We sit in our rusty metal folding chairs behind the stage, my sister and I. “What if it’s me?” Abby nudges me nervously. I ruffle her hair and say reassuringly “You’ll be fine. They’ll probably draw some random person you’ve never heard of.” But honestly, I’m not so sure. Even though I’m sixteen and Abby’s only fourteen, she’s taken out tesserae more times than I have. I study her for a moment, worriedly. My sister and I look nothing alike. It has always been Abby everyone adores; with her platinum-blond hair, and bright green eyes. And me? I’m nothing special, with oily black hair that is perpetually straight and one blue eye. I’ve always been a freak. In grade school, the boys used to chase me around the ancient, rusty playground and chant “Odd eyes! Odd eyes!” I’m interrupted from my memories by the sound of a man’s voice reading off a paper slip. With my fingers crossed, I silently pray, Please let it not say Abigail Marlfaex, please please let it not say Abigail Marlfaex… The man draws a fortune-cookie type slip of paper and reads aloud the name. “Tribute number seventeen….” My heart skips a beat. It’s Rhoda Marlfaex.

Chapter one: Joey

One: Joey “It is now time to pick our boy tribute.” Says Effie, trotting over to the multi-hued fishbowl containing the boy’s names. She plucks a strip and reads aloud “Joseph Vanders.” I immediately heave a sigh of relief that it wasn’t my brother Chester, who’s only twelve. My eyes trail a somewhat tall boy probably fifteen or sixteen, with messy dark brown hair and pale green eyes. Joseph Vanders, apparently. I get up from my seat to join him. Abby grabs my sleeve unexpectedly. “Don’t leave me, Rhoda!” She whispers, eyes filling with tears. I take her hand and kiss her forehead. “I’m going to win. You’ll see.” I pull my hand away and walk off towards the stage. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Abby wave to me. Goodbye is the word that forms on her lips. My own eyes getting misty, I don’t even turn to look at her. I sit down next to Joey on the stage floor, and an official-looking man brings in an old portable stereo. He pops in a CD and presses the play button. Instead of what was supposed to be the Panem anthem, the never-ending Mario song fills the room. We all listen to it silently until the man sheepishly turns off the stereo.

The minute the Mario song is over; Joey and I are taken away. Neither of us talk. We don’t even make eye contact. We’re marched across the street to the justice building and taken to a room furnished with two threadbare, tan-colored sofas. We sit six feet away from each other, in silence. Suddenly, the door is flung open and Abby comes running in, rubber rain boots coated with spring mud. “Rhoda!” She screams and flings her arms around my neck. “Abby. Quit it.” I manage to rasp. “You’re choking me!” “Sorry.” Without further hesitation, Abby tears a silver chain from around her neck and presses it into the palm of my hand. I gasp. I know immediately what this is. It’s an old tarnished silver necklace that our mom picked up at the market years ago. Dangling from it is a beautifully carved silver fox. “Abby….” I whisper. “You can’t.” “Oh yes I can.” After that we are silent for a moment. The peacekeepers are back before we know it and Abby slips away.

The train station is nothing special but the tribute train certainly is. The only car I’ve ever ridden is my dad’s prehistoric model-t ford. Since I’ve never even been on a regular train before, let alone a tribute train I can’t stop looking at it. As I wait to get in, at least a dozen reporters shake my hand and say things like “Good afternoon, Miss Marlfaex!” And “Marlfaex. What a peculiar name.” And I answer weakly: “My dad’s Celtic.” As Joey and I get on the train, Effie meets us in the front hall, which is made to look like a replica of the front entryway of the Titanic. It even has the same clock. “Come on. I’ll introduce you to your mentor.” Effie leads us up the polished wood staircase and through a narrow hallway. I find myself in a rather plain-looking conference room. When I see who’s looking at me from the head of the round, glass-topped table, I gasp and cup my hand over my mouth. It’s Katniss Everdeen.

