A/N- Hey guys, sorry for not updating yesterday. There was no hold up in chapters I just completely forgot to update :/ Oops... but anyway enjoy! XD
Jem Show, District Two Male
I've never been nervous. I don't really do nervous. Nervous is a feeling you get when you know something good has to come of an action you're not entirely confident in. I've always had faith that my mental capabilities would be able to get me through anything, and what they couldn't do, didn't matter.
At least until now.
"They must be done, right?" My fingers are still flying across the surface of a paper napkin as I look over at Cassie. As we were some of the first tributes to perform for the Gamemakers, we came up to our floor for lunch afterwards and haven't really moved since. I mean, it's not like there're many places for us to go. We're not allowed to leave the building and other people really don't appreciate it when you try and sneak onto their floor. Trust me, I've tried both.
"Probably," Cassie says, her calm demeanour the complete opposite of my anxious self. A fact she seems to recognise as she turns to me. "You all right?"
I rip a long tear in the napkin, cutting it in two. "What?" Riiiiip. "Yeah." Riiiiip. "Of course." Riiiiiip. "Why?"
"Nothing," she says, shrugging. "I've just never seen you fidgety before."
"Fidgety? Ha, I am not fidgety. Fidgeting is a random action one does when one is feeling nervous. I am not nervous. Why would I be? And anything I do is always planned and always has a purpose. Fidgeting isn't even in my vocabulary."
She raises an eyebrow. "So what's the plan and purpose for that?"
I follow her gaze down to the tablecloth in front of me, upon which now sits a pile of very small pieces of a once whole napkin. I guess my nerves really are starting to get to me; not that I'd let that show, of course. "Dramatic exit material," I say, without missing a beat. And scooping the mound of paper into my hand, I toss it into the air before running for the door.
"Nice," Cassie says behind me, and I turn to see her watching me through the veil of falling papers, trying to stifle a laugh. "Napkin confetti."
"Well, I don't always have smoke bombs on hand," I say, grinning, and I catch a glimpse of her own smiling growing before I leave the room.
Once in the hall, though, some of my good mood washes off and I'm left anxiously running a hand through my hair. Over the course of this week I've found Cassie to be a very serious Career when she wants to be, yet in a strange contradiction of the title she's also found it in her to a) have fun and b) actually like me. Of course she'd be able to laugh and let loose today; I've seen her in training, she's guaranteed an eight, at least.
I, on the other hand, am not so lucky.
Though intelligence can often be the deciding factor when the Games are won, demonstrating this skill for a private training session can be rather difficult. Especially when lumped between an enormous District 1 male and my trained district partner in terms of session times. We Careers are the entertainment part of the Gamemakers' afternoon, the kids who know what they're doing as opposed to those who go in and make it up as it happens. They're looking for action, skilled weapons' use, impossible feats of physical abilities. Not exactly something I'm capable of.
Wait . . . did I just say "we Careers"? Wow. Honestly never thought I'd utter those words.
It's been nothing but surprises with my allies since the day I volunteered, the biggest surprise of all being the fact that I actually have allies. When I first got on that train with Cassie, I was expecting, well, pretty much a female version of Kor. What I got couldn't have been farther from that prediction. For all of them.
They're not all jerks. They're not all bloodthirsty and only in this for the fun of killing others. And most – most – are actually pretty intelligent. Which unfortunately makes me stand out even less.
Even though, surprise surprise, I was actually allowed into the alliance, I know I'm the underdog here. Irritating though it is, considering one of our members is the girl from 8. I mean, come on, 8! Sure, she'll be a great help; if one of us is stabbed in the back, she can help mend the tear in the shirt and recommend the best way to clean out the bloodstains. But no, she can get by because she's not from a Career district; she isn't expected to be like us. Or rather, like them. Because even though I'm in the alliance, I'm in no way any closer to being your typical Career than I was six days ago when I volunteered.
Which is a problem. As bad as I was in training, getting a good score for my private session would guarantee me at least some degree of respect. A bad score . . . not so much. I can just picture Quintus' face when he watches the numbers flashing across the screen, hear his laughter and comments. And worse are the comments and insults of Kor, surely watching with baited breath at home just waiting for me to screw up. He may not be here with me now (thank goodness for that), but I can still feel his obnoxious presence with me, hatred intensified thanks to my little stunt on reaping day.
Argh, I just wish there was something I could do about this! I run a hand through my hair again and sigh. Like I said, I'm never nervous, but on the occasion where I get a tiny bit anxious, I've always been able to take action. Like Kor wanting revenge for something I did; if I wasn't sure what he was going to do, I could spy on him, figure it out, devise counterplots, et cetera. But here I can do nothing, nothing about the Gamemakers and my score, and I'm forced to stay on my floor, powerless to change their decision as they mark me with what I'm sure will be the lowest store in the Careers. Why I can't do anything to change this?
