The Price of Hope

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Pryde
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The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Wed Aug 22, 2012 1:27 pm

A lone figure emerged from the wreckage, bloodied and bruised. She crawled to the top of the crater and rolled over onto her back to peer down at the wrecked starship. Had she been the pilot? She couldn't remember. The craft was only large enough for one so she had to be the one to fly it. But where did she come from? How did she end up here? So many questions were swirling around in her head but no answers were forthcoming. Trying to force the memories to return only caused her head to hurt more, so for the time being she gave up and just laid her head back in the dirt.

She wanted to sleep, but she knew if she did that she would die. Her mind focused on the pain she felt and she used that pain to keep herself awake. Heaving herself up onto one arm she took a look at her surroundings. She was in a forest in the middle of an artificial clearing created by her craft as it fell to the earth. A second or two later she heard a loud rumbling and her eyes turned skyward. An aircraft of some sort was hovering overhead, were they friends or enemies, she couldn't tell. Something in her gut, however, told her she needed to run, so she did. She scrambled to her feet and took off through the forest, she didn't really have any particular direction in mind she just wanted to get away.

Everything was moving in a haze, her balance was off and she swaggered through the trees. Occasionally she would fall against a trunk and then use it to propel herself forward. She had no idea what she was running from but her instinct told her that something had brought down that craft and it was no coincidence that the ship she had seen was the first to find it. So she ran, she ran as fast as her unsteady legs could carry her, running as straight as she could manage. Trees and underbrush flew past her, the forest out of focus. Plants just seemed to bulge out of nowhere and she often felt herself getting knicked by a stray branch.

The sun had just about set by the time she reached the edge of the forest. A settlement lay in the valley below her, ramshackle houses dotted muddy streets and people wearing poor cloth wandered from here to there. Had she run this way on purpose? Had she seen this village from the air? She let her instinct guide her and it led her here, it couldn't have been a coincidence. Carefully she made her way down the hill but a patch of dirt gave way underneath her and sent her tumbling. She rolled to a stop at the bottom of the hill, the pain she felt from the crash coming back to her in full force. She tried to stagger to her feet but it was just too much and she collapsed in the dirt. The world swam around her until at last everything faded to darkness...

**********

Hushed voices penetrated the dark, whispers of names and people she could not remember. Someone seemed to be asking for clean bandages, but where? She could not see. Her eyes opened slowly, the light from the sun outside nearly blinding her. She found herself in unfamiliar surroundings, a sparsely decorated room with walls of rotted oak. The mattress she lay on was uncomfortable and she could feel the coils from the boxspring digging into her back. Wearily she tilted her head to the side where a young girl quietly conversed with another. The older woman's eyes focused on her and the younger one turned around almost immediately.

"You're awake," she said, "You've had us all worried."

"Wher... Where am I," the girl with no memory asked.

"My house in District Fourteen," the older woman replied, "My name is Miriam McKenzie, this is my daughter, Aria. What's yours?"

The girl was confused. "My what?"

"Your name, Dear," Miriam urged her.

The girl thought about that, the answer was on the tip of her tongue but she just couldn't remember. Her mind wandered back to the forest and the crash, what did she see? Numbers and letters came back to her and she saw the letter "E" and the number five, then, emblazoned in the side of the craft like a fiery beacon she saw the word "Jade". There was more there, another part of the name but the rest was burned beyond recognition.

"Jade," she said, "I--I think my name is Jade."

The two women gave her mirroring looks of concern. The girl lying before them had clearly lost her memories. "Well, Jade," Miriam began, "We are going to take good care of you and after you recover you'll be welcome to stay in my home for as long as you like."

Jade wanted to say thank you but her head started swimming again. Her eyes rolled up to the ceiling and for a moment time seemed to stand still. Then the darkness returned, creeping in from the edges of her vision. Her head tilted back on its side and she fell asleep...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Wed Aug 22, 2012 5:00 pm

The next morning Jade awoke with a start, her eyes shot open and took in the room as though she were seeing it for the first time. She was still in Miriam McKenzie's' house, lounging on her bed. Her injuries felt better and the pain was mostly gone. With a slight strain she eased herself out of the bed, her bare feet setting down on the cold, wooden floor. She felt like she had been out for days and her muscles ached from not being used. On unsteady feet she approached the window and held open the blinds, the sun shone in brightly and she had to cover her eyes with her spare hand.

Outside people were at work, some heading to the sawmill while others ran bakeries or blacksmiths in the village. Off in one corner she saw a group of kids at play. They were playing some sort of game with a stick and a rock. One person would throw the rock while the other tried to hit it with the stick. They didn't seem to be playing by any rules other than trying to hit the rock. On the other side of the dirt road a row of ramshackle buildings ran up and down the street, each as disheveled as the one she was currently inside. Everyone who lived in this village was poor but they still smiled at each other and laughed as though they were living full lives.

As she watched the people pass by Jade had to wonder if it was all for show. Their expressions implied they were happy but in their eyes she saw a hint of worry, as though something was going to happen.

"You shouldn't be standing yet," Aria's voice interrupted her thoughts.

Jade turned and found the girl standing next to the entrance to the room. "I just decided I couldn't lie down anymore," Jade said sheepishly as her eyes turned back to the window.

Aria came up to stand next to her and Jade watched her out of the corner of her eye. The girl was pretty, with blonde hair and blue eyes and though her clothing was poor, stained and dirtied, she seemed to wear it with pride. "I like your name," Aria said, "Jade. It matches your eyes."

