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oOo

 

District One - Female - Glimmer - 18

 

The flu hits District One hard.  No one is spared - male, female, young, old, rich, poor.  It cuts a swath through the district, knocking a third of the population off their feet and into their beds.

 

Glimmer doesn’t get sick.  She’s one of the lucky ones. 

 

Others aren’t so lucky.  The Tribute Academy’s infirmary is full of kids sneezing and coughing instead of the usual broken bones and strained muscles.  Glimmer’s favorite sparring partner was one of the first to fall ill, and two of the prettiest and most charismatic girls in her year took to their beds in early April.

 

And it’s not just the tributes.  Glimmer’s mother and both of her brothers caught the flu.  Her mother was the worst off, stuck in bed for a month, unable to go to work or take care of her family.

 

Glimmer knows what saved her mother.  The Capitol sent doctors and drugs to District One, healing their people and giving them a new lease on life.  Some died anyway, but many people lived who otherwise would not have.  Glimmer’s mother survived.   

 

And it’s all thanks to the Capitol.

 

Glimmer knows her duty, as the daughter of a Victor.  But there’s more than that at stake, because now she, too, owes the Capitol.  So she’ll volunteer for the Games and she’ll do the only thing she can to repay them for saving her family.

 

She’ll give them a show they’ll never forget.

 

oOo

 

District One - Male - Marvel - 18

 

It’s been a bad year in Panem.  Marvel doesn’t care about national news other than the Hunger Games, but everyone knows about the flu, how it’s swept through Panem, striking young and old, healthy and ill, decimating the population.

 

There’s talk of unrest.  Of unhappiness with the Capitol.  Of people dying and quotas not being met.  Even in One, as loyal to the Capitol as always, there are rumors spreading. 

 

A week before the Reaping, the director of the Tribute Academy calls Marvel into her office.

 

“Director Beauchamp,” he says, nodding his head respectfully.  His heart races.  He knows what this means.

 

Gala Beauchamp, Victor of the 33rd Hunger Games, gestures to a chair in front of her desk.  Marvel takes it.

 

She picks up a file and glances through it.  “Marvel Amatista.  Currently top of your class in weapons, particularly spears.  Decent at running, very good at looks and charisma.”

 

He smiles easily.  “Yes, Director.”

 

She closes the file.  “You are the obvious choice for the male tribute this year.  However, there are greater concerns.”

 

“Greater concerns, Director?”

 

“Yes.  Panem is suffering.  People in the districts are dying, even in the Capitol.  The numbers of children taking out tesserae has skyrocketed.” 

 

Marvel looks at her, confused.  “But doesn’t everyone take out tesserae?”  He’s been taking out tesserae since he was twelve.  Everyone in One does.

 

“In One, Two, and Four, yes, because our districts are smart.  We train children for the Games and we take advantage of winning.  The lesser districts don’t.  They let their people suffer and pretend the Games won’t happen to them.  But the Capitol is eternal, Mr. Amatista, and the Hunger Games are our gift to them.  Never forget that.”

 

He nods.

 

“And this year we must do our best.  Because what this country needs is a good Games.  A great Games.  Something to distract the people and bring us all together as one.  And it is our responsibility as District One to provide what the Capitol needs.  This year, our tributes must be symbols of loyalty, of prowess, of everything District One stands for.”  She looks closely at him, examining every inch.  “Can you do what is needed, Mr. Amatista?  Can you be the best tribute there is?  Can you support the Capitol in every action, every word, every deed?  Can you put on a good show and make it a Games for the ages?”

 

He nods.  “I can, Director.”

 

“Good,” she says, placing the file on her desk.  “Congratulations, Mr. Amatista, you are this year’s male tribute.  I expect you to put on a good show, for the glory of the Capitol and District One.”

 

He can do that.  And he will.

 

He’ll give them a show they’ll never forget.

 

oOo

 

District Three - Female - Ada - 13

 

Life’s been hard in District Three this year, even for the Engineers.  Even Ada’s father got sick.  Luckily the Capitol deemed him important enough to treat.  But not everyone else is as fortunate. 

 

Especially among the Factory Workers. 

 

They died in droves, leaving the assembly lines so understaffed that even schoolchildren were conscripted to help out.

 

Including her.

 

Naturally she got sick too.  Like her father, she recovered, but she always wanted to wear a sweater afterward.  She kept getting cold.  Nothing could keep her warm, not even the warm summer sun beating down on the waiting adolescents in the square. 

 

Normally she wouldn’t even have to worry about being Reaped.  The Lead Engineer took care of that.  But this year was different, the Capitol caught the glitch that excluded most of the Engineers’ families and corrected it. 

 

So she’s unsurprised when her name is called.  It’s just her luck.  She pulls the sweater around herself tightly and trudges up onstage. 

 

She knows she’s going to die. 

 

She just hopes wherever she ends up going that it’s someplace warm.  A tropical island would be nice. 

 

When she gets her first look at the Arena she sighs.  A forest.  Typical.  She shivers inside her thin yellow jacket. 

 

She knows she’s going to go out with a whimper. 

 

oOo

 

District Ten - Female - Sue-Ellen - 18

 

Sue-Ellen's a vegetarian. 

