Rose’s alarm clock was one of the few things that worked consistently in the Tylers’ apartment, but, at the moment, she couldn’t properly appreciate it. She rolled over and smacked it into silence with long-practiced accuracy.
“Why’s that thing on?” mumbled her mother from the other bed. “You don’t have to work today, you know.”
“Though I’d see if the old man needed any help restocking,” said Rose, sitting up in bed and running a hand through her tousled hair.
Jackie seemed to accept that and settled back into bed. Rose grabbed some clothes and went to wash up in the bathroom. The water was ice-cold, as usual. She sighed. The building’s water heater worked only sporadically, and no one seemed interested in fixing it. A hot shower was a rare luxury. She scrubbed up as best she could, dressed, and headed for the kitchen.
To her surprise, Jackie was there ahead of her, heating water for tea over their gas range. “It’s no use trying to sleep in today,” she said with a shrug. “I never do on reaping days.”
Rose moved in close, laying a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “It’ll be all right, Mom. There are kids with their names in there way more times than I do. I’ll be fine.”
It was true that Rose wouldn’t be in there as many times as her friends Shireen or Keisha. Both of them had taken out tesserae for years to help feed their large families. Jackie had never let Rose do the same, no matter how often they’d gotten down to subsisting on tea. Rose’s dad had died in a factory accident when she was a baby, and Jackie wasn’t about to risk her daughter’s safety.
In one respect, they’d been lucky. When Rose was thirteen, Old Man Henrick, who ran the general store, broke his hip. Jackie had immediately volunteered that Rose could help out in his store, and, between her wages and the small haircutting and styling business that Jackie ran out of their home, they’d fed themselves. Old Man Henrick had been kind, too, sending Rose home occasionally with a small bag of dried beans, or perhaps some canned milk or a jar of pickled vegetables.
Now, Jackie made them tea and heated the remains of the previous night’s dinner of rice and beans, and they sat down to eat breakfast. Neither spoke.
Rose actually liked being out early in the day. Here in the Factory sector of District 9, if you didn’t get up early, other people got all the fresh air. As soon as the factories started up for the day, the air would be full of smoke. Not that they would be operating today; after all, it was a holiday. She shook her head in silent disgust as she ran down the stairs of their apartment block.
At the bottom, she nearly ran over Mickey. “What are you doing up so early?” he asked.
She laughed. “Same to you.”
“Couldn’t sleep.” He shrugged. “I figured I’d go down to the workshop, see if I could distract myself for a few hours.”
Rose nodded. It would be Mickey’s last reaping, and she dearly hoped he wouldn’t be chosen. He’d taken out tesserae for a few years, while his grandmother was still alive. Once she died, he’d managed to support himself by repairing clocks and electronics. He was good at it, too; Rose joked that his mom had obviously sneaked him in from District 3. But, just because you stopped taking tesserae, it didn’t mean the ones you’d taken disappeared. His name would be in the reaping fifteen times.
He was practically a family member by now. Most days, he’d come over for dinner, pooling his resources with the Tylers’. Rose knew everyone expected that she and Mickey would end up married. She didn’t know what she thought of the idea, even though she liked Mickey and even found him attractive. It was just that she wasn’t sure about marriage in general. Who, after all, wanted to bring children into a world like this?
She continued on down the street past the next apartment block to Old Man Henrick’s store and entered through the back. “Henrick? You here?”
“Up front, Rosie.”
Henrick was the only person allowed to call her Rosie. He’d earned the right. She trotted to the front of the store, where he was tinkering with the cash register.
“What’re you doing in today?” he asked. “Store’s not opening. Damned reaping.”
Rose shrugged. “I could use something to do. I thought I’d finish up that restocking we started yesterday.”
Henrick nodded, eyes sad. “Good idea. Yeah, why don’t you pull some of those boxes.”
Henrick’s store sold practically everything except for fresh produce. It was one of the approved “Capitol Resale” stores, which meant he retailed goods sent to the district from the Capitol. To his credit, he kept his profit margins on those goods as small as he realistically could. Grain, dried beans and fruit, and canned milk, meat and vegetables were what most people in the Factory side lived on.
Aside from food, Henrick sold cloth and clothing, kerosene, flatware, tools, some electronics, shoes and, most importantly, he retailed locally-made goods. Mickey’s repaired and cobbled-together electronics and the clocks he worked on often ended up on the shelf at Henrick’s. The apothecary – an old woman who hated dealing with people – sold her medicines to Henrick and let him haggle over the prices with customers. Fishermen from lake country sold dried and smoked fish. Tailors bought cloth, turned it into clothing, and sold it back to Henrick, who sold it for them. Even Beekeeper Aggie sold her honey and beeswax candles through the store.