Two: Katniss

Katniss Everdeen is famous. If you don’t know about her, what rock have you been hiding under the past thirty years? They say she used to be rich too, but with the cost of food and water the way they are now, nobody is rich anymore. Unless of course, you live in the capitol. But then again, who really cares about how much money is in your wallet when you’re as famous as Katniss Everdeen? Effie leaves quietly to let the three of us get acquainted, and Joey is the first to break the silence. “Hi.” He says. Discretely, I look at Katniss Everdeen. Catching on, she grins slyly and looks at me. She’s a tallish woman in her late forties with black hair like mine. She’s dressed as simply as I am, in a navy blue dress with a pleated skirt, a rusty mockingjay pin glistens on her collar and I cringe. Abby loved mockingjays and sang for them all the time. I swallow before opening my mouth and saying quietly “Uh, good morning Miss Everdeen or do I call you Mrs.—” Before I finish my sentence, Katniss throws back her head and laughs. “Oh please.” She says. “Call me Katniss.” Beside me, Joey clutches his stomach. “I think I ate some moldy bread today.” He moans. “My stomach hurts like crazy.” Katniss gives him a look and says “Well I hope it’s not serious because hospitals no longer exist.” I swallow. As harsh as Miss Everdeen (Katniss!!) sounds, she’s right. There really are no hospitals. Three years ago the capitol deemed hospitals “A frivolous and unnecessary luxury” As yet another one of their crafty ways to keep us from rebelling. Everyone in Panem was forced to watch on TV as thousands of hospitals got smashed by wrecking balls as doctors, nurses and patients stood watching from the parking lots. After that things became so….. Old-fashioned. Doctors once again made house-calls, and surgeries were once again held at the patient’s house, as they had been some hundreds of years ago. Things like IV’s and heart monitors became things of the past, as no one had the supplies or resources to make them anymore. As I remember this, Katniss gets up from her chair to get a cup of coffee, but she stops mid-direction. Her eyes grow huge as she looks at me. Katniss is gripping the table till her knuckles turn white, and she probably would’ve fainted if Joey and I hadn’t run over and steadied her. Katniss waved Joey back to his seat but motioned for me to stay. “Are you all right?!” Katniss says breathlessly “I’m fine. You just reminded me of… Someone I knew.” I want to ask who, but that haunted look in her eyes makes me hold my tongue.

In the next hour, Joey tells us all about himself. His dad, Mike Vanders used to work in a hospital in the nicer part of District 12, but after hospitals were shut down, Dr. Vanders made house calls and helped out at surgeries. By the time Joey turned fifteen, his dad started bringing him along. Six months ago Joey’s mom died when the epidemic of the bird flu hit District 12. When he talks about that, I shiver. It was awful. Abby and I both got it, and so did my mom. Abby and I both got better, but our mother eventually died. When it was over, they were worse off then they’d ever been and Dr. Vanders insisted Joey take out tesserae, and the rest is history. So it turns out that Joey’s a nice kid; he’s just had a tough life. Not too different from mine. Just then, Effie pokes her bright pink head in. “I hate to break up the meeting,” She says. “But it’s time for lunch.” Licking my lips, I bolt out of my chair and run for the door. I practically knock off Effie’s wig in the cloud of dust that billows out behind me, and Joey comes racing off behind me not too long after I’m gone. “Well!” Effie says curtly. “Those two have got a LOT to learn about manners!”

Chapter three: Nocturne

Lunch went by in a whirlwind. So does dinner. The food was amazing, and it could’ve kept my family going for a month. Before I know it, the day is gone and I’m alone in my compartment, with a canopy bed, a 3-D TV and a closetful of designer clothing. Humming cheerfully, I select a pale blue nightgown and hold it against my body in the full-length mirror. I change out of my old khaki shorts that look like they’ve been torn up by a dog, and my yellow t-shirt that probably once was white. I pick up a portable wall-speaker and yell “ROOM SERVICE!” After a brief crackling on the other end, a pleasant voice says “What would you like, Miss Marlfaex?” “I’d like my clothes cleaned.” “Very well. An attendant will be around shortly to collect them.” I shut the closet door before getting into bed and pulling the cashmere blanket up to my chin. After the attendant leaves, I lay there for a while, still unused to all this luxury. Oh well. If I’m going to die, at least I’ll have this to look back on later. Still in a somewhat-good mood, I yell “Music, please!” Within seconds the room is filled with “Nocturne” Abby’s favorite song. She’d always hum it to the mockingjays and they’d hum back. Placid music all around me, I drift off to sleep and dream of mockingjays. And Abby.