 

She has been since she was ten.  She knows she's an oddity in the district known for its livestock.  But she can’t abide killing.   She's got no problem with milk or eggs but she's seen what happens to the animals in the slaughterhouses.  She knows that they do feel pain and fear and she can taste it in the meat.  

 

It tastes like ashes. 

 

Her parents shrugged their shoulders and continued eating their sausage and steaks.  If the girl wants to starve herself, that's her choice.  Her brothers just snag her portion, wolfing it down greedily.  They know that she'll come around eventually.  There isn't enough food to be on her high horse like that.

 

She doesn't. 

 

Sue-Ellen grows thin and her hair becomes lank, but she still doesn't eat meat.  She takes out as many tesserae as she can so she can feed herself.  Her family's well off.  They don't need the extra grain and oil.  So Sue-Ellen gets it all.

 

It's enough.  And she feels good for figuring out a way to survive.

 

Until her name is called.  She's got fifty-six slips in the bowl.  The odds were stacked against her. 

 

She goes up onto the stage, her head high.   

 

She doesn't bother with the weapons stations during training, spending all of her time at the edible plants and camouflage stations.  The trainers just roll their eyes at her and the Gamemakers write her off.  She gets a score of one because she refuses to show off during her private session.  She hates the Games.  Hates everything they stand for.  She wants nothing to do with them and this is the only way she can show them.   

 

She hasn't eaten meat in eight years because killing animals is wrong.  Killing children is worse.  And she wants nothing to do with killing.

 

oOo

 

District Four - Female - Moira - 17

 

“You’ll be fine, sweetie,” her mother soothes.  “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

 

“Of course I don’t.  Everyone feels sorry for the cripple.”  Moira glances down at her withered arm.  A fishing accident.  Her arm had been trapped in a coil of rope on one of the vessels and, by the time she’d been freed, her biceps and triceps had been severed and the arm was useless. 

 

It’s one hell of a price to pay to avoid having to be in the Games.  No wonder nobody else is willing to pay it.

 

So when her name is called, Moira goes up onstage and looks at the rest of the girls expectantly.  Someone should volunteer for her.  That’s how it works in Four.  Everyone takes tesserae, and if somebody too young or too unsuitable is chosen, one of the members of the Career camp volunteers. 

 

That’s how it works.  That’s how it always works.

 

So why isn’t anyone volunteering?  She mouths the word please.

 

Several girls avert their eyes.

 

She stares at them incredulously.

 

Why isn’t anyone volunteering?  They know she doesn’t have a chance.  Not with her arm. 

 

But no one does. 

 

As she’s packed off into the Justice Building, she shoots an accusatory glance over her shoulder.  Several girls look ashamed, others look relieved.

 

This isn’t the year for volunteers.

 

oOo

 

District Two - Male - Cato - 18

 

Clove is dead. 

 

What use are the Games now?

 

Clove is dead. 

 

She died this morning of the flu.  That stupid flu took away the one thing that mattered most to him.  What is he going to do now?  This was supposed to be his year.  Then next year Clove would win and then they’d get married. 

 

Now that dream is gone. 

 

The escort calls out the name of a boy in the fourteen year old section and everyone turns to look at him. 

 

What’s the use of volunteering?  There’s nothing to live for.

 

“Cato…” the boy standing next to him hisses.  “That’s your cue!”

 

“Fuck off.”

 

“Dude, Clove wouldn’t want you chicken out like this.  You’ve got to do this for her.”

 

The boy’s right.  Clove would hate him acting like this.  He’ll volunteer.  For Clove.  He’ll give the Capitol a good fight and a good death. He’ll bring honor to his district.  To his family.  To Clove.

 

He’ll make her proud.

 

He’ll do this.

 

For her.

 

oOo

 

District Six - Male - Spork - 14

 

It’s raining. 

 

He doesn’t like the rain.

 

It’s wet and cold and he’d rather be back home with his mama and Chewy. 

 

Chewy’s his dog.

 

He loves his dog. He plays fetch and barks at people and chases Mrs. Elmtree’s cat and he’s funny.  He loves Chewy.  The other kids in the home like Chewy too.  They all want to sleep with them.  But Chewy sleeps with him.  Because Chewy’s his friend.  His best friend. 

 

But not his only friend.  Today he gets to see Mark and Mike and Ford and Pontiac and Flint and Caddy and everyone.  No, not everyone.  Ford’s sleeping.  Spork’s mama told him Ford was real tired and couldn’t play no more. 

 

Spork was real sad.  Especially when they put Ford in that hole in the ground.  Spork cried even though Mike Mikelson said crying’s for sissies.  Spork’s not a sissy.  He just misses Ford.  But Chewy made it all better.  Chewy makes everything better. 

 

He waves at his friends after getting his prick.  He doesn’t like the pricks but they’re over soon and he always gets to see his friends.  He likes his friends and he’s got Chewy with him. 

 

Chewy goes everywhere with him. 

 

Flint and Mark say hi to him and make a joke about Chewy.  Spork laughs because it’s funny.  At least he thinks it’s funny, all the other boys laughed so he should too.  Chewy’s often funny.

 

The lady from the Capitol is pretty.  He likes her hair.  It’s green.  He likes green.He says so. 

 

“If you like green, you should volunteer.  The Capitol’s full of green,” Pontiac whispers to him during the Mayor’s speech. 

 

Spork shakes his head.  “I don’t know.”