Overall, it was, Rose reflected, one of the best places she could’ve ended up. The Factory side was rough. Their standard of living was a little better than those on the Field side, but it came with much more crime. At least the Peacekeepers in the Field paid attention when someone started screaming. On the Factory side, they just couldn’t be bothered. Gangs prowled the streets and the concrete-block apartment buildings, looking for trouble.
Rose’d had her share of scraps. The ugliest came about because the boy she’d been going with joined a gang, and he hadn’t liked it when she’d rejected his company for it. She’d toughed it out, though, and Jimmy had eventually annoyed the wrong people and ended up in the pen.
Old Man Henrick wouldn’t have it, though, and the community liked his store. Anyone trying to start something with him or his store would find their lives getting very hard, very quickly. Even here, community disapproval meant something. Occasionally, they had to remind the gangs of who was really in charge.
Even so, in his younger days, Henrick had kept a cudgel close at hand in case trouble came calling. Nowadays, Rose was the keeper of the cudgel, and she knew how to use it. Mostly, it wasn’t necessary. Everyone knew she was Jackie Tyler’s daughter; that meant she was, by definition, ready and willing to break heads.
She spent a few hours opening boxes, stocking shelves and heaving grain bags into place. The physical labor kept her from getting too wrapped up in thoughts of the reaping. Old Man Henrick shared some fish jerky with her, and, as she was getting ready to return home, handed her a small packet. She looked inside.
“Cookies!” She looked from the rare treat to Henrick’s face. “Where did these come from?”
“Baker dropped them off this morning,” he said. “I cut him a deal on some flour, so he gave me the broken cookies out of his latest batch. I don’t have much of a taste for sweets. You and your mom enjoy ‘em, okay?”
Rose blinked back tears. He could’ve sold these, she knew. Even broken cookies would fly right out of the shop, and they’d be pure profit for him. She inhaled the scent of sugar and vanilla, anticipating sharing these with her mom and Mickey over tea after dinner.
“Thank you,” she said, and dropped a kiss on his grizzled cheek. “I’ll-I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘kay?”
“You do that, Rosie.” He glanced at the shop clock. “Best get home and changed, or you won’t catch the tram in time.”
She nodded and tucked the precious cookies into her pocket before she left. The gift had given her a lovely picture of what she hoped the evening would be like. The rooftop garden plot was ready to yield potatoes, and Mickey mentioned buying a fish at the market. Fish and fried potatoes, with cookies to follow.
If the odds truly were in their favor.
At 2:30, clad in a worn pink dress that was just a little too small, Rose, Mickey and Jackie boarded the tram that would take them to the district square. It was situated right on the border between the Factory side and the Field side.
That was how everyone in District 9 identified themselves – Field or Factory. Only the Field was on the district’s official seal, and for a very good reason: The grain they grew in the fields wasn’t wheat, barley or oats, but the hybrid tessera grain. It had been genetically engineered as a high-protein, high-nutrition alternative to traditional grains. Officially, that was District 9’s industry. A whole district, just for growing the grain so many families depend on, the Capitol seemed to be saying. See what we do for you?
In reality, it was barely half of the district’s job. Most districts had a second industry, and District 9’s was metal. The Factory side, where Rose grew up, mostly consisted of foundries. The metal mines of Panem sent raw ore to Nine, where they were refined and alloyed. Iron and steel were then shipped to Two and Five, and copper was sent mostly off to Three and Six. Precious metals went to District 1. Tin and aluminum went to food-processing plants in Ten and Eleven, and so forth.
Same district or no, though, the two sides couldn’t have been more different. Field looked down on Factory as violent gangsters. Factory disdained Field as a bunch of unwashed yokels.
On the day of the reaping, though, Factory and Field mixed. Rose took her place beside a Field 17-year-old with sun-bleached hair and suntanned skin. She craned her head, catching a glimpse of Mickey settling in with the 18-year-old boys.
Nervously, she fingered the gold pin on her dress. It had belonged to her dad, long ago, and Jackie had refused to sell it, even in the face of starvation. Rose understood. Some things mattered more than money or even food, and her father’s wolf’s-head pin was one of them. Jackie always insisted Rose wear it to the reaping.
“It means your dad’s looking out for you,” she’d said while pinning it on Rose’s dress.
