I do not own the Hunger Games.
Asteria Quinton, Head Gamemaker
Verdant hills roll across the sunlit landscape, dotted with the shadows that fall from broken white clouds above. The curve of the sky holds a deep, pure blue, kept clean and polished by strong summertime winds. Aliveness permeates every corner of the afternoon.
Along the cobblestone pathway I walk, passing magnificent topiaries and carpets of blooming color, all guided from the time of their genesis to follow intricate geometric shapes and flowing, elegant patterns. Someone in the upper echelon decided to keep Snow's lavish gardens alive and well even after the President's untimely death.
I halt in front of a seated man who is, according to his birth records, forty-eight years old, even though he appears no older than thirty. The entirety of his attention is focused on the computerized tablet that rests in his hands, and he takes a full three and a half seconds to notice my arrival.
Hyperion stands from the stone bench and greets me with a bright smile, the kind that's meant to overshadow the fact he's withholding something.
I should know. That same type of smile has graced my lips hundreds of times.
"Asteria," he says, holding out his hand. "What a nice surprise."
I return the handshake, narrowing my eyes. "You invited me here. I highly doubt my presence in any way surprises you."
Placing the tablet in his jacket pocket, he says, "And aren't you just pleasant as always?"
I offer him a grin as artificial as the one he gave me. "Only for you, Hyperion."
"Oh, you and your flattery." He gestures toward the portion of the garden that I have yet to traverse. "Walk with me."
We set off at a pace slow enough to put snail to shame.
"Tell me, Quinton," he begins, deftly picking a white rose from one of the strictly-maintained bushes without pricking his fingers on the needle-like thorns. "How goes the arena? Your assistant says that everything's nearly ready for launch."
Rolling my eyes, I scoff. "Underestimating and downplaying the issues at hand. How very typical of Helia."
Hyperion frowns. "Have a little faith."
"You don't understand," I say, facing the sky. "There are exactly two hundred and seventeen command sequences that must be executed perfectly within the first minute of launch. As the arena progresses, another one hundred and forty eight commands need to be maintained - simultaneously - in order to keep the tributes from burning up, freezing to death, dying of asphyxiation, or suffering any other sort of premature death. Two of the most important muttations were improperly spliced and subsequently died last week, leaving me with only six survivors to work with." Turning to him with a sneer, I add "And that's a mere fraction of my worries. In all likelihood, some unforeseen and game-breaking issue will crop up during the most dramatic fight, and once this is all over, I'll find myself tied to a rock at the bottom of a lake."
Hyperion laughs, though it's more of an exhalation through his nose than an actual demonstration of joviality. "You mean like Crane? Amaranthine? Castillo? Heavensbee?" He shakes his head, almost in disbelief. "Quinton, you are the crème de la crème. You possess more good judgment and skill in one incessantly-bitten fingernail than the rest of them put together." He pauses in the walkway and places his hand on my shoulder. "I have confidence in your abilities, Asteria. I really do."
I shrug him off and continue down the path, forcing him to catch up. "Unfounded trust ranks among the greatest of human follies, Thaddeus. It would be a critical failure on the part of someone like yourself to make such baseless assumptions."
Beside me, I can practically feel him rolling his eyes. "Oh, please. The work you've done thus far on the arena has more than proven your worth as Head Gamemaker."
I cock an eyebrow. "Coin doesn't seem to think so. If the rumors are to be believed, she positively detests me."
"And since when have you thought of rumors as valid sources of information?"
Letting my head roll back, I send him a sidelong glare. "You and I both know it's true."
Hyperion raises his hands in exasperated placation. "She's never doubted your capabilities. Merely your conviction."
Despite the overwhelming urge to slap him, I know that at least eight of his guards are deftly hidden among the trees and bushes, all with their scopes trained on me. It would only take one bullet from some overzealous guard to end me. With great effort, I manage to stay my hand.
"Doubt my conviction? You mean bring up the fact that I hail from District One every chance she gets."
"My place of origin should have nothing to do with how she perceives my work!" I turn to him, the fire rising in my gut. The garden's crushing silence doesn't prevent me from raising my voice. "But because I'm from District One, that makes me a traitor in her eyes. After all, the Hunger Games have taken, what, one-hundred-and-fifty-one children from my district over the past eighty years? Truly, my wish to engineer an arena must make me an absolutely abhorrent monster."
"She may not understand your motivations," he says, an irritatingly patronizing tone weaving its way into his words, "but that has no impact on her appreciation of the art you've created."
I throw my head back with a harsh laugh. "Ha! The day she refers to my work as 'art' is the day I succeed Katniss Everdeen as the Mockingjay."
Hyperion squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Asteria, I'm not going to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to convince you that everything will work out, because neither of us have time to waste on such a hopeless venture. Just answer me this: within the next ten days, will the Eighty-First arena be ready for launch or not?"
I press my lips into a line and give him the iciest glare I can muster. "It will."
"Then you're worrying yourself over nothing." The nature of his voice implies that our conversation is nearly over. "You simply have to put on a good show."
"Yes, of course," I say, intentionally letting the vitriol seep into my words. He speaks to me as if I am a child. I've devoted an entire year of my life to this project, and I am well aware of what's riding on my shoulders. "Wouldn't want to disappoint you, now, would I?"
He dismissively waves me off. "I'm sure you won't. In any case, I hope the next few days treat you well." I pause, but he continues on, leaving me behind as he wanders through the roses. "I do love our little talks, Asteria. You should check in more often."
Shaking my head with contempt, I turn back towards the Presidential estate. Hyperion's flippant attitude brings into question how he ever managed to maintain power after Snow's untimely demise. Only fools discount the perils of failure.
And I am no fool.
Yes, another SYOT. Yaaaay.
Welcome to the Eighty-First Hunger Games.
This isn't first come, first serve. I'll only be accepting one tribute per person, though you can submit as many tributes as you like. Submissions will close a week from today. If I don't have all of the tributes I need, I'll re-open submissions until I do.
Also I'm lazy, so there won't be any sponsor system.
***PLEASE, DO NOT SUBMIT TRIBUTES BY REVIEW. ONLY BY PM.
Now, for those of you who read Atmosphere, you might be expecting a certain pre-arena chapter schedule. This time, however, I will only be writing 6 pre-arena chapters: 2 for the prologue (including this one), and 4 concerning the actual tributes and their time in the Capitol. Each tribute will get 1 POV during these 4 chapters. I'm doing this because I hate the reapings, interviews, etc. and want to get to the arena as fast as possible whilst retaining as much characterization as I can.
FYI, this isn't going to be a standard 24-tribute arena. The details, background, guidelines for submission, and tribute sheet are all on my profile. The list of tributes on my profile is up-to-date, as well.
Thank you for reading this, and if you're interested in submitting, please do! I look forward to seeing all of the tributes.