Or . . . can I?
"Oh, Jem," I say to myself, a slow grin spreading across my face as an idea begins to form in my head. "One of these days, you're going to get yourself in so much trouble."
You know, I've started to notice a pattern with my schemes; they all seem to lead me through rather unappealing locations. Don't know what that says about me, but I can tell you for certain that the Training Centre air ducts are much preferable to the District 2 sewers.
And what, exactly, am I doing in the Training Centre air ducts? Well, isn't that an interesting story.
Along with getting nervous, sitting around is something I never do. My parents trained it out of me and my siblings a long time ago; if you're sitting around, you're waiting and if you're waiting, you're relying on someone else to do something for you. Not sure if you noticed earlier, but my family's pretty big on the whole independence thing. "You control the results", my parents would say. "You must take matters into your own hands."
Which is exactly why I'm going to sneak into the gym where the private training sessions take place, access the Gamemakers' records of each tribute's score and change my own as I see fit.
Sound ridiculous? Funny, most of my plans start out that way. Once they're pulled off though, I tend to be the last one laughing.
The door to the gym was, obviously, locked when I got down to the training floor. But I knew the Gamemakers would be inside, going over each tribute's performance and rating them. Unless they went to a different room for their discussion; which I was really hoping they wouldn't.
Luckily, the maintenance room on this floor had not been locked, and slipping inside was almost too easy. I guess they assumed no tribute would ever want to bother themselves with a room devoted to the upkeep of the building, but if so, then they never met Jem Show. I have a habit of sneaking around places most people overlook.
The hardest part was climbing into the duct once I'd opened the grate. Jumping down into a sewer is one thing; climbing up into an air duct is quite another. There was a scary moment where I'd made it through, but the foot of my prosthetic leg caught on the opening and the whole thing was ready to fall off. Luckily I managed to wriggle it around and get it through safe and intact.
And now that I'm actually crawling around in these things, taking turns according to the mental map I've made in my head of the area, I'm almost put off by how easy this is. I guess, just like the lack of locks on the sewers back home, they never assumed someone would be smart enough to do this. Or stupid enough. But I prefer to think of it as the former.
". . . climbing skills were rather impressive . . ."
I freeze as the voice hits my ears, sounding odd and distorted when bouncing around the small confines of the air duct. But still, there's no mistaking its presence and I speed up in anticipation, though stop quickly after to try and stay quiet. Prosthetics are not made for crawling, and while mine bends at the knee like a normal leg, it does not, unfortunately, do the same at the ankle, which creates a fair amount of clanking and dragging noises in the vent.
Thankfully, though, the speaker continues on without interruption, leading me to believe I haven't been heard. Smiling to myself, I continue to inch along the duct until the voices become clearer and I can make out whole conversations.
"She demonstrated decent skills with a knife as well," a female voice adds. "Especially for someone in District 11."
"Yes, but we don't go giving out charity points just because someone had the misfortune to be born in a district like 11, now do we?" an older, male voice drawls.
"But she could climb!" Once again, the first voice I heard reaches my ears, and now I can clearer make it out as a younger male, though the voice is so high-pitched it's hard to tell.
"Hironius, shut up. Just because you're afraid of heights doesn't mean every tribute who can climb two feet off the ground deserves a ten."
"I'm not afraid of heights! I'm allergic to them."
"You idiot, you can't-"
"Enough." The new voice doesn't rise above normal volume at all, yet it seems to have a certain assertive quality to it that makes each Gamemaker fall silent. And though I can't see the speaker, I know her type well. Quite a few of my teachers had the power to make whole classrooms fall silent, though there was always at least one kid who never listened. Three guesses who it was. "Her knife skills were mediocre at best and as Anthaenin said, we do not give points depending on districts."
"But what about-"
"Her agility was entirely average. Now interrupt me again, Hironius, and I promise this time I will fire you."
The mutterings that follow presumably come from this "Hironius" character, though I can't make out what he's saying. Probably something unimportant anyways; what I'm here for is the scores. "And now that that's settled," the woman continues. "Four."
"But her district . . ."
"Don't you think . . .?"
"Climbing . . ."
"My decision is final," the scorer finishes, silencing the cacophony that arose when she announced the number. "Now please, let's try to finish this without any more arguments. It's already taken twice as long as it should have, we still have some last-minute arena plans to discuss and some of us would like to get home before midnight."
"Amen to that."
"Quiet, Anthaenin. You haven't been helping either."
"Oh please, at least I'm not as bad as-"
"The boy from 12!" the woman, who've I've begun to think of as the Head Gamemaker – seems to be the one in charge – loudly overrules Anthaenin and continues. "Score?"
"Two?!" Hironius says indignantly. "But he used a slingshot with excellent accuracy!"
