District Five seems to go on forever, and then a bit longer. More energy needs more space, and the flat, grassy plain stretching endlessly beyond the single sprawling crowded township is scattered with endless wind turbines and pylons, with the occasional plant thrown in. The hydroelectric plants squat by the murky river; the old creaky coal plants spew columns of steam and pollutants into the sky. There are plans to shut them down with Twelve starting to run dry. Tram lines spiral outwards, taking the workers out and bringing them home again. Some of the plants are so far away that people stay overnight there, returning home once a week to their families.
Not today. Today, everyone is crowded into the narrow maze of streets. A person could get lost in Five easily. Luckily for the Capitol escorts they only need to go to the Justice Building and the ever-busy train station. The people are needed all over Panem, keeping their complex system of energy transfer going, and since yesterday trains manned by tired and aged District Six workers have been dragging them all back home, checking the names off back at the station.
One woman has mysteriously disappeared off the map. The lists are poured over again and again, but she hasn't clocked back in to District Five, and despite the packed streets, the reaping is due to begin in ten minutes. Park, the head 'keeper for Five, gives the order to leave her and whip her when she returns. Standard punishment; nothing more or less than anybody would have expected. That is, assuming that she returns.
Children suffering their first or second reaping cling desperately to parents, howling. Some, buoyed by the fact that somehow District Five hasn't reaped a twelve year old in ten years, swagger up to the tired old man taking the blood samples and proudly present their thumb, trying to seem more confident than their friends. Peacekeepers keep the line moving with sharp words and the occasional prod with a baton.
Thousands of children pass by the old man every year. Every year, two don't return. He's used to it. He can almost be emotionless about it now.
The square is big but not big enough and the atmosphere is stifling. People flap their hands uselessly in front of their faces, several glaring up at the empty sky as though the world is against them. Parents crane their necks, looking for their children. The children look around, trying to act casual even though deep down, they're petrified. What if? What if it's me? What if it's my best friend? The tension is ten times worse than you could imagine. Reaping in District Five is effectively a death sentence. They consider it a success if both their tributes survive the bloodbath.
The last time one of their tributes got to the last five was when the Mayor's son was reaped. Christian Bailey was twelve years old at the time. Now he stands on stage in the ceremonial robes, a tall and strong and stunning young man, and hopes that Faraday is proud of him. Without him - the boy his sister adores - he knows he wouldn't be here now.
Callie, stubborn and headstrong as always, stands in the crowd rather than by the stage like the rest of his family. His father, an old man now. His twin and her husband and their little baby. But not Callie. She's grown up, cut her magnificent hair, got a job. One of the citizens, just like his father had hoped.
He still doesn't know why Faraday volunteered. Nobody does, not even Callie. But he was given a chance at life and he hopes he hasn't let him down.
He calls for silence and, even in the huge, roasting square, is obeyed instantly. Tens of thousands of faces, no predominant type, look up at him, eyes huge and full of fear. Some people are crying already. As usual, everyone goes straight into a minute's silence, remembering their lost youths. Their names are carved into stone tablets around the square; they're running out of room now. Two per tablet, though very rarely, there is a tablet with only one name on. A few downtrodded flowers are laid next to the more recent memorials, and Callie has placed some worn-out violets next to Ella Steed's name.
After the silence, Mayor Christian assures those families whose children are reaped that they will be provided for, something of a tradition now in Five. A lot of families rely on their children being able to keep them upright. The last few snivelling youngsters are ushered into the pens by bigger brothers and sisters who are desperately trying to keep a straight face.