A/N: Time for another story! This story has quite a lot of radical ideas on how to tackle poverty and crime and I want to make it clear that I don't believe that any of these are acceptable. I totally believe we should all have a choice about how we live our lives.
I hope you find the concept interesting and let me know what you think.
Disclaimer:I don't own the Hunger Games or any of its characters
My alarm goes off at 7am. The single note repeated sound stirs me from my sleep and I don't linger once I hit the off button. I slip out from under the covers and move to the bathroom while rubbing sleep out of my eyes. I hop in to have my seven minute shower that has been made mandatory by the government since the great drought the previous summer. The shower beeps and shuts off the water when my time is up and I step out the shower to dry myself off. I head back to my bedroom to put on the suit I laid out the night before and then head to the kitchen to grab some breakfast.
My sister, Prim, yawns as she makes a pot of fresh tea. She's still in the grey hospital scrubs she wore on last night's night shift and greedily wraps her hand around the steaming cup of tea.
"Good morning, Peeta," she says.
I smile warmly at her before joining her by the counter to pour some cereal.
"Rough shift last night?" I ask.
Prim yawns again as she nods her head. The bags are heavy under her eyes and her usually immaculate ponytail is in disarray.
"Peacekeepers raided some rebel houses last night. The rebels didn't go quietly. I was stitching up stab and bullet wounds all night," she replies.
My sister has only recently qualified to be a doctor in the emergency room at Capitol General. And while she enjoys tending to the sick the night shifts have been gruelling of late as the rebels have upped their terrorist attacks.
"I don't know how you can tend to those people. They've caused so much death and destruction," I say.
"I don't believe in the whole eye for an eye thing. When it comes to medicine we are all just flesh and bone. It's easy when you focus on that," Prim replies.
I nod my head and Prim sighs as she dips her spoon into the bran cereal.
"It's after shifts like last night that I really wished they hadn't banned Lucky Charms cereal," she says.
I smile sympathetically as I chop banana into my own cereal and then take a seat next to her. Sugary cereals like Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes were banned about ten years ago when President Coin announced that all the e-numbers where making children too hyper and encouraged delinquent behaviour. Only cereals with natural flavours and that are high in fibre can be found on grocery shelves these days.
We both eat our cereal quietly before the watches on our wrists beep, reminding us of the mandatory 7.30am news bulletin. I put my spoon down to turn on the TV in the corner and the beeping on our watches stops as soon as the TV flickers into life.
President Coin believes that we shouldn't start our day of work without being updated on the nation's progress. Her theory is that a lack of knowledge on current affairs leads to ignorance and that it is in Panem's best interest that we be educated through these mandatory news bulletins. We all have to wear government issued watches to make sure that we never miss a bulletin. But these watches also serve another purpose. They inform the government of travel and work habits, what we buy at the grocery store and how much exercise we take. The government say they need all this information to create a better society.
Caesar Flickerman's face appears on the screen and a breaking news banner runs underneath him.
"Last night there was a sizeable step forward in the government's battle with the so called rebels of Panem. Their leader, Gale Hawthorne, was captured in a successful raid of one their safe houses just outside the Capitol," Caesar starts.
The image then changes to footage from last night. Armed peacekeepers are seen surrounding the inconspicuous looking house as two more escort Gale Hawthorne out of the premises. The young rebel doesn't struggle as they move him but stands tall and defiant. There is a steely determination in his grey eyes that says he will not be beaten.
"Several designs for explosives were found with Mr Hawthorne in the house and he is being charged with conspiracy against the government. However, Mr Hawthorne was already wanted for a raft of other crimes including the double bombing of the family planning clinic three months ago," Caesar explains.
Prim shudders at the mention of the family planning bombing. She had just started her first month in the emergency room when the rebels targeted the clinic. They were protesting against the forced abortions of unqualified mothers and set off bombs outside during the early morning set up of the clinic. As others rushed to help those inside another bomb went off, killing nearly all those who rushed to help. In total twenty-seven people were killed that day including many of the doctors and nurses who worked there.
Prim worked close to twenty-four hours that day and said that the cries from the burn victims was the most excruciating sound she has ever heard.
"Did you know that they caught Hawthorne last night?" I ask.
Prim shakes her head.
"None of the peacekeepers said anything. Not even Darius which made me speculate they got someone big," she replies.
