The 100th Games

The Games: Assessment

Katniss –

“I’m going with you,” Peeta says as I dress.

I shake my head.

“Why not?” He asks, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“The letter was for me. I have to go alone.” I don’t relish the idea of being in a room with President Snow, but Peeta can’t come. Whatever threat or message Snow intends to send me is for me alone. I can already imagine what he will say or who he will threaten. It’s all old threats I’ve heard before.

Peeta doesn’t need to hear them firsthand.

There’s a familiar feeling building in me. Not one of fear, not one of anger, and not uncertainty. It’s old. It comes from the survivor in me. The girl with the berries and the pin. The one ready to face her monsters.

The feeling is courage.

Courage and knowledge that I can take whatever Snow is going to say to me. He’s already throwing my children in the arena. He’s forced us through years of pageantry and threatened all the people I love to keep me compliant. He could tell me he’s going to lock me up and I wouldn’t falter. I can take it.

I have to keep myself together in front of him. I can’t let him see the parts of me that are broken. I can’t let him win.

Peeta can’t be there for that. It has to be me who shows Snow.

I hear a sigh from behind me. “If you really think you should go alone. Okay. But just promise you’ll come find me after?”

I turn around.

“As soon as I get back.”

I kiss him before I pull on my jacket and leave the bedroom. He follows me out shortly after and heads to the table where the others sit.

Ivy looks up at me as I walk to the elevator.

“You’re leaving?” She asks.

I press the button and turn to face her. I’m silent, unable to answer the simple question. It’s stupid. I should just be able to tell her. But I don’t know how to say I’m going to see the man who’s responsible for all of this. Who has kept us under a gun, waiting to pull the trigger when I didn’t follow the rules. The man who is going to force them to fight and kill, who forced me to do it.

How do I tell her I’m meeting him for breakfast?

She watches me intently waiting for a response. I’m grateful that Peeta is there to answer.

“She has a meeting.”

“Alone?” Bas asks.

“Yes,” I answer, an edge to my voice. They don’t question it further.

“Before you go then, what should I do for the assessment?” Ivy asks.

Peeta starts. “Show them your best skill.”

The elevator arrives. I lock eyes with her. “Show them everything.”

She nods and I look to Bas. He has the same look he had back in Twelve right after the Peacekeeper attack. A determination and anger that echoes my own. He nods in agreement as I get on the elevator.

Two of Snow’s personal guards wait for me outside the training center with a car. One with dark hair and too white teeth holds the door open.

“Mrs. Mellark,” he greets as I get in the car.

The other guard silently nods to his partner. The one with too white teeth sits beside me as the other drives. Neither one introduces themselves or says anything for the rest of the trip.

I feel like I’m being driven to an execution.

I can take it. I’m not afraid. He won’t win. I can take it.

I keep repeating it in my head as the drive ends and the guard opens the door for me.

I’m led into the mansion where the faint scent of roses hovers over every corner. At each turn it grows in power. I remember the white rose before the Victory Tour. Another rose accompanying a letter of congratulations. If I could destroy every last rose it wouldn’t be enough.

When we stop, it’s outside large glass doors where the smell is strongest. Of course he would have the meeting here.

“Wait a moment.” The guard with the too white teeth walks inside.

I hear a muffled question before a woman’s voice answers loudly, “I’ll see to her.”

A moment later the two guards leave as Snow’s granddaughter, Reagan, emerges from behind the glass doors. The smell of roses is nearly overpowering as she walks out. I hear a beeping before she shuts the door.

She’s wearing a black fitted pantsuit and heels, so unlike most of the Capitol couture that it’s almost odd. She has to be doing it to stand out. When everyone else is dressed in loud colors, the only way to be different is to dress in simple, dark ones. Her heels give her an inch on my height so that she looks down at me with ice cold eyes. Her hair is a dirty blonde, curled and reaching past her shoulders. The only embellishments she has are some brown and gold highlights in her hair and a pearl necklace. It doesn’t make her seem any softer. If anything they serve as cold reminders of how powerful and wealthy she is. Like she doesn’t need any of the usual Capitol flair to get attention, she demands it when she walks into a room.

