23 Cannons: The 69th Annual Hunger Games.

24 tributes are reaped by the Capitol to enter the 69th Hunger Games, marking the end of the sixth decade of Games. And as they all prepare for the fight of their lives, none of them know the true extent of the twists that will face them in the arena. With rebels, liars, and killers thrown into a deadly arena governed by power-mad Gamemaker, who will live to hear every one of the twenty three cannons sound out?

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13. The Ultimate Gambit

Xander sat against the white wall of the training room, idly watching as Rose practised at the throwing knife station a few feet away from him. He had just finished training there, and was taking a time out for a minute. Personally, he couldn't care less about learning how to be proficient with using a knife as a projectile weapon, but it was at the request of Elektra, their mentor, and the newest victor from District 3, so in theory, she was the best person to turn to in regards to training. Not that he cared about training, or the Games for that matter. It was all a show put on by the Capitol. A puppet show, for a better analogy. And the tributes were the puppets. In fact, Xander reckoned that the Gamemakers had probably already planned out the details of the Games to the letter; the victor was probably decided months in advance. So really, what did it matter if Xander didn't train? If he was destined to be victor, then he wouldn't need to learn how to survive; the Capitol would take care of that for him.

He was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of the trainer complimenting Rose on managing to hit a couple of targets dead in the centre. It was all superficial and false exchanges on the trainer's side; they couldn't care less about Rose or himself. They were only interested in the Careers; they were most likely to win. Although, the past few years had seen an increase in outlier victors, so perhaps the good luck had transferred to the flip side of the coin of tributes. However, the past victories were most likely flukes more than anything else. But still, it was nice to have some form of hope.

"Hey, Xander," Rose suddenly said. Xander looked up at her, and watched as she sat beside him. He noted that her forehead was slick with sweat. She was also breathing slightly heavier than normal, clearly showing that she had perhaps exerted herself in the training exercise a little too much.
"Hey," Xander replied, shifting his glasses further up his face. He frequently wondered why he never bothered to save up for a new pair back in 3. Oh well. At least they still worked, and it wasn't as if he'd be practically blind without them. "So how'd it go with the knife throwing?"
"You weren't watching, were you?" Rose asked. Xander shook his head, and then shrugged. It wasn't that much of a big deal, really.
"Sorry," Xander said, mildly embarrassed. Clearly now wasn't a good time to tune out and just have some time with his thoughts. He just assumed now was good since there was no way in hell that was going to happen in the arena.
"Whatever," Rose said with a sigh. "Anyway, the trainer said that I'm a natural with the knife, and that if I keep it up, I'll probably do as well as Elektra did. Which is definitely good news."
"Indeed it is," Xander said. "Bearing similarities to the latest victor from our district, not to mention your childhood friend, will certain curry favour with the Capitol, and potentially secure sponsorship deals."
"Yeah, it might," Rose said, smiling. "But who knows for sure with the Capitol."
"You're right," Xander said. "It truly is the most fickle crowd to appease."
"But anyway," Rose said. "Seems we finished the morning's training a little early, so we have some time to kill. What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," Xander shrugged. "Perhaps just wait around until lunch."
"Maybe," Rose replied. "Or - hey!"

Xander turned his head, and looked right, seeing the reason why Rose had cut off the conversation. It was Alexis, their new ally. Both of the District 3 tributes rose to their feet, and approached Alexis. They reached each other just outside of the doorway that led to the bathrooms.
"Hey guys," Alexis said, smiling at them. "I guess I should apologise for not being around much today, but I've just been a little busy with other things."
"Following your mentor's training instructions?" Rose offered. Xander remained silent, looking at Alexis. Something about the way she was talking seemed a little off - rehearsed, maybe. Perhaps she was trying to play them both for fools, and butter them up until the last minute, and swiftly kill them. Whatever it was, though, to Xander it was apparent that Alexis was talking in a way that indicated she was hiding something.
"Yeah," Alexis replied, before her warm face turned hard. "And since we a little time before lunch and afternoon training, how's about we go elsewhere?"
"What do you mean?" Rose inquired, looking quizzical.
"I mean the rooftop!" Alexis said. "It's not like it's off-limits, and besides, it'll offer us somewhere quiet to talk without the other tributes listening in." Something was definitely striking Xander as being off about this conversation, but he still couldn't quite place his finger on it. Everything Alexis was saying somehow seemed unnatural, but there had to be an ulterior reason to it. And whatever Alexis was covering up, she clearly wanted to say something else to the two of them out of earshot.
"Okay then," Rose said. "Let's go."

