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Challenges 12 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 12
This is it!

Snow's clone-son and how he met Haymitch (or was it Plutarch?) for barbara_the_w
[It was Finnick, actually. - FW]

I sit in the steam room in the training center, a towel draped across my lap. Before, I haven't bothered with the towel. Right now, I don't really want to take the chance of anyone looking at me. I wouldn't be in the steam room, except that I want to sweat everything out. I'll stay in here another ten minutes, then go to the shower. It will be my fourth shower tonight. I'm keeping an eye on my tribute remotely, by a video walkie-talkie that Mags gave me. But he'll be safe.

He'd better be safe.

I sniff my arms tentatively. I can still smell that old-woman perfume on them, coming out of my pores. I wonder if it's possible to turn up the heat, make myself sweat harder.

Adamaris Brinn. She's one of my supporters. And one of yours. She's been waiting patiently for you to turn sixteen, and she's invested a lot in you and your tributes. Just show her a good time. Think of it as learning some enjoyable skills from an experienced mentor. And I think we can arrange to keep that mutt bear away from your boy for a while.

That would be bad enough, but maybe I could deal with it. Save my tribute. Never think about it again.

But then, when I came back to the training center, Cashmere smiled at me in an understanding way and said, "It'll be easier next time."

The steam cuts out, the room's sensors decided I've been in here too long. When I stand up, I'm dizzy, and I have to lean on the wall to get to the door. I pull around the door frame and try to take a step away, but the whole room is spinning. I trip over a bench and go sprawling onto the floor.

"Hey! Are you all right?"

I look up.

The man standing above me is young, maybe in his twenties, which is impossible, because he's President Snow. I'd recognize him anywhere. The black hair. Those grotesquely full lips, like woman who's had a lot of surgery, except that they're real. The narrow, wary eyes.

I pull away.

He holds his hands up. "It's okay," he says. "I'm Martius. Martius Snow. I know I look like my father, but... it's just me."

This is not comforting. I back up against the lockers.

Martius Snow sits down on the bench and finds a towel. Mine has fallen off. He hands the new one to me. "Here," he says. "You probably want to cover up."

I take it and put it over myself. "Yeah. Thanks."

His nostrils flare, and he stands up and punches the lockers across from me. "I know what he did to you."

"Are you here to see if I'm complaining?"

"No." He shakes his head. "He's grooming me to take over, and when I do... this bullshit stops."

I blink. "The Games?"

"I don't know about the Games. I don't know if they can be stopped. But this crap he pulls with the victors? It ends."

I hold the towel tight and go to my locker, where my clothes are waiting for me. They're fresh clothes. The clothes I wore this afternoon are in an incinerator by now. I wore a robe down here and actually sent for new clothes from Thisbe Cramer's shop. "What do you care?"

"He gave me Faraday Sykes for my fifteenth birthday. I didn't understand what I was doing until she gave me a few facts of life afterward."

"And how did she pay for doing that?"

"She didn't. I didn't tell him."

I snort and open my locker. The new clothes are in a sealed plastic bag. "Hate to tell you this," I say, "but you just told him. The training center's bugged."

He smiles faintly, and I almost scream, because it is Snow's smile. It's not a close approximation. It's not a family resemblance. It's Snow's smile. "I'm a Gamemaker," he says, and holds up a little hand-held remote device. "I have the keys to the bugs."

"Aren't you supposed to tell me I'm being paranoid?"

"Common sense isn't paranoia."

I start to open my new clothes, then stop. "What do you actually care how he treats us?"

"My wife and I have a baby girl," he says. "I don't want this ugliness around her. I don't want anyone to have to explain any facts of life to her."

"Yeah," I say, and go back to opening my clothes. "Right. So we just wait until he -- " I stop, suddenly unable to breathe, gagging on the odor coming up from the plastic bag.


I can't get anything out through my clenched throat. My eyes are tearing up.

Someone has doused the clothes I sent for in Adamaris Brinn's perfume. It rises up into the steam hanging in the locker room and sends up a noxious cloud around me.

Martius Snow claps my back hard, and the gag response lets go in shock, letting me take a gulp of the polluted air. He grabs the bag and smells it. "What the...?"

"Perfume," I say. "Her perfume."

