FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

Challenges: Past 3

The Daughters of the Founding try (and succeed?) doing some good. Maybe including some talk about Panem's history? :) for Anon

"I still don't think you're old enough to be here," Mother says, tightening my scarf.

"I'm twelve. If district girls can go to the arena, I can come on an out-district dig."

"Aquila." Mother looks around nervously, but none of the Peacekeeper guards is really in earshot. She drops her voice to a whisper, anyway. "Be careful, child. Remember the Sons!"

I roll my eyes. The Sons of the Founding lost their charter after the Seventh Hunger Games, when they backed up the young winner on her crusade to protect other girls in the arena from what happened to her ally… or, more precisely, when they one-upped her and demanded an end to the Games. Of course they still exist -- our families aren't weeding out boys! -- but once their organization was disbanded, the whole Capitol history project slowly came to be seen as a project of silly middle-aged women, which they dragged their daughters into if they could. There are a few boys among my cousins who have secret meetings in caves by the lake, but I think they really just go down there to drink and look at dirty magazines. Our organization has been getting smaller over the years, too.

I think we still have something to give, but there's something to be said for self-fulfilling prophecies. If everyone thinks that it's an organization for silly old women, then that's who tends to be willing to join it. My mother is one of the younger ones, and she doesn't tell her friends much about any of this. I even overheard her tell Letitia Mann that her mother made her join as a child; it's not like she had a choice about it, and besides, it's harmless, and doesn't require much time. I'm pretty sure she's afraid that, if the Capitol ever thinks we're concerned with anything other than beautifying monuments, we'll go the way of the Sons.

But they're not going to cut our charter if I happen to mention that I'm old enough to be a tribute.

That would be silly.

Plus we're barely in the out-districts, so I don't know what she's worried about. We passed the last District Two sentries only half an hour before the ruins started.

The Peacekeepers grumbled as they let us out of the bus. Looking for museum pieces and maps for the library in the old archives isn't their idea of a good use of time, for us or for them. The building itself, even when it was new, couldn't have been too impressive -- one story, maybe a basement, and a few flakes of some really terrible blue paint still remain on the front. There are a few shadows where letters used to be attached, but they're far past recognition. I don't really think we'll find much here. It just seemed kind of daring to come out here.

We go inside.

It was a solidly built place, and, as ruins go, it's still in pretty good shape, though there've been a few roof cave-ins on the far side. Termites have done their work on anything made of wood, but there are a lot of big metal cabinets. If any papers have survived, that's where they'll be.

"Oh, look!" Ulpia Jakes cries. "A globe! A big one!" We go as a group to the center of the large room, where a glass globe sits in a pedestal. It shows the world before the water had risen much, and apparently, it used to have power for some kind of interactive demonstration, because there's a plaque by a button that you could use to roll back the water to see the old shape, and move it forward to predict the new coastlines "if the polar melt is not stopped." A year ago, I probably wouldn't have been able to read it, but I read my father's books on archaic language forms -- I wouldn't admit it, but I think it's really interesting the way the changes track -- and I can muddle through most of it now.

The globe, it's decided, will be a fine addition to the Museum of the Catastrophes. I try to help, but they tell me -- ever so gently -- that I'm too young, and I'll drop it. While my mother and Ulpia and the others work to disconnect and pack it, I end up going downstairs with the handful of other younger girls, in a dusty boxes and empty glass cases, supervised by an old woman named Cornelia Dodd and a bored-looking Peacekeeper.

A plain girl named Fulvia who's actually younger than I am comes over to me, her nose wrinkled. "What's this place?"

I shrug. "Why would I know? It looks like it's not finished."

"These places would have been the last priority," Miss Dodd says. "If there was a battle in town, the guards would have gone to it. Maybe the city fell before they finished whatever they were doing."

I go over to her. "What city is it? When did it fall?"

