It took several trips into the story of my choosing before I felt ready to make the adjustments I deemed necessary. I shuffled around in the background, avoiding the narrative, which is a lot easier in a story being told from a singular first-person perspective. All I had to do was avoid the main character. But I snuck around the areas and the other characters I might need to interact with, watching, studying, gauging how best to make the adjustments required. I even interacted with a few of them, tentatively testing the waters. I plotted and schemed, coming up with a dozen different ideas and ultimately rejecting them all.
When I finally made my move, I knew what I had to do. I had put the pieces in place, but there still remained the simple question: could it be done? The theory appeared sound. Over a decade ago, one Clorinda Eaves had managed to enter the timeline of a story before the published narrative. She had filed a brief report about her experience but was fired from the Gazette for breaking their rules. I had read her report but had yet to make an attempt myself. If I could manage, I would be able to pull off my plan without anyone noticing until it was far too late.
But now, the planning is over. The day has arrived. The book in question sits open on my coffee table, awaiting my presence. Dressed in an absolutely ridiculous raiment of colors, I hold up my InterFiction badge and concentrate on the exact location and time I am aiming for within the story. The world blurs and shifts, and then I find myself standing inside the opulent foyer of the President’s mansion.
“Excuse me,” I say to a woman sitting at a desk in the entryway. “I am here to see President Snow.”
She looks up at me in confusion, her hands twitching as if she is searching for a pen or a calendar. “Do you have an appointment?”
She peers down at the desk and then looks up with a faint line marring the smooth perfection of her forehead. “There is nothing on the schedule about an appointment, Mister…?”
“Fairchild. Henry Fairchild,” I reach out and shake her hand, despite her not offering it. “And of course there isn’t, this is a private appointment, Capitol security. You can never be too careful, am I right?”
“I suppose…” she hesitates.
“Trust me, you do not want to find out what happened to the last secretary that asked too many questions about the President’s top secret meetings.” I pluck a flower out of the vase sitting on her desk and casually use my thumb to pop the head off the stem. The clerk’s face turns a deathly pale and she stands, her eyes wide.
“Right this way, Mr. Fairchild,” she gasps, leading the way to a door that is grotesquely ornate. She pushes the door open and squeaks, “Your eleven o’clock security meeting, President Snow.”
I glide through the door before she has time to utter another word and pull the heavy wooden monster closed behind me. President Snow looks up from where he is lounging on a white-cushioned chaise, his glass of wine halfway to his lips, and his eyes — which are languidly lifeless — widen in surprise.
Despite the surprise on his face, President Snow’s voice is even as he takes a sip of his wine and then places it back on the small table before him with neat precision. Without sparing another glance my way he asks, “Who are you, and what makes you think you can barge into my private home without an appointment and live to tell about it?”
“I am here to save your legacy,” I reply. I am a bit startled by his appearance. He is not as old as I expected, probably only in his sixties, closer to my age than I would have guessed from reading the books.
My flippant remark catches his attention and he glances my way. “Is that a threat?” The words sound as though they should be coming out in a snarl, but they are calm, expressionless.
“No, sir. I am here to warn you that the threat is already out there, though you are unaware of it. You will remain unaware of it until it is too late, and then your empire will crumble and you will find yourself dethroned and disgraced.”
He licks his lips slowly. “Am I to presume that you have an idea of how to set me on an alternate course?”
He settles himself back into his chair. “I am listening.”
“You will not like my suggestion.”
“I promise to listen to it.”
That is all I can hope for. “You must not hold the Hunger Games this year. In fact, you must stop them altogether.”
A mirthless chuckle escapes from Snow’s throat. “As simple as that? Stop the one thing that maintains a fierce control over the Districts and my legacy is secure? My empire will not crumble? This is a hilarious joke. Who put you up to this? I must congratulate them on their ingenuity and creativity.”
“The Districts are ripe for rebellion. It will not take much to push them over the edge. One Tribute who defies you and lives, and your reign is over.”
“Nobody who defies me lives.” Snow waves a hand negligently and takes another sip from his goblet.
He peers at me, my tone causing him to pause. I can see in his eyes that he is considering my words. “Explain yourself. If this is a joke, it is at least an amusing one. I have not been so amused in a very long time.”
“The Districts are poor. The people scrabble to survive. No hope of anything better survives out there. One act of defiance is all that it will take to present a glimmer of hope into their bleak existence and light the fires of rebellion.”
“Rebellions are easy to quell.”
“Perhaps, but if a rebellion begins, District Thirteen will swoop in and take advantage of every distraction. They would play you for a fool, and while your eyes were on a single defiant child… the true enemy would casually step in over your carcass.”
“How do you know about District Thirteen?” Snow demands, the amusement gone from his eyes.
“I know much.”
“So what do you propose I do about it? Why would stopping the Hunger Games prevent this future you are so confident will occur?”
“I believe that if the spark of hope came directly from the Capitol… came from you, rather than from one of their own… then everything would end differently. There would be no reason to rebel. In fact, it may even be easier to stabilize what you do control and increase prosperity for all… even those living in the Districts.”
He gazes at me, his fingers drumming the table before him. The idea appears to intrigue him. “Do you know who will light this spark?”
“Then why not just kill that individual? Wouldn’t it be simpler?”
“I considered that, but it is impossible to predict who else may rise up, and eventually, someone will. If this spark does not have the chance to fly, another will. Believe me, I have planned out many different scenarios… but they all end much the same way. I even considered going to the leader of District Thirteen… but in the end, I believe you are the more reasonable individual. The only plan that has a chance of working is for you to declare an end to the Hunger Games.”
“And then what?”
“You may have to find a different way of ruling. Perhaps extend a carrot instead of a stick.”
His face twists. At first I think he is rejecting my idea in disgust, but after a long moment the wrinkles smooth, and I realize he was giving serious thought to my words.
“End the Hunger Games,” he mused. “I had thought perhaps we had grown past the need for them. I was going to announce their end at the Quarter Quell… a much more auspicious time…”
I interrupt, “By then it will be too late. The sparks for the rebellion begin in the 74th Hunger Games. You cannot wait that long.”
He peers at me through narrowed lids. “Just who did you say you were?”
“Henry Fairchild, InterFiction Gazette.”
“Never heard of it.”
“You wouldn’t have.”
At length he nods. “I don’t know why, but I believe you. Truth rings in your words, and I am very good at perceiving when someone is lying to me. Very well, it shall be as you say. There will be no more Hunger Games.”
I nod deeply, once. “You will not regret that decision.”
President Snow chuckles again. “I do not have long to regret it or enjoy its fruits, either way.”
“And that is why I knew you would see reason. Good day, sir.”
I turn and exit the room. I grin at the cowering clerk on my way out and then press the buttons on my badge. The gaudy world of Capitol fades away and I find myself again in my living room. I glance down. The book that lay open on my coffee table has vanished completely… as if it never existed.
I cannot help but smile as I go to my bookshelf and pull down another tome, this one simply for pleasure.
“Interesting. Not quite the outcome I had anticipated, but not an unwelcome one,” I mutter.