 

“Look at the screen,” Caddy motions with one hand.  “The Capitol’s got lots of pretty things and if you volunteer you’ll be able to see it all.”

 

“Mama said none of her kids were supposed to volunteer.”

 

“Do you always do what your mama tells you?” Mark asks.

 

“Uh-huh.  Mama says I’m her best boy ‘cause I do what I’m told!”

 

Mike Mikelson speaks up next.  “Then you should do what we tell you.  Volunteer.  You’ll be able to see the Capitol and be a good boy.”

 

Spork wants to be a good boy.  But he’s confused. 

 

Up onstage, the pretty lady reaches into the big bowl and pulls out a name.  “Eddie Mikelson!”

 

“Come on, Spork.  Now’s your chance,” Pontiac hisses into his ear.  “Volunteer already.”

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Look at Eddie, Spork, he’s all sad. He has to go to the Capitol and see all of the pretty things and he doesn’t want to.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Cause he has to leave his family here.  You’re from the home.  You can go in his place.  Just volunteer.”

 

“Can Chewy come too?” he motions to his dog.

 

Mike nods his head.  “Of course Chewy can go with you.  He’s your dog.  They’re not going to try to separate you from your dog.”

 

“Okay,” Spork says.  If Chewy can go, he’d like to see the Capitol.  It looks so pretty.

 

“Okay what?” Mike asks.

 

“I’ll volunteer.”

 

“Louder!”

 

“I’ll volunteer!” Spork shouts.  The crowd turns and stares at him in shock.  Caddy pushes him and Spork starts walking up onstage.  Mike’s smiling and he knows he’s done the right thing.

 

The pretty lady asks him his name and about Chewy.  She seems surprised at how well behaved Chewy is.  But Chewy’s a good dog.  The best dog!

 

The train ride is fun and he and Chewy eat so many sweets that they get sick later.  But it’s okay, because Chewy’s there.  Chewy even takes a liking to Chrys, the other lucky tribute chosen.  It’s too bad that her parents couldn’t come with her, but a few licks from Chewy gets her smiling again.

 

He’s glad he volunteered.  Even though his mama was sad.  Everything’s been so wonderful.  The food is the best and everyone’s so nice and Chewy loves it here. 

 

His friends were right.  The Capitol is as beautiful as they said it would be.

 

oOo

 

District Five - Female - Tesla - 16

 

“Uranium Chee!”

 

No one moves.  Tess looks around the square for someone who’s standing there frozen in shock.  Sometimes that happens.  But no one is. 

 

A few of the community home kids are shifting around, glancing nervously at the adults.  Something’s wrong. 

 

“She’s dead!” the director of the community home finally calls.

 

“She is?” the escort says.  “How very rude!”

 

“I don’t think the poor kid did it on purpose,” the Mayor says.  “The question is what do we do now?”

 

“I suppose I should ask if there will be a volunteer.”

 

The square is silent.

 

“Of course not, no one ever volunteers in this dusty district!  I suppose I shall have to confer with the Capitol to figure out what to do in a situation like this.”  He traipses back into the Justice Building while the whole district waits for the verdict.

 

People shift from side to side, and a little girl exclaims, “Mommy I gotta go potty!” and is quickly hushed.  Coil, the boy who was Reaped a few minutes ago, who’s waiting to find out who his district partner will be, coughs loudly.  One of the former Victors hands him his handkerchief.  The poor kid.  Everyone is desperate for this to be over.

 

“I’ve got it!” the escort sings out as he exits the Justice Building.  “I’ll just draw another name!”

 

Everyone in the girls section groans.  

 

The heavily made up man sticks his hand into the bowl and draws out a slip of paper. 

 

“Tesla Hoover!”

 

Oh crap!  That’s her. 

 

Several girls look at her sympathetically as she makes her way onto the stage.  She knows no one is going to volunteer but she can’t shake the horrible feeling that she’s not supposed to be here.

 

oOo

 

District Twelve - Male - Buster - 13

 

His best friend, Dobby Scott, places his hand on his shoulder when his name is called.  “I’m sorry, Buster.”

 

“Fucking Sweetgale Hawthorne.  If he shows up after all this, promise you’ll punch him in the nuts for me.”

 

Dobby slugs him lightly on the shoulder.  “Will do.”

 

Buster trudges up under the floodlights.  He’s exhausted.  Standing in the square for hours without being able to eat, drink, or piss was hell. 

 

No.  Correction.  Where he’s going is gonna be hell.

 

He knows he’s gonna die.  He’s thirteen.  And Twelve never has a chance anyway.

 

So fuck it.

 

He’s going to make the best of the time he has left.

 

oOo

 

District Five - Male - Dante - 18

 

“Coil Maxim!”

 

Yes!  He made it!  He made it through all seven reapings!  He watches as a thin boy with glasses slowly walks up onstage.  He’s pale.  Really pale.  And Dante can see the shimmer of sweat on his forehead. 

 

He’s sick. 

 

Dante’s suspicion is confirmed a few moments later when Coil breaks down into a violent coughing fit mid-introduction.  The escort jumps away, pulling out a frilly handkerchief to cover his mouth and nose.

 

Poor kid.  He’s definitely not going to make it.  Oh well.  You can’t win every year.

