LET THE TRAINING BEGIN
Samme and Ezera are waiting chatting calmly in front of the elevator. I am the first to arrive. Samme runs her fingers over the bruise on my face. "Are you doing ok?"
"I am a tribute to a game where the only rule is be the last one alive, I have been made to look beaten, publicly humiliated, exposed as an angry young rebel to the President and no one around me is who they seem to be. I am just perfect, how else would I be?" I snap, jerking my face away from her hand. Ruthie is running down the hall towards me, I catch her in my arms and swing her in a circle. It brings a smile to her face. "Don't leave again, please" she whispers as I set her down. They have her wearing a one piece pink and green swirled jumpsuit. She looks like one of the acrobats we see in Capitol entertainment on Saturday's. It is much better than that waif appearance.
Sage and Maysilee walk down the hall together. At first I feel a pang of jealousy, then I realize Maysilee is one of those who are not what they appeared to be. Sage is once again in a sleeveless Peacekeeper training uniform, this time it is royal blue. It is less harsh than the black against his pale skin. I have known Sage his whole life, I can tell his stylist has enhanced the definition of his muscles and aged his face. Instead of a large boy, he appears an average size man. It will serve him well to maintain the image. The careers may even see him as one of their own. Maysilee has fared better today. Her hair is in a simple braid, she wears a forest green tunic, soft tan leather pants that tuck neatly into boots, sturdy black leather that stop just below her knee. We look interesting as a group. The athlete, the enforcer, the acrobat, and the royal huntress.
Samme gives us our final instructions "Pay attention, to the schedule they haven't given it to the mentors. Our first meeting is tomorrow so I have to count on you. Although Ezera will have the required attendance obligations, I have been told additional time will be available. All of you have your directions. The Gamesmaker's will be watching, but so will the other tributes. Protect yourself and know your enemy's as well as you can. Try to enjoy the training if you can. Heymitch you are to report to the remake center each time you finish training. I will see you all at dinner."
With that the four of us entered the elevator. I hadn't paid much attention to the elevator panel other than push twelve get to our floor. This time I really looked, the left column of buttons were numbers, but the right column is names: Training Arena , Mentor Services, Sponsor Services, Victor Services, Gamesmaker Offices, ect. Some have keyholes in them. Ruthie pushes the Training Arena button. It is the first time I have actually looked out the glass panels of the elevator. The buildings of the Capitol have a hard candy appearance. Mostly pastels colors. When the elevator passes underground there are huge murals of past arenas. Then the elevator comes to a stop, out the glass is the training center, but we are stopped at least three stories in the air. The area is more than twenty five acres. I barely realize a voice is speaking "You will be stopped here for five minutes. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the training arena." Its a forest, there is a pond in the middle. two Stories over the water is a platform. It and all the tables on it appear to be glass. I assume this is the Gamesmakers observation deck. There are paths to clearings which appear to be the training stations. I see a squirrel, so there is live game, way cool. I get to play in the woods. The elevator starts to move, I am really excited about the possibilities.
We step out into a large room it has twelve seating areas. Each is actually its own glass room. There is a desk in the middle, above it is a sign that reads "Training Launch Center." The young woman at the desk has deep brown skin, her hair, which I hope is a wig, looks like vines of ivy, her dress is made of large ivy leaves, she actually resembles a tree. She directs us to the door with a twelve. The room is comfortable, a couch surrounds three walls, each corner has a triangular table with a screen, there is a square table with a screen in the middle. I touch the screen on the table and a top view of the arena pops up. There are three buttons on the side. View is currently highlighted, but there is also videos and manuals. I zoom in on the pond. The view zooms right through the platform. I stop just above the surface, you can see the fish swimming. All of us are crowded over the screen. This is the coolest thing I have ever played with. Ruthie's voice is excited "Will someone come with me while I learn to swim." I answer "I plan to practice fishing, I'll go to the pond with you." We pan and zoom around looking at many of the stations. At the knot station we press the video for the basic noose. A 3 dimensional hologram of two hands tying the knot appears above the table. We are laughing and having fun. We suddenly notice everyone else is just sitting ram rod stiff on their couches. For the first time since our delay I am actually comfortable in the presence of my fellow District twelve tributes. My smile actually makes it to my eyes.
