(Disclaimer: I have no business connection with HUNGER GAMES. My only purpose in writing this story is to have fun and maybe share it)
(Author's Note: This is an "Alternate Universe" story speculating on how the 74th games might have gone if Katniss had not volunteered to participate)
The hedgehog knows one big trick, but the fox knows many – ancient Greek proverb
I crouched in hiding behind a bush, keeping a sharp eye on Cato. He had his sword out, and he was looking around intently, on the lookout for either Clove or me. We were the only three left. Twenty-one tributes were dead. Some, like the little girls from Districts 11 and 12, hadn't lasted long; a couple – Marvel and Thresh – had just been killed, the first by Cato and the other by Clove. I had not killed a single person in the Games, and yet I had the potential to win, if I played things right.
I stayed completely still, but I was afraid that he might smell me if he got close enough. I knew that I stank, the result of days of exertion and of having to relieve myself under the most primitive conditions. The arena had ponds and I might have bathed myself at various points, but I had been frightened of being caught naked and defenseless. Better to stink.
WHIZZZZZ. A knife flew through the air and hit Cato on the back. He fell to the earth, but he did not die immediately; I could see him still twitching. Even Clove could not kill perfectly when throwing her knives from a distance.
Clove appeared, too intent on Cato to look for me. To my surprise, she looked a bit somber, not showing the glee I had seen when she had killed other tributes. Rumor had it that she had a soft spot for Cato; may even have slept with him in the days before the games.
She turned the body over and leaned down to examine him. Suddenly Cato went into fevered action, leaning upward and deploying the sword in a huge arc. Her head went flying off, and I nearly lost the meager food that was still in my stomach. But the effort was too much for him, and he sank down again. I heard two cannons go off, meaning that neither of their trackers detected a heartbeat any longer.
I got up from behind the bush. There was nobody to hide from any longer, except the Gamesmasters, and they knew where I was, thanks to my own tracker. I looked down at the two bodies and Clove's head, which had bounced a short distance away. So much for love stories, I thought.
At home I had a secret cache, computerized records of some writings and artworks. There were some sad stories in there about "star-crossed" lovers who died. Romeo and Juliet. Pyramus and Thisbe. Paolo and Francesca. But none of them killed each other. Panem coarsened everything.
I wondered about the cache. If I had ever been caught with it, I might have been executed, or at the very least, had my ass whipped, literally. Panem didn't want people to know that there were earlier times when things were better. Would I be better off as a victor? Victors have some immunity, because even Peacekeepers regard them with awe. On the other hand, I would be living in a goldfish bowl and it would be difficult to keep secrets.
A sound in the skies. Two hovercrafts overhead. A cargo craft to pick up the two corpses ( I hoped they remembered that the head needed to be retrieved separately) and a luxury craft to retrieve me. Indeed, they were calling out my name on a loudspeaker and hailing me as the Victor of the 74th Hunger Games.
I didn't feel like a Victor. Partly because it was because I was Victor by default. I hadn't defeated anybody; the others had defeated themselves. But the more important reason was because my real enemy was still alive, in the Capitol.
They dropped down the ladder so that I could be pulled back up into the craft. I had noticed that from previous Hunger Games on TV: they never descended into the arena itself to greet the Victor. From my reading in the cache, I thought maybe they considered the land to be accursed with the blood of 23 innocents, "the blood of your brother is screaming to me from the ground", though nobody in the Panem government would admit to any religious or superstitious feeling. And they eventually got over it, turning the arenas into tourist sites. Ugh.
I was pulled up in the craft, and was surrounded by people who, only an hour before, would gladly see me dead. I shrugged off their hypocritical congratulations, and declined needing medical aid. I said I needed to wash off, and then I needed food in my stomach; I had not eaten decently for three days.
They took me to a bathroom that not only had a washbasin and toilet, but an actual shower. How typical, to provide such luxuries in the hovercraft and deny necessities to the tributes in the arena. But at the moment, I felt so filthy I wasn't going to complain.
When I stepped out of the stall, I saw that somebody I left a gaudy dress for me, and taken away my tribute uniform. The Capitol people had little respect of tributes' privacy. But instead of dressing immediately, I blocked the door and looked my nude body in the mirror.
I looked terribly thin, and I knew that I was not a beauty, even at my best. In my home district some people called me Foxface, and the name had stuck. Some Gamesmasters were probably wishing that Glimmer had won, because she looked so much more sexy and would photograph better on camera. Well, that was their problem.
I donned the dress. Since they had measured me before the Games, it would have fit perfectly if I hadn't lost so many kilos in the arena. Now they would have to take it in several centimeters, and I'm sure my prep team was planning on that already.
