District 4 Mentors
In the Capitol
Kalle grit his teeth, his smile aching already. They'd only started that day's work (a full sixteen hours of hob-knobbing, and maybe a bit besides if something interesting happened in the night) four hours before but he'd been doing the dance since the Reaping, and he was out of practice; he was forty, now, no longer in his prime but well past the point of caring.
Still, he was one of the oldest living victors.
The oldest, even, in District Four.
They'd had six, before the 75th. Six victors, most on the younger end—only Mags was really old, and she died in that Games. They'd gotten six since, Kalle included, and by the time Carel won (he'd barely made it out of the 90th, had ended up in a four-way battle to be the sole survivor and only made it out of the experience by literally refusing to go down no matter how much he was stabbed) Kalle was the oldest.
He'd been 30, then.
(Winning the Games left its mark, left you broken. The older he got the more he realized there was no escaping the sins of the past. Be it addiction, attempted treason, or straight suicide, every victor always fell in the end.)
(Kalle supposed he was keeping that tradition.)
As the oldest living victor, as the one who was known to actually run the training camp in 4, to do the 'lion's share' of preparing them for victory—which was bullshit, by the way, he certainly had never taught Carel how to ignore pain, or Raylen how to strangle two competitors at once, or Carine how to ingratiate herself so well with the Careers that they completely forgot she was a threat. All he did was focus them on their strengths and shore up their weaknesses, keep them alive long enough to do the hard work of winning—
As the oldest living victor, one who hadn't been seen in the Capitol for so long because his younger counterparts always went with the most recent tributes, he was expected to schmooze.
So he schmoozed.
Shockingly, at least as far as he could tell, no one in the Capitol yet realized that the newest attempt at rebellion was knocking right outside their door, was already in the house, was more ready, willing, and able than they'd been in decades.
Instead they found the newest Games fun, interesting; the prices for even the cheapest of sponsor gifts had already been jacked up to obscene amounts but he'd already managed to secure several yards of rope for his oldest tribute despite the eighteen-year-old abandoning his team outright in the first few minutes, something that before the Reaping had been considered suicide.
You might think, then, that his job was easy.
No one in the Capitol suspected a thing, sponsor money was flowing in quick enough to buy several mansions… what was there to complain about?
(There was the other giant board in the room, the one that showed the current bids for killing off every individual mentor should their team lose, and there was the price attached to his head—he hadn't been a popular victor, too timid, they claimed—but he could ignore that, really. Mostly.)
And if all he had to do was stay alive, stay under the radar, then maybe he'd be doing fine.
Kalle's Games had been a bit of a break from the norm.
Most took place outside, in forests or around lakes or on top of mountains. His had started in an old, decrepit office building. There had been no water—his odds of winning, he'd later learned, had shot down drastically the second the arena was shown—and the cornucopia had been designed as the receptionist desk, which each starting position strategically located around the lobby.
He'd fled, and then spent the next days learning to make as little noise as possible on squeaky tiles and motion-activated doors.
He'd survived on next to nothing until the earthquakes began.
The earthquakes had been his savior. They made the ground roll, made the building crumble around him, and—importantly—made everyone else stumble, fall.
He'd grown up on boats.
He'd gone on the offensive.
But those first few days? The days when there were the highest number of people out to get you, ready to slit your throat?
Then he'd just tried to slip by invisibly. He hadn't even considered actually winning, just knew that he had to survive to the next day.
So the problem, now, with all the people surrounding him who would kill him—or more accurately, have him killed—without question if they had any idea of the thoughts in his head, the problem was that he couldn't wait until he found an advantage.
He, and every other member of the Alliance, had to start work immediately and stay under the radar.
That was his problem.
(He wondered, every night, whether it would work. But his daughter was down there, in the arena, just 14 and so fascinated by the Games and by "doing the right thing" that he hadn't been able to convince her not to fight. This—what he was doing right now—this was her greatest chance of victory, and so it didn't matter. He was going to try no matter the odds.)
He was working in the Games courtyard today, where people spent two and three and four times as much as he would ever (cumulatively) have the equal of to talk to him and the other sponsors directly, as the commentary of Cicero and Luxe buzzed in the background and screens twice the size of an adult human played four different angles of the action.
It was the savannah biome, today, Luxe had explained earlier that morning. The cameras had panned over the grasses, sparse saplings, and new animals (they were getting switched out daily, much to the chagrin of the roaming teams that relied on them.)
Kalle was talking with Hamilcar Flickerman, whose family was heavily invested in District 4 fishing and were therefore regular contributor.
"—I can attest myself, we've been training since the day she's been born!" Kalle finished, lying through his teeth as he pushed for a (very, very expensive, and not quite yet necessary) sponsorship of medical supplies.
"They're not really injured yet, though." Flickerman said.
"Ah! But that's the beauty of it;" Kalle said, "you and I know that the rest of Team 18—not including my tribute, of course—will be attacking tomorrow. Sending them medical supplies now would give them ample warning."
Out of the corner of his eye he watched as Carel approached Rosemary, one of the few District 2 mentors they'd were (pretty) sure was on their side. She was talking with Arishat Snow, who always supported the Careers and, following that, had chosen this year to support the 18s. Rosemary, as her tribute was a 13 and therefore Alliance member, seemed to be trying to ply Arishat away from what the woman clearly saw as a guaranteed victory.
To his front Hamilcar continued to dither out loud, weighing the pros and cons of supporting Kalle's daughter in front of him as if deciding whether hot or cold coffee would suffice.
Money flowed, secrets remained hidden, and Kalle tried, desperately, to figure out how to send messages to his people without disrupting anything—or anyone—else.
"Oh, alright." Hamilcar said. He grinned. "Your Games was one of my favorites, anyway, and I love what you're doing with the more recent volunteers. I'll trust you."
He pulled out his wallet.