As soon as the district’s eligible young people were assembled, the mayor took the stage and read the Treaty of Treason. Rose hated this part of the proceedings and wished they would just get on with the Reaping and get it over with. Then he introduced the past winners of the Hunger Games.
There had only been five in District 9’s past, and just three were still living. The oldest, at sixty, was Sarah Jane Smith. How she’d won, Rose had no idea; she was tiny and delicate-looking. She apparently had a will of iron, though. Instead of settling down to a life of leisure after she’d returned, Sarah Jane had taken over the local community home for orphans. From everything Rose had heard, the home had been a nightmare before Sarah Jane got to it. Afterward, though, District 9 parents all started sleeping a little more easy, knowing that, should something happen to them, Sarah Jane would personally see to it that their children were raised with love.
The other female winner was Donna Noble, who was in her early forties. Some joked that she’d just shouted at the other tributes until they’d gone away. Nobody wanted to cross her. Still, she was Sarah Jane’s heir apparent, so Rose supposed she must be kind under the hot temper and brass lungs.
Then there was the only male winner still living: The Doctor. If he had a real name, no one remembered it anymore. Even the mayor just called him the Doctor. The Doctor had won just a few years before Donna had, and she and Sarah Jane were about the only two people he suffered gladly. Mostly, he was known for being caustic, acerbic, rude, confrontational, and, furthermore, your only hope if you were ill or injured and couldn’t afford the hospital. He would treat you for free, and most of the people who went to him for healing came out on the other side whole and well and singing his praises.
Still, it took a lot of nerve just to talk to him. His general manner was exemplified by his posture on the platform: Arms crossed, glaring down his nose with cold blue eyes as if disapproving of the whole world. Instead of dressing nicely for this occasion, he wore what he always did – a lightweight sweater or t-shirt under a worn black leather jacket, black denim jeans and clumpy shoes. Rose got the feeling that the reaping was not his favorite event, though she couldn’t imagine him actually enjoying anything.
After the mayor, the Capitol Escort, Reina, took the stage. She’d only been assigned to their district the previous year and was young for an Escort. Rose thought she must be fairly ambitious. Today, Reina wore a suit of shimmering gold fabric. Rose looked at her face on the screen and idly thought she might be pretty without the stylized makeup and huge pompadour wig.
And then it was time for the reaping. Reina made a production out of drawing a slip of paper from the huge glass bowl holding the girls’ names, and Rose could feel District 9 holding its collective breath.
The first though that flitted through Rose’s mind was that she hadn’t heard right, that it was just her paranoid imagination. Then she heard her mother’s voice crying her name in terror and denial.
The thing that reached her next was that she was looking down at the pin on her dress. Gold against pink. And then her feet were moving without her permission, taking her silently to the end of the row to the waiting Peacekeepers. Her mother continued to cry out, and Rose risked looking for her. She was fighting to get to the ropes that held the families back from the potential tributes, with Shireen’s and Keisha’s mothers holding her back. Rose wanted to go to her, but her feet kept carrying her to the platform.
She nearly stumbled on the stairs, but a strange thing happened. She looked up and caught the Doctor’s eyes. They were focused on her, and, for the first time, she saw something in them that wasn’t cold disdain. It wasn’t pity, which she’d have expected, either. Instead, it seemed he was looking for something in her. And, suddenly, she didn’t want him to be disappointed. Her back straightened, and she mounted the platform with her head held high.
The next few minutes were a blur. She vaguely heard Reina call the name of the male tribute, Adam Mitchell. She knew him. She’d met him in school. He was in her year and had the reputation of being smart, and he was good-looking enough that she’d nursed a quiet crush on him for a while. Then she’d discovered he was dull and got over her crush. Still, she wished he hadn’t been called. It would’ve been easier if she hadn’t known the boy tribute.
Another blur, and she was being ushered into the mayor’s house, where her mother and Mickey were waiting. Jackie clung to her, sobbing, and Rose found her courage again.
“Mom. It’s all right. I’m all right,” she said, rubbing her mother’s back.
“No, it’s not,” Jackie sobbed. “I can’t lose you, too!”
Rose looked helplessly at Mickey. There were tears on his face, but he nodded at her. The nod conveyed that he would take care of Jackie, no matter what. It made Rose feel better.
She pushed Jackie back enough that she could look into her eyes. “Mom, listen. Whatever happens, I need to know you’ll be all right. I need to know that. Mickey will be here for you, okay? I’ll fight as hard as I can, but I need you to tell me you’ll fight, too.”
