Chapter 1 – A New Kind Of Show
Plutarch Heavensbee took a sip from the coffee mug sitting on his expansive desk. He swiveled his chair around and looked down through the big glass wall behind him at the Capitol's citizens scurrying about like rats in a maze.
Things had changed a lot for the country since the assassination of President Coriolanus Snow right after the 73rd annual Hunger Games nearly three years earlier. Fortunately, it had been a bloodless coup, and the new government had taken over with little loss of life.
The new president, Seneca Crane, was trying to put a fresh face on things. Crane's administration was still dictatorial in many ways, but they wanted to disassociate themselves completely from Snow's regime. This meant the immediate cancellation of The Hunger Games, the longest running television show in Panem. The show had united the country in a way nothing else had.
Plutarch was determined to create a new show that would do the same. Unfortunately Crane wouldn't allow Plutarch to enforce mandatory viewing. This meant the new show had to be all the more riveting to keep the entire country glued to their television sets.
He heard a knock on his door and he turned his chair around. "Come in," he called, as his lovely assistant Fulvia Cardew entered. The shapely woman glowed pink, the most popular color in the Capitol these days. But it wasn't only her clothes that were varying shades of pink, her hair was bright pink, her fingernails were painted pink, even her skin was a soft shade of the color. It made the silver flowers inlaid in her plump cheeks look even shinier.
"Any thoughts?" Plutarch asked.
Fulvia nodded. "Well, I was talking with some of my staff and I had an idea."
Plutarch leaned forward in his seat, his arms resting on the desk. Fulvia was something of a genius in programming. The popular singing show So Your Dog Can Croon, and the zany reality show Where's My Blankie? were all conceived by her.
"What is it?" he asked, eager to hear her latest suggestion.
"Well, you know how The Hunger Games was geared toward the male demographic with all that killing and stuff? Why not gear the new show toward women, with lots of love and handsome men to drool over?"
Plutarch pursed his lips and squinted. "Go on."
"We get a girl from one of the districts and bring her to the Capitol, and then get twelve men, one from each district to woo her. She'll pick one of the men to marry and then we'll hold a big Capitol wedding. We could probably move them into one of those old Victor's Village homes in the man's district. Every district has a few of those still around. We could do follow-ups over time. You know when they have their first baby and so on."
Plutarch licked his lips. "That's not a bad idea. But what if the girl doesn't want any of the men?"
Fulvia laughed. "It's not real. It's a television show. We'd script everything so we can control the outcome. She could pick the winner in advance of the show. Anyway, it's not like The Hunger Games wasn't rigged as well."
"Don't I know it?" He snorted. He paused for a moment as he thought over her idea. "This sounds like the ideal show for women. But without mandatory viewing, what would entice men to watch a show like this? The woman would have to be pretty spectacular to hold the attention of male viewers."
"Hum, nudity and sex would keep them riveted if we can get our girl to perform, although that may not be likely. Most of the women in the districts tend to be so inhibited. I suppose we could add some sports into the mix."
"This is sounding a bit expensive, Fulvia. We don't have the same budgets we had in the past."
"I have some ideas about how this entire show could fund itself, maybe even turn a profit, in addition to the advertising revenue. I can work up the numbers for you."
Plutarch nodded. "I'd like to see that." He rubbed the side of his face. "Do you think it would be easy to find a girl willing to televise her love life to the entire nation? We can't reap people anymore. The new government won't allow it."
"Lots of women would jump at the chance to have a dozen men throw themselves at them. And who would possibly object to an all-expenses-paid Capitol wedding? I know I would have liked it if someone had paid for one of my three weddings. If our girl is skittish though, I'm sure we can find some way to convince her to participate. Everyone has a price."
"Better get someone from one of the worse off districts then, like Twelve for example," Plutarch said. "A girl from there would probably be flattered and go along with the idea more easily than someone from a better off district. Also our girl should have no prior attachments. We need to avoid complications, like jealous boyfriends or a scandalous past."
"So, Plutarch, you want me to find a needle in a haystack," Fulvia laughed. "Sounds good, boss. I can book a hovercraft for tomorrow to head out to Twelve."
"How are you planning to find our girl?"
"Nose around the district, talk to the locals. It shouldn't be that difficult."
Katniss Everdeen was returning from her Sunday hunt with her best friend Gale Hawthorne. They had a good haul today and she was grateful. It had been a harsh winter and spring had come late. She and her family had skipped meals on more than one occasion over the past several months.
Even though the government of Panem had been overthrown three years ago, the country's new leaders hadn't done much to improve the lot of the people of District 12. Poverty still reigned and people from the Seam continued to be treated like second-class citizens by the district's merchant class.
The best thing to come from the change in government was that The Hunger Games had ended. Katniss no longer had to fear that she or her sister Primrose would ever be reaped.
The new government had also lifted the restrictions about leaving the confines of the district. People could freely travel freely now, although it was expensive so not many did. But the fence that separated District 12 from the forest beyond was no longer electrified because of the lifting of the restriction. This effectively ended the prohibition on hunting.
