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Challenges 1 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 1
I'd love some more mentors larking about behind the scenes of the Games (pick a games, any games). Maybe one of the victors you haven't written much from before? for Maraudercat

"I'm too tall for ballet," I say, sighing. "I tower over half those Capitol boys that are supposed to catch us."

Miracle Brea grins. "You just distract them with those legs. They're not thinking straight when they get a look."

I laugh and start to unlace my slippers. I have a tutu, but I haven't put it on yet. This rehearsal was strictly a leotard and tights affair. They can never count on me for a performance -- in the happy instance that my tributes live for more than a few minutes, I can't rehearse, so I'll never dance the lead in anything -- but I keep up remotely at home, and whenever I can, I attend the master classes with the Capitol ballet. I usually dance a solo at some point while the victor is recuperating. This year, it's from Andromeda, a Greek story about a princess and a sea monster. The solo is her time on the rock, when the hero Perseus is supposed to first discover her. The young man's task isn't very taxing. He comes in for the last thirty seconds, catches me from my leap, and carries me off stage.

Of course, catching someone from a leap takes a lot of practice, and he and I have been zooming past each other for hours now, while he tries to adjust for my gait, which is longer than the last dancer he worked with.

At any rate, the tutu is for the performance. It's a silky bell tutu, and the bodice looks like Greek draping.

"What are you going to dance?" I ask Miracle, who has a sparkly green body sock instead of a tutu.

"Eden," she says. "The snake number."

I shrug. It's a classic, dating back to the founding of Panem, and everyone does the snake dance sooner or later. For myself, I'd like to keep it later. It's boring, and I haven't liked a single one of the costumes I've seen for it. It's Miracle's first year. They'll probably simplify the choreography for her. She was self-taught before the Games, which can make the formal aspects difficult, as I found out five years ago. I'd practiced every move I could catch when the electricity and televisions were working, but before I took it up as a talent on my Victory Tour, I didn't know what anything was called, and I couldn't understand a word out of my choreographer's mouth.

"I have my blocking rehearsal tomorrow," Miracle says, pulling on a pair of jeans over her leotard. She sits down and starts putting on sneakers. "What to come?"


"They said not to pick something with a catcher. Because District One…"

"Sometimes has tributes until the end?"

She nods. "Sometimes."

We don't talk for a while, the Games taboo having been broken. No one has to teach any new victor about the taboo. If you're going to get anything out of your time in the Capitol, you can't think about why you're really here.

Miracle breaks the silence. She's new; she hasn't gotten used the silences yet. "Is there a good place to have dinner?"

"Lots of them, but I'm sure your District One crew will want to see you."

"Well… sort of." She tightens the laces on her sneakers, then pulls her hair up into a loose elastic, twisting it into a lazy ponytail. "Jewel's the closest and she's eight years older than I am."

"I'm five years older."

"Yeah, but you dance." She bites her lip. "Are we not supposed to be friends?"

"Outer and inner districts? It doesn't happen much."

Miracle sniffs. "That's dumb. We're all in there together."

I start to point out that the inner districts, when "in there," tend to gleefully hunt down my tributes, but I stop myself. I may not have been gleeful, but I did hunt. And if I'd been with a gang like that, maybe I'd have acted gleeful about it, too.

"You know what?" I say. "You're right. Call Jewel, though. I loved her tap routine."

"I forgot she dances. Who else dances?"

"Titania Vacka from Two. She does interpretive dance. I saw her my first mentor year."

"Isn't she old?"

"She's thirty-one. Shocking as it may sound, you and I will also be thirty-one someday. No one else will be your age here, so… well, if I'm going to expand my district associations, you can expand your breadth of ages."


We go back to the Viewing Center and end up digging up Titania, and also Earl Bates from Ten, who does some kind of country dance that involves wearing tall boots and kicking around a lot. He reminds us of Sandi Matta from Four, and when she learns the nature of the gathering -- not that we've decided what we're actually going to do -- she insists on collecting Saffron Abatty, who apparently was the first victor to really make a showing with her talent, doing a solo show during the hiatus after the Tenth games.

We find Saffron holed up in a bar, watching a partially dressed Capitol man gyrating on the stage.

"Aw, come on ladies," Earl says when he realizes what kind of bar it is. "I don't want to sit here paying for what I can see in the mirror."

