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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes / (by Suzanne Collins, 2020) -

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes /       (by Suzanne Collins, 2020) -

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes / (by Suzanne Collins, 2020) -

, . . 10- . . , . . - -12, . . , . ... , . , .

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: 416
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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes / (by Suzanne Collins, 2020) -
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2020
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Suzanne Collins
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Santino Fontana
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/ / / / / / upper-intermediate
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upper-intermediate
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16:16:42
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119 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes / :

.doc (Word) suzanne_collins_-_the_ballad_of_songbirds_and_snakes.doc [3.83 Mb] (c: 7) .
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: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man._ _ Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651 _The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. . . ._ _ John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 1689 _Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains._ _ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762 _Sweet is the lore which Nature brings; Our meddling intellect Misshapes the beauteous forms of things; _ We murder to dissect._ _ William Wordsworth, _The Tables Turned,_ Lyrical Ballads, 1798 _I thought of the promise of virtues which he had displayed on the opening of his existence, and the subsequent blight of all kindly feeling by the loathing and scorn which his protectors had manifested towards him._ _ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818 Coriolanus released the fistful of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and swore that one day it would never pass his lips again. But this was not that day. He needed to eat a large bowl of the anemic stuff, and drink every drop of broth, to prevent his stomach from growling during the reaping ceremony. It was one of a long list of precautions he took to mask the fact that his family, despite residing in the penthouse of the Capitol_s most opulent apartment building, was as poor as district scum. That at eighteen, the heir to the once-great house of Snow had nothing to live on but his wits. His shirt for the reaping was worrying him. He had an acceptable pair of dark dress pants bought on the black market last year, but the shirt was what people looked at. Fortunately, the Academy provided the uniforms it required for daily use. For today_s ceremony, however, students were instructed to be dressed fashionably but with the solemnity the occasion dictated. Tigris had said to trust her, and he did. Only his cousin_s cleverness with a needle had saved him so far. Still, he couldn_t expect miracles. The shirt they_d dug from the back of the wardrobe _ his father_s, from better days _ was stained and yellowed with age, half the buttons missing, a cigarette burn on one cuff. Too damaged to sell in even the worst of times, and this was to be his reaping shirt? This morning he had gone to her room at daybreak, only to find both his cousin and the shirt missing. Not a good sign. Had Tigris given up on the old thing and braved the black market in some last-ditch effort to find him proper clothing? And what on earth would she possess worth trading for it? Only one thing _ herself _ and the house of Snow had not yet fallen that far. Or was it falling now as he salted the cabbage? He thought of people putting a price on her. With her long, pointed nose and skinny body, Tigris was no great beauty, but she had a sweetness, a vulnerability that invited abuse. She would find takers, if she had a mind to. The idea made him feel sick and helpless and, consequently, disgusted with himself. From deep in the apartment he heard the recording of the Capitol anthem, _Gem of Panem,_ kick on. His grandmother_s tremulous soprano voice joined in, bouncing off the walls. Gem of Panem, Mighty city, Through the ages, you shine anew. As always, she was painfully off-key and slightly behind tempo. The first year of the war, she_d played the recording on national holidays for five-year-old Coriolanus and eight-year-old Tigris in order to build their sense of patriotism. The daily recital hadn_t begun until that black day when the district rebels had surrounded the Capitol, cutting it off from supplies for the remaining two years of the war. _Remember, children,_ she_d say, _we are but besieged _ we have not surrendered!_ Then she would warble the anthem out of the penthouse window as the bombs rained down. Her small act of defiance. We humbly kneel To your ideal, And the notes she could never quite hit . . . And pledge our love to you! Coriolanus winced a little. For a decade now, though the rebels had been silent, his grandmother had not. There were still two verses to go. Gem of Panem, Heart of justice, Wisdom crowns your marble brow. He wondered if more furniture might absorb some of the sound, but the question was academic. At present, their penthouse apartment was a microcosm of the Capitol itself, bearing the scars of the relentless rebel attacks. The twenty-foot-high walls were veined with cracks, the molded ceiling was dotted with holes from missing chunks of plaster, and ugly black strips of electrical tape held in place the broken glass of the arched windows that looked out over the city. Throughout the war and the decade that followed, the family had been forced to sell or trade many of its possessions, so that some rooms were entirely empty and closed off and the others sparsely furnished at best. Even worse, during the bitter cold of the siege_s final winter, several elegant, carved wooden pieces and innumerable volumes of books had been sacrificed to the fireplace to keep the family from freezing to death. Watching the bright pages of his picture books _ the very ones he_d pored over with his mother _ reduced to ashes had never failed to bring him to tears. But better off sad than dead. Having been in his friends_ apartments, Coriolanus knew that most families had begun to repair their homes, but the Snows could not even afford a few yards of linen for a new shirt. He thought of his classmates, riffling through their closets or slipping into their newly tailored suits, and wondered just how long he could keep up appearances. You give us light. You reunite. To you we make our vow. If Tigris_s revamped shirt was unwearable, what was he to do? Fake the flu and call in sick? Spineless. Soldier through in his uniform shirt? Disrespectful. Squeeze into the red button-down that he had outgrown two years ago? Poor. Acceptable option? None of the above. Perhaps Tigris had gone to ask help from her employer, Fabricia Whatnot, a woman as ridiculous as her name but with a certain talent for derivative fashion. Whether the trend was feathers or leathers, plastics or plush, she could find a way to incorporate it at a reasonable rate. Not much of a student, Tigris had forgone university when she_d graduated from the Academy to pursue her dream of becoming a designer. She was supposed to be an apprentice, although Fabricia used her more as slave labor, requiring her to give foot massages and clean clumps of her long magenta hair from the drains. But Tigris never complained and would hear no criticism of her boss, so pleased and grateful was she to have a position in fashion. Gem of Panem, Seat of power, Strength in peacetime, shield in strife. Coriolanus opened the refrigerator, hoping for something to liven up the cabbage soup. The sole occupant was a metal saucepan. When he removed the lid, a mush of congealed, shredded potatoes stared back at him. Had his grandmother finally made good her threat of learning to cook? Was the stuff even edible? He replaced the lid until he had more information to work with. What a luxury it would be to toss it in the trash without a second thought. What a luxury trash would be. He remembered, or thought he did, being very small and watching garbage trucks operated by Avoxes _ tongueless workers made the best workers, or so his grandmother said _ humming down the streets, emptying large bags of discarded food, containers, worn household items. Then came the time when nothing was disposable, no calorie unwanted, and no item unable to be traded, or burned for heat, or tucked against a wall for insulation. Everyone had learned to despise waste. It was creeping back into fashion, though. A sign of prosperity, like a decent shirt. Protect our land With armored hand, The shirt. The shirt. His mind could fixate on a problem like that _ anything, really _ and not let go. As if controlling one element of his world would keep him from ruin. It was a bad habit that blinded him to other things that could harm him. A tendency toward obsession was hardwired into his brain and would likely be his undoing if he couldn_t learn to outsmart it. His grandmother_s voice squeaked out the final crescendo. Our Capitol, our life! Crazy old woman, still clinging to the prewar days. He loved her, but she_d lost touch with reality years ago. Every meal, she_d rattle on about the Snows_ legendary grandeur, even when their fare consisted of watery bean soup and stale crackers. And to hear her tell it, it was a given that his future would be glorious. _When Coriolanus is president . . ._ she often began. _When Coriolanus is president . . ._ everything from the rickety Capitol air force to the exorbitant price of pork chops would be magically corrected. Thank goodness the broken elevator and her arthritic knees prevented her from going out much, and her infrequent visitors were as fossilized as she. The cabbage began to boil, filling the kitchen with the smell of poverty. Coriolanus jabbed at it with a wooden spoon. Still no Tigris. Soon it would be too late to call and make an excuse. Everyone would have assembled at the Academy_s Heavensbee Hall. There would be anger to deal with as well as disappointment from his communications professor, Satyria Click, who had campaigned for him to receive one of the twenty-four coveted mentorships in the Hunger Games. Besides being Satyria_s favorite, he was her teaching aide, and doubtless she would need him for something today. She could be unpredictable, especially when she_d been drinking, and that was a given on the day of the reaping. He_d better call and warn her, say he couldn_t stop vomiting or something but would do his best to recover. He steeled himself and picked up the phone to plead dire illness when another thought hit him: If he failed to show, would she allow them to replace him as a mentor? And if she did, would that weaken his chance for one of the Academy prizes presented at graduation? Without such a prize, he had no way to afford to go to university, which meant no career, which meant no future, not for him, and who knew what would happen to the family, and _ The front door, warped and complaining, scraped open. _Coryo!_ Tigris cried out, and he slammed the phone down. The nickname she_d given him when he was a newborn had stuck. He flew out of the kitchen, almost knocking her over, but she was too excited to reproach him. _I did it! I did it! Well, I did something._ Her feet did a rapid little run in place as she held up a hanger draped in an old dress bag. _Look, look, look!_ Coriolanus unzipped the bag and stripped it from the shirt. It was gorgeous. No, even better, it was classy. The thick linen was neither the original white nor the yellow of age, but a delicious cream. The cuffs and collar had been replaced with black velvet, and the buttons were gold and ebony cubes. Tesserae. Each had two tiny holes drilled through it for the thread. _You_re brilliant,_ he said earnestly. _And the best cousin ever._ Careful to hold the shirt out of harm_s way, he hugged her with his free arm. _Snow lands on top!_ _Snow lands on top!_ Tigris crowed. It was the saying that had gotten them through the war, when it was a constant struggle not to be ground into the earth. _Tell me everything,_ he said, knowing she would want to. She so loved to talk clothes. Tigris threw up her hands and gave a breathy laugh. _Where to begin?_ She began with the bleach. Tigris had suggested the white curtains in Fabricia_s bedroom looked dingy and, while soaking them in bleach water, had slipped in the shirt. It had responded beautifully, but no amount of soaking could entirely erase the stains. So she_d boiled the shirt with dead marigolds she_d found in the bin outside Fabricia_s neighbor_s, and the blossoms had dyed the linen just enough to conceal the stains. The velvet for the cuffs was from a large drawstring pouch that had held some now-meaningless plaque of their grandfather_s. The tesserae she had pried from the interior of a cabinet in the maid_s bathroom. She_d gotten the building maintenance man to drill the holes in exchange for mending his coveralls. _Was that this morning?_ he asked. _Oh, no, yesterday. Sunday. This morning, I _ Did you find my potatoes?_ He followed her into the kitchen, where she opened the refrigerator and pulled out the pan. _I was up until all hours making starch from them. Then I ran down to the Dolittles_ so I could have a proper iron. Saved these for the soup!_ Tigris upended the mess into the boiling cabbage and stirred it around. He noticed the lilac circles under her golden brown eyes and couldn_t help feeling a pang of guilt. _When was the last time you slept?_ he asked. _Oh, I_m fine. I ate the potato skins. They say that_s where the vitamins are anyway. And today_s the reaping, so it_s practically a holiday!_ she said cheerfully. _Not at Fabricia_s,_ he said. Not anywhere, really. Reaping day was terrible in the districts, but not much of a celebration in the Capitol either. Like him, most people took no pleasure in remembering the war. Tigris would spend the day waiting hand and foot on her employer and her motley crew of guests while they exchanged morose tales of the deprivation they_d experienced during the siege and drank themselves senseless. Tomorrow, nursing them through hangovers, would be worse. _Stop worrying. Here, you better hurry up and eat!_ Tigris ladled some soup into a bowl and set it on the table. Coriolanus glanced at the clock, gulped down the soup without caring that it burned his mouth, and ran to his room with the shirt. He had already showered and shaved, and his fair skin was, thankfully, blemish-free today. The school-issued underwear and black socks were fine. He pulled on the dress pants, which were more than acceptable, and crammed his feet into a pair of laced leather boots. They were too small, but he could bear it. Then he pulled the shirt on gingerly, tucked in the tails, and turned to the mirror. He was not as tall as he should have been. As for so many of his generation, a poor diet had likely compromised his growth. But he was athletically trim, with excellent posture, and the shirt emphasized the finer points of his physique. Not since he was little, when his grandmother would parade him through the streets in a purple velvet suit, had he looked so regal. He smoothed back his blond curls as he mockingly whispered to his image, _Coriolanus Snow, future president of Panem, I salute you._ For Tigris_s sake, he made a grand entrance into the living room, extending his arms and turning in a full circle to show off the shirt. She squealed in delight and applauded. _You look amazing! So handsome and fashionable! Come see, Grandma_am!_ It was another nickname coined by little Tigris, who_d found _Grandma,_ and certainly _Nana,_ insufficient for someone so imperial. Their grandmother appeared, a fresh-cut red rose cupped lovingly in her tremorous hands. She wore a long, black, flowing tunic, the kind so popular before the war and so outdated as to be laughable now, and a pair of embroidered slippers with curled toes that had once been part of a costume. Strands of her thin, white hair poked from the bottom of a rusty velvet turban. This was the tail end of a once-lavish wardrobe _ her few decent items were saved for company or the rare foray into the city. _Here, here, boy. Put this on. Fresh from my roof garden,_ she ordered. He reached for the rose, but a thorn pierced his palm in the shaky exchange. Blood welled from the wound, and he held his hand out to keep it from staining his precious shirt. His grandmother seemed perplexed. _I only wanted you to look elegant,_ she told him. _Of course, you did, Grandma_am,_ said Tigris. _And so he shall._ As she led Coriolanus into the kitchen, he reminded himself that self-control was an essential skill, and he should be grateful his grandmother provided daily opportunities to practice it. _Puncture wounds never bleed long,_ Tigris promised him as she quickly cleaned and bandaged his hand. She snipped away at the rose, preserving a bit of greenery, and pinned it to his shirt. _It does look elegant. You know what her roses mean to her. Thank her._ So he did. He thanked them both and sped out the door, down the twelve ornate flights of stairs, through the lobby, and out into the Capitol. His front door opened onto the Corso, an avenue so wide that eight chariots had comfortably ridden side by side on it in the old days when the Capitol had put on displays of military pomp for the crowds. Coriolanus could remember hanging out the apartment windows as a young child, party guests bragging that they had front-row seats to the parades. Then the bombers arrived, and for a long time his block was impassable. Now, though the streets were finally clear, rubble still lay in piles on the sidewalks, and whole buildings were as gutted as the day they_d been struck. Ten years after the victory, and he was dodging between chunks of marble and granite as he wove his way to the Academy. Sometimes Coriolanus wondered if the debris had been left there to remind the citizens of what they had endured. People had short memories. They needed to navigate the rubble, peel off the grubby ration coupons, and witness the Hunger Games to keep the war fresh in their minds. Forgetting could lead to complacency, and then they_d all be back at square one. As he turned onto Scholars Road, he tried to measure his pace. He wanted to arrive on time, but cool and composed, not a sweaty mess. This reaping day, like most, was shaping up to be a scorcher. But what else could you expect on July 4th? He felt grateful for the perfume of his grandmother_s rose, as his warming shirt was giving off a faint scent of potatoes and dead marigolds. As the finest secondary school in the Capitol, the Academy educated the offspring of the prominent, wealthy, and influential. With over four hundred students in each class, it had been possible for Tigris and Coriolanus, given their family_s long history at the school, to gain acceptance without much difficulty. Unlike the University, it was tuition-free and provided lunch and school supplies along with uniforms. Anyone who was anyone attended the Academy, and Coriolanus would need those connections as a foundation for his future. The grand staircase up to the Academy could hold the entire student body, so it easily accommodated the stream of officials, professors, and students headed for the reaping day festivities. Coriolanus climbed it slowly, attempting a casual dignity in case he caught anyone_s eye. People knew him _ or at least they had known his parents and grandparents _ and there was a certain standard expected of a Snow. This year, beginning this very day, he was hoping to achieve personal recognition as well. Mentoring in the Hunger Games was his final project before graduating from the Academy in midsummer. If he gave an impressive performance as a mentor, with his outstanding academic record, Coriolanus should be awarded a monetary prize substantial enough to cover his tuition at the University. There would be twenty-four tributes, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve defeated districts, drawn by lottery to be thrown into an arena to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. It was all laid out in the Treaty of Treason that had ended the Dark Days of the districts_ rebellion, one of the many punishments borne by the rebels. As in the past, the tributes would be dumped into the Capitol Arena, a now-dilapidated amphitheater that had been used for sports and entertainment events before the war, along with some weapons to murder one another. Viewing was encouraged in the Capitol, but a lot of people avoided it. How to make it more engaging was the challenge. With this in mind, for the first time the tributes were to be assigned mentors. Twenty-four of the Academy_s best and brightest seniors had been tapped for the job. The specifics of what this entailed were still being worked out. There was talk of preparing each tribute for a personal interview, maybe some grooming for the cameras. Everyone agreed that if the Hunger Games were to continue, they needed to evolve into a more meaningful experience, and the pairing of the Capitol youth with the district tributes had people intrigued. Coriolanus made his way through an entry draped in black banners, down a vaulted passage, and into cavernous Heavensbee Hall, where they would watch the broadcast of the reaping ceremony. He was by no means late, but the hall was already humming with faculty and students and a number of Games officials who were not required for the opening day_s broadcast. Avoxes wove through the crowd with trays of posca, a concoction of watery wine laced with honey and herbs. It was an intoxicating version of the sour stuff that had sustained the Capitol through the war, supposedly fending off illness. Coriolanus took a goblet and swished a little of the posca around his mouth, hopefully rinsing away any trace of cabbage breath. But he only allowed himself one swallow. It was stronger than most people thought, and in previous years he had seen upperclassmen make complete fools of themselves by imbibing too deeply. The world still thought Coriolanus rich, but his only real currency was charm, which he spread liberally as he made his way through the crowd. Faces lit up as he gave friendly hellos to students and teachers alike, asking about family members, dropping compliments here and there. _Your lecture on district retaliation haunts me._ _Love the bangs!_ _How did your mother_s back surgery go? Well, tell her she_s my hero._ He traveled past the hundreds of cushioned chairs set up for the occasion and onto the dais, where Satyria was regaling a mix of Academy professors and Games officials with some wild story. Although he only caught the last line _ _Well, I said, _I_m sorry about your wig, but you were the one who insisted on bringing a monkey!__ _ he dutifully joined in the laughter that followed. _Oh, Coriolanus,_ Satyria drawled as she waved him over. _Here_s my star pupil._ He gave her the expected kiss on the cheek and registered that she was several glasses of posca ahead of him. Really, she needed to get her drinking under control, although the same thing could be said for half the adults he knew. Self-medication was a citywide epidemic. Still, she was amusing and not overly uptight, one of the few professors who allowed students to call them by their first names. She drew back a bit and surveyed him. _Beautiful shirt. Where did you get such a thing?_ He looked at the shirt as if surprised by its existence and gave the shrug of a young man of limitless options. _The Snows have deep closets,_ he said airily. _I was trying for respectful yet celebratory._ _And so it is. What are these cunning buttons?_ Satyria asked, fingering one of the cubes on his cuff. _Tesserae?_ _Are they? Well, that explains why they remind me of the maid_s bathroom,_ Coriolanus responded, drawing a chuckle from her friends. This was the impression he fought to sustain. A reminder that he was the rare person who had a maid_s bathroom _ let alone one tiled with tesserae _ tempered with a self-deprecating joke about his shirt. He nodded at Satyria. _Lovely gown. It_s new, isn_t it?_ He could tell at a glance that it was the same dress she always wore to the reaping ceremony, refurbished with tufts of black feathers. But she had validated his shirt, and he needed to return the favor. _I had it done especially for today,_ she said, embracing the question. _Tenth anniversary and all that._ _Elegant,_ he said. All in all, they were not a bad team. His pleasure drained as he spotted the gymnasium mistress, Professor Agrippina Sickle, using her muscular shoulders to maneuver her way through the crowd. Behind her was her aide, Sejanus Plinth, who was carrying the ornamental shield Professor Sickle insisted on holding for the group photo each year. It had been awarded to her at the end of the war for successfully overseeing Academy safety drills during the bombings. It was not the shield that caught Coriolanus_s attention but Sejanus_s outfit, a soft charcoal gray suit with a blinding white shirt offset by a paisley tie, cut to add flow to his tall, angular frame. The ensemble was stylish, brand-new, and smelling of money. War profiteering, to be exact. Sejanus_s father was a District 2 manufacturer who had sided with the president. He had made such a fortune off munitions that he_d been able to buy his family_s way into a life in the Capitol. The Plinths now enjoyed privileges that the oldest, most powerful families had earned over generations. It was unprecedented that Sejanus, a district-born boy, was a student at the Academy, but his father_s lavish donation had allowed for much of the school_s postwar reconstruction. A Capitol-born citizen would have expected a building to be renamed for them. Sejanus_s father had only requested an education for his son. For Coriolanus, the Plinths and their kind were a threat to all he held dear. The newly rich climbers in the Capitol were chipping away at the old order simply by virtue of their presence. It was particularly vexing because the bulk of the Snow family fortune had also been invested in munitions _ but in District 13. Their sprawling complex, blocks and blocks of factories and research facilities, had been bombed to dust. District 13 had been nuked, and the entire area still emitted unlivable levels of radiation. The center of the Capitol_s military manufacturing had shifted to District 2 and fallen right into the Plinths_ laps. When news of District 13_s demise had reached the Capitol, Coriolanus_s grandmother had publicly brushed it off, saying it was fortunate that they had plenty of other assets. But they didn_t. Sejanus had arrived on the school playground ten years ago, a shy, sensitive boy cautiously surveying the other children with a pair of soulful brown eyes much too large for his strained face. When word had gotten out that he_d come from the districts, Coriolanus_s first impulse had been to join his classmates_ campaign to make the new kid_s life a living hell. On further reflection, he_d ignored him. If the other Capitol children took this to mean that baiting the district brat was beneath him, Sejanus took it as decency. Neither take was quite accurate, but both reinforced the image of Coriolanus as a class act. A woman of formidable stature, Professor Sickle cruised into Satyria_s circle, scattering her inferiors to the four winds. _Good morning, Professor Click._ _Oh, Agrippina, good. You remembered your shield,_ said Satyria, accepting a firm handshake. _It worries me that the young people will forget the real meaning of the day. And, Sejanus. How smart you look._ Sejanus attempted a bow, sending a wayward lock of hair into his eyes. The cumbersome shield caught him in the chest. _Too smart,_ said Professor Sickle. _I told him if I wanted a peacock, I_d call the pet store. They should all be in their uniforms._ She eyed Coriolanus. _That_s not terrible. Your father_s old mess dress shirt?_ Was it? Coriolanus had no idea. A vague memory of his father in a dashing evening suit dripping in medals came to him. He decided to play out the hand. _Thank you for noticing, Professor. I had it redone so as not to suggest I_d seen combat myself. But I wanted him here with me today._ _Very fitting,_ said Professor Sickle. Then she directed her attention to Satyria and her views on the latest deployment of Peacekeepers, the nation_s soldiers, to District 12, where the coal miners were failing to produce their quotas. With their teachers engaged, Coriolanus nodded at the shield. Filteredting a workout this morning?_ Sejanus gave a wry smile. _Always an honor to be of service._ _That_s a fine polish job,_ Coriolanus replied. Sejanus tensed at the implication that he was, what, a suck-up? A lackey? Coriolanus let it build a moment before he diffused it. _I should know. I do all Satyria_s wine goblets._ Sejanus relaxed at that. _Really?_ _No, not really. But only because she hasn_t thought of it,_ said Coriolanus, seesawing between disdain and camaraderie. _Professor Sickle thinks of everything. She doesn_t hesitate to call me, day or night._ Sejanus looked as if he might continue, then just sighed. _And, of course, now that I_m graduating, we_re moving closer to the school. Perfect timing, as usual._ Coriolanus suddenly felt wary. _Whereabouts?_ _Somewhere on the Corso. A lot of those grand places will be going on the market soon. Owners not being able to afford the taxes, or some such, my father said._ The shield scraped the floor, and Sejanus hefted it up. _They don_t tax properties in the Capitol. Only in the districts,_ said Coriolanus. _It_s a new law,_ Sejanus told him. _To get more money for rebuilding the city._ Coriolanus tried to tamp down the panic rising inside him. A new law. Instating a tax on his apartment. For how much? As it was, they barely eked out a living on Tigris_s pittance, the tiny military pension his grandmother received for her husband_s service to Panem, and his own dependent benefits as the child of a slain war hero, which would cease on graduation. If they couldn_t pay the taxes, would they lose the apartment? It was all they had. Selling the place would be of no help; he knew his grandmother had borrowed every cent on it she could. If they sold, there would be next to nothing left. They would have to move to some obscure neighborhood and join the grimy ranks of everyday citizens, without status, without influence, without dignity. The disgrace would kill his grandmother. It would be kinder to toss her out the window of the penthouse. At least that would be quick. _You all right?_ Sejanus peered at him, puzzled. _You just went white as a sheet._ Coriolanus regained his composure. _I think it_s the posca. Turns my stomach._ _Yeah,_ Sejanus agreed. _Ma was always forcing it down me during the war._ Ma? Was Coriolanus_s place about to be usurped by someone who referred to his mother as _Ma_? The cabbage and posca threatened to make a reappearance. He took a deep breath and forced his stomach to hang on to it, resenting Sejanus more than he had since the well-fed district boy with the cloddish accent first wandered up to him, clutching a bag of gumdrops. Coriolanus heard a bell ringing and saw his fellow students converging at the front of the dais. _I guess it_s time to assign us tributes,_ Sejanus said glumly. Coriolanus followed him to where a special section of chairs, six rows by four, had been set up for the mentors. He tried to push the apartment crisis out of his head, to focus on the crucial task at hand. More than ever, it was essential that he excel, and to excel, he must be assigned a competitive tribute. Dean Casca Highbottom, the man credited with the creation of the Hunger Games, was overseeing the mentor program personally. He presented himself to the students with all the verve of a sleepwalker, dreamy-eyed and, as usual, doped up on morphling. His once-fine physique was shrunken and draped with sagging skin. The close-clipped precision of a recent haircut and crisp suit only threw his deterioration into relief. Due to his fame as the Games_ inventor, he still had a tenuous hold on his position, but there were rumors that the Academy Board was losing patience. _Ho there,_ he slurred, waving a crumpled piece of paper over his head. _Reading the things off now._ The students hushed, trying hard to hear him above the din of the hall. _Read you a name, then you who gets that one. Right? So, fine. District One, boy, goes to . . ._ Dean Highbottom squinted at the paper, trying hard to focus. _Glasses,_ he mumbled. _Forgot them._ Everyone stared at his glasses, already perched on his nose, and waited while his fingers found them. _Ah, here we go. Livia Cardew._ Livia_s pointed little face broke into a grin and she punched the air in victory, shouting _Yes!_ in her shrill voice. She had always been prone to gloating. As if the plum assignment was solely a reflection on her, and not on her mother running the largest bank in the Capitol. Coriolanus felt increasing desperation as Dean Highbottom stumbled through the list, assigning each district_s boy and girl a mentor. After ten years, a pattern had emerged. The better-fed, more Capitol-friendly districts of 1 and 2 produced more victors, with the fishing and farming tributes from 4 and 11 also being contenders. Coriolanus had hoped for either a 1 or a 2, but neither was assigned to him, which was made more insulting when Sejanus scored the District 2 boy. District 4 passed without mention of his name, and his last real chance for a victor _ the District 11 boy _ was assigned to Clemensia Dovecote, daughter of the energies secretary. Unlike Livia, Clemensia received news of her good fortune with tact, pushing her sheet of raven hair over her shoulder as she studiously made note of her tribute in her binder. Something was amiss when a Snow, who also happened to be one of the Academy_s high-honor students, had gone unrecognized. Coriolanus was beginning to think they had forgotten him _ perhaps they were giving him some special position? _ when, to his horror, he heard Dean Highbottom mumble, _And last but least, District Twelve girl . . . she belongs to Coriolanus Snow._ The District 12 girl? Could there be a bigger slap in the face? District 12, the smallest district, the joke district, with its stunted, joint-swollen kids that always died in the first five minutes, and not only that . . . but the girl? Not that a girl couldn_t win, but in his mind the Hunger Games were largely about brute force, and the girls were naturally smaller than the boys and therefore at a disadvantage. Coriolanus had never been a particular favorite of Dean Highbottom, whom he jokingly called High-as-a-Kite-Bottom among his friends, but he had not expected such a public humiliation. Had the nickname gotten back to him? Or was this just an acknowledgment that, in the new world order, the Snows were fading into insignificance? He could feel the blood burning his cheeks as he tried to remain composed. Most of the other students had risen and were chatting among themselves. He must join them, pretend this was of no consequence, but he seemed incapable of movement. The most he could manage was to turn his head to the right, where Sejanus still sat beside him. Coriolanus opened his mouth to congratulate him but stopped at the barely concealed misery on the other boy_s face. _What is it?