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.


Prologue

The aristocratic man's jeweled cane hit the marble floor rhythmically as he neared President Zephyr's office. 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.

"Mr. President, I am honored you would receive me on such short notice," he said as the thick doors before him opened to reveal the man who had appointed him a decade before as Head Gamemaker.

President Zephyr offered him a drink. He gladly accepted.

"I have been told the animals are ready, Mr. President," Livius said with a small smile. "The grizzlies and beavers have been giving us some trouble but I've been assured they will all be perfect for the Games."

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 resign?"

Livius tensed despite the lack of threat in the President's tone. Just like he had served with pride, he had not come as a supplicant.

"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 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 fame and power," Livius said. "It's 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. He 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 every district up to the fifty-first Games? Hundreds of people used to put those together, finding every little detail about the tributes' lives, 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, why was he being told this?

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.…"

Livius fingered his thick golden mustache, 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.

"I want you to send a message this year, 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."

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 architect 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 to retire quickly, he had become much too old for such intrigues. He would obey, as always.

"It will be done, Mr. President."


Chapter 14 is the train rides. If you don't want to know about tributes beforehand, you can read from there. I'm not sure it's such a great idea though.

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.