Saffron looks him over across the smoke from her cigarette, then slurs, "You ain't seen nothing like that in the mirror for a good ten years, Bates." She rolls her eyes. "Don't take it personally. I ain't seen my version of it for thirty. But we all have fantasies, don't we?"

"We're here as dancers," Miracle announces loftily.

"So's he," Saffron waggles her eyebrows at the stripper. "Not half bad at it, either, when he gets going."

Sandi nods enthusiastically and signals a scantily clad waiter to bring her a beer.

Saffron holds up her own glass in his general direction, but Titania pushes it down. "Ronnie, you've had enough," she says quietly, then smiles. "We're all dancers. Let's go out somewhere and dance."

"You got my vote," Earl says. "I'd be happy to escort the five prettiest girls in the Capitol out for a night of dancing like fools."

"You're going to escort us?" Sandi asks, fluttering her eyelids.

"Don't get excited," Titania says. "There's a Mrs. Earl at home, and I hear she keeps a tight leash."

"Better believe it, darlin'," he drawls. "Which is why this'll have to be just among us. And the viewing audience, of course."

We laugh.

At first, no one gets up. It seems rude to the boy dancing. But when he finishes, we all toss him some money (we've probably all been in a place where a few coins would do us some good) then pry Saffron out of her chair and take her outside.

It's still bright light, and she makes a great show of running for the darkness of the bar, but Titania steers her away with a great roll of the eyes, and the six of us head out into the Capitol.

We don't do anything of great importance. There's a band playing in a square, and all of us shimmy around a little bit. Saffron starts to sober up, and Miracle seems to be drunk on the sunshine. ("In the perfume factory, the windows are so grimed up that we never get to see much sun!") Earl gets us to help him find elaborately expensive gifts for his wife, and Sandi gives a scathing commentary on a seafood restaurant we stop at.

It's all nothing, and it doesn't change the fact that Titania and Saffron, even though they aren't mentoring this year, keep glancing up at the screens, where the boy from Two, Albinus Drake, is desperate to break away from the rest of the inner district pack. Miracle and Sandi are squirming uncomfortably, since they know the tributes from One and Four will probably tear the poor, skinny thing apart before the end, and Earl keeps quiet, since they killed his tribute days ago. (My poor girl went down at the Cornucopia, and Chaff's boy fell from a ledge the second day.)

But we can't think of that all the time.

We're all in this horror together.

Maybe the best we can do -- the only real way to rebel against it -- is to be lights for each other in the dark… and not to let each other back into it.

maybe the Gamemaker's perspective on Jo's games, i.e. their realisation of how much they fucked up or the poor editor desperately trying to find angles that don't show the boils and pus. for thornyrose42

"Do we have a historian?" Dori bellows, storming out of her office. Her hair is in utter disarray, and she's wearing the same clothes she wore yesterday. I expect she's thinking about the long-line of short-lived Head Gamemakers that came before. "Where's Heavensbee? Plutarch? Dammit, what's the history here?"

I am prepared for this. I was prepared for it at the meeting we had three months ago, when the original arena, a cunning little mousetrap of a haunted estate, was attacked by raiders. We lost two Gamemakers on that one, plus fifty workers. And the arena itself, of course. I don't mourn that, though. If I could do it, I'd burn them all.

Not that I can say that. Instead, when I got word that their big idea was go back to an abandoned arena built for the Eleventh games but never used (they'd decided by then that it was actually cheaper to terraform in North America than travel around the world) and pretend that its unfinished nature was really the plan all along, I came with a stack of history books on the Catastrophes and what we'd likely be facing. I talked to early victors whose arenas weren't entirely controlled. I watched the First games. I came with facts and figures, begging them to just hire a double crew and finish the one meant for next year, the Johnstown mock-up with the lake, rather than risk something getting out of our control.

I was told to stop being negative. So there might be some unexpected animals, or unstable structures. It's not like there would be a real volcano in Germany! (There are. Most aren't especially active, but there are. I didn't bring that up, because the arena hadn't, in fact, been built around one.) And since the special ingathering teams combed over Europe many times and are sure they got every survivor over here, there were no longer wandering bands of nomads, unlike here. Why couldn't I just get on board and make Dori's idea work, instead of being such a nay-sayer?

"HEAVENSBEE!" she screams.

I pull out my report.