 

Two days later, Dante wishes he weren’t so good at telling the future.  Coil died on the train to the Capitol and they need a replacement tribute.  They used a mannequin in the Parade, but that isn’t going to work in the Interviews or Games.  So President Snow issued an order and now all of the eligible males in District Five are herded into the square for the second time that year. 

 

“Dante Askew!”

 

No!  That’s not fair.  He was free.  He was safe.  He’s eighteen.  Someone else should go!

 

No one is going to volunteer.  Why would they?  They aren’t supposed to be here either!  It was Coil’s year.  Stupid, sick Coil who couldn’t last another week.  This is his fault.

 

He walks up onstage and tries his best during training.  If he has to be in the Games he’s going to do his best to win. 

 

He doesn’t.

 

And as the girl from Two’s sword slips through his chest, Dante thinks to himself, I wasn’t even supposed to be here today!

 

oOo

 

District Nine - Female - Theresa - 15

 

The train is lovely and Theresa eats her fill for the first time.  People think that District Nine gets all of the food, since the grain for tesserae and the rest of the country is grown there, but what they really get is the stuff that’s not good enough for the rest of the districts or the Capitol.  They get the partially spoiled or moldy grain and lots of people in District Nine go a little crazy from the ergot.

 

She knows she doesn’t have a chance.  She’s not a fighter, never was.  But if she’s going to go, she’s going to go on a full stomach.

 

The male tribute, Gera, approaches her as she’s working on her second helping of strawberry ice cream.  “Got a moment?” he asks.

 

Not wanting to talk with her mouth full, she nods.

 

“So I was thinking.  Two’s got better chances than one.”

 

She swallows the ice cream, wincing at the headache she gets.  “You saying you want to be in an alliance with me?”

 

“That’s what I’m saying.”

 

“But I’m not a fighter.”

 

“Me either, but two’s better than one.”

 

He’s right.  Two is better than one.

 

Maybe if they work together, they just might have a chance.

 

oOo

 

District Twelve - Female - Nancy - 12

 

If the train was amazing, the Capitol is even better.  So much wonderful food, so many pretty clothes, and everyone is so nice.  Even that drunk of a mentor Haymitch is nice to her.  And who knew Effie Trinket was so sweet?  The woman constantly fusses over her, playing with her dark curly hair.

 

Nancy loves it here.  She wishes she could stay here forever.

 

But she can’t.

 

One week is all she’s got, and then it’s the Games.

 

She doesn’t want to think about what will happen there.  So she does her best to avoid it, thinking of the pretty things, the happy things.

 

She’s going to make the best of the time she has left.

 

oOo

 

District Eight - Male - Wool - 17

 

District Eight always has been lucky when it comes to the parade.  Their industry is textiles, and that gives their stylists carte blanche with their designs.  Some years, they’ve been sent down wearing nothing but pink mesh, while other years they wear the height of Capitol fashion.

 

This year, their stylist goes overboard, clothing Wool and Taylor in yards upon yards of bright gold brocade.  Wool’s jaw drops when he sees it.  It’s gorgeous, and it’s certain to be memorable. 

 

And Taylor looks like she’s about to throw up.

 

He doesn’t understand.  Being memorable is good.  You get sponsors that way.  And the more sponsors you get, the better your chance of winning.  It’s simple math.

 

As the parade starts, Taylor shrinks into her costume, hiding her face as much as she can.  Wool doesn’t understand it, but he’s happy to take advantage of it.  He waves at the crowd, drawing cheers and a few flung flowers.

 

He’s on his way.  He’s made an impression.  He’s going to keep it up.

 

He’s going to strive to be remarkable.

 

oOo

 

District Three - Male - Curie - 15

 

He’s got everything planned. 

 

From the moment his name is called, Curie knows what his strategy will be.  He knows mines.  The Games have mines. 

 

He needs allies and the Careers are the best.  He’s just got to talk his way in.  The boy from Four is the most promising followed by the babe from One.  He’s always had a way with his mouth.  Those mines are going to be his way into the Career alliance, then all he needs do is wait for them to do his dirty work. 

 

Then… BOOM!

 

He’ll blow them all to little bits.  It will be the most memorable double cross in Games history and even if it doesn’t go according to plan... 

 

Curie knows he’s going to go out with a bang.

 

oOo

 

District Seven - Male - Kiefer - 16

 

Kiefer doesn’t actually train during their three days in the Training Center.  If he doesn’t already know something, he’s not going to learn it in three days.  Better to stick with what he does know.

 

Instead, he watches the other tributes.  He sees the Careers showing off, pretending that they’re predators and everyone else is their prey.  He sees the kids from the outer districts trying desperately to learn something, anything, that might give them a chance.  He sees the girl from Eight organizing some of the others into an alliance, mostly the kids who aren’t Careers but who might have a chance if they stay in a group.

 

“You want in?” Eight girl asks when she notices him watching.

 

Kiefer shakes his head.  “No thanks.”

 

She shrugs and says, “Your loss,” before she heads back to the camouflage station.

 

Kiefer just keeps watching.  He watches the Gamemakers, sitting and feasting and judging the tributes before them.  They have no fears, no worries.  They’re not at risk.

 

Watching doesn’t help much, but Kiefer has no interest in trying to pretend he could survive in a fight against any of the other tributes, especially the Careers.  Even an alliance wouldn’t be much help, not in a true fight.

