Catching Fire Part 3: The Enemy
When I wake, I have a brief, delicious feeling of happiness that is somehow
connected with Peeta. Happiness, of course, is a complete absurdity at this
point, since at the rate things are going, I'll be dead in a day. And that's the
best-case scenario, if I'm able to eliminate the rest of the field, including
myself, and get Peeta crowned as the winner of the Quarter Quell.
Still, the sensation's so unexpected and sweet I cling to it, if only for a few
moments. Before the gritty sand, the hot sun, and my itching skin demand a
return to reality.
Everyone's already up and watching the descent of a parachute to the beach. I
join them for another delivery of bread. It's identical to the one we received
the night before. Twenty-four rolls from District 3. That gives us thirty-three
in all. We each take five, leaving eight in reserve. No one says it, but eight
will divide up perfectly after the next death. Somehow, in the light of day,
joking about who will be around to eat the rolls has lost its humor.
How long can we keep this alliance? I don't think anyone expected the number of
tributes to drop so quickly. What if I am wrong about the others protecting
Peeta? If things were simply coincidental, or it's all been a strategy to win
our trust to make us easy prey, or I don't understand what's actually going on?
Wait, there's no ifs about that. I don't understand what's going on. And if I
don't, it's time for Peeta and me to clear out of here.
I sit next to Peeta on the sand to eat my rolls. For some reason, it's difficult
to look at him.
Maybe it was all that kissing last night, although the two of us kissing isn't
anything new. It might not even have felt any different for him. Maybe it's
knowing the brief amount of time we have left. And how we're working at such
cross-purposes when it comes to who should survive these Games.
After we eat, I take his hand and tug him toward the water. “Come on. I'll teach
you how to swim.” I need to get him away from the others where we can discuss
breaking away. It will be tricky, because once they realize we're severing the
alliance, we'll be instant targets.
If I was really teaching him to swim, I'd make him take off the belt since it
keeps him afloat, but what does it matter now? So I just show him the basic
stroke and let him practice going back and forth in waist-high water. At first,
I notice Johanna keeping a careful eye on us, but eventually she loses interest
and goes to take a nap. Finnick's weaving a new net out of vines and Beetee
plays with his wire. I know the time has come.
While Peeta has been swimming, I've discovered something. My remaining scabs are
starting to peel off. By gently rubbing a handful of sand up and down my arm, I
clean off the rest of the scales, revealing fresh new skin underneath.
I stop Peeta's practice, on the pretext of showing him how to rid himself of the
itchy scabs, and as we scrub ourselves, I bring up our escape.
“Look, the pool is down to eight. I think it's time we took off,” I say under my
breath, although I doubt any of the tributes can hear me.
Peeta nods, and I can see him considering my proposition. Weighing if the odds
will be in our favor. “Tell you what,” he says. “Let's stick around until Brutus
and Enobaria are dead. I think Beetee's trying to put together some kind of trap
for them now. Then, I promise, we'll go.”
I'm not entirely convinced. But if we leave now, we'll have two sets of
adversaries after us.
Maybe three, because who knows what Chaff's up to? Plus the clock to contend
with. And then there's Beetee to think of. Johanna only brought him for me, and
if we leave she'll surely kill him. Then I remember. I can't protect Beetee,
too. There can only be one victor and it has to be Peeta. I must accept this. I
must make decisions based on his survival only.
“All right,” I say. “We'll stay until the Careers are dead. But that's the end
of it.” I turn and wave to Finnick. “Hey, Finnick, come on in! We figured out
how to make you pretty again!”
The three of us scour all the scabs from our bodies, helping with the others'
backs, and come out the same pink as the sky. We apply another round of medicine
because the skin seems too delicate for the sunlight, but it doesn't look half
as bad on smooth skin and will be good camouflage in the jungle.
Beetee calls us over, and it turns out that during all those hours of fiddling
with wire, he has indeed come up with a plan. “I think we'll all agree our next
job is to kill Brutus and Enobaria,” he says mildly. “I doubt they'll attack us
openly again, now that they're so outnumbered. We could track them down, I
suppose, but it's dangerous, exhausting work.”