Jackie drew a deep breath, and the fire came back to her eyes. “I will. But you have to come back to me, Rose Marion Tyler. Promise me.”
And Rose had no idea how she’d do it, but she knew she had to win. “I promise, Mom. I’ll win, and we’ll move into Victor’s Village and never have to worry about anything ever again.”
The door opened, admitting two more people. One, she should’ve expected. Old Man Henrick limped in, leaning on his cane. To her surprise, he had tears in his eyes.
The other was Sarah Jane Smith.
“Hey, Rosie,” said Henrick, voice hoarse. “Wanted to tell you I’ll make sure your mom has enough to eat. You don’t have to worry.”
She went to him and hugged him. “Thank you. I don’t suppose I’ll be working in your shop again, whatever happens. Take on Wilson. He’s a good kid.” Wilson was a twelve-year-old boy from the community home who was always looking for odd jobs for extra money. He’d helped out in the shop occasionally.
Then she turned to look at Sarah Jane. Up close, the quiet dignity she always exuded was an almost physical force. There was deep, deep compassion in her eyes, and she drew Rose into a hug.
It was strange. Rose had been dry-eyed talking to her mother and Henrick, but now, tears sprang to her eyes and a lump grew in her throat.
“What do I do?” Rose whispered.
“Fight,” whispered Sarah Jane. “You’ll fight. And, if you return, come and find me. Remember, what you do, you do to survive.”
She released Rose and backed away. Mickey was next, hugging her hard. “I’ll take care of your mom,” he said, voice breaking. “But she’s right. You have to come back. You’re the toughest person I know. No one in the arena can be as bad as Jimmy’s gang, right?”
She pulled back and forced herself to smile at him. “Right. I’ll give ‘em hell.”
The door opened one last time, admitting the mayor and a Peacekeeper. “Sorry, Rose,” said the mayor, and he looked genuinely sorry. “Time’s up.”
Rose hugged her mom one last time. “I’ll be back before you know it. Just count to ten. I’ll be back.” She made to take the pin off her dress. But her mother stopped her.
“No. You wear that in the arena. Your dad would never have stopped fighting, and you’re just like him. Remember that, Rose.”
Rose nodded. “I will. I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, Rose.” Jackie choked back another sob. “Just come back.”
And she knew she had to.
As soon as she got on the train, Reina took charge of her, leading her to her drawing room. “Supper’s in an hour,” she said. “There are clothes and toiletries in the room, so feel free to make use of them. I’ll come and fetch you when it’s time to eat.”
She whooshed away in a cloud of perfume, and Rose entered the drawing room, annoyed. Something about Reina bothered her. It wasn’t just the Capitol accent, affected as it was, or the clothes and wigs. Reina always seemed to be laughing behind her face. It was like she knew something no one else did.
At least the room was nice. More than nice, actually. It was almost the size of the apartment she shared with her mom. She tried on some of the clothing she found in the closet and settled on a pair of blue jeans and a pink top. Then she let her hair down from the updo Jackie had put it in before the reaping and brushed it out.
The hour went by quickly, and Reina came to fetch her, as promised. Reina had also re-dressed herself and was in a loose, draped gown of pale green silk with gold and silver embroidery. She’d removed her wig, and her hair, much to Rose’s annoyance, was golden and silky, tumbling in soft waves over one shoulder. She’d also redone her makeup to be less stylized. She wasn’t just pretty; she was beautiful. Rose tried hard not to resent her as Reina led her to the dining room, but it wasn’t easy.
Adam, Donna and the Doctor were already at the table when Rose and Reina arrived. Each place had a bowl of yellow-orange soup on it, and, after greeting her fellow diners, Rose tucked in. The soup was delicious, sweet and savory and creamy all at once.
After the soup came a salad with greens and fruit and goat cheese crumbles. The main dish was some kind of bird, smaller than a chicken, that Reina called a game hen. It was stuffed with rice, almond slivers and mushrooms. All the food was delicious, like nothing Rose had ever tasted before.
As they ate, Donna started asking Adam and Rose questions about their lives. At first, they were casual, about family and friends and where they lived. Both were Factory, of course, but Adam lived in a more upscale area. He had parents and a younger sister. Planned to take over the family business someday. Got the highest grades in school.
“What about you, Rose?” Donna asked. “How are your grades?”
Rose shifted uncomfortably. “I . . . don’t really go to school. Haven’t for a while. I’ve been working since I was twelve.”