As soon as the last District arrives all of the glass walls retract into the ceiling. A tall athletic man comes in, he hands us wrist bands and round stickers. The stickers are our District numbers to put on our back. I turn around and ask "Will the disc on the back of my shirt with the number twelve be adequate or do I need the sticker?" I smirk and silently thank Angle. No tacky sticker for me. Once every one has their District number on the man begins to speak.
"Welcome to the fiftieth Hunger Games Training Arena. My name is Frose. For the Second Quarter Quell we have assembled a special training facility. The rooms you are assembled in are for your Districts sole use. The walls are sound proof when down and can be darkened, they are controlled from the corner tables. The square table has a view screen of the training floor. Your mentors will be able to watch you from these rooms. With forty eight tributes we have doubled the length of training. We will have five group training days and then two private session days. Also the facility will be open twenty four hrs a day and will be lit appropriately, there will even be a night sky. There will be two Gamesmaker sessions a day, each of you must attend at least one, you must also be in this room for lunch. Because of the duration of training the Capitol Network will be broad casting from the Group Gamesmaker sessions and providing a review in the evenings for the districts. As always the private session will be just that, no media and no view screens. If at any time you need an opponent or assistant the station expert will provide one. You cannot spar with other Tributes. Now sit at your tables so you can learn how to use them. We will also go over the available stations."
I zone out, I can figure any screen out. If you can read, it will tell you what to do. The people who program these things try to idiot proof them. Doesn't work, but they try. I am just watching, quartering the map in my mind. When they set me free I am going for a run. How fast can I simply run a circuit of the weapons stations. I go over and over my planned route until I am sure I can run it without hesitation. Then I really start to watch the other Tributes. The Careers first. I know Samme said to learn the others first, but killing most of the Careers is going to be my job, you can't effectively hunt what you don't understand.
The Careers from one are huge. Even the smaller girl is as tall as I am. In fact we are almost identical in size and build. She is practicing at using the screen, shes the brain. The other girl, Ruby is a couple of inches taller, she is also observing other Tributes, her focus is on District eight, she's the scout. I make note to check eight carefully, figure out what she found interesting. The smaller blond boy is looking puzzled at the table. I bet he paid someone to do his homework. Stupid, is fidgeting, he is a liability no question about it. But the larger boy, he is quartering the map, memorizing it just as I had. His is working out a strategy. He's the leader.
Finally, Frose is done talking, almost two hours are gone. We are going to be allowed to go into the training arena in 10 minutes. I zoom our table to the full over view of the forest again. Gamesmakers are gathering on the platform, they look like ants from the current view. I go over my route one more time. I stand and stretch, casually moving towards the door. I want to be one of the first through the door. I want an open running path. I notice the smaller girl from District One also moving subtly towards the door. When the horn sounds I am the first one into the arena. I take off running at a pace that I should barely be able to maintain for my chosen route. As I pass the Archery Station, the girl from District One falls in beside me, matching me stride for stride. By the time we pass the third weapon station I decide she is along for my run, so I drop to a pace I can maintain indefinitely, rerouting as I go. When my breathing relaxes I simply say my name. She replies Laureli. We run side by side along the paths of the arena for more than an hour.
I stop at the edible plants station. When the trainer asks how he can help. I reply simply "I need a snack." I recognize 4 of the seven berry selections on the first table. 3 are edible, poisonous. I grab a couple of handfuls of Raspberries and chew. I love the gritty effect of their seeds. The trainer goes over the other three, two are simply poisonous, the third must be boiled before being safe. Laureli is over by the nuts and seeds. I reach around her and grab a hand full of pine nuts. "Snack times over." I turn and sprint out. I duck into the woods after the second bend, I find a small depression hidden from the path by some fountain grass. I'm barely on my belly, before she rounds the bend. Shes less than one hundred
feet past me when she realizes, I am no longer running in front of her. She's better than I thought. She doubles back watching both sides of the path. She scans the trees at about twenty feet in height. Yup, that's about as high as I could go before the branches wouldn't hold. She stops exactly where I entered, I need to know what evidence I left. She picks up a pine nut. She looks around, she is staring at the spray of fountain grass. She leans over, I don't see what she picks up. She tosses it into the grass. "Gotcha" she says and runs, as an acorn tags my shoulder. I chase after her catching up about one hundred yards later. I let her lead, we're still running when the lunch horn sounds.