I remember seeing her on camera when she was a little girl, her hair braided like mine, wearing a flower dress and holding Snow’s hand. That little girl is long gone, replaced by a worthy successor to her grandfather’s legacy.

“He’ll be ready in a minute,” she says, void of any warmth.

“Thank you.” I try to avoid making eye contact. She continues staring, like she’s looking for an answer.

“I used to do my hair like yours.” She indicates me. I nod. I remember.

“A lot of people did,” I say, finally making eye contact. She’s just the first step in Snow’s strategy to shake me up. He wants me scared when I walk in there. She wants to be the cause. I no longer see the little girl, only the cold woman, and I have to beat her.

“My daughter does now. Funny how history repeats itself.”

She narrows her eyes at my remark. “She’ll grow out of it. Assuming she’s this year’s Victor, of course.”

“Did you grow out of it?”

“What do you think?” She asks, almost amused.

“I think you hope you did.”

“And I think your crown is finally going to break you. Because neither one of your children are inheriting it.” She watches my reaction. I give her none. “And whatever history you think is going to repeat, isn’t.”

So this is the confirmation then. There are no plans for either of my children to survive, not by Snow’s standards and not by Reagans. At least I can warn Ivy and Bas to expect the Gamemakers to come at them. How much it will help is unknown, but I can tell them.

And maybe we can defy the odds all over again.

A ring echoes from behind the glass doors.

“He’ll see you now,” Reagan says coldly. She opens the door and I pass her.

There are roses of many different colors inside the warm greenhouse. The smell infects me from every side until I’m numb and I can’t remember any other smell besides the one assaulting me. Reagan follows me as I travel down a pathway leading to a small table.

Snow sits there in his wheelchair with a large machine behind him, beeping the rhythm of his heartbeat. A tube travels from a needle in his arm to a bag on a stand, dripping a clear liquid into his veins.

He looks pale but masks whatever weakness with a strong stare. I’m not the only one trying to contain their fragile state.

He studies me as I approach, the wrinkles forming deep crevasses around his eyes.

“Miss Everdeen,” he greets, directing me to the seat across from him. “Not what you expected?”

“Nothing ever is,” I return.

“Reagan, please.” He indicates the tea and scones in front of me. She nods and obediently pours a cup for him and then for me. She moves to stand behind him, watching me with her cold eyes.

I do my best to ignore her.

“You’re not going to eat?” He asks, taking a sip of his tea.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Then let’s discuss business.” He coughs. Reagan hands him a handkerchief. When he’s finished I notice a small spot of blood on it. He tucks it away in his hand.

“Business?” I ask.

“A long time ago we agreed to be allies, yes? And we agreed not to lie.”

I nod.

“I want you to remember that, Miss Everdeen.”

“Mrs. Mellark,” I correct.

“No. That’s for them out there. In here, to me, you’re always Miss Everdeen,” he says, taking a sip of his tea. “How is your husband? And your children are they faring well in training?”

“Peeta’s fine. Everyone’s strong.” I grind my teeth.

“Well strength isn’t enough, is it? Tell me, are they planning on sacrificing themselves for the other?” He asks, a snide smile forming.

“I don’t really know what their plans are.”

“Now now, no lies, remember?” He wags a finger at me.

“Did you just want me here to discuss their strategy and serve me tea?” I ask, tired of the smell and the veiled threats.

He smiles before continuing, “You’ve been very useful in keeping the Districts in line. Your children have been even better. But recently, there’s been some talk and some actions that are repetitive. I want to make sure these things stay where they’re supposed to. In the past.”

He clears his throat. “Your children, your son specifically, made a mistake in Twelve. A mistake that I dealt with, of course. But your District doesn’t seem to have understood the message. They’re shortening their coal supply and for some reason the Peacekeepers aren’t as effective. And twelve isn’t the only district starting to question again.”

“We haven’t done anything since then,” I start.

