24 years have passed since the 74th Hunger Games – an event where the star-crossed lovers of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark died unremarkably by the hands of District 2's capable tributes. Surprisingly, it was District 11's male tribute – Thresh – who won those Games. Now the event continues, with the Capitol's hand growing stronger by the day over Panem.
In District 9, Skye Holdrege lives the ordinary life of a working-class fifteen year-old girl – she hopes never to face the Hunger Games, but one day must confront her own future in her backwater, crop-harvesting district. However, when destiny calls, Skye won't be able to escape the fate she'll have to live up to.
District 9 | 24 Years After the 74th Hunger Games
My parents named me after the everlasting blue sky of our district – but it's the star-studded night I've always loved.
It's still hot even at 10 o'clock on night in the dead of summer. I curl my hands around my knees, tucking my legs closer to my chest. There's something about the night sky that makes me feel vulnerable – or even just small. All those other points, staring out at me from the blackness…and as I know I can never touch them, I can only stare upwards in amazement. Maybe one day, those stars will come reach me.
"Skye," a baritone male voice calls from behind me. "Are you ever going to bed?"
I look up from my spot, seeing my nineteen year-old brother leaning against one of our small house's wooden struts. He's chewing on a piece of grain, stuck in his mouth like an awkward cigarette. My brother - Sage – and I share the same fine brown hair, but besides that, we're different in far too many ways to count. His piercing brown eyes contrast sharply from my soft blue orbs, and his muscular build would've been perfect for the Hunger Games that he's since outgrown. Me? I'm just a skinny girl in a district too poor to feed many people.
We're middle-class folk, relatively speaking. My father – my only parent left, since my mother died having me – works in the barley fields as a reaper, serving twelve-hour days. I hardly see him; because of that, I feel like I hardly know him. Sage has become my surrogate parent, even as he prepares for a job of his own here in District 9. He's the closest thing I have to a mentor…here in District 9, everyone takes the "work hard and keep your head down" mantra seriously. As a teenager, it means your chances of having a real relationship with an adult are virtually nil. Sunup to sundown; then you go to sleep. That's life.
I shrug at his question. I'll have to go to bed eventually, of course: Tomorrow is Reaping Day for the 98th Hunger Games. Showing up late to the late-morning event would be…unwise.
"Some time," I reply cryptically. "You're not going to bed?"
He gives me a short laugh wandering down our house's creaky wooden steps to where I'm sitting. My father's been asleep for a while now – working from sunup to sundown does that to you. I'm afraid for when Sage has to hit the fields himself. There's no way around it – I've always hoped he'd end up as a shopkeeper or something, but I don't think he has the entrepreneurial spirit. It can be dangerous out in the wheat, barley, and soy patties, where an errant swing of a scythe or kukri can lop off a limb. It's certainly not unheard of.
"You worried?" he sits down next to me, shaking a firm hand through my ponytail-tied hair. "Don't be. You won't be picked tomorrow. You don't even take tesserae yet. That's what…four slips in the bowl? Nothing to worry about."
"Not really worried," I lie, fretting. Well, half-lie. "What if it's Reed or Shrike or someone else I know? They can't just not take tesserae; they – "
"Hey," Sage grabs my shoulder as I spew gibberish about my friends in the district being Reaped. "You can't control any of that; okay, Skye? Let's just look after you, first. Look – once the Reaping's over, we can get back to normal. Back to the harvest, 'til the summer's over…then it's back to school for you, and we don't have to think about these kind of things until next June. Sound good?"
"No," I remark honestly.
"Well…" Sage replies wryly. "So much for me trying to be a good guy. Never was good at that act."
We're quiet for a while, sitting on the splinter-covered wooden steps of our small abode. I stare at the ground, the dirt covered in cracks from the dry heat of summer. Weeds sprout out from empty patches in the soil, tempting me to clamp down on them with my bare feet. I press my big toe into the earth, stamping out the leafy weeds with one quick motion. Nothing to it.
"What d'you think it's like?" I ask absent-mindedly to no one in particular.
"What, in the Games?" Sage answers, staring towards the muted white lights of the town center, a mile off in the distance. "Probably Hell. Kill a bunch of kids you don't know…get lauded by a bunch of Capitol people. I sure wouldn't want to live it."
"No," I reply, imagining how stupid my question probably sounded. "Living up there…in the dark, with all the stars. No Games; no Capitol, no Peacekeepers…no worry like this. Just darkness and light."
"Heh," Sage looks up at the stars I'm gazing towards. He doesn't understand the fascination I have with them - the fascination with another life, away from all of this…melancholiness…but he humors me all the same. "How do you know there's no Capitol up there, huh? No Hunger Games in the night sky…no Peacekeepers high above. Maybe they're looking down here, wondering how good we have it."
"No," I shove him in the shoulder. "They're not thinking that."
"Maybe," he laughs. "Maybe."
Silence descends upon us again as I brood over my thoughts. Am I really fearful over my chances of being picked tomorrow? Sage is right, of course – my chances are miniscule with only four slips in the Reaping Bowl. I've offered to take tesserae, but my brother has strictly forbid it. My father's income is enough to keep us going, I suppose, and Sage smashes street rats with rocks on the occasion we run out of food. It's not a great life, by any means – but we are better than some kids in the district. The children of the grain processors – those who sort out the wheat from the chaff in the factories – barely cling to life. I shudder to think how the kids in the orphanage have it. They have no one to rely on – no shoulder to cry on in their darkest hours, like I do.