She had green eyes? Jade had to admit she had yet to see herself in a mirror. Her hair was dark, that much she knew. She remembered it covering her face as she tried to run through the forest. "I wouldn't know," she answered quietly, still watching the people pass by outside.

Aria looked at her and frowned. "Well, that won't do," she said, grabbing her gently by the shoulders and urging her over to a mirror standing against the wall.

Jade looked at herself, seeing what she looked like for the first time. She saw her dark hair and green eyes but the face was unfamiliar. The clothing she wore matched Aria's which made her think that it came from Aria's own closet and she tugged at her shirt and pants curiously. "You and I are about the same size," Aria explained, "and the clothes you came in were torn and bloody."

Jade barely paid any attention to her. Her gaze was focused on those green eyes staring back at her. Who was this girl? Where did she come from? Was Jade even really her name? Too many questions but no hope of finding an answer. Finally she looked away. "How long was I out," she asked, moving away from the mirror.

"Two days," Aria told her, "I've changed your bandages twice and did everything I could to keep your fever down."

She saved my life, the thought was first and foremost in her mind. "In the forest, I remember a ship."

Aria nodded. "Men from the capitol," she said, "They were searching for a wreckage."

"The capitol," Jade asked, turning back to look at her.

"Of Kestrel, the country that we're in."

Kestrel? That didn't sound like any name she knew, but then she couldn't recall much from before the crash. Had she come from Kestrel? Was she trying to escape? Maybe that's why they shot her down. "When you found me, did I... Did I have anything on me?"

Aria's eyes widened if only for a second then she shook her head. Jade had a feeling she was hiding something, something important. "Please, Aria, I need to know."

"There wasn't anything besides your clothing," she said, "It was loose-fitting and black and there were all these little gadgets on it."

"Gadgets," Jade repeated, raising an eyebrow.

"I'm not sure," Aria admitted, "The Peace Corps had come looking for someone and we were afraid it was you, so we got rid of it."

Got rid of it, the one thing she had that could tie her to her past. Aria seemed apologetic about it so Jade shook her head. "It's alright," she assured her. She didn't know who the Peace Corps was but she was sure Aria and her family had good reason to fear them.

"There's an assembly in the courtyard today," Aria said suddenly, changing the subject, "They want everyone to attend. I think they're still looking for you."

"Do you know what will happen to me if they find me?"

Aria shook her head, her worry visible in her eyes. "We can keep you hidden here in the house. They might not find you."

"But you and your mother will be held responsible if they do," Jade answered pointedly. Aria gave no answer but her expression said enough, "I'll be fine, I'll attend the assembly with the rest of you."

"But--," Aria began and Jade cut her off.

"It's alright, I don't want to put your family in danger."

Aria was still not convinced but she let the matter drop. "Then we better find you some shoes," she said, heading over to poke around in one of her closets. She came back over with a pair of muddy brown shoes and handed them to Jade. "These should fit you. We'll be waiting for you outside."

Jade nodded and sat down at the edge of the bed to slide her shoes on as Aria left the room. When she was finished she headed outside with the others to find Aria and her mother standing with Markus and Amon, Aria's father and little brother. Amon was about six, about ten years her younger while Aria appeared to be about the same age.

"Come on, let's go," Markus said, urging his family forward.

They followed a crowd of people down the street to a broad open courtyard with a wide stage and large view screens. The build and make of the stage was so high tech that it seemed out of place among the run down village that surrounded it and every where she looked Jade saw men wearing white suits armed with some kind of strange rifle. These were the Peace Corps, she assumed but what she couldn't figure out was why there was such a difference in tech between them and the villagers.

"Come on, everyone, line up!" A voice urged them on, shouting over the din from the PA wired into the stage.

Everyone formed neat ranks in the middle of the courtyard, all of them facing the stage. A hushed quiet came over them as they watched and waited, waited for something to happen. Men carrying guns worked their way down the files taking blood samples from everyone in attendance. Jade had stood with Aria and her family but she wondered if perhaps she should move somewhere else. Watching the men work her way down to her she had a feeling making any kind of move would be a bad idea. These men were on edge, their fingers hovering over the triggers of their weapons. So she stayed put and tried her best to ease the growing tension in her gut.

Finally, it was her turn. A man came over and urged her to hold out her hand. She did as he asked and he pricked her finger, taking a quick blood sample. He let a drop fall onto some kind of paper and then scanned it with a handheld scanner. The device beeped several times so he scanned it again with the same result. "We have her," he shouted to the others and he grabbed Jade roughly by the shoulder and pulled her out of line.

"Jade," Aria called after her but Jade silenced her with a shake of her head.

The soldiers pulled her up to the stage and the man standing there looked at her critically. "She's the one?"

The soldier who had scanned her blood nodded. "Yes, Sir, we appear to have no record of her on file."

The man in charge mused that over for a bit then made a gesture with his hand. "Load her up then, we'll take her back to the capitol for questioning."

"Questioning for what," Jade demanded, "Why am I being arrested?"

Her answer came in the form of a needle penetrating her skin at the base of her neck. A moment or two later her vision swam and she collapsed. The soldier holding her threw her limp body over his shoulders and followed the others off the stage. Jade tried to search the crowd for Aria and her family but the faces of the people before her just melted together and were unrecognizable. Finally, her eye lids felt too heavy for her to keep open and she let herself drift off into a deep, drug induced slumber...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:41 pm

Jade awoke to a loud bang as someone slammed a clipboard onto the table in front of her. A man wearing an impeccable suit stood on the other side of that table and he watched her with his arms crossed. It was then she became aware of the rest of her body, she sat in a chair, her hands cuffed together behind her back while her feet were cuffed to the floor.