_ he asked. _Aren_t you happy? District Two, the boy _ that_s the pick of the litter._ _You forget. I_m part of that litter,_ said Sejanus hoarsely. Coriolanus let that sink in. So ten years in the Capitol and the privileged life it provided had been wasted on Sejanus. He still thought of himself as a district citizen. Sentimental nonsense. Sejanus_s forehead creased in consternation. _I_m sure my father requested it. He_s always trying to get my mind right._ No doubt, thought Coriolanus. Old Strabo Plinth_s deep pockets and influence were respected if his lineage was not. And while the mentorships were supposedly based on merit, strings clearly had been pulled. The audience had settled into seats now. At the back of the dais, curtains parted to reveal a floor-to-ceiling screen. The reaping aired live from each district, moving from the east coast to the west, and was broadcast around the country. That meant District 12 would kick off the day. Everyone rose as the seal of Panem filled the screen, accompanied by the Capitol anthem. Gem of Panem, Mighty city, Through the ages, you shine anew. Some of the students fumbled for the words, but Coriolanus, who had heard his grandmother butcher it daily for years, sang all three verses in a forceful voice, garnering a few nods of approval. It was pathetic, but he needed every drop of approval he could get. The seal dissolved to show President Ravinstill, his hair streaked with silver, dressed in his prewar military uniform as a reminder that he_d been controlling the districts long before the Dark Days of the rebellion. He recited a brief passage from the Treaty of Treason, which laid out the Hunger Games as a war reparation, young district lives taken for the young Capitol lives that had been lost. The price of the rebels_ treachery. The Gamemakers cut to the bleak square of District 12, where a temporary stage, now lined with Peacekeepers, had been erected before the Justice Building. Mayor Lipp, a squat, freckled man in a hopelessly outdated suit, stood between two burlap sacks. He dug his hand deeply in the bag on his left, pulled out a slip of paper, and barely glanced at it. _The District Twelve girl tribute is Lucy Gray Baird,_ he said into a mic. The camera swept over the crowd of gray, hungry faces in gray, shapeless clothing, seeking the tribute. It zoomed in toward a disturbance, girls drawing back from the unfortunate chosen one. The audience gave a surprised murmur at the sight of her. Lucy Gray Baird stood upright in a dress made of a rainbow of ruffles, now raggedy but once fancy. Her dark, curly hair was pulled up and woven with limp wildflowers. Her colorful ensemble drew the eye, as to a tattered butterfly in a field of moths. She did not make straight for the stage but began to weave through the girls off to her right. It happened quickly. The dip of her hand into the ruffles at her hip, the wriggle of bright green transported from her pocket and deposited down the collar of a smirking redhead_s blouse, the rustle of her skirt as she moved on. Focus stayed on the victim, her smirk changing to an expression of horror, her shrieks as she fell to the ground, pawing at her clothes, the shouts of the mayor. And in the background, her assailant was still weaving, still gliding her way to the stage, not looking back even once. Heavensbee Hall came to life as people elbowed their neighbors. _Did you see that?_ _What did she drop down her dress?_ _A lizard?_ _I saw a snake!_ _Did she kill her?_ Coriolanus scanned the crowd and felt a spark of hope. His long shot of a tribute, his throwaway, his insult had captured the Capitol_s attention. That was good, right? With his help, perhaps she could keep it, and he could turn disgrace into a respectable showing. One way or another, their fates were irrevocably linked. Up on the screen, Mayor Lipp flew down the steps of the stage, pushing his way through the assembled girls to reach the fallen one on the ground. _Mayfair? Mayfair?_ he cried. _My daughter needs help!_ A circle had opened up around her, but the few halfhearted attempts to help her were blocked by her thrashing limbs. The mayor broke into the clearing just as a small, iridescent green snake shot out of the folds of her dress and into the crowd, bringing screams and scrambles to avoid it. The departure of the snake calmed Mayfair, but her distress was immediately replaced by embarrassment. She looked straight into the camera as she realized all the citizens of Panem were watching. One hand tried to straighten a bow that had gone askew in her hair, the other moved to right her garments, filthy with the coal dust that coated everything and torn from her clawing. As her father helped her to her feet, it was apparent she had wet herself. He removed his jacket to wrap around her and handed her over to a Peacekeeper to lead away. He turned back to the stage and trained a murderous look on District 12_s newest tribute. As Coriolanus watched Lucy Gray Baird take the stage, he felt a stab of uneasiness. Could she be mentally unstable? There was something vaguely familiar but disturbing about her. The rows of raspberry pink, royal blue, and daffodil yellow ruffles . . . _She_s like a circus performer,_ one of the girls remarked. The other mentors made sounds of agreement. That was it. Coriolanus reached back into his memory to the circuses of his early childhood. Jugglers and acrobats, clowns and dancing girls in puffy dresses twirling around while his brain grew giddy with spun sugar. His tribute_s choosing such festive attire for the darkest event of the year showed a strangeness beyond a simple lapse of judgment. The allotted time for District 12_s reaping had no doubt come and gone, but they still lacked a male tribute. Even so, when Mayor Lipp retook the stage, he ignored the bags of names, made a beeline for the girl tribute, and struck her in the face so powerfully that she was knocked to her knees. He had raised his hand to hit her again, when a couple of the Peacekeepers intervened, grabbing his arms and attempting to redirect him to the business at hand. When he resisted, they hauled him back into the Justice Building, bringing the whole proceeding to a standstill. Attention shifted to the girl on the stage. As the camera zoomed in on her, Coriolanus was not reassured about Lucy Gray Baird_s sanity. Where she_d gotten the makeup he had no idea, for it was only just becoming accessible again in the Capitol, but her eyes were shadowed blue and lined with black, her cheeks rouged, and her lips stained a somewhat greasy red. Here in the Capitol, it would have been bold. In District 12, it felt immoderate. She was impossible to look away from as she sat there running her hand over her skirt, compulsively smoothing the ruffles. Only when they were neatly arranged did she raise her hand to touch the mark on her cheek. Her lower lip trembled slightly and her eyes shone with tears that threatened to spill over. _Don_t cry,_ Coriolanus whispered. He caught himself and looked around nervously to find that the other students were riveted. Their faces showed concern. She had won their sympathy, despite her oddness. They had no idea who she was or why she had attacked Mayfair, but who couldn_t see that the smirking thing was spiteful, and her father a brute who would flatten a girl he_d just sentenced to death? _I bet they rigged it,_ Sejanus said quietly. _Her name wasn_t on that slip._ Just as the girl was about to lose her battle with the tears, a strange thing happened. From somewhere in the crowd, a voice began to sing. A young voice, which might belong to either a boy or a girl, but of such a pitch that it carried across the silent square. You can_t take my past. You can_t take my history. A puff of wind blew across the stage, and the girl slowly lifted her head. Somewhere else in the crowd, a deeper, distinctly male voice sang out. You could take my pa, But his name_s a mystery. The shadow of a smile played on Lucy Gray Baird_s lips. She suddenly pushed herself to her feet, strode to the center of the stage, grabbed the mic, and let loose. Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping. Her free hand dug into the ruffles of her skirt, swishing it side to side, and all of it began to make sense _ the costume, the makeup, her hair. Whoever she was, she had been dressed for a performance all along. She had a fine voice, bright and clear on the high notes, husky and rich on the low, and she moved with assurance. You can_t take my charm. You can_t take my humor. You can_t take my wealth, _Cause it_s just a rumor. Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping. Singing transformed her, and Coriolanus no longer found her so disconcerting. There was something exciting, even attractive, about her. The camera drank her in as she crossed to the front of the stage and leaned out over the audience, sweet and insolent. Thinking you_re so fine. Thinking you can have mine. Thinking you_re in control. Thinking you_ll change me, maybe rearrange me. Think again, if that_s your goal, _Cause . . . And then she was off, sashaying around the stage, right past the Peacekeepers, some of whom were having trouble suppressing smiles. None of them moved to stop her. You can_t take my sass. You can_t take my talking. You can kiss my ass And then keep on walking. Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping. The doors to the Justice Building banged open and the Peacekeepers who had taken the mayor off burst back onto the stage. The girl was facing front, but you could see her register their arrival. She headed to the far end of the stage for her big finish. No, sir, Nothing you can take from me is worth dirt. Take it, _cause I_d give it free. It won_t hurt. Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping! She managed to blow a kiss before they were on her. _My friends call me Lucy Gray _ I hope you will, too!_ she called out. One of the Peacekeepers wrested the mic from her hand as another picked her up and carried her back to the middle of the stage. She waved as if to raucous applause, not dead silence. For a few moments, they were silent in Heavensbee Hall as well. Coriolanus wondered if, like him, they were hoping she_d keep singing. Then everybody broke out talking, first about the girl, then about who_d been lucky enough to get her. The other students were craning their heads around, some giving him a thumbs-up, some shooting resentful looks. He gave a bemused shake of his head, but inside he was glowing. Snow lands on top. Peacekeepers brought the mayor back out and planted themselves on either side of him to avoid further conflict. Lucy Gray ignored his return, having seemingly regained her poise by performing. The mayor glowered at the camera as he slapped his hand into the second bag and pulled several slips out. A few fluttered down to the stage and he read the remaining paper. _The District Twelve boy tribute is Jessup Diggs._ The kids in the square stirred and made way for Jessup, a boy with a fringe of black hair plastered down on his prominent forehead. As District 12 tributes went, he was a fine specimen, bigger than average and strong-looking. His griminess suggested he was already employed in the mines. A halfhearted attempt at washing had revealed a relatively clean oval in the middle of his face, but it was ringed with black, and coal dust caked his nails. Awkwardly, he ascended the stairs to take his place. As he neared the mayor, Lucy Gray stepped forward and extended her hand. The boy hesitated, then reached out and shook. Lucy Gray crossed in front of him, switched her right hand for her left, and they were standing side by side, holding hands, when she made a deep curtsy, pulling the boy into a bow. A smattering of applause and a lone whoop came from the District 12 crowd before the Peacekeepers closed in and the reaping broadcast cut to District 8. Coriolanus acted engrossed in the show as 8, 6, and 11 called their tributes, but his brain spun with the repercussions of landing Lucy Gray Baird. She was a gift, he knew it, and he must treat her as such. But how best to exploit her showstopping entrance? How to wrangle some success from a dress, a snake, a song? The tributes would be given precious little time with the audience before the Games began. How could he get the audience to invest in her and, by extension, him, in just an interview? He half registered the other tributes, mostly pitiful creatures, and took note of the stronger ones. Sejanus got a towering fellow from District 2, and Livia_s District 1 boy looked like he could be a contender as well. Coriolanus_s girl seemed fairly healthy, but her slight build was more suited to dancing than hand-to-hand combat. He bet she could run fast enough, though, and that was important. As the reaping drew to a close, the smell of food from the buffet wafted over the audience. Fresh-baked bread. Onions. Meat. Coriolanus could not keep his stomach from growling, and risked another couple swallows of posca to quiet it. He felt wired, light-headed, and ravenous. After the screen went dark, he had to use all the discipline he could muster not to rush for the buffet. The endless dance with hunger had defined his life. Not the very early years, before the war, but every day since had been a battle, a negotiation, a game. How was it best to stave off hunger? Eat all the food at one meal? Spread it through the day in dribs and drabs? Wolf it down or chew every morsel to liquid? It was all just a mind game to distract himself from the fact that it was never enough. No one would ever let him have enough. During the war, the rebels had held the food-producing districts. Taking a page out of the Capitol_s playbook, they_d tried to starve the Capitol into submission using food _ or a lack thereof _ as a weapon. Now the tables had turned again, with the Capitol controlling the supply and taking it one step further, twisting the knife into the districts_ hearts with the Hunger Games. Amid the violence of the Games, there was a silent agony that everyone in Panem had experienced, the desperation for enough sustenance to bring you to the following sunrise. That desperation had turned upstanding Capitol citizens into monsters. People who dropped dead from starvation in the streets became part of a gruesome food chain. One winter_s night, Coriolanus and Tigris had slipped out of the apartment to scavenge some wooden crates they_d spotted earlier in an alley. On the way, they passed three bodies, recognizing one as that of a young maid who served tea so nicely at the Cranes_ afternoon gatherings. A heavy, wet snow began falling and they thought the streets deserted, but on the way home, a bundled figure sent them scurrying behind a hedge. They watched as their neighbor Nero Price, a titan in the railroad industry, carved the leg from the maid, sawing back and forth with a terrifying knife until the limb came free. He wrapped it in the skirt he ripped from her waist and then bolted down the side street that led to the back of his town house. The cousins never spoke of it, even to each other, but it was burned into Coriolanus_s memory. The savagery distorting Price_s face, the white anklet and scuffed black shoe at the end of the severed limb, and the absolute horror of realizing that he, too, could now be viewed as edible. Coriolanus credited both his literal and moral survival to the Grandma_am_s foresight early in the war. His parents were dead, Tigris orphaned as well, and both children were living with their grandmother. The rebels had been making slow but steady progress to the Capitol, although arrogance kept that reality from being widely acknowledged in the city. Food shortages required even the richest to seek out certain supplies on the black market. That was how Coriolanus found himself at the back door of a once-trendy nightclub one late October afternoon, holding the handle of a small red wagon in one hand and the Grandma_am_s gloved hand in the other. There was a bitter chill in the air that warned ominously of winter, and a blanket of gloomy, gray clouds overhead. They had come to see Pluribus Bell, an aging man with lemon-tinted spectacles and a white powdered wig that fell to his waist. He and his partner, Cyrus, a musician, owned the shuttered club and now made do by trafficking goods from its back alley. The Snows had come for a case of canned milk, the fresh stuff having disappeared weeks ago, but Pluribus said he was sold out. What had just arrived were crates of dried lima beans, stacked high on the mirrored stage behind him. _They_ll keep for years,_ Pluribus promised the Grandma_am. _I plan on setting aside twenty or so for personal use._ Coriolanus_s grandmother had laughed. _How ghastly._ _No, my dear. Ghastly is what happens without them,_ Pluribus said. He didn_t elaborate, but the Grandma_am stopped laughing. She shot a look at Coriolanus, and her hand clenched his for a second. It seemed involuntary, almost a spasm. Then she looked at the crates and appeared to be figuring something in her head. _How many can you spare?_ she asked the club owner. Coriolanus pulled one crate home in his wagon, and the other twenty-nine arrived in the dead of night, as hoarding was technically illegal. Cyrus and a friend hauled the crates up the stairs and piled them in the middle of the lavishly furnished living room. On the top of the pile, they placed a single can of milk, compliments of Pluribus, then bid them good night. Coriolanus and Tigris helped the Grandma_am hide them in closets, in fancy wardrobes, even in the old clock. _Who_s going to eat all these?_ he asked. At this time, there was still bacon in his life, and chicken, and the occasional roast. Milk was spotty but cheese plentiful, and some sort of dessert could be counted on at dinner, even if it was just jam bread. _We_ll eat some. Perhaps some we can trade,_ said the Grandma_am. _They_ll be our secret._ _I don_t like lima beans._ Coriolanus pouted. _At least, I don_t think I do._ _Well, we_ll have Cook find a good recipe,_ said the Grandma_am. But the cook had been called to serve in the war, then died of the flu. The Grandma_am, it turned out, did not even know how to turn on the stove, let alone follow a recipe. It fell to eight-year-old Tigris to boil the beans to the thick stew, then the soup, then the watery broth, which was to sustain them throughout the war. Lima beans. Cabbage. The ration of bread. They lived on it, day in, day out, for years. Surely, it had impeded his growth. Surely, he would be taller, his shoulders broader, had he had more food. But his brain had developed properly; at least he hoped it had. Beans, cabbage, brown bread. Coriolanus grew to hate the stuff, but it kept them alive, without shame, and without cannibalizing the dead bodies in the streets. Coriolanus swallowed the saliva flooding his mouth as he reached for the gilt-edged plate embossed with the Academy_s seal. Even in the leanest days, the Capitol had not lacked fancy dishware, and he had eaten many a cabbage leaf from fine china at home. He collected a linen napkin, a fork, a knife. As he raised the lid on the first sterling silver chafing dish, the steam bathed his lips. Creamed onions. He took a modest spoonful and tried not to drool. Boiled potatoes. Summer squash. Baked ham. Hot rolls and a pat of butter. On second thought, two pats. A full plate, but not a greedy one. Not for a teenage boy. He set his plate on the table next to Clemensia and went to retrieve his dessert from a cart, because last year they had run out and he_d missed the tapioca entirely. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the rows of apple pie wedges, each decorated with a paper flag sporting the seal of Panem. Pie! When had he last tasted that? He was reaching for a medium-sized piece when someone thrust a plate with an enormous slice under his nose. _Oh, take a big one. Growing boy like you can handle it._ Dean Highbottom_s eyes were rheumy, but they had lost the glazed look of the morning. In fact, they were trained on Coriolanus with an unexpected sharpness. He took the plate of pie with a grin he hoped was boyishly good-natured. _Thank you, sir. I can always find room for pie._ _Yes, pleasures are never hard to accommodate,_ said the dean. _No one would know better than I._ _I suppose not, sir._ But that sounded wrong. He had meant to agree with the part about pleasures, but it sounded like a snide remark about the dean_s character. _You suppose not._ Dean Highbottom_s eyes narrowed as he continued to stare at Coriolanus. _So, what are your plans, Coriolanus, after the Games?_ _I hope to go on to university,_ he replied. What a strange question. Surely, his academic record made that evident. _Yes, I saw your name among the prize contenders,_ said Dean Highbottom. _But if you shouldn_t be awarded one?_ Coriolanus stammered. _Well, then we_d . . . we_d pay the tuition, of course._ _Would you?_ Dean Highbottom laughed. _Look at you, in your makeshift shirt and your too-tight shoes, trying to hold it together. Strutting around the Capitol, when I doubt the Snows have a pot to piss in. Even with a prize, it would be a stretch, and you don_t yet have one, do you? What then, I wonder, would happen to you? What then?_ Coriolanus could not help but glance around to see who else had heard the terrible words, but most people were engaged in mealtime chatter. _Don_t worry _ nobody knows. Well, hardly anyone. Enjoy that pie, boy._ Dean Highbottom walked away without bothering to take a piece himself. Coriolanus wanted nothing so much as to drop his pie and run for the exit, but instead he carefully set the oversized slice back on the cart. The nickname. It could only be that the nickname had found its way back to Dean Highbottom, with Coriolanus given the credit. It had been stupid on his part. The dean was too powerful a person, even now, to be ridiculing in public. But was it really such a horrible thing? Every teacher had at least one nickname, many far less flattering. And it wasn_t as if High-as-a-Kite-Bottom had made much effort to hide his habit. He seemed to invite derision. Could there be some other reason he hated Coriolanus so much? Whatever it was, Coriolanus needed to set it right. He could not risk losing his prize over such a thing. After university he planned to embark on some lucrative profession. Without an education, what doors would be open to him? He tried to imagine his future in some low-level city position . . . doing what? Managing the coal distribution to the districts? Cleaning cages of genetic freaks in the muttations lab? Collecting taxes from Sejanus Plinth in his palatial apartment on the Corso while he lived in some rat hole fifty blocks out? That_s if he were lucky! Capitol jobs were hard to come by, and he would be a penniless Academy graduate, no more. How was he to live? Borrow? Being in debt in the Capitol was historically a ticket to being a Peacekeeper, and that came with a twenty-year commitment to who knew where. They_d ship him off to some horrid backwater district where the people were hardly better than animals. The day, which had held such promise, came crashing down around him. First the threat of losing his apartment, then the lowliest tribute assignment _ who, on further reflection, was definitely crazy _ and now the revelation that Dean Highbottom detested him enough to kill his prize chances and condemn him to a life in the districts! Everyone knew what happened if you went to the districts. You were written off. Forgotten. In the eyes of the Capitol, you were basically dead. Coriolanus stood on the empty train platform, awaiting his tribute_s arrival, a long-stemmed white rose balanced carefully between his thumb and index finger. It had been Tigris_s idea to bring her a gift. She had arrived home very late on the night of the reaping, but he had waited up to consult with her, to tell her of his humiliations and fears. She refused to let the conversation spin into despair. He would get a prize; he would have to! And have a brilliant university career. As to the apartment, they must find out the specifics first. Perhaps the tax would not affect them, or even if it did, maybe not soon. Maybe they could scrape up enough for the taxes somehow. But he was to think of none of that. Only of the Hunger Games, and how he might make a success of it. At Fabricia_s reaping party, Tigris said, everyone was nuts about Lucy Gray Baird. His tribute had _star quality,_ her friends had declared as they drunkenly slurped their posca. The cousins agreed that he needed to make a good first impression on the girl so that she would be willing to work with him. He should treat her not as a condemned prisoner, but as a guest. Coriolanus had decided to greet her early at the train station. It would give him a jump on the assignment, as well as an opportunity to win her trust. _Imagine how terrified she must be, Coryo,_ Tigris had said. _How alone she must feel. If it was me, anything you could do to make me feel like you cared about me would go a long way. No, more than that. Like I was of value. Take her something, even a token, that lets her know you value her._ Coriolanus thought about his grandmother_s roses, which were still prized in the Capitol. The old woman nurtured them arduously in the roof garden that came with the penthouse, both out of doors and in a small solar greenhouse. She parceled out her flowers like diamonds, though, so it had taken a good bit of persuasion to get this beauty. _I need to make a connection with her. As you always say, your roses open any doors._ It was a testament to how worried his grandmother was about their situation that she had allowed it. Two days had passed since the reaping. The city had held on to the oppressive heat, and even though it was just past dawn, the train station was beginning to bake. Coriolanus felt conspicuous on the wide, deserted platform, but he couldn_t risk missing her train. The only information he could get out of his downstairs neighbor, Gamemaker-in-Training Remus Dolittle, was that it was supposed to arrive Wednesday. Remus had recently graduated from the University, and his family had pulled in every favor they had to get him the position, which paid just enough and provided a stepping-stone to the future. Coriolanus could have inquired through the Academy, but he didn_t know if greeting the train would be frowned upon. No rules had been laid out, per se, but he thought most of his classmates would wait to meet their tributes at a session overseen by the Academy the following day. An hour passed, then two, and still no train of any kind appeared. The sun beat down through the glass panes of the station ceiling. Perspiration trickled down his back, and the rose, so majestic that morning, began to bend in resignation. He wondered if the whole idea was ill-conceived and if he would get no thanks for greeting her in this way. Another girl, a typical girl, would be impressed, but there was nothing typical about Lucy Gray Baird. In fact, there was something intimidating about a girl who could pull off such a brazen performance on the heels of the mayor_s assault. And that, just after she had dropped a venomous snake down another girl_s dress. Of course, he didn_t know that it was venomous, but that was where the mind went, wasn_t it? She was terrifying, really. And here he was in his uniform, clutching a rose like some lovestruck schoolboy, hoping she would _ what? Like him? Trust him? Not kill him on sight? Her cooperation was imperative. Yesterday, Satyria had led a mentor meeting in which their first assignment had been detailed. In the past, the tributes had gone directly into the arena the morning after they_d all arrived in the Capitol, but the time line had been extended now that the Academy students were involved. It had been decided that each mentor was to interview their tribute and would be given five minutes to present them to Panem on a live television program. If people had someone to root for, they might actually have an interest in watching the Hunger Games. If all went well, it would be prime-time viewing _ the mentors might even be invited to comment on their tributes during the Games. Coriolanus promised himself that his five minutes would be the standout of the night. Another hour crawled by and he was just about ready to give up, when a train whistle sounded deep in the tunnel. Those first few months of the war, the whistle had signaled his father_s arrival from the battlefield. His father had felt that, as a munitions tycoon, military service enhanced his legitimacy in the family business. With an excellent head for strategy, nerves of steel, and a commanding presence, he_d quickly climbed the ranks. To publicly display their commitment to the Capitol cause, the Snow family would all travel to the station, Coriolanus in his velvet suit, to await the great man_s return. Until the day the train brought only the news that a rebel bullet had found its mark. It was hard, in the Capitol, to find a spot that wasn_t linked to a terrible memory, but this was particularly bad. He could not say he had felt great love for the remote, strict man, but he had certainly felt protected by him. His death was associated with a fear and a vulnerability that Coriolanus had never been able to shake off. The whistle blew as the train sped into the station and screeched to a halt. It was a short train, only an engine and two cars. Coriolanus looked for a glimpse of his tribute in the windows before he realized the cars had none. They were designed not for passengers but for cargo. Heavy metal chains attached by old-fashioned padlocks secured the goods. The wrong train, he thought. Might as well go home. But then a distinctly human cry came from one of the cargo cars and he remained in place. He expected a rush of Peacekeepers, but the train sat ignored for twenty minutes before a few made their way to the rails. One of them exchanged words with an unseen engineer, and a set of keys was tossed out the window. The Peacekeeper took his time meandering down to the first car, flipping through the keys before he selected one, stuck it in the padlock, and gave it a twist. The lock and chains fell away, and he rolled back the heavy door. The car appeared empty. The Peacekeeper pulled out his baton and banged it against the doorframe. _All right, you lot, let_s move!_ A tall boy with dark brown skin and patched burlap clothing appeared in the doorway. Coriolanus recognized him as Clemensia_s tribute from District 11, rangy but muscular. A girl with similar coloring but a skeletal frame and a hacking cough joined him. Both of them were barefoot with their hands cuffed in front of their bodies. It was a five-foot drop to the ground, so they sat on the edge of the car before launching themselves awkwardly onto the platform. A small, pasty-faced girl in a striped dress and red scarf crawled to the door but seemed unable to figure out how to cover the distance to the ground. The Peacekeeper yanked her down and she landed hard, barely catching herself with her bound hands. Then he reached into the car and dragged out a boy who looked about ten years old but had to be at least twelve, and hauled him onto the platform as well. By now the smell of the car, musty and heavy with manure, had reached Coriolanus. They were transporting the tributes in livestock cars, and not very clean ones at that. He wondered if they had been fed and let out for fresh air, or just locked in after their reapings. Accustomed as he was to viewing the tributes on-screen, he had not prepared himself properly for this encounter in the flesh, and a wave of pity and revulsion swept through him. They really were creatures out of another world. A hopeless, brutish world. The Peacekeeper moved on to the second car and released the chains. The door slid open, revealing Jessup, the male District 12 tribute, squinting into the brightly lit station. Coriolanus felt a jolt run through him, and his body straightened in anticipation. Surely, she would be with him. Jessup hopped stiffly to the ground and turned back to the train. Lucy Gray Baird stepped into the light, her cuffed hands half covering her eyes as they adjusted. Jessup reached up his arms, his wrists spread as wide as the chain on his restraints would allow, and she fell forward, letting him catch her by the waist and swing her to the ground in a surprisingly graceful move. She patted the boy_s sleeve in thanks and tilted her head back to drink in the sunlight streaming into the station. Her fingers began combing through her curls, untangling the knots and picking out bits of straw. Coriolanus_s attention turned for a moment to the Peacekeepers, who were hollering threats into the train car. When he gazed back, Lucy Gray was staring directly at him. He started a bit but then remembered that he was the only one on the platform besides the Peacekeepers. The soldiers were cursing now as they hoisted one of their number into the train car to retrieve the reluctant tributes. It was now or never. He crossed to Lucy Gray, extended the rose, and gave a small nod. _Welcome to the Capitol,_ he said. His voice was slightly gravelly, as he had not spoken for hours, but he thought it gave him a nice maturity. The girl sized him up, and for a minute he feared she was going to either walk away or, worse, laugh at him. Instead she reached out and delicately plucked a petal from the flower in his hand. _When I was little, they used to bathe me in buttermilk and rose petals,_ she said in a manner that, despite the unlikeliness of her claim, seemed totally believable. She ran her thumb over the glossy, white surface and slipped the petal into her mouth, closing her eyes to savor the flavor. _Tastes like bedtime._ Coriolanus took the moment to examine her. She looked different than she had at the reaping. Except for flecks here and there, the makeup had been wiped away, and without it she appeared younger. Her lips were chapped, her hair loose, her rainbow dress dusty and rumpled. The mark from the mayor_s blow had turned to a deep purple bruise. But there was something else, too. He again had the impression that he was witnessing a performance, but a private one this time. When she opened her eyes, she trained all her attention on him. _You don_t look like you should be here._ _I probably shouldn_t be,_ he admitted. _But I_m your mentor. And I wanted to meet you on my own terms. Not the Gamemakers_._ _Ah, a rebel,_ she said. That word was poison in the mouths of Capitol citizens, but she had said it approvingly, as a compliment. Or, was she mocking him? He remembered she carried snakes in her pocket and the usual rules didn_t apply to her. _And what does my mentor do for me, besides bring me roses?