The three tributes walked across the training floor, not stopping for any reason. Alexis took the lead, whilst Rose and Xander walked a couple of steps behind her. They eventually stopped at one of the various elevators that lined the far wall of the room. Alexis walked up to the shining silver door, and pressed a button next to it. A sharp pinging sound rang out, and the elevator door slid open. They stepped inside, and Xander made his way to the back of the elevator, holding on to the railing that lined the wall. Rose stood closer to Alexis, who stood near the panel of buttons. She pressed the top one, and the elevator door slid shut, and with a brief shudder, it took off, ascending at a rapid pace.
"So," Xander said, taking the opportunity to break the silence. "What is it you want to discuss exactly?" 
"Just some Games strategies," Alexis replied without skipping a beat. Xander narrowed his eyes. If it was really just a simple arena strategy, why go all the way to the rooftop to discuss it?
"Really?"
"Yeah." Alexis was definitely putting on an act, and she was being really subtle about it. But Xander could see right through masks such as this; there was something she was witholding, and whilst part of Xander wanted to uncover it, the other half of him recognised that Alexis was possibly keeping something from the Capitol's all-hearing ears. And if that were the case, Xander could possibly unravel everything by prying too much. He kept his mouth shut.

The elevator opened, and the tributes were met with a light breeze. Xander and Rose followed Alexis out of the elevator, and onto the concrete floor of the rooftop. The sun was high in the sky, and it was quite warm outside. The rooftop consisted of a large flowerbed in the middle, containing many different types flowers, most of which were new to Xander. There were several wooden benches along the edges of the rooftop, which were a couple of feet away from the grey wall that surrounded the rooftop. It looked to be about three feet tall; not enough to stop someone from climbing over, but enough to signal that it wasn't a good idea to climb over. Xander recalled last year, where, apparently, the boy from District 8 attempted to commit suicide by jumping off the roof, but just before he hit the ground, a forcefield surrounding the entire building launched him back to safety. But not before gaining a broken arm mere hours before the Games began. And as much as Xander knew it didn't truly matter if you were injured before the Games if the Capitol had chosen you to be the victor, he didn't really fancy the pain that came with it. As well as this, there was a small wooden maintenance shed in one corner of the rooftop. It was maybe just over seven feet high, and around four feet wide. It would be very snug if you were to enter. However, to Xander's surprise, Alexis began to walk towards the shed.

What are you doing?" he asked.
"What does it look like, Xander?" Alexis shot back. "I'm heading somewhere private!" She didn't slow down, and continued towards the shed. Clearly, she had thought the location through. Xander picked up the pace, and caught up with Rose, who was just a few paces behind Alexis. They passed the flowerbed, and Xander nearly ran into a large white rose which was growing out. He glanced at it for just a moment, and saw a small bee resting on it. It had been what felt like forever since Xander had seen anything that even remotely resembled natural, and in an odd way, it made him feel hopeful that not everything was being suffocated by the artificial everything that the Capitol produced. He looked away from the flower, and looked back at Alexis. She was standing at the door now, waiting for the two District 3 tributes to catch up, which they did about three seconds later. Xander leaned against the outer wall of the shed for a moment, watching as Alexis slowly pushed open the door. It opened with a creak, and Alexis, followed by Rose, stepped inside. Xander quickly followed suit, and as soon as he was inside, Alexis closed the door again.