"Denver. And I don't know when it fell. The break-up of the land before Panem took place over a fairly long time. This far inland, I doubt they were suffering greatly from the migration wars." Fulvia and I look at her blankly. She purses her lips. "Don't they teach you girls anything these days? Why, I was a schoolgirl during the Dark Days, and we still managed to learn our history. The migration wars! The oceans were rising on the huge cities that used to line our coasts. The people were forced inland. At first, they were accommodated as refugees, but resources were scarce. The Last War had ravaged inland cities, too, and there was a lot of hardship. Skirmishes between native populations and refugees started small, but eventually, most of the areas fell into the most vicious of civil wars."

"Who won?" Fulvia asks.

"The people who stayed out of it won," Miss Dodd says. "No one really knows where everyone went, but the casualty counts were very high. Our own ancestors may have come from one side or the other, trying to escape the violence. But this far from the migration patterns, it was stable a bit longer. That's probably why the city ruins were more stable for the early districts to build on -- they didn't fall to violence. They just decayed from emptiness after the In-Gathering." She looks around. "This was an archival hall. With this area considerably more secure, they most likely sent important documents here. But it wasn't stable enough. No one ever set them up."

I sit down on a box. "Why do you think that? Maybe it's all just procedural."

"The cases, girl. They didn't install glass cases to put up tax rolls. This was going to be a show room of some kind. Probably some of the documents that were shuttled around the ruin of the country. A lot of them were noted as lost, but some were taken to safety during the Last War, and traveled from place to place to keep ahead of the violence."

"Then maybe it should be for the museum!" I suggest, going over to the metal boxes. All of them are stamped with a round seal that shows an eagle with a bit of parchment. It says something in Latin, but I don't have enough of that to read it. Around the circle, it says, "National Archives and Records Administration."

"Be careful," Miss Dodd whispers, and I notice that she's come right over with me. She looks over at the Peacekeepers.

"It would be bad to open things?" I ask. "It would hurt what's inside?"

"Maybe, maybe not. It most likely has protections other than the outer box. But not everything from that world would be approved in our current… security situation."

I blink and absorb this for a minute. The "security situation" is the constant chance of rebellion against President Snow. We're constantly reminded of the horrors that would occur if rebels ever took control. There was even a series that girls loved last year about brave Capitol kids who survive the onslaught and have to take on the barbarians themselves. (I read it, against my mother's specific orders. I'm not sure when they found the time for a war with all the time they spent deciding who to kiss.)

I can't think what a piece of paper could do.

The cases are locked, but Fulvia, it turns out, has had a little experience breaking into her brother's diary. She pulls a pin from her hair and works the tumblers. "Don't tell on me, okay?" she says. "I only learned to do it so I'd know what he wants me to cover up for. He doesn't even live with us, and he's always asking me to make up stories for him."

The lock pops open, and I lift up the top.

Inside the steel case is a glass case, packed with soft materials. I clear away the ones on top to reveal a yellowish bit of parchment with old-fashioned handwriting on it. The very top is obscured by the material, but I can see the beginning of the writing.

When in the course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident...

Miss Dodd's hand comes in and hastily shuffles the packing material back over it, then she closes the lid with finality. She jams Fulvia's hairpin into the lock so it can't be opened again.

"What do you have there?" a Peacekeeper grumbles, coming over.

Miss Dodd laughs -- a high, girlish sound that's hard to associate with her. "Oh," she says, "nothing at all. I think it is tax rolls, maybe census files. It's big box and maybe we'll find something, but I think it would be better to go through it at Headquarters. We probably won't find anything worth putting in a museum, and it's just so cold and dusty here. It would take too much time. Why don't we just take all of these boxes back to the bus?"

"Whatever you say, lady." The Peacekeepers take the box and haul it up the stairs.

Fulvia and I go sit with it on the bus while we wait for everyone else to salvage the old globe.

As far as the Capitol knows, it's a box of tax rolls.

It's all they ever find out, even when Miss Dodd takes the boxes to the Capitol library and puts them in a dusty records room, where only inveterate intellectuals like my cousin Plutarch go.

But we have them.