"Where am I," she demanded, the man ignored her. "Where am I," she tried again, her voice a bit louder this time.

The man pulled a chair out from under the table and sat down, idling flipping the pages of the clipboard that sat in front of him. "My name is Roger Gale, I work for Internal Security," he said, "We found your craft in the woods, a beautiful design sporting technology the likes of which we've never seen before."

He leveled her with a stare. "Where did you get it?"

"I don't know," Jade answered and Roger frowned.

"This will go much easier on you if you cooperate," he said, "Now tell me about the craft, model ETA dash five. Where did it come from? Who sent it here?"

"I told you I don't know."

Roger stared at her for a moment, letting the pages of his clipboard fall back into place. "Fine, then let's start with something simple. What is your name?"

"Jade."

"Jade what?"

"I don't know," she said and Roger gave her an almost pensive look.

"You gotta give me something, Jade, my superiors want to put your head on the chopping block, they think you're some kind of spy. Now are they right or are they wrong?"

Jade fell silent for a long time, she knew her life depended on this but she just had no answers to give. "I'm sorry," she said quietly, "I just don't know."

Roger leaned back in his chair in annoyance. "Alright, then tell me what you remember, we'll start with that."

Jade's eyes wandered to the table as she searched her mind for what she could remember. "I awoke at the crash site," she said, "I--I don't know how I got there. I think I flew the craft but I don't remember."

"Alright, go on."

Thoughts were racing through her head now, a feeling of urgency. She was in danger. "I remember a ship, I think it was looking for me. I was afraid so I ran, I didn't know where. At the edge of the forest I found a village, I tried to climb down the hill but I fell and...," she stopped.

"And," Roger repeated, urging her on.

"And I woke up in a bed," she answered, "Someone had found me, took care of me. I never found out who they were."

Roger fell silent for a moment and he waited, almost as though he were listening to something. "Yes," he said with a nod, "We found you standing next to Markus McKenzie's family."

"Who are they," she asked, feigning ignorance.

Roger waved her off, "That's not important."

He stood from his chair and walked over towards the door. "That will be all for now. Just relax while I talk this over with my superiors."

Then he left and the door slid shut behind him, leaving Jade alone in the room. What was going to happen to her? Would she be executed as a threat? A threat to whom? Nothing was making any sense. She stared at the table in front of her, a deep agitation swelling up in her gut. She may very well die today and there was nothing she could do about it...

**********

"What do you think," a white bearded man said as Roger entered the room. He stood near a double pained window, watching the girl through a two-way mirror.

"I think she's suffering from amnesia," Gale explained, "She doesn't seem to remember anything before the crash."

President Pierson mused that over for a bit. He had been alerted the moment they found the craft outside District 14. It had entered into the upper atmosphere in a downward spiral, falling for miles before it leveled out and crashed into the woods. The make and model of the craft were alien in design and the technology used to construct it made it clear it came from somewhere out of this world. When the Peace Corps were dispatched to search for the pilot they thought they would be looking for little green men but instead they found a sixteen year old girl. Her physiology matched their own exactly which lent doubt to the idea that she was from another world.

It was possible she came from the other side of this world and if that was the case then Kestrel needed to be warned of the danger. It was previously thought that nothing could survive on the far side of the planet but this girl could be proof that people did exist there. Kestrel could not risk a second society rivaling their own. Any kind of opposition could spur the various districts into open rebellion a second time and that was a risk Pierson was not willing to take.

"Send our security forces to the far side of the planet. I want the origin of this craft found, immediately."

"And the girl?"

Pierson considered that a moment then waved his hand dismissively. "Kill her."

"Sir, if I may," Roger began, albeit a bit reluctantly, "Even without her memories the girl is still valuable as a source of information. Given enough time her memories will return and we'll have our answers then."

"Alright, Captain, then what do you suggest we do with her?"

"Well," he said with a shrug, "we found her in District 14, let's just send her back."

"Back," Pierson asked, raising an eyebrow.

"We send her back to McKenzie and his family, assimilate her into our society and keep an eye on her. If she starts to show signs of her memory returning we bring her back in and question her then."

Pierson didn't seem convinced.

"Sir, if there is a danger on the far side of the planet or even one from outer space then this girl is our best chance of finding out what it is."

"Fine, fine, fine, do as you wish," Pierson said, waving him off, "But if this girl causes any trouble then I will be holding you personally responsible."

Roger felt a growing fear in the pit of his stomach but he bowed anyway and left the room. Outside a security detail waited in the hall, guarding the door to the room in which the mysterious girl waited. He directed them to open the door and follow him in. The girl, Jade, was unshackled from the chair and taken back through the complex to a waiting hovercraft. They dropped her off at District 14 but Gale had men positioned in the village to keep an eye on her. They were each given instructions to bring her in should her memories return but as the hovercraft took off on a course that would take it back to the capitol Roger deeply hoped for her sake that Jade would never remember who she is...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:57 am

It had been a month since Jade awoke in the village. She was acclimating well to life in district fourteen, or at least she was trying to. She wanted to make herself useful to the people who rescued her so she tried helping Miriam knit clothing for the family only to find she had no feel for the needle. She tried to help cook but her efforts there were about as fruitful as the half a scarf she failed to knit. Washing clothes was fairly straight forward and easy enough so she often did that. She wanted to help at the lumber mill but Markus forbade it, he was concerned that she wasn't strong enough and a sawmill was a dangerous place for a young girl. So she had yet to find anything she was actually good at, which made her wonder just what exactly were her skills?