“Not yet. Your children replanted the thought that you started. And they have the power to change it back. They have their interview coming up. I need you to make sure they don’t say anything…controversial.”

“Controversial?” I ask.

“You know what I mean. Make sure they mention how much they enjoy it here. And how proud they are of their legacy.”

“I will make sure they stick to the script,” I say.

“See that you do. Because if you don’t, I guarantee that no one in your family will see Twelve again. Even you.”

I guess I’ve outlived my usefulness. Still, I add, “Coal supply might not be the only thing you have to worry about if that happens.”

He smiles. “Oh I’m sure I can manage the aftermath. Besides, it’s not like you’ll all go at the same time. There are many different ways to die. And a story for each one.”

His tone lightens. “I’m very curious as to how Ivy and Basil play the Games. And how their fans enjoy it.”

I look into his eyes. “I’m sure they’ll surprise you.”

“I don’t enjoy surprises, as you well know.” He sighs, tired. “Reagan, call Avery and Roman to see Miss Everdeen back to the training center.”

She nods and presses a call button on the wall.

“Are we on the same page?” He asks.

“No surprises,” I tell him.

He shakes his head. He knows I’m lying.

Reagan’s watchful gaze follows as the guards lead me from the room. My hands don’t shake. I don’t have to remind myself who I am or where I come from. For once, I’m focused, I’m clear and my past doesn’t seep its way into the present.

I’m determined and I’m whole.

The broken woman is quiet, almost gone, and rising from her ashes is the old me. The old me who faces the nightmares with Peeta’s help. The one who loves her children fiercely and whose walls have been shattered by that love. The old me who’s been damaged but who has, with help, put those pieces back together as best as she can.

And she smiles all the way back to the training center. Snow is scared. He’s sick and he’s dying. His granddaughter sees a threat and a problem they need to contain. Twelve is fighting. Other Districts could join.

All it takes is a spark.

An old spark, old embers, and fire plumes once again.

I can guarantee one thing. There is no script I will force upon my children. Not anymore.

Whatever actions they take are their own.

Just as mine will be.

And when we suffer the consequences, we will have to bear that weight. I most of all.

But I can take it.

I know that now. I’ve learned it after twenty five years. I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. Than anyone thought I could be, except for maybe Peeta and Gale. Maybe even Haymitch. They knew what I could be.

What I will be.

The Mockingjay.

When I walk onto the trading floor, I don’t see Haymitch anywhere. Possible sponsors mill about, speaking to mentors and enjoying their complimentary drinks and food. Finnick speaks animatedly to one, trying to hold their attention.

They walk onwards to Brutus, eager to sponsor his daughter, Victoria.

I roll my eyes at her name. It sounds like Victor. The overconfidence is ripe with them.

I look around for Peeta. The dwindling crowd makes it easier to spot him, sitting alone in the corner. He’s worn out, slumping in the seat, trying to hold his head up.

He tries too hard to get sponsors every year. This year is no exception. If anything, he’s tried harder. I hate to see the look he gets after this day. When no one wants to help our tributes and now our children, he feels like a failure. He feels like he’s letting down their family because he can’t keep them alive.

I feel it too.

Hopefully after the interviews and the scores it will get easier, but there’s no way of knowing.

“Nice of you to show up,” Johanna says, coming to a stop next to me. “He’s been running around all day trying to get someone to, and I quote, believe enough in the possibility of Twelve’s victory. Guess the last name isn’t enough to garner interest anymore.”

“Guess not.”

“So what was so much more important than this?” She asks, holding out her hands like she’s showing off the room.

“I had a meeting with Snow.”

Her smile fades. Her hands drop. “I’m sure that went according to plan.”

I don’t respond.

“Or he thinks it did. I’ll see you around.” Before she leaves she adds, “Oh and their scores, probably doesn’t matter what they show them. So I wouldn’t worry about those, just what they mean.”

She leaves. Peeta notices me and stands. We meet each other in the middle.

“What happened?” He asks immediately.

“Let’s go back.”