I am finally relaxed. I'll run the circuit later. A few nuts and berries aren't going to do after this run. I follow the paths to the exit. We walk from the exit to the launch room together, still silent. We each walk directly to our District room, then to the buffet. Not bad, a two hour run, 6 words, a snack, a game of hide and seek and priceless recon. I paid attention as we ran. I noticed which stations others were using, how they were doing, how long they stayed. Plus, I could scent her anywhere now. I am sure Laureli had done exactly the same thing. I am sure few of the others have given us more than a passing glance. Very few ventured into the woods. I am going to set snares later, I am in the mood for rabbit. And I plan to watch tonight to see when the careers practice in the woods.
Finally, I get back to our room. I touch the corner table, bring the walls down and darken them. Sage is the one who asks "what's up?" I finish the bite of stew I am chewing "I just thought we could all use some privacy. Sage where did you learn to handle a knife like that. Ruthie good idea trying the unique weapons, Maysilee your fire was a little big. Did any of you notice me watching you? Look we can see out, the only other darken room is District one. See District two is looking at spear grips and positioning. District 4 is looking at the lake." I eat several bites of stew I want them to think about what I said. "Ruthie who was with you in edible plants?" Ruthie thought for a moment then answered "I'm not sure" I look at each of them then I say "training is as much about knowing your opponent as ways to kill him. If I didn't understand rabbits I wouldn't know where to put snares." I go back to eating. Sage spends time exploring other weapons that can be thrown. The manuals are amazing for identifying weapons. Then watching the video gives a 3d holo-graghic demonstration. I go fill another plate of food.
After lunch I head for the knot station. I work on snares, even show the master a trick for squirrel snares. I get enough wire to set a dozen rabbit snares and two squirrel snares. Then I head off into the woods I spotted nests on my run, I find the appropriate dead limbs for the squirrel snares. Then I head near the small stream I saw and find signs of rabbit burrows. I set my snare line. Snares may catch anything, but size, height, and configuration are determined by the target. I am hot and sweaty, I head for the pond. I almost pull my shirt off but I remember. I take off my shoes and dive in, it is cool and refreshing. After my swim I head over to the archery range. I try several different types of bows, the first few shots lack accuracy, but I soon hit where I aim. The long bow is too cumbersome, but a small dark recurve bow gets great power, the small crossbow is easy to maneuver, and a slightly larger compound bow is a dream weapon. I show proficiency as is expected nothing special. I head back to twelve.
I am about to enter our dining room when Ezera's Capitol voice rings out "Heymitch, remake center first." There is a hint of command to her voice I didn't know she possessed. I change direction and head for the remake center. When I enter all five are there Cossack, Angle, Thorn and her sisters. Cossack and Angle are on the couch, the women are perched around the large chair, as usual,except Thorn is facing the couch. I drop into the chair and to no one in particular say "can we get some food?" As Angle walks to the screen she asks "What are you recovering from?" I shrug my shoulders, "huh" its more of a sound than a word. "What did you do?" Well, that's a new way of thinking about eating. "Oh, a run through the woods, a swim and target practice. " Angle pushes buttons. I just sit, the silence in this room is comfortable. Angle hands me a large glass of chocolate milk, I take a drink and start to set it down to reach for my plate Angle shakes her head and tells me "Nope, milk first. Your body needs quick energy and easy protein ' to work with." I want food so I down the glass in one long draw. I wolf down half my plate without even looking up. When I slow down Cossack asks "What is the gymnasium like?" I look up, smiling ear to ear. I start to laugh. "What's so funny?" Cossack asks. "Its not a gymnasium, its a small arena. A forest with a pond." Cossack raises one eyebrow, I almost laugh again, he is too hard looking, to pull that off "So tell me about it." I describe the arena and launch area, Cossack asks lots of questions. Angle gets me two more plates of food while we talk. I finish by telling Cossack about my run with the girl from District one, I did not however, mention having observed them in the launch center.
