Prologue: First Day
It's the first day, and I'm already late to class.
It doesn't help that these damn Capitolites do nothing but mill around, making traversing any open space an arduous chore. Even with the redistribution of resources back to the districts, they still attempt to cling onto their ridiculous fashion sense and mannerisms, albeit in a slightly subdued manner. Probably still in denial, even after almost three years since Snow choked on his own blood and Coin took an impromptu dive off a balcony.
I finally make it to the lecture hall, and am about to enter, when I'm stopped by several armed men at the door.
"Sir, we're going to have to search you. Standard-procedure. Proof of enrollment and ID, please?" asks a guard, who looks like he would rather be anywhere other than here and is itching for an excuse to take out his frustrations on somebody.
Biting down some colorful suggestions, I give them my itinerary and badge, after which they frisk me and look through my bag. They pause for a bit to inspect the pens I keep in my vest, as well as my compact flashlight, which puts me on edge. However, appearing to be satisfied with the result, everything's given back and I'm waved in.
Despite my attempts at subtlety, my entrance appears to garner attention from the good chunk of the class, much of it agitated. I see my roommate smirking, which confirms my suspicion as to why my alarm failed to go off or why my shoes appeared on top of the shelf back at the dorm.
Maybe I shouldn't have called him a District Two meathead… or reprogrammed the room's visual projector to simulate an tracker jacker attack.
Despite this, once I'm inside, he takes his bag off the space next to him and good-naturedly pats the seat, which I quickly occupy after making sure there is nothing in it. Fortunately, it looks like the lecturer will be even later than me.
Dio's the first to speak: "Hey, you made it. I was getting worried there for a bit."
"What can I say? There's nothing quite like being fashionably late. When in the Capitol…" I end my statement with that ridiculous accent.
"Does that include not wearing any shoes?"
"Making a stylistic impact. I believe the Capitolites call it 'District Chic'."
"Alrighty then…" I can see the laughter in his eyes. Might as well dispense with the pleasantries.
"You know what? First off: you have a terrible poker face. And secondly: fuck you and your one-meter vertical leap."
"Not my fault you're an entire foot shorter than me, or that I'm physical perfection incarnate," Dio says while tossing his head back as if he were in some Capitol shampoo ad. The fact that his sandy blond hair is short enough that it doesn't move around when he moves his head makes the gesture all the more ridiculous.
I answer that with a glare. "I hate you."
"No you don't." He gives me a wide grin, making it difficult to remain angry with him. "And I know that you know that I know that you would have woken-up in time to make it here, even if you were a bit late."
He has a point there. My roommate may be playful, and sometimes a hazard to himself and others, but he isn't malicious; I actually think he's incapable of being mean. First off, what he put out of reach wasn't anything important, like my school bag. Secondly, I actually did wake up with time to spare, although still an entire hour after the alarm should have gone off. The only reason I was late was due to my repeated-yet-futile attempts at retrieving my shoes. If anything, the alarm's purpose was to give a buffer in the event of such a thing happening, which it looks like he realized.
The alarm was password-protected. That realization causes me to shake my head. I keep forgetting that Dio is a lot smarter, or at least perceptive, than he lets on. He had to have been to win a free ride here like me, courtesy of the Paylor Reconstruction Ordinance.
"In any case, ready to concede defeat?" he asks me, even though the answer should be obvious.
The notion of that creates a smile on my own, albeit one that's probably more predatory in nature. "Not a chance. Especially if you end up screaming and/or running into a closed door like that again. I don't think tiny pre-pubescent Capitol girls are able to reach that octave."
"Hey, you simply startled me," Dio blurts-out with a scowl, "and anybody with a brain knows to be wary of tracker jackers.
"Though, I'll admit that was a pretty nifty illusion you made. How'd you pull it off?"
"In my early teens, I actually worked on that specific projector model, mostly at the the testing phase," I breezily remark before realizing my mistake.
"Oh…" A sober look crosses his face, and I involuntarily wince. Don't really understand the melodrama, but all one needs to do to make Dio here go from ridiculously cheerful to a kicked-puppy is to mention the pre-Rebellion Peacekeeper force, the Careers, or the child-labor element of most districts. Whatever the details were to make those a sore point, I'm not one to prod.
Fortunately, he also has the attention span of a puppy.
"Hey," I prompt, "what's with the intimacy at the entrance?"
That snaps him out of his depressing reverie. "Oh you mean the security? Check out our fellow classmates."
