She's an orphan, unwanted by anyone in District 9 or outside of it. A charity case sent from the orphanage to the school at 7 and left to run wild in the summers. She's the Urchin Girl, known to all the mill-hands from their walk to work on those hazy summer mornings; she's the Bear Girl, known to all the residents of District 9 from the time she brained a bear with a rock, sold its hide to the mayor's wife and its meat to the black-market traders; and now she will be the Reaped Girl, known to all of Panem.
She has to force herself to wait patiently through Mayor Evander's address: first, giving his lecture on the history of Panem and, then, listing all of District 9's victors. Everyone knows that, in the last 66 years, there have been seven but only five of them are still alive, everyone knows that one of those remaining is the victor of the 10th Hunger Games but the mayor still has to enumerate these facts every year. At long last, Siprian Cotton steps up to the unadorned microphone. This year, the escort assigned to District 9 is resplendent in shades of blue: cyan poodle curls, a powder blue suit and, in place of a beard, tattooed waves of a faint blue.
“Oh, let us draw the names of our two brave heroes!” he chortles before proceeding to the great glass bowl filled with the names of all the girls in District 9. Her name is only in there once for each year – after all, it's impossible to claim tesserae without a fixed address and, since she got a fixed address, she hasn't needed the extra share of food – and she is puzzling at the odds of it being her name that is called, when Cotton trills: “Oh, Ashlee Briskman.” She waits as the mayor's niece – who is at the opposite end of the age range to her – walks out of the crowd and up to the stage. As there are no steps, the child has to use her hands to haul herself onto the wooden platform. “Oh, welcome, Ashlee,” beams the blue sycophant before turning to look out over the crowd. “Oh, now, let's see. Are there any volunteers?”
“I volunteer as a tribute!” She is pleased to hear that her voice is firm and loud enough to carry across the whole square. Siprian Cotton peers at where she is standing and she grins – a resident of the fabled Capitol is looking directly at her and, soon, they all will be. She steps out from the crowd of girls – girls she has gone to school with for 11 years – and walks towards the stage. In contrast to his treatment of Ashlee, the escort offers her a hand to mount the stage – treating her like an actual Capitol lady – and draws her to the microphone. By the time she reaches it, the younger girl has disappeared back into the crowd.
“Oh, what's your name?” Siprian Cotton asks.
“My name's Iristina.” She hopes her smile is confident and assured; she wants them to remember her as the daring volunteer, not the scared little girl who begged for bread in the cold dawn light. Cotton thrusts his head towards her as though he expects something more from her.
“Oh, and what's your second name, dear girl?” Her face falls and she casts her eyes down; she hates this question, always has done.
“They call me 'Emmer'.”
“Oh!” breathes the escort and, to her amazement, he draws out a lace-edged handkerchief to dab at his eyes. “Oh, you're an orphan. How terrible!” She puts her shoulders back and stares across the square with her jaw firmly set.
“No… it isn't. Instead of a father and mother, I have a district.” She seeks out Ashlee Briskman's face and forces herself to smile at the pampered little miss whose life she's saving. “I have no family to mourn for me, so I will fight to make my district proud.” Cotton claps his hands and all the people on the platform follow his lead, then those standing in the square. The blue-swathed escort ushers her to one side and then draws a name from the boys' bowl but Gaspar Barjon volunteers, stealing her thunder as usual.
They have known each since Gaspar started school and been fighting since she was 10 and he was 9. Gaspar is the town hero. He is the blacksmith's third son and would have been a nobody – even less of a personality than the Urchin Girl – but, when he was 12, there was a fire at their school and he saved the mayor's only son. No-one cared that Iristina had led two dozen younger kids to safety before the fire cut off their escape route, all anyone remembered was that Gaspar Barjon had gone back in – after initially only saving himself – to get his rich best friend. So, the town thinks he's a hero but she knows better – he's a bully and, despite the fact she's a year older, the Urchin Girl was one of his favourite punching-bags. Of course, all of that had stopped after she had killed that bear and…
“What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?!” roars the Head Peacekeeper as he bursts into the parlour where they have left her to wait before boarding the train. She had wondered if he would come and here he is.
“I'm going to the Capitol,” she retorts, tossing her curtain of dark hair so that it hides one side of her pale face. “What did you expect, Krill? Why should I stay here – being your mistress for nothing but three square meals a day – when I can go into the Hunger Games and be loved by thousands?”
“And what if you die?” He's gripping her by the shoulders, looking into her eyes as though he actually cares.
“Then, at least, I'd be free of you,” she sneers and pushes him away.
“Iristina–“ he begins but the Capitol Peacekeepers are back and they're escorting her to the train.
Siprian Cotton chatters all the way about how proud he is of his two brave tributes and, she has to admit, that she can not remember an instance of two volunteer tributes from the same outlying district. She and Gaspar will be the toast of the Capitol and she hates him for that but she lets none of this show on her face. When they reach the train station, she is all smiles and waves for the cameras and the throng of reporters who are there to greet them, even when Gaspar – who is ahead of her as he, lacking Cotton's manners, had exited the car first – turns back and shouts:
“Isn't this surreal, Tina?” She shows no sign of her aggravation at his use of that nickname but, instead, grins back at him. Finally, they reach the train door but, as the existing victors board, Iristina and Gaspar stand chatting and joking with the closest reporters. When he slips his arm around her shoulders, she wants to recoil but forces herself to relax into the embrace as she needs the Capitol to love her and no-one loves a surly or rude tribute. When they eventually do board the train, the pair of them turn back to wave through the glass in a move that could have been choreographed. Cotton is there between them, an arm around each set of shoulders. He squeezes them into his sides, kissing Iristina's cheek and making her laugh, before he scuttles off. Gaspar reaches down, takes her hand and, still laughing, she catches his eye; in unison, they raise their joined hands, looking at each other but with wide smiles plastered on for the cameras. They are still gazing into one another's eyes as the train starts to move.