_ she asked. _I do my best to take care of you,_ he said. She glanced over her shoulder, where the Peacekeepers were tossing two half-starved children onto the platform. The girl broke a front tooth on the platform, while the boy received several sharp kicks upon landing. Lucy Gray smiled up at Coriolanus. _Well, good luck, Gorgeous,_ she said, and walked back to Jessup, leaving him and his rose behind. As the Peacekeepers herded the tributes across the station to the main entrance, Coriolanus felt his chance slipping away. He had not secured her trust. He had not done anything except perhaps amuse her for a moment. Clearly, she thought he was useless, and maybe she was right, but with all that was at stake, he had to try. He ran across the station, catching up to the pack of tributes as they reached the door. _Excuse me,_ he said to the Peacekeeper in charge. _I_m Coriolanus Snow from the Academy._ He inclined his head toward Lucy Gray. _This tribute has been assigned to me for the Hunger Games. I wonder if I might accompany her to her quarters._ _That_s why you been hanging around here all morning? To catch a ride to the show?_ asked the Peacekeeper. He reeked of liquor and his eyes were rimmed with red. _Well, by all means, Mr. Snow. Join the party._ It was then that Coriolanus saw the truck that awaited the tributes. Less a truck than a cage on wheels. The bed was enclosed by metal bars and topped with a steel roof. He again flashed back to the circus of his childhood, where he had seen wild animals _ big cats and bears _ confined to such transport. Following orders, the tributes presented their cuffs for removal and climbed into the cage. Coriolanus hung back but then saw Lucy Gray watching him and knew this was the moment of judgment. If he backed down now, it would all be over. She would think he was a coward and dismiss him entirely. He took a deep breath and hoisted himself up into the cage. The door slammed shut behind him, and the truck lurched forward, knocking him off balance. He reflexively grabbed for the bars on his right and wound up with his forehead crammed between them as a couple of the tributes fell into him. He pushed back forcefully and twisted his body around to face his fellow passengers. Everyone had hold of at least one bar now except the girl with the broken tooth, who was clinging to the leg of the boy from her district. As the truck rumbled down a wide avenue, they began to settle in. Coriolanus knew he had made a mistake. Even in the open air, the stench was overwhelming. The tributes had absorbed the odor of the cattle car and it mixed with an unwashed human smell that made him feel slightly nauseous. Up close, he could see how grubby they were, how bloodshot their eyes, how bruised their limbs. Lucy Gray was crammed into a corner at the front, dabbing a fresh scrape on her forehead with her ruffled hem. She seemed indifferent to his presence, but the rest of them stared at him like a pack of feral animals eyeing a pampered poodle. At least I_m in better condition than they are, he thought, and he made a fist around the stem of the rose. If they attack, I_ll stand a chance. But would he? Against so many? The truck slowed to let one of the colorful street trolleys, packed with people, cross in front of it. Although he was in the back, Coriolanus hunched down to avoid being noticed. The trolley passed, the truck began to roll, and he dared to straighten up. They were laughing at him, the tributes, or at least some of them were grinning at his obvious discomfort. _What_s the matter, pretty boy? You in the wrong cage?_ said the boy from District 11, who was not laughing at all. The undisguised hatred rattled Coriolanus, but he tried to look unimpressed. _No, this is exactly the cage I was waiting for._ The boy_s hands came up fast, encircling Coriolanus_s throat with his long, scarred fingers and slamming him back. His forearms pinned Coriolanus_s body against the bars. Overpowered, Coriolanus resorted to the one move that had yet to fail him in schoolyard scuffles, driving his knee up hard into his opponent_s crotch. The district boy gasped and doubled over, releasing him. _He might kill you now._ The girl from District 11 coughed in Coriolanus_s face. _He killed a Peacekeeper back in Eleven. They never found out who did it._ _Shut it, Dill,_ the boy growled. _Who cares now?_ said Dill. _Let_s all kill him,_ the tiny boy said viciously. _Can_t do nothing worse to us._ Several other tributes murmured in agreement and took a step in. Coriolanus went rigid with fear. Kill him? Did they really mean to beat him to death, right here in broad daylight, in the middle of the Capitol? Suddenly, he knew they did. What, after all, did they have to lose? His heart pounded in his chest, and he crouched slightly, fists extended, in anticipation of the imminent attack. From the corner, Lucy Gray_s melodic voice broke the tension. _Not to us, maybe. You got family back home? Someone they could punish there?_ This seemed to take the wind out of the other tributes_ sails. She wriggled through and placed herself between them and Coriolanus. _Besides,_ she said, _he_s my mentor. Supposed to help me. I might need him._ _How come you get a mender?_ asked Dill. _Mentor. You each get one,_ explained Coriolanus, trying to sound on top of the situation. _Where are they, then?_ Dill challenged. _Why didn_t they come?_ _Just not inspired, I guess,_ said Lucy Gray. Turning from Dill, she gave Coriolanus a wink. The truck veered onto a narrow side street and bumped down to what appeared to be a dead end. Coriolanus could not quite get his bearings. He tried to remember where the tributes had been held in previous years. Hadn_t it been in the stables that housed the Peacekeepers_ horses? Yes, he thought he had heard some mention of that. As soon as they arrived, he would find a Peacekeeper and explain things, perhaps ask for a bit of protection given the hostility. After Lucy Gray_s wink, it might be worthwhile to stay. They were backing in now to a dimly lit building, maybe a warehouse. Coriolanus inhaled a musky mix of rotten fish and old hay. Confused, he tried to get a better fix on his surroundings, and his eyes strained to make out two metal doors swinging open. A Peacekeeper opened the back door to the truck, and before anyone could climb out, the cage tipped and dumped them onto a slab of cold, damp cement. Not a slab, actually more like a chute, for it was tilted at such an extreme angle that Coriolanus began to slide immediately, along with the rest. He dropped the rose as his hands and feet scrabbled for purchase but found none. They all traveled a good twenty feet before they landed in a jumbled heap on a gritty floor. Sunlight glared down on Coriolanus as he scrambled to untangle his body from the pack. He staggered out a few yards, righted himself, and froze in horror. This was not the stables. While he had not visited in many years, he remembered it clearly now. The stretch of sand. The artificial rock formations twisting high in the air. The row of metal bars engraved to look like vines curved in a wide arc to protect the audience. Between the sets of bars, the faces of Capitol children gawked at him. He was in the monkey house at the zoo. He could not have felt more exposed had he been standing naked in the middle of the Corso. At least then he would_ve had the option to escape. Now he was trapped and on display, for the first time appreciating the animals_ inability to hide. Children had begun to chatter excitedly and point at his school uniform, drawing the attention of the adults. Faces were filling all the available space between the bars. But the real horror was a pair of cameras positioned at either end of the visitors. Capitol News. With their omnipresent coverage and their saucy slogan, _If you didn_t see it here, it didn_t happen._ Oh, it was happening. To him. Now. He could feel his image going live all over the Capitol. Fortunately, shock rooted him to the spot, because the only thing worse than him standing among the district riffraff in the zoo would be him running around like a fool trying to escape. There was no easy way out. It was built for wild animals. Attempting to hide would be even more pathetic. Imagine how delicious that footage would be for Capitol News. They would play it ad nauseam. Add silly music and captions. Snow_s meltdown! Make it part of the weather report. Too hot for Snow! They would rerun it as long as he lived. His disgrace would be complete. What option did that leave him? Only to stand his ground, looking the cameras dead in the eye, until he was rescued. He straightened up to his full height, subtly shifted back his shoulders, and attempted to look bored. The audience began to call out to him _ first the high-pitched children_s voices, then the adults joining in, asking what he was doing, why was he in the cage, did he need help? Someone recognized him, and his name spread like wildfire through the crowd, which was becoming deeper by the minute. _It_s the Snow boy!_ _Who_s that again?_ _You know, the ones with the roses on their roof!_ Who were all these people hanging around on a weekday at the zoo? Didn_t they have jobs? Shouldn_t the children be in school? No wonder the country was such a mess. The district tributes began to circle, taunting him. There was the pair from District 11, and the vicious little boy who had called for his death, and several new ones, too. He remembered the hatred in the truck and wondered what would happen if they attacked him as a pack. Perhaps the audience would only cheer them on. Coriolanus tried not to panic, but he could feel sweat running down his sides. All the faces _ of the nearby tributes, of the crowd at the bars _ began to blur. Their features became indistinct, leaving only dark and light patches of skin broken by the pinkish red of their open mouths. His limbs felt numb, his lungs starved for air. He was beginning to consider making a break for the chute and attempting to climb it when a voice behind him softly said, _Own it._ Without turning he knew it was the girl, his girl, and he felt immense relief that he was not entirely alone. He thought of how cleverly she had played the audience after the mayor_s assault, how she had won them all with her song. She was right, of course. He had to make this moment look intentional or it was all over. He took a deep breath and turned to where she sat, casually fixing the white rose behind her ear. She always seemed to be improving her appearance. Arranging her ruffles in District 12, grooming her hair at the train station, and now adorning herself with the rose. He extended his hand to her as if she was the grandest lady in the Capitol. The edges of Lucy Gray_s mouth curled up. As she took his hand, her touch sent a tiny electrical spark up his arm, and he felt as if a bit of her onstage charisma had been transferred to him. He made a small bow as she stood with exaggerated elegance. She_s onstage. You_re onstage. This is the show, he thought. He lifted his head and asked, _Would you care to meet a few of my neighbors?_ _I would be delighted,_ she said as if they were at an afternoon tea. _My left side is better,_ she murmured, lightly brushing her cheek. He wasn_t sure what to do with the information, so he started to guide her to the left. Lucy Gray gave the spectators a big smile, seemingly pleased to be there, but as he led her to the bars he could feel her fingers clenching his like a vise. A shallow moat that ran between the rocky structures and the bars of the monkey house had once formed a watery barrier between the animals and the visitors, but it was bone-dry now. They descended three steps, crossed the moat, and climbed back up to a shelf that ran around the enclosure, putting them eye-to-eye with the patrons. Coriolanus chose a spot several yards from one of the cameras _ let it come to him _ where a gaggle of small children stood in a cluster. The bars were spaced about four inches apart _ not enough room to slide a whole body between, but ample if you wanted to reach your hand through. The children fell silent as they approached, pressing back into their parents_ legs. Coriolanus thought the afternoon tea image was as good as any, so he continued to treat the situation with the same lightness. _How do you do?_ he said, leaning over to the children. _I brought along a friend of mine today. Would you like to meet her?_ The children shifted around, and there were a few giggles. Then one little boy shouted, _Yes!_ He slapped the bars with his hands a few times, then shoved them in his pockets uncertainly. _We saw her on the television._ Coriolanus led Lucy Gray right up to the bars. _May I present Miss Lucy Gray Baird?_ The audience had fallen silent now, nervous at her proximity to the children but eager to hear what the strange tribute was going to say. Lucy Gray went down on one knee about a foot from the bars. _Hi there. I_m Lucy Gray. What_s your name?_ _Pontius,_ the boy said, glancing up to his mother for reassurance. She looked warily at Lucy Gray, but the girl ignored her. _How do you do, Pontius?_ she said. Like any well-bred Capitol lad, the boy thrust his hand out to shake. Lucy Gray raised her hand to meet his but refrained from sticking it through the bars, which might have appeared threatening. As a result, it was the boy who reached into the cage to make contact. She squeezed his little hand warmly. _So nice to meet you. Is this your sister?_ Lucy Gray nodded to the little girl next to him. She stood saucer-eyed as she sucked on a finger. _That_s Venus,_ he said. _She_s only four._ _Well, I think four is a very smart age to be,_ said Lucy Gray. _Nice to meet you, Venus._ _I liked your song,_ whispered Venus. _You did?_ said Lucy Gray. _That_s so sweet. Well, you keep watching, Precious, and I_ll try to sing you another. Okay?_ Venus nodded and then buried her face in her mother_s skirt, bringing laughter and a few aws from the crowd. Lucy Gray began to sidestep her way along the fence, engaging the children as she went. Coriolanus hung back a bit to give her space. _Did you bring your snake?_ a girl clutching a dripping strawberry ice pop asked hopefully. _I sure wish I could have. That snake was a particular friend of mine,_ Lucy Gray told her. _Do you have a pet?_ _I have a fish,_ said the girl. She leaned into the bars. _His name is Bub._ She transferred her treat to her other hand and reached through the bars for Lucy Gray. _Can I touch your dress?_ Streaks of ruby syrup ran from her fist to her elbow, but Lucy Gray just laughed and offered up a bit of her skirt. The girl ran a tentative finger over the ruffles. _It_s pretty._ _I like yours, too._ The girl_s dress was a faded, printed thing, nothing to remark on. But Lucy Gray said, _Polka dots always make me feel happy,_ and the girl beamed. Coriolanus could sense the audience beginning to warm up to his tribute, no longer bothering to keep their distance. People were easy to manipulate when it came to their children. So pleased to see them pleased. Instinctively, Lucy Gray seemed to know this, ignoring the adults as she moved along. She had almost reached one of the cameras and its accompanying reporter. She must have sensed it, but when she rose and found it directly in her face, she gave a slight start, then laughed. _Oh, hi there. Are we on television?_ The Capitol reporter, a young man eager for a story, leaned in hungrily. _We certainly are._ _And who might you be?_ she asked. _I_m Lepidus Malmsey with Capitol News,_ he said, flashing a grin. _So, Lucy, you_re the tribute from District Twelve?_ _It_s Lucy Gray and I_m not really from Twelve,_ she said. _My people are Covey. Musicians by trade. We just took a wrong turn one day and were obliged to stay._ _Oh. So . . . what district are you from, then?_ asked Lepidus. _No district in particular. We move from place to place as the fancy takes us._ Lucy Gray caught herself. _Well, we used to anyway. Before the Peacekeepers rounded us up a few years back._ _But now you_re District Twelve citizens,_ he insisted. _If you say so._ Lucy Gray_s eyes drifted back to the crowd as if she was in danger of being bored. The reporter could feel her slipping away. _Your dress has been a big hit in the Capitol!_ _Has it? Well, the Covey love color, and me more than most. But this was my mama_s, so it_s extra special to me,_ she said. _She in District Twelve?_ Lepidus asked. _Just her bones, darling. Just her pearly white bones._ Lucy Gray stared directly at the reporter, who seemed to have trouble forming his next question. She watched him struggle for a moment, then gestured to Coriolanus. _So, do you know my mentor? Says his name is Coriolanus Snow. He_s a Capitol boy and clearly I got the cake with the cream, _cause nobody else_s mentor even bothered to show up to welcome them._ _Well, he gave us all a surprise. Did your teachers tell you to be here, Coriolanus?_ asked Lepidus. Coriolanus stepped toward the camera and tried for likable with a hint of roguishness. _They didn_t tell me not to._ Laughter rippled through the crowd. _But I do remember them saying that I was to introduce Lucy Gray to the Capitol, and I take that job seriously._ _So you didn_t have a second thought about diving into a cage of tributes?_ prompted the reporter. _A second, a third, and I imagine the fourth and fifth will be hitting me sometime soon,_ admitted Coriolanus. _But if she_s brave enough to be here, shouldn_t I be?_ _Oh, for the record, I didn_t have a choice,_ said Lucy Gray. _For the record, neither did I,_ said Coriolanus. _After I heard you sing, I couldn_t keep away. I confess, I_m a fan._ Lucy Gray gave her skirt a swish as a smattering of applause came from the crowd. _Well, I hope for your sake the Academy agrees with you, Coriolanus,_ said Lepidus. _I think you_re about to find out._ Coriolanus turned to see metal doors, their windows reinforced with grates, swinging open in the back of the monkey house. A quartet of Peacekeepers marched in and headed straight for him. He turned to the camera, intent on making a good exit. _Thank you for joining us,_ he said. _Remember, it_s Lucy Gray Baird, representing District Twelve. Drop by the zoo if you have a minute and say hello. I promise she_s well worth the effort._ Lucy Gray extended her hand to him with the delicate droop of the wrist that invited a kiss. He obliged, and when his lips brushed her skin, he felt a pleasant tingle. After giving the audience one last wave, he stepped up calmly to meet the Peacekeepers. One nodded tersely, and without a word he followed them from the enclosure to a respectable applause. When the doors closed behind him, his breath came out in a huff and he realized how afraid he_d been. He silently congratulated himself for maintaining grace under pressure, but the scowls of the Peacekeepers suggested they did not share his opinion. _What are you playing at?_ a Peacekeeper demanded. _You_re not allowed in there._ _So I thought, until your cohorts unceremoniously dumped me down a chute,_ Coriolanus replied. He thought the combination of cohorts and unceremoniously had just the right note of superiority. _I only signed up for the ride to the zoo. I_d be happy to explain the whole thing to your presiding officer and identify the Peacekeepers who did this. But to you, I offer my thanks._ _Uh-huh,_ she said flatly. _We have orders to escort you to the Academy._ _Even better,_ said Coriolanus, sounding more confident than he felt. The quick reaction from the school unsettled him. Although the television in the backseat of the Peacekeeper van was broken, he was able to catch glimpses of the story along the way on the huge public screens that dotted the Capitol. Nervous energy began to bubble up as he saw images of first Lucy Gray, then himself, beaming out over the city. He could never have planned anything this audacious, but since it had happened, he might as well enjoy it. And really, he thought, he had given a fine performance. Kept his head. Stood his ground. Featured the girl, and she was a natural. Handled it all with dignity and a little ironic humor. By the time he reached the Academy, he had recovered his composure and ascended the steps with assurance. It helped that every head was turning his way, and had there been no Peacekeepers to hold them at bay, he felt sure his schoolmates would have swarmed him. He thought he_d be taken to the office, but the guard deposited him on the bench outside the door to, of all places, the high biology lab, which was restricted to the senior students most gifted in the science. Although it was not his favorite subject _ the smell of formaldehyde triggered his gag reflex, and he loathed working with a partner _ he did sufficiently well in genetic manipulation to have landed a spot in the class. Nothing like that whiz Io Jasper, who seemed to have been born with a microscope attached to her eye. He was always gracious to Io, though, and as a result, she adored him. With unpopular people, such a minor effort went such a long way. But who was he to feel superior? Across from the bench, on the bulletin board for student notices, a memo had been posted. It read: 10th HUNGER GAMES MENTOR ASSIGNMENTS DISTRICT 1 Boy Liviaw Cardew Girl Palmyra Monty DISTRICT 2 Boy Sejanus Plinth Girl Florus Friend DISTRICT 3 Boy Io Jasper Girl Urban Canville DISTRICT 4 Boy Persephone Price Girl Festus Creed DISTRICT 5 Boy Dennis Fling Girl Iphigenia Moss DISTRICT 6 Boy Apollo Ring Girl Diana Ring DISTRICT 7 Boy Vipsania Sickle Girl Pliny Harrington DISTRICT 8 Boy Juno Phipps Girl Hilarius Heavensbee DISTRICT 9 Boy Gaius Breen Girl Androcles Anderson DISTRICT 10 Boy Domitia Whimsiwick Girl Arachne Crane DISTRICT 11 Boy Clemensia Dovecote Girl Felix Ravinstill DISTRICT 12 Boy Lysistrata Vickers Girl Coriolanus Snow Could there be a more stinging public reminder of his precarious position than to be dangling there at the end like an afterthought? After Coriolanus spent a few minutes puzzling over why he_d been brought to the lab, the guard told him he could go in. At his tentative knock, a voice he recognized as Dean Highbottom_s bid him enter. He had expected Satyria to be present but found only one other person in the lab _ a small, stooped old woman with frizzy gray hair who was teasing a caged rabbit with a metal rod. She poked at it through the mesh until the creature, which had been modified to have the jaw strength of a pit bull, yanked the thing from her hand and snapped it in two. Then she straightened as well as she could, turned her attention to Coriolanus, and exclaimed, _Hippity, hoppity!_ Dr. Volumnia Gaul, the Head Gamemaker and mastermind behind the Capitol_s experimental weapons division, had unnerved Coriolanus since childhood. On a school field trip, his class of nine-year-olds had watched as she_d melted the flesh off a lab rat with some sort of laser and then asked if anyone had any pets they were tired of. Coriolanus had no pets _ how could they afford to feed one? But Pluribus Bell had a fluffy white cat named Boa Bell that would lie in her owner_s lap and bat around the ends of his powdered wig. She had taken a fancy to Coriolanus and would start up a raspy, mechanical purr the moment he petted her head. On those dreary days when he_d slogged through the wintry slush to trade back a bag of lima beans for more cabbage, it was her silly, silky warmth that had consoled him. It upset him to think of Boa Bell ending up in the lab. Coriolanus knew Dr. Gaul taught a class at the University, but he_d seldom seen her at the Academy. As Head Gamemaker, though, anything related to the Hunger Games fell under her purview. Could his trip to the zoo have brought her here? Was he about to lose his mentorship? _Hippity, hoppity._ Dr. Gaul grinned. _How was the zoo?_ Then she was laughing. _It_s like a children_s rhyme. Hippity, hoppity, how was the zoo? You fell in a cage and your tribute did, too!_ Coriolanus_s lips stretched into a weak smile as his eyes darted over to Dean Highbottom for some clue as to how to react. The man sat slumped at a lab table, rubbing his temple in a way that suggested he had a pounding headache. No help there. _I did,_ Coriolanus said. _We did. We fell in a cage._ Dr. Gaul raised her eyebrows at him, as if expecting more. _And?_ _And . . . we . . . landed onstage?_ he added. _Ha! Exactly! That_s exactly what you did!_ Dr. Gaul gave him an approving look. _You_re good at games. Maybe one day you_ll be a Gamemaker._ The thought had never crossed his mind. No disrespect to Remus, but it didn_t seem like much of a job. Or like it required any particular skill, tossing kids and weapons in an arena and letting them fight it out. He supposed they had to organize the reapings and film the Games, but he hoped for a more challenging career. _I_ve got a great deal to learn before I can even think of that,_ he said modestly. _The instinct is there. That_s what matters,_ said Dr. Gaul. _So, tell me, what made you go into the cage?_ It had been an accident. He was about to say so when he thought of Lucy Gray whispering the words Own it. _Well . . . my tribute, she_s on the small side. The kind who_s gone in the first five minutes of the Hunger Games. But she_s appealing in a scruffy sort of way, with the singing and all._ Coriolanus paused for a moment, as if reviewing his plan. _I don_t think she stands a chance of winning, but that isn_t the point, is it? I was told we were trying to engage the audience. That_s my assignment. To get people to watch. So I asked myself, how do I even reach the audience? I go where the cameras are._ Dr. Gaul nodded. _Yes. Yes, there_s no Hunger Games without the audience._ She turned to the dean. _You see, Casca, this one took the initiative. He understands the importance of keeping the Games alive._ Dean Highbottom squinted at him skeptically. _Does he? Or is he just showboating for a better grade? What do you think the purpose of the Hunger Games is, Coriolanus?_ _To punish the districts for the rebellion,_ Coriolanus said without hesitation. _Yes, but punishment could take a myriad of forms,_ said the dean. _Why the Hunger Games?_ Coriolanus opened his mouth and then hesitated. Why the Hunger Games? Why not just drop bombs, or cancel food shipments, or stage executions on the steps of the district Justice Buildings? His mind jumped to Lucy Gray kneeling at the bars of the cage, engaging the children, the thawing of the crowd. They were connected in some way that he couldn_t quite articulate. _Because . . . It_s because of the children. How they matter to people._ _How do they matter?_ Dean Highbottom pressed. _People love children,_ said Coriolanus. But even as the words came out of his mouth, he questioned them. During the war, he had been bombed and starved and abused in multiple ways, and not just by the rebels. A cabbage ripped from his hands. A Peacekeeper bruising his jaw when he mistakenly wandered too close to the president_s mansion. He thought of the time he had collapsed and lain in the street with the swan flu and no one, no one would stop to help. Racked with chills, burning with fever, limbs spiked with pain. Even though she was sick herself, Tigris had found him that night and somehow gotten him home. He faltered. _Sometimes they do,_ he added, but it lacked conviction. When he thought about it, people_s love of children seemed a very fickle thing. _I don_t know why,_ he admitted. Dean Highbottom shot Dr. Gaul a look. _You see? It_s a failed experiment._ _It is if no one watches!_ she snapped back. She gave Coriolanus an indulgent smile. _He_s a child himself. Give him time. I_ve got a good feeling about this one. Well, I_m off to visit my mutts._ She patted Coriolanus on the arm as she shuffled toward the door. _Very hush-hush, but there_s something wonderful going on with the reptiles._ Coriolanus made as if to follow, but Dean Highbottom_s voice stopped him. _So your whole performance was planned. That_s odd. Because when you stood up in the cage, I thought you were thinking about running._ _It was a rather more physical entrance than I had envisioned. It took some time to get my bearings. Again, I have a great many things to learn,_ said Coriolanus. _Boundaries being among them. You_ll be receiving a demerit for engaging in reckless behavior that could have injured a student. You, namely. It will go on your permanent record,_ said the dean. A demerit? What did that even mean? Coriolanus would have to review the Academy student guide so he could object to the punishment. He was distracted by the dean, who pulled a small bottle from his pocket, twisted it open, and applied three drops of clear liquid to his tongue. Whatever was in the bottle, most likely morphling, worked quickly, because Dean Highbottom_s whole body relaxed and a dreaminess settled in his eyes. He smiled unpleasantly. _Three such demerits, and you_ll be expelled._ Coriolanus had never received an official reprimand of any kind, nothing that would stain his spotless record. _But __ he started to protest. _Go, before you receive a second for insubordination,_ said Dean Highbottom. There was no give in the statement, no invitation to negotiate. Coriolanus did as he_d been directed. Had Dean Highbottom actually used the word expelled? Coriolanus left the Academy in a state of agitation, but once again the rush of attention quieted his distress. From his fellow students in the hallway, from Tigris and the Grandma_am as they ate a quick supper of fried eggs and cabbage soup, from complete strangers as he made his way back to the zoo that evening, eager to keep his hand in the Games. The soft orange glow of the sunset suffused the city, and a cool breeze swept away the suffocating heat of the day. Officials had extended the zoo_s hours until nine o_clock, allowing the citizens to see the tributes, but there had been no more live coverage since his earlier visit. Coriolanus had decided to make another appearance to check on Lucy Gray and suggest she sing another song. The audience would love that, and perhaps it would draw the cameras back again. As he wound through the paths of the zoo, he was filled with nostalgia for the pleasant days he_d spent there as a child, but he felt saddened by the emptiness of the cages. They had once been full of fascinating creatures from the Capitol_s genetic ark. Now, in one, a lone tortoise lay in the mud, wheezing. A bedraggled toucan squawked high in the branches, fluttering freely from one enclosure to the next. They were rare survivors of the war, as most animals had starved or been eaten. A pair of scrawny raccoons that had likely wandered in from the adjacent city park dug in an overturned trash can. The only beasts thriving were the rats that chased one another around the edges of fountains and scurried across the path mere feet away. As Coriolanus neared the monkey house, the paths became more populated, and a crowd of about a hundred people curved from one side of the bars to the other. Someone jostled his arm as they sped by, and he recognized Lepidus Malmsey pushing ahead through the visitors with the cameraman. A sort of commotion was occurring down front, and he climbed up on a boulder to get a better view. To his chagrin, he saw Sejanus standing at the edge of the cage with a large backpack beside him. He held what appeared to be a sandwich through the bars, offering it to the tributes within. For the moment, they were all hanging back. Coriolanus could not hear his words, but he seemed to be trying to coax Dill, the girl from District 11, to take it. What was Sejanus up to? Was he trying to outdo him and steal the day_s thunder? To take his idea of coming to the zoo and then dress it up in a way Coriolanus could never compete with, because he could never afford to? Was that whole pack filled with sandwiches? That girl wasn_t even his tribute. When Sejanus caught sight of Coriolanus, his face brightened and he waved him over. Casually, Coriolanus made his way through the crowd, soaking up their attention. _Trouble?_ he said as he surveyed the backpack. It was overflowing with not only sandwiches, but fresh plums as well. _None of them trust me. And why should they?_ asked Sejanus. A self-important little girl marched up beside them and pointed to a sign on the pillar at the edge of the enclosure. _It says, _Please don_t feed the animals.__ _They_re not animals, though,_ said Sejanus. _They_re kids, like you and me._ _They_re not like me!_ the little girl protested. _They_re district. That_s why they belong in a cage!