"Yes, but he also nearly dropped a weight on his foot," Anthaenin drawls. "You honestly think that merits a seven?"
"I agree with Hironius," a female voice adds, the same one who praised the girl from 11's skills with a knife. "Besides, that was only once. Otherwise, he proved to be rather powerful."
"Five." The Head Gamemaker's voice rings through the area, silencing the others. Immediately after, however, the same clamour as before follows, but this time she'd quicker to cut it off. "Five."
"No. I'm utterly sick of these arguments. All day, none of you have been able to agree on anything. The boy from 10, the girl from 8, the boy from 2 . . ."
Ah, so I made the list, did I? Not entirely sure what that means in terms of my score, but hey, at least they remember me.
"So five," the Head Gamemaker finishes. "And a seven for his partner."
Immediately the arguments sprout up, the most audible of which comes from the Anthaenin fellow. "Seven, Illieth? You're going soft."
"I'll have no arguments. We're done."
"Maybe you didn't get the message since you weren't even a Gamemaker last year, but we do vote on this sort of thing. As much as you want it, you don't hold all the power."
"I'm just trying to finish this, Anthaenin," Illieth replies coldly. "Yes, maybe I don't know how things have worked before, but as I'm sure you know, there must be a reason Austyre no longer holds this position. If you all sat around arguing about tedious things like training scores, no wonder nothing got done. We still have plans to discuss after this and just once I'd like to get home before midnight. Some of us do have families you know; not everyone has no life outside of this job."
For once, my ears pick up only silence after this statement, though it's quickly disrupted by a quiet "ooooh", which I believe comes from Hironius. Anthaenin himself doesn't say anything, but I do pick up on a brief screeching noise, like a chair being pushed back from the table. Then, "Well, I think it's just about time for a coffee break, don't you?"
There's a sigh from Illieth. "Yes. Everyone, head on out. We'll regroup in ten minutes."
More screeching of chairs follows this statement as presumably the Gamemakers get up to leave. I can just hear snatches of conversation, but for the most part it doesn't seem to be anything relevant to the training scores anymore, so I really don't care. But as the other voices fade away, probably due to the speakers exiting the room, I do pick up on one last little chat.
"Anthaenin . . . I apologise. For before. It's a stressful time."
"At least when you're not equipped to deal with it. I still question why the president made you Head Gamemaker when you've never even worked in the field at all."
Not exactly the nicest words, but there's something in his tone that makes them seem not really the insult they're meant to be. The Head Gamemaker must have picked up on it too, because she follows with, "So, all is forgiven?"
"Well, I believe you still owe me a coffee . . ."
And then they're gone.
The silence is so out of place that for a moment I just lie in the air duct, feeling the sounds of the door closing reverberating around inside my skull. Then it hits me. They're gone. They're gone. It's time to act.
Not burdened anymore with the worry of being overheard, I manage to make my way a lot faster through the duct, and in a few moments I'm right outside the grate to the training room. A quick peek through the thin metal bars tells me what I already suspected. The Gamemakers have really cleared out of the room, leaving me ten minutes to get in, change my score and get out without anyone noticing.
Piece of cake.
The grate is surprisingly easy to detach, though drawing it back into the duct is rather awkward. Eventually though, I get it in a satisfactory position where it won't fall and make a racket, leaving me to the next obstacle in my path; namely, the drop from air duct to floor.
I lay thinking this problem through for a little while, but it's clear there's no easy way to do this. The duct's too narrow to turn around in, and it's not like there's a convenient wall or ceiling fixture nearby that I could grab onto and use to lower myself to the ground. Nope, seems like the only way is sliding out of the duct headfirst . . . and hoping I don't break my neck in the progress. Yeah, first tribute to die before the Games begin; not exactly how I want to be remembered.
My hands grip either sides of the duct opening as I take a deep breath to prepare myself for the pain I know will come. While my mind is beautiful to behold and my wits are unrivalled, I hold all the gracefulness of a one-legged bear.
Still, no pain, no gain, right? Wrong; I hate that saying. Mostly because it seems to be my family's motto for life. Though I guess sometimes, even my family is worth listening to.
Oh God, what have these Capitol people done to my sanity?
However, before I can attempt to answer the question, my body acts and without thinking, my arms pull forward and yank me out of the hole. I guess subconsciously I figured there was no way I'd jump out of the duct while thinking about it. With good reason, I decide, as my forearms are the first thing to hit the ground.
"Ah!" Spikes of pain shoot through my hands, racing straight past my elbows and into my shoulders. Not a moment later do I feel the impact in my midsection, and my breath is knocked out of me just in time for the agony to hit my knees. If I had enough air in my lungs, I'd groan in pain, but for a few seconds all I can do is just lie on the floor, gasping and trying to think about anything but my throbbing shoulder.
