Catching Fire : Part 3 : Chapter 19-20
Part III: “The Enemy”
Games announcer Claudius Templesmith opens the third Quarter Quell, and Katniss has just sixty seconds to assess the scene and get ready to move. The assault on Cinna, she knows, was “staged to unhinge” her, but now she decides that because Cinna risked all, she’ll be strong for him and for the rebels. She observes the arena: “Blue water. Pink sky. White-hot sun,” and the Cornucopia on what seems to be an island, connected to each plate by a strip of land. The water is salty, the beach surrounding it devoid of boats or ropes. It’s an arena made for District 4, where everyone learns to swim early on. Most tributes rarely have a chance to swim. When the gong sounds, Katniss dives from her plate and swims to the strip of land. This year, she behaves like a Career and heads for the supplies and weapons. She grabs a bow and turns as someone approaches from the rear. It’s Finnick, trident raised. She comments, as she aims an arrow at him, that the arena was made for him. “Lucky thing we’re allies,” he replies and shows her Haymitch’s golden bangle, a signal to her. Finnick yells at her to duck and flings the trident, killing the District 5 tribute, who spent most of training drunk. Finnick warns Katniss not to trust the tributes from Districts 1 and 2 as they split up to defend the Cornucopia, which this year holds only weapons, no food or water or other supplies. Katniss’s arrow wounds Gloss in the calf, and she shoots at Brutus, who holds up his padded belt to deflect the arrow. The belt spews a purple liquid across his face, and he dives back into the water. It’s clear that the four tributes from Districts 1 and 2 are a Career pack, so Finnick and Katniss grab more weapons and clear out. Finnick sees Peeta struggling in the water and, leaving his weapons with Katniss, dives into the water to help him. Many of the tributes are still standing on their plates because they can’t swim, but Mags is dog-paddling to the beach, and Finnick hauls Peeta to the sand. Whether they’d planned it or not, Haymitch has allied Peeta and Katniss with the District 4 tributes.
Slowly, the other tributes figure out that the padded belts will keep them afloat, and they begin to jump from the plates and head into the jungle beyond the beach. Katniss can’t spot both Beetee and Wiress, so she and Finnick share the weapons they got from the Cornucopia, and they head into the jungle. Mags wants only an awl. Finnick is clearly very attached to Mags and carries her on his shoulders. They climb into the trees is steep, and vines block the way so that Peeta has to cut through them. They all quickly become soaked with sweat and short of breath in the humid heat. When they stop to rest about a mile into the jungle, Katniss climbs a tree to look back at the beach. So many tributes are already dead that the ground around the Cornucopia “appears to be bleeding,” and the water seems purple. Some tributes are still battling, and Katniss realizes that she knew that the “chain of locked hands” didn’t mean a “universal truce.” Still, she had expected reluctance to kill. The sight makes her less trusting of Finnick, and she considers killing him right away. But as she climbs down, she sees Finnick holding his trident “in a casually defensive position,” and he teases her: “Have they all joined hands? Taken a vow of nonviolence? Tossed the weapons in the sea in defiance of the Capitol?” Of course not, because they are victors, and not by chance—except perhaps Peeta. Finnick seems to acknowledge what Haymitch and Katniss know—that Peeta is “truly, deep-down better than the rest of us.” They regard each other with calculation till Peeta steps between them, not by accident. The four move on, looking for fresh water. Katniss accepts that, for now at least, they need Finnick. As they near the top of the arena, Katniss notices a “funny, rippling square hanging like a warped pane of glass in the air.” It’s the force field that contains the arena, and she calls a warning to Peeta, who’s slashing vines with his knife, but too late. His knife hits the force field, and for a second, the trees vanish and she can see the flat space beyond the arena as Peeta is flung back, his hair singed, unconscious, without breath or a heartbeat.
In some ways, Katniss’s behavior and mentality in these Games is in sharp contrast toward her approach to her first Games. She runs aggressively toward the Cornucopia to get weapons, and she attacks Brutus within moments of leaping from the metal plate. She’s ready to kill Finnick as well if she must. More confident, strong, and well-trained, Katniss seems better equipped to handle the psychological challenges of the arena as well. However, in one important way, Katniss has not changed her behavior. She is still deeply distrustful and unable to judge ally from foe. Even when Finnick shows her the bangle, even after he saves Peeta from drowning, even when he turns away from opportunities to kill her, Katniss can’t accept that he could be an ally. Haymitch tried to warn her, but her tendency, likely because of her upbringing in District 12, is to have difficulty knowing whom to trust. She hardly trusts Haymitch and even Peeta. How her inability to know who the enemy is will shape the Quell Games is yet to be seen.
