"Astrid," it's your mother. She's scared. And now you're scared too, twenty-two, she hasn't shaken you awake in two decades. "Astrid, wake up."
You blink through the weight of sleep, expecting daylight - but you find the dark that blankets you, heavy with exhaustion, and the dim outline of your mother's sleep illuminated by the hallway lights of the apartment you share with your parents.
"Mom?" just like before - another earthquake, you slept through it. She is the aftershock.
"Astrid, there are Peacekeepers at the door and they're asking for you."
Dream, earthquake dream. You were practising with Jeremiah yesterday, turning controls. Magnitudes, crumbling buildings, children screaming.
This is a dream in a memory in a dream.
Your mother pulls you from your bed, thrust into the light and into the hall - you protest, stagger with gravity. Your head protests, vertigo, wanting nothing more than to meet the ground and let sleep wrap its warm arms around you once more.
But there are Keepers in your hallway, and a woman from work with a meek frown standing in front of them. Lilac, her name is Lilac Mills.
"Mrs. Zane," she addresses your mother." I'm sorry for such a late - early - call, but-"
The Keeper interrupts her. She's still wearing her lab coat.
"Yeah - what time-?" you are the details girl, her hair is in a bun. The same as today, yesterday, hair clip matching your memories.
Gloved hands grab your wrists, and you are escorted from your home in pyjamas - a dream, a dream, you tell yourself it's just a dream.
But something falls out of your mouth, panicked and childlike, strands of blue hair whipping around with a snap of your neck as they drag you out of your home.
Your mother quivers behind the door.
"Astrid," Lilac whispers underneath her breath. "Gamemaker Fontaine is dead."
Jeremiah is dead. You stop breathing.
This is the part where you would wake up if this were, in fact, a dream.
we're only young and naive still we require certain skills the mood it changes like the wind hard to control when it begins
You are taken to work.
That doesn't make any sense to you as you sit in shock, in the back of a car, in your pyjamas but no handcuffs. It is all strange, a haze of Lilac in your ear - muffled underneath the haunting of your pulse. Boom, boom, boom, when someone tells you your mentor is dead all you can hyper-fixate on is how alive you are.
You're a details girl. That's why they picked you.
But you are just an intern, and you tell them that with a question mark at the end of every word. Lilac hands you a tube with liquid as blue as your hair and tells you to drink up, you obey without thinking about anything but the details. Something in your frontal lobe spins to life, body catching up with your brain, and by the time you reach the testing floor escorted by Peacekeepers you have a thousand new thoughts for every beat of your heart.
Jeremiah is dead but the announcement is tomorrow is tomorrow today? Tomorrow is today and who is going to replace him so quickly they'll delay the announcement they can't delay the announcement can they? Perhaps they can Snow is dead the Council will have to decide perhaps your bosses boss will figure that out but your boss is dead because Lilac told you Jeremiah was dead do they think you killed him no why would they think that he is dead you are asleep no you are awake they haven't arrested you you're at work why are you at work? What will they do about the arena he designed half the arena nobody knows how to use it do they?
Nobody but you.
"Astrid," someone nudges you to attention - ten more staff, some familiar, some strangers. "We need you to unlock Mr. Fontaine's Gamemaking files."
You laugh, muscles buzzing to life like you'd slept for thirty hours, not three.
"I can't do that," you tell them. "I'm just an intern."
There is an uncomfortable murmur, a stiffening of backs, an adjustment of posture that ripples through everyone with a security tag around their necks. It's at this moment you realise you're still in your pyjamas, blush rising to your cheeks, your turn to shift uneasily and raise your hands up subconsciously to wrap around your arms.
"Apparently you can. Here," the stranger offers, pulling up a screen you'd watched Jeremiah open a thousand times before. "Try this."
LOG IN: GM J FONTAINE blinks upon the screen, muscle memory.
You blink, the words change.
LOG IN: ASTRID ZANE
You do not understand, a nervous glance and a raise of your eyebrows in question to your seniors. It seems that they do not understand either.
"Go on," one nudges, tilting their head to the screen. "Unlock it."
Nervous, a huff of laughter escapes your lips as you raise your hand to the screen. Every morning Jeremiah would do the same, muscle memory.
The screen studies your every atom and turns from red to gold to green, a warm, soulless voice filling up the office.
"Welcome Astrid Zane."
You are astonished. Lilac is too, a soft sigh rippling through the echo.
