It was never quiet, he had come to expect that, the constant rumbling of many waterfalls, the early morning calls of a hundred wild banshees. But even now he could hear the Samsons and Scorpion gunships on approach, no doubt searching for him amongst the mountains, using nothing but their eyes.
Finished on the workstation Tom took one last glance around his tiny home for the past few months. Grabbing his rucksack and exopack Tom kicked open the airlock door, not bothering to wait for the complete cycle to finish. Ensuring a tight seal between his skin and the mask he moved off quickly, heading for the opposite direction to the rope bridge leading towards the mainland. Heights be damned, he didn’t intend to make it easy for Quaritch to track his prey and he would sure as hell put up a fight.
Many pilots bemoaned the electric interference the vortex created, forcing them back to old archaic methods of navigation. Woe betide they had to try and track him using only visual flight rules, it’d be more likely two Scorpions would meet for a metal kiss around a rock before plummeting to the ground far below. All favoured his odds albeit in an insignificant amount, they would find his base in minutes following the ‘safe’ air corridors and then track his progress swiftly thereafter.
Taking a running leap Tom felt his hands slip against the rocky surface of a neighbouring structure, not used to making such motions with his human body. Already he could feel himself struggling, weeks of inactivity having robbed his body of its once youthful energy.
The sounds of many craft began echoing around him, their position indeterminable due to the acoustics. At least they had served to scare away any resting banshees he thought with some mild hope, he didn’t fancy facing another one any time soon. Pulling himself up he kept on moving, hoping to put as much distance as possible between himself and his pursuers. As soon as they saw the outpost from their cockpits they’d know he’d bolted and begin the hunt, he needed every second he could get in the mean time.
Without warning he felt the rock beside his face explode, bits of shrapnel digging deeply into his skin and causing a slow trickle of blood. Nearly losing his grip he hung on with one hand, twisting painfully to see a dozen banshees bearing down on him, their Na’vi riders notching bows as they flew in for the kill.
Not waiting Tom swung himself up in one fluid motion, adrenaline kicking into overdrive to dispel any qualms he may have had about his physical state. Taking great strides he dove for what little cover was available, pressing himself into a small crack between two great pillars of stone. The Na’vi circled quickly, firing their arrows as best they could but merely skimming the rock and glancing off harmlessly.
The lead rider dismounted from his Ikran in midair as it flew by overhead, neatly landing before Tom in his hiding place. The gleaming face and bared fangs instantly made Tom’s blood run cold.
“Tsu’tey, fpak!” he pleaded, stop.
But the large warrior just kept on coming, ignoring the humans words. Without pausing he drew his blade, tossing it between hands as he drew nearer salivating from the smell of fear the tiny human gave off.
“You will cause my people harm no more,” he snarled, reaching in to extract Tom, grabbing him bodily and holding him before him, legs dangling in the air. Tom drew his gun, Tsu’teys eyes widening as he looked at the device and realised its power. “You would be so cowardly,” he remarked, “as to use your faketuan spears on me?”
“No,” Tom said, letting loose the entire clip at the Samson that had come into hover just behind the rock. His rounds flew wildly, most ricocheting from the hull but it was enough to discourage the pilot who quickly banked away. Tsu’tey dropped Tom, clutching at his ears from the deafening booms.
“Go,” Tom pleaded again, “leave before they kill us both.”
“I will not let them have the honour,” Tsu’tey roared in rage, picking up his knife from the ground and beginning to circle Tom. “You will pay for what you have done to the Omaticaya people.”
Tom threw the empty gun to the side, holding his hands out before him. Already more gunships had begun to take up positions around them, obviously drawn by the gunfire but apparently unwilling to open fire without orders. He knew it was only a matter of time until the Samson troop transports arrived and all hell would break loose. Dropping down on his knees he looked up at the warrior before him and made his peace.
“Kill me now and escape, don’t let anymore blood be spilt today than is necessary.”
Tsu’tey stepped closer, gripping the great dagger in his hand. Tom knew it was a gamble, one he would lose either way but hopefully his words could ring true and some good could come of the situation. If Tsu’tey stayed the marines would more than surely open fire to eliminate the threat he posed and no amount of carbon-fibre reinforced bones could withstand a .50-cal round. As Tsu’tey drove his arm downwards in one quick swoop Tom felt himself shoved to the ground, smacking against the rough rock and tearing the skin along his arm in the process.