When I finish, Cossack smiles "So, you have a plan." It was a statement not a question. I just look Cossack in the eyes. But I do not respond. "So what is the training schedule like?" As I finish telling him. I decide I'll give Cossack a little more information. "I'm going to spend the night in the launch room and forest. I wanna know when the careers practice and I wanna run my snare line." Cossack smiles then. The warning horn for dinner sounds. I get up to head for the dining room, Cossack joins me but the women remain behind. Just before we go out Thorn yells "Back here before you go to training again." I groan and yell "Whatever." I really hope Thorn is alone when I get back.
Cossack walks over to the buffet and starts filling a plate. I follow right behind filling yet another plate. Cossack looks at me grinning "Where you putting all that food? " "I've grown five inches and gained 60 pounds in the last year. I know how to hunt and eat food. " Cossack laughed "Better not let a peacekeeper hear you." I laugh back thinking of Cossack in the uniform. We sit. Soon Samme and Sage join us. Maysilee and Ruthie are eating out on the balcony. Sage looks more filled out, 4 days of good eating has taken the hollow look away. But he still looks tired and aged. "How bad does it hurt?" He asks quietly. I glare at Cossack and Samme, waiting for one of them to answer. If I answer no one is going to like it, its hard enough with all of the Capitol, all the Districts and my family believing I have been beaten, the tributes from my own district believing too is more than I can stand. Cossack is the one to answer "We're removing the evidence of what was done to him as fast as we can. He will be all healed by the time the games launch." It was technically the truth but it didn't answer Sage's question or make me any less angry. I can't live with the lie I simply peel off my shirt. Sage's eyes get wide and his mouth drops open. "If you can be made to look like a blue eyed career, I can be made to look like a beaten rebel. Its too late to change it now so were staying the course." I pulled my shirt back on before the girls notice. Now it is Samme and Cossack who are glaring.
"Now that the secret out, lets figure out the best way to train. I already told Cossack I am spending the night between the launch and the woods. I think one of us should be in our launch room anot all times." Cossack cleared his throat "I agree, I am going to announce as Ruthie's mentor. That way I can be in your room any time. We'll work out a schedule. I'll put Ezera on managing it" I almost protest but Cossack holds up a hand for me to let him finish. "Its what she is good at and if she is escorting us no one will question our movements." I shrug he is right. Samme nods her agreement. "Lets all 4 meet in the room at dark. Cossack your the master of false impressions. Think about this. How do we miss lead the careers about us, but see their real methods? I need rest. See you all later." With that I stand and head for the remake center.
As I head to the remake center I realize that we're acting like careers. Sage Sae is smart in a survival kinda way. And I am used to working as a team. I had my brothers and my best friends. Heck, Cossack is a Career Victor and Samme is a Victor. We aren't just acting like Careers, we are a career pack. And I will be a Victor. I am whistling as I enter. Thorn looks up and a genuine smile lights her up. I gather her into my arms and bury my face in her hair. She is the only thing I am sure of in this crazy world. She has her arms around me and is holding me tight. "I need to sleep. Will you let me hold you? " She simply leads me back to the bedroom. I strip and crawl into bed."I need to be ready at dark." She crawls in beside me. "You'll be ready." I pulled her up against me, curled her in tight. I feel warm, safe and comforted. And I sleep.
