Chapter 3: Puzzle
“A good puzzle, it's a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It's very clear, and the problem depends just on you.” - Erno Rubik
“I don't think there is a hidden purpose to the universe that you have to puzzle out.” - Robert Fulghum
“Boston Jacobson,” Tiara smirked as the two tributes were ushered towards the train that would take them to the Capitol. “I haven't seen you around the past month or so.”
“Tiara King,” the older boy mocked. “I haven't had to put up with you for the past month or so.”
Tiara laughed, not bothering to be offended by the obvious insult. “You know, it's kind of hilarious how an eighteen-year-old like yourself could so obviously be taken down by a fourteen-year-old like me.”
Boston ignored her taunts as they reached the train door.
“You don't stand a chance, Jacobson. You should just admit defeat now.”
“Funny,” Boston threw a quick glance back at her as he entered the train. “I don't remember ever claiming I even wanted to win these games.”
Tiara was left gaping after the odd boy as he sauntered off into the train.
Huntur nudged Alissah's shoulder as they walked side-by-side towards the train, while smiling and waving at the cameras as they passed. “Excited?” he asked.
“Of course,” Alissah laughed, sounding genuinely happy. “I've been waiting for this for years. It's going to be so much fun.”
The two teens glanced around the train as they entered. Alissah let out a little sigh at the beauty of the compartment. “This isn't too bad either,” Huntur breathed.
“Almost makes me want to avoid the games,” Alissah smiled as she plopped down on the most comfortable couch she'd ever seen.
“It'll just make us fight harder.” Huntur took a seat beside his fellow tribute. The two watched their other traveling companions flitter around the compartment.
“Of course,” Alissah smiled up at him. “District 2 is going to have a victor this year.”
“Well, don't be too confident about my chances just yet,” Huntur smirked. “We haven't seen the competition yet.”
Alissah let out a snort as she aimed a kick at Huntur's shin. “I didn't mean you, asshole.”
Huntur shoved her shoulder jokingly as he laughed.
They continued on with their banter over who was going to win. Being competition didn't mean they couldn't be friendly. After all, they'd been competing with each other for years.
“Do either of you have any talents that will be useful in the arena?” Their so-called “mentor” looked upon Jocelin and Etin with cold eyes, as if she already knew the answer.
“None,” Jocelin mumbled quietly from where her head rested on her arms at the table.
Etin shook his head to show he was in the same boat.
Their mentor sighed and shook her head. “There's not much I can do,” she voiced what they already knew. “Just hope for the best. Try your hardest, and try not to die too gruesome of a death.”
Jocelin buried her face in her arms to hide the tears streaming down her face. Etin turned even paler. Their mentor almost looked sympathetic before she left the two children alone.
“Some help she is,” Etin muttered, unsure whether or not Joceline was listening. “I bet she doesn't care at all to help us figure out what to do. There has to be some skill we could learn. It can't be that hard to throw a knife or something.”
He glanced over at Jocelin expectantly, but the girl was still crying softly. With a sigh, Etin wandered off to his room where he could puzzle over his future chances alone.
Brianne didn't bother more than a quick glance at her surroundings as she entered the train. Her parents' tearful faces as they said goodbye to the daughter they had tried so hard to protect were still vivid in her mind. All she could manage was to ask where her room was in a tearful voice before she rushed off towards it.
Troy sneered as he watched her go. Brianne was the most pathetic excuse for a career that he'd ever seen. It both angered him, as he knew how much potential she had if she would just get over it, and also excited him. After all, he would no doubt have District 1's united support. No sponsors would dare support such a wimpy girl who did nothing but cry even though she'd volunteered. The thought made Troy smile as he found his way to his own room.
Chloe's first view of the Capitol brought a familiar tune to her head, and she couldn't stop herself from singing along softly. The song was one that she'd learned from a man back in District 6 who'd fought in the rebellion. Apparently they'd sung it a lot back in the day to make fun of the Capitol. Chloe thought the Capitol citizens surrounding her probably wouldn't be too happy with her if they heard it, but it brought comfort to her as memories entered her thoughts.
Kahner's frown only deepened as he realized just what it was she was singing. He'd been strangely distant the entire train ride. He stayed by Chloe's side often, but he never spoke. Even now he was standing quietly by her as they watched the large city come into view. Chloe wanted to reach out and take his hand in comfort, but the look on his face scared her. So she stuck with her singing.
Nobody bothered to really explain what was happening to Emilia and Ezra. The two District 10 tributes were ushered off the train and off to this strange room where people began poking around their bodies and doing the strangest things.
Emilia had seen a couple of the slightly better off girls in District 10 wear make up before, but she wasn't even sure if the things being put on her qualified as make up. The people surrounding her had so many different tools designed to make her more beautiful, and she didn't have a clue what most of them did. All the eighteen-year-old could do was watch them work in amazement. Even after seeing the Capitol citizens on television all of these years, she'd never known that this was how they altered their appearances so significantly.
Ezra wasn't as cool and collected as his prep team prepared him for what was to come. The young boy squirmed as they brought make up to his face, not wanting to be covered with the foreign substances. The people were forced to hold him down and apply it by force. Not only was Ezra going to die, but apparently he was going to do so as an entirely different, much too "perfect" person.
Tifanee stuck close to Demetrius' side as their stylists put the finishing touches on their horrendous farmer costumes. Tifanee thought they looked like one of those ridiculous scarecrows that people people in the past were convinced scared away birds, but she didn't say this out-loud. She didn't want to get on anyone's bad side.