 

Instead he sits and thinks, planning for the Games.  Planning out his strategy.

 

He doesn’t have a chance of winning these Games, and he knows it.

 

But maybe…

 

They never show the edge of the arenas on television.  They’re just endless expanses that the tributes can run around until the Gamemakers force them together.

 

But maybe, if he’s lucky, if he’s smart, he can avoid all of that.

 

The Arena can’t extend forever.  Maybe there’s a hole or a chink or some way to get out, to escape the sadistic oversight of the Gamemakers and the Capitol.  He can’t know unless he tries. 

 

He’s going to make a run for it.

 

oOo

 

District Nine - Male - Gera - 17

 

Gera’s always been pragmatic.  He knows what’s possible and what’s not.  He’s a realist.

 

He knows his chances of surviving the Games aren’t good.  No one’s are.  Twenty four go in, one comes out - even the Careers don’t have much of a chance.

 

So when the girl from Eight approaches him and Theresa and mentions that she’s putting together an alliance, he jumps at the opportunity.  He’s watched enough Games to know that alliances help the people in them, at least until they break apart.  Only one person can survive, but the odds go up for alliance members, whether Careers or not.  He’s already got an alliance with Theresa, but a larger group could help them even more.

 

He glances at Theresa, who nods.  “We’re in, Eight,” he says.

 

“Taylor,” she corrects.  She smiles at them.  “Join us at lunch.  We’ll plan then.”

 

Gera nods and goes back to his training with renewed fervor.

 

With this alliance, the odds are in their favor.  They’ve got a chance.  Not a big one, but a chance.

 

If they work together, they just might make it.

 

oOo

 

District Eleven - Female - Rue - 12

 

She’s got a good chance.  Most of the other kids are gonna have one heck of a time surviving.  They can’t tell blueberry from nightlock and most of them don’t even have the sense to not drink bad water.

 

Everyone’s ignoring the survival stations.  Except her and the girl from Ten.  She knows that she’s not gonna win these Games by fighting.  She’s gotta be smart, like her mentor Seeder.  If she can outlast everyone, she can win this.

 

The Careers seem pretty dysfunctional.  The boy from Two doesn’t have the typical lust for killing that most of the Careers have and someone’s gonna take out that boy from One.  He’s just a little too crazy and his district partner seems to know it.

 

The boy from Three’s planning something.  She’ll have to keep an eye on him.  So’s the girl from Eight.  She’s doing her best to try to seem boring, middle of the pack.  But she’s done a good job of rounding up a few other tributes - the girl from Six, the girl from Five, and the two from Nine.  They’re not as strong as the Careers, but Rue’s guessing they’re hoping that others will take out their strongest competition and that there’ll be strength in numbers.

 

She makes it a point to avoid the boy from Ten.  He scares her.  There’s just something wrong about that kid, and she doesn’t want to find out what.

 

She likes the boy from Six.  He’s nice but not right in the head and he carries that stuffed dog of his everywhere.  She’s mad that his so-called friends encouraged him to volunteer.  He doesn’t know what he’s getting into, but she’s not about to tell him.

 

She sees the other tributes eyeing her and Spork.  She can see it in their eyes: not a threat.  She’ll give them a surprise.  Even though she’s twelve, don’t count her out: she’s still a contender.

 

oOo

 

District Ten- Male - Bronson - 13

 

No, no, no, this is the wrong time!  He’s not supposed to be called yet.

 

Bronson had planned on volunteering when he was eighteen, when he had a chance at winning.  Not now.  Not when he’s just a measly thirteen.

 

But Finnick Odair won when he was fourteen.  Maybe he’s got a chance.  He’s just got to show the Gamemakers not to count him out, that he’s worth giving a good score to.

 

His mother says he’s got a sickness in him, an itch that can only be scratched by killing.  She’s not wrong.  He has dreams of blood and the slaughter’s his favorite time of year.

 

He’s always wanted to see what it would be like to slit the throat of a human, watch the light fade from their eyes, and the Games are the legal way, the only way, he’ll ever get a taste.

 

They just called his name at the wrong time.

 

But he’s going to make the best of it.  He’s not as attractive as Finnick Odair, so he’s got to make sure he gets a good score.

 

In his private session with the Gamemakers he’s absolutely ruthless, slitting dummies’ throats, slicing the femoral artery, showing his extensive knowledge of human and animal anatomy.  They reward him; he gets a nine, the highest score anyone in Ten has ever gotten.  They see his potential.

 

When the gong sounds, he seizes his chance.  The skinny girl may be from home, but to him she’s just another animal at the slaughter.

 

And he’s always enjoyed killing.

 

oOo

 

District Seven - Female - Bjork - 15

 

She’s got a chance.  She’s strong.  She’s good with an axe.   The Gamemakers liked her, giving her a score of eight.

 

Caesar called her the next Johanna Mason and he’s pretty close to the truth.  She’s got a plan when the gong goes off. 

 

Get a weapon.

 

Get some gear.

 

Get the hell out. 

 

The plan works like clockwork.  That is until the damned Gamemakers spring the fire trap on her.  She’s not too badly burned, but it stings.  A quick dip in a rushing stream fixes some of the problem.  But she needs to find a place to hide.  To recover and to wait. 

 

She looks around and that’s when she spots it.  A little dark hole partially hidden between some rocks.  It’s a cave. 

