Disclamer: I own a computer and my imagination. Every name and concept you recognize from Suzanne Collins' work is her property.
This reads like a Submit Your Own Tribute story, but all the tributes are my own characters.
This story has been edited over the years. I haven't hesitated to make some major changes. Don't be surprised if you're a second time reader and the story isn't quite the same. The arena chapters and more generally the Career characters have evolved significantly compared to the first version of this story. Hopefully, it's better now.
The aristocratic man's jeweled cane hit the marble floor rhythmically as he paced around the projected arena. Livius Ostrovski didn't look a day over forty-five, standing erect and alert as a bird of prey, yet he felt each and every of his seventy-two winters in his bones.
He raised no dust as he walked through the unfinished mutt-access tunnels. One of the stiff-shouldered workers from Eleven paused, as if aware he was being watched from a hundred miles away. The overseer was quick to urge the sweaty calloused man back to work, his expression betraying the threat in his silent words. The worker panted like a dog, his movements disjointed, his eyes empty.
Livius' lips curled into a sneer. He tried, sometimes, to find the potential of civilisation in those beings, but a decade of being Head Gamemaker had only taught him that improving their diets, their clothes, or limiting the severity of punishments, only endangered the overseers and slowed production.
With a flick of his fingers, Livius activated the joystick in his left hand and flew through the tunnel up to the waterfall dam, where District Five engineers, people of a much more intelligent breed -if never to be trusted entirely -, modified parameters and whatever else engineers did.
A black spot in the arena caught his interest. "Grid," he enunciated, before activating his microphone.
Golden light split the arena in numbered squares. Livius zoomed in on the shadow.
"Cassandra, we have a blind spot on sector 15, coordinates 80-11. Either add the missing cameras, or fix it." His voice hitched with impatience. The inside of every tree, every crack between rocks, had to be perfectly visible! Sponsors would lynch him if they lost critical action. "The cameras fail to compensate for the poor lighting in the caves, and why don't I have the results for the sound tests yet?"
"Livius, relax. Cortès is looking over them right now, you'll have them this evening. I'm transmitting your orders to the audiovisual team. You have a visitor in less than five minutes, remember?"
Livius stiffened. He'd lost track of time. "Thank you, don't let anyone interrupt us." He barely had the time to dim the projectors reconstructing the arena before the doors opened to reveal the most powerful man in Panem.
President Zephyr walked straight to the small counter. "A drink, Livius?" He said, pouring himself a glass.
He gladly accepted.
"The muttations are ready, Mr. President," Livius said with a small smile. "The grizzlies and beavers had been giving us some trouble but our geneticists fixed them up. The new generation is perfect."
Zephyr lifted the crystal glass to his lips, his hard green eyes fixed on the taller man. "You are quite the scandal, Livius. Your three predecessors died in office. Such an exalted position, why quit?"
Livius tensed despite the lack of threat in the President's tone. He had served with pride, and he would leave with pride.
"A few years are nothing to the vagaries of history. I prefer to be remembered at my best and live my twilight years in the comfort of my home," Livius said, trying to sound humble.
He had barely enough energy for one last Games. Power's enticing pull had loosened over the years and mistakes were too costly. He wasn't afraid of the Districts rebelling. Hope and fear kept them docile. With victors came a year of abundant food, and the death of children was nothing special in those backwards regions. No, Livius had grown afraid of his own people.
The Hunger Games had them passionate. Their involvement was primordial: if sponsors stopped paying, there would be no more arenas, but the audience had expectations and disappointment made them violent. When favored tributes died too soon, when despite their best efforts the tributes failed to entertain, when the victor was unpopular... Livius had laughed at his first death threats, but after what had happened to Cornelia, he had stopped laughing.
"I have enjoyed my share of fame and power," Livius said. "It is time for me to pass the torch to someone worthy."
"You are a wiser man than most," Zephyr said after a pause.
He stood up and signaled Livius to follow. They reached Livius' office. The Head Gamemaker's office. Livius felt a sudden pang of nostalgia. He'd miss the grandeur.
The President gestured out the window. "What do you see?"
Livius' eyes swept over the grand central square. It was a flurry of activity, the heart of the Capitol's elite. He hid his growing disquiet well, as if the unexpected question was a mere pleasantry. He took no part in politics, but he had heard whispers, the kind of whispers no strong President would tolerate. He had to leave, things were changing, too fast for him to keep up.
"I see a city at its peak, Mr. President."
"Glass beads can glitter as much as gold in the right light…. Old records show this nation as a leader of the world. Now we are but a small actor of what remains of civilization."
A bitter smile drew itself on Zephyr's lips. "Did you know there is a room in which there are files on every single family in the Capitol and each of the twelve districts? Thousands of people used to put those together, and hundreds still do, searching every single seed of rebellion…." Zephyr chuckled at the other man's carefully blank face."I know my days are numbered; a tired president is a doomed president. Flores, Snow, Draconis... they are already sharpening their knives. I have tried to loosen the choke-holds crippling our country, but it seems any change would cause Panem to implode..."
"Mr. President, you did bring some change," Livius pointed out cautiously. His hands were clammy on his wine glass. He was Head Gamemaker, not counselor. Such knowledge was not his to have.
A frightening laugh, thick with deprecation, echoed against the walls.
"By making boys be picked first, because gentlemen should always tread first where danger lurks?" Zephyr said with a mirthless smile. "People indulged me, believing I just wanted to leave my mark." Bitter darkness tainted the man's features. "Did you know that Twelve still relied heavily on oil lamps when I came into office, Livius? In Nine fertilizers poisoned the water. Do you remember the scandal when I ordered five hundred tractors built? But who complained when production soared? Over the Eastern Ocean they mock us, calling us savages. Not that any in the Districts suspect.… We are lucky that the foreigners are as tired of war as we are."
Livius fingered his thick golden mustache, deeply unnerved by the turn of the conversation. He had always thought Zephyr would outlive him but now he feared for the man's sanity. Presidents, like Gamemakers, had a tendency to die in office, gruesomely.
"Livius, I want people to remember that the Hunger Games were meant as punishment, not entertainment. The Districts, except maybe the families of the reaped, have become desensitized, and our citizen party, utterly oblivious to what the original message was. I want people to think, Livius. I will make sure you don't suffer from any fallback."
Livius bowed his head, repressing a shiver at the man's implications. Was Zephyr asking him to spur a rebellion? Livius and his team were simply the architects of the arenas. Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith were the storytellers. It was they who edited the camera footage to be fed the Capitol and the Districts, who decided how each tribute would be remembered.
Livius had become much too old for such intrigues, but he would obey, as always.
"It will be done, Mr. President."
As one sharp-eyed reader pointed out (ETNRL4L, who has written some truly outstanding fics on the Mellark family): Snow had been ruling since approximately the first quarter quell in canon. My fic is AU in that regard, but only in that regard. The point to this deviation from canon will appear in time and is a major plot point in the post-Games part.