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Challenges 2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 2
I keep obsessing over Gloss and Cashmere. What do their parents do during the rebellion? Gloss's girlfriend? for Angela
Morning sickness isn't great at any time, but in the middle of a war, it's torture.

We weren't really thinking about that contigency for the last several months, of course. Gloss was pretty clear that he didn't expect to come back from the Games. It wasn't just that he planned to let Cashmere win if he got the chance -- he did, because, of course, our plans would keep him going if he died, while she wouldn't have the same opportunity to live on. It was that he didn't really believe anyone was getting out.

"I'll try," he told me. "I plan to play the Game as hard as I can. But this business isn't looking for a victor. Maybe they'll let Brutus out. He's a real go-getter. I don't know. But Snow wants us gone."

"But you and Cazh aren't rebels!"

"Not rebels," he agreed. "But district. And we know too much, given all the people he's… loaned us out to." He grimaced. "He's got to know what a stupid thing that was to do. If Finnick Odair ever turns on Snow…"

But he didn't finish.

He didn't really need to. He'd been telling me for years. I kept his house for him at first -- I was pregnant when my husband died, and working in the perfumery was out of the question -- and that was all, but housekeepers see a lot, and eventually, we moved beyond that. He said he wanted to marry me and help raise my son Jett, but he didn't think it was a good idea because of Snow. Because of the "sponsor meetings" he went to in the Capitol. Until the reading of the Quell card, we even kept the physical out of our relationship.

After that, it was all very matter of fact. I told him I wanted his child, in case he died in the arena. He said that seemed like a good idea, and we spent the next several weeks making sure that it happened.

And it did -- I was two months in when he left, so at least he knew it -- and now he's gone, and so is Cashmere, and District One was the first inner district to declare war on the Capitol. We even beat Four to the punch.

Mother Myrrh stole a gun from the Peacekeepers on the day Gloss and Cashmere died. After the arena blew, she and Papa Marten were supposed to stand beside the Head Peacekeeper, to rally us all to the Capitol's cause. The Head Peacekeeper got as far as "… the rebel victors who killed our beloved children…" before she calmly raised the pistol and shot him in the face. She kept the gun on the front row while Marten took the microphone and told us all to disarm the Peacekeepers.

"We'll lose some, and I can't force you to take the risk, but we outnumber them fifty to one. Take them down. We know who marked our children for death, and it wasn't the rebellion."

We lost nearly a hundred people that day in the square, but all of the Peacekeepers in District One were there to guard us, and we took them down by sheer numerical superiority. They simply couldn't shoot everyone, and weren't prepared for massive actions. The bombers, after all, were all the way out in Twelve. By the time they got back, Panem had more to worry about than its fur coat supplies. As far as I know, they kept our rebellion secret for days, not wanting to admit that the inner districts had malcontents, let alone enough of us to topple the Peacekeepers. But they couldn't keep it secret forever. The mockingjay was flying across every wall in the city even before Katniss Everdeen reappeared in District Eight and started giving speeches.

So here we are at war, with everyone expected to put in the work of three people getting things done, and I'm in the bathroom of the Justice Building, whoopsing my cookies for twenty minutes at a go. People say they don't mind. Free-born children are the future and all that. But I can see it in their eyes: Again? REALLY?

There's a light tap on the door.

"Coco?" Mother Myrrh says. "Are you all right?"

I wipe my mouth. "Yes. It ends, right? I remember it ending."

The door opens, and she comes in, smiling faintly. "Yes. It ends. I went through it five times, and it always ended."

I stand up and lean over the sink, looking into the mirror. The skinny woman looking back at me seems to be entirely the wrong color, like someone came in and installed green-glass shades on all of the lamps. My blond hair is lank and damp, and my face… my face looks like I just crawled out of the grave and might be in the market for some fresh brains. The baby bump is clearly visible now, though it seems small to me. I hope the baby is all right, with all of this going on around me.

"You should go back to the Village," Mother says. "Lie down."

"I have bandages to roll."

"Bring them with you. I'll drive them back in."

"No. I'm all right. Just nervous."