"Are you relieved? I know you were angry after the family planning bombing," I say.
Prim sighs as she runs her hand through her hair.
"Part of me understands why the rebels are angry. Thirty years ago a thing called human rights existed and they feel that because they are denied the opportunity to have children they are being deprived of their rights," Prim says.
I raise my eyebrows in surprise at what Prim is saying. Twenty-two years ago President Coin was elected as the leader of Panem. This was during a turbulent time in our country. The poorer suburbs of the cities were overflowing and dangerous. Crime and drug use was at an all time high and our parents talked about walking out the door not knowing if you would make it to work without being mugged, stabbed or raped. Coin got into government by offering a solution.
She stated that 95% of these crimes were committed by the poorest in our communities. She declared that the offspring of these criminals were stuck in a vicious circle. Poverty breeds poverty was her slogan. Her belief was that children of criminals were either neglected, which meant they grew up with major mental and educational difficulties or they were so used to seeing their parents commit crimes they thought it was normal to commit them too. None of these children benefitted our society and we were failing all these children by allowing them to be born into poverty. Coin said that the only way our country could prosper is if all our children came from stable and safe backgrounds. If we wanted to end poverty she said we had to stop the poorest families form reproducing.
So she proposed the Coin Laws. These laws are a set of criteria that prospective parents must pass before they can have a child. If you are not smart enough, rich enough or old enough you will not be granted permission to have a child. Any pregnant woman who does not qualify will either have to terminate her pregnancy or give the child up for adoption once it is born.
Since the law has been enforced there has been less crime committed by new offenders. There is less child neglect and child abuse. Exam scores have never been higher. Global surveys show that our children are the happiest in the world. But the rebels don't see the good in the laws. The majority come from low-income jobs and would not qualify for having a child. Their main aim is to have the Coin Laws overturned.
"I didn't see you as a sympathiser for them," I reply.
"It's easy for us to see the good in the laws. We will not have a problem qualifying for permission to have children when we are ready to. I'm not sure we would feel the same way if we were in their position," she says.
"But there's nothing stopping them having children if they really wanted it. Gale Hawthorne must be a clever man if he can design bombs and rally people together. I'm sure he would pass the IQ tests and if he used that intelligence for good things he could earn the $50,000 annual salary needed to qualify," I point out.
"I'm not disagreeing with you. But I'm privileged enough to know it's a lot easier for us to get to those jobs than the likes of Gale Hawthorne," she says.
Prim probably has a point and she sighs again as she looks back at the TV.
"I definitely don't agree with the way Gale Hawthorne goes about his protests. I went to medical school with some of the casualties in the family planning bombing. They didn't make the laws. Some of them lost their lives because Gale Hawthorne was angry at President Coin. Violence doesn't solve anything. There are better ways to get what you want," she adds.
"I agree. You can't kill innocent people and expect to get away with it. No matter how moral your stand point is," I reply.
Prim nods in agreement and Caesar finishes his segment on the raids last night. He then moves on to talk about the Sterilization Bill announced in government last week. The bill seeks to sterilize male and females unqualified to have children through the Coin Laws. The bill has gained a lot of steam in the week and Caesar reports that President Coin is eager to push the bill to a vote quickly.
I'm not sure how I feel about the bill. It seems awfully invasive and denies the chance for anyone to better themselves. But it was drummed into us at school that we don't question the government's policies.
The news bulletin ends with a team update for the Capital Cougars big game at the weekend and then the TV switches off automatically. Prim finishes the last of her cereal and then gets up to go to bed.
"Have a good day at work. And make sure Finnick doesn't distract you too much," she says.
I grin as she leans down to place a kiss on my cheek.
"How do you know that it's not me that leads him astray?" I ask.
"Peeta, you live for following rules. You could never be a bad influence on anyone," she replies.
I laugh and she says goodbye before disappearing to her bedroom. I put the dishes in the dishwasher and get ready for the rest of my day.
I make my way to the subway and scan my watch as I walk through the barriers. We get tax breaks for using public transport and the more you use these the bigger the tax reward. The watch helps monitor this and sends the information direct to the tax office.
I stand silently for the twenty-minute ride surrounded by dozens of other people all standing in an orderly fashion as we make our daily commute. I scan my watch again as I emerge from the subway and I walk into the building of the accountancy firm I work for.