 

Bjork smiles and thinks to herself, maybe if I hide in there, maybe no one will notice me.   Maybe once it’s clear, and there’s less tributes, I can try to make a run for it.

 

oOo

 

District Eleven - Male - Thresh - 18

 

Thresh feels fine the day of the Reaping.  He feels good, strong.  He’s got this.  He ain’t gonna kill the little girl going into the Games with him, but everybody else is fair game.  He’s gonna win this thing.

 

He starts to feel a little sluggish, achy, during training.  But he writes it off as sore muscles.

 

But then it gets worse.

 

He starts running a fever and coughing.  He knows enough, he’s seen enough, to get what’s happening to him.  He’s got the flu.

 

Damn it.

 

He manages to hide it during his final evaluation and his interview with Caesar.  Sure, he only scores an eight, but an eight ain’t bad.  And he’s sure it could work out in his favor.  After all, those Careers will underestimate him, making them easy kills.  He’s just gotta knock this before the Games.

 

He doesn’t.

 

Instead of taking out a few of the easier kills, like that boy from Four or one of the girls, he just grabs what he can and runs.  He needs to wait until he gets better, or until one of his sponsors takes pity on him and sends him medicine.

 

They never do.

 

He finds a cave and sets a few snares.  He’s surviving. 

 

His fever rises.  He starts to see things, hear things.  He hears his mama, long dead, pleading with him to come home.  He wishes he could.

 

When that devil of a girl from Seven rears her ugly head, he fights her with all of his strength.  It’s still harder to kill her than it should be.  By the time she’s dead with a broken neck at his feet, he’s panting and shaking.  His body feels like it’s on fire.  He can barely stand up.

 

And then he doesn’t.

 

As he gasps out his last breath, he thinks to himself: If it weren’t for this damn flu, I coulda been a contender.

 

oOo

 

District Four - Male - Kai - 15

 

When Kai’s name is called, no one volunteers.  That’s okay.  He’s fifteen, he’s strong, he’s had a little training.  He’s got a chance.  And with so many kids sick or dead from the flu, District Four is willing to let him take his chances.

 

He hooks up with the tributes from One and Two, feels them out during training, then proves himself useful during the bloodbath, putting that poor kid from Twelve out of her misery.  Silly thing’s just crying on her platform, not even trying to run.  He’s doing her a favor.  At least she won’t suffer.

 

That becomes more ironic after he sees the boy from One and the girl from Two torture the boys from Three and Ten.  They suffer.  A lot.

 

This isn’t how the Games are supposed to go.  Fights and skirmishes are okay.  Prolonged torture isn’t.  That’s just cruel.  Any fisherman knows you put your catch out of its misery as soon as possible, not just for the good of the meat, but for the good of your soul.

 

Kai runs. 

 

He’s got to keep away from those psychos.

 

Being alone is a thousand times better than being with those crazies.  He can still do this.  He knows how to hunt, how to fish.

 

It doesn’t do him any good.  The psychos stumble on him and he tries to make a break for it.

 

As the spear pierces his ribcage, he wishes someone, anyone, had volunteered.

 

oOo

 

District Two - Female - Cleopatra - 18

 

“Clove--”

 

Cleo doesn’t let the escort finish before her hand is in the air and she’s calling out, “I volunteer!” 

 

Cato’s already in enough pain.  He doesn’t need more.  Everyone knows that Clove died this morning, too late to stop her name from being in the Reaping Bowl.  She can at least give Cato this fiction that it isn’t his beloved’s name that was about to be read. 

 

It was Cleo’s year anyway.  She hadn’t planned on volunteering, she doesn’t want to die, but for Cato she’ll do this.  She’ll make sure he performs well in the Games and when the time comes she’ll give him a good death.  She’ll let him die with honor.  Then she’ll win these stupid games.

 

She’s better than that bitch, Clove, anyway. 

 

She kills it in training.  Impressing the meat and the other contenders like her.  Marvel is cute.  Crazy… but cute. 

 

Too bad he has to die. 

 

She would have liked to have gotten to know him better.  He’s like her.  He’s got something to prove.  He won’t be forgotten. 

 

She’ll never forget him, that’s for sure. 

 

His kisses are hard.  Demanding.  Just the way she likes them.   Full of teeth and tongue.  A warrior’s kiss.  

 

She wants more.  But there’s no time and she’s not like the sluts from One who sleep their way to victory.  Yeah, she knows she’s good looking with dark red hair and long lean muscles.  But winning the Games on looks is what people like Finnick Odair and Cashmere and Gloss Gaultier do.  Not people from Two.   If she’s gonna win this, she’s going to do it cleanly.  With honor.  She wants her victory to be held up as a positive example for future years.  Like Enobaria Chance.  Not a cautionary tale like Lyme Blackbourne. 

 

At Marvel’s suggestion, they take their time killing the meat from Three.  He deserves it.  He fought dishonorably.  Using bombs and not brawn to take out the competition.  He’s a coward and deserves a coward’s death. 

 

She’s a little more conflicted about the boy from Ten.  He’s sick.  She saw that in training.  He killed his district partner.  Sliced the girl from navel to neck with her insides spilling out all over the meadow.  It wasn’t a good death.  And despite what others might think, Two knows that you never turn on your own district partner until there is no other recourse.  Still, the meat had done nothing to them.  

