Year 58 A.D.D

District 4


"Anemone Cresta. But she goes by Annie."

Atticus's eyes perused the paperwork in front of him. District Four took the Hunger Games seriously, so admittance to the Academy, the private Career school for spoiled brats, was a tricky business. After all, students started out as children and left as elite warriors. They had to be carefully molded, like an artist taking a raw hunk of clay and making an ornate vase. And so Atticus must take the impressionable minds of the youth and create the psyche of a killer.

"She's a fine candidate, sir," remarks one of his staff members Scylla, "Perfectly healthy and only five years old, so she's young enough for the initiation process. Her parents' deaths even gave her enough royalties to pay for the costs."

"An orphan?"

"Yes. Her grandmother is her legal guardian. She donated Annie to the Academy herself. Said she would of given up both of her granddaughters to make their chances better."

Atticus nodded. Most of the students at the Academy were 'donations' from their parents; children given extensive training in order to become a victor one day, to bring honor and wealth to their families. They were essentially investments. It was a cold-hearted business, the Hunger Games were.

Atticus closed the paperwork after he deemed everything to be in order. He looked up to see the girl herself. As headmaster, he personally saw to every student, no matter what stage of training they were in.

The one in question, Annie, sat in a plain white room in front of him, every wall blank except for the one-way mirror he was looking through. No chairs, so she squatted comfortably on the cold ground, her blue dress spread out like a puddle over her small legs. Knees bent in a comfortable position on the cold ground, eyes lazily wandering about, she twiddled her thumbs anxiously. Straight black hair, skin the color of ivory, subtle freckles splattered across her chin. Annie.

"I think we've found our newest recruit," murmurs Atticus. "Has the desensitization video played yet?"

"No sir, I was waiting for your command." says Scylla.

"Play it. Remember, keep her in the room for five days with only water to drink. No food. Whenever she plugs her ears or goes to sleep or tries to ignore it in any way, turn up the volume. If she still seems resistant at the end of the week, double her time. I doubt you will need to though," Atticus squinted as he examined the subject, "I don't think she will be very hard to break."

Scylla grinned as she remotely started the video. Instantly the girl inside the room jerked her head around as images began to play on the walls. Footage from the Hunger Games, cut together to create a medley of all of the kills from over five decades of the violent sport.

On every surface, the ceiling, the floor, the walls, there were horrors that she had never seen before. Exposed flesh from the bodies of the tributes. Broken limbs that twisted with a malignant menace. The fear on the childrens' faces as they, each one of them, met their end.

And the sounds! Metal screeching on metal. The gurgling as tributes drowned in their own blood. Frantic breathing as children tried to run from their fate. And the screams. The screams that rebounded from everywhere and nowhere and threatened to break eardrums from the audible torture.

The little girl tried to close her eyes out of fear, but there was nothing she could do to ignore the screams of the dying.

Outside the room, Atticus nodded with approval towards the situation; things were proceeding nicely."Start the voiceover," he commanded. Scylla nodded and pressed a button on the panel next to her. Instantly an authoritative voice rebounded in the tiny room from invisible speakers. The girl looked around anxiously, already tears forming in her eyes.

These are the Hunger Games.

Every year, twenty-four of the luckiest children in Panem are chosen to compete in the most epic of games. They fight to the death until only one is left. Only one, only one can be victor. Only one can leave the arena, and only one will be given the honor and glory of victory.

You will be that victor.

Killing another in the Games is the greatest testament to human triumph. A kill is something to be celebrated, something to cherish. One of the tributes, one of the obstacles, has been vanquished. Each one must fall, each one must be eliminated, for you to become victor.

A tribute is the ultimate sacrifice. A victor is the ultimate honor.

A beat of rest. Then:

These are the Hunger Games. Every year, twenty-four of the luckiest children in Panem are chosen. . .

Atticus laughed as the girl realized that the mantra was on a loop. Her brow furrowed as she heard the same words, spoken in exactly the same way. She took a step towards one of the walls -to bang on the barrier perhaps, or to shout for help- but she was hesitant. A particularly gory decapitation made her wince and draw breath.

A tribute is the ultimate sacrifice. A victor is the ultimate honor...These are the Hunger Games. . . At the third repetition, the girl closed her eyes and sat on the ground, cradling her head in her hands, realizing her situation wasn't going to end, that she was trapped. Her fear was genuine. Priceless.

Inside the white-walled prison, the girl hugged her knees and tried to ignore the bloodshed. She tried to ignore the words that pounded in her mind. Day and night. Night and day. A constant barrage of stimuli. Sleep was almost impossible, and when it came, her dreams were full of horrors no child should have to face. A neverending procession of propaganda, building into a crescendo that never climaxed, just tumbled into the next continuous cycle. The video feed kept repeating, the screams kept coming, the mantra kept charging. The words imprinted in the girl's brain, burrowing into her psyche until the meaning appeared to be of her own opinions and ideas. The violence resonated through her subconscious until killing seemed second nature.

After a week of the psychological abuse, she stopped closing her eyes. She stopped plugging her ears. The violence ceased to frighten her. The words stopped distressing her. The ordeal shaped the girl, Annie, into something new, something harder, something stronger.

Something fatal.

After all, Careers are not born...they are made.