Disclamer: I own a computer and my imagination. Every name and concept you recognize from Suzanne Collins' work is her property.
Livius Ostrovski's jeweled cane hit the marble floor rhythmically as the aristocratic man neared President Zephyr's office. Livius 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, what an honor," he said as the thick doors before him opened to reveal the man who had appointed him a decade before as Head Gamemaker, for reasons still unknown.
President Zephyr offered him a drink. He gladly accepted.
"I have been told the animals are ready, Mr. President. The 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 tattooed 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.
"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," the Head Gamemaker said, trying to sound humble.
He had barely enough energy for one last Games. Mistakes were not tolerate for one such as he and power's enticing pull had loosened over the years. He remembered most vividly how his predecessor had died. The cruel Cornelia Frost still haunted his nights.
"You are a wiser man than most," Zephyr said after a pause.
He stood up and signaled the other 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.
"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, Aquila... they are already sharpening their knives. I have tried to loosen the chokeholds crippling our country, but it seems any change would cause Panem to implode..."
"Mr. President, you did bring some change," Livius pointed out cautiously.
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 feared for the man's sanity.
"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. I want them oppressive and striking. I want people to think."
Livius bowed his head, repressing a shiver at the man's implications. Was Zephyr asking him to spur a rebellion? Livius had to leave the political scene 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. xD
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 chapter 38 and is a major plot point for the Post-Games part.