“Agent X, how goes the tracking?” “Very well, madam president.” “Good, good. We all know that Rhoda’s precious mockingjay must be disposed of immediately. It would mean a vital victory for us. Has our assassin been placed on the tribute train?” “Yes, miss.” “Excellent. And do the tributes know anything about this?” “Of course not!” “The District 12 ones I’m not too fond of though….” “Why?” “They seem too smart for their own good. If anything, they’ll be the first to catch on. They must be eliminated.” “Yes, madam president. I’ll alert our assassin tonight.” President Thorn Blackwood, formerly married daughter of ex-president Nathaniel Snow, stared at the image of Rhoda Marlfaex on her computer monitor, the sixteen-year-old girl tribute from district twelve, sleeping peacefully in her compartment. A malicious grin formed on the president’s lips. “Yes, sleep little one.” She crooned. “Sleep for now. In the morning… In the morning it will all be over.” She threw back her head and laughed, the evil sound echoing through the abandoned bomb-shelter and far out into the darkened streets.

Chapter Four: The Capitol

It’s just about seven-thirty by the time I hear Effie yelling “WAKE UP!! Today’s going to be a big, big, big day!” “Huh? What?” I mutter into my pillow before blinking open my eyes. But just as I look up, Effie’s gone, and I get changed into a dark green jumpsuit that’s been laid out on the bedspread. Before I leave, I turn on the TV and flick through the prerecorded channels. I stop at the condensed video of this year’s reapings. At first the districts fly by, one, two, three. But it’s the tributes from district four that get my attention. A tomboyish-looking red-haired girl who looks to be about twelve or thirteen, and an older boy with dark, ash blond hair. And the tributes from district five, too. Career tributes, no doubt. A fourteen or fifteen-year-old girl with wavy black hair and eyes that are so yellow no doubt they’ve been genetically enhanced one way or another. And a quiet-looking boy with black hair and dark tan skin. But there’s definitely something about him that makes me want to run and hide. But then again, lots of career tributes have evoked feelings like that in me in past reapings. And I’m sure the two of them are going to have fun killing me before they go for the real competition. I leave my compartment and pass through the hall, glancing out at the rapidly-moving landscape for a moment. We’ve just passed district 6, which is very close to the capitol, and unfortunately means we’ll probably be there by soon. On a grassy hillside, a boy in blue jeans and a ripped shirt is sitting on a wooden stool, milking a cow, and I can’t help but wonder if he has any brothers or sisters in the games this year. Just as I’m looking at this, everything goes dark. The train is moving through a tunnel now, and I scoot off to join Joey for breakfast. After what seems like five seconds, we’re out of the tunnel and in the capitol. I can’t quite comprehend to it at first. The colors are garish and too bright on the eyes, and it seems like there’s no grass or nature anywhere. People drive down the streets at at least eighty miles per hour in fast, expensive cars. There are animated, flashing neon advertisements put up on buildings instead of the ancient and unreadable Rebellion propaganda billboards that are still all over District 12. Joey gets out of his seat and looks out the window as hordes of incredulous people wave and shout things at us from the platform. He waves. “What’re you doing that for?!” I snarl. “These people are nothing but genetically-enhanced, multi-colored freaks who just can’t wait to watch us die.” He shrugs and says “So what. Some of them might want to sponsor us.” I back off from the window, sickened at his excitement. If someone’s going to kill me in the hunger games, I’ve already got a pretty clear picture that it just might be him. Suddenly, my attention strays to the Avox girl taking the empty plates and dishes away. She has dirty-blond hair and blue-gray eyes, and there’s something about her that’s very familiar…. Suddenly, I remember. It’s Agnes Murray, my best friend from grade school! But what could she possibly have done to have become an Avox? But then I remember too. Last year, Agnes’s name got pulled during the Reaping. As I try to remember what else happened, her voice rang out in my head "The capitol is worthless bullshit and everyone who lives there is a useless, motherfucking son of a bitch!" Even though her words were true, the capitol does like not people who have the nerve to insult it. Agnes disappeared before she even made it to the train station. And now I know what happened to her. “Agnes!” I whisper, running over to her. I ask “Are you Agnes?” She nods gravely, before hurrying out of the room. In the corner of the room, a sudden yelp grabs my attention. “Who did this?!!?!?” It’s Katniss. Slowly, I swivel my head around to look at her. A knife is wedged into the wallpaper barely an inch above her head. “I didn’t do it!!” I squeak. Joey turns around, takes one look at the knife in the wall and says “It wasn’t me, either.” As he says this, I look out the door and just for a moment saw the shadow of something. It rushes out so fast I’m not sure whether I actually saw something or if it was just my imagination. But I swear I saw a man in a black suit and a black hat running out of the room like peacekeepers were after him. I stiffen and instantly know something is very, very wrong.

