Chapter 15: Jed
"As you know today is your first day of training. There will be dozens of stations, ranging from edible plants to spear throwing so you will have quite a selection." Torey reminds us as we tuck into breakfast.
"We both agree that it you should save your best skills for the private sessions. That means no axes for you, Jed and no running for you, Stella. But I think you should go to the sword station, Jed just long enough to remind you of the skills you taught yourself." Dad says, miming quotation marks as says he says "skills you taught yourself", remember what I'd said when I was caught with his prize sabre. "And perhaps you could get hold of some wood and try making weapons, like you said you could, Stella." She nods looking disappointed that running was off menu.
When it's time to head to Training Dad stops us at the elevator.
"I almost forgot. Stay close together in training."
"Why?” I ask.
"I, I mean we want you to show a united front in there. The careers will be going round in a group and will be dominated the place. Don't confront them but show them you’re not intimidated by them." He rushes his explanation, as the elevator operator loses his patience and closes the doors.
"You know why he really wants us to together right?" Stella asks as we zoom towards the ground.
"No", I answer giving her a confused look.
"He wants us to become allies, to stay together during the Games. That way he can put off choosing between us for as long as possible."
I'm going to ask what she means when the doors open, revealing a huge room resembling the shabby gymnasium at school, but much grander and bigger. We're one of the last to enter, only District 6 and 3 appear to be absent. The careers are already in full flow at the combat stations. I grimace as I watch Kayden throw the small boy from district 9 across the wresting station. He picks him up again and holds him high above his head as if he weighed no more than a bag of dried leaves. With a malicious smile on his face as he slams him down with a bone shattering thud!
"Well, I vote we stay away from the combat stations for now." Stella says nervously.
"How much longer is that going to take?" I moan impatiently, watching her file a piece of wood from the fire station into a point with a sharp stone (also from the fire station). She's been there for what feels hours, working on the same piece of wood. I lost patience a while ago and visited the nearby stations. So far I've learned how to start fires, tie a few basic knots and how to make a shelter out of branches. But when I returned she was exactly the same as I left her.
She looks up from her cross legged position and glares at me.
"It'll be done when it's done." She snarls. A few minutes later she blows the saw dust off it and smiles proudly.
"There, a handmade dagger." Then she finally gets up and walks over to the knots station and grabs a piece of rope. She holds it in one hand a cuts it in two with the jagged wooden blade. Her smile turns into a grin.
"Great. Can we do what I want to do now?"
We finish our lunch as quickly as possible, determined to get to the combat stations before the Careers. The other tributes must have thought we'd been starved for half our lives. I dash straight to the sword section and pick up the one that most resembles Dad's. All the memoires of my secret time in the woods flood back to me, I block out everything in the room. It's just me, the sword and the words of the instructor.
Slash! I swing the blade towards the dummy with all my strength. Its head is sliced clean off and rolls across the floor. Part of me finds this alarming as it envisions me do that to a real person, but I've never felt more powerful in my entire life. For the first time since being reaped I truly believe I have a chance of winning this. A chance to go back home with Dad and be with my family again.
"Hey, Jed! I'm going on one of those running machines. Wanna come with?" Stella asks, I have no idea how long I've been here or if she's even been here with me.
"Dad said no running."
"One your Dad's not here and two I won't be going really fast. It'll just be a jog to help me stay in shape. Nothing to draw attention to myself." She says in a forceful tone. I decide not to argue with her because she seems like the type who will hold their ground even after it's crumbled beneath them.
It takes a little while to get used to the weird sensation of moving but not going anywhere. But we soon do and start jogging away. After a while I'm beginning to pant but Stella hasn't broken a sweat, she’s completely in the zone (where ever that maybe).
Suddenly the boy from District 1 joins us, setting off at a run. He smiles snidely at Stella.
"You're not going to get away from anything at that speed." He comments, glancing at her monitor.
"I'm not even trying; I could go a lot fast if I wanted to." She says, trying to act tough.
The boy looks shocked for a second at this comeback, but his sneer soon falls back into place.
"Prove it." Her eyes narrow, sensing a challenge.
"Fine, I will." She declares as she cranks up the speed. She's not kidding, she is fast! But the boy matches her speed in an instant. It gets faster and faster as the scene turns into a race. Now their legs are a blur as they go into a full on sprint. You can hear their lung pump air in and out. Their skin boils from the heat they generate. But Stella keeps her head down. She's hell bent on winning. Utterly determined. Absorbed into the zone. Then there's a shriek as the boy's legs admit defeat and send him flying off the machine! Stella's grinds to a halt beside it.
"YES!!" She punches the air in triumph. "That'll teach you to mess with Stella Grimeshaw!”
"Ummm, Stella. Can you keep your celebration down?" I whisper to her looking across the room. She follows my gaze. Everyone is staring at her.
So much for not drawing attention to yourself.