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Challenges 11 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Challenges 11
Plutarch after the rebellion is over. for Anon

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My first project was creating a replacement for the Hunger Games.

The Districts all seem to have had it in their heads that the Capitol loved to watch tributes die, but it was never true. Of course, death was the point of the Games, but one of the first things apprentice Gamemakers were taught is that it had to be soft-pedaled to the general audience. They accepted that tributes died -- there were no other major sports in the Capitol, and it just became accepted that, at a certain point of proficiency and professionalism, games involved the death of the losers -- but it had to be sold as all part of the triumphant drama of the eventual victor's story. During the playing of the Games, there might have been some question, but by the time each year was packaged and presented in its final form, there was no way to avoid it: We were storytellers, and the dead tributes were just secondary and tertiary characters. Some were extras.

So, despite the absolute conviction in the Districts that the Capitol audience would be screaming for blood sports, I knew they wouldn't be. They might be moderately confused at first by the losing side still breathing, but what they craved was the narrative. And the spectacle.

I never could get the singing contest off the ground, but I did manage to consult with some student athletes, including Peeta Mellark, about grand games we could play where no one would die. We could put on spectacles to fill the holes, and give everyone a chance to shine. The first year -- well, year and two months -- we featured a district each month, showing off some local sport. The sport itself was rarely the point (though I hoped to find out which sports would be interesting nationwide). We did a work-up on the district, interviews with the athletes, demonstration games, coaching... it was all very familiar ground, but this time, the point was to give some glory to the districts, and show them getting back on their feet.

District Four was the first to catch on, with enough games played in the water to make a real sporting schedule. District Thirteen, with its nearby Great Lakes, became competitive quickly. District Twelve was able to make some headway with its lake, but the population hasn't really grown enough to spawn athletes. District Ten had rodeos, which proved popular to watch, but never really caught on for other districts to participate in. District Seven's log-tossing got a small but devoted following.

By the end of the first year, I have a good set of sports going, with enough spectacle around them to satisfy any Games withdrawal (which was not limited to the Capitol -- tragic or not, the people in the Districts were just as used to it as we were).

My other project is narrative. I've had our local theater people putting plays together, but what people seem to really want are the ridiculous old series that used to play. After the war, people can't seem to get enough of the situation comedies and family dramas. I honestly can't find producers fast enough. Districts Three and Thirteen, which had enough equipment, have been able to take on some of it, so, for the first time in Panem's history, the entertainment industry has more than one base.

The first huge hit is drama out of Three, Jigsaw, about bereaved district parents who've adopted four Capitol war orphans. The first season had standard war-related plots, but the second has broken away, and is doing straight-up district stories, as the orphans grow up. It's wildly popular everywhere. There is also a sitcom about a family from Twelve who decided to stay in Thirteen, and the various culture clashes they run into. Cressida developed and produces it. Thirteen has actually discovered something of a talent for making fun of its own image even while clinging earnestly to it. The districts are also endlessly fascinated by Baubles, a weekly soap opera about a wealthy Capitol family whose ever more convoluted problems will keep it running indefinitely.

There are kids' shows about horses and superheroes (one improbably includes both), and night time talk shows with hosts who all want to be Caesar Flickerman and all fall short. There are adventure stories about kids who fight monsters. New romantic comedies pop up every year, almost all dealing with the crazy communication problems between couples who come from different districts. (One is a parody of Gale Hawthorne and Johanna Mason, and doesn't bother to hide it. They are living in District One instead of District Two and are from Districts Eleven and Six instead of Twelve and Seven, but they live in adjoining houses and tell everyone that they're just friends, even though the audience knows better. Jo thinks it's hilarious; Gale is not as amused.) There are fashion contests and cooking shows and dance contests and travelogues... the air is full, and we give a few different choices.

What President Paylor has insisted on, against my advice, is that the news programs are outside my purview. I still think it's risky -- they could say anything, push any narrative -- but so far, there hasn't been any trouble. I've brought up the risks in meetings, but she's adamant. She says that if she doesn't want them running bad stories about her, then it's her job not to give them bad stories. It's a little crazy, but, according my books, it's been done before without any really serious problems. I hope that's not just a rosy outlook from disconnected historians.

"The news isn't a narrative," Paylor says on our third -- or maybe three hundredth -- go-around on the subject. "You can't control it. It can't be something we dictate."

"Of course it's a narrative. Every reporter knows that."

"Well, fine, but it's not our narrative. It's not one we make up for them."