Some more on the proto-rebellion in 2. Or anything about Lyme in those days - before, during or after her Games. I liked someone else's idea about the origin of Careers - Career psychology fascinates me for Anon

Technically, the victor of the thirty-ninth Hunger Games is listed as Lucretia Maddox, but even the audience calls me Lyme, just like my family. I guess I can thank Caesar Flickerman for that. I was reaped as Lucretia, but he heard me correct our escort, and after that, on television, he always called me Lyme. There are people in town -- not least among them my cousin Romulus -- who are embarrassed to have someone from District Two publically using an industry name, like we were from a more common district. But here in the quarries, they cheer me on.

"I'm not taking a rock name myself," Gordian Hess says. "Never did want one. But you going up there in front of the cameras and acting like District Two is still a district, and not just a pretend version of the Capitol… it was great. Most of the rest of Panem thinks we're just stooges."

"Well, we did turn them at the end," I point out.

"We turned Thirteen. Most of them had, too, by then."

We get to our worksite, and I pull out my chisel, then hand around the goggles I pretend to "loan" my co-workers. (Because really, who doesn't need to own twenty pairs of safety goggles?) "They didn't all join the Capitol army."

Gordian sniffs. "Neither did we, little girl. Who told you that we did that?"

"Most of the other tributes."

"And most of the other tributes know District Two better than you do?"

"No. But I do know what they teach at the Peacekeeper training facility. I have cousins there."

"Ah. Of course." He shifts his gear around, then looks at the others on our crew. They squint back at him. I can't get a read on them. Finally, he says, "What they teach at that facility… they don't know anything. My father, rest him, was on the front lines. Sure, the Capitol bought off some people who were starving after they cut off supplies. They got trained, and they fought in the Capitol army. But the rebels from here were as much rebels as anyone else."

"But -- "

"But nothing. District Thirteen mowed down the old Peacekeeper training facility, with a lot of people's sons and daughters still inside it. So, yeah, all of us turned on them. We chased them out of here with their tails between their legs. You know as well as I do that it's not very smart to take a jab at District Two. We'll jab you back." He makes a graphic motion with his chisel. "But it's a far cry from chasing out one lunatic to deciding to side with the other one."

"So we chased out the rebel army and a bunch of us sided with the Capitol, is what you're saying."

He laughs. "Yeah, if you want to make it simple. Which is the problem with your friends around the districts. They've forgotten. They must have."

"Besides," an older woman named Marble says, balancing her chisel on the marble, "it's not like we had a lot of choice. The Capitol can get here in a day with their whole army. District Seven and District Twelve don't really have to worry about that."

"District Three does, and they didn't turn."

Gordian laughs. "You've got a lot going on in your head, don't you, Lyme? Have you been on the phone with the other victors? Chatting on your tour?"


"District Three didn't turn on the rebels because they didn't have to. We'd rousted Thirteen from here all the way out there. Three could afford to sit there wringing its hands and pretending to be devastated when the Capitol came back and started buying their trinkets again. And they get punished -- the Games aren't suited to Three at all. That's why they've never had a winner. They take it as a mark of pride that they don't play along, and they never broke. They can do that, because we kept them out of trouble -- well, along with One and Four, though I never did know what the jewelers contributed to the fight, and let's say I doubt Four's official story."

"The official story is that they turned on the rebellion like we did. Not that they joined the Capitol."

"Yeah, but the official story also says that they welcomed the Capitol back with open arms and were grateful for the protection."

"You don't believe that?"

"I believe that, for fishermen, they're damned fine actors. But my papa told me, when I wasn't much higher than a flea's nose, that he knew the rebels in Four. He said they pulled the mines up out of the water and put them around the town. Blew up Capitol tanks when they came in. Only the Capitol always has more tanks, so suddenly, they blamed that on Thirteen, and started going on and on about how grateful they were to be saved. Take it for what it's worth."