I never imagined being an accountant when I was growing up. But then again I don't think any kid does. When I was five I was determined that I would own my own bakery and sell cakes so good even the president would buy them. But my dad was an accountant and all the aptitude tests at high school showed I was good with numbers. I don't know anyone who went against what their aptitude test indicated.
It's certainly not the worse job in the world and I'm lucky enough that one of my buddies from the college football team works in the same firm. Finnick may be two years older than me but he took me under his wing during my freshman year of college and he's been there for me ever since.
Finnick grins at me as I make my way to my desk fifteen minutes before I'm due to start. I take a seat in the chair next to Finnick's and he slides a cup of coffee towards me.
"Beat you to it today," he smiles.
I smile as I begin unpacking my stuff.
"Did Annie reject your advances this morning? That's the only reason I can think for you being early for once," I reply.
Finnick barks out a laugh and leans back in his chair. Several pairs of eyes look in our direction but quickly dart back as they dutifully get on with their tasks for the day.
"So that's the real reason you've been coming in early. Ever since you broke up with Delly you've had no one to distract you in the morning," Finnick says.
"I come in early because I want to be good at my job," I reply.
"Sadly I think that's true," Finnick replies.
He swivels on his chair as he takes a sip of his coffee but has a huge grin on his face once he's finished.
"Though that does remind me. It's been one month since you broke up with her which means Annie and I have found you the perfect date for Saturday night," he says.
I shake my head at him.
"Did you pick this date or did Annie? I don't trust your taste after you set me up with the girl who wouldn't eat in front of men," I ask.
Finnick chuckles before pretending his coffee cup is a basketball and shoots it into a nearby trash can.
"Yes!" he exclaims as he gets it in. He then turns back to me. "I guess I still owe you for that. This is a girl Annie works with. I'll make sure Annie asks her if she eats in front of men."
I shake my head again but can't help but smile. I boot up my computer as Finnick continues to swivel on his chair.
"You can't stay single for too much longer. We all know how much you want mini Peetas running about and you know you have to be married for at least three years before they will let you have children," he says.
I sigh as I quickly type in my log in details. There is so much pressure to get married these days so we can start the process of being granted permission to have children. Mum and Dad talked about how marriage and weddings were all about love back in their day but since the Coin Laws have been in place marriage is a step to getting children. Some couples start a count down clock at their wedding reception, counting down the three years they need to wait until the can apply to have a child. I've not had much luck finding love so far but I do know I want children in the not too distant future.
"If you don't want the date to be too formal, Annie and I could tag along. Hey, why don't we invite Cato and Madge too and make it a mini party? We don't hang out enough anymore," Finnick replies.
"That's because you are too busy practising making babies with your beautiful wife," I remark.
Finnick's grin gets wider and he rolls his chair closer to mine.
"Play your cards right and Glimmer might be your beautiful wife that gives birth to all your adorable blonde babies," he says.
I roll my eyes.
"Fine. We'll give Cato a call. I'm tired of being the fifth wheel with guys any way," I reply.
"That's my boy!" Finnick says.
He fist pumps and then slaps me on the shoulder before rolling his chair back to his desk. He finally pretends to do some work as he logs onto the firm's system. We both check our emails before I turn to speak to him again.
"I forgot to ask. How did the appointment go with the Coin Laws people go?" I ask.
Finnick sighs as he leans back in his chair.
"I thought making a baby would be fun but it's a lot of paperwork," he replies.
I nod my head and then Finnick digs into his bag to pull out a long document. He slides the papers over to my desk. Finnick and Annie celebrated their three-year anniversary last month and had a big party to celebrate their ability to apply to have a child. They are both desperate to have their first child before they are thirty as Finnick pictures himself as a young and energetic father.
"That is an eighteen-page document detailing every aspect of the Coin Laws and the criteria we have to meet! Eighteen pages! Front and back!" Finnick exclaims.
I smile as I quickly flick through some of the pages. I thought I knew the Coin Laws but this goes into more detail than I imagined.
There are four main parts to the Coin Laws. They are as follows:
1. Any couple who wishes to have a child must be married and have been for the last three years
2. Both parties of the couple need to be at least twenty-five years of age
3. The combined income of the couple must exceed $50,000
4. Both parties must complete a government set IQ test and both must receive an IQ score of at least 100
I shake my head as I scan some of the parts of the document. The detail seems to go overboard.
"So are you actually any further in the process?" I ask.