I look around. Besides the two of us, there are the other twenty-four tributes — *ahem*, students — from the P.R.O. program, as well as several Capitolites. Then I notice the group of people off to the side: President Paylor herself, plus several other government officials I can't name off the top of my head. All of them seated as students from the looks of it. Oh, and an impressive security detail flanking the room.
"I guess she really is serious about this program," I note, "though I wonder when our lecturer's going to show up."
Right on cue, a man in a plain suit strides to the stage. If it weren't for the alternating highlights of dark crimson streaking through his dark brown hair, I wouldn't suspect that he came from the Capitol. If anything, the most remarkable thing about him is how unremarkable he is. Indeterminate age, average height, average build, average haircut, and average unblemished face. All he'd need to do is get rid of those streaks, and he could probably blend into any crowd.
"Morning ladies and gentlemen. Sorry for being late." He says with a voice that also lacks the Capitol accent. Actually, he seems to lack any accent. His method of talking isn't a monotone drone, per say, but simply something just as unremarkable as his physical features, if in a fairly measured manner.
"Apparently I am to be your instructor. My name is Professor Suetonius Shinehawk, and yes, I do realize how ridiculous it is." This is met with titters from most of the class. Well, except for the Capitolites and the two kids from One, Opal and Velvet, who greet his comment with stoniness. As well as Paylor, though her case is probably more out of professionalism; she seems to be barely holding down a smirk.
He goes on as if nobody reacted to that, "Because of this, I request that you call me Professor Suetonius or simply Suetonius. You are all technically adults here. Just do not call me Sue." More titters.
"First off, I would like you all to bring out your tablets and log in." He holds out his own while we rummage for ours, which were given to us at the beginning of orientation. After it has been clear that we all have logged-in, Suetonius continues.
"The great thing about these is that I don't have to call roll or attempt to remember you names. You all just appear here," he says while gesturing at his own tablet, "in the right spot and everything. But more importantly, these allow you to access the Capitol Archives to help you in your studies.
"While we are attempting to hook all of Panem up to the Archives, the fact remains that there are still some logistical issues to overcome, as well as the issue of whether it being wise to allow complete unfettered access to all the information stored here. But I digress.
"My role is to take care of the Capitol Archives, which has been our repository of stored information since the foundation of Panem. I have been doing this gig for the last 20 years. During Snow's reign, it also mostly involved censoring the good chunk of information that was to come out as well as storing confiscated material. Now, fortunately, I don't have to do that unpleasant task, and I can focus on disseminating information responsibly instead of keeping an impossibly tight lid on it.
"Anyways, welcome to my Pre-Panem Civilization class. The majority of you are probably here because this class was required, and many are probably wondering, 'I thought we are supposed to learn about Panem. What does the civilization that came before have to do with anything?' Well to understand why this nation is the way it is, one has to understand how we got there in the first place. And how we can avoid repeating previous avoidable mistakes."
He proceeds to tap at his tablet which starts a projector up.
"As any historian knows, the best things you can have are primary sources, be they speeches, journals, articles, original footage, and so on. So that is how my classes will proceed, with one or two sources to focus on per session.
"Our focus is going to be on the 22nd Century CE, which roughly translated to a little over four hundred years ago. In the interest of comprehension, at least in the beginning, I will give both the labeled year and what it translated to in years BP or Before Panem.
"So as today is the introductory session, I thought it best to start things off with the very beginning of the century so you all can get a feel for the era."
The video begins with a nighttime bird's-eye view of a city, and the first thing that comes to mind is that it is huge. I remember my first impression of coming to the Capitol was how grandiose it seemed to be compared to the cities of Three. This city put the Capitol to shame. Skyscrapers taller than anything here appear to cover every square inch of it, and even though the bulk seems to be concentrated on a large strip of land flanked by two rivers, it was clear from the lights that the development continues on past said rivers. Judging from the gasps emanating around me, and the drawn-out whistle coming from Dio, I'm not the only one impressed.
After a moving through the towers, the footage settles on a canyon-like intersection that did appear to be more like the Capitol than the rest of the city. Every single building is covered in a television screens and brightly-lit signs, and a sea of people crowds the streets below.
Finally it shifts to two reporters standing on a platform with the crowd as the backdrop. While they appear to be dressed in a festive manner, there isn't that absurd garishness that you see with the Capitolites.
"Greetings from New York and Happy New Year's Eve, America!"