She takes one look at it, then points to a conference room. She buttonholes Seneca Crane, Tellus Foreman, and a handful of her other hand-picked successors and pulls all of us inside.

When she shuts the door, she says, "You've been talking about plague, Heavensbee."

"That's because our tributes have the plague," I tell her, and put the report on the table. "Look, I've been studying the west-central European catastrophes. There was a bio-agent released. That's never been a secret. But the symptoms weren't well recorded. I had to dig through firsthand accounts. I finally found a doctor who videotaped one of his patients. He was dying himself, and delirious, begging for help. And I saw the buboes."

"The what?" Dori snaps.

"The buboes. The swellings the kids have. It bubonic plague. Someone cooked up one last nasty version of Europe's old nightmare. It must have adapted to be endemic to the species there. They've all built up immunity or died off. But here we come, and walk right into it."

"The new cases don't have the bobos," Dori says dismissively.


"Whatever. And we didn't detect any mosquitoes -- "


"Blood-sucking little disease carriers. So the new cases --"

"Went airborne. That's one of the things that made the plague a nasty customer. It can manifest in three completely different ways. Bubonic. Septicemic -- luckily, we haven't had that yet; their fingers turn black and die ahead of the body. And of course, pneumonic. That's what we're seeing. There's no question about it. So yes, when I was asked I said I thought it might be plague."

"You were out of line," Tellus says, looking at Dori for approval, which is given with a nod. She goes on. "Plague is quite treatable -- if that's what the issue is, we'll send drugs. But it's an unnecessarily frightening word to bandy about. We should say it's the flu."

"The flu has killed thousands of people…"

"Yes, but no one thinks of it that way. The Plague… that's what kills off whole cities in people's minds. The flu is just a bad cold with a fever."

"That's ridiculous, and besides, the flu getting in there is no less a loss of control than plague."

"That's why I picked the flu. The Mason girl had it when everyone was getting ready for the parade. She may have infected someone. Or everyone."

"It's not the flu," Seneca says, "and it's not Mason's fault. It's ours."

"We -- " Dori's voice cuts off abruptly and her eyes go wide. "President Snow."

I look over my shoulder. The president is standing in the doorway, looking grim. "It is not collectively the Gamemakers' fault, Miss Dori. Mr. Heavensbee and Mr. Crane both opposed the move on the grounds of losing control of the Games. Their warnings were prescient, and should have been heeded."

I bite my tongue on the obvious retort: Snow approved it all. "We need to get control back," I say.

He turns on me with a glare. "You have been loose-lipped, Heavensbee. Miss Foreman is quite right about our public presentation. Under no circumstances should you ever imply -- least of all to Haymitch Abernathy, of all people -- that we have in any manner lost control of an arena. Luckily, when it comes to medicine, he has never bothered to educate himself. Nor have any of the others. We will tell them that you overreacted, and it was Miss Mason's flu. The records of these Games will duly reflect that, and all Gamemakers and Games medical staff involved in treating this will be sworn to secrecy on penalty of death. Are we clear on this matter?"

I consider being defiant, but I can't see how it would be helpful to the rebellion right now. It would just get me removed from my position (one way or another) and I would be much less useful to them. I nod. "I’m sorry. It occurred to me that he might want to look for medicine for his tribute. Haymitch and I have been friendly since his Victory Tour. I… I admit, I sometimes forget that he's a seditionist. He's always very concerned about his tributes."

"Yes, well, many of the rebels have their little virtues. Certainly, that is Abernathy's." He takes a seat at the table and glares at Dori. "Now, Miss Dori. Explain immediately what the plan is for extricating ourselves from this highly unpleasant situation."

She's gone from fury to panic, and I can't blame her. If she makes it to the end of the Games with her head attached to her shoulders, it will be a miracle. "I…" She takes a quick, whistling breath, then gathers herself. "We put out the story about the flu, and send in medical supplies, free of charge, since the flu wasn't meant to be part of the Games. It corrupts the outcome."

"Yes," Snow says. "We wouldn't want to corrupt the competition."

I don't know if he really believes it or is being wry. He was an avid Gamemaker in his day. But everything that comes out of his mouth sounds sarcastic and mocking, so it's hard to tell.