Aria would sometimes venture out into the wild to hunt game, though the only game she typically found in this area were squirrels. At times Jade followed her, they never ventured far for fear of the Peace Corps finding them. Jade had found out from Aria that the Corps routinely patrolled the wilds looking for runaways. She wasn't exactly clear on the punishment but Jade got the impression that being caught in the wild was a very bad thing. So they kept their trips short, hunted a few squirrels with a bow and arrow then wandered back. Jade wasn't a very good shot with the bow but tracking animals through the wild somehow felt familiar to her. Hunting made her feel more at home than knitting, which set her imagination aflame with all sorts of absurd ideas.

The simplest conclusion she could make was that she had once been a hunter, but that didn't explain why she was such a terrible shot. She might have used a gun but that thought alone brought up all sorts of wild implications. Was she a soldier? The craft she crashed in had something that looked like gun barrels and missile pods built into the wings. She hadn't noticed them before but the more she thought about it the clearer the images became, the very fact she could identify these things had her mind reeling. It was a vehicle made for war and somehow she ended up with it, a sixteen year old girl. The thought of it just seemed so ridiculous, who would let a girl her age fly a ship so technologically advanced? A more reasonable explanation was that she stole it. The burns in the side of the craft, someone had shot at her. It was possible they brought down her ship while she was trying to escape, but escape from whom?

Too many questions, too many thoughts swirling around in her head, it was all making her dizzy. "Are you alright," Aria asked, they were sitting by a brook in the woods and Aria took the time to clean the squirrels they had hunted.

"I'm alright," Jade assured her, "I was just--trying to remember."

"Anything," Aria asked as she slipped her squirrels into a bag then slung it over her shoulder. She got up to her feet and Jade followed her.

"No," the girl answered with a shake of her head, "nothing."

Aria rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Well, I'm sure it will come back to you. Now come on, we've got to get back to the village before the Peace Corps arrive."

"They're coming today," Jade asked in surprise.

"Well, yeah--it's the day of the Reaping."

The Reaping? What was that? "I--I don't understand."

Aria sighed and let the bag fall from her shoulder a bit. "Every year the capitol holds a Reaping where one girl and one boy are selected from each district to participate in a game."

"A game? That sounds like fun, but you don't seem excited," Jade said, watching her friend's expression closely.

"It's a fight to the death," Aria explained, "Twenty-eight teenagers go in only one comes out. The game is televised all over Kestrel, it's a big hit in the capitol but then they never have to participate."

That didn't seem fair at all. "Why not? They're the ones hosting it, right? They should participate."

"Yeah, I wish," Aria said with a smile, "Look, it's all because of the war sixty three years ago. The districts rebelled against the capitol and lost and this is the price we pay."

"They make you fight in games to the death because your ancestors lost a war?"

Aria shook her head. "They make us fight to remember. It's all about control."

"But they control every aspect of your lives already, is that not enough?"

Aria hesitated then looked up towards the sky, her eyes searching for the sun. "We better get back," she said, changing the subject. "If we're not in line for the Reaping...," she left the rest hanging in the air but the obvious conclusion was that something very bad would happen...

**********

Watching the so-called Hunger Games was an interesting experience. First the children were all led into the courtyard followed by the parents.Roll call was taken at a nearby table, one on each side of the courtyard for boys and girls. Jade and Aria were marched straight up to the table for the girls and prompted to give blood samples. Jade couldn't help but notice that when her sample was scanned her name came up as Jade McKenzie. Then they were filed into rows in front of the stage. There was an opening speech, an inspirational video and then the names were picked, all the while the entire event was being televised across the nation. Jade started to feel uneasy with the idea that millions of people were watching her.

After the Reaping the family wandered back to their home and a projector was set, projecting the games onto an empty wall. Jade didn't personally know the two children that were called but she recognized them from seeing them in the village. The people on stage acted as though being selected was such a great honor but Jade had her doubts. From there the Tributes, as they were called, were taken to the capitol to train for a month. They were instructed in combat skills as well as survival skills all under the watchful eye of their sponsors. The whole thing was televised, of course, with various spokespersons describing the action.

Finally came the games themselves and the first eight minutes of the action were so brutal Jade had to literally turn away. Children under the age of eighteen cut at each other like rabid animals. A few tried to flee, begging for their lives but they were mercilessly cut down. The Hunger Games really illustrated the brutality of war and it made poor Jade practically sick to her stomach. She left the room in a hurry, rushing outside to the outhouse where she threw up what little food she had for lunch. Aria followed her out and knelt next to her in the outhouse.

"Are you alright," she asked, a note of concern in her eyes.

"The ship I crashed in," Jade began between coughs and gags, "it was designed to kill... I--I think I'm like them!"

Aria gave her a meek little laugh then ran a hand along Jade's check. "I wouldn't worry about that. If you really were like them then I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be puking your guts out right now."

