Katniss Everdeen stood with her sister Prim in the town square. Every year, they had to do this. Every year they were expected to look happy. Every year, the machine on the stage spat out twelve names from among the young people of District 12. Every year, six boys and six girls between twelve and eighteen would go to give a year of their lives in service to the Capitol, and have a chance at earning Citizenship. It had been more than twenty years since one of them came back.
Gale Hawthorne shifted restlessly. He was always restless. That was why he was eighteen and still did not have a trade. He had the strength and skill to make a fine apprentice to a village tradesman, and enough learning and raw wit to join the company of a Town merchant, but he had the patience for neither. He also did not care to accept an arranged marriage, which was a usual condition of such employment. He had staved off the inevitable by signing up for subsidies that supported his family while he received extra schooling, which meant extra entries in the annual lottery. After today, if his name was not drawn, he would have to enter a trade or else go to the mines, and he was sure that there was no choice that would be less than a death sentence. The only place he truly belonged was in sprawling wilderness under open skies, which was why he preferred to be found where all were forbidden to go: the woods beyond the fence that was purportedly the edge of the inhabited world.
The merchant class of the district looked down on Delly Cartwright's family as merely tradesmen who had gotten lucky. But their truck-driving business had made them among the wealthiest in the district, shipping the same merchants goods from all over Panem. She was sad as she stood at the Reaping, but she smiled and looked on the bright side, as she always did. It was always sad to see people have to go. But they were doing work that had to be done for the good of Panem, and if they didn't come back, it was because the Capitol still needed them. At least she wouldn't have to go, because surely her parents had seen to that, and soon, she would be getting married, and she would be out of the Reaping. She smiled and blew a kiss at her fiance, Peeta.
Peeta Mellark tapped his foot nervously. He gazed about, glancing furtively at the beautiful girl with the braid. He pulled his eyes away to give yet another smile to Delly. As the son of a Town baker, he was accepted as part of the merchant class, but it had been generations since his family had been truly respected. To pay for the expenses of their bakery, his parents had taken loans from the District's banker, and though the business had thrived, the banker's interest took away their money as fast as they could earn it. His parents had pinned their hopes on his marrying into the Cartwright family, whose daughter was genuinely infatuated with him for some reason.
Madge Undersee was genuinely happy. She wore her best dress, because the cameras always did a close-up of the Mayor's family, and she certainly wanted to look her best if she went to the Capitol. The Capitol, what a wonderful place! She just couldn't understand why all the other kids were afraid to have their names called, and nobody ever volunteered. Of course, she didn't, because a Mayor's only child had responsibilities, but she would certainly never be unhappy to go. Why, she was sure the real reason nobody came back was that once they went to the Capitol, they never wanted to come back to crummy old Twelve.
Effie Trinket Abernathy took the stage, smiling as always. Her husband Haymitch Abernathy followed, drunk as always. "Hello, everyone!" Effie said. "For twelve boys and girls, this is going to be a big, big, big day!" Haymitch laughed and threw back his head to take a drink. He went back and back until he fell off the stage.
Effie spoke into a microphone on the console of the machine, giving the standard speech, about how a great cataclysm had destroyed all humanity except in Panem, where the noble Founders made a new nation on rules, order and service. They rebuilt the great city of the Capitol, and thirteen districts to serve, until the Rebellion... Gale stopped himself from jeering openly. Finally, Effie got down to business pushing the buttons. "The first male tribute is..." The machine spat out a piece of paper, and Effie held it up. "Peeta Mellark!" A baker's boy came to the stage. Gale saw him around, usually hanging around Katniss, and he would probably would have done something about it if the boy wasn't so pathetically good-natured. Delly Cartwright shrieked and ran after him in tears.
"Miss, what's your name?" Effie asked gently. Delly's answer was completely incomprehensible, but Peeta answered for her. "Do you volunteer, sweetie?" Delly managed to stammer that she did. "Our volunteer Tribute is Delly Cartwright!" It took five minutes for the machine to process the result, during which Effie jabbered and laughed. The machine finally dinged to signal it was ready, and the Reaping went on, with four names that were at best vaguely familiar, then, "Logan Hawthorne!"
Gale met Katniss's eyes across the crowd, and shrugged. It was enough to make it clear that the boy who ascended the stage was a stranger to him, though for all he knew they could be related. His extended family was vast and tangled, and there were plenty of men with a reputation for spreading the bloodline even further thatn records would show. "Madge Undersee!"
Madge curtsied and walked to the stage, smiling. Her mother gave one scream, and the Mayor threw his arms around her long enough for the Town's most prominent doctor to stick her with a needle that made her quiet. Gale was less indifferent. He knew Madge, and he was pretty sure she liked him. It took him a moment to register what Effie said next: "Gale Hawthorne! My, two in a row!" Gale stood, frozen, until a pair of Peacekeepers started closing in. Then he walked on stage.
A Seam girl was next, then a tradesman's boy, and then... "Primrose Everdeen! Or do we have a volunteer?" Already, Katniss was running to the stage. Effie beamed. "Two volunteer tributes in one year, a first for the District! Now, all our elected Tributes have the rest of the day to visit your families and make any arrangements to arrange your affairs during your visit to Capitol."
"Yeah, you should do that," Haymitch said. "It's gonna be a long... long... long trip."