Dori decides to play it safe and treat it like a serious agreement. "So we give them the proper treatment for plague, while we send in nano-scrubbers to disinfect the native fauna and scrub the air inside the arena. We tell people that we need to clear the area of the flu before we open it for visitors, and we send out teams over the next year to eradicate the virus -- "

"Bacterium," I mutter.


"Yersinia pestis. It's not a virus."

She glares at me. "The nasty little bug from the rest of the continent. We pick up the victor and tell him or her the same story -- that Mason's flu got out before she was purged -- and no one need ever know anything else. We'll, of course, treat the victor and disinfect all personnel and transport vehicles before they re-enter Panem. No need to bring the thing over here." She smiles ingratiatingly.

"No need at all," Snow agrees.

"Once that's done, it can be treated like any other Games."

"Yes, of course." Snow looks at Seneca Crane. "See to the arrangements, Crane. I'll be reviewing your records soon, along with a few others. It would be a good time to impress me with your acumen at manipulating a crowd."


"Obviously, the Head Gamemaker position is now open." He stands up and bows slightly to Dori, then signals two guards outside the door. They come in. "Please escort Miss Dori to her exit interview," he says.

She is dead silent until they take her arms, then she starts screaming, begging him to give her a chance to make things right.

It's fruitless. The guards pull her out of the meeting room, and her screams are cut off only when the elevator doors close behind them.

Snow stares at the rest of us. "I trust that there will be no need to purge this organization as thoroughly as the medics will purge our victor's cells?"

He doesn't wait for an answer. He just turns and leaves, as abruptly as he came.

We all look at each other, then Seneca Crane takes it upon himself to delegate chores.

I end up on retrieval detail. Great. I decide to park the return shuttle on a volcanic island in the North Atlantic for disinfection. There's no real reason for the choice.

On a whim, I throw in radio monitoring equipment for the ritual ingathering check.

I doubt it will find anything.


26 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 5th, 2016 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I always like seeing the interactions between victors, especially when it's crossing the boundary between the very low and very high numbered districts. On that note, that was a nice bit of empathy from Seeder as to the way the peer mob nature of Career (Have they gained that term yet?) packs does fuel their viciousness, despite most of the actual individuals being pretty decent out of that setting.
Talk about retroactive irony in Drake being considered a poor contender.

The second story is cringe comedy to the max, yet also demonstrates the importance of controlling the narrative. Not to mention the danger of Capitol-level hubris.
Oh yeah, and more examples of humanity clutching the idiot ball (might as well re-unleash smallpox while they're at it) during that lovely period of civilization collapse. Yay!
I admit to chuckling at Snow's "exit interview" euphemism.

-- FFR
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 6th, 2016 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Forgot to mention that I take it Seeder's said empathy is a big factor for her nonleathal run in the Quell.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2016 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Drake's a poor kid at this point, who just hard-shouldered his way into volunteering. But he hasn't had training the way the others have, so he's kind of in a pickle. He'll get some luck and use his brains for the rest, but they're just not expecting it.

And oh, yes. So very many idiot balls involved in actually deliberately releasing not just plague, but a genetically modified plague that no one has resistance to. In the midst of an already chaotic environment. I think Dori is that person's spiritual descendant... hey, let's just jump into an unknown environment! The early Gamemakers most likely had run into it, but they knew about it, and then also picked up the idiot ball by saying that the choice not to use that arena was all about saving money by using terraformed arenas.

Sigh. Panem.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)

I Liked...

That you created a credible reason (planned arena destroyed by raiders) for them to suddenly go with a super low-control environment elsewhere. It's still idiotic, but it has a thread of rationality.

Sara Libby
willowlistener From: willowlistener Date: March 5th, 2016 01:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
OMG what happened after that!!!???

Don't leave us hanging Fern!

vytresna From: vytresna Date: March 6th, 2016 02:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I expect Plutarch's bugging was addressed in whichever Haymitch fic covers Johanna's Games (and now I need to reread them to figure out what the deal is there. Not that I wasn't heavily considering rereading throughout that ficlet; it was really bringing home that it's been too long.)

--Vytresna, who seems to be having some difficulty signing in
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2016 11:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's actually not in that story, since that's in Effie's POV and she wouldn't know. I can't remember where it is! But it's while Plutarch's on ice in Iceland that he discovers District Thirteen's signals.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 6th, 2016 11:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I knew there was something significant about that little teaser, but I went into a panic because I didn't know what it was and didn't have the first idea where to start to look!