 

Even Cato has had enough, “This is wrong!”

 

Marvel wants to put on a good show.  He’s obsessed with it.  He thinks it’s what the Capitol wants.

 

But Cato disagrees.  He’s too honorable and Cleo finds herself agreeing with him.  The meat from Three deserved it.  Ten doesn’t.  There’s no honor to be regained by drawing out this death.  No glory in the fight.  This is just torture and they don’t torture in Two.  

 

Cato puts the meat out of its misery, ignoring Marvel’s orders and ravings.

 

Cleo knows Marvel won’t stand for it.  And she’s right.

 

Her heart breaks.  It’s time.  She knows what she needs to do.  She’s prepared herself for this.  She’d hoped that it wouldn’t have happened like this.

 

She stops Marvel from leaping on Cato.  This is her duty.  She’ll keep her word. 

 

Cato’s words, “You have no honor,” cut her to the core.  She has honor.  Why doesn’t he see that?  Why doesn’t he see that she did this for him?  That she’s here for him? 

 

Cleo slashes out with her knife, severing Cato’s jugular.  It’s a quick death.  A warrior’s death.  She owes that to him.  He’s with Clove now. 

 

She mourns him silently, placing her fist over her heart while his face hangs in the night sky.  It’s the most profound symbol of respect they have in Two.

 

Marvel understands.  He gives her space. 

 

She wishes, yet again, that they could have met in different circumstances.  He would make a fine mate. 

 

They hunt down their last major threat, the boy from Four.  He’s an easy kill and as a former companion he is afforded a warrior’s death. 

 

Then she has no more options.  It’s time. 

 

The battle with Marvel is everything she’d ever hoped for.  They are masters of their weapons and evenly matched.   She knows she’s a little better, but she drags it out, so she can honor Marvel’s wish to put on a good show.  On and on they clash, trading taunts and touches almost like foreplay.  She wants it never to end. 

 

But it does.  Marvel slips, just slightly, giving her an opening she cannot ignore.  She presses her advantage, driving him to his knees.  For an instant his eyes meet hers.  He knows what’s coming.  He gives her permission to end this. 

 

She does.

 

With one fluid motion, she slices through Marvel’s neck, detaching his head from his body.  It is a glorious death.  Bathing the battlefield in blood. 

 

He’s given the Capitol a show that they’ll never forget.

 

Now it is up to her to finish this story.  To write the ending.  Only a few pieces of meat remain.  It’s time to clean them up before they go rancid.  

 

She’ll do this.  She’ll win these Games.  Be the Victor no one will ever forget. 

 

For him. 

 

For both of them. 

 

oOo

 

District Six - Female - Chrys - 17

 

When Chrys rises up onto her platform, she breathes a sigh of relief.  She’s between the boy from Twelve and the girl from Four.  Neither of them is a threat.  As long as Chrys can move fast enough, she can grab some supplies, maybe that bright orange backpack right in front of her, and get away from the Cornucopia before the Careers notice her. 

 

She’s good at moving fast.

 

She looks around for the other members of the planned alliance.  Taylor is on the girl from Four’s left side, then the boy from Three, then Tess.  Theresa and Gera are three and four people down on Chrys’s right.  They’ve all got a chance.

 

The countdown seems to go faster than it should.  When Spork - Chrys’s district partner - blows himself up, she winces, but she can’t stop and mourn.  The kid was a goner from the very beginning and everyone knew it.  As much as she liked the boy, she can’t concentrate on him.

 

And when the gong sounds, she grabs the backpack and a couple of other things, then hightails it for the cliff, keeping low and away from the Careers.  Taylor and Tess meet up with her, each carrying their own packs.

 

“Theresa and Gera?” Chrys asks.

 

Tess shakes her head.  “That brute from Two got them.”

 

“Just us three then,” Taylor says.  “Come on, let’s move.”

 

They hurry away from the bloodbath and down the cliff, then keep moving.  They run until Taylor spots something that might be a cave along the far wall, though it’s hard to tell.  The amber waves of grain block their view so they have to get closer. 

 

It is a cave. 

 

And what a cave!  They’ve got the wheat as a shield and a food source, the cave for shelter, and there’s even a nearby pond for water. 

 

Chrys checks it out, making sure the water is fresh, and discovers an even greater surprise.  There’s fish!  Nothing big, but enough to keep the three of them fed for a little while.  She tastes the water… fresh… that’s good. 

 

“If we’ve got something we can make into fish hooks, we’ve got a food source,” she calls back to the others.

 

“Isn’t fishing a Four thing?” Tess asks.

 

Chrys shakes her head.  “We’ve got lakes in Six too.  Not all of us work in transportation.”

 

Taylor shrugs and rummages through their supplies, coming up with a small packet of fish hooks.  It’ll do.

 

After that, the Games are… well, the best word Chrys has for it is quiet.  They’re not disturbed in their little cave by the wheat field.  They gather grain and catch fish, storing what extra they can.  It’s a quiet, simple life, and Chrys finds it surprisingly enjoyable considering they’re in the Hunger Games.  In the back of her mind, she knows only one of them can go home.  But she doesn’t want to think about that right now. 

 

Things become a little dicey when a wildfire sweeps through the wheat field a few days later.  Storing food was a good idea, they don’t have to move even though that’s what the Gamemakers clearly want.

