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Challenges 7 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 7
Life under Snow in one of the non-12 districts (maybe District 7 from Jack Anderson's viewpoint..?) for olegriz

"We have to leave if we're going to get to town for the Reaping," Linden says, checking his watch.

"You really in a hurry?" I ask.

"No. But if you're late, they'll just come out here and get you, and that's never pretty."

I sigh. There are about a million things I'd rather do today than see our latest brace of sacrificial birds, but Linden's right. I was late a few years ago, and ended up nearly frog-marched into town. Linden got in trouble, too, since his official position is as my "live-in assistant," so they punished him for not keeping me on time. I doubt anyone is fooled by the title (Snow insists on it so that the ladies of the Capitol who enjoy my company continue to pay him handsomely for it), but then, the Capitol doesn't need a very strong excuse to punish anyone.

"Fine," I say. "Maybe there'll be an accident on the way, and we won't be able to get around it."

"On Reaping Day?" Linden shakes his head. "Give it up, Jack. You're stuck with it."

I grab my coat. It's miserable and rainy out today, on top of everything else. If it wasn't Reaping Day, there'd be a good chance that the road out of Victors' Village would be impassable, but I think we can count on someone laying down planks. Blight's truck is already gone. I think he may have left last night. He has a girl in town, I think.

Linden and I get into my truck. I let him drive. On most days, this is a good-natured argument, but I'm not in the mood to do anything to take me to the Reaping.

We pull out onto the dirt road that runs up to Victors' Village. Someone has put down planks, as I suspected, and we're barely slowed down by the wet weather. We get to the main logging road five minutes later, behind a large truck that would normally be filled with felled trees. Instead, quiet kids, dressed in their best clothes sit together under a tarp. The child at the very back of the truck -- a thin, dark-eyed girl -- is soaked. She stares at us as we drive.

"That girl's going to catch her death before she even makes it to the Reaping," Linden says.

"Do you want to stop them and offer a ride?"

"To just one?" He shakes his head. "That wouldn't work. You know it wouldn't."

"Yeah, I know."

We drive on silently. The girl keeps watching us until the truck turns off for the unloading area. Several wet kids are already in the square, around the platform, their noses wrinkled against the sulfur smell of the paper mill. It's easy to spot the town kids. They're so used to it that they don't even notice it anymore. I know this from personal experience. My parents worked in the mill, as I'm reminded on every visit to the Capitol. They still work there, and mill accidents happen so very easily.

The town is a dispirited collection of slat-board buildings with peeling paint. It is utterly charmless in the rain. I can hear the river as we get out of the truck. It's probably running high. I used to like to go down there on days like this and toss leaves onto the water, to watch them swirl down toward the falls. Now, it just reminds me of the river gorge in my arena -- the gorge where I killed a boy who'd been my ally, pushed him off the edge of the cliff into the river because he was so hungry that he at an entire piece of bread someone had sent him, even though he'd promised to share some with me.

I feel Linden's hand on my arm. "Hey," he says. "You in there?"

"Yeah." I shake my head. "Let's get this over with."

He squeezes my hand. "You're sure."

"Yeah. And... cameras."

He grins. "Eh, they don't recognize you looking like normal person, anyway."

But he lets go, and just walks beside me as we go up to the staging area, carrying a garment bag. Our district escort, Valeria James, is directing a prep team as they try to make Blight look presentable. He's not a bad guy, when it comes down to it, but he's not very photogenic. They must have been disappointed when he won.

Valeria spots us and runs over, giving Linden a big hug. "Linden, DARLING, I need you to get Jack sorted out for the Reaping. We have quite a mess over there." She nods at Blight. "He forgot to bring a suit, and now we're altering one of Lepidus's like madwomen."

He pats her hand. "I've got it, Val. And don't worry, I remembered to pack his suits."

She gives a long-suffering sigh and says, "You know, all victors could do with full time assistants. We should look into that." She scurries back to Blight.

Linden and I almost laugh, then remember why she's here, and why I'm getting back into my Capitol clothes. He swings the garment bag around, and between us, we manage to get me prepped. Most other days, he makes fun of my Capitol wardrobe (I've been collecting clothes for years) and the wild hair that I can actually pull off there, but not today. Today, it just means that it's time for the Games again.

We go out onto the stage, where we're protected from the downpour by a heavy plastic shell. In front of us, a sea of somber children stretches back toward the muddy road. I try to spot the girl from the truck, but I don't see her.

Valeria goes through the annual speech, the usual nonsense about how we deserve to lose children because our ancestors once rebelled. My ancestors were loyalists. That didn't stop them from drawing my name.

"Want the girl or the boy?" Blight whispers, leaning over.

"I'll take the girl," I say.