She nods. "That part doesn't go away. You just keep getting more nervous. You could stay with Glory, you know. She doesn’t mind. She's alone since…"

She sighs. Glory is her oldest child. Her husband, Silver, died in the original push against the Peacekeepers. Glory was already an underground rebel, apparently, though Gloss never knew about it. She had been since Cashmere's reaping, and when she found out what they'd made her baby brother and sister do, she'd actually been active. I don't know everything she did, even now, but I do know that she set up a route for Capitol rebels to escape into the Districts. A woman named Aquila, who Glory got to District Six last year, has been back and forth on the train, carrying commandeered supplies. She told me the whole story. Glory met her at the spa on the hot springs, then hid her for weeks while the Capitol searched every way out of the district. As far as they knew, Glory -- like Gloss and Cashmere -- was practically a Capitol cheerleader. They paid no attention to her house. As soon as the Capitol troops (a small number; they didn't want to look like they were hunting down a Daughter of the Founding) had given up, Glory got Aquila on train to Six with letters of introduction to rebels there. Now, Aquila is a leader in their rebellion and has adopted two orphaned children. "It's significantly more satisfying than life in the Capitol," she told me brusquely. "The need to exit that life was a blessing, and I intend to write Haymitch Abernathy a sincere thank you note for mixing me up in this business. Meanwhile, your sister-in-law is a heroine. Do not forget that."

So I admire Glory.

Unfortunately, she's a bit intense for me, and I'm too much of a lightweight for her. If I moved into her house, she'd likely drive me like a pack mule without even noticing that she was doing it.

The other two siblings -- brothers, Malachite and Wonder -- joined the mobile army, and are fighting with the organized troops in Eight. They haven't gotten married yet, so there's no household there for me to join.

"I know you don't get along with Glory," Mother says. "But I think you could really help one another through this. She's working herself to the bone, and she needs someone at home to look after her. Silver used to do the cooking and make her eat when she got into these… frames of mind. She can be very stubborn."

I think of Mother shooting the Head Peacekeeper. "I wonder where she got that from."

"Yes, I suppose that's so."

I run some water into my hand and put it in my mouth to rinse. When I finish, I take a deep breath. "Has something happened?"

"Not yet. Beetee Latier contacted me. Everdeen is still recovering" -- she wrinkles her nose at this; she may know it's the Capitol's fault that her children are dead, but I doubt that she'll ever really love Katniss Everdeen any more than I will -- "and Abernathy is 'indisposed,' by which I assume they mean that he's shaking his way through drying out. But he told me to be ready. Eight is in full rebellion now, and that's where they're concentrating, but we're closer to Two, and Two is likely to side with the Capitol. He wanted a list of the chemicals we have in the perfumery. He thinks we can make some pretty high powered explosives, or poison gas."

"Poison gas?" I ask, putting my hand on my belly. "And if it ends up going wrong?"

"That's why I want you out of the city and up at the resort. They're moving the wounded there, and you can work as a medic until the baby comes. And after, I suppose. But it seems like the best place for you. I'd rather you were away from the city, anyway."

"The Village is… at least little bit away."

"Not far enough, and you are, at the moment, a high profile target. It would be very easy for the Capitol to… convince… you to say Gloss would be on their side."

"He wouldn't."

"No." She considers it. "Before the Quell, he might have sat it out. He didn't care for Latier or Abernathy or any of the others very much. But I think when Snow decided to kill as many victors as he could get away with, all of it changed. I think if he'd made it out of the arena as the victor, he'd have been avenging Cazh. Same if she had. And I intend to avenge both of them, for all of the thing they were put through."

"Me, too."

"Good. But for now, get out of here."

I nod. I go back to Victors' Village and pack a few things, including a photo of me with Gloss and Cashmere, and a long letter that Gloss wrote to the baby.

Then I take a military transport up to the resort in the mountains, leaving Mother Myrrh and Papa Marten to fight the real war.

Any chance of a conversation between Duronda and some of the other victors, where Duronda mentions meeting Mags' mother? Or just other behind the scenes victor interaction/shenanigans for Maraudercat
"I thought they'd stopped picking rebels' kids," I say. "Wasn't that the point of switching to the lottery system last year?"

Divine Carew snorts. "Right. I'm sure they mean it to be totally random from now on."