He nods. When we’re on our floor I tell him everything. I tell him what Snow told me, what it means for our children, and how I don’t want them to have to say what they’re told.

He agrees. It’s time for us to take a stand.

Ivy –

The last day of training, or the last half day of it, doesn’t feel like the others. Nerves are rising amongst the tributes as everyone scrambles to perfect their skills. Even the Careers are noticeably quieter than they have been.

They don’t flock to the weapons as usual. Instead, they focus on survival skills. This leaves Bas and me avoiding them whenever they go to a different station. Tributes from outer districts try their hands at weapons but they aren’t very good with them.

Springer from Three, with dark cropped hair and a burn mark across his neck, never leaves the trap station. Not even when the Careers saunter in and try to take over. He’s modifying the traps the instructor has taught him, much to her chagrin, and barely registers anyone else near him. He’s too absorbed in his work.

The Careers wait for him to leave but he doesn’t. Eventually, they do something I haven’t seen them do before. They give up. Stone, Cain and Victoria go to the plants station while Emery and Minnow choose to stay at traps. Neither one says a single word to Springer. They listen to the instructor and do as they’re told.

Beck strays from the group, occupying his time with knots. I don’t understand why he’s spending his time there. He clearly doesn’t need to learn the skill. But it’s possible he finds comfort in the familiar, just as I do holding a bow or making a fire.

Bas and I try to make fishing hooks. An hour and two finger pricks later I stop. Bas struggles at first, cursing as the hook digs into his hand when he tries to tie it. But after a while he figures it out and pulls them together easily.

“If we have to fish in the arena, it looks like you’re in charge of it,” I say. Bas nods, smiling.

“That just leaves you with everything else. Glad I can help.”

“That’s not true. You can build a fire just as well as me.” I lean against the table. “And you might have to.” He stops tying the hook and looks at me. His joking expression changes into a solemn one.

“Promise me that if I die--”

“Bas--”

“Promise me. That you won’t give up. Don’t blame yourself and don’t give up.” He waits for my response, staring at me. I can’t make that promise.

“No. You’re not going to die. We’re going to stick together and you’re going to win,” I say firmly. He sighs, disappointed, before returning to his fish hook.

“We’re both getting out. They can’t force us to kill each other. They can’t force us to do anything,” he says.

“And yet here we are. Forced into the Games.”

“Just because we’re here doesn’t mean we have to play. They can put us in an arena but they can’t make us do anything once we’re there.” He ties string around the hook to keep it in place.

“They can have the Gamemakers try to kill us,” I say quietly. “You know if it gets too boring.”

He looks up at Plutarch and the others briefly before shrugging. “But if we survive, we survive. They can’t force us to kill someone.” He removes his finished hook. He holds it up to inspect it.

“We choose our actions. They can’t control that. Just like they couldn’t control moms,” I say, more to myself than to him.

He murmurs in agreement. I feel like we’ve just thought of something powerful and dangerous. How far does the control go? How much will get out live on the cameras once the arena starts? They can’t anticipate what we will do and they can’t make us do what they want. Even with threats, even with their own creations in the arena, they can’t force us to take a life.

It’s a kind thought but the bitterness of reality destroys it. There’s no hope for survival if I don’t play. I’m going to have to kill someone at the bloodbath, that’s been decided. There’s no chance of escape if I don’t.

And with the Career pack following us, I’ll have to kill them too.

But Bas, he can do what he wants. He can choose to play or not to. And when it comes down to the two of us, I can stand down and let the people see an act of bravery in a hostile environment.

Just as our parents did.

They can’t control us if we play the Games our way. If we honor the dead like our mother, if I save my brother, we don’t let the Capitol win. We don’t let the Games take away everything we are.

We give the people more than just a show. We make it mean something.

“I’m not going to survive.”

He tries to respond but I cut him off. “Make it count.”

I don’t ask him to promise and he doesn’t try to change my thoughts. He starts another fish hook with a small nod. I look up at the Gamemakers. Food is being wheeled in and their eyes follow the carts like gluttonous animals.

I imagine them watching us on the cameras with the same expression.