In the central room of the hovercraft they served me a huge amount of food. They probably saw the missing centimeters and, never having gone hungry themselves, thought I could gain the kilos back in one sitting. But a doctor had once warned me that splurging after a period of near-starvation was dangerous, so I ate small bites, and it was delicious after subsisting on berries and pilfered food in the arena.
Back in the Capitol I was nearly mobbed by fans; it was a terrifying experience, after days during which being spotted by other tributes in the arena could have been a death sentence. I feigned queasiness and a need to lie down, and my handlers took me to the Training Center. A few days ago it had housed 24 tributes; now it housed one.
When I was alone, I sat at the room's computer. Unlike most of the tributes, I had some experience with computers because District 5 was heavily industrialized and kids were trained to operate the machinery some day. Of course, I had left my cache hidden back in District 5 – too much danger of their searching my room and finding it, if I had brought it with me. But there was a calculation that I wanted to make.
There had been 74 Hunger Games, and each one had had 23 victims. What did that come out to? 1702, said the computer. It wasn't quite accurate, because the 50th anniversary games had had twice as many competitors, and there were a couple of games where even the victor died of injuries within a few days of victory. But more than seventeen hundred promising young people had died in Hunger Games, for – what? Revenge? Punishment for something their grandparents had done? The fun of it?
As I was about to get in bed, I remembered an old mythological painting reproduced in my cache. It was called ANDROMEDA AND THE NEREIDS, and I hadn't paid much attention to it at the time. Now it seemed dreadfully appropriate.
In the painting a group of demi-goddesses (the Nereids) were tormenting a mortal girl. The girl hadn't done anything wrong, but her mother had boasted that the girl was "as beautiful as a goddess", and that had pissed off the goddesses. They had stripped the girl of all her clothing, and now they were chaining up her naked body so they could torment her some more. I suppose we were lucky that the Panem government hadn't seen that picture, or they would be sending us into the arenas stark naked and/or with one hand tied behind our backs. But what really struck me at the time was that the Nereids didn't even look decently angry. They were tormenting a girl because they could do it, and enjoyed it.
But now I realized that that was the perfect symbol of the Hunger Games. The people of the Capitol didn't hate the tributes, or felt that they were guilty of ancestral crimes. In fact, they were curiously fascinated by us. As in the painting, this was sadistic fun, disguised as unrelenting vengeance.
President Snow hadn't been ruler when the Games started, but he had ruled the Empire for decades. He could have used his authority and prestige to stop the games, but he had never even tried. So, even though thousands of people were involved, he was more guilty than the rest.
The next morning, I was supposed to be crowned by President Snow as the Victor. My prep team showed up with new dresses, and even offered to take one in to match my new measurements. I pretended to get in the spirit of the thing. I just made two requests. One was that the dress be supplied with a pocket. The second-
"There's a brooch that I brought from District 5, and I left in a drawer. Do you know where it is now?"
"Yes, miss. We stored your possessions away, just in case—"
In case I managed to come back alive. Right.
They found the brooch and pinned it to my dress. But after they left, I took it off, bent it so that the pin stuck out almost at right angles, and slipped it in my pocket.
Two hours later, I was standing on the balcony of the Presidential Palace. There were thousands of people watching from the square, and millions watching on television. I KNEW the millions were watching because they could be punished if they didn't.
Seneca Crane, the chief Gamesmaster, made a silly speech about how I had triumphed through my honor and my bravery. Which was ridiculous, because I had actually triumphed by staying hidden during most of the Games, pilfering food to stay alive, and presumably everybody knew that. They didn't even have much footage of me. Even though the tracker told them of my location at every moment, they must have found me tremendously boring. I pretended to fidget, so that they would not find movement suspicious at the crucial time.
As President Snow raised his arms to put the Victor's crown on my head, I covertly removed the brooch from my pocket. I would only get one chance at this. In a quick gesture, I drove the pin into his neck, puncturing his windpipe. I had made careful research on the computer to be sure where the windpipe was.
President Snow collapsed, gasping his life out. The Peacekeepers actually took a few seconds to realize what had happened, and I realized that when they did, I probably had a horrible fate in store.
But as the tyrant died, I finally felt victorious.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: the mythological painting that Foxface mentions really exists. It was by a French artist named Chassériau, and can be found at Wikipedia's site on "ANDROMEDA(myth)"). Since it shows a nude woman, I thought fanfic's rules would prohibit my showing it directly.)
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: this story was inspired by a fansite discussion on what would have happened if Katniss wasn't there. That's when I thought of Foxface as the unexpected winner, and I wrote this story to dramatize my theory.