere in the Games, and it certainly won't get him anywhere with me. I don't see why on earth he'd want to be friends with someone who's planning on killing him. As I unravel a knot, hands encircle me from behind and create a knot in an even more complicated and advanced fashion. I flinch at the unfamiliar closeness and I'm about to protest when my hesitation soon melts into awe as I observe the quickness, firmness, and detail of the knot. Then I hear the voice of the person behind me.

"Keep up with the vulnerable, innocent act. The crowd's eating up your mysterious martyr image."

I quickly turn around, almost losing my balance in the process, as I come face to face with Finnick Odair. I try to speak, but all I manage to muster out in the end is, "Ah. You."

"So, you're talking to me now," Finnick Odair smirks, apparently even taking a two-word reply that makes little to no sense with good grace. "Does that mean you missed me?"

The mere suggestion makes my cheeks burn and I turn away, hoping that my long, dark hair covers my flustered face. "You're late," I mutter in an attempt to change the subject.

"Don't be jealous, Annie," he reassures me, patting my head. "I had business to attend to."

I raise an eyebrow. "Sponsors?" I ask.

"Something like that," he replies.

I guess I can't be too angry with Finnick Odair if he was just doing his job. I soften and finally face him, and it's only then that I notice that while he is wearing the same clothes he wore on the train, his hair is wet. Strands of bronze hair stick to his forehead and cheeks. It couldn't have been raining, and he couldn't have just taken a shower. He just got back so there'd be no point getting into used clothes before bed. I come to the conclusion that Finnick Odair must have his own place in the Capitol for his annual visits. It wouldn't be too much of a surprise. He is a celebrity when it comes to the Capitol.

But, to me, he is my mentor. "Training starts tomorrow," I mention. "Do you have any advice?"

"Practice your knot-tying."

"I'm serious," I say, trying to take my rope from him.

"So am I," Finnick Odair says, lifting the rope away so I can't reach it. "They'll give you stations to try out different weapons and materials, including knot-tying. Take your time and try everything. If there's something you're good at, don't flaunt it until the private interviews. And don't be intimidated by the competition. Most of them have never wielded a weapon before. They'll be easy kill. But take everyone and everything into consideration. Remember their strengths, their weaknesses. The ones you really have to look out for are District One and District Two tributes because they've been trained just like you. Make an alliance with them. They'll expect you to be in their alliance anyway, so go along with it until it's time to take them down."

I listen to Finnick Odair very carefully, and I cannot help but feel impressed. This must be how he won his Hunger Games, aside from his looks, the help of his sponsors, and his skills. Finnick Odair calculates his options and thinks things through. He was always one step ahead of his competition. He made an alliance with the tributes from District 1 and District 2 because it was expected from him and only deviated from the plan once it offered nothing for him in exchange. Getting that trident from his sponsors must have helped too, but it was his wit and quick-planning that enabled him to ensnare his enemies and kill them off one by one. I regret having doubted him. So what if he's District 4's heartthrob? And so what if he doesn't have the best track record? Finnick Odair might truly be my only chance of surviving this twisted game. If I want to survive, I'll have to trust him.

He leans in towards me observantly and places my small piece of rope in my hands. "Don't look so surprised, Annie. There's a reason why I'm a victor."

"No, I…" Upon realizing our close proximity, I take a step back, shaking my head. "I was just thinking that I had you all figured out. I guess not," I say with a hint of a laugh. "Thank you… Finnick."

Maybe it is my imagination, but I think I see Finnick crack a smile.

It is still dark when I wake up the next day. I stretch my limbs and exercise like I wanted to do last night before showering and choosing my outfit. I end up with a long, blue tank top that falls to my knees, grey cotton leggings, and short, dark brown boots that rise just above my ankles. I take a warm shower and dress into my training garb. It's rather simple and I like it. The point of yesterday's costume was to stand out and impress viewers and sponsors alike. Today, and for the next two days, it will be my skills that will have to make an impression. I wrap half of my hair up like I did during the reaping and tie my token rope around my wrist.

I eat breakfast with Reid Fischer and Mags before Lydia arrives to take us to the training rooms below ground level. Before we leave, Mags tells me something about eating plants. For a second, I think Mags actually wants me to eat plants when I remember Finnick talking about how there would be different stations during training. Maybe there's a station on which plants are edible.

We arrive at the training rooms, where a quarter of the tributes are already waiting. I don't recognize them from the reaping recap, so they must be from the reapings I didn't pay attention to—District 1 through District 3. Reid Fischer and I have our district number pinned to our backs and as I stand among our adversaries, I notice that Reid Fischer isn't standing next to me. He's talking at the entrance with our training advisor. I frown. Does he really have to put up this nice act with everyone? By the time all the tributes are present and accounted for, we are instructed by our training advisor on the rules and regulations of the training stations. We are not allowed to attack another tribute directly; there will be people we can practice with for that. The Gamemakers will also be monitoring our progress. This must be why Finnick doesn't want us to reveal whatever we're good at during training. Not only would we be exploiting our strong points to our enemies, but we wouldn't really be catching the Gamemakers by surprise either.

Once we're dismissed for stations, Reid Fischer turns to me. "What do you want to do?" he asks amiably.