It wasn’t uncommon for Factory kids to drop out of school. Technically, they were required to be in school until age eighteen, but as long as you put in an occasional appearance for the look of the thing, no one cared. A lot of kids had to work to help out their families, like Rose, and school just wasn’t as important.
Donna nodded, expression neutral. “What do you do for work? No, wait – you work for Old Man Henrick, don’t you? Wilson’s talked about you.”
Something in her tone of voice caught Rose’s attention, but she wasn’t about to ask about it. “Yeah. Wilson’s a good kid when he’s not trying to get in trouble.”
They talked for a little while longer, Donna and Reina keeping the conversation going. The Doctor didn’t eat much or talk. Finally, as they finished their dessert, he asked one question: “Why do you want to win?”
Both Rose and Adam were taken aback by the question. Adam seemed to recover first. “Uh, I don’t want to die,” he said.
Neither did Rose, but that wasn’t all of it. “My dad died when I was just a baby,” she said. “I’m all my mom’s got. I can’t stand the thought of her having to lose me, too.”
That seemed to satisfy the Doctor, who nodded. Reina then piped up, suggesting they watch the recap of the day’s reapings. Rose felt a little nauseous at the idea, but decided it would be a good idea to size up the other tributes.
A few of them stuck out. Both tributes from Two volunteered. The boy from Four had fiery red hair and practically skipped up to the platform. The girl from Six was crying as she mounted the platform.
And then something new happened. In Seven, a twelve-year-old was chosen, but, before she could get to the platform, one of the fifteen-year-olds burst out of her place, screaming that she volunteered. Both of them were tiny, dark-skinned and delicately beautiful, and, a few moments later, it was confirmed they were sisters. Another of the potential tributes, an eighteen-year-old boy who resembled both girls, had to pick up and carry the twelve-year-old away, she was clinging to her sister so hard.
Rose made note of the volunteer’s name: Martha Jones. Brave little Martha Jones, who volunteered in order to keep her sister alive.
Martha haunted her thoughts while the rest of the reapings played out on the television. Her own seemed surreal, like a dream in which she was watching herself do something. Finally, they ended, and the Doctor told them to go get some sleep. They’d arrive in the Capitol early, and tomorrow would be a very full day.
After Rose and Adam left, Reina fetched the wine carafe and filled her glass again. Donna also accepted a refill.
“The boy will be dead within ten minutes,” Reina said as she sat back down. “The girl, though – she has potential. A spark.”
“Adam and Rose. Use their names,” snapped the Doctor.
“She’s right, though.” Donna sipped her wine. “Adam thinks he’s too smart for us.”
The Doctor’s scowl deepened. “Don’t talk to me about smart.”
“Rose is another story. Do you know what Wilson told me once?” Donna asked. “He told me a couple of gang members tried to recruit him. It’s not unusual, but the kids know they can’t come back to the community home if they join gangs.”
Reina blinked in surprise. “Isn’t that a bit harsh?”
Donna rolled her eyes. Capitol people! They really had no clue. “It’s necessary. You get one kid joining the Slag Iron Stags and another getting involved with the Alley Dogs, and, sooner or later, you’ve got war in the halls. They’re always welcome to come back if they leave the gangs. But that’s not the point. Point is, these gang-bangers tried to get Wilson to join up. He refused, and things started to get ugly. Next thing he knew, someone clobbered the bigger of the two over the head with a length of wood. It was Rose.”
She paused for a moment, letting that sink in, before she continued. “Rose then got right in the other one’s face. Called him a few choice names and told him she’d bust his balls if she caught him trying to recruit community home kids again. And he backed down.” She tapped the table for emphasis. “He. Backed. Down. She’s not a big girl, but she somehow has enough street cred to be able to get a gang member to take her seriously.” Donna shrugged. “Might be genetic. From all I’ve heard, Jackie Tyler could take on my mom in a cage match.”
The Doctor actually cracked a smile at that. “That’s saying something. You mom scares me.” He sobered. “But it sounds as if our Rose is used to fighting for her place in the world. That could serve her well.”
“You’ll concentrate on her, then?” asked Reina.
“I’ll give Adam a chance. If he rejects my help, it’s on his head.” He frowned. “Pity of being a Factory kid is that neither of them has a clue about surviving in the wild. At least Rose won’t have any compunctions about asking for help. I’m afraid she will have compunctions about the killing, though.”
Donna looked at him, understanding in her eyes. “The will to survive is strong. In the end, we do what we have to do.”
The Doctor looked away from her. “What we’re forced to do.”