They tell you to transfer permissions, you don't know how. Someone, faceless behind the coats, buries a snicker with a cough. You blush again, hungry eyes feasting upon the screen as they guide you through each step - a hand, a step, voice command.
"Access transfer" you command on cue, hand raised to the side of your face as light dances across your tired eyes - green, yellow, red.
"Access transfer denied. Files belong to: Astrid Zane."
"Override Authorisation," you command the machine.
"Override Authorisation denied," it declares.
"Authorisation Log," they instruct you, you instruct the machine, you swear she smiles when she next speaks.
"All files and access transferred to Astrid Zane at 10.41pm by Jeremiah Fontaine. Override ability deleted. This action is irreversible. Override authorisation files may only be accessed by Jeremiah Fontaine."
But Jeremiah Fontaine is dead.
You inhale in the silence, and exhale to an explosion.
the bittersweet between my teeth trying to fight the in-between
It has been ten hours and fourty-seven minutes since you were shaken awake in your bed and brought to work. Eighteen of the Capitol's best technicians have gone in to that room. Eighteen of them have come out, shaking their heads.
A Keeper eased your anxieties six hours ago - you weren't arrested after all. The man died in his sleep, an autopsy already confirmed, you take another blue shot and let the glitter feelings fill you up in place of rest.
"Alright," a man with dark circles under his eyes sits in front of you. "The High Council have deliberated and an agreement has been reached - we just need you to answer a few questions first. That okay?"
"Okay," you parrot back. Jeremiah is dead and the sun is up, you should have been putting on your coat and walking to the train station as the sun rose - excited to watch the Gamemakers presentation tonight with Dad.
Instead you are here, almost 2pm, still in your pyjamas.
"Your name is Astrid Zane, aged twenty-two, born 11th February '65?"
"You have a degree in Gamemaking from Capitol University, yes?"
"And up until this morning you interned under the late Gamemaker Jeremiah Fontaine's guide as part of your masters project?"
The late Jeremiah Fontaine, you swallow. Hard.
Then spit up your answers without a second thought.
"Did you ever plot against Mr. Fontaine in an effort to seize control of his files, status or title as Gamemaker?"
"No!" it hits you like lava, straight to the chest. How could they ever think-? "Well congratulations Miss Zane, you passed the lie detector test with flying colours."
A beat, the lava turns to ice in your throat.
An aftertaste so bitter you almost throw up in your mouth.
Blue liquid, glitter in your skull, truth serum.
"What does that mean exactly?"
You're a details girl. You already know the answer.
can't help myself but count the flaws claw my way out through these walls one temporary escape feel it start to permeate
You are an imposter on that stage.
Luckily you're an expert at adapting. A soulmate to change.
This time, however, you are not in control of it. You had spent a childhood flocking to a hundred different interests, rearranging your bedroom every two weeks, growing bored of the world around you and reimagining it to how you liked. Floating between friends, changing out your wardrobe before the leaves on the trees changed from green to gold to bare. Never satisfied, always inspired - always in control.
Now you whimper underneath the lights, let someone else decide how you look, try and imagine Jeremiah in your shoes. You wish you could turn to him and ask how to do this. To watch him, then repeat, just as you had for all those hours creating earthquakes and disasters and death. Imposter girl, when they call you the youngest Gamemaker in three decades a curve blossoms between your ears but your stomach churns something sickly.
Afterwards you vomit into the sink. Shake. Sob.
You'd forgotten to grieve the loss of a friend, let alone yourself. Because you were the Capitol's now and forever, no longer a student at the side of a master mimicking his every move. Giving your opinion without being asked. A natural, a talent, initiative. You could see things before they were created, took a glimmer of an idea and turned it into a star. He let you take the reigns, even though he wasn't supposed to. Prodigy, he called you. Protégé, they now painted across television screens and the night sky.
Perhaps it's why he chose you. Left it all in your untrained hands. Because Jeremiah Fontaine took one look and you and knew.
But you didn't know. You were just a student. An intern. A child, once, who could never make up her mind. And now you were Gamemaker Astrid Zane, someone else deciding for you. You didn't want this. Not this fast. Not without guidance.
Somehow you pull yourself off of the floor. Brush your teeth. Smile.
Chameleon girl, you allow change to wrap you up in its arms - a comfort.
You mourn who you were. You mourn your mentor.
Then become her. Become him. Gamemaker.
It's not like you have the luxury of choice anymore.