But not for long. Yes, I hate the "no pain no gain" saying and firmly believe much can be achieved without injuring oneself in the progress, but if I actually had to go through pain, I'd better get some freaking good gain. Still wincing, I manage to stretch out an arm and grab a nearby chair, slowly pulling myself up off the ground. Well, my shoulder is killing me, my forearms feel like they were hit by a truck and the size of the bruise on my stomach is closely reminiscent to that of a giant boulder, but at least only one of my legs hurt. Oh wait . . .
Shaking my head slightly, I finish resuming a standing position and almost immediately regret it. I didn't realise how long I'd spent in the duct, but my muscle (or what passes for them on me) are really feeling it now. Man, is this how all the normal Careers go about their day, thinking they have to put themselves through pain and torture like this in order to gain something? I know that's my brother's mindset; I'm surprised he hasn't killed himself yet. And also a tad disappointed.
But the moment my eyes register the object in front of me, I nearly (nearly) forget about the pain. Because sitting on the table, so, so easily accessible, is a silver, shiny laptop. It's not even password protected.
"Yes!" I part whisper, part yell to myself, taking a seat in front of the device and ignoring the cramps that come with the motion. We don't actually own a computer in my house; we may be well-off, but we're not Capitol citizens, for goodness sake. Still, I know what one is and the basics of using it; in school we have a whole subject devoted to learning about the Hunger Games, and I was always the one asking questions about the technology used to make the event possible. And all my other classmates just wanted to watch reruns of the goriest deaths. Psh, idiots.
My fingers are almost shaking with anticipation as I lay them over the mouse, shifting it to the left ever so slightly to bring the computer out of sleep mode. The randomly undulating waves of colour disappear instantly, leaving me with one of the most important, supposedly not-to-be-revealed-until-tonight documents in the whole Games.
Private Training Scores
Head Gamemaker: Illieth Wornwurther
Scores documented by: Hironius Fyntyn
District 1 Male: Quartz Van Puten 9
District 1 Female: Allure Medina 8
District 2 Male: Jem Show 6
District 2 Female: Cassiterite Vellemptuai 8
District 3 Male: Wyatt Kipper 5
District 3 Female: Spark Themis 6
District 4 Male: Quintus Praetorian 10
District 4 Female: Lush Thistle 9
District 5 Male: Ryan Jenkins 6
District 5 Female: Rima Vertes 5
District 6 Male: Phoenix Whitter 4
District 6 Female: Greylyn Conway 3
District 7 Male: Tyrion Pond 5
District 7 Female: Kilea Fairbane 5
District 8 Male:Magic Ayerzuela 4
District 8 Female: Dakota Phillips 6
District 9 Male: Jerin Flynn 4
District 9 Female: Pippa Rosalin 5
District 10 Male: Nex Winters 7
District 10 Female: Adalia Davenport 6
District 11 Male: Cyrus Ithilien 3
District 11 Female: Elliah Feren 4
District 12 Male: Loken Farris 5
District 12 Female: Sparrow Adair 7
Oh, yes. This is what I've been waiting for. Sure, it might have been painful getting here, but this list is totally going to make things . . .
District 2 Male: Jem Show 6
Yes, all right, I'll admit: I wasn't expecting a stunning score. I'm no Quintus or Quartz or whatever. But still, I was expecting, well, not a six. I'm tied with the girl from 8, for crying out loud! And the girl from 10, and the guy from 5, and the girl from 3. Heck, I'm being beaten by tributes from 10 and 12. Outlier districts and they're completely outshining me.
Maybe the worst part is though, it's not all that surprising. As shocked and offended as I try to act, it feels about right. Which is horribly embarrassing, not to mention a bit of a blow to the self-esteem. A tribute from a diehard Career district and I'm tied for last place in our alliance with training scores.
I'm so getting thrown out of the Pack.
Unless I change things. Which I don't hesitate to do immediately, one finger quickly pressing the backspace button while another replaces the empty space with a much more satisfying number.
District 2 Male: Jem Show 9
There, now, that's fine, isn't it? A tad ridiculous but hey, it's not like anyone will deny it. Although Quintus might, now that I think about it. But even if he didn't believe it, how would he be able to prove it was a lie? Other than my obvious lack of skill once we get into the arena . . .
I sigh quietly, staring at the little lying number that almost seems to be mocking me in its falsehood. Look at me! I represent everything you could never accomplish! Aren't I just such a beautiful, unattainable thing?
Oh, come on, what's wrong with me? I've never felt pathetically inferior before, even back in my district with hundreds of Careers. Maybe this is just the pressure of the Games, pushing me to feel sorry for myself. It certainly seems to happen with other tributes.