_ _Once again, like me,_ said Sejanus drily. _Coriolanus, do you think you could get your tribute to come over? If she does, the others might. They have to be starving._ Coriolanus_s mind worked quickly. He had already received one demerit today and did not wish to push his luck with Dean Highbottom. On the other hand, the demerit had been for endangerment of a student, and he was perfectly safe on this side of the bars. Dr. Gaul, who was arguably more influential than Dean Highbottom, had complimented his initiative. And in truth, he had no interest in ceding the stage to Sejanus. The zoo was his show, and he and Lucy Gray were the stars. Even now, he could hear Lepidus whispering his name to the cameraman, feel the viewers in the Capitol watching him. He spotted Lucy Gray at the back of the enclosure, washing her hands and face at a faucet that jutted from the wall at knee height. She dried herself on the ruffled skirt, arranged her curls, and adjusted the rose behind her ear. _I can_t treat her like it_s feeding time at the zoo,_ Coriolanus told Sejanus. It was not consistent with his treatment of her as a lady to be shoving food to her through the bars. _Not mine. But I could offer her dinner._ Sejanus nodded immediately. _Take whatever. Ma made extra. Please._ Coriolanus chose two sandwiches and two plums from the pack and crossed to the edge of the monkey house, where a flat rock provided a likely seat. Never in his life, not even in the worst years, had he left home without a clean handkerchief in his pocket. The Grandma_am insisted on certain civilities that held chaos at bay. There were great drawers of them going back generations, plain to lacy to embroidered with flowers. He spread out the worn, slightly rumpled square of white linen and laid out the food. As he seated himself, Lucy Gray drifted up to the bars unbidden. _Are those sandwiches for anybody?_ she asked. _Just for you,_ he answered. She tucked her feet under her and accepted a sandwich. After examining its contents, she took a nibble from the corner. _Aren_t you eating?_ He wasn_t sure. The optics so far were good, singling her out again, presenting her as someone of value. But to eat with her? That might cross a line. _I_d rather you have it,_ he said. _Keep up your strength._ _Why? So I can break Jessup_s neck in the arena? We both know that_s not my forte,_ she said. His stomach growled at the smell of the sandwich. A thick slice of meat loaf on white bread. He_d missed his lunch at the Academy today, and breakfast and supper had been meager at home. A dollop of ketchup oozing out of Lucy Gray_s sandwich tipped the scale. He lifted the second sandwich and sank his teeth in. A little shock of delight ran through his body, and he resisted the impulse to devour the sandwich in a couple of bites. _Now it_s like a picnic._ Lucy Gray looked back at the other tributes, who had moved in closer but still seemed uncertain. _You all should get one. They_re real good!_ she called. _Go on, Jessup!_ Emboldened, her hulking district partner slowly approached Sejanus and took the sandwich from his hand. He waited until a plum followed and then walked off without a word. Suddenly, the other tributes rushed the fence, hands thrusting through the bars. Sejanus filled them as fast as he could, and within a minute the backpack was almost depleted. The tributes spread out around the cage, crouched protectively over their food, wolfing it down. The only tribute who had not approached Sejanus was his own, the boy from District 2. He stood at the back of the cage, arms folded across his colossal frame, staring down his mentor. Sejanus pulled one final sandwich from the backpack and held it out to him. _Marcus, this is for you. Take it. Please._ But Marcus remained stone-faced and immobile. _Please, Marcus,_ Sejanus, pleaded. _You must be starving._ Marcus looked Sejanus up and down, then pointedly turned his back on him. Lucy Gray watched the standoff with interest. _What_s going on there?_ _What do you mean?_ Coriolanus asked. _I don_t know exactly,_ she said. _But it feels personal._ The tiny boy who_d wanted to murder Coriolanus in the truck sprinted up and snatched the unclaimed sandwich. Sejanus made no move to stop him. The news team tried to engage Sejanus, but he brushed them off and disappeared into the crowd, the limp pack over his shoulder. They shot a bit more of the tributes, then headed toward Lucy Gray and Coriolanus, who sat up straighter and ran his tongue over his teeth to clean off the meat loaf. _We_re here at the zoo with Coriolanus Snow and his tribute, Lucy Gray Baird. Another student just passed out sandwiches. Is he a mentor?_ Lepidus thrust the mic at them for an answer. Coriolanus didn_t like sharing the spotlight, but Sejanus_s presence could protect him. Would Dean Highbottom give a demerit to the son of the man who had rebuilt the Academy? A few days ago he would_ve thought the name Snow carried more weight than Plinth, but the reaping assignments had proven him wrong. If Dean Highbottom wanted to call him on the carpet, he_d prefer to have Sejanus by his side. _He_s my classmate, Sejanus Plinth,_ he informed Lepidus. _What_s he up to, bringing fancy sandwiches to the tributes? Surely, the Capitol feeds them,_ said the reporter. _Oh, for the record, I last ate the night before the reaping,_ Lucy Gray announced. _So I guess it_s been three days._ _Oh. Okay, well, you enjoy that sandwich!_ said Lepidus. He signaled the camera to turn back to the other tributes. Lucy Gray was on her feet in a flash, leaning into the bars and pulling back the focus. _You know, Mr. Reporter, what might be nice? If anybody has any food to spare, they might bring it on down to the zoo. No fun watching the Games if we_re all too weak to fight, don_t you think?_ _There_s some truth to that,_ said the reporter, unsure. _Me, I like sweet things, but I_m not picky._ She smiled and bit into her plum. _Okay. Okay, then,_ he said, easing away. Coriolanus could tell the reporter was on shaky ground. Should he really be helping her solicit the citizens for food? Did it seem a condemnation of the Capitol? As the news team moved to the other tributes, Lucy Gray settled back down across from him. _Too much?_ _Not for me. I_m sorry I didn_t think to bring you food,_ he said. _Well, I_ve been working my way through these rose petals when nobody_s looking._ She shrugged. _You didn_t know._ They finished their food in silence, watching the reporter_s failed attempts at getting the other tributes to talk. The sun had set now, and a rising moon had taken over the lighting. The zoo would be closing soon. _I was thinking that it might be a good idea for you to sing again,_ said Coriolanus. Lucy Gray sucked the last bit of flesh off the plum pit. _Mm-hmm, it might be, at that._ She dabbed the corners of her mouth with a ruffle and then straightened her skirt. Her usual playful tone shifted to a sober one. _So, as my mentor, what do you get out of this? You_re at school, right? So you get what? A better grade the more I shine?_ _Maybe._ He felt embarrassed. Here, in the relative privacy of the corner, he realized for the first time that she would be dead in a few days. Well, of course, he_d always known that. But he had thought about her more as his contender. His filly in a race, his dog in a fight. The more he had treated her as something special, the more she_d become human. As Sejanus had told the little girl, Lucy Gray was not really an animal, even if she was not Capitol. And he was here doing what? Showboating, like Dean Highbottom had said? _I don_t even know what I get, really,_ he told her. _They_ve never had mentors before. You don_t have to. Sing, I mean._ _I know,_ she said. He still wanted her to, though. _But if people like you, they might bring you more food. We don_t have much extra at home._ His cheeks burned in the dark. Why on earth had he admitted that to her? _No? I always thought you had plenty to spare in the Capitol,_ she said. Idiot, he said to himself. But then he met her gaze and realized that, for the first time, she looked genuinely interested in him. _Oh, no. Especially not during the war. One time I ate half a jar of paste just to stop the pains in my stomach._ _Yeah? How was it?_ she asked. That threw him, and he surprised himself by laughing. _Really sticky._ Lucy Gray grinned. _I_ll bet. Still, sounds better than some of the stuff I made do with. Not to make this a competition._ _Of course not._ He grinned back. _Look, I_m sorry. I_ll find you some food. You shouldn_t have to perform for it._ _Well, this wouldn_t be the first time I sang for my supper. Not by a long shot,_ she said. _And I do so love to sing._ A voice came over the speaker to announce the zoo was closing in fifteen minutes. _I ought to be going. But I_ll see you tomorrow?_ he asked. _You know where to find me,_ she said. Coriolanus rose and brushed off his pants. He shook out the handkerchief, folded it, and passed it through the bars to her. _It_s clean,_ he assured her. At least she_d have something to dry her face with. _Thanks. I left mine at home,_ she replied. Lucy Gray_s mention of home hung in the air between them. A reminder of a door she_d never reopen, loved ones she_d never see again. He couldn_t stand the thought of being torn from his own home. The apartment was the one place he unquestioningly belonged, his safe harbor, his family_s stronghold. Since he didn_t know how else to respond, he simply nodded good night. Coriolanus had not gone twenty paces when he was stopped by the sound of his tribute_s voice, singing sweet and clear through the night air. Down in the valley, valley so low, Late in the evening, hear the train blow. The train, love, hear the train blow. Late in the evening, hear the train blow. The audience, which had been trailing out, turned to listen to her. Go build me a mansion, build it so high, So I can see my true love go by. See him go by, love, see him go by. So I can see my true love go by. Everyone had hushed now _ the audience, the tributes. There was just Lucy Gray and the whir of the camera closing in on her. She still sat in their corner, her head leaning against the bars. Go write me a letter, send it by mail. Bake it and stamp it to the Capitol jail. Capitol jail, love, to the Capitol jail. Bake it and stamp it to the Capitol jail. She sounded so sad, so lost. . . . Roses are red, love; violets are blue. Birds in the heavens know I love you. Know I love you, oh, know I love you, Birds in the heavens know I love you. Coriolanus stood transfixed by the music and the rush of memories that accompanied it. His mother used to sing him a song at bedtime. Not this one, exactly, but it had used those same words, roses are red and violets are blue. It had mentioned loving him. He thought of the photo in the silver frame he kept on the nightstand by his bed. His beautiful mother, holding him when he was about two. They were looking at each other, laughing. Try as he might, he could never remember the moment the picture was taken, but this song caressed his brain, calling her from the depths. He could sense her presence, almost smell the delicate scent of the rose powder she wore, and feel the warm blanket of security that had enveloped him each night. Before she died. Before that awful stretch of days a few months into the war, when the first major rebel air raid had immobilized the city. When she went into labor, and they were unable to get her to the hospital, and something had gone wrong. Hemorrhage, maybe? A great deal of blood soaking the sheets and Cook and the Grandma_am trying to stop it and Tigris dragging him from the room. Then she was gone, and the baby _ who would_ve been his sister _ she was gone, too. The death of his father came right on the heels of his mother_s, but that loss had not hollowed out the world in the same way. Coriolanus still kept his mother_s compact in a drawer in his nightstand. In difficult times, when he had trouble falling asleep, he would click it open and inhale the rose scent of the silken cake of powder within. It never failed to calm him with the memory of how it had felt to be loved like that. Bombs and blood. That was how the rebels had killed his mother. He wondered if they had killed Lucy Gray_s, too. _Just her pearly white bones._ She seemed to have no love for District 12, always separating herself from it, saying she was, what was it . . . Covey? _Thanks for stepping up._ Sejanus_s voice startled him. He had been sitting a few feet back, concealed by one of the boulders, listening to the song. Coriolanus cleared his throat. _It was nothing._ _I doubt any of our other classmates would_ve helped me,_ Sejanus pointed out. _None of our other classmates have even made an appearance,_ Coriolanus replied. _That already sets us apart. What made you think of feeding the tributes?_ Sejanus looked down at the empty backpack by his feet. _Ever since the reaping, I keep imagining I_m one of them._ Coriolanus almost laughed before he realized Sejanus was serious. _That seems like an odd pastime._ _Can_t help it._ Sejanus_s voice dropped so low, Coriolanus had to strain to hear it. _They read my name. I walk to the stage. Now they_ve cuffed me. Now they_re hitting me for no reason. Now I_m on the train, in the dark, starving, alone except for kids I_m supposed to kill. Now I_m on display, with all these strangers bringing their children to stare at me through the bars. . . ._ The sound of rusty wheels turning drew their attention to the monkey house. A dozen or so bales of hay came bursting out of the chute and rolled into a heap on the cage floor. _Look, that must be my bed,_ said Sejanus. _It isn_t going to happen to you, Sejanus,_ Coriolanus told him. _It could_ve, though. Easily. If we weren_t so rich now,_ he said. _I would be back in District Two, maybe still in school or maybe in the mines, but definitely in the reaping. You saw my tribute?_ _He_s hard to miss,_ admitted Coriolanus. _I think there_s a good chance he_ll win._ _He was my classmate. You know, before I came here. Back home. His name_s Marcus,_ Sejanus continued. _Not a friend exactly. But certainly not an enemy. One day I caught my finger in the door, smashed it good, and he scooped a cup of snow off the windowsill to bring down the swelling. Didn_t even ask the teacher, just did it._ _Do you think he even remembers you?_ said Coriolanus. _You were little. And a lot has happened since then._ _Oh, he remembers me. The Plinths are notorious back home._ Sejanus looked pained. _Notorious and deeply despised._ _And now you_re his mentor,_ said Coriolanus. _And now I_m his mentor,_ Sejanus echoed. The lights in the monkey house dimmed. A few of the tributes moved about, making nests of hay for the night. Coriolanus spotted Marcus drinking from the spigot, splashing water over his head. When he rose and crossed to the bales of hay, he dwarfed the others. Sejanus gave the backpack a little kick. _He wouldn_t take a sandwich from me. He_d rather go into the Games starving than take food from my hand._ _That_s not your fault,_ said Coriolanus. _I know. I know. I_m so blameless I_m choking on it,_ said Sejanus. Coriolanus was trying to unravel that thought when a fight broke out in the cage. Two boys had claimed the same bale of hay and had come to blows over it. Marcus intervened and, grabbing each by the collar, tossed them apart like a pair of rag dolls. They flew in the air, traveling several yards before landing in awkward heaps. As they slunk into the shadows, Marcus took the bale for his own bed, unimpressed by the scuffle. _He_ll still win,_ said Coriolanus. If he_d had any doubts, Marcus_s display of superior power had silenced them. He again felt the bitterness of a Plinth being granted the mightiest tribute. And he was tired of Sejanus_s whining over his father_s buying him the victor. _Any one of us would_ve been happy to get him._ Sejanus brightened a bit. _Really? Then take him. He_s yours._ _You_re not serious,_ said Coriolanus. _A hundred percent._ Sejanus sprang to his feet. _I want you to have him! And I_ll take Lucy Gray. It will still be horrible, but at least I don_t know her. I know the crowd likes her, but what good will that do her in the arena? There_s no way she_ll beat him. Trade tributes with me. Win the Games. Take the glory. Please, Coriolanus, I would never forget the favor._ For a moment, Coriolanus could taste it _ the sweetness of the victory, the cheers of the crowd. If he could make Lucy Gray a favorite, imagine what he could do with a powerhouse like Marcus! And really, what chance did she have? His eyes traveled to Lucy Gray leaning against the bars like a trapped animal. In the shadowy light, her color, her specialness, had faded, making her just another drab, bruised creature. Not much of a match for the other girls, even less so for the boys. The idea of her defeating Marcus was laughable. Like pitting a songbird against a grizzly bear. His mouth was forming the word done, when he stopped. To win with Marcus was no win at all. It took no brains, or skill, or even particular luck. To win with Lucy Gray would be an incredible long shot but historic if he pulled it off. Besides, was winning even the point? Or was it to engage the audience? Thanks to him, Lucy Gray was the current star of the Games, the most memorable tribute no matter who won. He thought of their hands locked together in the zoo as they took on the world. They were a team. She trusted him. He couldn_t imagine telling her he_d dumped her for Marcus. Or, even worse, telling the audience. In addition, what guarantee did he have that Marcus would respond to him any more than he did to Sejanus? He seemed like just the kind to stonewall the lot of them. And then Coriolanus would look like a fool, begging for a crumb of attention from Marcus while Lucy Gray did pirouettes around Sejanus. There was one more consideration. He had something Sejanus Plinth wanted, and wanted badly. Sejanus had already usurped his position, his inheritance, his clothes, his candy, his sandwiches, and the privilege due a Snow. Now he was coming for his apartment, his spot at the University, his very future, and had the gall to be resentful of his good fortune. To reject it. To consider it a punishment, even. If having Marcus as a tribute made Sejanus squirm, then good. Let him squirm. Lucy Gray was one thing belonging to Coriolanus that he would never, ever get. _Sorry, my friend,_ he said mildly. _But I think I_ll keep her._ Coriolanus relished the disappointment on Sejanus_s face, but not for long, because that would_ve been petty. _Look, Sejanus, you may not think so, but this is me doing you a favor. Think about it. What would your father say if he found out you_d traded the tribute he_d lobbied for?_ _I don_t care,_ said Sejanus, but it didn_t sound convincing. _All right, forget about your father. What about the Academy?_ he asked. _I doubt trading tributes is allowed. I_ve already been slapped with one demerit just for meeting Lucy Gray early. What if I tried to trade her? Besides, the poor thing is already attached to me. Dumping her would be like kicking a kitten. I don_t think I_d have the heart._ _I shouldn_t have asked. I never even considered I might be making things difficult for you. I_m sorry. It_s just . . ._ Sejanus_s words began to spill out. _It_s just this whole Hunger Games thing is making me crazy! I mean, what are we doing? Putting kids in an arena to kill each other? It feels wrong on so many levels. Animals protect their young, right? And so do we. We try to protect children! It_s built into us as human beings. Who really wants to do this? It_s unnatural!_ _It_s not pretty,_ Coriolanus agreed, glancing around. _It_s evil. It goes against everything I think is right in the world. I can_t be a part of it. Especially not with Marcus. I have to get out of it somehow,_ Sejanus said, his eyes filling with tears. His distress made Coriolanus uncomfortable, especially when he valued his own chance to participate so highly. _You could always ask another mentor. I don_t think you_d have a problem finding a taker._ _No. I_m not handing Marcus over to anyone else. You_re the only one I_d trust with him._ Sejanus turned to the cage, where the tributes had settled down for the night. _Oh, what does it matter anyway? If it_s not Marcus, it will be someone else. It might be easier, but it still won_t be right._ He collected his backpack. _I better get home. That_s sure to be pleasant._ _I don_t think you_ve broken any rules,_ said Coriolanus. _I_ve publicly aligned myself with the districts. In my father_s eyes, I_ve broken the only rule that matters._ Sejanus gave him a small smile. _Thanks again, though, for helping me out._ _Thank you for the sandwich,_ said Coriolanus. _It was delicious._ _I_ll tell Ma you said so,_ said Sejanus. _It_ll make her night._ Coriolanus_s own return home was somewhat marred by the Grandma_am_s disapproval of his picnic with Lucy Gray. _To feed her is one thing,_ she said. _To dine with her suggests that you consider her your equal. But she isn_t. There_s always been something barbaric about the districts. Your own father used to say those people only drank water because it didn_t rain blood. You ignore that at your own peril, Coriolanus._ _She_s just a girl, Grandma_am,_ Tigris said. _She_s district. And trust me, that one hasn_t been a girl in a long time,_ the Grandma_am replied. Coriolanus thought uneasily of the tributes on the truck debating whether or not to kill him. They_d certainly demonstrated a taste for his blood. Only Lucy Gray had objected. _Lucy Gray is different,_ he argued. _She took my side in the truck when the others wanted to attack me. And she had my back in the monkey house, too._ The Grandma_am held her ground. _Would she have bothered if you weren_t her mentor? Of course not. She_s a wily little thing who began to manipulate you the minute you met. Tread carefully, my boy _ that_s all I_m saying._ Coriolanus didn_t bother arguing, as the Grandma_am always took the worst view of anything she deemed district. He went straight to bed, dropping with fatigue, but couldn_t quiet his mind. He took his mother_s powder compact from the drawer of his nightstand and ran his fingers over the rose engraved on the heavy silver case. Roses are red, love; violets are blue. Birds in the heavens know I love you. . . . When he clicked the latch, the lid opened and the floral scent wafted out. In the shadowy light from the Corso, his pale blue eyes reflected back from the round, slightly distorted mirror. _Just like your father_s,_ the Grandma_am frequently reminded him. He wished he had his mother_s eyes instead, but never said so. Maybe it was best to take after his father. His mother had not really been tough enough for this world. He finally drifted off, thinking of her, but it was Lucy Gray, spinning in her rainbow dress, who sang in his dreams. In the morning, Coriolanus awoke to a delicious smell. He went to the kitchen and found that Tigris had been baking since before dawn. He gave her shoulder a squeeze. _Tigris, you need to get more sleep._ _I couldn_t sleep, thinking about what_s going on at the zoo,_ she said. _Some of the kids look so young this year. Or maybe I_m just getting older._ _It_s disturbing to see them locked up in that cage,_ Coriolanus admitted. _It was disturbing to see you there as well!_ she said, pulling on an oven mitt and taking a pan of bread pudding from the oven. _Fabricia told me to throw out the stale bread from the party, but I thought, why waste it?_ Hot from the oven, drizzled in corn syrup, bread pudding was one of his favorites. _It looks amazing,_ he told Tigris. _And there_s plenty, so you can take a piece to Lucy Gray. She said she liked sweet things _ and I doubt there are many left in her future!_ Tigris set the pan on the oven with a bang. _Sorry. Didn_t mean to do that. I don_t know what_s gotten into me. I_m wound up tight as a spring._ Coriolanus touched her arm. _It_s the Games. You know I have to do the mentorship, right? If I_m to stand a chance at getting a prize. I need to win that for all of us._ _Of course, Coryo. Of course. And we_re so proud of you and how well you_re doing._ She cut a large slice of the bread pudding and slid it onto a plate. _Now eat up. You don_t want to be late._ At the Academy, Coriolanus felt his apprehension melt away as he basked in the response to his recklessness the previous day. With the exception of Livia Cardew, who made it clear she thought he had cheated and should be dismissed as a mentor immediately, his classmates congratulated him. If his professors were not so openly supportive, he still received several smiles and subtle pats on the back. Satyria took him aside after homeroom. _Well done. You_ve pleased Dr. Gaul, and that_s won you some points with the faculty. She_ll give a good report to President Ravinstill, and that will reflect well on all of us. Only, you need to be careful. You were lucky how it played out. What if those brats had attacked you in the cage? The Peacekeepers would have been bound to rescue you, and there could_ve been casualties on both sides. Things might_ve been quite different if you hadn_t landed your little rainbow girl._ _Which is why I turned down Sejanus_s offer to trade tributes,_ he said. Satyria_s mouth dropped open. _No! Imagine what Strabo Plinth would say if that went public._ _Imagine what he owes me if it doesn_t!_ The thought of blackmailing old Strabo Plinth had definite appeal. She laughed. _Spoken like a Snow. Now get to class. We need the rest of your record spotless if you_re going to go racking up demerits._ The twenty-four mentors spent the morning in a seminar led by Professor Crispus Demigloss, their excitable old history professor. The class brainstormed ideas _ beyond the addition of mentors _ to get people to watch the Hunger Games. _Show me I haven_t been wasting my time with you for four years,_ he said with a titter. _If history teaches you anything, it_s how to make the unwilling comply._ Sejanus_s hand went up directly. _Ah, Sejanus?_ _Before we talk about making people watch, shouldn_t we begin with the question of whether or not watching is the right thing to do?_ he said. _Let_s stay on topic, please._ Professor Demigloss scanned the room for a more productive answer. _How do we get people to watch?_ Festus Creed raised his hand. Bigger and burlier than most his age, he_d been one of Coriolanus_s inner circle since birth. His family was old Capitol money. Their fortune, largely in District 7 timber, had taken a hit during the war but had rebounded nicely during the reconstruction. His scoring the District 4 girl reflected his status quite accurately. High, but not stellar. _Enlighten us, Festus,_ said Professor Demigloss. _Simple. We go straight to the punitive,_ Festus answered. _Instead of suggesting people watch, make it the law._ _What happens if you don_t watch?_ asked Clemensia, not bothering to raise her hand or even look up from her notes. She was popular with both students and faculty, and her niceness excused a lot. _In the districts, we execute you. In the Capitol, we make you move to the districts, and if you mess up again next year, then we execute you,_ Festus said cheerfully. The class laughed, then began to give it serious thought. How could you enforce it? You couldn_t send the Peacekeepers door-to-door. Perhaps some random sampling where you needed to be prepared to answer questions that proved you_d watched the Games. And if you hadn_t, what would an appropriate punishment be? Not execution or banishment _ those were too extreme. Maybe some loss of privilege in the Capitol, and a public whipping in the districts? That would make the punishment personal to all. _The real problem is, it_s sickening to watch,_ said Clemensia. _So people avoid it._ Sejanus jumped in. _Of course they do! Who wants to watch a group of children kill each other? Only a vicious, twisted person. Human beings may not be perfect, but we_re better than that._ _How do you know?_ said Livia snippishly. _And how does someone from the districts have any idea what we want to watch in the Capitol? You weren_t even here during the war._ Sejanus fell silent, unable to deny it. _Because most of us are basically decent people,_ said Lysistrata Vickers, folding her hands neatly on her notebook. Everything about her was neat. From her carefully braided hair to her evenly filed nails to the crisp, white cuffs of her uniform blouse setting off her smooth, brown skin. _Most of us don_t want to watch other people suffer._ _We watched worse things during the war. And after,_ Coriolanus reminded her. There had been some bloody stuff broadcast over the airwaves during the Dark Days, and many a brutal execution after the Treaty of Treason had been signed. _But we had a real stake in that, Coryo!_ said Arachne Crane, giving him a sock on the arm from the seat to his right. Always so loud. Always socking people. The Cranes_ apartment faced the Snows_, and sometimes even from across the Corso, he could hear her bellowing at night. _We were watching our enemies die! I mean, rebel scum and whatnot. Who cares about these kids one way or another?_ _Possibly their families,_ said Sejanus. _You mean a handful of nobodies in the districts. So what?_ Arachne boomed. _Why should the rest of us care which one of them wins?_ Livia looked pointedly at Sejanus. _I know I don_t._ _I get more excited over a dogfight,_ admitted Festus. _Especially if I_m betting on it._ _So you_d like it if we gave odds on the tributes?_ Coriolanus joked. _That would make you tune in?_ _Well, it would certainly liven things up!_ Festus exclaimed. A few people chuckled, but then the class went quiet as they mulled over the idea. _It_s gruesome,_ said Clemensia, twisting her hair around her finger thoughtfully. _Did you mean it for real? You think we should have betting on who wins?_ _Not really,_ Coriolanus said, then cocked his head. _On the other hand, if it_s a success, then absolutely, Clemmie. I want to go down in history as the one who brought gambling to the Games!_ Clemensia shook her head in exasperation. But as he walked to lunch, Coriolanus couldn_t help thinking that the idea had some merit. The dining hall cooks were still working with the reaping buffet leftovers, and the creamed ham on toast had to be the high point of the school lunch year. Coriolanus savored every bite, unlike at the original buffet, when he_d been so distraught over Dean Highbottom_s threatening manner that he_d barely tasted a thing. The mentors had been instructed to gather on the balcony of Heavensbee Hall after lunch, ahead of their first official meetings with their tributes. Each mentor had been given a brief questionnaire to complete with their assignee, partly as an icebreaker, and partly as a matter of record. Very little information had been archived on previous tributes, and this was an effort to correct that. Many of his classmates had difficulty hiding their nerves as they headed over, talking and joking a little too loudly, but Coriolanus had gotten a leg up by meeting Lucy Gray twice already. He felt completely at ease, even eager to see her again. To thank her for the song. To give her Tigris_s bread pudding. To strategize over their interview. The chatter died away as the mentors pushed through the swinging balcony doors and caught sight of what awaited them below. All signs of the reaping festivities had been stripped away, leaving the vast hall cold and imposing. Twenty-four small tables flanked with two folding chairs each were spread out in orderly rows. Each table bore a sign with a district number followed by a B or a G and next to it sat a concrete block with a metal ring on the top. Before the students could discuss the layout, two Peacekeepers entered and stood guard by the main entrance and the tributes were brought in single file. The Peacekeepers outnumbered them two to one, but it was unlikely that any of the tributes could make a break for it, given the heavy shackles attached to their wrists and ankles. The tributes were led to the tables corresponding to their district and sex, directed to sit, and then chained to the concrete weights. Some of the tributes drooped in their seats, chins almost on their chests, but the more defiant ones tilted their heads back and surveyed the hall. It was one of the most impressive chambers in the Capitol, and several mouths gaped open, awed by the grandeur of the marble columns, the arched windows, the vaulted ceiling. Coriolanus thought it must be a marvel to them, compared to the flat, ugly structures that were the signature style in many of the districts. As the tributes_ eyes traveled around the room, they eventually made their way to the mentors_ balcony, and the two groups found themselves locked in one another_s gazes for a long, raw moment. When Professor Sickle banged the door behind them, the mentors gave a collective jump. _Stop eyeballing your tributes and get down there,_ she ordered. _You only have fifteen minutes, so use them wisely. And remember, complete the paperwork for our records as best you can._ Coriolanus led the way down the steps that spiraled into the hall. When his eyes met Lucy Gray_s, he could tell she_d been looking for him. Seeing her in chains disquieted him, but he gave her a reassuring smile, and some of the worry left her face. Sliding into the seat across from her, he frowned at her shackled hands and gestured to the nearest Peacekeeper. _Excuse me, would it be possible to have these removed?_ The Peacekeeper did him the favor of checking with the officer at the door but then gave him a sharp shake of the head. _Thanks for trying, just the same,_ said Lucy Gray. She_d braided back her hair in a pretty fashion, but her face looked sad and tired, and the bruise still marred her cheek. She noticed him looking and touched it. _Is it hideous?_ _It_s just healing,_ he said. _We don_t have a mirror, so I can only imagine._ She didn_t bother to put on her sparkly camera personality for him, and in a way he was glad. Maybe she was beginning to trust him. _How are you?_ he asked. _Sleepy. Scared. Hungry,_ said Lucy Gray. _Only a couple people came by the zoo this morning to feed us. I got an apple, which was more than most but not exactly filling._ _Well, I can help a bit with that._ He pulled Tigris_s packet from his book bag. Lucy Gray brightened some and carefully unwrapped the waxed paper to reveal the big square of bread pudding. Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. _Oh, no. You don_t like it?