I feel sick.

At lunch the only sounds in the room are quiet small talk and forks scraping against plates.

I stab at a piece of fish, my nerves on edge. After today it’s all over. I have the interview tomorrow and then we’re in the arena the next day. Whatever time I have left is fading fast.

Grover drops his tray at our table before taking a seat.

“Hey guys,” he greets, shoveling a forkful of potatoes in his mouth. “So what skill are you going to show them?”

He laughs at his own joke.

Bas cracks a smile. I sit, stoic, cold. Every time I look at him I see the image of his dead body being lifted from the arena.

There’s no room for jokes anymore. No time for laughter. It’s all over.

“She’s a tough one, huh?” Grover points to me.

Bas shrugs. “She’s never been one for amusing moments.”

Grover adjusts his glasses. “I can see why. It’s a tough world.”

“You didn’t want to sit with your district partner?” I ask.

“She’s kind of quiet and I really don’t want quiet right now. But it’s not like I can sit with the Careers, so you two are the best candidates.” Grover takes another bite of his food. His free hand drums on the table.

“Are you worried?” Bas asks.

“Nah. I already know I won’t get anything above a six. Never been very good with an ax, or any weapon really,” Grover answers quietly. “But don’t let them hear that.” He indicates the Careers.

Victoria watches me with hawk eyes as she cuts into meat. Stone and Cain bury themselves in talk of strategy. Emery picks at her nails as she adds one or two thoughts to the plan. Minnow, normally energetic and trying to get their attention, stares at the wall with a blank expression. Beck eats quietly with an empty seat between him and the others. They don’t seem to care that he’s distanced himself today. His loyalty and skill in the arena is secure. They don’t have to worry about his small moments of weakness here.

“Secrets safe with us,” I tell Grover. He smiles.

After lunch, we sit on benches organized by District waiting for our names to be called. Teddy and Callie sit next to Bas and I. Callie and Bas try to make small talk but fade out after Cain’s name is called.

He rises with confidence and marches through the doors.

I look over to Beck. His thumbs circle around each other in a continuous motion. He focuses on them and nothing else. I watch his hands until his name is called. He looks up, surprised by it. He shuts his eyes, breathes and stands.

His eyes find mine and he smirks. He gives me a wink before turning towards the door and walking through.

“They’re not going to just let us win,” I say with a shake in my voice.

Bas takes my hand and squeezes it.

After what feels like an endless wait Bas’ name is called.

“I’ll see you after.” He smiles and walks through the door.

I pull my knees to my chest as I wait for my turn, the hum of fans keeping me company. The room is colder without people to occupy it. I shiver as time passes.

I don’t know what skill Bas chose to present. I’m hoping it’s the fishing hooks or camouflage. He’ll get a decent score that way.

But the longer it takes for my name to be called, the more I think he’s chosen to try something new.

Finally Claudius Templesmith’s voice rings over the speakers. “Ivy Mellark.”

I swallow and stand, walking through the door.

Plutarch and the other Gamemakers watch me as I enter, their eyes tracking my every movement. I notice a shimmer in front of them, a force field. I remember hearing about my mother shooting an arrow at them and I smile.

There’s a noticeable tension in the room. Drag marks line the floor where I walk. A table filled with paints has been pushed to the side, its colors spilling all over it. What did Bas do?

“Miss Mellark, you have ten minutes to present your chosen skill,” Plutarch says. I nod and drag three targets to the center. I pick up the bow and quiver of arrows.

Whatever tension the Gamemakers felt before is gone as I hear a sharp intake of breath. I look up towards them. A woman watches me with wide excited eyes as she hits a man’s shoulder with the back of her hand. He smiles and leans forward in his seat.

I’m reminded this is entertainment. That twenty three children will die and not one of these people will mourn them. I think of the Tributes. Grover, with his glasses and warm smile. Callie, joking with Teddy and Bas. August, muttering about home. Beck and his knots. I think of Little Zero, whose name I don’t remember to my disappointment, and how his shirt is too big for him. How he’s too small, too young. These people will enjoy watching him die. Even more so if it’s their favorite killing him on the path to victory.

