Tributes, it seems, spend a lot of time shut up in rooms waiting to be directed somewhere. First there was the small room of the justice building and now my train compartment. They just herd us from one prison to another. If I had a choice I would be kept busy. Time to think is time to doubt. They could at least provide some sort of entertainment.
No one tells me I can leave but I slip out of my compartment and follow the corridor to the end where I hear voices chatting quietly.
I push open the door and peer inside. The walls are covered with elaborate carvings showing sea creatures and mermaids and ancient boats being tossed upon stormy seas. The carpets are flecked with green and everything has an eerie look of home without any of the warmth or the smells. The air tastes stale without the sweetness of the salt carried in by the icy wind. Mags and Hollis, the two victors who will be mentoring me and Jeannie in the games, sit in two of the plush armchairs over the far side of the room. They turn to look at me as I enter.
"Sorry," I mutter, "Augustus told me to stay in my room but I-"
"Feeling lonely, eh?" Hollis says. He doesn't look at me, though.
He won the games about six years ago. He set up traps all over the arena and one by one caught his victims and gutted them like fish. His father was a surgeon and even though he's a victor he followed in his footsteps. He has regular business amputating damaged limbs and generally rooting around inside bodies in the name of medicine. I'm not sure that's the kind of talent the capitol expects of a victor.
"You don't mind if I sit here, do you?' I ask as I drape myself across the sofa, putting my feet up on its arms.
"Course not," Mags says. "Not that it would have stopped you if it wasn't" I don't think I've ever seen anyone look so old. Most people would have died long before they reached her age. I suppose it can't be that bad, being a victor. She gives me a toothy grin. "Would you like a drink?"
"Double scotch on the rocks."
She looks me up and down. "How about some milk?"
"Suppose you plan on giving it to me in a baby's bottle as well."
I frown, I'm not going to get anywhere if everyone sees me as some dumb kid.
"I'll have the scotch," Hollis says.
As Mags gets the drinks I look round the compartment. Hollis shifts in his chair, struggling to get comfortable. I notice the dark circles under his bloodshot eyes. For someone in his early twenties he looks surprisingly middle-aged.
Mags hands me a glass of milk and I set it down on the table. Hollis sips at his scotch and an awkward silence spreads across the room.
"So... What now?" I ask.
"Just try to relax," Hollis says as he stretches out in his chair, still struggling to find the right position. "No point getting all pent up about it." The hypocrisy of this statement is not lost on me. If anyone is pent up about this year's games, it's Hollis. He glances my way a moment, probably for the first time. His eyes widen a little. "You been training?"
"Not bad, not bad," he turns to Mags, "maybe this one's worth the time." he turns back to me, his eyes weighing up my features. "What do you train with?"
"Net and trident, mostly"
"A fisherman's boy, eh?" he's still looking at me, sizing me up. My skin crawls but I try to hold his gaze.
"Leave the boy alone, there's plenty of time for this when we reach the Capitol."
"Better to be prepared." Hollis and I say together.
Mags chuckles, "just don't get too obsessive about it, sometimes it's better to just follow your instincts."
A clock chimes. "They'll be replaying the reapings," Hollis mutters. He takes another sip.
I jump to my feet. "I'll go get Jeannie; we can all watch it together."
As I walk down the corridor I soon realise that I have no idea which room belongs to Jeannie or even which room belongs to me. All the closed doors look the same. I walk to the end of the train and turn back again.
"Jeannie!" I call, "Jeannie?"
A door opens just behind me; I swivel round and see her stood in the doorway. She's wrapped up in the blankets from her bed but shows no sign of having just been asleep.
"We're going to watch the reapings on television. Do you want to join?"
Her eyes search my face as if looking for some hidden agenda, "Ok."
Mags and Hollis appear from the other compartment. Hollis, unlike when he saw me, gives Jeannie a very definite look that I can't quite interpret. She slips a little further behind me, away from his gaze.
