This story is a compilation of outtakes of my story Checkmate. If you're here because you liked the summary, or because you're bored, go read Checkmate, you won't be disappointed ;D.
Disclaimer: Anything borrowed from the Hunger Games world belongs to Suzanne Collins.
THESE OUTTAKES CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR CHECKMATE. The number in the title gives the number in the chapter you must have read up to to read the outtake. For example, here, you should read up to chapter 26 before reading.
Prompt by Well of wishes: an Achlys-centered chapter on the 9th Games.
Obviously, DO NOT READ THIS if you haven't read Checkmate. It'll not only make less sense but also spoil the whole first book.
Thanks for reading.
"This is the most ridiculous suggestion to have ever crossed your lips, Tisias."
The white-haired woman was facing the window, embracing the sight of her city, its clean paved roads, gleaming buildings and flowered balconies. At first glance, few would guess the Capitol was still recovering from the worst war in a century. Evadne Achlys didn't deign turn towards Tisias. He should feel honored that she hadn't laughed at him or thrown him out of her office. It was appalling how such an intelligent man could be reduced to a blubbering incompetent because his hubris blinded him. Tisias Elysium was a visionary, not a strategist.
"To show our superiority once and for all," he heatedly said, his voice trembling slightly from the rebuke.
Ego, it turned them all into spoiled children.
"I have a signed petition here, over three thou-"
"They would lose," Achlys cut in, her heels clicking sharply on the marble floor as she turned around to face the foolish man.
Tisias' outrage swirled around him like a mantle of flames, but he seemed to have lost the ability to form words. He leaned ever so slightly on his jeweled cane, unawares it betrayed him, turning the elegant ornament into a crutch.
The President's lips curled into a small mocking smile. Why did so many fight for ideas they wouldn't defend? She had never executed, or even fired someone for speaking their mind in the privacy of her office, and yet they all wilted when she demanded arguments, sulking like children caught using adult words and pretending to understand what they did not.
"Your trained Capitol tributes would lose, Tisias," she said, disbelief lacing her tone at having to explain something so self-evident. "Those darling wool-brained children would die. You would make me rig the Games to keep them safe and sustain the illusion that Capitol blood is too exalted to be spilled on the ground? You would have me risk riots in my city, when a district victor would be crowned?"
Achlys was relieved to see understanding in the long-haired councilor's eyes as his face lost all color.
"Find another outlet for our evidently degenerate youths," she ordered, "other types of competitions where they can paw the ground and smell blood, but nothing fatal, and do not interfere with my Games," she finished, her voice a steely whisper.
Tisias bowed and left the room, the petition crumbled in his clenched hand.
The Hunger Games were not gladiator sparring matches designed to feed the common folk's bloodlust. The President had been thrilled to see how entranced her citizen had become with the event, but entertainment was secondary. The Games were her great weapon against the districts, they would reshape Panem into a world where each knew their place and where chaos, riots and the horrors of war were but myths told by the fire to give sleepy children shivers.
The Ninth would be a masterpiece. They would mark the true end of the Dark Days by removing one of its most stubborn stains.
Jute Wickers. The mere name made Achlys' teeth grind in rage.
Legacy Glamson, Vernes Elysium, the delightful Aries Kaulkin, born of district Ten and yet one of the keenest minds the President had had the pleasure to know, Mirelle... Her golden eyes shut at the last, as if the simple gesture could exorcise the pain of lives snatched away by brutes too careless to know their value.
Accidents for all the people knew, but Achlys had seen the mark of assassins all over the crime scenes. She had seen the bloated corpses of the suicidal fanatics Wickers had sent to their deaths. Year after year, from the depths of that accursed bunker, Wickers sniffed the air for preys, like a hyena eager to foul and destroy all that was good. The petty and cruel he left alone, but those who distinguished themselves by hastening the reconstruction of the ravaged Panem? Yes, those went to sleep and never awoke, shaken uselessly by their devastated children who refused to believe that medicine hadn't yet learned to reverse death.
Wickers couldn't stand the idea of the world going on after his death, he needed it to crumble with him to convince himself he had a destiny.
Achlys pulled out the instruction sheets that she would give the doctors tasked with implanting the cameras in the tributes and putting them to sleep during their second time in the train. The surgery had to be flawless and swift, there would be no room for error.
She dug her polished nails into the cherry oak table, hate twisting her features into a mask of rage.
Wickers would never again slip through her fingers.
"I thought you had recruited Gamemakers to avoid working such hours, Evadne," an amused knowing voice said, perfectly audible in the complete silence.