That did make her feel better, if only a little but after that Jade refused to watch the rest of the games. Everything in the village had stopped for the two weeks the games were held, which meant there was little else to do. Aria kept her company for which Jade was grateful. The young girl was absolutely horrified that such a thing was allowed to take place and it didn't help when Jade realized that her name had been entered into that drawing. After all, she was sixteen and as far as the capitol was concerned she had been officially assimilated into District Fourteen. That meant that for the next two years she would still be in danger of being picked for the games.

Part of her hoped that by then she would remember where she came from and find a way home, but another part of her didn't want to leave while the girl who took care of her faced the same danger. Jade didn't want to be picked for the games but she didn't want Aria to be picked either but she didn't know what to do. She was just one girl and the capitol held all the power in Kestrel and that's when she saw the futility in fighting. The capitol would continue to do whatever it wanted and anyone who resisted would simply be killed. She doubted she would even be allowed to leave even if she had regained her memories. The wreckage of her craft was taken from the woods, possibly brought to the capitol and placed inside a secret facility. If she tried to get it back she would just end up dead.

So she was stuck here, living in a world in which she did not belong under the heels of masters she barely knew. For awhile she had forgotten the Hunger Games and her troubles, trying instead to just live her life. She made a place for herself in District Fourteen and people were beginning to recognize her in the streets, some even calling out to her. She was known as McKenzie's other daughter even though everyone knew they weren't related by blood. That didn't bother her, though, she was just happy to have found a place where she could belong, even if she couldn't remember who she really was. Seasons came and past and all thought of the Hunger Games had strayed from her mind, but it had almost been a year and soon the stark reality of her world would come crashing down upon her again...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Thu Aug 23, 2012 11:39 am

"It has been a year, Captain, and the girl shows no signs of having regained her memory."

Roger Gale shook his head sadly, though inwardly he was grateful. "I'm afraid not, Sir. At this point I'd say it's very likely that she may never regain her memory."

"Likely, but not certain," Pierson answered pointedly, giving the younger man a sharp look, "With or without her memory that girl represents a danger to our society. She has been acclimated to our way of thinking but she does not understand it. If left unchecked her ideas could prove disastrous."

"Then what do you suggest we do," Gale asked, that pit in his stomach growing larger.

Pierson stood from his chair and turned his back on the man, gazing out the window of his seventy story building. "I went along with your plan because you had assured me of results. Now the girl has endeared herself to the people of District Fourteen and simply killing her is out of the question. Your plan was clever, Captain, almost perfect but she is not wholly out of my reach yet."

He turned back to look at the younger man and walked over to his desk where a stack of reports sat waiting his perusal. He idly thumbed through the pages, letting them fall into place without actually reading them. "A plan is being set into motion that will make Jade's death appear as though it were a random stroke of bad luck instead of a targeted assassination. I trust you will not interfere," he looked at the man sharply.

Gale gulped nervously then shook his head. "No, Sir, I wouldn't dream of it."

"Good, I would just be heart broken if anything were to happen to you," Pierson replied and then he waved the Captain out of his office. Gale left in a hurry and as the door slid shut behind him Pierson lowered himself back into his chair. On his computer was an image of the craft they had found in the woods. Pierson had had his techs go over every inch of it, trying to reverse engineer it without taking it apart.

Officially it was just an aircraft from the far side of the world, unofficially Pierson's lead scientist on the project had hypothesized that the engine they discovered while investigating the machine was designed for intergalactic travel. The mechanics of it were still being researched but it was appearing more and more likely that this Jade had come here from another world. That there was life on other planets, especially life that appeared so similar to their own, needed to be kept under wraps. They didn't need the pilot so long as they had the ship, it was only a matter of time before his scientists had completely reverse engineered the thing and began reproducing the technology. As for Jade without her memories she was merely a nuisance, one that could easily be dealt with...

**********

Jade felt a growing dread deep in the pit of her stomach. It had been a year since the last Hunger Games and already it was time for another Reaping. Miriam McKenzie had laid out the fanciest clothes they could afford for the two young girls and Jade found herself staring at the dress refusing to put it on. The only thought racing through her mind at that moment was the first eight minutes of the previous Hunger Games. The blood and gore and the savage brutality of it all. The images stuck so clearly in her mind and she felt a cold shiver running down her spine.

"Jade, you're still not ready yet," Aria said from the doorway to the room they shared. She came over and stood in front of the other girl, her eyes searching Jade's. "What's wrong?"

The question finally snapped Jade back to the present and she quickly shook her head. "It's nothing," she lied, "I guess I'm just nervous."

"You don't have anything to be nervous about," Aria assured her, "Your name's only been entered into the drawing once. There's no way they'd pick you."

"But what about you," Jade asked, her eyes finally meeting Aria's, "How many times has your name been entered?"

The other girl fell silent for a moment then reached down and handed Jade the dress. "Here, we don't have much time," she said, "Hurry up and get ready."

She started to leave the room and Jade called after her. "Aria," she said but the girl was long gone. With a sigh she set the dress back down on the bed and began to undress herself, her concern about being picked for the Hunger Games shifting to concern for her friend. Aria's expression left a nervous lump in her throat...

**********

The people of District Fourteen were once again led into the courtyard. Aria and Jade had checked in at the table for the girls as they had the year before. Their blood samples were taken and scanned and then they were ordered to form ranks in front of the stage. The same absurdly dressed woman from the year before came out to speak to them, but Jade was so nervous she couldn't focus on anything the woman said. The speech led right into the video and as it played Jade's eyes searched the crowd for Aria. She had lost track of the girl after their blood samples were taken and they were separated.