“Did the assassination work?” “No. It was a failure. A hideous failure.” “Damn. We’ve got to be more careful. As soon as Everdeen finds out we’re onto her the whole plan will go up in smoke. We need to work carefully and subtly. We’ll kill her so quickly and subtly that neither she nor the tributes will ever know anything was out of place.” “When will we try again?” “Tonight. And agent X!” “Yes?” “Where’s our failed assassin.” “He’s still on the train, madam president.” “Well tell him to come back soon and that his employer has a special surprise for him.” “W-what kinda surprise?” The president smiled and picked up a ketchup bottle. She pointed it towards the floor, and an ugly red stain oozed out….

Chapter five: Senny

“So, where’s your husband Peeta, anyway?” Joey blurted as we got off the train. Katniss shrugged. “The capitol picked me instead of him.” And that is where she lets the subject drop.

A few hours later, I report to the Training Center. Katniss said at the station earlier she’d meet me there. I nervously step out of the elevator, unsure of what to expect. I have little time to take in what I see. Basically, the Training Center looks like my school gym but bigger, and a lot cleaner. I scan the various stations for a moment. For a moment, I look directly at Katniss, but she’s busy, teaching Joey how to throw knives. He turns around and sees me. “Hey Rhoda!” He yells across the room. “Look what I learned how to do!” He hurls a large, sharp bowie knife across the room and it hits the wall dead center. I gulp. Sooner or later, this boy is probably going to lose interest in me as a friend, and when he does, I’ll be dead once we’re in the arena. I walk off in disgust to a part of the gym where two girls are practicing archery. I immediately recognize one of them as the redhead from District Four. The other girl, I’m not sure of though. I’m certain she’s from District 11. She looks about 14, and has wavy light brown hair, hazel eyes and plain gold earrings. “Uh, hi.” I say quietly and pluck a bow from the wooden barrel. “Hi!” The redhead squeals. “Hi.” Says the other girl. “Who are you? A career tribute?” The redhead teases, and I blush. “No!” Her smile fades. “I didn’t mean it.” She holds out her hand. “I’m Bugsy Cordare.” “Rhoda Marlfaex.” I shake it. “And me….” Says the girl from District 11. “You wouldn’t want to know my name. It’s too long.” “Say it.” She takes a deep breath, and looks around to make sure no one’s looking. “Ok. My name is… Ankhesenamun Redgate.” I say “Ankhesenamun?! What kind of a name is that?” I cringe and my hand flies to my mouth as the gravity of what I’ve said sinks in. But she just shakes her head. “That’s ok. I never liked it anyway. My parents named me after King Tut’s wife who lived like, a million years ago. They’ve always been total lowlifes. But to everyone else… I’m Senny.” She flashes a smile. After that, Senny turns back to Bugsy and they go back to shooting. I grit my teeth, point my bow towards the wall, and let go. The arrow hits the floor. Bugsy bursts out laughing. Senny comes running up to me. “This is how you shoot. You have to hold the bow like this…” She tilts my head up higher, and repositions my bow. “Now squeeze hard and let ‘er go!” I do as she instructs me, and the arrow lands dead center on the target. “Bull’s-eye!” We all yell at the same time, and have several career tributes staring at us from the other side of room because of our noise. I turn back to the wall and shoot again, thinking about Bugsy and Senny. I like them. Hopefully they’ll want to be my allies, especially Senny. I’m totally clueless when it comes to survival in the games, and it appears that Senny Redgate might just be my get-out-of-jail free card.

I get my first glimpse of Bennett Tyler when I'm waiting outside the remake center, where I'll meet my stylist later. Bennett's appearance just screams 'Career tribute' He's sleek, well-muscled like a wild animal and has wavy, platinum blond hair and a tattoo of a howling wolf on his right arm, which is exposed on the sleeve of his t-shirt. He licked his lips and studies me in a hungry, predatory way and I shiver. I look away from him and turn to the career tribute sitting beside him. It's the black-haired girl with the cat's eyes, who I saw on the reaping brodcast. I now know her name is Lizzy Dennis, and I can tell just by the way that she and Bennett are looking at each other that they both have one common goal in common: To kill me and get it over with. But the predatory, cheshire-cat smile on Bennett's face is unnerving, and I think I know exactly what it means.