As promised, here’s Ned Rickman’s first chapter from the Hunger Games Fanfic competition!
Name: Ned Rickman
Chapter 1 – The Moment that Changed Everything
My brain works like a machine, click, click, click, and everything falls together. That’s why they put me on the front lines up here, designing the transportation system. In one minute, I can do more complicated calculations in my head than it takes five men all working together for half an hour. My boss, Big Silver, swears that one day I’m going to create my own race of super robots and take over the world. That sounds like a cool idea. But any smart man knows better than to try and take over the world. The people who try always get killed. Me–I plan to stick around for a while.
Mom says I’m a gift from heaven, a walking, talking calculator. I’ve never seen a real calculator before, but I hear they have them in the Capitol. They’re for lazy people who can’t do math in their head. That just goes to show what the Capitol people are made of.
I like things that make sense. The square root of 289 is always 17. The formula for surface area is always length times height divided by width. Unchangeable things are things that can be relied on, things that will never fail. Life is made up of logic; that’s what holds it all together. But even though I finished school when I was eight, and I designed the electronic synapse on the transportation system when I was thirteen, there is one thing that still has never made sense to me. It defies logic, gravity–it’s love.
Maybe you think I’m too young to know what love is. And you’re right, I am. But I’m too young for a lot of things. I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t mean for it to happen. I was just standing there in the marketplace at 2:15 on April 27th, three years ago. I was picking up eggs for Mom for dinner. And then I saw her, Suzie McNicoll. She lives eight houses down from me on Scavenger Lane. I’d known her since I was four, and for my entire life, she was just Suzie, the girl with long brown hair and grass-green eyes. On April 27th, she was still Suzie–but something was different. I can’t tell you what it was because there’s no formula, no equation that can accurately express it in words. It’s not even a feeling, because feelings definitely change and are in no wise reliable.
It’s a fact. It’s a fact that Suzie is Suzie, and that I would do anything for her. Anything to make her happy. Anything to make her smile. For three years, I have held this fact inside me. I don’t know what it is about love, but there’s something that makes it difficult to say. I’m only sixteen. I’ll tell Suzie one day. But right now, I’ll wait. I watch. And then I won’t tell her; I won’t need words because they never helped anyone anyways. I’ll show her what this love means. There might not be a formula, but there is an effect, an effect that cannot be ignored.
Suzie is at the Reaping. She’s here with her mother and her father, and her older brother, Wilson. I do not have any brothers or sisters, but my parents are here, wearing black. Mom is shaking, so Dad wraps his arm around her. They are in love. They’ve been in love for the past twenty-four years.
I hear the sound of The Hub, the transportation system that zooms by from the crest of the mountain, through the districts to the centre square of the Capitol. And then the microphone comes alive, overpowering it.
“Greetings, District 6,” Anton Brugue says. He is the mayor of our district. He’s a fat, balding man with dimpled cheeks and grey speckled hairs that occasionally sprout from the top of his shiny head. He always speaks in a formal voice. And he always has enough to eat. So does my family–because of my well-paying job. But I can’t say the same for other people in our district. I can’t say the same for Suzie’s family. So I help them–secretly.
“Let the festivities begin!” a short woman named Eliana Nian exclaims. Her hair sticks up, stiff with brightly colored dyes from the Capitol. Her voice is jumpy and explosive. People call her ‘The firework’.
The Hunger Games is another thing that does not make sense. Children fighting children, children killing children. There is no logic, no purpose but to torment, to terrify. The Hunger Games goes against everything humanity should stand for. President Snow has visited our district several times to view my work. He says I am coming along excellently. Maybe one day, if I continue to progress, I will be able to be head Gamemaker. President Snow smiled when he said this, the creepy kind of smile that makes chills run down my spine. He said I should be honored.
President Snow doesn’t know that I’d rather die than construct his deathtraps. I am not a killer. But I’m a fighter.
“Girls, girls, girls,” Eliana says, her excitement spilling over into the microphone and evaporating in the crowd. Dull eyes, scared eyes face her, including mine. The papers crinkle as she slides her hand around the bowl, and then traps one in her hand, pulling it out.
I want to shut my eyes, but I hold them open, one thought blazing through my head: Not Suzie, not Suzie, not Suzie.
“Nevelyn Rivers,” Eliana says, and I breathe a sigh of relief before looking at the girl, a redhead with braids and pink ribbons, standing, paralyzed, in the fourteen-year-old section. Despite my relief, pain shoots through me. Nevelyn has just been sentenced to die, realistically speaking, and Eliana is clapping as if Nevelyn is the new Victor.
“Congratulations, child!” she exclaims.
I clench my fist. I think of all the planning that went into the designing of the transportation system, the same kind of planning that went into the construction of the Hunger Games, each trap designed to kill and torture and draw the tributes together to fight for the death, just so President Snow can get his fill of blood. This is wrong. This is so wrong.
“I know you’re excited boys, so let’s get down to it,” Eliana says, jamming her hand back in the bowl. She pulls it out and reads off the name before I even have time to think.
“Wilson McNicoll,” she says, her cheery voice chirping like a robin, like the robin that got caught in the energy bubble and was fried alive last year when we were working out a problem at the Hub.
I look at Suzie. Her face is drained of all color, stark white; she stares at her brother. And then she dashes towards him throws her arms around his neck, screaming. Her hair tumbles down out of the bun her mother must have arranged. Her soft green eyes fill with tears and her shrieks rend the air. People look down. People look away because no one can bear to watch. But they’re going to watch. They’re going to watch Wilson fight to the death. They might even watch him die.
Actions speak louder than words. I feel my hands begin to shake. I close my eyes; I open them. Three years and I have done nothing. Now it is time to act.
I fight my way through the crowd, refusing to look back as Mom tries to call me back. I make it to the platform. Everyone is looking at me now. Suzie freezes. Her large green eyes are teary. Her eyelashes are long and thick. And then I feel it. I don’t know how to tell you what it is, but it’s worth it. If I die, it’s worth it. Maybe the thing that keeps the world going isn’t logic, it’s the defiance of logic. It’s fighting against what shouldn’t be, what holds back and restrains. It’s this.
“I volunteer,” I say. “I volunteer to be tribute.”
“No–Ned, No!” Mom is screaming now. Dad’s arm is still around her shoulders, but now he’s holding her back.
Eliana looks at me, little explosions going off in her eyes. “What’s your name, boy?’
“Ned Rickman,” I say. I stand tall; I refuse to think. I shouldn’t do this. I’m being stupid. But it’s the right thing to do. It’s the only thing to do.
A smile spreads across Eliana’s face. “What a brave boy, Ned. Congratulations!” she holds up my arm like I just won a wrestling match. “Let’s hear it for our new tribute, Ned Rickman!”
There is silence.
Suzie is death-white. She looks as if someone just shot her in the leg and she hasn’t realized it yet. The tears are still on her cheeks, but she’s not crying anymore. She’s hugging Wilson like she’s trying to strangle him, small as she is. When she turns and looks at me, her eyes are full of gratitude. But she can only hold it for a second before her eyes are swimming again. The relief is gone, and I see fear, fear for me. And devastation.
If I make it back alive, if I survive this, I’m going to tell Suzie. I’m going to tell her what I can’t explain. Because I love her. And no matter what happens, that will never change.