But not me any longer. No, Jem Show is no ordinary "other tribute". He's the guy sitting at the Gamemaker's table with a lovely nine for a training score, not some kid crying and moaning about their oh-so-tragic past. I sit back in the chair and smirk happily to myself, letting the full realisation of what I just did hit me. So what if they gave me a six before? If I managed to pull off sneaking in undetected and changing the scores, I deserve way more than the nine I gave myself. I'd say at least a ten, and just the thought of Quintus' face if he ever saw me tied with him makes me laugh.
Hmm, speaking of Quintus . . .
My fingers have just tapped out the new number when the sounds of faint conversation reach my ears and I both jump and curse. Shoot; in all this excitement, I completely forgot my time limit. A glance at the clock in the centre indicates that, sure enough, about ten minutes have passed, and I'd better get out of here now if I want to escape from this unscathed.
Whoever told you going through an air vent is easy, well, it is, relatively. It's going back through that's difficult. This grate is higher off the ground than the one for my entrance, and I have to move a chair over and stand on it just to manage to pull myself up. Yeah, a chair right underneath the air duct; that isn't suspicious.
The other problem, I realise while still struggling to pull my torso through the hole, is repositioning the grate. It lies in front of me, leaning against the side of the vent, and there's no way I'd be able to put it back while facing this way; the duct isn't big enough to allow for turning around. Which means now I have to get out, somehow climb in backwards, reposition the grate and crawl back to my starting point while facing the other way.
Maybe I should have thought this through.
"And then I was like, no way you're invited to the president's party. But she was!"
"I know! So I asked if she could somehow get me in and . . ."
Crap! It's Hironius and the unnamed female Gamemaker from before. Frantically I try pulling myself in through the grate faster, but mine aren't exactly the poster arms for strength and fitness. My thighs are just sliding into the hole when I hear the telltale sign of a door opening and my heart drops.
"So now I'm going to the party! Isn't that incredible?"
"Oh my gosh, yes! I'm so- EEEEEEEK!"
I wince as the scream nearly blows my eardrums out. Yeesh, you'd think that Hironius guy shares DNA with a bat. Well, the game's up now, unless I can somehow get away without them knowing who was in the duct. Come on, come on! I shout to myself. Just keep going, pull yourself further through and don't stop crawling.
"What, what is that?!"
"I don't know, but it's moving! Hironius, help me catch it!"
"With my hands?!"
Their words make me speed up even faster, but to no avail. In a matter of seconds I feel two hands wrap around my ankle, as well as an all-too-familiar sensation of the elastic material around my knee slipping off as my prosthetic is tugged.
My leg comes out of the duct just a few seconds before I do.
Another one of Hironius' girly screams echo all around me, but not for long; soon I'm tumbling out of the vent as well (backwards, thankfully, which means feet first), and sort of fall into/am caught by the female Gamemaker. She holds me up under my arms, and though I can't see her face, I know she must be staring in shock. Hironius himself seems much too preoccupied with the prosthetic leg he holds in his hands.
"It came off, it came off! Its leg came off in my hands! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my-"
"Hironius, calm down, it's just-"
I wince; things are just going from bad to worst. Before the female Gamemaker could attempt to calm her hysterical co-worker, the door burst open again and in came another man and woman. Not ones I recognised, until the woman opened her mouth to ask a question and I realise, with a horrible sinking feeling in my gut, that it's the Head Gamemaker, Illieth Wornwurther.
Both her and her companion stop short at the sight that meets their eyes, gazes darting from me to Hironius, who's decided to fling my prosthetic across the room in an attempt to distance himself from it. For a moment, no one speaks. Then, "Well, here's something you don't see every day."
His voice marks the man who just walked in as Anthaenin and despite his cool, snide remarks from before, even he can't seem to contain his surprise. His speaking seems to have knocked Illieth out of her daze however, and she quickly jumps in with another question. "Yyanna, what's going on?"
"I-I don't know," the woman holding me says. "We just came in and saw something in the vents, so Hironius and I pulled it out and-"
"I pulled off its foot!" the other Gamemaker shouts, still seemingly distraught over this fact. "I was just too strong and I pulled it right off!"
I roll my eyes, though I can't entirely keep the grin off my face. Funny, we have all these ideas that the Gamemakers are these big, powerful members of an elite group of people destined to kill us off in the most entertaining ways possible. But really, they're just ridiculous Capitol citizens like everyone else. "You know, you can reattach it."
The fact that I spoke startles them back into silence, and for another few seconds, all they do is stare at me. Once again though, Illieth gets her wits back first. "And who, exactly, are you?"
As much as I'd love to accompany my introduction with a sarcastic bow, I'm still being held by Yyanna and my options for movement are rather limited. So I settle for a small salute. "Jem Show, and your service."