He nods.

Valeria goes to the reaping balls. Dips her hand in one.

"Johanna Mason!" she calls.

I am somehow unsurprised when the girl who stared at us from the truck comes up to the stage. She is wide-eyed and shaking. Her soaking hair falls in two limp pigtails. As Valeria reaches for the boys' reaping ball, she begins to sneeze uncontrollably.

People look away from her awkwardly as the boy -- a strong looking lumberjack's kid -- is called.

Blight looks over at me again. "You sure you don't want to trade?"

"No," I say. "I'm good."

The tributes are led off the stage, and the other children begin to scatter. I look across the muddy square to the steps of the paper mill. I see my parents standing there, huddled against the rain. Two Peacekeepers are standing suspiciously close to them.

I look at Linden, sigh, and lead the way to the train station.

Lyme, doing proto-rebellion things. for vytresna

I turn over my planned hiking route to my cousin Rommie, and he examines it like it might be a plan for a full-scale rebel attack. "You really shouldn't hike unaccompanied," he says finally, handing it back. "There are dangerous things in the mountains."

"There are dangerous things in town, too."

He frowns at me. When he was a little boy, he sometimes smiled, but I haven't seen it for years. It's like he shaved his sense of humor off along with his hair when he became a Peacekeeper. "There are predators in the mountains. You know that better than anyone, after what happened to your brother and his wife up there."

I force myself not to react. I do not want Rommie talking about my brother, Aeneas. That's a subject I want him nowhere near. "That's why I'm armed," I say, and pull out a crossbow. I'd rather have a good rifle, but even victors aren't given that much latitude. "Come on, Rommie. You know they're expecting some pictures."

He wrinkles his nose and hands back my map. I'm sure he suspects something, but I haven't given him anything to pin it on, and he knows better than to interfere with victor business. It's been twenty years since my Games, and that means they'll be checking in on me for the filler material on this year's broadcast. After last year's monstrous Quell, there will probably be a lot of uplifting filler for the Capitol audience, and given the Gamemakers' sudden interest in the anniversary winners, I'm guessing that the poor District Twelve kid who won last year isn't in any shape to be entertaining or uplifting yet.

They'll want to see what I've been doing with my talent, which is ostensibly nature photography. I haven't been out for a while, and it's as good an excuse as any.

Rommie gives up arguing with me and hands me the tracker I'm supposed to wear so I can be found "in case of emergencies," then sends me on my way with a sour look.

I drive out to the foothills and leave my car by the old train depot. The trail up into the mountains is steep and a little treacherous, but I've climbed it before. Maybe not with my backpack loaded up as much as it is, but I've always been strong. Being strong got me through the arena.

I hike for most of the morning, climbing ever higher along the switchback path. I do stop and take pictures. I don't know if it's really a talent -- my pictures are nothing special -- but I do like to have the shots. Whenever I feel trapped in Victors' Village, I just go down to my studio and look at all of them, and remember what it feels like to be out in the world. I get a hawk, and an eagle, and a gnarled old tree leaning out over a rocky gorge. I pick up a few interesting rocks and put them in my pocket. There's no reason not to enjoy the trip.

It's lunchtime when I reach the overlook. Once upon time, someone made little stone walls here, and the crumbled remains edge along the cliff. There is even a stone table that was set up in ancient times, and is still there, just waiting for me. I sit down on top of it, then open up my backpack. The little tool kit is tucked under an extra pair of socks. I send a message back to town that I'm going to camp here for a while, then find a tiny screwdriver, and remove the tracker bracelet from my wrist. Wrapped in my extra blanket is a little robot vacuum cleaner. I put the tracker on it and set it to wander around the clearing. The remains of the stone walls should keep it from going over the cliff.

That accomplished, I put my backpack back on and leave the trail.

There is a little unmarked path that leads up a steep incline, away from the gorge. The first time I came up here, I had trouble finding it, but now, I can see it as clearly as anything else.

The climb seems to take forever, but it finally comes up through a narrow passage between rock walls, then opens into an old quarry.

The attack comes from three sides, but I'm prepared. I drop to my knees and open my arms.

"Auntie Lyme!"

I hug the little blond boy. "I've missed you, Mica!"

He doesn't have time to answer, as his sisters, Topaz and Cinnabar, tackle me from the side. I am smothered in hugs and kisses.

By the time the attack has subsided, other people have come out into the quarry. A large, strong arm comes down, and I grab the hand to help me to my feet.

"Hey, little sister."

I hug my brother. "Aeneas," I say. "How are you?"

He nods toward the sheltering cave. "I'm all right. But we'd best get inside."