"I am not working. This is a personal project, my love."
The familiar rhythmic slight thud made tears rise in her eyes. The vats had been working day and night during the Dark Days to produce armies of mutts. Organic replacement limbs had been rare and hastily grown. The prosthetic leg had not been a perfect fit and now could not be replaced without causing irreparable damage.
"Wickers?" Lucius Achlys said, drawing the name out like a curse.
The President lifted her eyes towards her husband. He was magnificent despite his limp, his slow movements were the ones of those with the power to wait, and only added to his majesty, but the woman saw what others didn't, the imperceptible stumbling, the confusion narrowing his eyes when people reacted to something too far for him to see.
I'm an old man, I do not need to run fast, he would tell her.
But it was just an excuse, a way not to say 'I'm almost blind'. His eyes were of the lightest blue and had ensnared her long before she had thought herself a grown woman. She had always begged him never to alter them, and now their sparkle had dimmed, stolen away by the flash stunners the rebels had dumped in random streets. They had been led by a man named Wickers, a man who did not need an army to operate. A bombing run of twelve ships, an absurd, reckless move. There had been few deaths that day, but hundreds were crippled. Lives destroyed without it truly impacting the war. Good for rebel morale.
Achlys' teeth clenched in disgust. She was a war general, she understood how it worked. She could have hated Wickers only as opponents hated each other for indirectly causing her husband's wounds, aware of the realities of war, but Lucius had not been the only casualty.
"His name will soon be ashes on the wind, Lucius. I will give my Gamemakers great liberty in the future, but this I must oversee."
Her husband let himself lean against the desk and put a warm hand on her shoulder. "Are you certain your spy is still faithful?"
A nervous smile drew itself on Achlys' lips. She played no games with the man she had married. "Peacekeeper Ashlar is bearing a message, he was captured today," the white-haired woman said, her eyes wide with hope, "Cresyl should contact us soon but I am not so worried about his loyalties."
"Not worried, and yet here you are at three in the morning, fresh faced like a lass half your age," Lucius said with a hearty chuckle, "Come home, Eva, I will not have you ruin perfect plans in a moment of panic. The scramblers in the sewers will make for horrible waits during the Games, it is better we find something else to occupy your mind."
Something else? Her eyes fell on the picture of Gabriel on her desk, forty-three years old and yet so vibrant and cheerful, as if the sun's shine alone made him the happiest man on earth. Her other half, her better half. The trusting passionate man that had been an extension of her being.
Her twin brother.
His premature death had ripped her heart out, and without Lucius, she would not have survived. He had dragged her out of the falling building, his leg ripped open and his blue eyes unseeing while she screamed for Gabriel.
Her heart had scarred and had grown cold. She had never thought to rule before then, she had been content to a Captain of the Homeguard, but her twin's death had opened her eyes.
No one else was fit to rule, no one else accepted to pay the price. She did what she had to, for Panem.
Wickers had been in that stolen hovercraft. He had looked at her in the eyes, he had seen Gabriel wrapping a cloth over Lucius' wounds, and had shot through the broken window. He had killed Gabriel. She would never forget. She would never forgive.
"Eva, come home," Lucius said, gently turning the picture face down on the table. "He loved to see you laugh."
"Oh, I'll laugh," Achlys promised, giving her husband a tender kiss as she imagined a world free of Jute Wickers.
The screens flickered open one by one. Twenty Four screens, twenty four tributes on a train speeding for District Three's ruins, but some were already quite useless.
Achlys stood before the screens in the new grand control room.
Lila, Keane, Gyan and his pudgy district partner were already pacing, the adrenaline injected in their veins during their sleep keeping them alert and on edge. Rebellious or knowledgeable, those would lead her to the rebels and hopefully earn their good graces, or at least guide others out of the lethal toxic ruins. Wagons One and Two had fireproof furniture and cushioned walls. The clever Fife, and the dark skinned Mechar were in their beds, unawares their rooms was fortified. Those were tributes Achlys knew would not cause problems were they to win. Volunteers or reaped, they had a tunnel view of life and would be docile as long as their families were protected and they were given a little freedom.
The white-haired woman curled her lips when she saw Jay groggily rush towards wagon Ten, shouting for his absent mentor. Stupid boy, she'd hadn't wanted him to die just yet. He'd been belligerent and proactive, the kind of people she'd need to find Wickers.
"Is there truly way no way to have soundtrack?" She said, annoyed to have so much data flash indiscriminately before her eyes. She was twisting her head left and right like an idiot, struggling to keep up with the subtitles and images. "Or make screens flash red when something notable happens?"