_ he exclaimed. _I can try and bring something else. I can __ Lucy Gray shook her head. _It_s my favorite._ She swallowed hard, broke off a bit, and slipped it between her lips. _Mine, too. My cousin Tigris made it this morning, so it should be fresh,_ he said. _It_s perfect. It tastes just like my mama_s did. Please tell Tigris I said thank you._ She took another bite, but she was still fighting tears. Coriolanus felt a twinge inside him. He wanted to reach out and touch her face, to tell her that things were going to be all right. But, of course, they weren_t. Not for her. He fumbled in his back pocket for a handkerchief and offered it to her. _I still have the one from last night._ She reached for her pocket. _We_ve got drawers full,_ he said. _Take it._ Lucy Gray did, dabbing her eyes and wiping her nose. Then she took a deep breath and straightened up. _So, what_s our plan today?_ _I_m supposed to fill out this questionnaire about your background. Do you mind?_ He pulled out the single sheet of paper. _Not a bit. I love talking about myself,_ she said. The page began with basic stuff. Name, district address, date of birth, hair and eye colors, height and weight, and any disability. Things got more difficult with family makeup. Both Lucy Gray_s parents and her two older siblings were dead. _Is your whole family gone?_ asked Coriolanus. _I have a couple of cousins. And the rest of the Covey._ She leaned in to check the paper. _Is there a space for them?_ There wasn_t. But there should be, he thought, given how fractured families were by the war. There should be a place for anyone who cared for you at all. In fact, maybe that should be the question to start with: Who cares about you? Or even better, Who can you count on? _Married?_ He laughed, then remembered they married young in some of the districts. How did he know? Maybe she had a husband back in 12. _Why? Are you asking?_ said Lucy Gray seriously. He looked up in surprise. _Because I think this could work._ Coriolanus felt himself blush a little at her teasing. _I_m pretty sure you could do better._ _Haven_t yet._ A flicker of pain crossed her face, but she hid it with a smile. _I bet you_ve got sweethearts lined up around the block._ Her flirtation left Coriolanus tongue-tied. Where were they? He checked the paper. Oh, yes. Her family. _Who raised you? After you lost your parents, I mean._ _An old man took us in for a fee _ the six Covey kids who were left. He didn_t much raise us, but he didn_t mess with us either, so it could_ve been worse,_ she said. _Really, I_m grateful. People weren_t excited about taking in six of us. He died last year of the black lung, but some of us are old enough to manage things now._ They moved on to occupation. At sixteen, Lucy Gray wasn_t old enough for the mines, but she didn_t attend school either. _I make my living entertaining people._ _People pay you to . . . sing and dance?_ asked Coriolanus. _I wouldn_t think district people could afford that._ _Most can_t,_ she said. _Sometimes they pool their money, and two or three couples get married the same day, and they hire us. Me and the rest of the Covey, that is. What_s left of us. The Peacekeepers let us keep our instruments when they rounded us up. They_re some of our best customers._ Coriolanus remembered how they_d tried not to smile at the reaping, how no one had interfered with her singing and dancing. He made a note of her employment, finishing the form, but he had plenty of questions of his own. _Tell me about the Covey. What side did you take in the war?_ _Neither. My people didn_t take a side. We_re just us._ Something behind him captured her attention. _What_s your friend_s name again? The one with the sandwiches? I think he_s having trouble._ _Sejanus?_ He looked over his shoulder and back through the rows to where Sejanus sat across from Marcus. An untouched meal of roast beef sandwiches and cake languished between them. Sejanus was speaking entreatingly, but Marcus just stared fixedly ahead, his arms crossed, his whole being unresponsive. Around the room the other tributes were in various stages of engagement. Several had covered their faces and were refusing to communicate. A few were crying. Some warily answered questions, but even they looked hostile. _Five minutes,_ Professor Sickle announced. That reminded Coriolanus of another five minutes they needed to address. _So, the night before the Games begin, we_re going to get a five-minute interview on television in which we can do whatever we want. I thought you might sing again._ Lucy Gray considered it. _I_m not sure there_s a point to it. I mean, when I sang that song at the reaping, that didn_t have anything to do with you all here. I didn_t plan it. It_s just part of a long, sad tale that nobody but me gives a hoot about._ _It hit a nerve with people,_ Coriolanus observed. _And the valley song was, like you told me, maybe a way to get food,_ she said. _It was beautiful,_ he said. _It made me feel like when my mother . . . She died when I was five. It made me remember a song she used to sing to me._ _What about your daddy?_ she asked. _Lost him, too, actually. The same year,_ Coriolanus told her. She nodded sympathetically. _So, you_re an orphan, like me._ Coriolanus didn_t like being called that. Livia had taunted him about his parentless state when he was small, making him feel alone and unwanted when he was neither. Still, there was that emptiness that most other kids didn_t really understand. But Lucy Gray did, being an orphan herself. _It could be worse. I have the Grandma_am. That_s my grandmother. And Tigris._ _Do you miss your parents?_ Lucy Gray asked. _Oh, I wasn_t that close with my father. My mother . . . sure._ It was still hard to talk about her. _Do you?_ _A lot. Both of them. Wearing my mama_s dress is the only thing keeping me together right now._ She ran her fingers down the ruffles. _It_s like she_s wrapping her arms around me._ Coriolanus thought of his mother_s compact. The scented powder. _My mother always smelled like roses,_ he said, and then felt awkward. He rarely mentioned his mother, even at home. How had the conversation gotten here? _Anyway, I think your song moved a lot of people._ _That_s nice of you to say. Thank you. But it_s not really a reason to sing in the interview,_ she said. _If it_s the night before, we can rule food out. I_ve got no reason to win over anybody at that point._ Coriolanus tried hard to think of a reason, but this time her singing would only benefit him. _It_s a shame, though. With your voice._ _I_ll sing you a few bars backstage,_ she promised. He would have to work to persuade her, but for the moment, he let it drop. Instead he let her interview him for a few minutes, answering more questions about his family and how they_d survived the war. He found her easy to tell things to, somehow. Was it because he knew that all he recounted would vanish in the arena in a few days? Lucy Gray seemed in better spirits; there had been no more tears. As they_d shared their stories, a sense of familiarity had begun to grow between them. When the whistle blew to signal the end of the session, she tucked his handkerchief neatly back into the pocket of his book bag and gave his forearm a squeeze of thanks. The mentors headed obediently to the main exit, where Professor Sickle instructed them, _You_re to go to the high biology lab for a debriefing._ No one questioned her, but in the halls they wondered aloud about the reason. Coriolanus was hoping it meant Dr. Gaul would be there. His neatly completed questionnaire was in stark contrast to the spotty efforts of his classmates, and this could be another moment for him to stand out. _Mine wouldn_t speak. Not a word!_ said Clemensia. _All I_ve got is what I had after the reaping. His name. Reaper Ash. Can you imagine naming your child Reaper and them ending up in the reaping?_ _There was no reaping when he was born,_ Lysistrata pointed out. _That_s just a farming name._ _I guess that_s true,_ said Clemensia. _Mine spoke. I almost wish she hadn_t!_ Arachne practically yelled. _Why? What did she say?_ asked Clemensia. _Oh, it seems she spends most of her time in District Ten butchering hogs._ Arachne made a gagging motion. _Yech. What am I supposed to do with that? I wish I could make up something better._ Suddenly, she stopped, causing Coriolanus and Festus to run into her. _Wait! That_s it!_ _Watch it!_ said Festus, pushing her forward. She ignored him and chattered on, demanding everyone_s attention. _I could make up something brilliant! I_ve visited District Ten, you know. It_s practically my second home!_ Before the war, her family had developed luxury hotels in vacation destinations, and Arachne had traveled extensively in Panem. She still bragged about it, even though she_d been as Capitol-bound as anyone else since the war. _Anyway, I could come up with something better than the ups and downs of a slaughterhouse!_ _You_re lucky,_ said Pliny Harrington. Everybody called him Pup to differentiate him from his naval commander father, who watched over the waters off District 4. The commander had tried to mold him into his image, insisting Pup have a crew cut and shined shoes, but his son was a natural slob. He dug a piece of ham out of his braces with his thumbnail and flicked it to the floor. _At least she isn_t afraid of blood._ _Why? Is yours?_ asked Arachne. _No idea. She cried for fifteen minutes straight._ Pup grimaced. _I don_t think District Seven prepared her for a hangnail, let alone the Games._ _You_d better button your jacket before class,_ Lysistrata reminded him. _Oh, right,_ Pup sighed. He worked the top button, and it came off in his hand. _Stupid uniform._ As they filed into the lab, Coriolanus_s pleasure at seeing Dr. Gaul again was dampened by the sight of Dean Highbottom stationed behind the professor_s table, collecting the questionnaires. He ignored Coriolanus, but then, he wasn_t particularly friendly to anyone else either. He left the talking to the Head Gamemaker. Dr. Gaul poked at the muttation rabbit until the class had settled in, then greeted them with _Hippity, hoppity, how did you fare? Did they greet you like friends or just sit there and stare?_ The students shot confused glances at one another as she retrieved the questionnaires. _For those of you who don_t know, I_m Dr. Gaul, the Head Gamemaker, and I will be mentoring your mentorships. Let_s see what I have to work with, shall we?_ She flipped through the papers, frowned, then pulled one out and held it up before the class. _This is what you were asked to do. Thank you, Mr. Snow. Now, what happened to the rest of you?_ Inside he glowed, but he maintained a neutral expression. The best move now was to support his classmates. After a long pause, he spoke up. _I had good luck with my tribute. She_s a talker. But most of the kids wouldn_t communicate. And even my girl can_t see the point of making an effort at the interview._ Sejanus turned to Coriolanus. _Why should they? What does it get them? No matter what they do, they_ll be thrown into the arena and left to fend for themselves._ A murmur of assent came from the room. Dr. Gaul peered at Sejanus. _You_re the boy with the sandwiches. Why did you do it?_ Sejanus stiffened and avoided her gaze. _They were starving. We_re going to kill them; do we have to torture them ahead of time as well?_ _Huh. A rebel sympathizer,_ said Dr. Gaul. Keeping his eyes on his notebook, Sejanus persisted. _Hardly rebels. Some of them were two years old when the war ended. The oldest were eight. And now that the war_s over, they_re just citizens of Panem, aren_t they? Same as us? Isn_t that what the anthem says the Capitol does? _You give us light. You reunite_? It_s supposed to be everyone_s government, right?_ _That_s the general idea. Go on,_ Dr. Gaul encouraged him. _Well, then it should protect everyone,_ said Sejanus. _That_s its number-one job! And I don_t see how making them fight to the death achieves that._ _Obviously, you don_t approve of the Hunger Games,_ said Dr. Gaul. _That must be hard for a mentor. That must interfere with your assignment._ Sejanus paused for a moment. Then he sat up straight, seeming to steel himself, and looked her in the eye. _Perhaps you should replace me and assign someone more worthy._ There was an audible gasp from the classroom. _Not on your life, boy,_ Dr. Gaul chuckled. _Compassion is the key to the Games. Empathy, the thing we lack. Right, Casca?_ She glanced at Dean Highbottom, but he only fiddled with a pen. Sejanus_s face fell, but he didn_t argue back. Coriolanus felt he_d ceded the battle but could not believe he_d given up on the war. He was tougher than he looked, Sejanus Plinth. Imagine throwing a mentorship back in Dr. Gaul_s face. But the exchange only seemed to invigorate her. _Now, wouldn_t it be wonderful if everyone in the audience felt as passionately about the tributes as this young man here? That should be our goal._ _No,_ said Dean Highbottom. _Yes! For them to really get involved!_ continued Dr. Gaul. She struck her forehead. _You_ve given me a marvelous idea. A way to let people personally affect the outcome of the Games. Suppose we let the audience send the tributes food in the arena? Feed them, like your friend here did in the zoo. Would they feel more involved?_ Festus perked up. _I would if I could bet on the one I was feeding! Just this morning, Coriolanus said maybe we should give odds on the tributes._ Dr. Gaul beamed at Coriolanus. _Of course, he did. All right, then, you all put your heads together and figure it out. Write me a proposal on how this could work, and my team will consider it._ _Consider it?_ asked Livia. _You mean you might actually use our ideas?_ _Why not? If they have merit._ Dr. Gaul tossed the stack of questionnaires onto the table. _What young brains lack in experience they sometimes make up for in idealism. Nothing seems impossible to them. Old Casca over there came up with the concept for the Hunger Games when he was my student at the University, just a few years older than you are now._ All eyes turned to Dean Highbottom, who addressed Dr. Gaul. _It was just theoretical._ _And so is this, unless it proves useful,_ said Dr. Gaul. _I_ll expect it on my desk tomorrow morning._ Coriolanus sighed inwardly. Another group project. Another opportunity to compromise his ideas in the name of collaboration. Either have them cut entirely or, worse, watered down until they had lost their bite. The class voted on a committee of three mentors to draw the thing up. Of course, he was elected, and he could hardly decline. Dr. Gaul had to leave for a meeting and directed the class to discuss the proposal among themselves. He and Clemensia and Arachne were to convene that evening, but since they all wanted to visit their tributes first, they agreed to meet at eight o_clock at the zoo. Later, they_d go to the library to write up the proposal. Since lunch had been substantial, he didn_t feel deprived by a dinner of yesterday_s cabbage soup and a plate of red beans. At least they weren_t lima. And when Tigris had scooped the last cupful into an elegant china bowl and garnished it with a few fresh herbs from the roof garden, it didn_t look too humble to offer to Lucy Gray. Presentation mattered to her. As for the beans, well, she was starving. Optimism flowed through him as he walked to the zoo. Morning attendance may have been scanty, but now visitors were pouring in so quickly he wasn_t sure he_d get a spot up front at the monkey house. His newfound status helped. As people recognized him, they allowed him to pass and even told others to clear a path. He was no common citizen _ he was a mentor! He made straight for his corner, only to find the twins, Pollo and Didi Ring, camped out on his rock. The pair embraced their twinship wholeheartedly, sporting identical outfits, hair buns, and sunny personalities. They cleared out without Coriolanus having to ask. _You can take it, Coryo,_ Didi said as she pulled her brother up from the rock. _Sure, we_ve already fed our tributes,_ added Pollo. _Hey, sorry you got stuck with the proposal._ _Yeah, we voted for Pup, but no one backed us up!_ They laughed and ran off into the crowd. Lucy Gray joined him immediately. Even though he wasn_t dining with her, she devoured the beans after admiring how fancy they looked. _Have you gotten any more food from the crowd?_ he asked her. _I got an old cheese rind from a lady, and a couple other kids fought over some bread a man threw in. I can see all kinds of people holding food, but I think they_re afraid to get too close, even though they_ve got these Peacekeepers in here with us now._ She pointed to the back wall of the cage, where a quartet of Peacekeepers stood guard. _Maybe they_ll feel safer now that you_re here._ Coriolanus noticed a boy of about ten hovering in the crowd, holding a boiled potato. He gave him a wink and a wave of the hand. The boy looked up at his father, who nodded approval. He moved up behind Coriolanus, still keeping his distance. _Did you bring that potato for Lucy Gray?_ Coriolanus asked. _Yes. I saved it from dinner. I wanted to eat it, but I wanted to feed her more,_ he said. _Go on, then,_ Coriolanus encouraged him. _She doesn_t bite. Mind you, use your manners._ The boy took a shy step in her direction. _Well, hey there,_ said Lucy Gray. _What_s your name?_ _Horace,_ said the boy. _I saved you my potato._ _Aren_t you sweet? Should I eat it now or save it?_ she asked. _Now._ The boy gingerly held it out to her. Lucy Gray took the potato as though it were a diamond. _My. That_s about the nicest potato I_ve ever seen._ The boy blushed with pride. _Okay, here I go._ She took a bite, closed her eyes, and almost seemed to swoon. _Nicest tasting, too. Thank you, Horace._ The cameras closed in on them as Lucy Gray received a withered carrot from a little girl and a boiled soupbone from the girl_s grandmother. Someone tapped on Coriolanus_s shoulder, and he turned to see Pluribus Bell standing there with a small can of milk. _For old times_ sake,_ he said with a smile as he punched a couple of holes in the lid and passed it to Lucy Gray. _I enjoyed your act at the reaping. Did you write that song yourself?_ Some of the more accommodating _ or possibly the hungriest _ tributes began to station themselves up by the bars. They sat on the ground, held out their hands, ducked their heads, and waited. Here and there someone, usually a child, would run up and place something in their hands and then jump back. The tributes began to compete for attention, drawing the cameras to the center of the cage. A limber little girl from District 9 did a back handspring after she received a bread roll. The boy from District 7 made a good show of juggling three walnuts. The audience rewarded those who would perform with applause and more food. Lucy Gray and Coriolanus resumed their picnic seats and watched the show. _We_re a regular circus troupe, we are,_ she said as she picked bits of meat off her bone. _None of them can hold a candle to you,_ said Coriolanus. Mentors who had been avoided before were now approached by their tributes if they offered food. When Sejanus arrived with bags of hard-boiled eggs and wedges of bread, all the tributes ran up to him except Marcus, who made a point of ignoring him entirely. Coriolanus nodded at them. _You were right about Sejanus and Marcus. They used to be classmates in District Two._ _Well, that_s complicated. At least we don_t have to deal with that,_ she said. _Yes, this is complicated enough._ He meant it as a joke, but it fell flat. It was complicated enough, and it got more so by the minute. She gave him a wistful smile. _Sure would_ve been nice to meet you under different circumstances._ _Like how?_ It was a dangerous line of questioning, but he couldn_t help himself. _Oh, like you came to one of my shows and heard me sing,_ she said. _And afterward you came up to chat, and maybe we had a drink and a dance or two._ He could imagine it, her singing somewhere like Pluribus_s nightclub, him catching her eye, connecting before they_d ever even met. _And I_d come back the next night._ _Like we had all the time in the world,_ she said. Their musing was interrupted by a loud _Woo-hoo!_ The tributes from District 6 began a funny dance, and the Ring twins got some of the audience to clap along in rhythm. After that, things became almost festive. The crowd ventured closer, and a few people began to converse with the captives. On the whole, Coriolanus thought it a good development _ it would take more than Lucy Gray to justify the prime-time slot for the interviews. He decided to let the other tributes have their moment and to ask her to sing at closing time. In the meantime, he filled her in on the mentors_ discussions that day and stressed what her popularity could mean in the arena, now that there was a possibility that people could send gifts. Secretly, he worried about his resources again. He_d need more affluent viewers, who could afford to buy her things. It would look bad if a Snow_s tribute received nothing in the arena. Maybe he should make it a provision of the proposal that you couldn_t send your own tribute gifts. Otherwise, how could he compete? Certainly not with Sejanus. And there, by the bars, Arachne had laid out a little picnic for her tribute. A fresh loaf of bread, a block of cheese, and were those grapes? How could she afford those? Maybe the travel industry was picking up. He watched as Arachne sliced the cheese with a mother-of-pearl-handled knife. Her tribute, the talkative girl from District 10, squatted right in front of her, eagerly leaning into the bars. Arachne made a thick sandwich but didn_t hand it right over. She seemed to be lecturing the girl about something. It was quite a speech. At one point, the girl reached through the bars, and Arachne withdrew the sandwich, drawing a laugh from the audience. She turned and flashed them a grin, shook her finger at her tribute, held out the sandwich again, and then pulled it away a second time, much to the crowd_s amusement. _She_s playing with fire there,_ Lucy Gray observed. Arachne waved to the crowd and then took a bite of the sandwich herself. Coriolanus could see the tribute_s face darkening, the muscles tightening in her neck. He could see something else, too. Her fingers sliding down the bar, darting out, circling the handle of the knife. He started to rise, opening his mouth to shout out a warning, but it was too late. In one movement, the tribute yanked Arachne forward and slit her throat. Shrieks came from the audience members nearest to the attack. Arachne_s face drained of color as she dropped the sandwich and clawed at her neck. The blood poured down her fingers as the District 10 girl released her and gave her a small shove. Arachne stepped back, turning and reaching out a dripping hand, imploring the audience for help. People were either too stunned or too scared to respond. Many drew away as she fell to her knees and began to bleed out. Coriolanus_s initial reaction was to recoil like the others, to grab hold of the monkey house bars for support, but Lucy Gray hissed, _Help her!_ He remembered the cameras streaming live to the Capitol audience. He had no idea what to do for Arachne, but he did not want to be seen cringing and clinging. His terror was a private thing, not meant for public display. He forced his legs into motion and was the first to reach Arachne. She clutched his shirt as the life seeped out of her. _Medic!_ he cried as he eased her to the ground. _Is there a doctor? Please, someone help!_ He pressed his hand over the wound to stem the blood but removed it when she made a choking sound. _Come on!_ he screamed at the crowd. A couple of Peacekeepers were shouldering their way toward him, but much, much too slowly. Coriolanus glanced over in time to see the District 10 girl retrieve the cheese sandwich and take a furious bite before the bullets pierced her body, slamming her into the bars. She slipped into a heap as her blood commingled with Arachne_s. Bits of half-chewed food fell from her mouth and floated in the red pool. The crowd surged back as panicked people tried to flee the area. The fading light added a level of desperation. Coriolanus saw one small boy fall and watched his leg being trampled before a woman yanked him from the ground. Others weren_t so lucky. Arachne_s lips made soundless words that he could not decipher. When her breathing stopped abruptly, he guessed it was pointless to try to resuscitate her. If he forced air into her mouth, wouldn_t it only spill out the gaping wound in her neck? Festus was next to him now, and the two friends exchanged helpless looks. Stepping back from Arachne, Coriolanus flinched at the red, shiny stuff coating his hands. He turned and found Lucy Gray huddled against the bars of the cage, her face hidden in her ruffled skirt, her body shaking, and realized he was shaking as well. That_s how it was with him: The wash of blood, the whiz of bullets, the screams in the crowd all caused flashbacks to the worst moments of his childhood. Rebel boots pounding through the streets, he and the Grandma_am pinned down by gunfire, dying bodies twitching around them . . . his mother on the bloodstained bed . . . the stampedes during the food riots, the smashed faces, the moaning people . . . He took immediate steps to mask his terror. Cramming his hands into fists at his sides. Trying to take slow, deep breaths. Lucy Gray began to vomit, and he turned away to keep his own stomach in check. Medics appeared, lifting Arachne onto a stretcher. Others assessed those who had been wounded by stray bullets or tromped by the feet of the audience. A woman was in his face, asking was he hurt, was this his blood? Once they_d confirmed it wasn_t, they gave him a towel to wipe himself with and moved on. As he scrubbed at the blood, he spotted Sejanus kneeling near the dead tribute. He had reached through the bars, and he seemed to be sprinkling a handful of something white over her body while he mumbled some words. Coriolanus only caught a glimpse before a Peacekeeper came and pulled Sejanus back. The soldiers were swarming the place now, clearing out the last remnants of the audience and lining up the tributes along the back of the cage with their hands on top of their heads. Calmer, Coriolanus tried to catch Lucy Gray_s attention, but her eyes were locked on the ground. A Peacekeeper took him by the shoulders and gave him a respectful but firm push toward the exit. He found himself following Festus up to the main path. They stopped at a water fountain and worked a bit more on removing the blood. Neither knew what to say. Arachne hadn_t been his favorite person, but she_d always been in his life. They_d played as babies, been at birthday parties, stood on ration lines, attended classes together. She_d been dressed head to toe in black lace at his mother_s funeral, and he_d cheered her brother_s graduation only last year. As part of the wealthy old guard of the Capitol, she was family. And you didn_t have to like your family. The bond was a given. _I couldn_t save her,_ he said. _I couldn_t stop the blood._ _I don_t think anyone could have. At least you tried. That_s what matters,_ Festus consoled him. Clemensia found them, her whole body trembling in distress, and they made their way out of the zoo together. _Come to my place,_ Festus said, but when they reached his apartment, he suddenly broke into tears. They saw him onto the elevator and said good night. It was not until Coriolanus had walked Clemensia home that they remembered the assignment Dr. Gaul had given them. The proposal about sending tributes food in the arena and the option to bet on them. _Surely, she won_t still expect it,_ said Clemensia. _I couldn_t do it tonight. I couldn_t possibly think about it. You know, without Arachne._ Coriolanus agreed, but on the way home he thought about Dr. Gaul. She would be just the type to penalize them for missing such a deadline, regardless of the circumstances. Maybe he should write something up to be on the safe side. When he_d climbed the twelve flights to the apartment, he found the Grandma_am in a state, railing at the districts and airing out her best black dress for Arachne_s funeral. She flew at him, patting his chest and arms, making sure he was uninjured. Tigris simply wept. _I can_t believe Arachne is dead. I just saw her this afternoon at the market, buying those grapes._ He comforted them and did his best to reassure them of his safety. _It won_t happen again. It was like a freak accident. And now the security_s bound to be even tighter._ When things had calmed down, Coriolanus went to his bedroom, stripped off his bloodstained uniform, and headed to his bathroom. In the near-scalding water of the shower, he scoured the remainder of Arachne_s blood from his body. For about a minute, a painful sobbing made his chest ache, but then it passed, and he wasn_t sure if it had to do with sorrow over her death or unhappiness over his own difficulties. Probably some of both. He pulled on a worn silk robe that had been his father_s and decided to take a shot at the proposal. It wasn_t as if he would be able to sleep, not with the burbling sound of Arachne_s throat still fresh in his ears. No amount of rose-scented powder could temper that. Losing himself in the assignment helped to calm him, and he preferred working in solitude, not having to parry the thoughts of his classmates diplomatically. Without interference, he created a simple but solid proposal. Reflecting on the classroom discussion with Dr. Gaul and the electricity in the audience when they_d fed the starving tributes at the zoo, he focused on the food. For the first time, sponsors would be able to buy items _ a piece of bread, a chunk of cheese _ to be delivered by drone to a specific tribute. A panel would be established to review the nature and value of each item. A sponsor would have to be a Capitol citizen in good standing who was not directly related to the Games. This ruled out Gamemakers, mentors, Peacekeepers assigned to guard the tributes, and any of the aforementioned parties_ immediate family members. When it came to his idea of betting, he suggested a second panel to create a venue that would allow Capitol citizens to officially wager on the victor, establish the odds, and oversee the payments to the winners. Proceeds from either program would be funneled toward the costs of the Games, making them essentially free for the government of Panem. Coriolanus worked steadily until Friday morning dawned. As the first rays came through his window, he dressed in a clean uniform, tucked his proposal under his arm, and left the apartment as quietly as possible. Dr. Gaul wore several hats between her research, military, and academic duties, so he had to venture a guess as to where her desk might be located. Since it was Hunger Games business, he walked to the imposing structure known as the Citadel, which housed the War Department. The Peacekeepers on duty had no intention of letting him into the high-security zone, but they assured him the pages of the proposal would be placed on her desk. It was the best he could do. As he walked back to the Corso, the screen that had shown only the seal of Panem in the early hours came alive with the events of the previous night. Again and again they aired the tribute slitting Arachne_s throat, him arriving to help her, and the gunning down of the murderer. He felt strangely detached from the action, as if all his emotional reserve had been depleted by his brief outburst in the shower. Since his initial reaction to Arachne_s death had been somewhat lacking, he was relieved to see that the cameras had only recorded his attempt to save her, the moments when he appeared brave and responsible. You would only notice his shaking if you looked closely for it. He was particularly pleased to catch a quick shot of Livia Cardew flailing her way through the crowd at the sound of the gunfire. In rhetoric class, she_d once attributed his inability to decipher the deeper meaning of a poem to the fact that he was too self-absorbed. The irony, coming from Livia, of all people! But actions spoke louder than words. Coriolanus to the rescue, Livia to the nearest exit. By the time he reached home, Tigris and the Grandma_am had recovered somewhat from the shock of Arachne_s death and were declaring him a national hero, which he waved off but secretly relished. He should have been exhausted, but he felt a nervous energy running through him, and the announcement that the Academy would still be holding classes gave him a boost. Being a hero at home had its limitations; he needed a larger audience. After a breakfast of fried potatoes and cold buttermilk, he made his way to the Academy with the somberness the occasion demanded. Since he was known to be Arachne_s friend, and had proven it by trying to save her, he seemed to have been designated chief mourner. In the hallways, condolences came in from every side, along with praise for his actions. Someone suggested that he cared for her like a sister, and although he_d done nothing of the sort, he allowed it. No need to disrespect the dead. As dean of the Academy, it should_ve been Highbottom who led the schoolwide assembly, but he did not make an appearance. Instead it was Satyria who spoke of Arachne in glowing terms: her audacity, her outspokenness, her sense of humor. All the things, Coriolanus thought as he dabbed his eyes, that were so annoying about her and had ultimately brought on her death. Professor Sickle took the mic and commended him, and to a lesser extent Festus, for their response to a fallen comrade in arms. Hippocrata Lunt, the school counselor, invited anyone with grief issues to visit her office, especially if they were having violent impulses toward themselves or others. Satyria came back and announced that Arachne_s official funeral would be the following day, and the entire student body would attend to honor her memory. It would be aired live to all of Panem, so they were encouraged to look and behave as befitted the youth of the Capitol. Then they were allowed to mingle, to remember their friend, and to console one another for her loss. Classes would resume after lunch. After a gloppy fish salad on toast, the mentors were scheduled to meet with Professor Demigloss again, although no one really felt like going. It didn_t help that the first thing he did was pass out a mentor sheet, updated with the tributes_ names, saying, _This should facilitate keeping track of your progress in the Games._ 10th HUNGER GAMES MENTOR ASSIGNMENTS DISTRICT 1 Boy (Facet) Livia Cardew Girl (Velvereen) Palmyra Monty DISTRICT 2 Boy (Marcus) Sejanus Plinth Girl (Sabyn) Florus Friend DISTRICT 3 Boy (Circ) Io Jasper Girl (Teslee) Urban Canville DISTRICT 4 Boy (Mizzen) Persephone Price Girl (Coral) Festus Creed DISTRICT 5 Boy (Hy) Dennis Fling Girl (Sol) Iphigenia Moss DISTRICT 6 Boy (Otto) Apollo Ring Girl (Ginnee) Diana Ring DISTRICT 7 Boy (Treech) Vipsania Sickle Girl (Lamina) Pliny Harrington DISTRICT 8 Boy (Bobbin) Juno Phipps Girl (Wovey) Hilarius Heavensbee DISTRICT 9 Boy (Panlo) Gaius Breen Girl (Sheaf) Androcles Anderson DISTRICT 10 Boy (Tanner) Domitia Whimsiwick Girl (Brandy) Arachne Crane DISTRICT 11 Boy (Reaper) Clemensia Dovecote Girl (Dill) Felix Ravinstill DISTRICT 12 Boy (Jessup) Lysistrata Vickers Girl (Lucy Gray) Coriolanus Snow Coriolanus, along with several people around him, automatically crossed off the name of the girl from District 10. But then what? It would make sense to cross off Arachne_s name as well, but that felt different. His pen hovered over her name and then left it alone for the moment. It seemed pretty cold to scratch her off the list like that. About ten minutes into class, a note arrived from the office instructing him and Clemensia to leave class and report immediately to the Citadel. This could only be in response to his proposal, and Coriolanus felt a combination of excitement and nervousness. Did Dr. Gaul like it? Hate it? What did it mean? Since he hadn_t bothered to tell her about his proposal, Clemensia was put out. _I can_t believe you wrote up some proposal while Arachne_s body was still warm! I cried all night long._ Her puffy eyes backed up the claim. _Well, it_s not like I could sleep either,_ Coriolanus objected. _After holding her while she died. Working kept me from freaking out._ _I know, I know. Everyone handles grief differently. I didn_t mean that like it sounded._ She sighed. _So, what_s in this thing I supposedly cowrote?