I'm not sure what it's worth, honestly. I led the other inner district kids through the arena, and the tributes from Four were fractious, to say the least. But they didn't seem any less loyal than the kids from two, or my district partner. I'm the only one of us who did anything that wasn't totally approved, and that was just using my nickname. All of us spent years of our lives "picking up" skills from our local victors. This can't be official -- no one is supposed to train for the Games -- but we're all invested in having victors, and we all find ways to get in and learn.

Well, at least those of us with a little bit of money to bribe the guards at Victors' Village. Titania Vacka and Amethyst Idonny, the most recent victors before me, used to have three day "picnics" on the green, during which we had any number of "play" fights. They'd also come to school phys ed classes and teach "sport" fighting. From the looks of the rest of my pack in Games training, none of them skimped on it, the way the outer districts do. They take it as a point of pride, as far as I can tell, to not prepare for the Games.

"So, you think Four are really rebels, and we're really rebels -- except for the part where we were fighting the rebels -- and One is… what?"

"Pretty," he says with a snort. "That's about all I can think of for them."

Everyone laughs.

I try not to think of my District One allies. The girl turned on me in the middle of the night and almost killed me. I had to win that fight, and it wasn't easy. I had to threaten the boy to make him stay in the alliance after that, and if he'd pressed it, he could have won.


I shudder.

A big, warm hand lands on my shoulder, and I look up to see Gordian looking at me with some sympathy. I guess he was watching the Games.

I pat his hand. "Sorry," I say. "Let's get to work."

I would love to read something involving Chaff as he's recovering from his games, and/or beginning to mentor for Anon

The worst part about losing my left hand is that it's actually the smart one. I keep slamming my stump into tables trying to pick up pens and pencils and forks and knives that I'd have gone for without thinking about it before.

I should have gone for the prosthetic, I guess, but I didn't want some part of my body to actually belong to the Capitol. Which seems like pretty high-minded crap the twelfth time I jab my still-healing wrist into something in a single day. It's going to take a while to beat the muscle memory, let alone re-train my right hand to do work properly. For now, I've hired a girl from the school to come and write letters for me, if they need to be written. It's probably the prettiest my correspondence is ever going to look.

I hope they don't decide to reap her just to spite me. I don't put it past them, not after they reaped me. The grass hadn't even grown over my brother's grave, and Seeder was still dazed from mourning while she coached me. She hadn't even gotten her wedding dress back from the cleaners when he died. She kept calling me by his name, and then breaking down and crying. My district partner, a girl named Daystar, complained about it. I tried to remember that she was scared of dying and angry that her mentor wasn't paying attention, but it was my brother who died, so I was maybe not as patient as I could be, and I wasn't sorry to lose track of her once I got into the arena. She died the third day. The highlight reel didn't show much of her last fight.

I press my stump against the counter deliberately to shock myself out of that line of thought. I'm not going to spend my whole life in the arena. I didn't fight my way through there just to turn into the walking dead.

"Are you all right, Mr. Leary?" the girl -- Bluebell, her name's Bluebell, and her friends call her Bell -- asks me, looking up from a letter "I'm" writing to Beetee Latier, last year's victor, who wants to be friends, so suggested that we play long-distance chess.

"I'm fine."

"You just look a little… is your hand bothering you?"

I hold up the stump. "Does this look like anything that can bother me much? Hand's dead and gone and burned up in a Capitol junkyard."

"I just -- "

"Beat me to the grave. Dead and cremated."

Bell doesn't respond to this, and I guess I don't blame her. What do you say to someone who says something like that? When I was in the hospital, Earl Bates from Ten was trying to be philosophical, and he said that he'd lost a part of himself in the arena. I pointed out that I made it out of the arena in one peace, but lost part of myself in the hospital. He looked at me in pretty much the same way Bell is.

"Never mind," I say. "Did I get my move down?"

"Knight to A-3," she reads back. "Is that right? What does it mean?"

"Bring the board over."

She wheels over my chess board, and I move Beetee's pawn as his letter instructed, then point to my piece. "This is the knight. Imagine that there are letters across the bottom here" -- I point to my side -- "and numbers up the side. The knight's on C-4. Down one, over two. I'm blocking Beetee's bishop."