I woke to the smell of coffee and the sound of the shower. I headed towards the coffee, Thorn intercepted me and pointed at the shower. I went as I was directed yelling back "there better be a cheese roll with that coffee." I just stand in the shower. Thorn had programmed it. Then I stand over the dryer. There is a grey, greenish and black mottled training outfit on the bed. I will be almost invisible in the dark forest. Thank you Angle. I walk into the team room, I really see Thorn for the first time tonight. She is painted in peace roses. She is bringing me my coffee and cheese roll. "The roses are beautiful on you." She meets my gaze "They are for you until there are no more hunger games." I take my cup and roll and set them down. I pull Thorn to me "I want to kiss you Thorn, not my groomer, you, I want you to kiss me back. May I?" Thorn pulled out of my arms and never met my gaze, her voice is soft "Its getting dark. You need to go. I'll see you in the morning." I grab my coffee and roll, and slam out of the room.
It seems I can only manage first or last to arrive, tonight it is last. All the rooms except ours are clear and empty. No one has darkened the walls. I go straight to the table and darken the room. "It stays this way. No one needs to know who is in this room but us. Its never up or clear unless required." Cossack looks up "And I thought I was the mentor." "Yes, but I am used to hiding, deceiving and eluding. Your getting old and soft." Both Cossack and I laugh. I have fun bantering with Cossack its like having John or David, my oldest brothers, here. I look at Cossack and Samme sitting next to each other. Cossack looks older, tired, more worn than his thirty four years. Samme looks like a thirteen year old waif not thrifty year old Victor. No one would believe they won the Hunger Games in successive years."So, Mentors what's the plan then." I laugh, tapping the screen to turn on the arena. There are four illuminated dots, two blue dots are in the fire station, a green one is in edible plants, an orange one is moving through the woods towards the pond. Its got to be the wrist bands. I zoom in on the blue dots. When I get close the dots turn off but I can see the two tributes, they are from district seven. I pan over to the edible plants station it is a tribute from three. I zoom out and in on the orange dot but the forest is to thick to get the number. Cossack asks "how long is that run you want to try?" I answer "about seven minutes." Do I want Cossack to know the route I am testing. Well, if Samme and him are going to be any help they might as well know. "Go take the run. There are no careers in the arena, and if they enter after you start they won't know what you're doing. Then we will know what color twelve is." I want to run anyway so I head out. I wonder if Cossack will figure it out. I take off as soon as I am in, I am running hard, my chest is heaving before I reach the second weapon station, I consider slowing as I go past the fourth weapon station, instead I push harder. If I make it to the twelfth station at this rate I will have nothing left. As I round the tip of the pond a tribute steps onto the path in front of me. I swerve around with ease. I hear him sprinting towards me. I am keeping to my plan, but lets see what he does. There are two weapons stations left on my path, the tribute is with me for less then two hundred yards and he is already laboring to breath. We pass the specialty weapon station, about 400 yards left to the throwing knives, station twelve of my route. I step into the station grab three short knives and throw in rapid succession. I hit the three of the four hanging dummies. The first in the eye, the second in the throat, and the third in the heart. three kills. I walk out of the station, the tribute from 11 is bent over, hands on his knees, sucking wind. If he didn't see the throws, he will see the results. Once I catch my breath I jog for the exit.
I reach our launch room and collapse on the couch, Samme hands me a water. Cossack simply states " seven minutes three seconds from entrance to last kill. So you have seven minutes fifty seven seconds for whatever you have in mind. Are you ready to share yet?" It is time to let them help. "I want to take out four targets at each station, except station twelve where I am going to take out three. That's fifteen minutes, forty seven targets in twelve stations over a mile and a half. I think I can do it. Help me make it happen. " We spend the next hour going over available weapons and demos. Then the Career tributes enter the arena, all twelve in a cluster, they are yellow, red, and gold. Its time to go to work. I stretch and look at Cossack and ask "What's the plan?" Cossack laughs "Invite them to dinner." I just stare. He continues "You and Sage run the snare line and hunt. Build a fire and eat. Then come back. If you see careers invite them to join. You can't spar so have fun. Samme and I will watch and help develop strategies. I zoom checked your snares earlier you have two rabbits and a squirrel at last count." Cossack hands me a black backpack "Feast well."