I'm not sure one way or another -- seems like it would be less trouble to just draw names than to figure out who really is a troublemaker's kid -- but I know the girl, Maggie Donovan, who the camera is focusing on as the trucks make their slow way through the procession. She and her district partner from Four are dressed in flowing green outfits that ripple in the wind like water. The district costumes they started last year proved popular, and I guess Rogan Lally, the District Four victor, decided to work the theme again. The whole thing is turning into a damned beauty pageant. The announcers are only making the smallest comments about the war this year, and the producers -- and Glass -- seem annoyed that I didn't arrange for some kind of coal-themed finery. I'd rather not go along with it, but I guess I'll have to. If everyone else is escalating the parade game, I can't leave my district behind, no matter how tacky the whole thing is, and --

"…know something?"

I blink. Divine is looking at me quizzically, and I realize that my mind has wandered off again, on a tangent about the parade and the costumes. It's easier than thinking about the kids in the costumes. "Sorry," I said. "I was woolgathering. What did you say?"

"I said, I didn't recognize either of the names. Do you know something?"

"Oh. The Donovan girl. I met her mother during the war. Not for long. But she helped my friends and me out a little bit. She was a captain, I think."

"Never remember hearing it." Divine shrugs. "I guess you'd have to work pretty hard not to pick a rebel's kid in some districts. Though I heard Four was fighting for the Capitol at the end."

I don't correct him, though I'm pretty sure that Four was fighting for Four, from the beginning of the war to the end. From what I could tell during negotiations, they had the crazy idea of being completely independent. Like either the Capitol or Thirteen would have allowed that.

"Anyway," I say, "maybe you're right, and it's hard not to get someone, but I can't shake the feeling that that one's deliberate. Snow hates me, and her mother helped me."

"I hate to say anything that sounds like I'm on a Gamemaker's side," Divine says, "but I seriously doubt you're that important to Coriolanus Snow."

"I was the one he tried to strangle in when he came up out of the rubble."

"Thereby providing him with the image that created him." Divine shakes his head. "You were a prop in his personal photo shoot, but other than that, I doubt he remembers you. It's not like you did anything to get in his way. You were just one more person he stepped on."

"Maybe," I say. "Probably."

But I don't believe it. Last year, every district was assigned an "escort," a Capitol worker who's supposed to be our liaison with the producers and a fundraiser during the year. Most of the team of escorts are relatively normal human beings, for Capitol citizens, but mine is a little psychopath named Ausonius Glass, who's one of Snow's personal pets. Glass told me that anything I did would be reported to Snow, so I'd better not do anything he didn't like. Judging from my conversations with other victors, the other escorts haven't behaved like that, so Snow obviously doesn't see me in exactly the same light.

I think I was never supposed to win my Games. Snow certainly didn't seem happy when he announced it, and glared at President Clemm the whole time my crown was being presented. Maybe I was supposed to die comically early on, to show that it was a fluke that I was ever in a position strong enough to offer help to the mighty, unchallengeable Coriolanus Snow, the Capitol hero who single-handedly rallied the flagging Capitol spirit and led The People to victory, even defining the terms of their retribution against their enemies. Such a person should never have been offered help.

And I never should have done it. If I hadn't, the little bastard wouldn't have been able to get his big break. But at the time, all I saw was a skinny kid leading a group of terrified younger kids out of the ruins of their school. You couldn't have known what he'd do, Effrim Everdeen has told me. You did what normal, decent people do. No normal person would have expected him to treat it like an insult and then turn it into an insult against the whole Capitol. Why would anyone guess that?

He's right. I know he's right. But I still feel like I should have shot him on the spot instead of offering him a hand. We'd be in much better shape now if I'd done that.

So, he definitely blames me. But the connection to Maggie Donovan's mother is pretty obscure. It could still be an accident that she was picked. I'll ask Effrim and Misty what they think when I get home.

The trucks pull around the last edge of the oval around City Center, and come to a stop in front of Clemm. Snow is sitting in a box behind Clemm with the little cadre of other sadists that he's brought in to help run the Games. He's ignoring Clemm studiously, and Clemm is not acknowledging him. The two of them are a pair of snakes who are obviously trying to for the same spot on the rock to sun themselves. Snow wants Clemm's power. Clemm wants Snow's fan base.

I want them to be put into an arena together. Preferably without any "escaping alive" clause.

