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Damage

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As the tributes wait their turn for their televised interviews, Clove notices the anger and envy in the eyes of the girl tribute from District 12, the fear in the expression of the child from District 11. The fury and the fear both stem from the same place--she's taller than they, stronger, more muscular. She's had the food and training that the tributes from poorer districts lack. Her survival is all but assured.

And that is true. But she's worked for it.

Like many Career tributes, she's been training since she was three. She isn't sure who took care of her before then, though she doubts if her biological parents did so. Oh, you get the odd Career like Finnick Odair who grew up with his fisherman family in District 4, and of course she's nominally District 2...but the Capital doesn't like Careers to have loyalties to anyone but itself, and parents, she's been told, can be disgustingly sentimental about their offspring. The chances are that she was either bred in a lab for maximum strength, speed and agility or that, when she was tested as an infant, she fell into the right parameters for a future victor. If that's what happened, they were probably told that she had a swift and progressive illness. And then the Capital gave them a fake corpse to bury and mourn, and, when she was old enough, she went into training.

The other possibility--and the one Clove doesn't like thinking about--is that her parents were traitors. Her name suggests this. Clove. A kind of spice. A product-related name. A worker name. Not an old Latin one like Cato or Enobarbia or Brutus, a name which is supposed to indicate that the bearer has been renamed and purified, a child of Panem, not a child of his or her parents. Nor does she have one of the ridiculously flattering names the scientists give the in vitro-born tributes...names like Glimmer.

Though sometimes people don't take the hint. The tribute Marvel has a name fit for any of the "rats," as the lab-born tributes as called, and a grandmother. So she can't be sure. Whoever named her might just have fancied the name "Clove," even if it is a name that smacks of poverty. She doesn't have to be the spawn of rebellious menial laborers, taken by the Capital as partial payment for their crimes.

This is negative thinking. Stop.

Because it doesn't matter, does it? Whether she's a rat, a child of Panem or a spawn of traitors, being a Career has not been a bad life. She knows how to fight and run and fence and turn virtually anything into a weapon. And she knows she can kill. She killed her first opponent--a boy named Quintus--when she was seven.

She was lashed, not for killing but for wasting the training of a future tribute. His debt to District 2--a huge cost, for training is expensive--was then added to hers.

And, because he had been her first kill, that night she was ordered to remain in her room while the others went to the dining hall. Then, when everyone else had gone, she had been served his heart and his brain. A transformative meal, it was called--one that made those who ate it different from everyone else. Stronger. Better.

She can still remember staring at both organs, certain that she was going to be sick and knowing that if she vomited or refused to eat, her life would end. There is no place in training for a tearful, compassionate, easily sickened Career. Such creatures are weaklings and must be winnowed out. And once winnowed out, they get what they deserve. They become Avoxes...or worse, muttations. Altered so that they can no longer be mistaken for people.

Which, of course, is how it should be. How it must be, if Panem is to remain strong.

Her trainer, a woman named Atia, had told her what to do in quick, deft sign language meaningless to anyone viewing the security cameras: It's meat. Fresh meat. So eat it. Don't stop, don't slow. Eat it all.

And she did.

Strange that she still can't remember what either had tasted like. That kind of thing should have stuck in her mind, shouldn't it? But it didn't. It hasn't. All she recalls is mentally stepping into a corner while her body got on with what it had to do...possibly because that was the last time that disconnect ever happened. After that, whenever a challenge has arisen, the same thought has always crept into her mind: I've killed and eaten a human. I can do this.

Soon after that, that she began training as a dimachaera. Not a word that most people know, she supposes, but the Careers, especially those who grew up in Districts 1 and 2, have developed their own jargon--half slang, half Latin. A dimachaerus--or dimachaera, for girls--is a tribute who fights using knives or swords, making them serve as both weapons and shields. There aren't many; few people can learn how to dual wield, let alone do it so well that an enemy's fists, knives, spears or tridents won't even touch them. She has a flair for this kind of fighting, but it still has taken her years to become good.

She doesn't know when fighting with her knives became a source of bliss, doesn't know when killing and orgiastic pleasure became linked for her...and, she suspects, for Cato and Glimmer. It's what they have, after all--the training, the fighting and the practice kills when they're pitted against rebels and other criminals.

If she were forced to tell what she fears most, it would be the Games ending. Oh, she has no doubt that she will win, for she is good and she has no desire to die. Cato is the only rival worthy of consideration, though he's not as bright as she is. But he's a cestus--a fist-fighter--and a brutal one, so letting him take out the others before killing him would be best. After all, he can be counted on to provide a good show.

No, it's not the Games she fears; she's been preparing for them for thirteen years. What chills her is the knowledge that even if she performs brilliantly in the arena, she will never be allowed to return to it. No more training for the arena, just for the camera. No more battles. No more killing. Everything she knows will be gone. And there will be nothing to take its place--no talent, no friends. She will not even be allowed to use her skills as an assassin; that is not the way that the Capital operates. Casual brutality rather than swift and sudden death frightens people--and rebels--more.

She cannot imagine herself as a mentor at sixteen, teaching others to kill instead of killing her own rivals. She cannot imagine being condemned to the pretty prison of victory.

Clove glares at the envious girl from District 12 and the frightened child from District 11. They have no chance of surviving the arena, but if they did, their lives would not end the instant they left it.

A idea flickers into her mind--that there is something deeply wrong with thinking and feeling this way.

But that is a negative thought, so she ignores it.