The Conspiracy

Chapter VI: Training

We're the first two downstairs, but none of the Gamemakers talk to us. We stand beside each other, but don't touch or talk, just stand and wait. 1 come down, followed by 4, and the rest of the Districts filter in over the next quarter of an hour. Finally there are twenty-two of us standing around a raised dais in the middle of the room, waiting only for 12. They arrive in time, looking like teammates in their matching outfits. Cato and I glance at each other, and then my eyes return to scanning the rest of the group.

It's strange to see the field of competitors lined up, listening to this Capitol lady give us instructions. I don't particularly remember faces of people from previous years, but I'm used to seeing them fighting for their lives in the arena. I'd never imagine them standing around scared, waiting for someone to tell them it's all a joke and that they can go home, like half of this group, the notably weaker tributes, is now.

The minute they tell us we're free to move about the room, Cato and I follow our mentors' instructions, heading for the most dangerous looking weapons, showing off a little with the other Careers. We know we'll all be using each other in the arena, but there's nothing against being loud and having a little fun now while we're not all about a minute or a wrong word from fighting to the death. 6, the boy from 3, starts talking to me, telling me about how much of a genius he is with technology and, although it goes against what many other generations of District 2 Tributes might decide to do, I make a mental note to tell Cato to keep an eye on him. There's nothing wrong with the Careers adding one or two more non-Careers to the Alliance.

12 stick together, always, no questions. Good. The more the Capitol falls for them, the more likely they are to want them to win as a pair. 22 looks like he'd be a useful ally, but when Cato talks to him he shrugs him off and walks away. Cato and I sit casually beside each other at lunch. 1 sit across from us, 6 is next to me. Growing tired of his constant jabbering, I put a hand on his shoulder blade, lean close to his ear and tell him, "I'll talk to you about it tomorrow." I jerk my head at Cato, who is laughing with 2, indicating that I want to talk to him about it. He swallows and nods, looking like the suggestion that he is at the very least being considered is better than being on his own.

I take to the survival stations after lunch, though subtly. Knots and camouflage are close to each other so I kill two birds with one stone. I watch 24 work with the paints until his hand looks like it's covered in tree bark and get to have a quick word with 21.

"That's not gonna work," I tell her bluntly, watching her small hands work with a length of rope. It's as kind as I can be without completely giving myself away. She looks up at me, not scared, clearly curious as to why it's not going to work and why I'm helping. Even though she's young and totally at a disadvantage here, she's got more pride than to ask for my help outright.

"Here." I take my rope and loop it around in the same knot as hers, stopping at the part where she's messing up. "Through here, see?" I show her, then tighten the knot and hand her my rope. "Sometimes untying it helps you understand." She looks at my rope, then sets it down and finishes her knot correctly. "But that one won't help you much." I pick up my rope again and begin weaving it into another knot. "Learn to tie this." I hand it to her. "But don't untie that one. I'm not going to come help you again." I stand up to leave. Before I do, I say to her, "Also, learn some snares. Grain has carbohydrates, which break down and give you energy, but you'll need protein from meat as well. Don't eat it raw though; it'll make you sick. Make sure you can start a fire without matches." She just nods and I walk back to the weaponry.

After the second half of the day, Cato and I head back up to our quarters. We sit beside each other at dinner and talk with our mentors, who seemed to have guessed that Cato and I want the same strategy and seem to have decided that they're going to coach us together for the time being.

When dinner's over Cato and I sit closely on one of the plush couches in the living area, more because we want to whisper privately than anything else. He tells me about how he doesn't think 22 will be part of the Alliance, which is unfortunate because 22 is huge and he'd be valuable. Apparently Cato tried more than once to talk to him. I tell him about how 6, though a little annoying, seems to know a lot about explosives, how he's already worked out a way to use things that are sure to be in the arena to make something like TNT, which Cato and I, coming from 2, are very familiar with.

"He didn't tell me what he wants to do, just that he's got an idea."

"What did you tell him?"

"That I wanted to talk to you first. It's sort of expected that you, me, 1, and 4 are allies. I think we should keep 6 around. At the very least, let him ally himself with us. The last thing I want is to have him blow us up."

"Tell him that. Well, no. Tell him he's in."

I nod. We talk about 12 (23 and 24), how they're still teamed up, and we speculate how the Capitol will react to that. Will they address it in their interviews? We'll have to wait. I ask him if he noticed me talking to 21.

"Yeah, I noticed. What did you tell her?"

"I showed her a couple of knots and told her what she should make sure she knows. Did anybody else notice?"

"The Alliance didn't. I made sure. I don't know about the others, but maybe it's not so bad if 22 saw you working with the girl from his District. Maybe he'll change his mind."

"I can't risk it again though. 22 might think it's cute but the Alliance'd see it as weak."

"Yeah. Don't do it again, but it's good that you did it once."

The next two days pass just like the first day. Cato and I spend just as much time observing the other tributes as we do trying to learn something from the trainers. When I point out to Cato how good 24 is with a paintbrush, he shrugs and aims a spear at one of the dummies across the station. We're not always together, but we've sort of set up rotations and every so often we are 'coincidentally' next to each other.

We go to bed early on the night before the private sessions with the Gamemakers. We've talked strategy and both know what the other is going to show them and what number we're aiming for. Nothing higher than a ten. An eleven or a twelve would threaten the others. They're too high. That'd put you on the map of 'people who are dangerous and need to be killed' or 'people who need to die quickly so some of the rest of us get sponsors'.

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