Katniss screams and shakes Peeta till Finnick moves her aside and treats Peeta as he would a drowning victim, administering chest compressions and rescue breathing. At first Katniss, who has never seen the technique, thinks Finnick is attacking Peeta, but she grasps the situation before moving to kill Finnick. Peeta coughs and wakes up, with a characteristic joke: “Careful. . . . There’s a force field up ahead.” Katniss is crying and laughing; Finnick blames pregnancy hormones. Katniss realizes that she’s “vexed” rather than grateful that Finnick could save Peeta when she could not have. Now she owes Finnick and can’t “kill him in his sleep.” Mags hands her moss to use as a makeshift handkerchief, and as she cleans her face, she notices that he’s wearing a gold chain and a disk engraved with the mockingjay image, his token from Effie. He hopes she doesn’t mind that he used her token image—he wanted to match. She says she doesn’t mind, but she worries that his choice “makes the job of keeping Peeta alive harder” because Snow will want to discourage the rebels.
They move on, slowly for Peeta’s sake, with Katniss in the lead. She claims that she can hear the force field’s buzz because the Capitol surgery on her left ear, after last year’s Games, improved her hearing. In fact, she wants to hide from the Gamemakers the fact that she knows how to spot the force field’s weak spots. To reveal the field’s position to the others (and, surreptitiously, to herself), she tosses nuts against it. Mags follows her, picking up the scorched nuts, shelling them, and eating them. Katniss is concerned, since the nuts could be poisonous, but Finnick shrugs and says, “I guess we’ll find out.” Finnick puzzles Katniss. He clearly has affection for Mags, he saved Peeta, he has Haymitch’s trust, yet he lets Mags eat “strange nuts.”
Katniss realizes that the force field is leading them in a curved path. She climbs a tree and sees that the arena is circular and is topped by a dome; the Cornucopia is in the center, and the paths to it from the beach are like spokes of a wheel. She shoots an arrow at the dome and knows, when it bounces back, that the force field covers the arena. Climbing down, she reports that the arena is symmetrical and not too large, and the only water she could see is the salty lake surrounding the Cornucopia. They head down slowly, looking for fresh water, but by afternoon, Mags and Peeta must rest, so they set up camp. Finnick and Mags weave mats to rest on and under, and Katniss hunts. The plant life is lush and various, yet she can’t find the water that sustains it. She hears eight cannon shots and knows that eight tributes are dead near the Cornucopia. Exhausted, she sinks down by a tree and notices brightly-colored birds, lizards, and large rodents. She shoots a rodent and sees, when she picks it up, that its muzzle is wet. Where did it find water?
Back at camp, they cut up the rodent, which they decide to call a tree rat, and put bits of it on sticks to fry against the force field. The sun sets, and they look to the artificial sky to see who has died. The male tribute from District 5 is first, so all the tributes from Districts 1, 2, and 3 are alive (as are Finnick and Mags, of course). The male morphling from 6, Cecelia and Woof from 8, both tributes from 9, the woman from 10, and Seeder, the woman from 11, are all dead, too. Katniss thinks sadly of these losses and of Cecelia’s children in particular. Her thoughts are interrupted by a silver parachute, which she and the others assign to Peeta, since his death and rebirth likely generated sponsor sympathy. It carries a tapered silver tube, but none of them knows what it is or what is does. Yet Haymitch knows what they need. Frustrated, Katniss lies down and thinks about how folks in District 12 are doing in the cold of winter. Suddenly, she realizes that the tube is a spile. She saw her father use a similar spile to gather maple syrup from a tree, when she was a little girl. Now they know that the water must be in the trees, and Mags drills a hole with an awl for them to tap. The water that trickles out is warm but good, and everyone drinks. They wash their faces and fill bowls that Finnick and Mags made of grass. Then Katniss secures the precious spile to her belt, and they assign watches and rest. Katniss wakes up to the sound of a bell tolling twelve times and sees, across the arena, a massive lightning bolt strike a tall tree as a lightning storm begins. As she keeps watch, Katniss hears rain in the distance and the sound of a cannon; she refuses to guess who might have died. Then a fog rolls in, and Katniss knows that it’s not a natural fog but a device of the Gamemakers. It has a horribly sweet stench, and as it touches her, it blisters her skin. She yells for the others to wake up so that they can flee.
Threats abound—as in any Games arena, but here they are intensified by the knowledge that Snow and the Gamemakers want not just to produce an entertaining spectacle for the Capitol audience but also to discourage the rebels in the districts by demonstrating the utter power of the Capitol of the former victors, the strongest (at least, at the time of their triumphs) from each district. The premise of this Quarter Quell, that not even the strongest, not even the individuals who survived the Capitol’s assault, can withstand the Capitol now suggests that the Gamemakers will punish harshly every tribute, making each an example. By the end of the first day, nine tributes are dead, most are, readers assume, dehydrated and sweating in the confined, claustrophobic arena. And unlike in the 74th Games, Katniss and her allies can’t even get a night of sleep after a day of peril. The revelation that Peeta is wearing a mockingjay pendant only increases the sense of threat. Snow cannot allow further acts of defiance.