She hadn't left Demetrius the entire ride to the Capitol, and it had been difficult to hold back the tears when she was forced from his side upon reaching the city. Demetrius seemed to understand. At any rate, he didn't seem bothered by the younger girl's presence, and he had almost seemed relieved when they were reunited just moments ago.
Demetrius didn't like the fact that he was letting himself get attached to Tifanee. Sure they'd known each other before, but they'd never been particularly close. One thing was for certain though: neither one of them was cut out for this. They shouldn't have been here. He may have only been one year older, but Demetrius wanted to help Tifanee in any way he could. He just wished it wouldn't come back to haunt him.
“You better not panic on me,” Coale growled at Fayth as they were ushered onto their chariot for the tribute parade.
Fayth wanted to glare at him and make some snappy comeback, but her trembling hands and nauseous stomach didn't exactly up her confidence. “So many people,” she whined too quietly for the cold boy to hear.
It was hard for her to climb up onto the chariot with her sweaty palms slipping across the metal, but somehow she managed it with no help from her district partner. They were dressed as coal miners, and Fayth wished she could go hide somewhere before she looked even more like a fool after her panic attack at the reaping. There was no way this would help her get sponsors. She was doomed. Why couldn't they just let her hide until throwing her to her inevitable death?
Coale didn't seem happy about this either, but at least he was handling it better. Fayth had no doubt that some sponsors would appreciate his ever present frown. It was much more threatening than her own terrified expression, even if it didn't inspire warm feelings in audiences.
Her connection to Jaylon was a weakness. Cassidee had known that from the moment his name was drawn. It would have been far easier for her to shove him away now instead of pretending like she could protect him from everything in the arena, but she couldn't. Every time Cassidee looked at the younger boy all she could think about was how he was her little brother's best friend. She couldn't think about Ezekiel's face if he thought his sister had been somehow responsible for his best friend's death. And for that reason alone, Cassidee gripped the young boy's hand tightly as their chariot rolled past the vast crowd of Capitol citizens.
As usual, their costumes were horrendous. District 5 didn't really give its stylists much to work with being the district in charge of power. Cassidee and Jaylon were clad only in leotards with a jumble of different types of electrical cords wrapping their way around their bodies.
Jaylon was stiff next to her, and Cassidee could feel the sweat on his palms. She tried to appear open and friendly as she waved at the people around her. Jaylon just looked like he was about to puke. Despite her gut telling her it was a bad idea, Cassidee squeezed his hand in the most reassuring way possible. The least she could do was make the boy feel as if he had some companionship in the last few days before his inevitable death.
Ahnette knew what Gerald was trying to do, and there was no way she was playing along with it. He'd hardly said two words to her during the train ride to the Capitol, although she'd caught him staring several times. That was nothing new. Ahnette was used to boys staring at her. As soon as their chariot had come into sight though, Gerald was suddenly looking at her with an odd look in his eye.
Ahnette had a few hazy memories of two tributes trying to play the “hopelessly in love” card during the second games, and she was not going down that route. She thought they'd looked more ridiculous than in love, and she was not going to look like an idiot in front of all of Panem. Gerald ignored her glares during the parade, even being so bold as to reach for her hand which she'd instantly jerked away.
“Leave me the fuck alone!” she screeched as they finally left the spotlight. Ahnette knew that Gerald had no choice but to be in her presence at the moment as they were being led to the apartment where they'd be spending the next several days, but it felt good to let her anger out.
“I'm trying to save us,” Gerald growled. “The lovers story could work if you just gave it a chance. It's not as if it'll be hard to pull off. You're attractive enough that no guy watching is going to doubt that I'd want in your pants.”
Any tiny bit of Ahnette that may have been softened at the compliment immediately hardened again at the phrase “want in your pants.” “Jerk,” she muttered angrily as she pushed past Gerald to walk beside their escort, who was doing her best to ignore the teens' argument. It was going to be a long few days.
“Here's where you'll be staying during your time in the Capitol,” the escort trilled as he led them through the doors.
The two District 3 tributes stared around in wonder. Even coming from one of the wealthier districts, neither one of the teens had seen something like this. Kendrick, always eager to learn more about electronics, was drawn the the high-tech television taking up a large wall that was one of the first things noticed upon entering the large apartment. He had seen these being prepared in a factory before, but he'd never been able to actually use one. Kendrick immediately set to work discovering everything it could do.
Mina, much less intrigued by the television but not having anything else to do, took a seat on the sofa to watch her older district partner at work. This grew frustrating, however, because the second she started to figure out what was happening on the screen, Kendrick had hit some new button just to see what it would do. Growling in frustration, the young girl went to investigate her bedroom instead.
“I'm not killing anyone.” Joelle turned to glare at Bryan, who had snickered upon hearing her words. “I'm not,” she repeated firmly. “I'd rather die than become a murderer.”
“Whatever you want,” Bryan shrugged. He sent her a smile that Joelle figured would probably have most girls bowing to his every whim. “One less tribute for me to worry about.” He smirked at her for a moment before adding, “Although, I'm not too sure that'll be true.”
“What do you mean?” Joelle snapped.
“I think you'll kill or at least die trying.”
“I'm not a sick monster!” Joelle rose to her feet in fury.
“Neither are any of us,” Bryan leaned forward and looked Joelle in the eyes. “But you get in that arena, and your survival instinct takes over. You're not an angel, Joelle. You're a human like the rest of us, and humans, like every other animal, do what they have to in order to survive no matter the costs. Some people like to pretend that the brain's something complicated that can be puzzled about for days, but when it comes down to it, the brain has a pretty simple function: survival.”