_ Coriolanus gave her a quick overview, but she still seemed annoyed. _I_m sorry, I meant to tell you. It_s pretty basic stuff, and some of it we already discussed as a group. Look, I already got one demerit this week _ I can_t afford to let my grades take a hit, too._ _Did you at least put my name on it? I don_t want it to seem like I was too feeble to pull my weight,_ she said. _I didn_t put anyone_s name on it. It_s more of a class project._ Coriolanus threw up his hands in exasperation. _Honestly, Clemmie, I thought I was doing you a favor!_ _Okay, okay,_ she said, relenting. _I guess I owe you. But I wish I_d at least had a chance to read it. Just cover for me if she starts grilling us about it._ _You know I will. She_ll probably hate it anyway,_ he said. _I mean, I think it_s pretty solid, but she_s operating with a whole different rule book._ _That_s true,_ Clemensia agreed. _Do you think there will even be a Hunger Games now?_ He hadn_t thought of that. _I don_t know. What with Arachne, and then the funeral . . . If they happen, they_ll be delayed, I suppose. I know you don_t like them anyway._ _Do you? Does anyone, really?_ Clemensia asked. _Maybe they_ll just send the tributes home._ The idea was not entirely unappealing when he thought of Lucy Gray. He wondered how the fallout from Arachne_s death was affecting her. Were all the tributes being punished? Would they allow him to see her? _Yes, or make them Avoxes, or something,_ said Clemensia. _It_s awful, but not as bad as the arena. I mean, I_d rather be alive without a tongue than dead, wouldn_t you?_ _I would, but I_m not sure my tribute would,_ said Coriolanus. _Can you still sing without a tongue?_ _I don_t know. Hum, maybe._ They had reached the gates of the Citadel. _This place scared me when I was little._ _It scares me still,_ said Coriolanus, which made her laugh. At the Peacekeeper station, their retinas were scanned and checked against the Capitol files. Their book bags were taken and a guard escorted them down a long, gray corridor and onto an elevator that plunged down at least twenty-five floors. Coriolanus had never been so far underground and, surprisingly, found he liked it. Much as he loved the Snows_ penthouse apartment, he_d felt so vulnerable when the bombs had fallen during the war. Here, it seemed nothing could reach him. The elevator doors parted, and they stepped into a gigantic open laboratory. Rows of research tables, unfamiliar machines, and glass cases spread out into the distance. Coriolanus turned to the guard, but she closed the doors and left them without giving further instructions. _Shall we?_ he asked Clemensia. They began to make their way cautiously into the lab. _I have a terrible feeling I_m going to break something,_ she whispered. They walked along a wall of glass cases fifteen feet high. Inside, a menagerie of creatures, some familiar, some altered to the point that no label could easily be attached, roamed and panted and flopped around in apparent unhappiness. Oversized fangs, claws, and flippers swiped the glass as they passed. A young man in a lab coat intercepted them and led them to a section of reptile cases. Here they found Dr. Gaul, peering into a large terrarium filled with hundreds of snakes. They were artificially bright, their skins almost glowing in shades of neon pink, yellow, and blue. No longer than a ruler and not much thicker than a pencil, they twisted into a psychedelic carpet that covered the bottom of the case. _Ah, here you are,_ Dr. Gaul said with a grin. _Say hello to my new babies._ _Hello there,_ said Coriolanus, putting his face close to the glass to see the writhing mess. They reminded him of something, but he couldn_t think what. _Is there a point to the color?_ asked Clemensia. _There is a point to everything or nothing at all, depending on your worldview,_ said Dr. Gaul. _Which brings me to your proposal. I liked it. Who wrote it? Just you two? Or did your brassy friend weigh in before her throat was cut?_ Clemensia pressed her lips together, upset, but then Coriolanus saw her face tighten. She was not going to be intimidated. _The whole class discussed it as a group._ _And Arachne was planning to help write it up last night, but then . . . as you said,_ he added. _But you two forged ahead, is that it?_ asked Dr. Gaul. _That_s right,_ said Clemensia. _We wrote it up at the library, and I printed it out at my apartment last night. Then I gave it to Coriolanus so he could drop it off this morning. As assigned._ Dr. Gaul addressed Coriolanus. _Is that how it happened?_ Coriolanus felt put on the spot. _I did drop it off this morning, yes. Well, just to the Peacekeepers on guard; I wasn_t allowed in,_ he said evasively. Something was strange about this line of questioning. _Was that a problem?_ _I just wanted to make sure you_d both had your hands on it,_ said Dr. Gaul. _I can show you the parts the group discussed and how they were developed in the proposal,_ he offered. _Yes. Do that. Did you bring a copy?_ she asked. Clemensia looked at Coriolanus expectantly. _No, I didn_t,_ he said. He wasn_t thrilled with Clemensia laying it at his door, when she_d been too shaky to even help write the thing. Especially since she was one of his most formidable competitors for the Academy prizes. _Did you?_ _They took our book bags._ Clemensia turned to Dr. Gaul. _Perhaps we could use the copy we gave you?_ _Well, we could. But my assistant lined this very case with it while I was having my lunch,_ she said with a laugh. Coriolanus stared down into the mass of wriggling snakes, with their flicking tongues. Sure enough, he could catch phrases of his proposal between the coils. _Suppose you two retrieve it?_ Dr. Gaul suggested. It felt like a test. A weird Dr. Gaul test, but still. And somehow planned, but he couldn_t begin to guess to what end. He glanced at Clemensia and tried to remember if she was afraid of snakes, but he scarcely knew if he was himself. They didn_t have snakes in the lab at school. She gave Dr. Gaul a clenched smile. _Of course. Do we just reach in through the trapdoor on the top?_ Dr. Gaul removed the entire cover. _Oh, no, let_s give you some room. Mr. Snow? Why don_t you start?_ Coriolanus reached in slowly, feeling the warmth of the heated air. _That_s right. Move gently. Don_t disrupt them,_ Dr. Gaul instructed. He scooped his fingers under the edge of a sheet of his proposal and slowly slid it out from under the snakes. They slumped down into a heap but didn_t seem to mind much. _I don_t think they even noticed me,_ he said to Clemensia, who looked a little green. _Here I go, then._ She reached into the tank. _They can_t see too well, and they hear even less,_ said Dr. Gaul. _But they know you_re there. Snakes can smell you using their tongues, these mutts here more than others._ Clemensia hooked a sheet with her fingernail and lifted it up. The snakes stirred. _If you_re familiar, if they have pleasant associations with your scent _ a warm tank, for instance _ they_ll ignore you. A new scent, something foreign, that would be a threat,_ said Dr. Gaul. _You_d be on your own, little girl._ Coriolanus had just begun to put two and two together when he saw the look of alarm on Clemensia_s face. She yanked her hand from the tank, but not before a half dozen neon snakes sank their fangs into her flesh. Clemensia gave a bloodcurdling scream, shaking her hand madly to rid it of the vipers. The tiny puncture wounds left by their fangs oozed the neon colors of their skins. Pus dyed bright pink, yellow, and blue dripped down her fingers. Lab assistants in white jackets materialized. Two pinned Clemensia to the floor while a third injected her with a scary-looking hypodermic needle filled with black fluid. Her lips turned purple and then bloodless before she passed out. The assistants dropped her onto a stretcher and whisked her away. Coriolanus began to follow them, but Dr. Gaul stopped him with her voice. _Not you, Mr. Snow. You stay here._ _But I _ She __ he stammered. _Will she die?_ _Anyone_s guess,_ said Dr. Gaul. She had dipped a hand back into the tank and was lightly trailing her gnarled fingers over her pets. _Clearly, her scent was not on the paper. So, you wrote the proposal alone?_ _I did._ There was no point in lying. Lying had probably killed Clemensia. Obviously, he was dealing with a lunatic who should be handled with extreme care. _Good. The truth, finally. I_ve no use for liars. What are lies but attempts to conceal some sort of weakness? If I see that side of you again, I_ll cut you off. If Dean Highbottom punishes you for it, I won_t stand in his way. Are we clear?_ She wrapped one of the pink snakes around her wrist like a bracelet and seemed to be admiring it. _Very clear,_ said Coriolanus. _It_s good, your proposal,_ she said. _Well thought out and simple to execute. I_m going to recommend my team review it and implement a version of the first stage._ _All right,_ said Coriolanus, afraid to make more than the blandest of responses, surrounded as he was by lethal creatures that did her bidding. Dr. Gaul laughed. _Oh, go home. Or go see your friend if she_s still there to see. It_s time for my crackers and milk._ Coriolanus hurried off, bumping into a lizard tank and sending its inhabitants into a frenzy. He made a wrong turn, then another, and found himself in a ghoulish section of the lab where the glass cases housed humans with animal parts grafted to their bodies. Tiny feathered ruffs around their necks; talons, or even tentacles, in place of fingers; and something _ perhaps gills? _ embedded in their chests. His appearance startled them, and when a few opened their mouths to plead with him, he realized they were Avoxes. Their cries reverberated and he caught a glimpse of small black birds perched above them. The name jabberjay popped into his mind. A brief chapter in his genetics class. The failed experiment, the bird that could repeat human speech, that had been a tool for espionage until the rebels had figured out its abilities and sent it back carrying false information. Now the useless creatures were creating an echo chamber filled with the Avoxes_ pitiful wails. Finally, a woman in a lab coat and oversized pink bifocals intercepted him, scolded him for disturbing the birds, and escorted him back to the elevator. As he waited, a security camera blinked down at him and he compulsively tried to smooth out the lone, crumpled page of his proposal he_d crushed in his hand. Peacekeepers met him above, returned both his and Clemensia_s book bags, and marched him out of the Citadel. Coriolanus made it down the street and around the corner before his legs gave way and he dropped onto the curb. The sun hurt his eyes, and he couldn_t seem to catch his breath. He was exhausted, having not slept the night before, but hyper with adrenaline. What had just happened? Was Clemensia dead? He had not begun to come to terms with Arachne_s violent end, and now this. It was like the Hunger Games. Only they weren_t district kids. The Capitol was supposed to protect them. He thought of Sejanus telling Dr. Gaul it was the government_s job to protect everybody, even the people in the districts, but he still wasn_t sure how to square that with the fact that they_d been such recent enemies. But certainly the child of a Snow should be a top priority. He could be dead if Clemensia had written the proposal instead of him. He buried his head in his hands, confused, angry, and most of all afraid. Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life . . . then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure. And if you couldn_t trust them, who could you trust? All bets were off. Coriolanus knotted up at the memory of the snake fangs sinking into flesh. Poor Clemmie, could she really be dead? And in that nightmarish way. If she was, was it his fault? For not calling her out for lying? It seemed such a minor infraction, but would Dr. Gaul place blame on him for covering for her? If she died, he could be in all kinds of trouble. He guessed that in an emergency, a person would be taken to the nearby Capitol Hospital, so he found himself running in its direction. Once inside the cool entrance hall, he followed the signs to the emergency room. As soon as the automated door slid open, he could hear Clemensia screaming, just as she had when the snakes bit her. At least she was still alive. He babbled something to the nurse at the counter, and she made enough sense of it to have him take a seat just as a wave of dizziness hit him. He must have looked terrible, because she brought him two packets of nutritional crackers and a glass of sweet, fizzy lemon drink, which he tried to sip and ended up gulping down, longing for a refill. The sugar made him feel a bit better, although not enough to try the crackers, which he pocketed. By the time the attending doctor emerged from the back, he was almost in control of himself. The doctor reassured him. They_d treated the victims of mishaps at the lab before. Since the antidote had been swiftly administered, there was every reason to believe Clemensia would survive, although there might be some neurological damage. She_d be hospitalized until they were sure she was stable. If he checked back in a few days, she might be ready for visitors. Coriolanus thanked the doctor, handed over her book bag, and agreed when he suggested that the best thing would be to return home. As he retraced his steps to the entrance, he spotted Clemensia_s parents rushing in his direction and managed to conceal himself in a doorway. He didn_t know what the Dovecotes had been told, but he had no interest in talking to them, especially before he_d worked out his story. The lack of a plausible story, preferably one that absolved him of being an accessory to her condition, made his return to school or even home impossible. Tigris would not be home until supper at the earliest, and the Grandma_am would be horrified by his situation. Strangely, he found the only person he wanted to talk to was Lucy Gray, who was both clever and unlikely to repeat his words. His feet carried him to the zoo before he had really considered the difficulties he would encounter there. A pair of impressively armed Peacekeepers were on guard at the main entrance, with several more milling around behind them. At first they waved him away; instructions were to allow no visitors to the zoo. But Coriolanus played the mentor card, and at this point some of them recognized him as the boy who_d tried to save Arachne. His celebrity was enough to convince them to call in a request for an exception. The Peacekeeper spoke to Dr. Gaul directly, and Coriolanus could hear her distinctive cackle shooting out of the phone, even though he stood several yards away. He was allowed in with a Peacekeeper, but only for a short time. Trash from the fleeing crowd was still strewn along the path to the monkey house. Dozens of rats darted about, gnawing on leftovers, from bits of rotting food to shoes lost in the panic. Although the sun was high, several raccoons foraged, scooping up tidbits in their clever little hands. One chewed on a dead rat, warning the others to give it a wide berth. _Not the zoo I remember,_ said the Peacekeeper. _Nothing but kids in cages and vermin running loose._ At points along the path, Coriolanus could see small containers of white powder tucked under boulders or against walls. He remembered the poison used by the Capitol during the siege _ a time with little food but plenty of rats. Humans, particularly dead ones, had become their daily fare. During the worst of it, of course, humans had eaten humans as well. There was no point in feeling superior to the rats. _Is that rat poison?_ he asked the Peacekeeper. _Yeah, some new stuff they_re trying out today. But the rats are so smart, they won_t go near it._ He shrugged. _It_s what they gave us to work with._ Inside the cage, the tributes, shackled again, pressed against the back wall or positioned themselves behind the rock formations, as if trying to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. _You have to keep your distance,_ said the Peacekeeper. _Your girl isn_t likely a threat, but who knows? Another might attack you. You have to stay back where they can_t touch you._ Coriolanus nodded and went to his usual rock but remained standing behind it. He didn_t feel threatened by the tributes _ they were the least of his problems _ but he didn_t want to give Dean Highbottom any other excuse to punish him. At first he couldn_t locate Lucy Gray. Then he made eye contact with Jessup, who sat propped against the back wall, holding what appeared to be the Snows_ handkerchief to his neck. Jessup gave something beside him a shake, and Lucy Gray sat straight up with a start. For a moment she seemed disoriented. When she spotted Coriolanus, she wiped the sleep from her eyes and combed her loose hair back with her fingers. She lost her balance as she rose, and reached out to catch herself on Jessup_s arm. Still unsteady, she began to make her way across the cage to him, dragging the chains with her. Was it the heat? The trauma of the killing? Hunger? Since the Capitol wasn_t feeding the tributes, she_d had nothing since Arachne_s murder, when she_d vomited up the precious food from the crowd, and probably his bread pudding and the apple from the morning as well. So she_d gone almost five days on a meat loaf sandwich and a plum. He was going to have to find a way to get her more to eat, even if it was cabbage soup. When she_d crossed the waterless moat, he held up a cautionary hand. _I_m sorry, we can_t get close._ Lucy Gray stopped a few feet from the bars. _Surprised you got in at all._ Her throat, her skin, her hair _ everything seemed parched in the hot afternoon sun. A bad bruise on her arm had not been there the previous night. Who had hit her? Another tribute, or a guard? _I didn_t mean to wake you,_ he said. She shrugged. _It_s nothing. Jessup and I take turns sleeping. Capitol rats have a taste for people._ _The rats are trying to eat you?_ Coriolanus asked, revolted at the thought. _Well, something bit Jessup_s neck the first night we were here. Too dark to see what, but he mentioned fur. And last night, something crawled over my leg._ She indicated a container of white powder by the bars. _That stuff doesn_t do a lick of good._ Coriolanus had a terrible image of her lying dead under a swarm of rats. It wiped away the last few shreds of resistance he had, and despair engulfed him. For her. For himself. For the both of them. _Oh, Lucy Gray, I_m so sorry. I_m so sorry about all of this._ _It_s not your fault,_ she said. _You must hate me. You should. I would hate me,_ he said. _I don_t hate you. The Hunger Games weren_t your idea,_ she replied. _But I_m participating in them. I_m helping them happen!_ His head dropped in shame. _I should be like Sejanus and at least try to quit._ _No, don_t! Please don_t. Don_t leave me to go through this alone!_ She took a step toward him and almost fainted. Her hands caught the bars, and she slid down to the ground. Ignoring the guard_s warning, he impulsively stepped over the rock and crouched down across the bars from her. _Are you all right?_ She nodded, but she didn_t look all right. He_d wanted to tell her about the scare with the snakes and Clemensia_s brush with death. He_d hoped to ask her advice, but it all paled in comparison to her situation. He remembered the crackers the nurse had given him and fumbled for the crumpled packets in his pocket. _I brought you these. They_re not big, but they_re very nutritious._ That sounded stupid. How could their nutritional value matter to her? He realized he was just parroting what his teachers had said during the war, when one of the incentives for going to school had been the free snack provided by the government. The scratchy, tasteless things washed down with water were all some of the kids had to eat for the day. He remembered their little clawlike hands tearing into the wrapping and the desperate crunching that followed. Lucy Gray immediately ripped open a packet and stuffed one of the two crackers into her mouth, chewing and swallowing the dry thing with difficulty. She pressed a hand against her stomach, sighed, and ate the second more slowly. The food seemed to focus her, and her voice sounded calmer. _Thanks,_ she said. _That_s better._ _Eat the others,_ he urged, nodding to the second packet. She shook her head. _No. I_ll save these for Jessup. He_s my ally now._ _Your ally?_ Coriolanus was perplexed. How could one have an ally in the Games? _Uh-huh. The tributes from District Twelve are going down together,_ said Lucy Gray. _He_s not the brightest star in the Dipper, but he_s strong as an ox._ Two crackers seemed a small price to pay for Jessup_s protection. _I_ll get you more to eat as soon as I can. And it looks like people are going to be allowed to send food into the arena. It_s official now._ _That_d be good. More food would be good._ She leaned her head forward and rested it on the bars. _Then, like you said, it might make sense to sing. Make people want to help me._ _At the interview,_ he suggested. _You could sing the valley song again._ _Maybe._ Her brow furrowed in thought. _They showing this in all Panem, or just the Capitol?_ _All Panem, I think,_ he answered. _But you won_t get anything from the districts._ _Not expecting to. Not the point,_ she said. _Maybe I will sing, though. Be better with a guitar or something._ _I can try to find you one._ Not that the Snows had any instruments. Except for the Grandma_am_s daily anthem and his mother_s long-ago bedtime songs, there_d been little music in his life until Lucy Gray appeared. He rarely listened to the Capitol radio broadcast, which mostly played marches and propaganda songs. Those all sounded the same to him. _Hey!_ The Peacekeeper waved at him from the path. _That_s too close! Time_s up anyway._ Coriolanus rose. _I better go if I want them to let me in again._ _Sure. Sure. And thanks. For the crackers and all,_ said Lucy Gray, grasping the bars to struggle to her feet. He reached through the bars to help her up. _It_s nothing._ _Not to you maybe,_ she said. _But it_s meant the world having someone show up like I mattered._ _You do matter,_ he said. _Well, there_s a lot of evidence to the contrary._ She rattled her chains and gave them a tug. And then, as if remembering something, she looked up at the sky. _You matter to me,_ he insisted. The Capitol may not value her, but he did. Hadn_t he just poured his heart out to her? _Time to go, Mr. Snow!_ the Peacekeeper called. _You matter to me, Lucy Gray,_ he repeated. His words drew her eyes back to him, but she still seemed distant. _Look, kid, don_t make me report you,_ said the Peacekeeper. _I_ve got to go._ Coriolanus started to leave. _Hey!_ she said with a certain urgency. He turned back. _Hey, I want you to know I don_t really believe you_re here for grades or glory. You_re a rare bird, Coriolanus._ _You, too,_ he said. She dipped her head in agreement and headed back to Jessup, her chains leaving a trail in the dirty straw and rat droppings. When she reached her partner, she lay down and curled up in a ball, as if exhausted by the brief encounter. Twice he tripped on his way out of the zoo, and he recognized that he was too tired to come up with any good solutions to anything. It was late enough now that his arrival at home wouldn_t seem suspicious, so he headed back to the apartment. He had the misfortune to bump into his classmate Persephone Price, the daughter of the infamous Nero Price, who_d once cannibalized the maid. They ended up walking together, since they were neighbors. She_d been assigned to mentor Mizzen, a sturdy thirteen-year-old boy from District 4, and so had been present when he and Clemensia had been called from class. He dreaded any discussion of the proposal, but she was still too distraught over Arachne_s death to talk about anything else. Usually, he avoided Persephone altogether, because he could never help wondering if she had known the ingredients of her wartime stew. For some time, he_d felt afraid of her, but now she only inspired disgust, no matter how many times he reminded himself of her innocence. With her dimples and hazel green eyes, she was prettier than any girl in his year, with the possible exception of Clemensia . . . well, pre-snakebite Clemensia. But the idea of kissing her repulsed him. Even now, as she gave him a tearful hug good-bye, all he could think of was that severed leg. Coriolanus dragged himself up the stairs, his thoughts darker than ever at the memory of the poor maid collapsed from hunger in the street. How long could he expect Lucy Gray to last? She was fading fast. Weak and distracted. Injured and broken. But most of all, slowly starving to death. By tomorrow, she might not be able to stand. If he didn_t find a way to feed her, she_d be dead before the Hunger Games even began. When he reached the apartment, the Grandma_am took one look at him and suggested a nap before supper. He fell on his bed, feeling too stressed to ever sleep again. The next thing he knew, Tigris was gently shaking his shoulder. A tray on his night table gave off the comforting smell of noodle soup. Sometimes the butcher would give her chicken carcasses for free, and she_d boil them into something wonderful. _Coryo,_ she said. _Satyria has called three times, and I can_t think of any more excuses. Come on, eat some supper and call her back._ _Did she ask about Clemensia? Does everyone know?_ he blurted out. _Clemensia Dovecote? No. Why would she?_ Tigris asked. _It was so awful._ He told her the story in all its gory detail. As he spoke, the color left her face. _Dr. Gaul made the snakes bite her? Over a little white lie like that?_ _She did. And she didn_t care at all whether Clemmie survived,_ he said. _Just shooed me out so she could get her afternoon snack._ _That_s sadistic. Or completely demented,_ said Tigris. _Should you report her?_ _To who? She_s the Head Gamemaker,_ he said. _She works directly with the president. She_ll say it was our fault for lying._ Tigris thought it over. _All right. Don_t report her. Or confront her. Just avoid her as much as possible._ _That_s hard as a mentor. She keeps showing up at the Academy to play with this rabbit mutt and ask a lot of crazy questions. One word from her could make or break my prize._ He rubbed his face with his hands. _And Arachne_s dead, and Clemensia_s all full of venom, and Lucy Gray . . . well, that_s another really awful story. I doubt she_ll make it to the Games, and maybe that_s for the best._ Tigris tucked a spoon into his hand. _Eat your soup. We_ve gotten through worse than this. Snow lands on top?_ _Snow lands on top,_ he said with so little conviction they had to laugh. It made him feel a bit more normal. He took a few bites of soup to please her, then realized he was starving and made short work of it. When Satyria called again, he almost launched into his confession, but it turned out that all she wanted to do was ask him to sing the anthem at Arachne_s funeral in the morning. _Your heroics at the zoo, combined with the fact that you_re the only one who knows all the words, made you the faculty_s first choice._ _I_d be honored, of course,_ he replied. _Good._ Satyria slurped something, causing the ice to clink in her glass, then came up for air. _How are things with your tribute?_ Coriolanus hesitated. To complain might seem childish, like he couldn_t handle his own problems. He almost never asked Satyria for help. But then he thought of Lucy Gray buckling under the weight of her chains and threw caution to the wind. _Not well. I saw Lucy Gray today. Just for a minute. She_s very weak. The Capitol hasn_t fed her at all._ _Since she left District Twelve? Why, that_s been, what? Four days?_ Satyria asked, surprised. _Five. I don_t think she_s going to make it to the Hunger Games. I_m not even going to have a tribute to mentor,_ he said. _A lot of us won_t._ _Well, that_s not fair. It_s like telling you to do an experiment with broken equipment,_ she responded. _And now the Games will be delayed at least another day or two._ She paused, then added, _Let me see what I can do._ He hung up and turned to Tigris. _They want me to sing at the funeral. She didn_t mention Clemensia. They must be keeping it a secret._ _Then that_s what you do, too,_ said Tigris. _Maybe they_ll pretend the whole thing didn_t happen._ _Maybe they won_t even tell Dean Highbottom,_ he said, brightening. Then another thought hit him. _Tigris? I just remembered, I can_t really sing._ And somehow, this was the funniest thing either of them had ever heard. The Grandma_am, however, thought it was no laughing matter, and the following morning she had him up at dawn so she could coach him. At the end of every line she_d poke him in his ribs with a ruler and shout, _Breathe!