"What if I do get picked?" I murmur to the warm night air. "Would it hurt?"
"Well…getting a new house wouldn't hurt when you won," Sage shrugs.
I give him a slight smile: "Who'd want to live next to Selene and Omaha, though?"
District 9's two surviving victors aren't anything to write home about. Selene won the 83rd Games; she's a foul-mouthed individual if one ever lived. She gets her kicks these days by picking fights with drunkards, forgetting her past through the violence she still indulges in. Omaha's a bit different: District 9's male victor, winner of the 75th Games – the third Quarter Quell, where past victors chose their new tributes – is far too quiet of a man. I don't think anyone's ever figured him out; whatever secrets he's hiding, I don't know.
"Nice house, though…" Sage breaks me out of my thoughts. "Living in the Victor's Village? Yeeks. Never having to worry about money? I'd take it."
"Never gonna happen," I mutter. "Not with those big Volunteers from District 2 every year."
Sage turns to look me straight in the eye, his eyes bright in the dark night air: "You know what would happen if you were Reaped, Skye?"
"You'd win," Sage gives me a forced smile. He's trying to cheer me up, but his attempts aren't doing a whole lot of good. "You're the smartest girl I know, and that's saying something, given how big District 9 is. Heck, you could probably just confuse the other kids to death. Make them go crazy with all the stuff you tell me from school. It's enough to make me go crazy."
"Like that'd work," I sigh.
Sage gets serious, putting a hand on my shoulder: "Look, Skye…if somehow, some way, you do get picked. "That…smart-ness? It helps. You can do things nobody else can. You can fight in ways nobody else knows how. You're not just some ordinary girl. Don't think like that."
"Yes I am," I push him away. "Every tribute every year probably thinks they're special. Twenty-three die. They weren't very special, after all. Just like me."
"Would you really go running into the Cornucopia like an idiot?" Sage regards me with a stupid expression.
"Well…no, of course," I gasp. Why's he have to ask me all these questions? "It's called a bloodbath for a reason."
"Heck, then you're already better than anywhere from eight to fourteen tributes every year," he smiles. "Odds certainly seem in your favor. I have no idea how to kill a mutt or outsmart a volunteer, but hey, that's why they have training, right?"
"I thought it was to make a good show," I look away from him, back towards the twinkling stars in the sky that seem even lonelier in the backdrop of this depressing conversation. I've got no one to blame but myself; I asked my brother about it, after all. "Make sure a few kids don't die on the first day and spoil the 'entertainment.'"
"I don't pretend to know how the Capitol works," Sage replies. "Forget about it, Skye. You'll be here tomorrow night, laughing like it was a stupid thing. No one you know's gonna be picked. You won't be picked. No problems."
He's surrendered to my badgering. I feel a little guilty; I know Sage wants to protect me, as his little sister and only real family connection. I can't help but dwell on the pessimistic subjects.
"Can you name 'em all?" he pipes up after we sit in awkward silence for several minutes. "All…what, one thousand of them, or so?"
I smile: "I don't think anybody can. There's too many."
"Give it a shot."
"Perseus, Pisces, Pegaus…" I start quoting constellations. We learn these things in school, but few besides me bother to remember them. "You'll get bored if I try to name them all, Sage."
"Yeah," he admits sheepishly. "Yeah, I will. I'll go to bed then…try to do the same, Skye. Hate it if you look like some tired old goat on television for the Capitol tomorrow when they pan over you all in the square."
"You don't even have to stand there anymore," I retort.
"I'll have to watch you from the screens on the streets," he replies. "What do I say if people near me go, 'Oh, look at that tired-looking, creepy girl? Who's she related to?'"
I quietly laugh as he shuts the door behind him, but inside, I'm growing more worried by the minute. The chances are slim that I'm picked, but someone I know – a friend or otherwise – could certainly be Reaped. It hasn't happened in the three years I've gone through so far, but there's always the chance I'll have to watch someone I know fight to the death on live tv, living and dying by their every breath. Can I take that kind of stress? Can I even watch that without breaking down?
I bury my chin in my knees, looking up at the stars. It would be a lot easier to live out there, really…to be far away from District 9 and Panem; to be beyond the reach of the Games and the Capitol. To be free…if only I could reach it.
It's a pipe dream. There is no "free" here in District 9. There's no escaping what we're told to do.
Author's Note: With the death of Katniss and Peeta in the 74th Games, the Capitol has continued its reign of terror for nearly a quarter-century more. Now, more advanced, with a young new president, and seeking to exert its control, the Capitol has focused on creating the greatest spectacle of bloodsport it can in the Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games, Panem, Finnick, Thresh, Johanna, and all other canonical properties belong to Suzanne Collins. Original works belong to me. This is technically a re-imagining of an earlier story series I wrote under a different pen name, but major changes and differences have been T for violence, language, and blood.
Hope you enjoy! I welcome all constructive questions/commentary, so chime in if you have suggestions or want to know something.