“Do you think they've figured out about the clock?” I ask.
“If they haven't, they'll figure it out soon enough. Perhaps not as specifically
as we have.
But they must know that at least some of the zones are wired for attacks and
that they're reoccurring in a circular fashion. Also, the fact that our last
fight was cut off by Gamemaker intervention will not have gone unnoticed by
them. We know it was an attempt to disorient us, but they must be asking
themselves why it was done, and this, too, may lead them to the realization that
the arena's a clock,” says Beetee. “So I think our best bet will be setting our
“Wait, let me get Johanna up,” says Finnick. “She'll be rabid if she thinks she
missed something this important.”
“Or not,” I mutter, since she's always pretty much rabid, but I don't stop him,
because I'd be angry myself if I was excluded from a plan at this point.
When she's joined us, Beetee shoos us all back a bit so he can have room to work
in the sand. He swiftly draws a circle and divides it into twelve wedges. It's
the arena, not rendered in-Peeta's precise strokes but in the rough lines of a
man whose mind is occupied by other, far more complex things. “If you were
Brutus and Enobaria, knowing what you do now about the jungle, where would you
feel safest?” Beetee asks. There's nothing patronizing in his voice, and yet I
can't help thinking he reminds me of a schoolteacher about to ease children into
a lesson. Perhaps it's the age difference, or simply that Beetee is probably
about a million times smarter than the rest of us.
“Where we are now. On the beach,” says Peeta. “It's the safest place.”
“So why aren't they on the beach?” says Beetee.
“Because we're here,” says Johanna impatiently.
“Exactly. We're here, claiming the beach. Now where would you go?” says Beetee.
I think about the deadly jungle, the occupied beach. “I'd hide just at the edge
of the jungle.
So I could escape if an attack came. And so I could spy on us.”
“Also to eat,” Finnick says. “The jungle's full of strange creatures and plants.
But by watching us, I'd know the seafood's safe.”
Beetee smiles at us as if we've exceeded his expectations. “Yes, good. You do
see. Now here's what I propose: a twelve o'clock strike. What happens exactly at
noon and at midnight?”
“The lightning bolt hits the tree,” I say.
“Yes. So what I'm suggesting is that after the bolt hits at noon, but before it
hits at midnight, we run my wire from that tree all the way down into the
saltwater, which is, of course, highly conductive. When the bolt strikes, the
electricity will travel down the wire and into not only the water but also the
surrounding beach, which will still be damp from the ten o'clock wave. Anyone in
contact with those surfaces at that moment will be electrocuted,”
There's a long pause while we all digest Beetee's plan. It seems a bit
fantastical to me, impossible even. But why? I've set thousands of snares. Isn't
this just a larger snare with a more scientific component? Could it work? How
can we even question it, we tributes trained to gather fish and lumber and coal?
What do we know about harnessing power from the sky?
Peeta takes a stab at it. “Will that wire really be able to conduct that much
It looks so fragile, like it would just burn up.”
“Oh, it will. But not until the current has passed through it. It will act
something like a fuse, in fact. Except the electricity will travel along it,”
“How do you know?” asks Johanna, clearly not convinced.
“Because I invented it,” says Beetee, as if slightly surprised. “It's not
actually wire in the usual sense. Nor is the lightning natural lightning nor the
tree a real tree. You know trees better than any of us, Johanna. It would be
destroyed by now, wouldn't it?”
“Yes,” she says glumly.
“Don't worry about the wire — it will do just what I say,” Beetee assures us.
“And where will we be when this happens?” asks Finnick.
“Far enough up in the jungle to be safe,” Beetee replies.
“The Careers will be safe, too, then, unless they're in the vicinity of the
water,” I point out.
“That's right,” says Beetee.
“But all the seafood will be cooked,” says Peeta.
“Probably more than cooked,” says Beetee. “We will most likely be eliminating
that as a food source for good. But you found other edible things in the jungle,
“Yes. Nuts and rats,” I say. “And we have sponsors.”