I turn to the Gamemakers and I make a decision. I’m not playing by their rules today.

I load an arrow and raise the bow, but I don’t turn towards the targets. The excited faces drop one by one as they realize what I’m about to do. I pull the string tight and fire directly at them.

All the Gamemakers flinch except Plutarch. If there hadn’t been a force field, the arrow would have gone right into his head. Instead, it sparks and falls to the ground in a broken heap. The woman’s excitement has been replaced by anger. Her hand is frozen in place. The man’s jaw has dropped. I fight a smile.

Plutarch remains expressionless.

I remove the quiver from my back and pour the arrows out of it. I drop the bow in a clatter then kiss my three middle fingers and raise my hand. They can see the hatred in my eyes. They know this is no symbol of honor for them. This is defiance. This is me being my mother.

Today, I don’t care how much I resemble her. I want them to see it. I want them to fear it.

Still, even with that thought, I can’t resist saying something I wish she had said long ago. “Fuck the Games.”

I walk out to an audible gasp from the woman and horrified eyes from the rest. Plutarch never reacts, but I know I’ve probably made things about ten times worse.

And right now I don’t care.

When the elevator opens I see everyone seated and waiting in the living area. The scores won’t be released for at least a few hours. Haymitch is hiding a smile and my father has a hand on Bas’ shoulder. He must have told them what he did.

Effie stands from her chair.

“Ivy please tell me you showed them your skill and left.”

“I showed them my skill,” I answer.

“What did you do?” Bas asks.

“You first. They didn’t look happy when I walked in.”

“I painted a Mockingjay on a target, bowed and said I hope that was satisfactory enough for a score.” He shrugs. “Seemed like a good idea.”

“Young man I assure you your sense of a good idea is wildly askew. At least your sister had enough --”

“I shot an arrow at them.”

Effie lets out an exasperated breath. Haymitch smiles.

“Definitely had enough sense, this one. And an uncanny resemblance, don’t you think, Katniss?”

I look to my mother who, to my surprise, smiles.

“You’re not mad?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Did you say anything after?”

I nod. I’m not sure I should repeat it. “It wasn’t as eloquent as what you said, Bas.”

Bas sits up, curious. “What did you say?”

I’m quiet, chewing my lip.

“Ivy, what did you say?” Effie asks, her voice rising in fear.

“Fuck the Games,” I mumble.

“What was that?” Haymitch asks, leaning in. He’s already smiling. He heard me. I’m sure he just wants me to say it loud enough for the Capitol to hear.

“I said fuck the Games. I gave them the Twelve salute and I said exactly what we’re all thinking. And I would be lying if I said I was sorry.” I sit down.

Effie’s eyes look wider than I’ve ever seen them. Haymitch roars with laughter and slaps me on the back.

“Well that’s definitely better than what I said,” Bas adds.

“Peeta, please speak to your children. This is not acceptable behavior,” Effie says, her voice tinged with worry, tone fluctuating in her Capitol accent.

My father looks to my mother. He’s paler than before, his worry rising. My mother shakes her head. She still smiles. Finally, my father says, “Katniss doesn’t have a problem with it. I don’t see why they should be in trouble either. They said and did exactly what we would have. Though, maybe not in those exact words.”

He smiles, warmly to me. I feel proud of my actions. Effie still paces.

“You may not see a problem but the Gamemakers--”

“Are already gonna do what they’re gonna do,” Haymitch finishes. “There’s nothing that could make it worse or better.”

“I’m pretty sure saying…what she said…is going to make it worse. Shooting an arrow at them will make it worse. That’s an act of aggression against them. Painting a…what he painted…that’s defiant. Openly defiant,” Effie shouts. She realizes how loud she is and drops her voice, “They will not stand for that.”

I see real worry in her eyes. Haymitch places a hand on her shoulder.

Effie slumps into her chair. “Is it so hard for this family to be sensible? Is that too much to ask for just once?”