"You know what we accomplished with airtime assaults. What if they decided to do something similar?"

"Then we hope someone will call them on their crap." She looks around quickly, making sure no one has heard her being vulgar. (Talking like a soldier has been the hardest habit of hers to break, and when she does break it, she tends to revert to talking like a kindergarten teacher. Getting to a happy medium is often something of a chore.) "We can call them on it if we want to. Nothing says we can't respond."

"Why not just get our message out in the first place?"

"Our message is out. It's called an election, and it's over."

"So I’m back to just doing the circuses part?"

She frowns. "We all need some circuses now and then. There's nothing wrong with a good circus, as long as it's not there to district people."

"And you don't think this is distracting people?"

"I think it's making their lives a little more fun. People can be distracted by despair, too, you know. How do you think District Thirteen operated?"

I sigh. "All right."

"Good." She picks up a bill that the District Council has been working on and starts scanning it. "Now, if that's all -- again -- then maybe the Ringmaster should get back to the tent. There are some lions to tame."

I shake my head. "The ringmaster doesn't tame lions."

"He doesn't? What does he do, then? I've never actually been to a circus."

"Should we add a circus to the programming?"

She nods. "With lion tamers. And trapeze artists. And clowns. I've never seen a clown, either. Can we make that happen?"

I laugh, and get back to work.




If you haven't done it already, I'd love to see Portia and Cinna meeting/collaborating for the first time. for Anon

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I hug my sketchbooks to my chest and stand outside the door for a long time before I ring the bell. I rehearse my new name -- Portia Tate. Portia Tate will be able to go through doors that Pingala Tyler never could. Portia will be able to walk through the streets of the Capitol that Pingala would never dream of back in District Three. Portia will have access to shops and materials. She'll be able to wear whatever pleases her. She'll be able to speak about her designs to anyone who asks. She won't have to explain why she's not working in the electronics factory.

But she will not forget that it was Pingala who brought her here.

"Portia Tate," I whisper. "Portia Tate. Portia Tate." I take a deep breath and ring the bell.

The light comes on under the speaker, and the soft voice comes out. "Yes?"

"Mr. Barrett? It's Pingala... Er, Portia... Tyler. I mean, Tate."

He laughs up in his studio, but it's not a cruel sound. "I heard you'd changed your name. Probably wise. Mine's Cinna, by the way, not Mr. Barrett. Come on up."

The door buzzes and clicks open, and I go inside. There's a narrow staircase up to the second floor, and at the top, I can see light spilling out. It's blocked by the shadow a small, slight man. He beckons.

I go up.

Cinna is sitting at a drafting table, but turned toward the door, smiling. It looks like a posed shot from a fashion magazine, and I start laughing, because I realize that's exactly what it is -- he's posed himself to impress me with a welcome, like he's the one who needs to make an impression.

"Is something wrong?"

"No. No, not all. Thank you for inviting me here. I know you don't usually take apprentices."

"And I don't intend to start," he says. "Have a seat, Miss Tate."

"Pin... Portia."

"Portia, then. And you'll get used to it. There are more people in the Capitol than you suspect who aren't using the names their parents gave them."

"Are you one of them?"

"No. I pride myself on being exactly what I seem to be." He smiles. "At the moment, that's a somewhat exploitative potential employer."

"What?" I shake my head. "I only just started at design school. You know that. I just got the scholarship."

"I know. I was on the judging panel, remember? And you'll stay in school and get your approved credentials, but you have to promise me that you won't listen to a word they say, unless you think it's useful. Don't let them talk you out of the way you do things."

"Aren't I going to learn how to do things better?"

"I'll be teaching you that. And trust me, they will not appreciate my lessons at design school. On your assignments, just do as they say."

"I don't understand..."

"Capitol fashion is ridiculous. You must have noticed."

"Well, I -- " I bite my lip. "Yeah. I noticed. It's fun. But ridiculous."

"You find it fun?"

"Am I not allowed to have fun with my clothes?"

He sighs dramatically. "I suppose. Wear what you like. But design better than they do." He picks up a sketchpad and draws a long, sinuous curve. "The human body is our canvas, Portia. The problem with Capitol fashion is that it ignores the canvas entirely, tries to make it into something it's not. The art of fashion is the art of the body. It's not a pile of fabric that might or might not make it onto a living person. It's not about twisting shapes and distorting nature. It's about finding nature. Do you know why I argued for you to win the scholarship?"

"No."

