A transponder's beeping yanks me out of my sleep and jolts me into the realization that I'm still at work. I peer at the faint glowing screen strapped to my wrist and attempt to determine the latest electrical fault I've been summoned to.
90 seconds to the next hour, I can do this.
I leap from my napping spot in the false ceiling of a pump room and land squarely into the familiar feeling of my worn-out rubber boots. The Power Plant's Peacekeepers randomly patrol during night shifts; fishing out squatters and workers slacking off. But it's a tight squeeze for a girl of my stature to sneak into a space this confined, let alone a burly Peacekeeper with body armor and belt bristling with weapons. It's a maze of metal in here: catwalks and scaffolding, pipes and electrical cables. Everywhere – the touch of rust and smell of coal. One wrong step puts you into with a burst of steam at best; a live, uninsulated electrical cable at worst.
But oh, how I love this place.
I exit the room in less than a second, and another one puts my arms and feet around a long pipe that takes me 2 floors down to the basement where they keep transformers for transmitting power over long distances to the rest of Panem. My boots make a muffled clang as I vault over the railing onto an adjacent catwalk and after sliding down a short ladder I reach the room where my nap's interrupter awaits. I unhook a pair of patched-up safety gloves from my trousers and pull them on. None of the workers get safety equipment; my mother had been so anxious about me working here that she made gloves from a pair of old, snipped-up oven mitts with torn up scraps of leather for insulation.
The breaker panel has been all but corroded away from years of neglect and coal dust, but under the dim light I can make out a tripped switch. There is an ever-present buzz of electrical current behind every panel in the room, like a growling beast ready to kill at the slightest sign of irreverence. I wipe away the dust from the labels and compare it with the reading on my transponder just to make sure, and with a flick of my wrist, power gets restored to whatever house in District 7 unlucky enough to have a trip tonight. I loosen my gloves and look at my transponder again to confirm that the fault has been resolved.
"Damn it!" I curse under my breath. Just 17 seconds away from making the hour. I look at the time again and remember why I shouldn't have rushed at all.
"R". Reaping day. It sticks out like a scab in my existence. That one day in everyone's life where you're utterly out of control of your fate. That disgusting, wretched and unfair day where some far off government decides that oppressing its citizens isn't enough and takes away two young souls to murder for their entertainment. The hope of youth lost to the spectacle of the masses. I calm myself down with thoughts of my odds today: no Tesserae, one name in hundreds. But what does it count? The entire procedure is completely random, made worse by our small numbers in District 5. The ever humming buzz of electricity and magnetism; together with the lingering effects of radioactivity beneath our feet has the unintended effect of keeping our fertility rates low. Together with the fact that infant mortality is an abysmal problem due to malnutrition, many children don't survive to see reaping day anyway. So there's no way to hide your name in the comfort of the thousands of reaping slips being in a larger District like 11 would bring. The odds are never in our favor.
I have a friend named Gase, who's four years older than me. She has four siblings – anomalous in a District used to having one child per household or none – and she took Tesserae for all of them. I remember my outrage at hearing her tell me that her name was going in forty times last year, and worked out with pen and paper her extremely unfair odds at the reaping day. She knew all this and still did it, confident that whatever magical reaping god that worked against us: that twelve year old who gets reaped and dies 4 seconds into a bloodbath, the crippled, blind tributes, would also work for us - rewarding those who genuinely wanted to help their families and warding off death for one more year. Needless to say, it worked, because she's 19 now and still very much alive. I decide to wander off to the surface since there's only about 2 hours left before my shift is over and neither the time nor mood for any more naps.
It's a long climb to the top from ten floors underground, but after much sneaking around on my way to the roof of the Solar Control Room, I'm rewarded with the sight of a beautiful dawn sky reflected on an endless sea of solar panels. There're only solar panels above the ground in District 5, everything else is confined underground, except the Justice building and the Control Room I'm sitting on. I slip my feet out of my boots and sit on the edge, allowing the morning breeze to kiss my toes awake. The relaxing atmosphere, together with the sudden onset of drowsiness caused by my earlier adrenaline surge at running through the Power plant, causes my eyes to flutter shut and I slowly nod off, before a familiar sweet smell jolts me awake.
"Better stay awake, wouldn't want you falling off and missing your chance at the reaping today," says a voice behind me.
I turn around to see Gase standing by the ceiling access ladder with her messy brown hair and dirty work-trousers. She's almost an hour early for her day shift.
"I don't think they'd disqualify me for having a broken ankle, we're only two floors off the ground."
She smiles and removes her boots, sitting next to me as we take in the sight of an azure sky. It makes the field of Solar panels before us look like the sea. Although I've never seen the sea, the sight of blue panels and the cooling breeze makes me wish I was on a beach a million miles away from thoughts about being reaped.
"It really sucks being you today, three more years of this shit and no end in sight," she sneers
"Oh, rub it in will you?"
"Here, rub some of this good stuff in."
She hands over the flask of coffee she was drinking from and I tip the blissfully aromatic contents into my mouth. Coffee is the only commodity that's plentiful in District 5, as though the Capitol wants keep us awake longer so that they'd be able to oppress us into extended hours. Everyone likes to make their own brews to their tastes. Gase likes hers mild, with just a hint of sweetness from wild honey and mellowed out with soybean milk. Personally, I'd prefer a stronger brew, but with the prospect of being reaped approaching, I'd drink just about anything to take my mind off the situation.
"You're early today," I comment with a wry smile
"Thought I'd catch the sunrise with you"
"How'd you know I'd be here?"
"The fault caught up on my transponder too," she says, holding up her wrist, "I knew you wouldn't want to go back to sleep since it's reaping day, so I figured you'd be here"
"It's unnerving you know me so well. You could probably kill me any time you wanted to and no one would know about it."
"Wow, getting your senses sharpened for the 74th Hunger Games already aren't we?"
I shouldn't be laughing, but I do. Like always, Gase makes me smile like no one else can. With my parents, I'd always have to go home to the looks of worry on their faces that there wasn't enough to eat. With my friends, the ever-present look of fear in their eyes that whoever you befriended would get slaughtered on live television the next year. Maybe that was why I got so outraged at Gase for taking Tesserae; I didn't want to lose someone I genuinely cared for so deeply.
Dawn breaks, and the field of glass in front of us glimmers with deep shade of rusty-red.
"Sunrises remind me of you," she whispers, combing my disheveled hair with her fingers.
I sigh deeply, resting my head on her chest and wishing I was someplace far away.