I was hoping for a little more of a reaction. Maybe some cries of, "You!" or "Oh, this tribute!". What I get, however, is more silence. And blank states.
I sigh. "District 2 male? Honestly, you think you'd keep track of your tributes."
Well, that gets a reaction out of them, at least. Everyone's eyes widen, and Illieth herself looks like she just swallowed an olive pit. "A . . . a tribute?" she asks incredulously. "Here?"
The time in which it takes them to realise what I've done is achingly slow, and I can't help but adding to her sentence with, "No, I'm back on the District 2 floor where I'm supposed to be."
Whether she's managed to fully wrap her head around the idea or not, my sarcasm seems to snap Illieth out of her shock and she frowns disapprovingly in my direction. "How did you get in here?"
"Through the door. Duh." And to my delight, all four of them turn back and stare at the way they've came.
My chuckles tip Anthaenin off first, who turns away from the door and raises an eyebrow. Then his eyes land on something behind me and he rolls his eyes. "Wonderful; we've caught a comedian," he says, throwing me a disparaging look before tapping Illieth on her shoulder. "He came through the air vents, obviously." Looking back my way, he adds, "You're not very subtle, are you?"
"I was pressed for time."
"It doesn't matter," Illieth interrupts quickly as Anthaenin opens his mouth to respond, "How he got in here. The important question is why."
She turns to stare at me, obviously expecting an answer. I shrug. "I wanted to check out this part of the gym out. Never been by the Gamemaker table before. Mind you, I'm not really impressed. Is this where you do all your important work? I was expecting huge labs, advanced technology, not one horrendously slow laptop that . . ."
I stop myself short, mentally cringing at the mistake I just made, but Illieth already caught it. Idiot, idiot, idiot, I say to myself as she heads over to the device I just mentioned. Why, why would you say that? IDIOT. By mentioning the laptop, I've made the Gamemakers aware that I'm aware of its presence. And the fact that I know it's slow means I must have gone on it, and as soon as they check the list they'll-
"Tell me, Illieth," Anthaenin says. He's headed over to the laptop and I inwardly cringe as his gaze travels down the list. "Do you remember giving the boy from 2 a nine?"
"What?" The Head Gamemaker joins him at the computer, her cold grey eyes narrowing further as she takes in my handiwork before slowly turning back to me.
"Come on, you're practically asking for someone to screw with your results," I say in answer to her accusing glare. "The thing isn't even password protected."
Her gaze darts to Hironius, who's begun to fidget at my words. "I was going to get on that," he mumbles.
For a moment, I'm expecting Illieth to hit him, or at the very least deliver a severe lecture. But the older woman merely ends up sighing, hands going to her temples in an attempt to rub the stress away. "Anthaenin," she says, signalling him over to her. "Go call a Peacekeeper in here to escort Mr Show back up to his floor. Hironius, get his . . . leg for him."
"So can I keep the nine?" I ask as Hironius whines and complains before inching his way over to my prosthetic with so much apprehension, you'd think it was a real, severed limb.
Illieth frowns, her hands dropping back to her sides. "Decidedly not."
"Aw, come on. My training sessions wasn't half-bad."
"And six isn't a half-bad score."
All right, she had me there; still, I'm a Career (in the absolute loosest sense of the word) and I'm pretty sure the standards are higher. "Plus I infiltrated your little secret lair and uncovered top secret information. Isn't that worth anything?"
"You wormed your way through some air vents, learned information that, had you waited a few hours, would have been revealed to you anyways, and you were caught doing it." Okay, when you put it like that . . . yeesh. This Head Gamemaker isn't easily impressed. "Now I suggest you take you leg from Hironius before he drops it again. It's time for you to leave, Mr Show."
Yyanna lowers me into a chair and I grab my prosthetic, which is indeed being held by in the increasingly shaky grip of Hironius. But something's still bothering me, something I may have wrongfully overlooked when going about my plan.
"Am I going to be punished?"
Illieth raises an eyebrow. "What could we possibly do to you?"
"Blow me up, trap me in a pit of spikes, sic a pack of bloodthirsty mutts on my tail. You may have to wait until the arena, but the possibilities are endless."
She smiles slightly, and though there's nothing menacing about the gesture, I realise I may have just planted some ideas in her head that could turn out really unpleasant for me. "I'm afraid you'll just have to wait to find out, Mr Show. Trying to learn things in advance only leads to trouble."
I turn my attention back to reattaching my leg, but my heart seems to have sunk just a few more centimetres into my stomach. Not that I was actually expecting to keep the score I gave myself, but, well, Illieth's description of what I thought was an original, wonderful Jem Show Plan kind of put a dent in my self-esteem.
You wormed your way through some air vents, learned information that, had you waited a few hours, would have been revealed to you anyways, and you were caught doing it. Honestly, could she have retold it in any less impressive fashion?