Finnick's strategy rings loud in my head, but so does Mags' advice since she went through the trouble of suggesting the edible plants station. "We should try everything," I suggest. "We might learn something new here, and everyone's crowding the weapons, anyway. We can do that last and make an impression on District One and District Two."

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why? Finnick said—" It occurs to me that Finnick might not have informed Reid Fischer about his plan. "Finnick wants us to make an alliance with them," I tell him under my breath. "For the Games." Reid Fischer glances at the District 1 and District 2 tributes, and for a second, I think I see him pale and I don't blame him. It's understandable considering they all physically surpass him. Even I'm a little uneasy after seeing the boy from District 2 effortlessly slicing the head of a training dummy off with a sword. "Don't be intimidated by them," I whisper.

Reid Fischer grins. "No, it's not that. Look at the way they use the swords and the spears. They're amazing!" he says encouragingly. "I wonder if we can learn a thing or two from them."

Well, if there's one thing Reid Fischer can do, it's looking on the bright side of any situation. "Let's try the plant station first."

One of the classes in the academy was specifically on plant knowledge, so I'm able to classify the berries and plants that are on display and know which ones are edible or not. I nibble on a berry as I skim through a book full of plant information, and I come across a berry I don't recognize. The trainer explains that it's called nightlock, a poisonous berry that will kill whatever and whoever eats it. I gulp and mentally remind myself to avoid this type of berry at all costs. Reid Fischer seems more interested in eating the edible berries presented than learning about the ones that could kill him. I purse my lips. Maybe Reid Fischer won't be killed by me or the other tributes. Maybe he'll die from nightlock. That'd be a fast and painless way to go.

Practice your knot-tying, Finnick's voice echoes in my ear, so we end up at the knot-tying station next. The trainer teaches us different knots to use during the Games, like how to create a net from vines to ensnare prey or our competitors. I spend a great deal of time here rigorously trying to master several of the different knots while Reid Fischer knots a net together. We go from camouflage to fire-making to archery, working our way through each station until lunch is served.

Most of the tributes sit alone for lunch. At one of the tables, I see the twelve-year-old boy from District 9 and the memory of him being dragged to the stage by Peacekeepers surfaces in my head. My hurts aches a little. He won't have a chance, will he? But then again, most of the tributes won't. The tributes from District 1 and District 2 slide their tables together, forming a nestled pack. An alliance. They glance at Reid Fischer and me expectedly, just as Finnick predicted, and we end up joining them for lunch. I finally learn their names. The District 1 tributes are Lux and Mascara, and the District 2 tributes are Crim and Abby. Mascara is perky and very talkative and she reminds me of Cecilia Haven, but I think she's the only one in our alliance that actually likes me. She latches onto me as friendship material the moment I sit at their table and gushes over my costume from the opening ceremonies. I compliment hers too just to be polite. Reid Fischer eats his food and tries to make conversation with Lux, who is itching for another round at the weapons and starts stabbing his food. Crim keeps staring at me. I recognize him as one of the tributes who kept ogling me before the opening ceremonies. He stared at me during training right before beheading that dummy too. Abby scowls at me with every opportunity and hisses inaudible words to Crim. She definitely doesn't like me, but I don't need her to.

There is no trust between allies. Only tentative cooperation.

After lunch, we resume training for the next few hours, and Reid Fischer and I join Lux, Mascara, Crim, and Abby at the main weaponry. Swords, spears, knives, and maces, among others. There are so many weapons at our disposal. I check out each one, weighing them in my hands. I'm proficient with knives, so I decide to avoid them for now and go on to spear-throwing with Mascara instead. Mascara isn't too shabby with a spear, so I store this in my head for later. In the corner of my eye, I see Reid Fischer trying out one of the swords. His grip is too flimsy and his strikes at the training dummy are shallow, and he wears out easily after the first few hits. In spite of this, he continues with his perpetual optimistic towards any misfortune that seems to come his way. I knew Reid Fischer would be at a disadvantage, and though I try not to sympathize with him, I feel bad for the look he's getting from Lux and the sneer he's getting from Abby.

He's easy prey, they must be thinking. They relish at the opportunity of killing him once the Games start.

Don't feel bad. Don't care, I tell myself. I'm no different. During the reaping, I was glad I didn't know Reid Fischer and thought he would be an easy kill too. But I am provoked by Lux and Abby and find myself walking over to Reid Fischer and helping him with his sword. "Put some strength into your strikes," I say, touching his arm. "You'll barely get into the flesh if you don't put more of yourself into it."

Reid Fischer nods and follows my instruction, slicing his training dummy half way into its belly. He is short of breath and stares at the dummy for a moment, taking in his fake kill, before turning to me and smiling. My guard lowers and I allow myself to smile back.

We are interrupted when we both hear a cry that fills the air and turn to find Crim nearly knocking out an assistant with the blunt end of a sword. He looks over his shoulder right at me, and my skin is crawling. He's trying to psyche me out, I realize. And it's working. From the look of the assistant's anguished expression as he's helped up from the mat by two other assistants, Crim must have dealt more blows to him than just a strike to the head. I make a mental note to take down Crim first once the alliance falls apart. In the alliance, he's the most dangerous. Abby may hate my guts and Lux is blood-lusting, but it's Crim who worries me the most.

He's unpredictable.

Which makes him the worst kind of enemy.