He slams the bag into an empty locker and flips on a fan. "Take my clothes," he says. "I'll wear a robe up. Get something new up your apartment."

"I can wear a robe up there." I reach for the robe that was in my locker when I went into the steam room, but it's gone.

Martius makes a kind of harsh, hissing sound, and tosses me a spare robe from his locker. "Are you sure you don't want real clothes?"

"I'm fine. You'd look pretty stupid going up to the headquarters in a bathrobe."

"I guess." He sighs. "After the Games, my wife and I are supposed to start sorting out some problems in Six. Morphling abuse. It's big there. But when we get back... I'm going to start working on this. I'm not waiting for him to die. This..." He shakes his head, apparently too angry to come up with a finish for the sentence. "Are you going to be okay if you go back upstairs? Are you still dizzy? Do you need anyone to help you?"

"I'm okay," I say. I'm not, not really, but the thought of being escorted up to the District Four apartment by Snow's doppelganger -- especially today -- is too much. I push myself to my feet and pretend that I'm on shipboard, trying to get my sea legs. "I'll be fine."

I leave.

Three months later, Martius Snow is dead.

I never let anyone talk openly in the training center again.

I have always wondered about Cecelia's kids. I feel so awful for them, of all the minor victors in the quarter quell I wanted her to make it. Something with them in catching fire or later? for Anon

We were all supposed to be watching in the square, and the Peacekeepers told Papa that we had to watch it same as we did every year. They didn't think to ask him why he was wearing a long coat on a warm summer day, and no one noticed him take it off when the tributes came up through the tubes.

We watched the fight start. We watched old Woof, who used to tell us stories about when he was little, fall down and die. We watched Mama pick up the axes.

Then, suddenly, Papa's coat was over our heads, and he crouched down, holding us tight, even as we could hear Peacekeepers pulling at him and hitting him.

By the time the coat came up, they weren't showing Mama on the screen anymore, and everyone in the square was screaming. We didn't know what happened at the time, only that everyone was crazy. Papa took baby Noah. Esta and I tried to follow them, but Mr. and Mrs. Green had us pretty tightly, and they're Papa and Mama's friends, so we went where they led us, which was into one of the bombed out factories.

Someone dug a tunnel under it. The tunnel went a long way in the dark, and when we came up, we were near the Rainbow Water. (The Rainbow Water is poison. I used to think it was pretty, but then I learned in school that it's all sorts of colors because it's completely full of the dyes that run off the fabrics. People could get very sick or even die if they drink it or swim in it.)

Mrs. Green looks nervously over her shoulder, then pulls a tattered old dress out of her purse. She puts it on Esta, then bites her lip and says, "I'm sorry, honey," and cuts off both of Esta's braids. Esta is crying when she also pulls a whole chunk up front and makes thick bangs. Mr. Green has shoe polish in his pocket, and Mrs. Green paints Esta's red hair black. She hardly looks like Esta anymore.

Mr. Green turns me around to face him. "You're a big boy now, Isik. We have to make you look like you're not yourself."


"Because there's trouble."

I think about Mama picking up the axes. About Papa covering our faces and then about being dragged away. My stomach feels like I drank all the Rainbow Water. "My mama... she... did they..."

"Yes, Isik. They did. And your mama wanted everyone to make sure you stayed safe. So we have to do something a little embarrassing to you. To keep you safe." He nods to Mrs. Green, and she pulls out another dress.


"Yes, Isik. Just today. Maybe tomorrow. Until you're safe."

He pulls it on over my head and zips up the back. It must have belonged to his daughter, Kersey. Mrs. Green always wears wigs, and she has a second one in her bag. She puts it on my head. It's brown and goes down past my shoulders.

"Your shoes will have to do for now," Mr. Green says. "Now, we will all go together to the Community Home. There are many children there after the bombings. That's where we'll meet your papa."

I shake my head and sit down on the ground.

Mr. Green goes over to Esta and starts trying to calm her down, and Mrs. Green comes to me. "I know you don't want to do this, Isik," she says. "But you have to be very strong, like your mama. Can you think of yourself as being like Mama in this dress? She used to have one very like it when we were girls."

I look up cautiously. "She did?"