"He didn't move his bishop."

"He was thinking on it. I know he was. He's a clever b--" I rethink the word " -- guy, and he's trying to sneak by me, but I've got eyes in the back of my head after that arena. He needs to get up earlier if he thinks he's getting by that easily."

"But how do you know?"

"You just do. You have to have a feel for the way they think. Beetee likes things to make sense. He'll try and push you into a corner so he doesn’t have to expose the valuable pieces, and he'll blitz you."

"Like with the electricity in his Games?"

"Yeah. Like that."

"Is that why you're learning to play this?"

"I knew how before. My brother and I used to play in the dirt, with stones that we marked up with the piece names. Windrow never was any good at it. It's all about thinking a few steps ahead, and guessing what the other guy's going to do. He missed a big one. Or maybe Seeder did, I don't know." I stop talking. This isn't any good to talk about in my bugged house. "Anyway, I'm not learning it after the Games. I couldn't have won the Games if I didn't know how to think in chess moves."

"It helped in the arena?"

I nod. I don't elaborate. If she couldn't see it on television, then maybe the strategies didn't come through. They edited my Games to look like I was mostly beating people to death. Maybe even the Gamemakers didn't notice the way I was moving them into place -- moving water and food around, stealing weapons, all to put the strong ones in conflict with each other. (Most of the weak ones -- the pawns -- went down at the Cornucopia or in the first couple of days.)

I killed when I had to. I wasn't going to let my parents lose another child. But I only had four kills. One was on the fourth day, when I lured in the boy from Nine, who was onto my game. I jumped him from a tree. Then there was the girl from Four. She'd made it out of the career melee (I planted food from their stockpile in the bag of the boy from One, so they'd all think he stole it), and I had to take her out because she was the best shot in the field. I lured her to a water hole and drowned her. The other two were clumsier. I got caught toward the end, when the broken bones in my hand were making me crazy. I snapped the neck of the boy from Five, and finally went into combat with the girl from Ten. The cover of the highlights box shows me flinging her against a tree, my face totally crazed with pain. Chess wasn't the game by then. At the end, it was just war.

But it was chess until then.

"Do you want to learn to play?" I ask Bell.

"Oh, I can't afford to take lessons."

"Aw, come on. Can't we be friends? Or am I still just a field hand who can't be friends with a town girl?"

"I don't think like that."

"So you have lots of friends in the fields and orchards?"

"No, but that's because they don't live here and I don't see them."

I consider it. "That's a good point. So why not come over as a friend? I'll teach you chess."

"Just a friend?"

I look at her. She's a pretty girl, in the dainty way town-girls are, with ironed hair and skin the color of rye bread. She's only a year younger than I am. It's easy to forget that, after the arena. Kids in school are really the same age as I am. It seems unreal. I shake my head. "Just a friend," I say. "I think I need to think on anything else a little bit more."

"Okay. But my friends will think I'm lying if I say you're just teaching me chess."

"You tell your friends what you want, as long as you make me sound good. Tell them I'm great with my hands."

She laughs. "Right."

"And strong and smarter than anyone you ever met."

"I thought I was lying to them."

I grin. "Well, the lies go over better if you mix them up with such obvious truths. See… strategy."

"Of course." She looks at the chess board. "What do you think Beetee will do next?"

I find myself a little disappointed at the change in topic. "I think he'll be confused a little bit, but he's still going to use that bishop. He'll take it the other way, but it'll take him three moves to threaten anything of mine bigger than a pawn. In the meantime, I can wipe out his rook and maybe take his queen if he doesn't notice what I'm doing."

"And that's okay?"

"It's just chess. The pieces will get back up to play another day."

She raises her eyebrows, and I wonder if she's thinking back on what she saw on television.

I pull out a second board and teach her how to set it up. She doesn't make any further offers to be more than my friend -- or even more than a chess student and employee. As far as I know, she doesn't end up spreading silly rumors, either.

It doesn't stop them from reaping her in the spring.
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