"Because you took a stunningly simple shape, but you did something entirely new. That waterfall skirt? Portia, I've seen a lot of people make illusions that are very good, and I've seen a lot of people use elements literally in a completely cheesy way. But you took literal water and somehow made it into a textile. I still haven't figure out how you did it, especially without an unattractive water trail following your model around. I'm not sure I want to understand. I like believing the magic trick."

"It's just something I designed. It was following a path. There's a thin layer of waxed sheer under it, and the ruffles -- um, the part that looks like the mist under the waterfall -- are actually a catchment system that recycles it and... oh. I'm sorry. You wanted to keep believing."

"And you were just dying to tell someone how you did it."

"Maybe a little bit."

"Good. You should want to show off." He winks. "But keep your secrets between us. Let the people on the street wonder."

"So I'm here to make waterfall skirts?"

"No. Special effects on everything would be just as ridiculous as anything else around here. But they're good to have in the arsenal. What I liked about that skirt wasn't just the particular innovation, Portia. It's the way you thought it through, the way you solved all the problems, and the way that, once the technical problems were solved, you still thought to make a beautiful dress. You'd be surprised how many trick designers forget that part."

"So I'm not your apprentice. I'm your... intern?"

"You're my partner," he says. "If you'll stay, of course."

"Yeah. I'll stay."

"Good. Because I have a fall line to put together, and I need a fresh pair of eyes..."




Peeta teaching one or both his kids about baking for jedi_chick

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Charlie came back empty-handed from hunting with Mom, but he doesn’t seem too shaken up about it. Mom went over to Thom's store to sell the turkey she caught; Charlie stayed home, and now he's sitting on the kitchen table, re-stringing his bow. I probably shouldn't say it while he's armed, but whenever he goes hunting, my brother looks exactly like a baby Cupid. With his curly blond hair and big gray eyes, he's really just short a pair of wings.

He, of course, thinks he looks like a tough-as-nails military hero, the kind they have in all of the adventure shows he likes to watch. When Daddy comes in and gives him a hug and a kiss on the head, he looks actively pained.

"We're going to need that table," Daddy says. "Think you can put the bow away for a few minutes?"

Charlie shrugs and slides down off the table, setting his bow down against the wall. "Sure."

"Are you going to join us?"

"What are we making?"

"Surprise rolls."

I frown. "What's that? I thought we were making winter cake."

"Same principle," Daddy says. "You start with the basic bread dough."

"Does everything start with that?" Charlie asks.

"Why do you think I can do it in my sleep by now? It's the basic part of most of the yeast rising recipes. Add some cheese and shape in squares, you have cheese buns. Mix in raisins and nuts and fruit, you have harvest bread. Roll it out, then roll in some streusel and turn into a circle, you have winter cake." He shrugs and tosses flour onto the table. "I usually sift in a few different spices into the flour for each before I do the first mix and knead, but I wasn't sure what you two would want to do. If it turns out good, we can add it to the recipe next time."

"Is that how you learned to bake?" I ask.

"No." He takes the dough from the bowl and splits it into three parts, giving each of us a rolling pin to start rolling out our pieces on the floured table. "We never had extra ingredients to just play around with. Couldn't afford for it to turn out wrong. But Dad always wanted to, and after the Games, when I had a little money, I had him come over, and we spent all day doing this. I think it was the best day I ever spent with him."

I start rolling out my piece of dough at the end of the table, while Charlie kneels on a chair halfway down with his. "Did he tell you stories?" I ask.

"Of course he told me stories. That's half the point of baking." Daddy grins. "Do you want a story, Pearl?"

"Maybe..."

"Well, let's get the work part done first. Surprise rolls."

"What's in them?" Charlie asks.

"Whatever you want. That's the other point. Finding out what works. Seeing if you can make something new. We'll do a basic roll-up. Roll out the dough, then butter it, then put on whatever you want to roll into it. Then we'll let it rise again, and cut it into slices. So go to the cupboard and figure out what you want."

I go straight for the chocolate shavings and nuts and raisins. I expect to have to fight for them, but Charlie has bypassed the cupboard and headed for the refrigerator. He pulls out an onion, a green pepper, and a jar of turkey drippings, then goes to the spice rack for garlic and ginger.

"Those are meat spices," I say, then look at Daddy. "Can those go in bread?"

"Why not? It's the difference between savory and sweet. It could be good. You're going to use the drippings instead of butter? What made you think of that?"

Charlie bites his lip. "What Pearl said. It's meat seasonings. Figured it should go with... meat."

"Good reasoning. I like it."

