Prologue II - Lonely Mice

Spring of 3164

District Nine - Cetus Altair, 17

The long grass rustles my bare legs as I step lightly through the fields. A house stands all alone off to my far right. Alone. I can relate with that house more than I can relate to any person. I stand and watch it's old wooden walls shudder slightly. It must be ancient if it can barely stand a minuscule Spring breeze, I think to myself. A just as ancient old woman steps out from the shack and kicks the wall, her dry lips forming words I'd assume aren't kind. She spots me out of the corner of her eye and jumps, a withered hand pressing against her chest. She shields her eyes with her other hand and peers at me. A warm gust of wind blows my dark brown hair into my eyes, and I make a promise to cut it as soon as I get back to the Capitol. The old woman shudders in time with her house and scurries back through the tilted doorway like a mouse.

Why does she live so far away from everyone else? I wonder for half a second before dismissing the thought and continuing on my way. Maybe she just likes being alone. I push through the grass and suddenly sink into a soft patch of dirt. I make an oddly animalistic noise as my legs give out and I fall to my knees. Groaning, I pull my feet out of the dirt and stretch them. My dark skin shines in the moonlight, and I smile to myself as I think, Out of all the places in Panem, the moon chose to shine on me. I hold my hand out in the wash of milky light and let myself fall flat on my back, the grateful smile still gracing my features. Subdued features, I think, my mother's voice reflecting in my mind. Nobody likes subdued features. They want bold ones.

I adjust my cropped T-shirt so it covers more of my back, and fold my hands under the back of my head as a makeshift pillow. Gleaming white holes in the sky dot my vision, framed by the long strands of dry grass reaching up to the heavens. I sigh dreamily. All my life I've wanted to be an astronomer. More than once I've mixed up the words 'astronomy' and 'astrology', the stupid idea that stars dictate one's future. The Capitolites back home are crazy for astrology. My parents told me there was no glory in astronomy. They reminded me that no astronomer held any value in the Capitolites' hearts. They told me that all the stars had already been found, but I knew then they were lying. If all the stars had already been found, labeled, researched, then why would we still be living on a dying planet? My little boy mind had spun tales and theories of what might have happened to the rest world. Maybe all the stars had been found. Maybe all the other countries had left. Maybe Panem was alone…

My chocolate brown eyes search determinedly for the constellation I was named after. Cetus. My gaze finally rests on it in the far right of the sky, and I follow the millions of stars down to the farthest left star, all the way on the different side of the night sky than Cetus. Altair. I left the word magical behind when I was about 8, but now it pops up in my mind again. The stars have never ceased to appear as magic to me. My name has never ceased to appear as magic. The idea that my family name, Altair, and my own name, Cetus, lay on opposite sides of the sky from each other always struck me as an omen of sorts.

Somewhere, miles away, the Capitolites are already placing bets, I think. I've never felt any strong feelings about the Hunger Games. I've never loved the idea of them and I've never hated the idea of them. It's a reasonable idea to host a series of 'Games' reminding past rebels their time is up, and simultaneously thinning the ever expanding population. However, I think the President could go about it in a different way. Targeting the disabled and diseased would be more efficient, making our species stronger as a whole. If we have the capability of singling out our weaknesses and destroying it, why do we pass up the opportunity?

A small squeak breaks me away from my thoughts and I turn my head to see a small light brown mouse pushing through the bottom of the grasses. I watch as the little animal's paws make the tiniest of imprints in the dirt, and I make a point to stay perfectly still. The mouse cautiously creeps closer to my face, nose twitching madly. I close my eyes and let the creature sniff my forehead, my nose, and my left eyelid. Then the miniscule itch of the small mouse's fine whiskers disappears and I crack open an eye. I see the mouse's tail trail along the ground towards my legs and I sit up, slowly so as not to startle the tiny animal. The mouse's face turns slightly to eye me warily, and then he turns back around and continues sniffing down my leg. His paws reach up and I feel the scratch of tiny mouse claws on my shin. Seemingly bored, he turns and disappears back the way he came in seemingly no hurry. I chuckle, staring after him.

I've never been terribly fond of people. Humans are unpredictable and cruel. I've never feared zombies, ghosts, demons, or even nature. They're all predictable now. I used to think zombies were more terrifying than people until I realized zombies only wanted one thing and you could never tell what people wanted. Animals are much more different than people, and that's why I like them. I wish I were an astronomer up in the endless sky away from people. Away from my overbearing parents, eccentric Capitolites who are never pleased with the way I dress or the way I act, friends who talk words of hate behind my back, and horror movies lacking the true component of fear. The only thing I'd miss would be the animals, I think solemnly.

"Cetus?! Cetus Ozark Altair you come out of that mangy, dirty, disgusting field right now or I swear to God I will make you wish you were never born!" I gulp at the distant voice of my mother, shrinking down deeper into my grassy hideout.

"Cetus, I think your mother wants you," my dad says, his tired raspy voice coming from much closer than I'd thought he was.

"Dad?" I ask, sitting up. A flashlight flicks on and shines straight into my eyes. I yelp and block my face with my left palm.

"Playing in the dirt again, I see," my dad says. "Son, you know you're too old to be wandering off." I stand up, dusting myself off and see my mother's frantically waving flashlight off in the distance. She doesn't seem to have realized I've already been found.

"I wasn't playing, I wa-"

"Whatever it was you were doing out here, it's time to go home," my dad interrupts, angrily waving a hand in dismissal. I open my mouth to tell him off in the kindest way possible, but he stops me by grabbing my wrist and pulling me through the singing grass to where my mother stands, furious.

"Cetus Ozark Altair did I not tell you to stay put right beside us?" she asks. I open my mouth to answer her but she cuts me off, holding up a finger. "It's our job to provide a live documentation of the Pre-Games events, and you act like it is nothing. Nothing! We work long and hard to pay for you and are you grateful? No. You asked to come with us this year, did you even want to?" She starts to say something, but then stops exasperated. "What are you even doing this far up in District Nine?" she asks, her voice suddenly as tired as my dad's.

"I… wanted to see the stars," I say meekly. She sighs and swivels on her heels, stomping through the field back to where the hovercraft must be waiting for us. "A future gamemaker does not have time to look at stars," I hear her mutter under her breath. Having heard this phrase said to me a million times and more, I dismiss it before the last word even leaves her mouth. Instead, I think about what she would say if I told her about the mouse. 'Rats carry diseases!' I imagine her shrieking in disgust. I chuckle to myself and then follow her. My father pulls me back by the wrist he hasn't let go of and I huff in annoyance.

"You can carry these, he says coldly, shoving the box of two heavy cameras into my chest. I wrap my arms around them and nearly buckle under the weight.

"I can barely hold them," I growl. He shrugs and pats me on the back, then steps away from me, in the direction of the district square. Grumbling to myself, I stagger after him.

A/N: sorry for the wait, and also sorry for the extra prologue, i really wanted to have a similar chapter for Cetus(not really sure how i feel about this one, but oh well)... anyway, thank you so much for all the tribute submissions! there are still six empty spots at the time I'm writing this: D3 female, both from D7, both from D9, and D12 male. after this, i'll be publishing the reapings chapter, and i'll hopefully get the first one out by sunday(US) or maybe sooner. my plan is to have two districts in one reaping chapter so they go by faster 'cause i hate writing them and i know people *usually* hate reading them.

reviews are always appreciated! which of the two(Estella or Cetus) do you like more?

-knifey

shower thought of the day: 'incorrectly' is always spelled 'incorrectly' unless it's spelled incorrectly. (sorry that wasn't original, if you guys have any shower thoughts i could really use them haha)