Jade was so focused on her search that she almost missed it when the woman began speaking again. "And now for the drawing," she said in that chipper sing song voice she always used. "As always we'll start with the ladies."

She walked over to a large bubble with an open top filled with small slips of paper. She fished her hand around for a moment or two then withdrew one of the small slips from the bubble. Time seemed to slow as Jade waited for the woman to return to the mic. She took her sweet time opening the slip of paper then cleared her throat before announcing, "Jade McKenzie."

Jade's entire body went cold. Against all odds her name had been pulled for the drawing and now she would have to participate in the games.

"Come on up, Dear," the woman urged her and Jade started to slowly make her way through the crowd.

When she made it to the center aisle between the men and the women two soldiers waited to take her to the stage.

"Jade," Aria's voice called after her and Jade turned at the sound of it. "Jade, no," the girl cried and she tried to rush forward but two more guards intercepted her. "Let me go," she screamed, "Jade!"

They started to pull her back into the crowd but she resisted. "I volunteer as Tribute," the girl shouted and everyone stopped to look at her, "I volunteer!"

The woman on stage was stunned and she looked at someone with uncertainty in her eyes before turning back to the mic. "Well, it seems we have a volun--,"

"No," Jade shouted, her voice cutting through everything and silencing everyone, "It was my name that was picked! I will be the one to participate in the games!"

"Jade, no," Aria began but the other girl just shook her head.

"You already saved me once, Aria, now let me save you. Let me do this, please," she urged her, "I will not have you risking your life for mine."

Aria fell silent then gave her a sad nod of her head. Jade smiled at her reassuringly then turned and allowed the guards to escort her to the stage. The woman standing at the mic came over to help her up the last few steps then wrapped one arm around her shoulder and led her over to the mic. "Well, Dear, that was pretty exciting wasn't it. Now let me ask you something, sweetie, you're not from around here, are you?"

Jade quietly shook her head.

"And the girl who tried to volunteer for you, who is she?"

"She's the one who found me," she said, her voice barely audible enough to be picked up by the mic.

"Well, that was very sweet of you," the woman replied then she turned to gaze out over the crowd, her demeanor becoming all business once again. "Now for the boys," she said, walking over to the bubble on the other side of the stage. Again she fished around for a moment then withdrew a small slip of paper. She carried it back to the mic and opened it slowly. "Aiden Reyes," she announced over the PA.

There was a slight murmur then everyone turned to look at the boy in question. He had the same look on his face that Jade did when her name was called but this time no one tried to volunteer for him. The guards quietly led him to the stage where he was met by the absurdly dressed woman and led back to the mic. "Now," the woman began speaking into the mic again, "may I present to you your Tributes for the sixty fourth annual Hunger games."

It seemed like she expected applause but all she got was dead silence. Jade gazed out over the crowd, her eyes scanning one face after another. Their expressions were the same, each one knowing deep down in their hearts that they were not attending the opening event for some grand sport but rather that everyone had gathered for a funeral procession. The look in their eyes left a sour lump in Jade's throat and that feeling stuck with her even after she was led from the stage to a car waiting nearby. She really was going to die and she would never have the chance to find out who she really was...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Fri Aug 24, 2012 11:19 pm

The amenities on board the bullet train carrying them to the capitol were a stark contrast to life in District Fourteen. Everything was so rich and fancy, from the clothes the people wear to the food they eat and even where they sleep. They'd been riding on the train for two days now and already Jade was worried she was being spoiled from sleeping on a nice mattress, her head resting on goose down pillows.

During the trip she had on occasion turned on the flat screen display in her room but all anyone ever seemed to be talking about lately were the Hunger Games. There were two men on the screen now, Seger and Fitz and they were going over recaps of old Hunger Games. Jade found the whole thing distasteful, they were showing images of children killing each other like savage beasts and were talking about the "beauty" of it. Somewhere deep inside of her she wished she had the power to change all this.

There was a knock on the door and a man stuck his head into the room. "Dinner is ready at the dining car," he informed her and Jade quietly nodded, turning off the display before following the man out of the room. In the dining car she found Aiden sitting with Edison Bernard, their mentor, and the woman who had greeted them on stage, Yvana Kronn. They were quietly talking among themselves as she approached and the moment they noticed her everyone fell silent. Both Aiden and Edison stood while she sat down and they didn't sit again until she was seated. It was a strange custom that Jade didn't really understand. Edison had taught it to Aiden and now they do it every time she approaches the table.

"So, um... What were you guys talking about," Jade asked, trying her best to ignore the unease she felt at being in such an unfamiliar situation.

"Oh, we were just trying to get a feel for Aiden's skills," Edison explained as he seated himself again and picked up his fork.

"There isn't much I'm really good at, I mean I'm pretty strong but I'm not a fighter," Aiden continued for him and Jade found his bashfulness almost endearing.

"Try not to think like that, Son," Edison encouraged him, then he turned to look at Jade, "So what about you? What are your skills?"

Jade diverted her eyes to her plate, twirling her food around with her fork. "I don't really know," she said, "I found a lot of things I'm really bad at but nothing that felt like it was something I could do."

Edison nodded, "Aiden was telling me about your--amnesia, was it? I think we can use that, I think I can sell it to the crowd. 'The girl with no name,' how does that sound?"

"What do you mean? Sell it how," Jade asked, giving him a confused look.