Finnick sighs and shakes his head.
"The first meeting was just to declare our intention of starting of family. They gave us this document and told us all the paperwork we have to bring to the next meeting. Some of it is easy like providing our wedding and birth certificates but I have to produce my paychecks from the last three years! And this is all before we get to the IQ test!" he declares.
"Well I suppose that gives you a few months to improve your IQ," I tease.
Finnick chuckles and then runs a hand through his bronze hair.
"I'm just ready to be a dad," he sighs. "I saw a baby while I was out running yesterday and I honestly felt a tug on my heart. I spent fifteen minutes cooing over this stranger's baby. I'm broodier than Annie!"
I laugh but give him a reassuring pat on the back.
"You'll be a great dad. Just enjoy practising making a baby while the paperwork comes through," I say.
Finnick barks out a laugh and people turn around to look at us again.
"I do have a new leopard print thong that I have wanted to try out," he muses.
He grins at me and I shake my head.
"I'm surprised Annie hasn't burned your thong collection yet," I say.
Finnick's grin gets wider.
"She enjoys staring at my butt too much to burn them," he replies.
I laugh again but decide it's time to do some work. I turn back to my computer and click on a set of accounts. Finnick flashes me a grin one more time before he too turns back to work.
We keep working until our watches beep telling us it's time for lunch. Finnick happily locks his computer and jumps out his seat. He stretches and rubs his belly as he waits for me to join him.
"I've been craving sushi since ten o'clock. You coming to join me? We can call Cato while we eat," he says.
I nod my head as I pick up my bag.
"Perfect. Let's get going," I reply.
Finnick grins as we walk out the office. The sushi place is opposite our office and we stand in line patiently as we wait to be served. They scan our watches as we pay to record the food we buy. Purchasing healthier food gets you cheaper health insurance. They theory is that the healthier your diet is, the less likely you are to get heart disease or diabetes.
It's a nice day so Finnick and I take our sushi to the nearby town square and sit under a leafy tree as we watch hundreds of people walk around the giant metallic fountain in the centre. Finnick only takes a few bites before he pulls out his phone to call Cato.
"Do you think Cato has actually done any work today or do you think he's got his assistant to do it all for him?" Finnick asks.
I laugh before popping another piece of sushi in my mouth.
We both met Cato at college. He was my roommate and played with us both on the college football team. He's very loud and boisterous and got us into so many scrapes while we were at college. But he's a lot of fun. He took me to frat parties and go-karting. He encouraged me to go skinny dipping on spring break and helped me get laid for the first time. My whole college experience would have been all about studying if it wasn't for him.
He is also the only son of our president, Alma Coin. That has made him a little bit spoilt and very lazy. He got a job in marketing after college thanks to his mother's links but most of the ideas he presents come from his over-worked and underpaid assistant. But Coin's wealth meant that Cato never had to work until he left college and he doesn't see the point of stretching himself now. Not when he knows he has his mum to always fall back on.
Our friend picks up instantly when we call him. Finnick puts his phone on speaker so we can both speak to him.
"Yes, boys! I was just thinking about calling you to arrange our next night out. There is this new dance club on the high street and all the waitresses strut around in their underwear," Cato says.
Both Finnick and I roll our eyes.
"It amazes me that you have managed to hang onto a girl as nice as Madge when you spend half your time ogling other women," I say.
"Madge understands that it's a natural instinct for a man to look at an attractive girl. As long as I don't touch them," Cato replies.
I shake my head and Finnick sighs.
"Well my wife isn't quite so understanding," Finnick says. "So we were actually calling to set up a triple date. Annie has found this new girl for Peeta and we thought you and Madge could come with us to help break the ice."
"Yeah, man. That sounds good. You know I'm always up for the getting Peeta laid cause," he replies.
"You know that I don't actually need both of your help," I say.
They both laugh.
"Don't worry, Peeta. We are not going to desert you as your wingmen," Cato says.
They both laugh again and I shake my head.
"I'll check with Madge. Though she's been in a foul mood this morning. Didn't even get a good morning kiss and she walked out without eating breakfast," Cato adds.
"What have you done this time?" Finnick asks.
"Nothing! I swear! We haven't argued since that time at Marvel's birthday party. Maybe she's on her period or something," Cato replies.
Finnick and I shake our heads.