Neytiri crouched where he had just been, gripping Tsu’teys hand in both of her own. Her Ikran squawked loudly as it landed shortly afterwards behind her, the entire rock shaking from the impact it made. She pushed Tsu’tey back, hurrying to Toms side to help him stand and watch over him. As he looked up at her, barely coming up to her chest he smiled, their true faces meeting for the first time.
“I see you,” he said, words lost in the din but she understood nonetheless.
“I see you Thomsully,” she finally said back, running a hand against the smooth plastic of his exopack’s faceplate.
“But please, you must leave,” he said, looking around them at the assembled gunships. “It’s not safe, any moment they are going to come for me and… I don’t want you to be hurt. I am sorry for all the pain I have caused your people but I promise I will make it right.”
Neytiri stepped back, snarling at the metal beasts that surrounded them all.
“We can take you with us,” she said quickly, dropping to one knee before the human so that they were level.
“No, the Ikran wouldn’t stand a chance,” he said quickly. “You have to leave me. It’s for the best,” he finished softly, letting his hands fall to his sides.
“I will come for you,” Neytiri said, pushing Tsu’tey towards her own Ikran. “May Eway be with you.” As she forcefully made Tsu’tey sit beside her she gave Tom one last pleading look before taking flight, narrowly dodging the ring of warbirds before plunging into the clouds below.
Before they were even gone from sight the first troop transport had begun to set down, half a dozen armed men streaming out to surround him. Quaritch strode forwards from behind, old-fashioned pistol hanging in his hand. Tom still knelt on the hard ground, face and arm bloody but a smile on his lips.
“You are goin’ straight to hell boy,” Quaritch said, before using the dead weight of the gun in his hand to club Tom against the head.
Neytiri felt as if she were leaving a piece of herself behind as she flew back towards the Hometree, Tsu’tey fidgeting angrily behind her.
“You should have let me return his life to Eywa,” he shouted brusquely over the rushing wind.
“Why? So the faketuan could have taken yours,” she replied simply, banking sharply as they came in to land in the high branches. Dismounting she found herself pressed against her Ikran by Tsu’tey, a hand held firmly against her chest.
“It is not for us to decide,” he said, leaning in closely. As he smelt her musk his nostrils flared, eyes widening in horror. “You mated with the dreamwalker!” he nearly hollered, disgust dripping from his words.
Neytiri didn’t miss a heartbeat, backhanding him violently across the face so that he nearly stumbled over the edge of the very tree itself. As he balanced precariously on the edge she grabbed his simple waistcoat, arresting any further fall but not pulling him back yet.
“Listen to me,” she said with quiet ferocity, “That faketuan just saved your life. Eywa placed her trust in this dreamwalker and it is not for us to reason why. The Sky People are coming for our land and we must be prepared. You are the best warrior of the Omaticaya Tsu’tey, the People need you. Thom swore an oath as one of the People and he will honour that oath, I feel it.”
Pulling him roughly forwards she left, striding towards the central spiral, not glancing back at the warrior or his injured pride.
“You picked the wrong guy to screw around with,” Quaritch said, standing smugly behind the reinforced window of the cell. The prior occupants, scientists engaged in petty fights over egotistical remarks or marines who had had too much of the local moonshine, had been moved elsewhere, leaving Tom to contemplate his fate alone.
“You better hope the administration don’t find you guilty of treason,” Quaritch said, “or we might just airlock your ass and let you smell that sweet free air you so obviously enjoy. Cheaper than shipping you back to Sol.”
“It’d beat listening to you,” Tom said quietly from the most uncomfortable cot he had ever slept on, the small room devoid of any other furnishings. He had been in mud huts that felt cleaner.
“I should wheel in a monitor so you can watch all your friends get flushed out of that hole they call a home,” Quaritch continued, obviously attempting to ignore the insult. “By the time we’re done watching all of your link recordings we’ll have a perfect map of that tree and every weakness ready to be exploited. It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Tom felt himself shiver at the chilling words but also a ray of hope shone through, they hadn’t found his last files then. He just hoped they had got through in time..
“Private,” Quaritch ordered walking away from the cell, “keep your eye on him, don’t hesitate to shoot to kill if the situation calls for it.”
“Understood Sir,” the soldier answered simply, his rifle held closely to his shoulder.
“See you in another life Sully.”
“Race you there,” Tom whispered back, closing his eyes on the bed and dreaming of other dreams.
The video file was tiny, perhaps a few minutes long but it had been hastily encoded and simulcasted alongside a regular data stream so its contents were of obvious importance. Opening the small file it began to play.
“This is Tom Sully, I don’t know how much time I’ve got so I need to be quick. You have to trust me and do what I say. This is the final battle and you’ve just being recruited.”