_ until he couldn_t imagine making any other choice. For the third time that week, she sacrificed one of her darlings to his future, pinning a light blue rosebud to his carefully pressed uniform jacket and saying, _There. It matches your eyes._ Looking sharp, with a belly full of oatmeal and a rib cage dotted with bruises reminding him to inhale, he set off for the Academy. Although it was Saturday, the entire student body reported to homeroom before they assembled on the front steps of the Academy, divided neatly and alphabetically by class. By virtue of his assignment, Coriolanus found himself in the front row with faculty and distinguished guests, first and foremost President Ravinstill. Satyria gave him a quick overview of the program, but the only thing that stuck in his head was that his rendition of the anthem opened the ceremonies. He didn_t mind public speaking but had never sung publicly _ there was little occasion to in Panem. It was one reason that Lucy Gray_s song had caught people_s attention. He calmed his nerves by reminding himself that even if he howled like a dog, there wasn_t much to compare him to. Across the avenue, the temporary stands set up for the funeral procession quickly filled with mourners dressed in black, the one color everyone could be counted on to have, given the loss of loved ones during the war. He looked for the Cranes but couldn_t spot them in the crowd. The Academy and the surrounding buildings were festooned with funereal banners and sported Capitol flags in every window. Numerous cameras were positioned to record the event, and multiple Capitol TV reporters streamed live commentary. Coriolanus thought it was quite a display for Arachne, disproportionate to both her life and death, the latter of which could have been avoided if she_d refrained from being such an exhibitionist. So many people had died heroically in the war, with so little recognition, that it grated on him. He was relieved that he was singing instead of having to praise her talents, which, if memory served, were limited to being loud enough to fill the school auditorium without a mic and the ability to balance a spoon on her nose. And Dean Highbottom had accused him of showboating? Still, he reminded himself, she was practically family. The Academy clock struck nine, and the crowd fell silent. On cue, Coriolanus rose and walked to the podium. Satyria had promised accompaniment, but the silence stretched so long he actually drew breath to begin the anthem before a tinny version began to play over the sound system, giving him sixteen measures of introduction. Gem of Panem, Mighty city, Through the ages, you shine anew. His singing was more like sustained talking than a melodic tour de force, but the song was not particularly challenging. The high note the Grandma_am consistently missed was optional; most people sang it an octave lower. With the memory of her ruler prodding him, he sailed through it, never missing a note or running out of breath. He sat to generous applause and an approving nod from the president, who now took the podium. _Two days ago, Arachne Crane_s young and precious life was ended, and so we mourn another victim of the criminal rebellion that yet besieges us,_ the president intoned. _Her death was as valiant as any on the battlefield, her loss more profound as we claim to be at peace. But no peace will exist while this disease eats away at all that is good and noble in our country. Today we honor her sacrifice with a reminder that while evil exists, it does not prevail. And once again, we bear witness as our great Capitol brings justice to Panem._ The drums began a slow, deep boom, and the crowd turned as the funeral procession rounded a corner onto the street. Although not as wide as the Corso, Scholars Road easily held the honor guard of Peacekeepers, standing shoulder to shoulder, twenty wide and forty deep, that stepped in flawless uniformity to the rhythm of the drums. Coriolanus had wondered about the strategy of telling the districts about a tribute killing a Capitol girl, but now he saw the point. Behind the Peacekeepers came a long flatbed truck with a crane affixed to it. High in the air, the bullet-ridden body of the District 10 girl, Brandy, dangled from its hook. Shackled to the truck bed, looking utterly filthy and defeated, were the remaining twenty-three tributes. The length of their restraints made it impossible to stand, so they either crouched or sat on the bare metal floor. This was just another chance to remind the districts that they were inferior and that there would be repercussions for their resistance. He could see Lucy Gray trying to hold on to a shred of dignity, sitting as upright as the chains would allow and gazing straight ahead, ignoring the corpse swinging gently over her head. But it was no use. The dirt, the shackles, the public display _ it was too much to overcome. He tried to imagine conducting himself under those circumstances, until he realized this was undoubtedly what Sejanus was doing, and snapped out of it. Another battalion of Peacekeepers followed the tributes, paving the way for a quartet of horses. They were decked in garlands and pulled an ornate wagon with a pure white coffin draped in flowers. Behind the coffin came the Cranes, riding in a horse-drawn chariot. At least her family had the decency to look uncomfortable. The procession halted when the coffin drew up in front of the podium. Dr. Gaul, who_d been sitting next to the president, approached the mic. Coriolanus thought it was a mistake to let her speak at such a moment, but she must have left the crazy lady and her pink snake bracelets at home, because she spoke with a stern and intelligent clarity. _Arachne Crane, we, your fellow citizens of Panem, vow that your death will not be in vain. When one of ours is hit, we hit back twice as hard. The Hunger Games will go forward, with more energy and commitment than ever before, as we add your name to the long list of the innocent who died defending a righteous and just land. Your friends, family, and fellow citizens salute you and dedicate the Tenth Hunger Games to your memory._ So now that loudmouth Arachne was a defender of a righteous and just land. Yes, she laid down her life taunting her tribute with a sandwich, thought Coriolanus. Maybe her gravestone could read, _Casualty of cheap laughs._ A row of Peacekeepers in red sashes lifted their guns and sent several volleys over the procession, which then rolled down a few blocks and disappeared around a corner. As the crowd thinned, several people took the pained look on Coriolanus_s face as sorrow at Arachne_s death, when ironically he felt like killing her all over again. Still, he felt he_d handled himself well, until he turned to find Dean Highbottom looking down at him. _My condolences on the loss of your friend,_ the dean said. _And on your student. It_s a difficult day for all of us. But the procession was very moving,_ Coriolanus replied. _Did you think so? I found it excessive and in poor taste,_ said Dean Highbottom. Taken by surprise, Coriolanus let out a short laugh before he recovered and tried to look shocked. The dean dropped his gaze to Coriolanus_s blue rosebud. _It_s amazing, how little things change. After all the killing. After all the agonized promises to remember the cost. After all of that, I can_t distinguish the bud from the blossom._ He gave the rose a tap with his forefinger, adjusting the angle, and smiled. _Don_t be late to lunch. I hear we_re having pie._ The only good thing about the encounter was that it turned out there really was pie, peach this time, at the special buffet in the school dining hall. Unlike on the day of the reaping, Coriolanus loaded his plate with fried chicken and took the largest wedge of pie he could find. He slathered his biscuits with butter and had three refills of grape punch, filling the last glass so much it spilled over and he stained his linen napkin sopping it up. Let people talk. The chief mourner needed sustenance. But even as he ate, he recognized it as a sign that his usual gift for self-control was eroding. He blamed it on Dean Highbottom and his continual harassment. What was he babbling on about today anyway? Buds? Blossoms? He should be locked up somewhere or, even better, deported to a far-off outpost to leave decent Capitol people in peace. Just the thought of him sent Coriolanus back for more pie. Sejanus, however, poked at his chicken and biscuits without taking even one bite. If Coriolanus had disliked the funeral parade, it had to have been misery for Sejanus. _They_ll report you if you throw out all that food,_ Coriolanus reminded him. He wasn_t crazy about the guy, but he didn_t particularly want to see him punished. _Right,_ said Sejanus. But he still seemed unable to down more than a sip of punch. As the luncheon was finishing up, Satyria gathered the twenty-two active mentors to inform them that not only were the Hunger Games still on, they were supposed to be the most visible yet. With this in mind, they were to escort their tributes on a tour of the arena that very afternoon. It was to be aired live to the entire country, somehow driving home the resolution Dr. Gaul had made at the funeral. The Head Gamemaker felt that separating the Capitol kids from the district ones suggested weakness, as if they were too afraid of their enemies to be in their presence. The tributes would be handcuffed but not fully shackled. The Peacekeepers_ top sharpshooters would be among their guards, but the mentors were to be seen side by side with their charges. Coriolanus could sense some reluctance among his classmates _ several of their parents had lodged complaints about shoddy security after Arachne_s death _ but no one spoke up, none of them wanting to seem cowardly. The whole thing seemed dangerous and ill-advised to him _ what would prevent other tributes from turning on their mentors? _ but he_d never say so. A part of him wondered if Dr. Gaul wasn_t hoping for another act of violence so she could punish another tribute, maybe a live one this time, in front of the cameras. This further display of Dr. Gaul_s callousness made him feel mutinous. He glanced over at Sejanus_s plate. _All done?_ _I can_t eat today,_ said Sejanus. _I don_t know what to do with this._ Their section had emptied. Under the table, Coriolanus spread his stained linen napkin on his lap. He felt even more delinquent when he realized it was emblazoned with the Capitol seal. _Put it here,_ he said with a furtive glance. Sejanus gave a look around and quickly transported the chicken and biscuits to the napkin. Coriolanus gathered it up and stuffed the whole thing in his book bag. They were not allowed to take food from the dining hall, and certainly not for a tribute, but where else would he get some before the tour? Lucy Gray couldn_t eat the stuff in front of the cameras, but her dress had deep pockets. He resented that half of his takings would go to Jessup now, but maybe that investment would pay off when the Games began. _Thanks. You_re quite the rebel,_ said Sejanus as they carried their trays to the conveyor belt that ran to the kitchen. _I_m bad news, all right,_ said Coriolanus. The mentors piled into a few Academy vans and headed for the Capitol Arena, which had been built across the river to prevent crowds from swamping the downtown. In its day, the huge, state-of-the-art amphitheater had been the site of many an exciting sporting, entertainment, or military event. High-profile executions of the enemy were staged there during the war, making it a target for the rebel bombers. While the original structure stood, it was battered and unstable now, useful only as a venue for the Hunger Games. The lush field of meticulously tended grass had died from neglect. It was riddled with bomb craters, with weeds providing the only greenery on the expanse of dirt. Rubble from the explosions _ chunks of metal and stone _ lay everywhere, and the fifteen-foot wall that encircled the field was fissured and pockmarked from the shrapnel. Each year, the tributes would be locked in with nothing but an arsenal of knives, swords, maces, and the like to facilitate the bloodshed while the audience watched from home. At the end of the Games, the one who had managed to survive would be shipped back to their district, the bodies removed, the weapons collected, and the doors locked until the following year. No maintenance. No cleanup. Wind and rain might wash away the bloodstains, but Capitol hands would not. Professor Sickle, their chaperone for the outing, ordered the mentors to leave their belongings in the vans when they arrived. Coriolanus stuffed the food-filled napkin in one of his front pants pockets and kept it covered with the hem of his jacket. As they stepped from the air-conditioning into the blazing sun, he saw the tributes standing in a line in handcuffs, heavily guarded by Peacekeepers. The mentors were directed to take their places beside their respective tributes, who_d been lined up numerically, so he was near the end with Lucy Gray. Only Jessup and his mentor, Lysistrata, who couldn_t tip the scales at a hundred pounds, were behind him. In front of him, Clemensia_s tribute, Reaper _ the one who_d strangled him in the truck _ stood glowering at the ground. If it came to a mentor-tribute showdown, the odds were not in Coriolanus_s favor. Despite her delicate appearance, Lysistrata had some grit. The daughter of the physicians who treated President Ravinstill, she_d been lucky to get a mentorship, and she_d apparently been working hard to connect with Jessup. _I brought you some cream for your neck,_ Coriolanus heard her whisper. _But you must keep it hidden._ Jessup made a grunt of assent. _I_ll put it in your pocket when I can._ The Peacekeepers removed the heavy bars from the entrance. The massive doors swung open, revealing a huge lobby lined with boarded-up booths and fly-specked posters advertising events from before the war. Holding their formation, the kids followed the soldiers deep within to the far side of the lobby. A bank of full-height turnstiles, each with three curved metal arms, stood covered in a thick layer of dust. They required a Capitol token for admittance, the same one still used for the price of a trolley fare. This entrance was for the poor people, Coriolanus thought. Or perhaps not poor. The word plebeian came to mind. The Snow family had entered the arena at another entrance, demarcated by a velvet rope. Certainly, their box could not be accessed with a trolley token. Unlike much of the arena, it had a roof, a retractable glass window, and air-conditioning that had made the hottest day comfortable. An Avox had been assigned to them, bringing food and drink and toys for him and Tigris. If he grew bored, he_d nap on the plush, cushioned seats. Peacekeepers posted at two turnstiles pumped tokens into the slots so each tribute and mentor could pass through simultaneously. At each rotation, a cheerful voice piped, _Enjoy the show!_ _Can_t you override the ticket barrier?_ asked Professor Sickle. _We could if we had the key, but no one seems to know where it is,_ said a Peacekeeper. _Enjoy the show!_ the turnstile told Coriolanus as he passed through. He gave the arm at his waist a backward push and realized that no exit was possible. His eyes traveled to the tops of the turnstiles, where iron bars filled the space to the arched doorway. He guessed the patrons of the cheap seats left the building through passages elsewhere. While that was probably seen as a plus for crowd dispersal, it did nothing to calm a jittery mentor on a questionable field trip. On the far side of the turnstiles, a squad of Peacekeepers marched into a passageway, guided only by the red glow of emergency lights on the floor. On either side, smaller arches leading to different seating levels were marked. The line of tributes and mentors fell into step, flanked by tight columns of Peacekeepers. As they moved into the gloom, Coriolanus took a page from Lysistrata_s book and used the opportunity to slip the napkin of food into Lucy Gray_s cuffed hands. It swiftly disappeared into her ruffled pocket. There. She was not going to starve to death on his watch. Her hand found his, intertwining their fingers and sending a buzz through his body at their closeness. At this small intimacy in the dark. He gave her hand a final squeeze and released it as they headed into the sunlight at the end of the passageway, where such a display would have been inexplicable. He_d been to the arena several times as a small boy, to see the circus, mostly, but also to cheer military displays under his father_s command. For the past nine years he_d watched at least part of the Games on television. But nothing prepared him for the sensation of walking out through the main gate, beneath the enormous scoreboard, and onto the field. Some of the mentors and tributes gasped at the sheer size of the place and the grandeur that defied even the decay. Staring up at the towering rows of seats made him feel diminished to the point of insignificance. A raindrop in a flood, a pebble in an avalanche. The sight of the camera crews brought him back to himself, and he adjusted his face to say that nothing much really impressed a Snow. Lucy Gray, who seemed more alert and moved better without the weight of the chains, gave a wave to Lepidus Malmsey, but like all the reporters, he remained stony-faced and didn_t engage. Their directive had been clear; gravity and retribution were the hallmarks of the day. Satyria_s use of the term tour had suggested a sightseeing excursion, and while he had not anticipated pleasure, he had not expected the palpable sadness of the place either. The Peacekeepers who_d been flanking them spread out as the kids dutifully followed the lead squad around the inside perimeter of the oval, forming a dusty, joyless parade. Coriolanus remembered the circus performers taking the same route, riding elephants and horses, bespangled and brimming with mirth. With the exception of Sejanus, probably all of his classmates would have been in the audience, too. Ironically, Arachne would have been in the box adjacent to his, dressed in a sequined costume and cheering at the top of her lungs. Coriolanus surveyed the arena, looking for anything that might be an advantage for Lucy Gray. The high wall that enclosed the field, keeping the audience above the action, had some promise. The damaged surface provided hand- and footholds, offering access to the seats for a nimble climber. Several of the gates spaced symmetrically around the wall looked compromised as well, but as he was unsure what lay beyond in the tunnels, he thought those should be approached with caution. Too easy to get trapped. The stands would definitely be her best bet, if she could climb up. He made mental notes for later. As the line began to stretch out, he initiated a whispered conversation with Lucy Gray. _It was awful this morning. Seeing you like that._ _Well, at least they fed us first,_ she said. _Really?_ Had his conversation with Satyria triggered that? _A couple of kids blacked out when they tried to round us up last night. I think they decided that if they want to have anyone left for their show, they_re going to have to feed us. Mostly bread and cheese. We got dinner, and breakfast, too. But don_t worry, I_ve got plenty of room left for whatever_s in my pocket._ She sounded more like her old self. _Was that you I heard singing?_ _Oh. Yes,_ he admitted. _They asked me to sing because they thought Arachne and I were such great friends. We weren_t. And I_m embarrassed you heard me._ _I like your voice. My daddy would_ve said it had real authority. Just didn_t much care for the song,_ Lucy Gray replied. _Thanks. That means a lot, coming from you,_ he said. She nudged him with her elbow. _I wouldn_t broadcast that. Most people here think I_m lower than a snake_s belly._ Coriolanus shook his head and grinned. _What?_ she said. _You just have funny expressions. Not funny, per se, more colorful,_ he told her. _Well, I don_t say _per se_ much, if that_s what you mean,_ she quipped. _No, I like it. It makes the way I talk seem so stiff. What was it you called me that day in the zoo? Something about cake?_ he remembered. _Oh, the cake with the cream? You don_t say that?_ she asked. _Well, it_s a compliment. Where I come from, cake can be pretty dry. And cream_s as scarce as hen_s teeth._ For a moment he laughed, forgetting where they were, how depressing the backdrop. For a moment there was just her smile, the musical cadence of her voice, and the hint of flirtation. Then the world exploded. Coriolanus knew bombs, and they terrified him. Even as the impact threw him off his feet and tossed him farther into the arena, his arms lifted to cover his head. When he hit the ground, he automatically flattened onto his belly, cheek pressed into the dust, one arm bent up to guard his exposed eye and ear. The first explosion, which seemed to have come from the main gate, initiated a chain of eruptions around the arena. Running was out of the question. It was all he could do to cling to the rumbling ground, hope for it to stop, and try to keep his panic in check. He entered what he and Tigris had nicknamed _bomb time,_ that surreal period when moments stretched and contracted in ways that seemed to defy science. During the war, the Capitol had assigned every citizen a shelter near their residence. The Snows_ magnificent building had a basement level so sturdy and spacious it accommodated not only its residents but half the block. Unfortunately, the Capitol_s surveillance system depended heavily on electricity. With the power sketchy and the grid flickering on and off like a firefly due to rebel interference in District 5, the sirens were unreliable, and they were often caught unawares with no time to retreat to the basement. At these times, he, Tigris, and the Grandma_am _ unless she was singing the anthem _ would hide under the dining table, an impressive thing carved from a single block of marble, which sat in an interior room. Even with the absence of windows and the solid rock over his head, Coriolanus_s muscles always went rigid with terror when he heard the whistling of the bombs, and it would be hours before he felt he could walk right. The streets weren_t safe either, nor the Academy. You could be bombed anywhere, but usually he had a better place to shelter than this. Now, naked to the attack, lying in the open air, he waited for the interminable _bomb time_ to end and wondered how much damage his internal organs were incurring. No hovercraft. The realization bubbled up in his brain. There had been no hovercraft. These bombs had been planted, then? He could smell smoke, so some of them were probably incendiary. He pressed his daily handkerchief over his mouth and nose. Squinting through the black haze thickened with dirt from the arena, he could see Lucy Gray about fifteen feet away, curled up in a ball, forehead on the ground and fingertips lodged in her ears, which was the best she could do with the cuffs on. She coughed helplessly. _Cover your face! Use the napkin!_ he called out. She didn_t look over but must have heard, because she rolled to her side and retrieved it from her pocket. The biscuits and chicken fell to the ground as she pressed the cloth to her face. He had a vague thought that this would not be conducive to her singing. A lull fooled him into thinking the episode had ended, but just as he lifted his head, a final explosion in the stands above him demolished what had once been a snack stand _ that pink spun sugar, those caramel-coated apples _ and burning debris rained down on him. Something struck his head hard, and the heavy weight of a beam landed diagonally across his back, pinning him to the ground. Stunned, Coriolanus lay almost senseless for a bit. The acrid smell of burning stung his nose, and he realized the beam was on fire. He tried to pull himself together and wriggle free, but the world swam and the peach pie turned sour in his stomach. _Help!_ he cried. Similar pleas came from around him, but he couldn_t see the injured through the cloud. _Help!_ The fire singed his hair, and with renewed effort he tried to struggle from under the beam, to no avail. A searing pain began to eat into his neck and shoulder as the horrifying realization that he was burning to death overtook him. He screamed, again and again, but seemed alone in a bubble of dark smoke and flaming rubble. Then he could make out a figure rising from the inferno. Lucy Gray said his name, then snapped her head around, something out of his view catching her attention. Her feet took a few steps away from him, then she hesitated, apparently torn. _Lucy Gray!_ he pleaded in a ragged voice. _Please!_ She gave a last look at whatever had tempted her and ran to his side. The beam shifted off his back but then slammed down again. It rose a second time, leaving him just enough room to drag himself from beneath it. She helped him to his feet, and with his arm slung across her shoulders, they limped away from the flames until they collapsed somewhere in the middle of the arena. At first, coughing and gagging required all his attention, but he slowly registered the pain in his head, the burns along his neck, back, and shoulders. Somehow his fingers were knotted in Lucy Gray_s scorched skirt, as if it were his lifeline. Her cuffed hands, visibly burned, curled nearby. The smoke settled enough that he could see the pattern the bombs had been planted in at intervals around the arena, with the mother lode of explosives placed at the entrance. So great was the damage there that he caught a glimpse of the street beyond and two forms fleeing the arena. Was that what had given Lucy Gray pause before she came to his aid? The possibility of escape? Other tributes had surely availed themselves of the opportunity. Yes, he heard the sirens now, the shouts from the street. Medics picked their way over the rubble and ran for the wounded. _It_s okay,_ he told Lucy Gray. _Help is here._ Hands reached for him, settled him onto a stretcher. He released her ruffles, thinking there would be another stretcher for her, but as they carried him off, he could see a Peacekeeper force her to her stomach and jam the barrel of a gun into her neck, yelling a string of profanities at her. _Lucy Gray!_ Coriolanus cried out. No one paid any attention to him. The blow to his head made concentration hard, but he was aware of the ambulance ride, banging through the doors to the same waiting area where he_d drunk his fizzy lemon soda just a day before, and then being moved onto a table under a bright light while a team of doctors tried to assess the damage. He wanted to sleep, but they kept pushing their faces into his and demanding answers, their stale lunch breath making him queasy again. Into machines, out of machines, needles jabbing him, and finally, blissfully, being allowed to drift off. Periodically throughout the night, someone would wake him and shine lights in his eyes. As long as he could answer a few basic questions, they let him fall back into oblivion. When he finally woke, really woke, on Sunday, the light through the window said afternoon, and the Grandma_am and Tigris were leaning over him with worried looks. He felt a warm reassurance. I_m not alone, he thought. I_m not in the arena. I_m safe. _Hi, Coryo,_ said Tigris. _It_s us._ _Hello._ He attempted a smile. _You missed bomb time._ _Turns out it_s worse than being there,_ said Tigris, _knowing you were going through it all alone._ _I wasn_t alone,_ he said. The morphling and the concussion made it hard to recall things clearly. _Lucy Gray was there. She saved my life, I think._ He couldn_t quite get his mind around the idea. Sweet, but unsettling, too. Tigris gave his hand a squeeze. _I_m not surprised. She_s obviously a good person. Right from the beginning, she tried to protect you from the other tributes._ The Grandma_am needed more convincing. After he_d patched together a time line of the bombing for her, she came to this conclusion: _Well, like as not she decided the Peacekeepers would gun her down if she ran, but still, it shows some character. Perhaps, as she claims, she is not really district._ High praise indeed, or as high as the Grandma_am was likely to muster. As Tigris filled him in on the details he had missed, he realized how on edge this event had made the Capitol. What had happened _ at least what the Capitol News claimed had happened _ frightened citizens with both its immediate fallout and its ramifications for the future. They didn_t know who had set the bombs _ rebels, yes, but from where? They could_ve been from any of the twelve districts, or a ragtag bunch that had escaped from District 13, or even, fate forbid, some long-dormant cell in the Capitol itself. The time line for the crime was baffling. Since the arena stood empty, locked, and ignored between Hunger Games, the bombs could_ve been placed six days or six months before. Security cameras covered the entrances around the oval, but the crumbling exterior made scaling the structure possible. They didn_t even know if the bombs had been triggered remotely or by a false step, but the unexpected losses shook the Capitol to its core. That the two tributes from District 6 had been killed by shrapnel caused little concern, but the same explosion had taken the lives of the Ring twins. Three mentors had been hospitalized _ Coriolanus, and Androcles Anderson and Gaius Breen, who_d been assigned the District 9 tributes. His two classmates were in critical condition, Gaius having lost both his legs, and almost everyone else, whether mentor, tribute, or Peacekeeper, had needed medical care of some sort. Coriolanus felt bewildered. He_d genuinely liked Pollo and Didi, how they_d doted on each other, how upbeat they_d been. Somewhere nearby, Androcles, who aspired to be a reporter at Capitol News like his mother, and Gaius, a Citadel brat with an endless supply of terrible jokes, were barely hanging on to life. _What about Lysistrata? Is she all right?_ She_d been behind him. The Grandma_am looked uncomfortable. _Oh, her. She_s fine. She_s going around saying that big, ugly boy from District Twelve protected her by throwing his body over her, but who knows? The Vickers family loves the spotlight._ _Do they?_ asked Coriolanus skeptically. He could not recall, not once, ever seeing a Vickers in the spotlight, except for a brief annual news conference in which they gave President Ravinstill a clean bill of health. Lysistrata was a self-contained, efficient person who never drew attention to herself. To even suggest she could be put in the same class as Arachne rubbed him the wrong way. _She only made one quick statement to a reporter right after the bombing. I expect it was the truth, Grandma_am,_ said Tigris. _Perhaps the people of District Twelve are not quite so bad as you paint them. Both Jessup and Lucy Gray have behaved bravely._ _Have you seen Lucy Gray? On the television, I mean. Does she look all right?_ he asked. _I don_t know, Coryo. They haven_t shown any footage of the zoo. But she_s not on the list of the dead tributes,_ said Tigris. _Are there more? Than the ones from District Six?_ Coriolanus didn_t want to sound morbid, but they were Lucy Gray_s competition. _Yes, some others died after the bombing,_ Tigris told him. Both pairs from Districts 1 and 2 had made for the hole blown open near the entrance. The District 1 kids had been shot dead, the girl from 2 had made it to the river and leaped over the wall only to die in the fall, and Marcus had disappeared completely, leaving a desperate, dangerous, powerful boy loose somewhere in the city. A displaced manhole cover suggested that he might have climbed underground to the Transfer, the network of tracks and roadways built under the Capitol, but no one knew for sure. _I suppose they see the arena as a symbol,_ said the Grandma_am. _Just as they did during the war. The worst part is that it took almost twenty seconds before they cut the transmission to the districts, so no doubt it was a cause for celebration. Beasts that they are._ _But they say hardly anyone in the districts saw it, Grandma_am,_ Tigris countered. _The people there don_t like to watch the Hunger Games coverage._ _It will only take a handful to get the word out,_ said the Grandma_am. _It_s just the kind of story that catches fire._ The doctor who_d talked to Coriolanus after the snake attack entered, introducing himself as Dr. Wane. He sent Tigris and the Grandma_am home and gave Coriolanus a quick checkup, explaining the nature of the concussion (fairly mild) and the burns, which were responding well to treatment. It would take some time to heal completely, but if he behaved himself and continued to improve, he_d be released in a couple of days. _Do you know how my tribute is doing? Her hands were burned rather badly,_ said Coriolanus. Each time he thought of her he felt a stab of uneasiness, but then the morphling would wrap around it like cotton wool. _I wouldn_t know,_ said the doctor. _But they_ve got a top-notch veterinarian over there. I expect she_ll be fine by the time they_ve got the Games up and running. But that_s not your concern, young man. Your concern is to get well, and for that, you need some sleep._ Coriolanus was happy to oblige. He slipped back into sleep and didn_t fully come to until Monday morning. With his aching head and battered body, he felt in no rush to leave the hospital. The air-conditioning eased the burns on his skin, and generous portions of bland food appeared regularly. He caught up on the news on the large-screen television while he sipped as much fizzy lemon drink as he could hold. A double funeral was to be held for the Ring twins the following day. The manhunt for Marcus continued. Both the Capitol and the districts were under heightened security. Three mentors dead, three hospitalized _ really, four if you counted Clemensia. Six tributes dead, one escaped, several wounded. If Dr. Gaul wanted a makeover for the Hunger Games, she_d gotten it. In the afternoon, the parade of visitors began with Festus, sporting a sling on his arm and a few stitches where a shard of metal had sliced his cheek. He said that the Academy had canceled classes, but the students were supposed to show up the next morning for the Rings_ funeral. He choked up at the mention of the twins, and Coriolanus wondered if he would have a more emotional response himself once they removed the morphling drip, which muted both pain and joy. Satyria popped in with some bakery cookies, relayed the well-wishes of the faculty, and told him that while the incident was unfortunate, it could only improve his chances for a prize. After a bit, an uninjured Sejanus appeared with Coriolanus_s book bag from the van and a stack of his mother_s delicious meat loaf sandwiches. He had little to say on the subject of his runaway tribute. Finally, Tigris came without the Grandma_am, who_d remained home to rest but had sent a clean uniform for him to wear on discharge. If there were cameras, she wanted him to look his best. They split the sandwiches and then Tigris stroked his aching head until he dozed off, just as she had when headaches plagued him as a child. When someone awakened him in the wee hours of Tuesday, he supposed a nurse had come to check his vital signs, then started at the sight of Clemensia_s ravaged face above his. The snake venom, or the antidote perhaps, had left her golden brown skin peeling and the whites of her eyes the color of egg yolks. But much worse was the twitching that affected her entire body, causing her face to grimace, her tongue to jut periodically from her mouth, and her hands to jerk away even as they reached for his. _Shh!_ she hissed. _I shouldn_t be here. Don_t tell them I came. But what are they saying? Why has no one come to see me? Do my parents know what happened? Do they think I_m dead?_ Groggy from sleep and medication, Coriolanus couldn_t quite wrap his mind around what she was saying. _Your parents? But they_ve been here. I saw them._ _No. No one has seen me!_ she cried. _I have to get out of here, Coryo. I_m afraid she_s going to kill me. It_s not safe. We_re not safe!_ _What? Who_s going to kill you? You_re not talking sense,_ he said. _Dr. Gaul, of course!_ She clutched his arm, awakening his burns. _You know, you were there!_ Coriolanus tried to free her fingers. _You need to go back to your room. You_re sick, Clemmie. It_s the snakebites. They_re making you imagine things._ _Did I imagine this?_ She ripped back the opening of her hospital gown to reveal a patch of skin that extended over her chest and down one shoulder. Mottled with bright blue, pink, and yellow scales, it had the reptilian quality of the snakes in the tank. When he gasped, she shrieked, _And it_s spreading! It_s spreading!_ Two of the hospital staff had her then, lifting her up and carrying her from the room. He lay awake the rest of the night, thinking of the snakes, and her skin, and the glass cases of Avoxes with their gruesome animal modifications in Dr. Gaul_s lab. Is that where Clemensia was headed? If not, why hadn_t her parents seen her? Why did no one except him seem to know what had happened? If Clemensia died, would he disappear as well, the only witness? Had he put Tigris at risk by telling her the story? The pleasant cocoon of the hospital now seemed an insidious trap shrinking to suffocate him. No one checked on him as the hours crept by, which added to his distress. Finally, just as dawn was breaking, Dr. Wane appeared by his bedside. _I hear Clemensia visited you last night,_ he said cheerfully. _Did she give you a scare?