 

The Games get closer and closer to the end and Chrys thinks maybe they have a chance.  No one has come to kill them yet.  And they’re not going to end their alliance until all of the Careers are dead.  Most of them are, but that girl from Two is running around out there someplace.  Best to stay put and stay strong.  They’ve been lucky so far. 

 

Their luck runs out eventually.   There’s no place to hide, with the wheat gone even the cave’s exposed.  But even more stupidly, they’ve stopped going everywhere in groups.

 

It’s the last mistake she’ll ever make.

 

Chrys is out fishing when the girl from Two surprises her.  She tries her best to fight, but she can’t stand up to a Career, not on her own.  She uses what little training she has but she knows she’s going to lose.

 

The sword in her gut isn’t surprising, but she can’t stop it from happening.  She screams at the pain.  It hurts worse than she ever imagined.  The agony triples when the girl from Two jerks the sword out.  Chrys screams again.

 

She collapses to the ground, her hands pressed against the wound, trying futilely to quench the bleeding. 

 

The girl from Two looks down at her, smirking.  “One down, two to go,” she says, then stalks off towards the cave.

 

Chrys can’t move, can’t even shout to warn her friends that death is coming for them.  All she can do is look up at the brilliant blue cloudless sky and wait for death to claim her.

 

As her life bleeds out into the earth she thinks: If this Arena weren’t a deathtrap, it would be beautiful.

 

oOo

 

District Eight - Female - Taylor - 15

 

Cecelia pulls Taylor aside on the train.  “I know your ma,” she says.  “Good woman.  I made her a promise that I’d try to get you home, and I will, but more than that, I promised your ma I’d keep you safe.  And to do that, you’re gonna have to listen to what I say.”

“So what do I need to do?  How do I get sponsors?”

 

“Short answer?  You don’t.”

 

“But--”

 

“No buts.  You don’t want ‘em.  They come with strings and conditions that you ain’t interested in payin’.  And what’s more, you don’t need ‘em.  I made it through without sponsors.  So’d Johanna Mason.  So did lots of others.  The tributes that get the most sponsors have the most debts to pay if they win.  And trust me, little girl, you don’t want to end up with a heap load of debts.  You might turn into Finnick Odair, or worse, Haymitch Abernathy.”

 

Taylor nods her head.  The Victor from Twelve’s famous, or maybe infamous is a better word for it.  District Twelve hasn’t had a winner in almost twenty five years and he’s a raging drunk that no one respects.

 

“So my advice to you?” Cecelia says.  “Make them forget you.  Make them all forget you.  Let the Careers fight it out, let the Gamemakers ignore you.  Don’t be abysmal, or you’ll become a target, but don’t be exceptional either.  You want to be average.  Average is what will keep you alive.”

 

Taylor doesn’t know what to think of her mentor’s advice, but Cecelia’s here, and lots of other memorable tributes aren’t.  She decides maybe being unremarkable isn’t the worst thing to do.

 

But it’s harder than she’d expected it to be.  Caesar’s so nice, and he tries really hard to make her feel comfortable.  She can tell he wants each tribute to stand out and he’s good at doing that.  He asks her how she likes the Capitol.  She tries to stick to simple unmemorable answers.  “It’s nice, I like the food.”

 

“Is there anyone back home for you?”

 

She shrugs her shoulders.  “My parents.  That’s about it.”

 

“Aw, come on, pretty girl like you’s gotta have someone special!”

 

She shakes her head, pretending to be a bit shy.  Her friends have got to wonder where the vivacious leader of the pack that they know has gone.  But she remembers Cecelia’s advice and the subtle nods that the woman gives her from out in the audience encourage her to keep up the facade.  She’s got an alliance and she’s got a plan.  She doesn’t need the Capitol to love her.  She just needs to survive.

 

The morning of the Games, Cecelia pulls her aside and gives her one final piece of advice.  “The Gamemakers won’t allow someone to win if they haven’t killed someone.”

 

“You mean--”

 

“I’m saying, if you want to make it through these Games, you’re gonna have to become a killer.  My advice to you: take out somebody easy.  That boy from Six, for example.  You’d be doing him a favor and keep him from suffering later on.  Just be quick about it.  It’s best to do it early.  That way no one will see and remember.”

 

“Did you kill someone?”

 

Cecelia nods.  “I killed two.  It’s not easy to live with, but at least you get to live.”

 

The boy from Six takes himself out of the running, leaping after that stuffed dog of his, so Taylor targets the girl standing next to her, the girl from Four.  She’s got a withered arm and no chance.  A rock to the temple is quick and fairly painless.  It’s the best she can do.

 

Then she grabs what she can before scampering off to meet her alliance.

 

The second interview with Caesar is easier.  She knows what to expect.  She says all the right things and is unsurprised that the recap focuses more on the girl from Two than on her. 

 

That’s fine. 

 

She’s found out now what happens to popular Victors.  She’s met Finnick Odair, who under the guise of congratulations whispered in her ear about the Victor Circuit and forced prostitution.  She’s found out what actually happened to Haymitch Abernathy and his family.  She’s grateful Cecelia gave her the advice and even more grateful that she had the good sense to follow it.

 

Taylor Paylor is unremarkable.  And that’s just the way she likes it.

 

oOo