Ah, so that's the name of the city. Keying it quickly on my pad, I see that it was a major city in the United States. From the looks of its location, now it's part of the large patch of land known as the Eastern Wilderness. A look at the figures shows that around the year 2100, the city population was close to 15 million, which confirms my conclusion that this city was much bigger than the Capitol. Hell, there were more people in New York than in all of Panem today, the population of which is still under 10 million people.
"We're currently not only celebrating the coming year, but seeing the close of the 21st Century. And what an eventful century at that!" The broadcasters alternate as they talk.
"Indeed it was. You could say that this past century did not begin on the year 2000 but rather the next year, in this very city, with the 9/11 attacks. From that moment on, we've had a cavaclade of sociopolitical events: the War on Terror, global economic woes, worldwide protests, regime change throughout in the Middle East, skirmishes at the US-Mexican border, the territorial collapse of China, Korea's Reunification War, the Lahore Incident, Arab League recognition of Israel…"
"Not to mention the environmental issues we have been having, notably the rash of droughts and fires out west, as well as the one-meter sea level rise that resulted in necessary measures such as building the Bloomberg Locks to protect this great city or the complete abandonment of many communities including the city of New Orleans. That is not even getting into the less fortunate nations such as the Maldives, Nauru, and Bangladesh."
"At the same time, it bears mentioning the social and scientific achievements made. These include equalization of rights regardless of orientation, gender, or race, our first ethnic minority and woman presidents being elected, the construction of a space elevator and a manned mission to Mars, improvements in agriculture and medicine, allowing the majority of the developing world to reach emergent status, and the successful weaning of this nation from fossil fuels."
"We sure have had a busy century. I believe an introspective in in order."
With that, the footage shifts to a montage of different events, a lot of it passing by too quickly for me to comprehend fully what's going on: Aircraft crashing into two near-identical buildings. A long convoy of military vehicles in the desert. A city being flooded from a levee break. Protests. People forced to sell their homes. A dark-skinned man addressing a cheering crowd about the power of hope. A beach covered in tar. Protests morphing into a full-on war like what occurred a couple years ago. A bunch of highlights from sporting events. Drought and crop failures. A machine moving up a long cable into space. An ornate domed building, flanked by four towers of the same white stone, collapsing into a dry riverbed. A tour of what looks to be a fusion reactor. Stem cells being extracted. Protests again. More images of war. A man in an environmental suit walking along a red landscape. Tents full of refugees. A lot of handshakes going around…
The montage ends, going back to the reporters.
"Talk about eventful. Here's to the next century being high on progress and low on drama."
"And just in time. It looks like we have thirty seconds to go."
The focus is set on the building where a countdown is occurring. As the numbers count down, I focus on a glowing ball lowering down. Once the "10" is reached, the whole crowd joins in on the countdown.
"… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Happy New Year's!"
Accompanying that is an explosion of fireworks and confetti, with a big "2100" emblazoned on the central screen. Immediately everybody begins either kissing or singing a song about not forgetting old acquaintances. The song's kinda catchy.
With the conclusion of that, a montage of New Year's celebrations from is shown from a diverse collection of other cities, the good chunk of those cities just as large as New York, if not larger. Some are extravagant spectacles of lights and explosions, other are clearly traditional cultural processions. All are thankfully captioned: Sydney, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Mumbai, Tehran, Dubai, Tel Aviv, Cairo, Cape Town, Lagos, Moscow, Istanbul, Berlin, Vatican City, Paris, London, Rio de Janeiro, and Buenos Aires.
It seems that all of civilization is showing such a strong amount of confidence that even I can't help but feel at awe at the spectacle to be had, be it from the celebrations or the cities themselves.
However, at the same time, I can't help but wonder: Where and how the hell did they screw up down the line?
AN: So yeah, the whole concept of what happened to the "world before" was something that interested me a lot. SC crafted a fascinating society, but since the focus was on a teenager who's main concern was to survive (and protect her friends/family... oh and kill Snow), naturally you're not going see much musing on sociopolitical events of the past. So I decided to do a story focusing on just that. It helps that SC gave us just enough information to set the tone but left a ton of room for interpretation.
As mentioned in-story, the main focus of this is going to be on primary sources at the time, namely news articles and broadcasts, making this somewhat of an epistolary story. Originally, this story was going to purely be documents-based, with our-yet-unnamed protagonist's only purpose to serve as a narrator. However, things sort of grew from there. That being said, again the focus will be on the academic subject.
This is something I admit that many will not find too interesting, but I hope it catches the interest of some. Critical feedback appreciated.
Special thanks to 'Kiwiwriter47' for reviewing my draft and giving some tips on story-writing.