I follow him into the shadows. His little group is sheltered around an underground pool, and his wife, Antimony, brings me water. I take off my backpack and hand out the food I brought from town and, more importantly, the handheld reader. I hand it to Aeneas.

He scans the information on it -- Peacekeeper movements, security measures, other things I was able to glean before anyone noticed -- then sighs. "This isn't going to be easy," he says.

"But you have to do it," I tell him. "You need to get to the out-districts. They're developing some heat-seeking mutts. If you're here, they'll find you." I glance at the kids, though I guess I don't need to. He knows what it will mean if he suddenly is forcibly returned from the "dead." Punishment for himself and Antimony, of course, but more to the point, the arena for the kids. That's why they went through the elaborate charade in the first place.

"It's not exactly safe out there, either," Antimony says, sitting down. "I've heard things about the out-district gangs. I'm not sure the arena is any less safe."

"More than one person can survive the gangs," I say. "Trust me on that one." I take back the reader. "The weak spot is on the south border," I say. "South east. Go too far west and you'll end up in One, and that's no better than being here."

Aeneas looks at the map. "That's a lot of empty out there. Do you know anything about it?"

"I've crossed it on the train. Steer clear of District Nine by staying on southern route. It's pretty wet. You shouldn't have a problem with food and water."

"What about the fence?" one of the other adults asks. "Out there where there are no guards, it must be charged all the time?"

I nod. "It is. That's why you need to blow the power station. Don't make it look like sabotage, though. The Peacekeepers won't have any problem following you into the out-districts if they know you've gone. You need to make it look like a lightning strike." I look at Antimony, who worked on the wiring in central command before she went into hiding. "Can you do it?"

She nods. "Why don't you come with us?"

"I can't. If I disappear, they'll call out every unit in District Two to catch me." I sigh. "I wish there were another way."

"There isn't," Aeneas says. "Not now. But someday."

"Yeah," I say. "Someday."

I spend the day with my family, the last day I'll be able to see them. I send them off with as much as I can, and leave with my backpack considerably lighter. When I get back to the picnic area, my vacuum cleaner is still bumping around the clearing with the tracker on it. I catch it, replace the tracker, and continue on my way.

I'll be expected to have pictures, after all.
12 comments or Leave a comment
redrikki From: redrikki Date: June 11th, 2013 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I know what happens with Johanna, but what about Lyme's family? Why must you tease us so with all these brilliant ideas?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 11th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's the fun part of these little challenges. Just sort of saying, "What if..." without the commitment. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 11th, 2013 01:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

nitpicky timeline question

Lyme's in her 60s in canon?

Really liked both of them :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 11th, 2013 01:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: nitpicky timeline question

She could be in her sixties. She's supposed to have gray hair, I think. As a victor, she'd have the resources to stay healthier than the rare older people Katniss knows. If fifty-nine of the seventy-five victors are still alive, some of them would have to be older.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 11th, 2013 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: nitpicky timeline question

And I imagine Snow wouldn't want to lose too many of his precious, distracting victors. Probably no successful suicide attempts for them, either.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 12th, 2013 12:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: nitpicky timeline question

There might be a few he couldn't stop, but yeah, I'd guess that it was sternly advised against, possibly with threats to anyone surviving.
dragonzair From: dragonzair Date: June 11th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am enjoying these so much. Especially Jack's in particular. I always liked him in Golden Mean.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 12th, 2013 12:51 am (UTC) (Link)
I liked Jack, too. I was sorry in the end that canon dictated all the other victors be dead!
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: June 12th, 2013 02:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Loved this, especially seeing the beginning of Johanna's Reaping. And Lyme's family! I don't know how you're able to come up with the answers to all of these challenges, but I'm really enjoying what you're doing.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 12th, 2013 05:13 am (UTC) (Link)
It's fun for me to just do these kind of stream-of-consciousness, see-what-happens things.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 12th, 2013 03:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I liked them both, especially the first one (again I wonder -- just how DID Johanna's Games turn out? Did she go in with a strategy or just sort of improvise? What did she have to *do* exactly?) I think Snow might be being overcautious with regard to Jack, though; I'll bet a lot of the Capitol ladies look on him as a challenge and he has to let them believe they've won. Poor Linden, though -- being romantically involved with a victor has to be utter hell, especially when you don't happen to be a victor yourself. I think one reason Haymitch/Effie work so well at the end is that not only do they know each other from way back, but Effie, bright as she is, still has that iron obtuseness about some things -- it's like her defensive armor.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 12th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Good point about the challenge.

Yeah -- I'd think it would be hard to have any sort of relationship with these crazy damaged people, but especially a life partnership. Could be why Linden's not in the Capitol during the Quell. Or I guess he could have had one of those patented Panem accidents.
12 comments or Leave a comment