"Not quickly enough, Madam President," Gamemaker Crispus replied. "A replay is the most efficient solution. We preferred to make sure the memory of the eye chips was fit to store ten days' worth of videos."
Achlys nodded, not wanting to sound too unreasonable. She clutched her shaking hands together, stress making her head spin.
The two tributes from Six were finally stirring. The girl rubbed absently the grease on her arm. They had been so unremarkable, her a catty spoiled child, him a whiny doormat, that Achlys had no reservations about making scapegoats out of them. They would be serving Panem better than anything they could have achieved living their tedious district lives.
It was time.
She detonated the bomb on the rails and loosened the shackles on wagon Ten. Everything had been calculated with extreme accuracy.
Silent from her side of the screens, the train arched and bent, fire crawling from under the train inside the wagons as the windows exploding from the pressure.
Achlys' eyes narrowed dangerously when she saw Three's wagon crack and the ceiling cave in. This had never happened during the simulations.
She needed at least one from Three alive to guide the others! Her mind whirred as she considered calling Vicuña to have her guide the survivors to the sewers. It was a risk she would hate to take. She didn't want the tributes not to ponder the day's events. They needed to be too stunned to think, spurred into action and believing they had found the sewers by chance.
"Why isn't district Three responding?" She said through clenched teeth, staring daggers at the black screens.
"The girl is dead, the boy's eyes are closed," Crispus said. Achlys liked his precise answers and the lack of fear in his tone. It had taken her six entire years to find a competent team she was satisfied with. "The driver tried to break full force. He hadn't been warned."
Of course he hadn't but he'd had instructions. He would have been quite safe had he followed them. Not a single avox had more than scratches.
The President frowned in annoyance when she saw the large alliance of aspiring Careers. Those might lead them to rebels, but would be greeted by guns and swords. She had hoped Will and Robin to number among the infiltrates, not join the first murderers that crossed their paths.
"Keane and Rapid are going the wrong way, make it clear they are to turn around," she said, "Have a pair of mutts trail Lila from afar to keep her safe until she reaches her goal. Any observer must think they are hostile," she stressed.
Achlys turned, dismayed, when she saw a column of fire erupt on one of the screens.
A content smile drew itself across her face when she saw Gyan's eyes open and him dart out from under the rubble.
Constantine Aquila had lit the spilled fuel. A solid pedigree and he had teamed with Mags and Fife. Good. Those would go far, they had to.
She eyed in disdain the five tributes who remained by the train wreck, idle and looking lost. She unfortunately was not surprised. People were all for having rights and privileges, but when they had to take initiatives, to actually fight for something and find the strength in themselves… Even Mechar, so swift to save the fainted girl during the chariot rides. How could pretty little Synthra accept to see a man rendered so weak because of her? Had she no self respect? So disappointing.
"Send a hovercraft," Achlys said, her face pale as she saw the disgusting Scavengers grope Will to drag him outside.
"It's a trap, Ma'am," Gamemaker Sofia pointed out.
"That's why I have selected the crew. Send it," Achlys ordered curtly.
She didn't want her councilors and direct subordinates to be afraid to contradict her, but sometimes she wished to lash out. She had planned this for two years and didn't want to have to explain her every decision.
She laughed in relief when four of the black screens flashed on.
Constantine, Fife, Mags, Lila, welcome back.
"I suppose you had a second plan to destroy the scrambler?" Crispus asked, no doubt in his tone.
"Absolutely. We have gained a day. In six hours, have Styx, Robin and Delphin brought back by hovercraft to the ruins. I shall speak with them first, I have a task for them."
The President could almost hear her gamemakers' frantic typing to prepare the first recap. There was a reason she had recruited keen psychologists with a sharp quill.
Nothing would be left to chance.
"So?" She asked Crispus, hoping her eagerness didn't show through too much. She liked to cultivate a certain mystery.
"Lila refused to be given more information than what she had to see. She is a fanatic."
Achlys nodded, unhappy but not too surprised. "That girl needs to be made an example of," she said, still grim about Robin's execution. How could the silly girl have thought to slip out of the Capitol undetected?
Crispus bowed his head. "Mags is a rebel, a real one. She's convinced Constantine and he's fallen for a rebel woman. He gave the Citadel more information on peacekeepers, weaponry and technique, than I was aware of myself."
"Then we'll break her and kill him."
Achlys knew Styx and Delphin could be both molded into acceptable victors. Acceptable but not superior. Nothing like her delightful Vicuña, she thought, disappointed.
But no matter. Destroying the rebels was the priority.