The shed was actually slightly bigger than Xander anticipated; they had climbed down a short flight of stairs to reach the floor, making the inside space about twice as large as it had appeared. Xander reached the bottom of the stairs, and was surprised to find that the floor was made of wood; it creaked under his feet. However, it was almost pitch black in the shed, due there being a lack of windows. The only light was coming through gaps in the wooden planks; thin beams that barely illuminated. But it provided enough light for Xander to be able to just make out Rose and Alexis, who were both standing opposite him.
"So," Alexis said. "I guess now I'll tell you about the-" She suddenly stopped, and harshly craned her neck to the right. She raised a finger to her lips, indicating for the two District 3 tributes to be completely silent. Xander followed instructions, although he was confused as to why the sudden silence, until he heard it. It was faint, but there: a metallic whirring noise. Xander followed Alexis' gaze, and saw a surveillance camera mounted on the wall of the shed. He felt a chill run through him at this for some reason: something about this camera felt ominous.

Remaining silent, Xander watched as Alexis walked up to the camera, and then reached into one of the pockets on her training uniform. She pulled out a small switch-blade from her pocket, which had been stolen from one of the stations, and moved along the wall, where several wires were running from the camera. She sliced them all. The whirring stopped, and the camera fell off the wall, lacking the support from the wires. Alexis then returned to Rose and Xander, and reached into her other pocket. She pulled out a piece of paper, and a pencil, and sat on the floor, inviting her allies to do the same. They quickly did so, and watched as Alexis scribbled something down. Xander craned his head over to see the words clearly.

Disabled camera but have to write down - they could still have mics listening in.

What? But then, it all made sense to Xander. Alexis wasn't trying to keep something from the other tributes. She was keeping it from the Capitol itself. Rose went to open her mouth to question, but Alexis raised her hand to silence her.

Don't talk. Could give away plan.

Xander gestured to the pencil, indicating that he wanted to write a response. Alexis took the cue, and handed Xander the writing utensil.

what plan - why can't capitol know?

Alexis took the pencil from Xander.

Because I have a plan to get out of these Games.

What? This was insane. How could Alexis plan to do that? She was just a sixteen year old from District 5 who happened to be a victor's kid. Rose took the pencil from Alexis.

thats insane! you cant get out its impossible

Alexis took the pencil.

Sure, it seems that way, but trust me, I have been planning this for a while now. It's a little risky, but it's the only hope we have of getting out alive.

Xander took the pencil.

then what is it?

Alexis took the pencil, and hastily began to scribble.

Can't say. It would be putting us in too much jeopardy if I wrote it down, but trust me on this.

Rose took the pencil from Alexis, and wrote with a worried expression.

if you cant tell us how can we know youre telling the truth?

Alexis took the pencil, avoiding eye contact.

Sorry if it all seems dubious, but since we only have one shot, I can't provide any sort of demonstration until we're in the arena.

Xander took the pencil, and turned over the page; their writing had filled it already.

okay then, i do think you have a plan. but how can you be sure it'll work? since as far as i know, it's nigh impossible to escape the games at all.

Alexis grinned confidently as she took the pencil, and wrote her response.

Because, Xander, I am taking this straight from the history books. I'm sure you're familiar with some basic history - think back to how District Three managed to get the rebels to infiltrate the impenetrable Capitol.

Xander's eyes widened. Surely she couldn't be serious? That one action by District 3 in the rebellion was what very nearly made the Capitol lose. But the only reason it didn't succeed entirely was because of the late timing of the execution. That was all. And Alexis was meaning to replicate it somehow?

are you serious? that plan is just crazy enough to work - provided you did your homework. you actually have the necessary equipment?

Alexis took the pencil back from Xander, and nodded her head.

Yes, I do. Well, what is permissible by the Capitol. Which means that we will need to really entice the sponsors in the arena. You don't have to remember everything - just follow my lead in the arena when the time comes. I'll do the rest.

Xander began to feel an uneasiness. But not dread. No. This plan of Alexis', if it was truly what he thought it was, then it would definitely catch the Capitol off guard for sure. It was their best shot.

okay then. so for now we just train? whilst you prepare everything else, i mean.

Alexis grinned as she took the pencil.

Exactly. Just be prepared for a lot of running when the time comes, because, my friends, we are going to get out of this hell hole for sure.

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