"I've said it a thousand times already but Madge Undersee is too good for you," I say.
Madge and Cato have been dating for the last two years but we've all been a little surprised how long she has stuck around. She's highly intelligent and hard working. I thought she would have tired of Cato's boyish act a long time ago but she seems more committed than ever. I suppose she does balance him out and he's less arrogant when she's around.
"She loves my big cock too much. She's the lucky one," Cato replies.
I roll my eyes and then Cato suggests a restaurant in town for the weekend. We exchange a few pleasantries before Cato hangs up and Finnick and I get back to our lunch.
The rest of the day is uneventful and I go for a run when I get back home from work. I switch my watch to sport mode so it records the exercise I take today. Completing at least three hours of exercise a week reduces my health insurance bill as does the fact I don't smoke or drink alcohol. In the government's eyes I reduce the strain on the health services by keeping fit and healthy so reward me with decreased health insurance.
I put my headphones in and head towards Capitol Park. It's hot today so I make sure my water bottle is full and keep a steady pace as I run through the grassy park. I pass several other people out on runs too and we tip our headings in acknowledgement as we run past each other. But the music drowns out the outside noise and I become lost in the rhythm of my movement.
After thirty minutes I turn to make my loop back home and take a slurp of my water. As I do so a girl with dark hair in a braid emerges from one of the entrances of the park. She walks swiftly ahead of me with her arms wrapped around her chest and her head down. She looks like she might be heading to work in a restaurant somewhere as she wears a crisp white blouse and black pencil skirt that so many waitresses in the Capitol wear.
Her swift speed means I don't catch up with her quickly but I suddenly notice her slowing down. Her path becomes more wobblily and she then staggers to a tree to catch her breath. I frown as I watch her put a hand on the tree to balance herself and then bend forward as if to stop herself form getting dizzy. I'm just about to pass her when suddenly her knees buckle and she falls to the ground.
Alarmed, I redirect my course slightly to make my way over to her. I pull the earphones out my ears and bend down quickly to check on her. I put my hands on her shoulder to gently try and shake her awake.
"Miss, are you alright? Can you hear me?" I ask urgently.
My shaking seems to work and she groans as her eyes begin to flicker open. When they finally do I'm amazed to be met with starling colour of grey. I've never seen anything like it before.
I try to look comforting as she regains her bearings but as soon as she is fully aware of me she jerks away from my touch and presses her back against the tree.
"Why the hell are you touching me?" she asks.
I put both my hands up to apologise.
"I'm sorry. But you fainted and I just came to see if you are alright," I reply.
Her face sets into a scowl as she looks back at me.
"I don't know you. I don't need your help," she says sharply.
"Then let me introduce myself then. I'm Peeta Mellark and I'm just trying to be a good citizen," I say.
The girl scoffs and shakes her head.
"You can't be a good citizen if you follow all of Coin's rules," she mutters.
I frown at her comment but I'm worried about her. I offer her my water bottle in a feeble attempt to help.
"I'm worried about a young woman who has just fainted. People don't just faint for no reason. I think you should go to the doctors to get checked out," I say.
She refuses the water bottle and turns away from.
"I'm fine. It's just hot today. I haven't drunk enough water," she replies.
"But don't you want to safe rather than sorry? My dad fainted and didn't think anything of it. Five months later he was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. They think they would have caught it in time if he had just gone to the doctors when he first fainted," I say.
The scowl falls from her face as he body language softens slightly. I offer her my water bottle again and this time she takes it. She slurps it greedily before handing it back to me.
"I'm sorry about your dad," she says as she tries to get back to her feet again.
But she's still wobblily and I stick out a hand to help her. But she flinches when my hand touches her arm and I remove it quickly. I tip my head to the side, trying to figure out what her behaviour means.
"I really am fine. And if I don't get moving I'm going to be late for work. Thanks for the water," she says.
I open my mouth to try and say something more but she's already turned and walking away from me. I watch her and the concern doesn't leave me as she walks slightly unsteadily on her feet. Part of me wants to catch up with her and tell her I can help. But then I remember the way she flinched away from me and think she probably doesn't even want my help.
I watch her until she is out of sight but I can't get her out of my head as I run home. I think about her as I make dinner and watch the evening news bulletin. I wonder if she made it to work without fainting again or if she will go and get herself checked out. But I go to bed realising I will never know the answers to these questions. I don't even know her name.