The camera pans over to Maggie, who is a pretty young girl. She's only fourteen or fifteen, and she has a cascade of reddish-brown curls that are decorated with small seashells. Her little, upturned nose is covered with freckles, and her smile -- rather sharklike behind its cheerful dimples -- seems to be winning over the crowd. She looks like a wild mermaid. I decide not to mention this to Rogan. If he's playing this parade game, he'll probably put fish tails on next year's poor tributes.

"Sooner or later, all the rebels' kids will age out."

I look away. I'd almost forgotten that Divine was still there. "Yeah. I guess. We're pretty close. Maggie was just a little thing the last year of the war."

"You think they'll give this business up when they run out of actual rebels to punish?"

"Did you see the sponsorship money last year? Not a chance."

"But they're selling it as punishment."

"Not really." I point at the trucks, decked out in their district designs, covered with tissue-paper flowers. "It's turning into a show. Snow's not dumb enough to try and make people think about the war all the time, even if Clemm is. Give him five more years, and he'll start talking about it like it's some pre-Catastrophe tradition that it's tacky to think about challenging."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. I think they like the money, and I think Snow likes forcing districts to send their kids to die. Since he'll never make it work if it's dreary, he'll make it into a party." I point at the trucks. "I mean… look. Look at them, all dolled up."

"That doesn't mean…" He trails off. "Maybe it does. Now I wish I hadn't gotten the jewelers to lend us things. I won't do it next year."

"You think there'll be a choice about it next year? How optimistic of you."

"They can't make us dress them up, can they?"

I raise my eyebrows. "The make us teach them to kill each other. I don't know about you, but scrupling at the costumes seems a little beside the point to me."

Divine sighs and looks back at the parade, where the tributes are now listening (some impatiently, some with well-feigned interest) to Clemm's speech about what a clever solution to the need for retribution the Games are, how their sacrifice allows Panem to go on without another war. Behind him, Snow is watching all of the broadcast on a set of little screens, paying no attention at all to the president.

Maggie Donovan, one of the ones feigning interest, just watches it all, smiling her dimpled shark's smile.


4 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 26th, 2016 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's realistic and human that, while One may have rebelled, there isn't much love for Katniss amongst many of them. Also, even if the siblings weren't reaped, Gloss' change in heart about things does tie into that family theme with the victors... even though they decided to go out having... fun.
Always fun to hear about Aquila.
Do you think there was any interaction between Gloss' girlfriend/family and the victors post-Rebellion, or did the grudge remain?

Snow does come across as someone whose berserk button is A) being made to look weak or B) things not going the way he planned... even if things were completely unintentional from the offending party. And of course Duranda managed to step on both buttons.
Interesting about Four, which I suspect has to do with their cultural distinction. Did they think they were powerful enough to strike out on their own?
Effective way at showing the transition of the Games. And of course everyone's going "They wouldn't do that... Would they?" about how things will turn out.

-- FFR
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 26th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Glad to see another update. I really enjoy your snapshots of Panem!
shiiki From: shiiki Date: July 27th, 2016 09:09 am (UTC) (Link)
The first one is just heartbreaking! And also 'Coco' made me smile because I started thinking of Coco Malfoy (hehe).

I love how you make all the victors really human, albeit with that hard streak that gives them that ability to turn ruthless. I now want more of the second one! I love Duronda's voice, plus if I remember, Mags' games was the one where someone raped her ally and she got back at him with her slingshot? (I think that's your verse, but I have your series so muddled with canon now I can't remember what actually is canon!)
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 28th, 2016 04:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, a whole family of badasses. As usual I am intrigued with your world-building. I never pictured the families in District 1 as being big, unless Gloss and Cashmere's family is unique in that respect. Myrrh is awesome. She certainly reared some tough kids. It seems fitting that instead of showing her grief publicly she killed the Head Peacekeeper. Love the Glory and Aquila connection. You just keep creating characters I want to learn more about!
I love any glimpse of Mags and the description of her "dimpled shark's smile" is absolutely perfect. It's interesting seeing the earlier days of the Games. Seeing the origin of why Glass was assigned to District 12 is rather chilling.
Thanks you so much; these were amazing.
4 comments or Leave a comment