"Do not humiliate Aquila, his family is important. Do not be hasty in your commentaries. Speak of him with respect," she said, her brow furrowed in concentration. Everything had to be carefully controlled.
"But show his feelings have lost him, his passion turned against him?" Crispus said, straightening.
"Absolutely," Achlys said with a smile. "Fife?" she inquired.
"She wants to live. She lies like she breathes air. She seems a very practical girl."
The President pondered the news. Maybe Fife Chican would be a better victor... Achlys had seen the lust for power in the short girl's black eyes when Fife had looked down on Constantine for having volunteered. Give her a place in the Capitol, and Fife would maybe let herself be molded into a trustworthy agent.
Crispus voice grew wary. "They've been wearing masks for hours, we can't know what they're saying."
Achlys' face darkened. Had they figured it out? She had to admit she was impressed. "Watch the records more carefully, see what you can find on the three. Don't waste your time on Lila."
"None of you saw they had dynamite?" Achlys said, her eyes burning into the four gamemakers assembled in front of her. Sofia looked about to cry.
The white-haired woman wondered why they were not all weeping.
The time and resources invested into making that movie, finding the right people among those waiting to be avoxed, the ones who were already inclined to abuse children, hijacking them… How had the surviving hostile Scavengers bypassed the mutts supposed to hunt them down? The stupid creature's enhanced senses were worth half of District Twelve and yet they'd managed to get lost in the ruins. And people thought her eccentric for preferring robots… Imbeciles.
There was no time, she had a speech to make. The scenes would do, and maybe the horror in the watchers' eyes would make up for the total destruction of the set.
Achlys bit her lip, stumped. Why hadn't Mags killed Cresyl? Why wasn't the girl acting like she was supposed to act? Why was Fife the one telling the rebel woman that killing the avoxes was fine? Why was Mags suggesting the peacekeepers have the masks?
A small smile creased the woman's lips. Could Mags have seen the light?
It was too early to judge but suddenly the girl was much, much, more interesting. Someone so willful, on her side... Achlys' eyes glittered at the prospect.
"I want a retrospective to show Mags has understood that she was wrong to have been swayed by rebel ideals the moment I give you the signal. We may need it," she said.
Achlys let herself fall back on her chair. The window shimmered from sudden heat, the office was suffocating.
He'd done it. He'd killed the avoxes, he'd destroyed a quarter of her city.
The man who had killed her twin brother in the name of innocents. The hypocrite.
She screamed in pure fury.
"It's a diversion," Mags said clearly.
Achlys smiled, her annoyance at having both Styx and Delphin dead evaporating.
What a smart young woman.
So close, Wickers was so close.
The leader of Panem brought her lips to the microphone.
"Hello Wickers, it has been a while. Please do not sacrifice your people needlessly. We are merciful, and will treat those who recognize the error of their ways as regular citizens. They will be allowed to choose their new home and raise children unbothered, as long as they follow the law. The war is over and we have no wish to spill any more valuable blood. Surely you have noticed that we have brought no lethal weapons. Do not let unreasonable anger cloud your judgement. "
"I'd rather die," Wickers snarled, his words easily relayed by the lips-reading softwares.
Achlys' smile broadened.
"and you are the greatest fraud ever born, Evadne."
Her smile fell, replaced by a hateful grimace, how dare he call her by name!
Wickers took a ragged breath, struggling not to fall to his knees. "I will-"
Achlys gasped when she saw him fall, her hand flying to her mouth. She frantically scanned the three last remaining tribute screens, her heart racing. She carved to believe her eyes with scorching fierceness, by what miracle...?
Mags had killed Jute Wickers.
Achlys unceremoniously sat on the ground before the screens, paying no attention to the gamemaker hastily pulling out a chair for her. As a strategist and a politician, the President of Panem cursed, for she had wanted the man alive. Priceless information had been died with him, and rightly executed trials would have done wonders against the district rebels. She had entertained at length the gleeful thought of hijacking Wickers to twist him into a dutiful servant once he would have become useless and, most importantly, broken.
Instead, she rose, lighter than she could ever remember feeling, filled by a wave of all-encompassing joy. She kissed her hand and touched Mags' golden-brown hair on the screen. Gabriel would have been horrified at the thought of her torturing anyone, but his heart would have shattered if he'd known she'd tortured for him.
She blessed Mags for having spared her the nightmares by making it clean.
They had a victor. Wickers was dead.
Ha, that was fun. And hopefully you now see that Achlys isn't just calculating, and understand why she may not be extremely objective when it comes to Mags.