“Well, then. I don't see that as a problem,” says Beetee. “But as we are allies
and this will require all our efforts, the decision of whether or not to attempt
it is up to you four.”
We are like schoolchildren. Completely unable to dispute his theory with
anything but the most elementary concerns. Most of which don't even have
anything to do with his actual plan.
I look at the others' disconcerted faces. “Why not?” I say. “If it fails,
there's no harm done. If it works, there's a decent chance we'll kill them. And
even if we don't and just kill the seafood, Brutus and Enobaria lose it as a
food source, too.”
“I say we try it,” says Peeta. “Katniss is right.”
Finnick looks at Johanna and raises his eyebrows. He will not go forward without
“All right,” she says finally. “It's better than hunting them down in the
jungle, anyway. And I doubt they'll figure out our plan, since we can barely
understand it ourselves.”
Beetee wants to inspect the lightning tree before he has to rig it. Judging by
the sun, it's about nine in the morning. We have to leave our beach soon,
anyway. So we break camp, walk over to the beach that borders the lightning
section, and head into the jungle. Beetee's still too weak to hike up the slope
on his own, so Finnick and Peeta take turns carrying him. I let Johanna lead
because it's a pretty straight shot up to the tree, and I figure she can't get
us too lost. Besides, I can do a lot more damage with a sheath of arrows than
she can with two axes, so I'm the best one to bring up the rear.
The dense, muggy air weighs on me. There's been no break from it since the Games
began. I wish Haymitch would stop sending us that District 3 bread and get us
some more of that District 4 stuff, because I've sweated out buckets in the last
two days, and even though I've had the fish, I'm craving salt. A piece of ice
would be another good idea. Or a cold drink of water. I'm grateful for the fluid
from the trees, but it's the same temperature as the seawater and the air and
the other tributes and me. We're all just one big, warm stew.
As we near the tree, Finnick suggests I take the lead. “Katniss can hear the
force field,” he explains to Beetee and Johanna.
“Hear it?” asks Beetee.
“Only with the ear the Capitol reconstructed,” I say. Guess who I'm not fooling
with that story? Beetee. Because surely he remembers that he showed me how to
spot a force field, and probably it's impossible to hear force fields, anyway.
But, for whatever reason, he doesn't question my claim.
“Then by all means, let Katniss go first,” he says, pausing a moment to wipe the
steam off his glasses. “Force fields are nothing to play around with.”
The lightning tree's unmistakable as it towers so high above the others. I find
a bunch of nuts and make everybody wait while I move slowly up the slope,
tossing the nuts ahead of me. But I see the force field almost immediately, even
before a nut hits it, because it's only about fifteen yards away. My eyes, which
are sweeping the greenery before me, catch sight of the rippled square high up
and to my right. I throw a nut directly in front of me and hear it sizzle in
“Just stay below the lightning tree,” I tell the others.
We divide up duties. Finnick guards Beetee while he examines the tree, Johanna
taps for water, Peeta gathers nuts, and I hunt nearby. The tree rats don't seem
to have any fear of humans, so I take down three easily. The sound of the ten
o'clock wave reminds me I should get back, and I return to the others and clean
my kill. Then I draw a line in the dirt a few feet from the force field as a
reminder to keep back, and Peeta and I settle down to roast nuts and sear cubes
Beetee is still messing around the tree, doing I don't know what, taking
measurements and such. At one point he snaps off a sliver of bark, joins us, and
throws it against the force field.
It bounces back and lands on the ground, glowing. In a few moments it returns to
its original color. “Well, that explains a lot,” says Beetee. I look at Peeta
and can't help biting my lip to keep from laughing since it explains absolutely
nothing to anyone but Beetee.
About this time we hear the sound of clicks rising from the sector adjacent to
us. That means it's eleven o'clock. It's far louder in the jungle than it was on
the beach last night. We all listen intently.
“It's not mechanical,” Beetee says decidedly.
“I'd guess insects,” I say. “Maybe beetles.”
“Something with pincers,” adds Finnick.