Mags leads us into the compartment with the television and we assemble on the chairs just as the anthem starts and the recap begins to play. Jeannie sits so close to me she is practically on my lap. I shuffle out a little to give her more room.
"Ready to meet your allies?" Hollis asks as the coverage from District 1 begins.
There is something of a ruckus when six boys volunteer at once. The commentator praises District 1 on having so many brave young men. They all look pretty brainless to me. After much debate it is decided that an eighteen year old boy called Nova should be tribute and he proudly steps up to the stage and beats his chest like an overgrown gorilla. He is joined by a slight feline looking girl who stares down the camera as though the whole world is beneath her. She is probably about sixteen.
Hollis nods approvingly. Something makes me think he would rather be mentoring the District 1 tributes than us.
In District 2, there is a similar story although the boy, Agrippa, looks smaller than Nova and slyer. The girl, Rook, is probably as big as Agrippa and flashes a triumphant grin when she is chosen. As the two shake hands I just make out Rook mouthing 'I'm going to beat you, Agrippa'. The commentator laughs about how competitive the games are this year.
"It's a good haul, this year." Hollis says, "Looks like you'll be playing with the big boys." He nods to me. That's when I realise that I am going to be the youngest of the career pack.
I pay less attention to the terribly pale tributes from District 3 who both look as though they have never seen the sunlight and that they might break down at any moment.
The replay moves swiftly on to District four. Before Augustus takes the slip out of the girl's reaping ball the camera sweeps over the group of girls that are assembled. My eye soon picks out Jeannie. She is stood at the front with the other eighteens. She stands right by the rope turned to face the stage steps as though poised to go up them. As Augustus calls her name, I am struck with how calm she looks, how there is not a single glimmer of surprise. It's almost as if she knew.
I look at Jeannie by my side. She has turned away from the screen and is closely studying some blisters on her hand. I keep my eyes on her as the screen shows my reaping; the commentator makes some comment about me that I don't quite hear. Jeannie still doesn't look at me.
The rest of the reapings go smoothly and without much of note. There is a girl from 10 who is only twelve and a couple of thirteens but mostly the tributes are over sixteen. I am in no way the smallest, though, so at least I won't look ridiculous. The last thing I want is for anyone to think I'm easy pickings; to under-estimate me because of my age.
When the recap is over Mags gets to her feet, "Well there you go," she says. "Time to get some sleep." She shuffles from the room and Hollis follows her, turning back to offer us a final nugget of advice.
"Don't worry about them too much, the games always offer a few surprises, maybe you'll get lucky."
When we are left alone I turn on Jeannie. "You knew you were going to be reaped."
"It's got nothing to do with odds. It didn't take a genius to work out."
"What do you mean?"
She shrugs again. "They want me dead." She says it so casually it takes a while for the words to sink in.
"What!" I choke out. "But... why?"
She takes in a deep breath. "I guess there's no harm telling you, we'll both be dead in a few weeks, anyway."
I feel a little insulted that she doesn't think I have a chance in the arena but I bite my tongue and let her continue.
"It started a couple of years back. My father has a printing press. He used to print the Chronicle each week and would sometimes write a few articles when he had the time.
"Anyway, one day we get a knock on our door and a whole group of peacekeepers are there. They arrested my father and smashed the printing press. It turns out my father was part of some underground group who was passing anti-capitol messages between the districts. They said there were some codes in the Chronicle.
"They let him live but they took away our livelihood and I guess they're still looking for ways to punish him. It didn't take much to know my name would be pulled out of that reaping ball. I'm only surprised they didn't think of it before."
"You could still survive the games."
She shakes her head, "No, they'll make sure I won't. I'm all my father has left. They'll use it to break him."
I don't know what to say. My mind drifts to the three Odairs that came before me. Has the Capitol got something against my family too?
"How about you," she asks, "You got some sob story?"
"No, not me," I say. "Not yet, anyway."