And in addition to that, I've just now realised that pissing off Gamemakers = probably not the best idea in terms of later survival. Fantastic. Wow, Jem, really thought this one through. You're definitely proving yourself to be different from the typical 2 idiots.
My mood, however, is slightly lifted as the door reopens and Anthaenin walks back in, with the Peacekeeper charged to bring me back up to my floor and make sure I stay there. He's not wearing the white helmet that usually comes with their uniform, and I instantly recognise the crooked nose, beady brown eyes and permanent frown upon his face.
The man stops short upon seeing me, and his scowl deepens as his eyes widen. "You!"
Well, at least I'll be remembered by someone here. "Don," I answer, giving him my biggest grin. "Good to see you again!"
Illieth looks from me to the Peacekeeper, her eyes filled with confusion. "You know this tribute?"
Don glowers at me, and I smile wider at the look. "Idiot's had me running all over the place the past few days. You know he tried to sneak out of the Centre?"
Ah, happy memories. "I like to think I'm making you better at your job, so that the next time a tribute walks literally right in front of you, you won't be too busy on your phone to notice."
His cheeks flush instantly. "That's not . . . I didn't . . . That's not what happened!"
"You sure? Because I think-"
"Mr Farento," Illieth cuts in sharply. "If you'd be so kind as to escort Mr Show back up to his floor."
The Peacekeeper glaring eyes haven't left me since he walked in, so I can imagine what his answer might be. "My pleasure," he says, though it's more of a growl as he stalks over and grabs my arm before leading me away from the room.
"So that's still a no about changing my score?" I call back to Illieth as I'm practically dragged away.
The corners of her lips twitch in amusement and she shakes her head. "I'm afraid so, Mr Show."
Darn. Well, maybe part of my plan can still . . .
"Hey." Yyanna's voice comes floating to my ears right before I'm led out the door. "We didn't give the boy from 4 a two, did we?"
Darn and darn again. Ah well, can't have everything. Or anything, as the case is for me now.
Don pulls me down first one hall, then another, until we're back in the Training Centre lobby. By the stony silence and frequent, out-of-the-corner-of-his-eye glares, I can tell he's still not pleased to see me.
"Aw, come on, Don, you aren't still mad about yesterday are you?"
"Two more days," he mutters, jabbing at the elevator up button, all while keeping a firm grip on my arm with his other hand. "Two more days and then you'll be out of my hair."
"Au contraire," I respond. "What if I come back?"
There's a moment of silence in which Don just stares at me in what I might consider horror at the thought of my winning the Games, and meanwhile I just grin back. His trance is broken though as the elevator dings and the doors slide open before us. "Not going to happen," he says. "Now get in."
"Aw, you don't even think I have a little chance?"
"Not a tiny, little, itsy bitsy-"
"No. Also, shut up."
We lapse into silence after stepping into the elevator, and I have nothing to do but stare through the transparent, see-through walls and watch as the ground floor slowly grows distant. Good thing we only need to go up to the second floor; even the thought of going higher makes me queasy.
Another good reason for being on a lower floor; awkward elevator rides only last a minute. No sooner than we've gotten on are we getting off, and I step thankfully onto the solid, unmoving floor of our level in time to see both Cassie and our escort come around the corner. "Who's using the ele-" Gold starts, but stops abruptly at the sight of me walking out with Peacekeeper.
"Make sure he stays," Don grumbles in the direction of our escort as he pushes me forward. Then he's turning quickly back towards the elevator like I'm some sort of disease he doesn't want to catch. Which is probably his line of thinking, although to his dismay he's been forced to catch me three times now.
"I . . . what . . ." Our escort just stares as the doors to the elevator slide shut, his mouth gaping open moving soundlessly.
Cassie, however, proves she can retain her wits even under the event of a surprise. "What's going on?" she asks, raising an eyebrow in my direction as though she's already begun to guess how ridiculous the story might be.
I shrug, faking casual. "Not much. Just signing some autographs; he's a big fan."
My district partner rolls her eyes, but smiles all the same. Our escort, on the other hand, has quite a different reaction.
"What was that? Was that a Peacekeeper? Why were you with a Peacekeeper? What did you do?" Apparently every word lost in Gold's moment of speechlessness must be made up for as fast as possible, because once he gets his voice back, there's no stopping his babbling. "Was it illegal? Please, tell me it wasn't. But it was, wasn't it? Oh no."
"Well, you seem to have answered your own question," I say, clapping my hands together, "so I guess that means I'm good to go. Excellent; I'm starving. When's dinner?"
"Jem." This comes from Cassie; though she appears amused by our escort's frantic ramblings, she doesn't seem willing to let me off without an explanation.
"All right, all right. I was changing the training scores."