“They’re going to target me, aren’t they?” I ask.

“You really think they weren’t already going to? This was never about you two.” Haymitch points to Bas and me.

“This was about me,” my mother says. “And we all know it. So if you need someone to blame, it’s me. Whatever the Gamemakers do, it’s to get back at me.”

“Katniss,” my father says, reaching for her hand.

She stands. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I tell her. “You didn’t put us here.”

Bas murmurs in agreement. She twists the wedding band on her finger and looks at us like she wants to add something else. She never does.

“I need to get cleaned up,” I say.

With that I head down the hallway. I don’t care about the Gamemakers. I don’t care about the Games. I’m done trying to maintain the image that was created for me.

After I shower and change, dinner is set out. Bas and I devour as much food as we can. I feel lighter somehow even with the arena two days away. I watch my family as they talk and eat, trying to soak up as much of this moment as I can.

It’s the only thing I’ll have left when I’m trying to survive.

When the screen clicks on and Caesar appears I find myself holding my breath. The score doesn’t matter, not really. It’s not going to help either of us in the arena and no sponsor is going to want to invest in marked tributes.

But the others, the others matter.

The usual suspects get the higher scores. Stone and Emery both score a nine. Cain receives an eleven and Victoria a ten. Springer from Three surprises with a seven. Beck scores a nine and Minnow an eight.

Grover gets a six, which isn’t bad all things considered, but he will have trouble getting sponsors. Unless he outlasts a certain amount of tributes, which I hope he does.

When Trina scores an eight I find myself clenching my fist. I wonder what she showed them. It couldn’t have been the knives. I watched her throw. She missed every ring of the target. Maybe she showed them climbing or some variation of traps that she built.

Or maybe she’s just been pretending like I was supposed to be.

August receives a four. It’s nothing unexpected. When Little Zero’s picture flashes with a score of five, I have to look away. He’s too fragile. My anger rises again. I’ve known his chances were always slim. But the way Caesar announces his score like it’s nothing. Like the little boy is meaningless. It makes the acid rise in my throat. I recall the looks in the Gamemakers eyes, their anticipation and their excitement. All of this is meaningless.

We don’t matter to them.

By the time Teddy is announced with an eight, Effie is pacing. Callie scores a six. After her Bas’ picture flashes on the screen. Effie pauses in her movement and the tension rises in the room.

“Basil Mellark with a score of twelve,” Caesar announces, surprised. “Good for him.” He smiles.

I keep my eyes on the floor as he says, “Ivy Mellark with a score of twelve. No surprises there.”

Then it’s over and everyone is still. My father nods and finds my mother’s hand.

“You two were always going to score a twelve,” my mother says.

I don’t ask what she means. I already know. She said it before. This is all to get back at her. And what better way to get back at her than to give us the highest score.

My father interjects, trying to still mentor us despite the obvious. “Listen. Tomorrow is the interview and after that you’re in the arena. Whatever you two do, whatever you say, it changes nothing,” he says.

“So we should what? Suck it up and pretend we’re not going to die?” Bas stands.

“Yes. And whatever questions you’re asked, answer them.”

Bas rolls his eyes, pacing. “Give them what they want then. How should I answer them? Confident? Shy? What role should I play?”

My mother stands and places a hand on his shoulder. He stops and looks up at her. “Answer them however feels right.”

She turns to me. “Both of you. But maybe refrain from swearing.” She smiles.

I nod. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. I don’t want to be paraded. I don’t want to see the Capitol faces cheering for my imminent demise. A score of twelve looks enticing from the outside but everyone in the Games knows what it really means.

It’s a target. A death sentence and a message all rolled into one. You can tell the Capitol to go screw itself but you have to be prepared to pay the price. And they’ve told the Careers who to kill first.

Yes, they were probably going to come after me anyway. But this seals it. Scoring above them is unacceptable and they won’t stand for it. Bas may not want to play. He may want to continue to prove a point and make them remember who we come from. But I know I’m going to have to fight to keep us alive. I’ll have to play.

And I’m ready.

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