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Little girls are not precious in the career districts. You cannot see their strength behind their pigtails and freckles. Boys are the prized possessions, big, monstrous beasts with bulging muscles and blood thirsty sneers. They are chocked full of steroids and drugs, rippling with unnatural chemicals.

Her mother weaves ribbons into her golden braids before she leaves for the training center. If a girl is not strong, she can be beautiful. That can be her weapon. And Glimmer will be beautiful. They sculpt her into a goddess, supplying her with copious amounts of golden hair dye and stylists to transform her into Aphrodite. She is trained, too, of course, because she has to be able to kill the others somehow, but it is Marvel that they decide will be the victor. She envies him, him and his spears and sneers and blood-stained hands. She has blood under her nails, but you can’t see it through the bubblegum pink polish.

Clove tears out her pigtails and pulls her hair back in a sleek braid. She refuses the blush and throws a fit when they come at her with tweezers. It isn’t until she tears the scissors out of her stylist’s hands and lodges the blades in his throat that they give up. If she can’t be a beauty queen, then at least she can be a quick little weapon. So they give her knives (since she already did so well with blades). Knives are a girl’s weapon. They are tiny and don’t require too much muscle. You don’t want the girls to be scary and muscular. Ugly people don’t get sponsors.

The boys don’t understand the girls. They ogle them and catcall and are gross animals most of the time. They associate the girls with weakness, with laziness. They’re nothing more than beauty queens. They’re underestimated.

Underestimated is key, though.

In the training center, 1 and 2 make their alliance pretty quickly. Marvel and Cato are boyish and annoying, bragging and making side comments about Glimmer’s body and Clove’s flat chest. Clove wants nothing more than to run her knife across their throats and watch as they choke on their words.

Glimmer sees it in her eyes, the urge to gut them, and she understands. “Soon,” she whispers in her ear. “We’ll show them soon.”

That day, Clove’s knives find the center of every target. Glimmer pretends that she can’t shoot a bow. The boys ignore Clove and joke about the other’s lack of skill.

In the evening, Glimmer lets Cato fuck her. She was told this would happen, that she had to get him close so that they could kill him later. She lets him fuck her and plays the part of the silly, naïve girl who is just in love with him. It leaves a bad taste in her mouth.

Afterwards, she slips into Clove’s room. Somehow the girl got knives, and is tossing them at the wall, each blade sticking with a solid thunk in the soundproof wall. “Soon,” she says, not looking away from her work, “soon it will be them, and not the wall.”

They say nothing to each other, because they simply don’t need to. No one else in the whole damn training center understands what makes them girls, what makes them try so damn hard. But they do not try hard in bed. This part comes naturally, Glimmer’s hand between Clove’s thighs, their lips bruising and braids coming undone.

She does not need to play a part this time. Every bit of it is real.