_ _A bit._ Coriolanus tried to appear nonchalant. _She_ll be all right. The venom causes a lot of unusual side effects as it works itself out of the system. That_s why we haven_t let her parents see her. They think she_s quarantined with a highly contagious flu. She_ll be presentable in a day or two,_ the doctor told him. _You can go visit her if you_re up to it. Might cheer her up._ _All right,_ said Coriolanus, slightly reassured. But he could not unsee what he_d seen, not at the hospital, and not at the lab. The removal of the morphling drip brought all the fuzzy edges into sharp relief. His suspicions tainted every comfort, from the large breakfast of hotcakes and bacon, to the basket of fresh fruit and sweets from the Academy, to the news that his performance of the anthem would be replayed for the Rings_ funeral, as both a mark of its quality and a nod to his own sacrifices. The pre-funeral coverage started at seven, and by nine the student body again filled the stairs in front of the Academy. Just over a week ago, he_d felt he was falling into insignificance with his District 12 girl assignment, and now he was being honored for his courage in front of the entire nation. He_d expected them to show a tape of him singing, but instead his holographic self appeared behind the podium, and while it was a little watery at first, it settled into a clean, crisp image. People were always saying he resembled his handsome father more every day, but for the first time he could really see it. Not just the eyes but the jawline, the hair, the proud carriage. And Lucy Gray was right; his voice did have real authority. Overall, the performance was quite impressive. The Capitol doubled the efforts made for Arachne_s funeral, which Coriolanus felt appropriate for the twins. More speeches, more Peacekeepers, more banners. He didn_t mind seeing the twins praised, even extravagantly, and wished they somehow could_ve known his hologram had opened the event. The dead tribute count had escalated, with the two tributes from District 9 having died from their injuries. Apparently, the veterinarian had done her best, but her repeated requests to admit them to the hospital had been refused. Their scarred bodies, along with what remained of the District 6 tributes, were draped over the backs of horses and paraded down Scholars Road. The two tributes from District 1 and the girl from District 2, as befitting their cowardly escape attempt, were dragged behind them. Then came a pair of those caged trucks Coriolanus had ridden in on his way to the zoo, one for the boys and one for the girls. He strained to see Lucy Gray but couldn_t locate her, which added to his worries. Was she lying inert on the floor, overcome by injuries and hunger? As the twins_ matching silver coffins came into focus, all he could think of was this silly game they_d made up on the playground during the war called Ring-around-the-Rings. The rest of the kids would chase down Didi and Pollo and then grab hands, forming a circle around them and trapping them. It always ended with the whole lot of them, Rings included, laughing their heads off in a heap on the ground. Oh, to be seven again, in a happy pile with his friends, with nutritional crackers waiting at his desk. After lunch, Dr. Wane said he could be released if he promised to stay calm and get bed rest, and as the charms of the hospital had diminished, he changed into his clean uniform at once. Tigris collected him and accompanied him home on the trolley, but then had to return to work. Both he and the Grandma_am spent the afternoon napping, and he awoke to a nice casserole Sejanus_s ma had sent over. At Tigris_s urging he went to bed with the sun, but sleep eluded him. Every time he closed his eyes, he_d see the flames all around, feel the trembling of the earth, smell the choking black smoke. Lucy Gray had been nibbling around the edges of his thoughts, but now he could think of no one else. How was she? Healing and fed, or suffering and starving in that awful monkey house? While he had been lying in the air-conditioned hospital with his morphling drip, had the veterinarian attended to her hands? Had the smoke damaged that remarkable voice? In helping him, had she ruined her chances for sponsors in the arena? He felt some embarrassment when he thought of his terror under the beam, but even more so when he remembered what had followed. On Capitol TV, the coverage they_d shown of the bombing had been obscured by the smoke. But did it exist? Footage of her rescuing him and, much worse, of him clinging to her ruffled skirt as they waited for help to come? His hand fumbled in the drawer of his nightstand and found his mother_s compact. As he inhaled the rose-scented powder, his thoughts quieted a bit, but restlessness drove him from his bed. For the next few hours, he wandered the apartment, looking out at the night sky, down at the Corso, into the neighbors_ windows across the way. At some point he found himself up on the roof amid the Grandma_am_s roses and didn_t remember having climbed the stairs to the garden. The fresh night air perfumed by the flowers helped, but soon brought on a bout of shivering that made everything hurt again. Tigris found him sitting in the kitchen a few hours before dawn. She made tea and they ate the remainder of the casserole straight from the pan. The savory layers of meat, potato, and cheese consoled him, as did Tigris_s gentle reminder that the situation with Lucy Gray was not of his making. They were both, after all, still children whose lives were dictated by powers above them. Somewhat comforted, he managed to doze for a few hours before a phone call from Satyria woke him. She encouraged him to attend school that morning if he could manage. Another mentor-tribute meeting had been scheduled with the idea of working toward the interviews, which would now be on a completely voluntary basis. Later at the Academy, as he looked down from the balcony into Heavensbee Hall, the empty chairs rattled him. He knew, in his head, that eight tributes had died, that one was missing, but he_d not envisioned how that would ripple through the pattern of the twenty-four little tables, leaving a jagged, disconcerting mess. No tributes at all from Districts 1, 2, 6, or 9, and only one from 10. Most of the kids who remained were injured, and all looked unwell. As the mentors joined their assignees, the losses became even more pronounced. Six mentors were either dead or hospitalized, and those partnered with the escapees of Districts 1 and 2 had no tributes at their tables and therefore no reason to show up. Livia Cardew had been vocal about this turn of events, demanding new tributes be brought from the districts, or at least that she be given Reaper, the boy assigned to Clemensia, who everyone thought had been hospitalized with the flu. Her wishes had not been accommodated, and Reaper sat alone at his table, a bandage stained with rusty dried blood wrapped around his head. As Coriolanus took the seat opposite her, Lucy Gray didn_t even attempt a smile. A ragged cough racked her chest, and soot from the fire still clung to her clothing. The veterinarian had exceeded Coriolanus_s expectations, though, as the skin on her hands was healing nicely. _Hi,_ he said, scooting a nut butter sandwich and two of Satyria_s cookies across the table. _Hey,_ she said hoarsely. Any attempt at flirtation or even camaraderie had been abandoned. She patted the sandwich but seemed too tired to eat it. _Thanks._ _No, thank you for saving my life._ He said it lightly, but as he gazed into her eyes, the levity leached away. _Is that what you_re telling people?_ she asked. _That I saved your life?_ He had said as much to Tigris and the Grandma_am and then, perhaps unsure what to do with the information, let it drift from his thoughts like a dream. Now, with the empty seats of the fallen around them, the memory of how she_d rescued him in the arena demanded his attention, and he could not ignore its significance. If Lucy Gray had not helped him, he would be utterly, irrevocably dead. Another shiny coffin dripping flowers. Another empty chair. When he spoke again, the words caught in his throat before he forced them out. _I told my family. Really. Thank you, Lucy Gray._ _Well, I had some time on my hands,_ she said, tracing the frosted flower on a cookie with a shaky forefinger. _Pretty cookies._ Then came confusion. If she had saved his life, he owed her, what? A sandwich and two cookies? That was how he was repaying her. For his life. Which apparently he held quite cheaply. The truth was, he owed her everything. He felt the blush burn over his cheeks. _You could have run. And if you had, I would have gone up in flames before they reached me._ _Run, huh? Seemed like a lot of effort to get shot,_ she said. Coriolanus shook his head. _You can joke, but it won_t change what you did for me. I hope I can repay you in some way._ _I hope so, too,_ she said. In those few words he sensed a shift in their dynamic. As her mentor, he_d been the gracious giver of gifts, always to be met with gratitude. Now she_d upended things by giving him a gift beyond compare. On the surface, everything looked the same. Chained girl, boy offering food, Peacekeepers guarding that status quo. But deep down, things could never be the same between them. He would always be in her debt. She had the right to demand things. _I don_t know how,_ he admitted. Lucy Gray glanced around the room, taking in her wounded competitors. Then she looked him in the eye, and impatience tinged her voice. _You could start by thinking I can actually win._ Lucy Gray_s words stung but, on reflection, were well deserved. Coriolanus had never really considered her a victor in the Games. It had never been part of his strategy to make her one. He had only wished that her charm and appeal would rub off on him and make him a success. Even his encouragement to sing for sponsors was an attempt to prolong the attention she brought him. Only a moment ago, her healed hands were good news because she could use them to play the guitar on interview night, not to defend herself from an attack in the arena. The fact that she mattered to him, as he_d claimed in the zoo, only made things worse. He should_ve been trying to preserve her life, to help her become the victor, no matter the odds. _I meant what I said about you being the cake with the cream,_ Lucy Gray said. _You_re the only one who even bothered to show up. You and your friend Sejanus. You two acted like we were human beings. But the only way you can really repay me now is if you help me survive this thing._ _I agree._ Stepping up made him feel a bit better. _From now on, we_re in it to win._ Lucy Gray reached out. _Shake on that?_ Coriolanus gave her hand a careful shake. _You have my word._ The challenge energized him. _Step one: I think of a strategy._ _We think of a strategy,_ she corrected. But she smiled and bit into the sandwich. _We think of a strategy._ He did the math again. _You_ve only got fourteen competitors left, unless they find Marcus._ _If you can keep me alive a few more days, I might just win by default,_ she said. Coriolanus looked around the hall at her broken, sickly competitors, draped in chains, which encouraged him until he admitted that Lucy Gray_s condition wasn_t much better. Still, with Districts 1 and 2 out of play, Jessup watching over her, and the new sponsorship program, her odds were vastly improved from what they_d been when she_d arrived in the Capitol. Perhaps, if he could keep her fed, she could run and hide somewhere in the arena while the others fought it out or starved to death. _I have to ask one thing,_ he said. _If it came to it, would you kill someone?_ Lucy Gray chewed, weighing the question. _Maybe in self-defense._ _It_s the Hunger Games. It_s all self-defense,_ he said. _But maybe it_s best if you run away from the other tributes, and we get you sponsors for food. Wait it out a bit._ _Yeah, that_s a better strategy for me,_ she agreed. _Enduring horrible things is one of my talents._ A dry bit of bread set her to coughing. Coriolanus passed her a water bottle from his book bag. _They_re still doing the interviews, but on a voluntary basis. Are you up for it?_ _Are you kidding? I_ve got a song that was made for this whiskey voice,_ she said. _You find me a guitar?_ _No. But I will today,_ he promised. _Someone must have one I can borrow. If we can get you some sponsors, it will go a long way toward you getting that victory._ She began to talk with a bit of animation about what she might sing. They_d only been allotted ten minutes, though, and the brief meeting ended with Professor Sickle ordering the mentors back to the high biology lab. Following what had to be heightened security measures, Peacekeepers escorted them, and Dean Highbottom checked off their names as they filed to their places. The able-bodied mentors of the dead and missing tributes, including Livia and Sejanus, already sat at the lab tables, watching Dr. Gaul drop carrots into the rabbit_s cage. Coriolanus_s skin broke into a sweat at the sight of her, so close, and so crazy. _Hippity, hoppity, carrot or stick? Everyone_s dying and you_re . . ._ She turned to them expectantly, and everyone but Sejanus averted their gaze. _Feeling sick,_ said Sejanus. Dr. Gaul laughed. _It_s the compassionate one. Where_s your tribute, boy? Any clue?_ Capitol News had continued coverage of the manhunt for Marcus, but it was less frequent now. The official word was that he was trapped down in a remote level of the Transfer, where he_d be apprehended soon. The city had relaxed, the general consensus being that he_d either died or would be captured any moment. At any rate, he seemed more bent on escaping than rising out of the Transfer to murder innocents in the Capitol. _Possibly on his way to freedom,_ said Sejanus in a strained voice. _Possibly captured and under wraps. Possibly injured and hiding. Possibly dead. I_ve no idea. Do you?_ Coriolanus couldn_t help admiring his pluck. Of course, Sejanus didn_t know how dangerous Dr. Gaul could be. He might end up in a cage with a pair of parakeet wings and an elephant_s trunk if he wasn_t careful. _No, don_t answer,_ Sejanus spat out. _He_s either dead or about to be, when you catch him and drag him through the streets in chains._ _That_s our right,_ Dr. Gaul countered. _No, it isn_t! I don_t care what you say. You_ve no right to starve people, to punish them for no reason. No right to take away their life and freedom. Those are things everyone is born with, and they_re not yours for the taking. Winning a war doesn_t give you that right. Having more weapons doesn_t give you that right. Being from the Capitol doesn_t give you that right. Nothing does. Oh, I don_t even know why I came here today._ With that, Sejanus sprang up and bolted for the door. When he tried the handle, it wouldn_t turn. He jiggled it and then confronted Dr. Gaul. _Locking us in now? It_s like our own little monkey house._ _You have not been dismissed,_ said Dr. Gaul. _Sit down, boy._ _No._ Sejanus said it quietly, but it still caused several people to jump. After a pause, Dean Highbottom intervened. _It_s locked from the outside. The Peacekeepers have orders to leave us undisturbed until notified. Sit down, please._ _Or should we have them chaperone you somewhere else?_ suggested Dr. Gaul. _I think your father_s offices are nearby._ Clearly, despite her insistence on calling him boy, she_d known exactly who Sejanus was all along. Sejanus burned with anger and humiliation, unwilling or unable to move. He just stood there, staring down Dr. Gaul, until the tension became unbearable. _There_s an empty seat by me._ The words came unbidden from Coriolanus_s mouth. The offer distracted Sejanus, and then he seemed to deflate. He took a deep breath, walked back down the aisle, and slid onto the stool. One hand clenched the strap on his book bag, while the other formed a fist on the table. Coriolanus wished he_d kept quiet. He noticed Dean Highbottom giving him a quizzical look and busied himself by opening his notebook and uncapping his pen. _Your emotions are running high,_ Dr. Gaul told the class. _I understand. I do. But you must learn to harness and contain them. Wars are won with heads, not hearts._ _I thought the war was over,_ said Livia. She seemed angry, too, but not in the same way as Sejanus. Coriolanus guessed she was just peeved about losing her strapping tribute. _Did you? Even after your experience in the arena?_ asked Dr. Gaul. _I did,_ interjected Lysistrata. _And if the war is over, then technically the killing should be over, shouldn_t it?_ _I_m beginning to think it will never be over,_ conceded Festus. _The districts will always hate us, and we_ll always hate them._ _I think you might be onto something there,_ said Dr. Gaul. _Let_s consider for a moment that the war is a constant. The conflict may ebb and flow, but it will never really cease. Then what should be our goal?_ _You_re saying it can_t be won?_ asked Lysistrata. _Let_s say it can_t,_ said Dr. Gaul. _What_s our strategy then?_ Coriolanus pressed his lips together to keep from blurting out the answer. So obvious. Too obvious. But he knew Tigris was right about avoiding Dr. Gaul, even if it might bring praise. As the class chewed over the question, she paced up and down the aisle, finally coming to a stop at his table. _Mr. Snow? Any thoughts on what we should do with our endless war?_ He comforted himself with the thought that she was old and no one lived forever. _Mr. Snow?_ she persisted. He felt like he was the rabbit being prodded by her metal rod. _Want to take a wild guess?_ _We control it,_ he said quietly. _If the war_s impossible to end, then we have to control it indefinitely. Just as we do now. With the Peacekeepers occupying the districts, with strict laws, and with reminders of who_s in charge, like the Hunger Games. In any scenario, it_s preferable to have the upper hand, to be the victor rather than the defeated._ _Though, in our case, decidedly less moral,_ Sejanus muttered. _It_s not immoral to defend ourselves,_ Livia shot back. _And who wouldn_t rather be the victor than the defeated?_ _I don_t know that I have much interest in being either,_ said Lysistrata. _But that wasn_t an option,_ Coriolanus reminded her, _given the question. Not if you think about it._ _Not if you think about it, eh, Casca?_ said Dr. Gaul as she headed back up the aisle. _A little thought can save a lot of lives._ Dean Highbottom doodled on the list. Maybe Highbottom_s just as much a rabbit as I am, Coriolanus thought, and wondered if he was wasting his time worrying about him. _But take heart,_ Dr. Gaul continued cheerfully. _Like most of life_s circumstances, war has its ups and downs. And that_s your next assignment. Write me an essay on everything attractive about war. Everything you loved about it._ Many of his classmates looked up in surprise, but not Coriolanus. The woman had set snakes on Clemensia for fun. Clearly, she relished witnessing pain and probably assumed they all did. Lysistrata frowned. _Loved about it?_ _That shouldn_t take long,_ said Festus. _Is it a group project?_ asked Livia. _No, individual. The problem with group assignments is that one person usually does all the work,_ said Dr. Gaul, giving Coriolanus a wink that made his skin crawl. _But feel free to pick your families_ brains. You might be surprised. Be as honest as you dare. Bring them to Sunday_s mentor meeting._ She pulled some more carrots out of her pocket, turned back to the rabbit, and seemed to forget about them. When they were released, Sejanus followed Coriolanus down the hall. _You have to stop rescuing me._ Coriolanus shook his head. _I can_t seem to control it. It_s like a tic._ _I don_t know what I_d do if you weren_t here._ Sejanus_s voice dropped. _That woman is evil. She should be stopped._ Coriolanus felt any attempt to dethrone Dr. Gaul would be futile, but he adopted a sympathetic manner. _You tried._ _I failed. I wish my family could just go home. Back to District Two, where we belong. Not that they_d want us,_ said Sejanus. _Being Capitol is going to kill me._ _It_s a bad time, Sejanus. With the Games and the bombing. No one is at their best. Don_t do anything rash like running off._ As Coriolanus clapped him on the shoulder, he thought, I might need a favor. _Running off where? How? With what?_ said Sejanus. _But I really do appreciate your support. I wish I could think of some way to thank you._ There was actually something Coriolanus needed. _You don_t happen to have a guitar I could borrow, do you?_ The Plinths did not, so he devoted the rest of Wednesday afternoon to fulfilling his promise to Lucy Gray. He asked around in school, but the closest thing he got was a maybe from Vipsania Sickle, mentor of the District 7 boy, Treech, who_d juggled the walnuts in the zoo. _Oh, I think we used to have one during the war,_ she told him. _Let me check and get back to you. I_d love to hear your girl sing again!_ He didn_t know whether or not to believe her; the Sickles did not impress him as a musical crowd. Vipsania had inherited her aunt Agrippina_s love of competition, and for all he knew, she was trying to spoil Lucy Gray_s performance. But two could play at that game, so he told her she was a lifesaver and then continued his search. After coming up empty-handed at the Academy, he thought of Pluribus Bell. Possibly, he still had instruments lying around from his nightclub days. The minute the door in the back alley opened, Boa Bell wove between Coriolanus_s legs, purring like an engine. At seventeen, she was getting long in the tooth, and he used care as he lifted her into his arms. _Ah, she_s always happy to see an old friend,_ Pluribus said, and invited Coriolanus in. The defeat of the districts had made little difference to Pluribus_s trade, as he still secured a living dealing in black market goods, even if they now had a more luxurious bent. Decent liquor, makeup, and tobacco were still hard to get hold of. District 1 had slowly turned its attention to supplying the Capitol with pleasures, but not everyone had access to them, and they came at a high price. The Snows were no longer regular customers, but Tigris made occasional visits to sell him the ration coupons that would allow them to buy meat or coffee, which they usually couldn_t afford. People were happy to pay for the privilege of buying an extra leg of lamb. Known for his discretion, Pluribus remained one of the few people Coriolanus didn_t need to pretend to be wealthy around. He knew the Snows_ situation but never blabbed about it or made the family feel inferior. Today he poured Coriolanus a glass of cold tea, filled a plate with cakes, and offered him a chair. They chatted about the bombing and how it brought up bad memories of the war, but soon their talk turned to Lucy Gray, who_d made a very favorable impression on Pluribus. _If I had a few like her, I might think of opening the club back up,_ Pluribus mused. _Oh, I_d still sell my pretties, but I could stage shows on the weekends. The truth is, we were all so busy killing each other that we forgot how to have fun. She knows, though. Your girl._ Coriolanus told him the plan for the interview and asked if there might be a guitar they could borrow. _We_d take good care of it, I promise. I_d keep it at home except when she_s playing, and return it right after the show._ Pluribus needed no coaxing. _You know, I packed everything away after the bombs got Cyrus. Silly, really. As if I could forget the love of my life so easily._ He got to his feet and moved a stack of perfume crates, revealing an old closet door. Inside, lovingly arranged on shelves, was a variety of musical instruments. Pluribus pulled out a surprisingly dust-free leather case and lifted the lid. A pleasant smell of old wood and polish hit Coriolanus_s nose as he looked at the gleaming, golden thing inside. The body shaped like a woman_s, the six strings running up the long neck to the tuning pegs. He strummed it lightly with his finger. Even though it was badly out of tune, the richness of the sound went right through him. Coriolanus shook his head. _This one_s too nice. I wouldn_t want to risk damaging it._ _I trust you. And I trust your girl. Kind of like to hear what she does with it._ Pluribus closed the case and held it out. _You take it and tell her I_ve got my fingers crossed for her. It_s good to have a friend in the audience._ Coriolanus took the guitar gratefully. _Thank you, Pluribus. I hope you do reopen the club. I_ll be a steady customer._ _Just like your father,_ said Pluribus with a chuckle. _When he was about your age, he used to close down this place every night with that rascal Casca Highbottom._ Every part of that sounded nonsensical. His stern father, so humorless and strict, living it up at a nightclub? And with, of all people, Dean Highbottom? He_d never heard them mentioned together, although they were about the same age. _You_re kidding, right?_ _Oh, no. They were a pair of wild things,_ said Pluribus. But before he could elaborate, he was interrupted by a customer. With great care, Coriolanus carried his prize home and laid it on his dresser. Tigris and the Grandma_am oohed and aahed over it, but he couldn_t wait to see Lucy Gray_s reaction. Whatever instrument she_d had back in District 12 could never compare with Pluribus_s. His head ached enough to go to bed at sundown, but it took a while to fall asleep, so preoccupied was he with the relationship between his father and _that rascal Casca Highbottom._ If they had been friends, as Pluribus had suggested, none of the goodwill remained. He couldn_t help thinking that, however close they_d been during their clubbing days, things hadn_t ended well. As soon as he could, he_d press Pluribus for more details. The next few days gave him no such opportunity, though, as they were devoted to readying Lucy Gray for the interview, which had been set for Saturday night. Each mentor-tribute pair had been assigned a classroom to work in. Two Peacekeepers were on guard, but Lucy Gray had been freed of both chains and cuffs. Tigris had provided an old dress of hers, saying that if Lucy Gray was willing to trust her, she could wash and iron her rainbow ruffles for the broadcast. Lucy Gray hesitated, but when he gave her Tigris_s other gift, a small cake of soap shaped like a flower and smelling of lavender, she had him turn his back while she changed. The loving way she handled the guitar, as if it were a sentient being, gave him a hint of a past so unlike his own he had trouble imagining it. She took her time tuning the instrument and then played song after song, seemingly as starved for the music as for the meals he brought. He pumped her with all the food they could spare, along with bottles of tea sweetened with corn syrup to soothe her throat. Her vocal cords were much improved by the time the big night arrived. The Hunger Games: A Night of Interviews kicked off in front of a live audience in the Academy auditorium while broadcasting throughout Panem. Hosted by the clownish Capitol TV weatherman, Lucretius _Lucky_ Flickerman, it seemed both glaringly inappropriate and surprisingly welcome on the heels of all the killing. Lucky was dressed in a high-collared blue suit with rhinestone accents, his gelled hair was dusted in coppery powder, and his mood could only be described as merry. The back curtain of the stage, resurrected from some prewar production, depicted a starry sky and twinkled accordingly. After a jaunty rendition of the anthem played, Lucky welcomed the audience to a brand-new Hunger Games for a brand-new decade, one in which every Capitol citizen could participate by sponsoring the tribute of their choice. In the chaos of the past few days, the best Dr. Gaul_s team had been able to do was offer a half dozen basic food items the sponsors could send to the tributes. _You_re wondering, what_s in it for you?_ chirped Lucky. Then he explained the gambling, a simple system with win, place, and show options familiar to those who_d played the ponies before the war. Anyone who wanted to either send a monetary gift to feed a tribute, or place a bet on one, needed only to visit their local post office, where the staff would be happy to help. Starting tomorrow, they would be open from eight in the morning until eight at night, giving people time to place their bets before the Hunger Games kicked off on Monday. After he_d introduced the new wrinkle in the Games, Lucky had little to do but read the cue cards with the material that wrapped around the interviews, but he managed to work in a few magic tricks, like pouring different-colored wine from the same bottle to toast the Capitol and having a pigeon fly out of his bell-sleeved jacket. Of the mentor-tribute pairs who were capable of participating, only half had something to present. Coriolanus asked to go last, knowing nothing could compete with Lucy Gray but wanting to be the closer for effect. The other mentors offered up background information about their tributes while trying to throw in something memorable and urging the public to sponsor them. To demonstrate his strength, Lysistrata sat primly in her chair while Jessup lifted her over his head easily. Io Jasper_s District 3 boy, Circ, said he could start a fire with his glasses, and she, with her scientific know-how, suggested various angles and times of day that would facilitate the task. Snooty Juno Phipps admitted she_d been disappointed to get tiny Bobbin. Didn_t a Phipps, a member of a founding family of the Capitol, deserve better than District 8? But he_d won her over when he told her five different ways he could kill someone with a sewing needle. Coral, Festus_s District 4 girl, made a case for her ability to handle a trident, a weapon that was typically available in the arena. She demonstrated with an old broomstick, wielding it in a sinuous fashion that left little doubt of her expertise. The dairy heiress Domitia Whimsiwick_s familiarity with cows turned out to be an asset. Bubbly by nature, she got her muscular District 10 tribute, Tanner, so engaged in talking about slaughterhouse techniques that Lucky had to cut them off when they ran over. Arachne had been wrong about the appeal of that topic, because Tanner garnered the most applause of the evening so far. Coriolanus listened with one ear as he prepared to take the stage with Lucy Gray. Felix Ravinstill, the president_s grandnephew, was trying to make an impression with the District 11 girl, Dill, but Coriolanus couldn_t figure out his angle, because she_d become so sickly even her coughs were barely audible. Tigris had worked another one of her miracles on Lucy Gray_s dress. The filth and soot had vanished, leaving fresh, starchy rows of rainbow ruffles. She_d also sent a pot of blush Fabricia had discarded with just a smidgeon left in the bottom. Scrubbed clean, with rouged cheeks and lips, her hair piled up on her head as it had been for the reaping, Lucy Gray looked, as Pluribus had said, like someone who still knew how to have fun. _I think your odds get better by the minute,_ said Coriolanus, adjusting a hot pink rosebud in her hair. It matched the one on his lapel, just in case anyone needed a reminder of who Lucy Gray belonged to. _Well, you know what they say. The show_s not over until the mockingjay sings,_ she said. _The mockingjay?_ He laughed. _Really, I think you_re just making these things up._ _Not that one. A mockingjay_s a bona fide bird,_ she assured him. _And it sings in your show?_ he asked. _Not my show, sweetheart. Yours. The Capitol_s anyway,_ said Lucy Gray. _I think we_re up._ With her clean dress and his neatly pressed uniform, their very appearance brought a spontaneous round of applause from the audience. He didn_t waste time asking her a lot of questions no one cared about. Instead he introduced himself and stepped back, leaving her alone in the spotlight. _Good evening,_ she said. _I_m Lucy Gray Baird, of the Covey Bairds. I started writing this song back in District Twelve, before I knew what the ending would be. It_s my words set to an old tune. Where I_m from, we call it a ballad. That_s a song that tells a story. And I guess this is mine. _The Ballad of Lucy Gray Baird._ I hope you like it._ Coriolanus had heard her sing dozens of songs over the past few days, full of everything from the beauty of springtime to the heart-wrenching despair of losing her mama. Lullabies and toe tappers, laments and ditties. She_d solicited his opinion, weighing his responses to each song. He_d thought they_d settled on a charming thing about the wonder of falling in love, but a few bars into this ballad, he knew this was nothing she_d rehearsed. The haunting melody set the tone, and her words did the rest as she began to sing in a voice husky from smoke and sadness. When I was a babe I fell down in the holler. When I was a girl I fell into your arms. We fell on hard times and we lost our bright color. You went to the dogs and I lived by my charms. I danced for my dinner, spread kisses like honey. You stole and you gambled and I said you should. We sang for our suppers, we drank up our money. Then one day you left, saying I was no good. Well, all right, I_m bad, but then, you_re no prize either. All right, I_m bad, but then, that_s nothing new. You say you won_t love me, I won_t love you neither. Just let me remind you who I am to you. _Cause I am the one who looks out when you_re leaping. I am the one who knows how you were brave. And I am the one who heard what you said sleeping. I_ll take that and more when I go to my grave. It_s sooner than later that I_m six feet under. It_s sooner than later that you_ll be alone. So who will you turn to tomorrow, I wonder? For when the bell rings, lover, you_re on your own. And I am the one who you let see you weeping. I know the soul that you struggle to save. Too bad I_m the bet that you lost in the reaping. Now what will you do when I go to my grave? You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium when she finished. Then there were a few sniffles, some coughing, and finally Pluribus_s voice shouting out _Bravo_ from the back of the auditorium and the thunderous applause that followed. Coriolanus knew it had hit home, this dark, moving, far too personal account of her life. He knew the gifts would pour into the arena for her. That her success, even now, reflected back on him, making it his success. Snow lands on top and all that. He knew he should be elated at this turn of events and jumping up and down inside while presenting a modest, pleased front. But what he really felt was jealous.

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules /  .   (by Jeff Kinney, 2009) -   Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick
  • Winston The Wizard / - (Williams, 2014)    Winston The Wizard /
  • Rory Wants a Pet /     (Pritchard, 2014)    Rory Wants a Pet /
  • Thumbelina /  (Disney, 2014)    Thumbelina /

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