I frown down at my chocolate and nuts, and feel like I haven't been suitably creative. It would be copying to do anything else now, though.

While we season our rolled out bread dough, then roll it up to rise, Daddy tells us a story about how his brother, Uncle Jonadab, used to sneak them bread out of the bakery when he babysat. "My mom would get so mad," he says. "But we loved it when Jonadab was in charge."

Finally, the rolls are rising, and there's nothing to do until they've finished. Charlie sniffs his and smiles, then picks up his bow and goes into the other room to clean it. Now that he's covered in flour, he looks a little less Cupid-like.

I look at my surprise rolls, which won't be very surprising.

"They'll be good," Daddy says, giving my shoulder a squeeze. "You know, I've been looking at your sketchbook. You've been drawing a lot of clothes. How would you like it if Octavia taught you to sew, so you could make them real? They're so nice... have you been at Cinna's notebooks again?"

I nod, and start telling him about my creations.
14 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 19th, 2013 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)

First Again!

Although I sadly have only one comment for each of the stories:

Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!

Was that the last batch?

Sara Libby
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 19th, 2013 01:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: First Again!

Oh, I hope not, Sarah--she hasn't done mine yet :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 19th, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: First Again!

One more batch. I just decided to catch up on the odd number here because I wanted to get to Peeta and the kids. :D
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 19th, 2013 01:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Plutarch is as oblivious as Effie, in his own way. He never quite gets "real life," does he?

Is "Barrett" Cinna's canon name? That quiet, intense brilliance...Cinna's very Yoda for me, in a lot of ways, and I always want more of his story while simultaneously wanting to maintain the mystery.

Peeta is an awesome dad. And it's cool that neither he nor Katniss seem to be forcing their kids into any required shapes.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 19th, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cinna doesn't seem to have a canonical last name; I used "Barrett" in "The Narrow Path"... I'm not attached to it, but it follows the pattern of Latin first name/English last name that we see in the Capitol.

I definitely wanted to have Katniss and Peeta share their interests with the kids, as a way to know each other, but not to force them. I'd think one of the great things about having a little freedom is that they can become what they want to be.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: June 19th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
These were all very good, but I especially like the one with Plutarch and the issue of news and controlling the narrative. Both characters raise a number of interesting and valid points about the news. Plutarch's problem is that he's a massive control freak used to politics by massive control freaks and this democracy thing is hard.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 19th, 2013 04:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the control freak thing is probably the biggest issue. Yes, we want everyone to have a vote... but what if they vote wrong????

I'd think it would be a really hard adjustment for a propaganda minister to make. (I have to admit, the one thing that did make me uncomfortable with the new government in MJ was that Plutarch's position seems to have been made permanent. I wanted to undercut that a little bit!)
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 20th, 2013 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm continually amazed at how you manage to come up with these. I mean, you can't have been all of these professions but they all sound so real. I did laugh at the baking one -- it's all about storytelling when I'm teaching my kids as well. That and reminding them that they really do need to wash their hands first :).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 20th, 2013 04:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, yeah, I should have had him remind them of that. We'll just say that they've been baking with dad long enough that they don't even think about it anymore. :D

I was the programming director at my college TV station and I've baked with my aunt. And, um... I watch Project Runway? ;p
jedi_chick From: jedi_chick Date: June 20th, 2013 06:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I've enjoyed reading every one of your challenge responses, but I especially enjoyed the glimpse into Peeta as a father and the two kids! I love the way you write Peeta, and you didn't disappoint here. It was fun to see the glimpses of both parents in Pearl and Charlie. Poor Pearl, worrying her rolls weren't creative enough--I loved Peeta asking about her sketches at the end. And I also loved Peeta weaving in stories while he taught, too.

Thank you so much again! It was perfect :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 20th, 2013 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

I'm glad you liked it. I've been looking forward to getting to that one since I started! :D Peeta doggedly remains my favorite, no matter who else's voice I'm writing in.
jedi_chick From: jedi_chick Date: June 21st, 2013 04:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Peeta is probably my favorite too, though your Haymitch POVs have given me a greater love of him! :) You write Peeta so well, too.
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: June 22nd, 2013 02:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Once again, I loved how creative you've gotten with each of these challenges and how much depth we have to the story.
patita_fea From: patita_fea Date: September 1st, 2013 09:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
...my surprise rolls, which won't be very surprising.

"They'll be
good," Daddy says...

This is a nice touch, the way always-perceptive Peeta practically reads his little girl's mind right here.
14 comments or Leave a comment