"Look, sweetheart, people love tragedy, it's a fact of life. We tell them your story and the people will gobble it up. You'll have no trouble getting sponsors."

Jade just gave him a blank stare like she wasn't understanding anything he was talking about.

Edison sighed, "How many Hunger Games have you seen, hun?"

"I saw the start of the last one but--I couldn't finish watching it."

"So you know basically nothing," Edison surmised, then he put down his fork, picked up his napkin and used it to wipe his mouth before continuing. "Alright look, the thing you have to remember most is that this is a TV show, okay? People are going to be watching you day and night and the best way for you to survive is to get those people to like you. Sponsors can send you gifts while you're out in the arena, food, medicine, matches, anything and trust me when I say this, sweetheart, a drop of water at the right time could mean the difference between life and death out there."

"But how do I get people to like me?"

Edison gave her a half smile, "Now that's the tricky part. You're coming from District Fourteen so you don't have a lot going for you right now, but I think there's something there we can work with. You're an outsider representing the District that took you in, we can use that."

Edison's suggestion seemed reasonable but something about it just didn't feel right to her. "It almost feels like we're lying to them. You know, like we're using them."

"Hey, if it means your survival," Edison replied with a shrug.

Jade still wasn't convinced. How could getting people to like her help? It all comes down to who's the better fighter in the end, right? And as far as she could remember she didn't know how to fight. In fact, beyond the tracking she did in the woods she didn't have a single skill that she knew of that could help her in this situation. Silently she took a bite of her food and zoned out as the conversation continued around her. If only she could remember something, some clue that could open a gateway to her past. Even if she found there was nothing there she could use to help her just knowing it would give her comfort...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Sat Aug 25, 2012 10:55 pm

They arrived in the capitol two days later and were greeted by a crowd of people cheering their arrival. Jade found their enthusiasm for the games, along with their fashion sense, disturbing but she tried to put a smile on her face regardless, remembering what her mentor had told her. From the train they were taken to their stylists where they were cleaned up and dressed in ridiculous costumes for the opening ceremony. Jade's stylist Melina dressed her in fine white silk with a veil over her head that was representative of her status as "the girl with no name" and because she literally fell from the sky to get here Melina also added angel wings as the final touch. Aiden was dressed to match her contrary to the tradition to dress tributes in costumes representative of their district and together the two of them made a splash entrance at the opening ceremony.

Afterward they were escorted to their apartment, the penthouse on the fourteenth floor since each district was assigned the floor that matched their number. After the first day's festivities was over Jade was relieved to have a chance to lie down and relax. Tomorrow she and Aiden would begin their training and she was not looking forward to that. Up until now she had never had any reason to fight, nor did she think that she could. Still part of her was worried that she might be good at it, that she might even like it. Maybe she'll start to realize that she's not really the person she is now but rather that she's someone much, much worse. These thoughts haunted her until her eyes finally closed and she drifted off to sleep.

The next morning they were given breakfast in the dining room of their penthouse and it was some of the finest food Jade had ever had the pleasure of eating. She didn't say much to the others but listened to her mentor as he was giving them advice. After breakfast they were taken to the training facility along with the other tributes. There was a brief introductory speech that was perhaps a bit more blunt than Jade would have liked and then the tributes had scattered to begin their training. The training would happen in two phases, group training and individual training. Since Jade had no idea what her skills were Edison had advised her to try everything.

The survival training came easy to her, she was a quick study and had no difficulty keeping up with her trainer. The physical training was a bit more difficult, she had been physically fit when she first crash landed on Galatea, she knew this because she ran for miles before winding up in District Fourteen. For the past year that she lived here, however, she hadn't been doing much exercise beyond the time she spent running around in the woods with Aria. Despite that she did fairly well with the training but her body would tire out easily and it wouldn't be long before she started to feel the tension of strained muscles.

The combat training was entirely different. She had tried using ranged weapons first since she had become somewhat familiar with them in the time she spent on this world, but each attempt ended as poorly as the last. Every shot she made with the bow missed, every knife she threw bounced off the target and every javelin fell short. Clearly ranged weaponry was not her specialty and as she tried and tried again she couldn't help but notice out of the corner of her eye a group of four kids just watching her, laughing.

"They're the 'careers'," Aiden explained, walking up behind her, "Their districts train them in special academies their entire lives and then they volunteer to participate in the games."

"You mean they spend their entire lives training just for this," Jade asked, a bit surprised. "I don't know why, but that makes me sad."

Aiden stared at her, to think this girl would feel sympathy for the people who were going to try to kill her. It surprised him, to say the least. "You are special, Jade, I'll give you that," he said, then he directed her over to a platform where a tribute and a trainer were sparring with practice swords. "You should try this."

"Sword fighting? You don't think that--,"

"I've seen the way you move, Jade," he interrupted her, "You're quick, nimble, light on your feet. I just think with your agility this would be more up your alley."

Jade hesitated, despite his assurances she wasn't entirely convinced but Edison did tell her to try everything at least once. So with a bit of reluctance she stepped up to the platform when the previous tribute was finished and was handed a practice sword. Her heart pounded in her trust and her hands shook so hard she nearly dropped the sword. When the trainer rushed at her without any warning she panicked and ran backwards of the platform. Her heel slipped on the edge and she nearly fell but Aiden managed to catch her.

"It's alright, Jade, you can do this. Just stand your ground."