I purposefully keep a straight face during that last sentence, which makes their reactions all the funnier. With no knowing wink or laughing smirk, the full meaning of my words doesn't register with the pair until seconds after the words leave my mouth. Then the eyes widen, the mouths drop and the disbelief and shock enter.
"What?" Cassie asks.
"Changing the training scores. It's remarkably easy to do, actually. The Gamemakers are rather incompetent this year. Although they did manage to catch me, so, eh, maybe they're not awful."
"You were . . . you were . . ." Oh dear: I think I broke my escort. Gold's eyes as large as dinner place, and he repeats the same stunned phrase over and over like some sort of defective record player. "You were . . . you were . . . what?"
"Changing. The. Training. Scores. Or trying to. Seriously, are you guys deaf?"
"How?" Cassie demands.
"Snuck in through the air vents, got on their laptop and hit the backspace button a few times. Like I said, not hard."
"But that's-" Gold opens and closes his mouth, trying to come up with a word to describe my actions. "T-that's illegal!"
"Oh no," I say in mock horror. "What are they going to do? Lock me up? Make me pay a fine? Kill me?"
"Probably that last one," Cassie interjects.
I pause, and all of the false bravado and amusement leaks out of me like I'm a deflating balloon. Once again, I'm reminded that my chances of living in the arena have probably drastically gone down; and they weren't all that high to begin with. Me, the master planner, the guy who never misses anything, the guy who couldn't afford to screw up in the brain department because he literally has nothing else going for him. "Yeah." I sigh. "Thought of that a little too late."
Dinner is a sombre affair, alternating between forced, polite conversation of how Cassie's training session went and tense silence during which all eyes seem to drift to me. After getting over his initial shock, Gold went into a rage, lecturing me about how badly I'd screwed up mine and Cassie's chances at victory. The District 2 mentors didn't seem too pleased either. Cassie, for her part, has yet to show anger at my actions, even though, besides myself, it's her they'll probably affect most. Maybe she's just waiting for the right moment. Or maybe, and there's only a faint, faint hope of this, but maybe she doesn't actually care. Though at this moment in time, I'm not banking on that. Things haven't exactly been going well for me today.
But forget that; if I start acting like I've made mistakes, other people will start believing it. Turns out you can fool pretty much anyone into thinking you totally meant to do something that you appear to have completely screwed up, so long as you play it well. God knows I've tricked Kor with that tactic enough times. No use being down on yourself, or other people'll start doing the same thing.
Which is why I plaster on the biggest, cockiest grin I can manage as we all gather around the television to watch the revealing of the training scores, and relax into the couch with an big sigh. "Honestly, do I really have to watch these things? I already know what all the scores are."
The only response I get is a glare from Gold, who feels the need to punish me for my actions by refusing to speak to me. I never would have guessed our escort had the capability to be that intelligent; it's the best idea he's had since I met him.
Quartz's picture pops up first and everyone leans forward slightly in anticipation to see our ally's score, but I just yawn. "Nine," I say, disinterested, and everyone glances at me just as that very number pops up on screen.
Next, Allure. "Eight."
"Will you stop?" Gold snaps as her score pops up. "You're ruining the suspense."
This is the point where usually, I'd continue, just to bother him, but I'd rather not foreshadow the next score. That way I'll save myself, what, two seconds of embarrassment?
My picture pops up. Everyone looks at me, waiting, perhaps, for me to say the score, but I just sit on the couch and stare at the screen, waiting dully for the six to appear.
And then a number flashes on screen: 7.
"Yes!" Everyone jumps at my outburst, but I'm too stunned and ecstatic to notice. They actually . . . they actually . . . "Oh, man, yes!"
Cassie raises an eyebrow. "What are you so happy about?"
Her confusion is valid; after all, for a normal Career, a seven would still be somewhat embarrassing. Not for me though. Especially since . . . "Well, that was a six just a few hours ago. Now I'm not the worst in the Career Pack! Haha, yeah! Take that, girl from 8!"
Everyone's so focused on me, they almost miss Cassie's score as the big eight flashes onscreen. Then, realising what happened, our mentors turn from me to my district partner, congratulating her while Gold does the same. I let her enjoy the spotlight, basking in my own form of triumph that no Career but me could relish. The Head Gamemaker actually did it: she changed my score. Of course, it's not exactly the nine I'd originally given myself, but hey, I was expecting no change, or even the possibility of her lowering it to like, a three or something. My whole life has been a series of letdowns, and I've always been the only one who could ever do anything to change that. But finally, finally, someone else sees my value. Someone else has finally decided to help me out, if in a tiny, indirect manner.
Someone else believes in me.
I mean, it's only a small change; I shouldn't get carried away or anything. Still, look out tributes; Jem Show's back in the game and he's now got a training score one step above half-bad.
Be afraid; be very, very afraid.