Now Katniss and Gale could hunt and sell their game without threat of recrimination. Unfortunately, this also meant that more and more people were entering the woods to hunt. Game was getting scarce. Katniss and Gale had to travel deeper into the forest to find it.
"Let's sell the squirrels to the baker," Katniss told Gale as they walked toward town. The baker was a steady customer, who often overpaid for the meat she provided by tossing in a loaf of bread along with some coins.
Gale nodded. "We can take a rabbit each for our families and sell the rest to Sae."
They turned the corner into the square and headed for the back door of the bakery. They didn't dare come in the front. If the baker's wife saw them enter in the front of the shop, she'd kick them right out. She'd often complained about the stench of blood that emanated from the game bags each of them carried. She said it made the bakery reek.
Katniss didn't mind. The baker's wife was a witch who was mean to everyone, including her own family. Katniss knocked on the door. Mr. Mellark, the baker, opened it.
"Good morning Katniss, how many squirrels do you have today?"
He motioned for her to come inside. Gale followed her into the warm kitchen that smelled of freshly baked bread. The room was filled with two long tables that were waist-high. A big oven stood on one wall. Shelves lined with glass jars filled with spices and other ingredients ran along another wall. Sacks of flour and sugar lay on the floor.
Two of the baker's sons, Rye and Peeta were stationed at the tables rolling out dough. Katniss thought they might be making cookies because a few round cutters were nearby.
Peeta, the younger son, glanced up at Katniss as she surveyed the kitchen. His blue eyes flitted away quickly as soon as he made eye contact. Katniss noticed his cheeks turn a slight tinge of pink, but she didn't have time to think about it because the baker was already returning from the front of the store where he'd grabbed a loaf of bread from behind the glass and some coins from the register to pay her.
She put her hand out and Mr. Mellark dropped the coins into her palm. He handed her the loaf, which she tucked under her arm.
"Thank you," she muttered. She was turning to leave when she heard a scream from the front of the shop. Katniss was so startled by the noise that she nearly dropped the loaf of bread.
She turned back quickly to see Mr. Mellark, and both Peeta and Rye leap forward to run to the storefront. The baker's wife, who was working behind the counter, was having some sort of fit.
Katniss turned back to look at Gale. "Let's go," she mouthed, not wanting to get caught up in this family drama.
But Gale was leaning over her shoulder, curious to see what had made Mrs. Mellark scream.
"Holy cow," Gale whistled.
Katniss turned to see what he was looking at. It was a customer dressed in pink who had pink hair and pink skin. Tiny silver flowers were embedded into her cheeks. It was obvious this woman was from the Capitol. Her odd manner of dress was similar to the strange getups that Effie Trinket, the Capitol's representative who used to reap District 12 children for The Hunger Games, wore. However, even Effie hadn't tinted the color of her skin.
"Can I help you?" Mr. Mellark inquired of the customer. His wife was too tongue-tied to get out a word.
"Yes," the woman said. "I'd like two dozen of those big cookies, that large frosted cake, a dozen cheese buns, and a couple of loaves of wheat bread."
Katniss gasped. It would cost a miner nearly a week's wages to order that much food. Whatever was this woman going to do with it? More importantly, why was she here in District 12?
Rye and Peeta started to walk back into the kitchen. It was obvious their mother was fine and their father was taking care of the customer. Katniss jumped back, embarrassed that she and Gale were spying on them.
Rye glanced at them curiously. "Aren't you finished? Do you need to talk to my dad?"
"Yes, we're finished." Katniss blushed. "We're just leaving."
She turned quickly and pushed Gale toward the back door, but not before noticing Peeta glare at his brother. As she and Gale exited, they heard Mrs. Mellark speaking loudly. "My son Peeta does all the cake decorating. Get in here Peeta," she yelled.
When they were outside, Gale burst out. "Did you see that woman? She makes Effie Trinket look normal."
"Why would someone from the Capitol be here in District 12?" Katniss wondered.
"Maybe they're planning to reinstate The Hunger Games."
"Don't say that Gale, that's awful," Katniss hissed. A wave of fear washed over her. She was turning eighteen next month. If the games restarted, she'd be eligible for one last year. Her sister Prim, however, was only fourteen.
"Let's walk around the front of the shop and check her out," Katniss suggested.
"How will that give you any answers Catnip?"
But Kantiss was already walking down the narrow alley that divided the bakery from the next building. Gale followed her. "Where do you propose standing so that the witch doesn't come out and start yelling at us."
Katniss positioned herself near the big glass window in front, turning her body to the side. "Just pretend to look in the game bag," Katniss told Gale. "Pretend like we're having a normal conversation."
"This is stupid," Gale said, but he opened Katniss' bag and peered inside.
"Anything happening Catnip?"
Katniss frowned. "No, I think they're talking about the cakes though. She keeps pointing to the cakes and the witch is pointing to Peeta."
"You look in the bag now, let me see what's going on."
Katniss looked inside the bag and pushed the dead rabbits around, while Gale lifted his head to glance into the window.
He looked for a short time before calling out. "For crying out loud."
"What is it?"
"Let's get out of here." He grabbed Katniss wrist pulling her away from the window and halfway across the square before Katniss stopped him.