The sound swells, as if alerted by our quiet words to the proximity of live
flesh. Whatever is making that clicking, I bet it could strip us to the bone in
“We should get out of here, anyway,” says Johanna. “There's less than an hour
before the lightning starts.”
We don't go that far, though. Only to the identical tree in the blood-rain
section. We have a picnic of sorts, squatting on the ground, eating our jungle
food, waiting for the bolt that signals noon. At Beetee's request, I climb up
into the canopy as the clicking begins to fade out. When the lightning strikes,
it's dazzling, even from here, even in this bright sunlight. It completely
encompasses the distant tree, making it glow a hot blue-white and causing the
surrounding air to crackle with electricity. I swing down and report my findings
to Beetee, who seems satisfied, even if I'm not terribly scientific.
We take a circuitous route back to the ten o'clock beach. The sand is smooth and
damp, swept clean by the recent wave. Beetee essentially gives us the afternoon
off while he works with the wire. Since it's his weapon and the rest of us have
to defer to his knowledge so entirely, there's the odd feeling of being let out
of school early. At first we take turns having naps in the shadowy edge of the
jungle, but by late afternoon everyone is awake and restless.
We decide, since this might be our last chance for seafood, to make a sort of
feast of it. Under Finnick's guidance we spear fish and gather shellfish, even
dive for oysters. I like this last part best, not because I have any great
appetite for oysters. I only ever tasted them once, in the Capitol, and I
couldn't get around the sliminess. But it's lovely, deep down under the water,
like being in a different world. The water's very clear, and schools of
bright-hued fish and strange sea flowers decorate the sand floor.
Johanna keeps watch while Finnick, Peeta, and I clean and lay out the seafood.
Peeta's just pried open an oyster when I hear him give a laugh. “Hey, look at
this!” He holds up a glistening, perfect pearl about the size of a pea. “You
know, if you put enough pressure on coal it turns to pearls,” he says earnestly
“No, it doesn't,” says Finnick dismissively. But I crack up, remembering that's
how a clueless Effie Trinket presented us to the people of the Capitol last
year, before anyone knew us. As coal pressured into pearls by our weighty
existence. Beauty that arose out of pain.
Peeta rinses the pearl off in the water and hands it to me. “For you.” I hold it
out on my palm and examine its iridescent surface in the sunlight. Yes, I will
keep it. For the few remaining hours of my life I will keep it close. This last
gift from Peeta. The only one I can really accept. Perhaps it will give me
strength in the final moments.
“Thanks,” I say, closing my fist around it. I look coolly into the blue eyes of
the person who is now my greatest opponent, the person who would keep me alive
at his own expense.
And I promise myself I will defeat his plan.
The laughter drains from those eyes, and they are staring so intensely into
mine, it's like they can read my thoughts. “The locket didn't work, did it?”
Peeta says, even though Finnick is right there. Even though everyone can hear
“It worked,” I say.
“But not the way I wanted it to,” he says, averting his glance. After that he
will look at nothing but oysters.
Just as we're about to eat, a parachute appears bearing two supplements to our
meal. A small pot of spicy red sauce and yet another round of rolls from
District 3. Finnick, of course, immediately counts them. “Twenty-four again,” he
Thirty-two rolls, then. So we each take five, leaving seven, which will never
divide equally. It's bread for only one.
The salty fish flesh, the succulent shellfish. Even the oysters seem tasty,
vastly improved by the sauce. We gorge ourselves until no one can hold another
bite, and even then there are leftovers. They won't keep, though, so we toss all
the remaining food back into the water so the Careers won't get it when we
leave. No one bothers about the shells. The wave should clear those away.
There's nothing to do now but wait. Peeta and I sit at the edge of the water,
hand in hand, wordless. He gave his speech last night but it didn't change my
mind, and nothing I can say will change his. The time for persuasive gifts is
I have the pearl, though, secured in a parachute with the spile and the medicine
at my waist. I hope it makes it back to District 12.
Surely my mother and Prim will know to return it to Peeta before they bury my