"She did. She couldn't always buy fabulous things from the Capitol, you know. She wore what all of us wore. When she went off to be a victor, she was wearing a dress a lot like this one of Kersey's."

I think about this. "Mama's dead," I say. "My mama's dead!"

Mrs. Green looks over her shoulder. "Shush, little one. I know. And I'm so sorry. I used to take care of her when her parents were at work. I loved her very much. But now I'm going to take care of you, and you need to honor her by doing what she needs you to do. She needs you to live now, since she can't. And that means getting you away from the Peacekeepers." She stands up. "Come now. Can you be like Mama?"

I look at the dress. "Is my name Cecelia?"

"No. But your mama had a secret name. Did you ever hear her secret name?"

I think about it. "Papa called her... something."

"Zilpa. Will you be Zilpa, for your mama?"

I nod. I let her get me up. Mr. Green has calmed Esta down.

We follow the Greens through the city, to the Community Home. Since the bombings, lots of children live here, and it's easy to get lost. I look around and almost miss the tall, clean-shaven man wearing denim and carrying a baby wrapped in rough burlap. He's wearing heavy jewelry and someone has painted his face. He almost misses us, too, then he says, "Oh, Zilpa! There you are! I've been worried. Bring your sister over here! I've been looking everywhere for you!"

I take Esta's hand and lead her over. Papa looks very strange without his beard. His head is completely shaved, too. He bends down and gives us each a kiss, then makes a great show of thanking the Greens and pretending they are strangers.

He finds a corner where we can see a camera. Its lens is all cracked. "Can you two play pretend with me, and do it so well that everyone will believe it?"

"Mama's dead," I say.

He nods. "I know. And later, we'll mourn. Right now, we have to leave. Will you help Esta?"

"Does Esta have a new name?"

He shakes his head and smiles. "There are about a dozen girls named Esta her age. It'll be fine and she won't have to remember. Are you ready?"

There's no answer but "yes."

We go to a young man who's with the reporters. He has a lot of piercings. His name is Messala, and he starts yelling at Papa for being late with the cameras. "Just because you've decided to go soft and adopt a pack of waifs, it doesn’t mean you don't have a job anymore!" He recruits us to carry a lot of cables and boxes of make-up, and somehow, we end up on a train with a lot of Capitol people. It's headed for District Four. They are going to cover Finnick Odair in the Quell. Mama always liked Finnick, but we were never allowed to meet him.

When we get there, Messala takes us to some boats, saying he wants to shoot on the water. A lady with dark skin and pretty curls takes us on board a boat.

That's where we do our mourning.
15 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 21st, 2013 09:42 am (UTC) (Link)

So Sad...

But so, so good.

Snow is such a bastard.

And I just adore your District 8. I think I've mentioned this before?

A fantabulous crop of shorts.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 22nd, 2013 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: So Sad...

Thanks. I'm fond of D8 as well. I hope it's a good district with a good moral backbone, since D8 ends up with the presidency.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 21st, 2013 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, Fern.

I think next time I'll ask for more of Martius. I *like* him.

Thank you.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 22nd, 2013 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I liked him, too. Thanks for asking!
beceh From: beceh Date: June 21st, 2013 04:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
They were great. All of them were great!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 22nd, 2013 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Glad you liked them!
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: June 22nd, 2013 02:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I loved the one with Cecelia's children and how they dealt with the last Games.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 23rd, 2013 06:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. That was sad to write!
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 22nd, 2013 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Heartbreaking, both of them. And I too would like to see more about Martius (not to mention his wife and daughter).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 23rd, 2013 06:13 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know that much more about them. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 22nd, 2013 10:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Actual tears for Cecelia's babies-- I think it was the kid's-eye-view that made it so affecting. I'm glad they got out, and I hope the Greens did too.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 23rd, 2013 06:14 am (UTC) (Link)
They did.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 24th, 2013 05:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Really liked how you've continued to develop D8, especially its crypto-Jewish-ness.

And the one with Finnick - very believeable and empathetic.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 24th, 2013 07:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. It wasn't originally supposed to be so much about Finnick, but when I started writing the encounter right after his first Capitol-arranged "date," I found I had a lot to say.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: June 28th, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe I'll ask about Adamaris Brin, next time.
15 comments or Leave a comment