"Let go, Gale." She pulled her wrist from his grasp and rubbed it gently. "What are you so upset about?"
"When I looked in the window, guess who I saw gazing at you all dopey-eyed?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Peeta. He was staring at you."
"What do you mean he was staring at me? He was probably just looking through the window and I was on the other side."
"No Catnip, he was looking directly at you. His mouth was hanging open and he looked all moony-eyed. Even that Capitol woman turned her head to see what he looking at."
"You're making that up Gale."
"No, I'm not. I think he likes you Katniss."
"What? He does not."
"Listen, we don't have time to argue. Let's go to the Hob and find Sae. It's getting late."
Later, when Katniss was home with her mother and Prim, and eating her dinner of roasted rabbit, she wondered if what Gale had said was true. Was Peeta staring at her?
If he was, she knew it had nothing to do with him liking her. It was because of the bread. When she was eleven years old, Peeta had tossed her a loaf of burned bread that had literally saved her family from starvation. Ever since then she'd occasionally catch him looking at her.
But in the past year, as they neared graduation from school, the staring had gotten worse. In fact, other people were calling her attention to it. Only last week, Madge had told her that Peeta was looking at her while they were eating lunch. Now Gale said he was staring today.
She knew she had been wrong in failing to thank him for the bread. That must be the reason – he wanted a thank-you. But it had been seven years already. Couldn't he let it drop? Was he that concerned about her poor manners?
Peeta Mellark was the last thing on Katniss' mind the next day. The talk of the school was the Capitol woman who was staying at the mayor's house and apparently doing fieldwork for a new television show.
Usually Katniss and Madge ate lunch alone together. It had been that way for years. Both were rather quiet and sometimes they sat without speaking for the entire lunch period. But today, nearly every girl in the senior class was huddled around their table as Madge gossiped about the strange pink-skinned woman named Fulvia Cardew.
According to Madge, Fulvia was going to make a television star out of a lucky girl in District 12 in a new show designed to unite the country in the same way The Hunger Games did. All Madge knew about the show was that the girl would be go to the Capitol and interact with people from every district.
Katniss had no idea how the silly show that Madge described could in any way be compared to The Hunger Games. She couldn't image anything more boring. She knew she shouldn't complain because boring television was far better than absolute terror, but she wished the government would just leave everyone alone.
"How are they going to pick the girl?" asked Delly Cartwright, a pasty-faced merchant girl with a lumpy figure.
"Miss Cardew didn't say." Madge twirled her strawberry blonde around the end of her finger.
Judging by the interest of her classmates, Katniss suspected that every girl at the table, other than herself, was interested in being selected. The conversation died out after a while, after Madge had divulged everything she knew, which wasn't much. The girls who had hung onto Madge's every word got up and moved themselves to their usual lunchtime tables, leaving Madge and Katniss alone.
They both ate silently for a while until Madge spoke.
"She asked about you."
"What are you talking about?"
"Miss Cardew asked me if I knew a girl who dressed in a leather jacket and carried a dirty bag over her shoulder and wore her dark hair in a braid down her back."
"Oh." The strange woman must have noticed her when she and Gale had stood outside the bakery spying on her. Gale had mentioned that she had turned her head to see what Peeta was looking at.
"I guess I look very different from the girls she sees in the Capitol."
"I guess," Madge shrugged. "I wonder if she'll pick you."
Katniss laughed. "I don't think so. Besides I'd never do agree to something like that."
"Why not Katniss? It's a ticket to a brighter future. It could lead to all sorts of opportunities. What do you plan to do after graduation anyway?"
Katniss frowned. She'd been putting off thinking about her future for some time. She didn't have much to look forward to except a lifetime of work. As daughter of the mayor, Madge was guaranteed a job in the Justice Building, helping to administer the governmental affairs of District 12.
Likewise, merchant girls were trained to work in their family's business. However girls from the Seam, like Katniss, had only one real option, working in the mines.
There were rumors that the new government was going to open a factory to make medicines, but it hadn't happened yet, so Katniss couldn't count on that as possible employment option. And with the forest being overrun with hunters, she couldn't count on hunting as a reliable means of employment either.
Additionally, many of the girls in her class were already planning their weddings for the upcoming summer. People married young in District 12 because life was hard. Most people were lucky to live past sixty. Sae was probably one of the oldest people in the district.
Katniss didn't have a sweetheart. Her only male friend was Gale but he'd never expressed any interest in her as anything more than a hunting partner. It didn't bother her, though, because until the government was overthrown three years ago she'd never even considered a future that included marriage and children. She didn't want to live in fear of her children being reaped.
That worry was gone now. But still, she wasn't sure if marriage was for her. She'd seen how her mother had fallen apart when her father had been killed in a mine explosion seven years ago. Katniss knew it would destroy her to love someone and lose them like that. It was easier not to care about someone in that way.
"I don't know, I suppose I don't have much of a future," she admitted to Madge. She'd never been a person to think much further ahead than the next couple of days.
"Well, maybe you do." A small smile had formed on Madge's lips. "Someone's staring at you again."