Heart still thumping in her chest she returned to the center of the platform and took a deep breath. The trainer came at her again swinging high. Jade ducked under the attack but the trainer's return swing caught her off guard, striking her sword and jarring it from her hand. The practice weapon fell to the floor with a clatter as the trainer swung at her again, striking her in the cheek and sending her face first into the platform. The pain was intense and she was seeing stars. Then suddenly Aiden was at her side talking to her.

"Jade, listen to me. You have to relax, okay? Take deep breaths and relax."

Against her better judgement she stood and once again turned to face the trainer. This time she closed her eyes and tried to relax, focusing on her breathing and forgetting everything else. At some point her grip loosened on the sword in her hand and the weapon fell freely to the floor. That didn't stop the trainer, however, and he moved in to strike her again. He swung at her horizontally but much to his surprise she managed to grab hold of his wrist and twist, jarring the sword from his hand. Then she performed an aerial cartwheel, locking her legs around the trainer's neck and dragging him to the floor even as his weapon clattered beside him. He had done a full flip through the air and she ended up on top of him, pinning his arm to the mat. When she opened her eyes again everyone was staring at her, even the careers.

Startled she quickly got off the trainer and backed up, nearly running into Aiden who stood at the end of the platform.

"Jade," he said in shock, "that was amazing. How did you do that?"

Jade just stared at her hands in disbelief. "I don't know..."

**********

It was the middle of the night and Jade lay awake in her bed. Her mind kept wandering back to her training and that aerial take down she performed. She remembered standing there with her eyes closed and when the trainer attacked her body just moved on its own. She didn't think about it she just reacted, but more than that she saw it happen. Saw it as clearly as if she had done it with her eyes open. What was she exactly? Some kind of freak? She could anticipate a person's moves with her eyes closed, that couldn't possibly be normal.

With a sigh she rolled over onto her side and closed her eyes, trying to will herself to sleep. Aiden had spent most of the night talking about her take down with Edison and the more he talked about the more unbelievable it seemed. Even Jade herself couldn't believe it and she had been the one to do it. Either way Edison seemed to think that hand to hand combat was her specialty and advised her not to show off any more of her skill during group training. He would test his theory during individual training to see if what he thought was true, but given Aiden's reaction he was certain her chances of winning just increased tenfold.

But I don't want to win, she thought to herself. Winning would mean she was the only one left, that all the others had either been slain by other tributes or killed by her own hand. She didn't want to kill anybody, even if it meant losing her own life. She was afraid that killing might change her, or rather awaken the part of her she was afraid of. The part she knew was a trained killer. It was obvious now, she had the instincts of a fighter, there's no other explanation for it, and her greatest fear was that those instincts would take over in the arena and she wouldn't be able to stop herself...

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Re: The Price of Hope

Post by Pryde » Mon Aug 27, 2012 11:41 am

Jade's training had progressed fairly well, better than Edison could have hoped for. Every day brought marked improvement in her combat skills as well as her physical training. Or at least he would call it improvement if he hadn't known any better. She wasn't improving anything, rather she was just remembering what she had already learned. Her physical training was another matter entirely, in the year since arriving on this planet she had let her body deteriorate. She still possessed incredible speed and agility but her body gave out from over exertion far too quickly.

Fortunately for Jade she possessed a stubborn determination to push herself past her limit and she never gave up. For the first time in a year she started to feel like herself, whomever that might be which at once excited and frightened her. Someone had trained her to fight, trained her to kill and part of her really didn't want to find out who or even why. She was content with knowing that she would not be defenseless in the arena and that was it.

Standing in line for the obstacle course she tried to get her thoughts back into order. Her mind had been wandering too much lately and she needed to focus on the here and now. For group training her focus had been on survival and physical endurance. She worked on her combat skills alone during individual training so as not to show off too much of her skill. Some of the other tributes were in line with her, some standing in front the rest behind. A young boy was now climbing his way through the first obstacle but he was having a difficult time. Jade could tell from the way his arms shook as he tried to support his weight. Finally his strength had given out and he fell, landing on the ground in a bad way.

He sat there underneath the obstacle holding onto his ankle in pain as the other tributes watched, some were even laughing. Jade found the whole thing distasteful and jumped down from the platform to help him, only the boy didn't want her help.

"What are you doing, get away from me," he said, pushing her away when she tried to reach down and help him up.

Jade was a bit surprised but she was not deterred. She reached down and grabbed him anyway, pulling him up onto his good leg. "Shut up," she whispered sharply to him, "you can't walk on that leg and you know it."

"You're making me look weak," he whispered back but Jade ignored it.

Instead she threw one of his arms over her shoulders and supported his weight with her own as she helped him to the infirmary. From the looks of the other tributes Jade got the feeling that something like this typically never happened, especially between tributes from different districts. They would all have to kill each other in the end so no one saw it fit to take but a moment for common decency.

"Why are you doing this," the boy asked.

Jade just shrugged, "Because you're hurt."

"That can't be your only reason."

"What other reason do I need," she asked and the boy just stared at her in surprise. "I'm Jade McKenzie from District Fourteen," she continued, "You?"

"Gabriel Raines, District Eight."

Jade smiled. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Gabriel," she told him and then the two of them fell silent as they walked the rest of the way to the infirmary. The other tributes continued to watch them for a bit until they had lost interest and went back to what they were doing. All except for one, Keith Arekson from District One. He watched the girl with a keen interest, his eyes literally boring into her back. Before these games were over he was determined to be the one to put a knife through her gut...

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