Sage and I head for the arena. Once in we jog side by side. We stop at the archery station, I grab the compound bow, take a few shots at the target. Then I ask the trainer if I can hunt with the weapon. He lets me take it. We enter the woods, we both move almost silently, Sage follows about two feet behind. We move quickly along my snare line, it has three rabbits and I take another with the bow. There are are two squirrels. I tuck all of our game in the pack. We head for the lake. We find a large flat rock that juts out over the water. I unpack. We have a dozen soft rolls, a large hunk of cheese, greens, yams, strawberries and the flask. I turn the flask over and over in my hand. I run my fingers over the engravings. Was it really less than a week since Torn had kissed me in the woods. We also have matches and water. Sage has collected the makings for the fire along the way and has set it while I unpacked. Sage tends the fire till we have a nice bed of coals, and builds supports for a spit. I am cleaning our game. I have two rabbits ready, he secures them to a single spit and starts them roasting. I have finished with the rabbits when Sage sits. I hand him a knife and squirrel, I dress the squirrel slowly, Sage follows each step exactly. I put the four cleaned animals in the pack. "I think I'll have an Avox make a gift of them for the Gamesmakers. "
Sage and I tend our cooking. Finally he starts to talk. "If you get out will you take care of Greasy and Tymme?" I look him right in the eye "Sage, you know I take care of my own. Greasy and Thyme are family, of course I'll take care of them." Sage is quiet he is clearly contemplating telling me something so I just wait. I hear the careers now, it sounds like three of them moving about thrifty feet out. Finally Sage speaks "Then maybe you should know the truth about Tymme." He gave me a break to stop him. I didn't. "Veiner asked my father if he could marry Greasy the day she turned 18. My father said yes but asked them to wait until after their last reaping day. They agreed, they were so happy and in love. Greasy helped mom in the hob and is a great cook. Greasy cooked at the Mayor's party the night of the Victor's tour ball. It was late when she came in. She was crying hysterically. She looked like she had been mauled by a wild animal, she had bites, scratches and bruises every where. Her dress was almost completely torn away. Dad sent me for the healer and Veiner. Everyone was told she was attacked by a wild dog. Veiner never left her side after that. He'd take her to the hob in the morning, then school, home and the hob again. When her little bump showed I believed it was Veiner's, I think everyone but dad, Veiner and the healer did. I was only 9, too young yet to understand. Then Veiner was reaped. Greasy never answered anyone about the baby. I was twelve before I realized the truth. Tymme has light brown hair and bright blue eyes. She is not Veiner's, Greasy was raped by a peacekeeper." Then I answered "Veiner stood by Greasy before he was reaped. The girl and her are family, no matter what the truth is. I promise to tell her about her Uncle Sage, if you promise to tell her about me. " that ended the subject. I had long suspected the truth. I was there when Sage had come for Veiner. Veiner was never the same, rage never left him. I have seen wild dog attacks, the bites on Greasy had been human. I had to change the subject Sage was going to lose it thinking about Greasy. So, we talked about weapons and what we wanted to try. We could hear the Careers for almost an hour and a half, then they moved away. We clean up the site, as we finish the strawberries and cheese, I pass the flask to Sage. We take a swim, then head back to the launch room. I catch an Avox just before the launch room. I pull the plastic bag with the game from the pack and hand it to him. I give him instructions, he nods in acknowledgment and heads off carrying the bag.
Its just after four am when we reach our launch station. The Careers were in the woods from 11 till three, and we were, right three of them had spent about an hour and a half observing us. Samme went over the schedule they had worked out. Cossack and her would switch off in the room supervising every 6 hours. Sage and I are to spend four hours in the room and eight hours training each day. The other twelve hours are for eating and sleeping.
We follow Ezera to the elevator. Once back on our floor all I want is to curl up in the dark and hide. I head down the hall to my room. Ezera's voice rings out "Heymitch, remake center first." I take a deep breath, I am not sure I want to face Thorn. "Ezera I just wanna sleep first." She just points her finger towards the remake center and glares at me. I turn and head to Thorn.
Thorn is asleep in the big chair, I gently scoop her into my arms. She turns her head and snuggles into my chest. I carry her to the bed, I lay her down. I want to stay with every fiber of my being, I can't. I pull the cover over her shoulder and kiss her cheek. I go to my room to sleep.