Willow - who is once again - at work
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 02:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Chapter 1 of "The Last Tribute", Haymitch notes that Plutarch mentioned finding something on the radio and speculates that it's 13.
thornyrose42 From: thornyrose42 Date: March 5th, 2016 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh that snippet from behind the scene's at Jo's games was excellent. I loved Snow's entrance. And Plutarch's told you so attitude.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2016 11:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sometimes, you just have to say, "Toldja so."
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 6th, 2016 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Small Nitpick...

About the second story: Was the doctor who videoed the plague patient sick and dying as well, or just the patient? The sentence isn't clear enough.

Enjoyed both. I agree that the black humor of the second story works well. In terms of reclaiming the narrative, it certainly doesn't matter whether the disease vector is a mosquito or a flea. To actually stop it, of course, it matters enormously. Plutarch's pedantism is often annoying, but this is where it really shines.

Nice foreshadowing at the end, about how Plutarch tumbled to communication with District 13.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2016 11:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Small Nitpick...

Hmm. The doctor was sick as well.

In terms of reclaiming the narrative, it certainly doesn't matter whether the disease vector is a mosquito or a flea. To actually stop it, of course, it matters enormously.

Yup, which shows the real priorities of the Gamemakers. I mean, heck, we're going to kill them anyway, right? Of course, what I didn't get into, is that there are probably Games workers in the tunnels, plus all the stylists who went to do the last prep before emergence. Did any of them get sick, and if so, what happened?

From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 12:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Small Nitpick...

I think it's within the realm of logic that the workers and stylists would be changing clothes and showering regularly (tunnel workers are probably quite covered up to begin with), as well as having less actual contact with the environment in question. So by the time the Gamemakers start sending drugs, there's enough for any workers who might be showing symptoms, and by the end of the Games, everyone who left Panem is getting dosed as a matter of course. Does that work for you?

Sara Libby
sonetka From: sonetka Date: March 6th, 2016 05:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I really enjoyed them both -- how Seeder and Miracle are from vastly different districts but both have the same problems after the games, and Plutarch being a pedantic know-it-all under circumstances where people really should have LISTENED to the pedantic know-it-all!
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2016 11:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Every now and then, the pedant has a point. :D
golden_d From: golden_d Date: March 6th, 2016 04:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
These are great! I always love your Seeder.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 6th, 2016 11:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, glad you liked them!
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 01:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Loved them both. I always enjoy seeing the mentors finding various ways of dealing with the life they're stuck with, and with other people who understand what they've gone through.

One little nitpick though, wasn't Drake's games six years before Haymitch, which would make them the year before Chaff's?

-Thanks, Maraudercat
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2016 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)
My list has Chaff at the 41st Games, then Blight, Miracle, and Drake. I figured Chaff was about ten years older than Haymitch.

(My little Excel file is my way of keeping track of all the names that randomly get tossed out. It probably leaves me with dumb gaffes at more than one point, if I've forgotten to check!)

Edited at 2016-03-07 03:01 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Fair enough. I'm one of the people who took Collins' literally when she said in Catching Fire that Chaff won his games thirty years before.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2016 06:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh. And I missed Collins's reference entirely and just guessed. Oh, well. Too late now.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
To be fair, Katniss could be an unreliable narrator on that account. -Kate
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 7th, 2016 04:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Katniss's total unreliability is an awesome explanation for all things. :D
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 7th, 2016 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love Seeder so much. Like Haymitch, I'm glad she gets bits of happiness in dancing at the Capitol. I do enjoy seeing the victors navigate relationships together in what usually would be an untenable situation.
I really want to read more of Drake's games now. The fact that he was trying to break away from the group was very intriguing.
Plutarch's voice in "Plague" was perfect as always. Trust the history buff to have gathered up as much information as possible. Loved seeing his inner thoughts as he dealt with the rest of the games team and Snow. I always like the callbacks to as repulsive as Snow is, he is very smart (not about the arena in this case) but with relationships. For a man who has so few visible relationships of his own, he understands many of the victors remarkable well.
redrikki From: redrikki Date: March 7th, 2016 06:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Damn, the bit with Snow and Dori was just cold, yet not unexpected considering what happens to Crane. Still, the way he casually mentions her execution in front of her co-workers is quite chilling.
26 comments or Leave a comment