Claws Out

The guard lounged idly in the small antechamber before the cells, gun resting across his lap as he watched a video on a small pad. This was one mission he was glad to be sitting out, Quaritch having taken most of the marines out to turn the blue monkey’s treehouse into a pile of matchsticks. He didn’t fancy being a part of that massacre, no matter how much the Company paid him. Getting to a good bit in the film he leant forwards, trying to keep the device inconspicuous should anyone walk in unexpectedly.

Without warning the ground trembled and the small chair he sat perched on slipped sideways, sending him tumbling to the floor noisily. Standing hurriedly he gathered up his gun and pad, stuffing the latter away before flipping off the safety on his rifle.

“What was that?” he asked the only other occupant of the room. Tom slowly sat up from his bed, stretching his arms above his head to iron out all the kinks.

“I don’t know, sounds like the base is under attack. Maybe you should go and investigate?” he said matter-of-factly, as if oblivious to the severity of what he had just spoken.

The marine looked torn between his duty to guard the prisoner and his desire to find out what was actually happening and help out if he could. Eventually deciding Tom was safely locked away he left, heading towards the central operations centre. Before his footsteps had even finished echoing down the hallway three people emerged, quickly making their way across the room.

“I knew I could count on you all,” Tom said, standing before the clear divide.

“As long as you know what you’re doing,” Grace said, ordering Norm to stand by the door and keep an eye out. “Are you sure you can open that?” she asked Max as he ran his fingers over the security controls.

“I work on the most advanced neural interface systems every day, I don’t think a basic encryption system will prove any trouble.” Plugging in a small drive he watched as it worked away before the panel emitted a soft beep and the door slid open. “There,” he said, relieved.

“I take it the distraction worked?” Tom asked as they moved hurriedly entered the med lab.

“Like a charm,” Grace answered, using her card to lock the heavy door behind them. The med lab, like most sections of Hells Gate, could operate as a separate area, sealed from all others in the event of an emergency. Unlike the others however it also had an emergency backup generator to prevent unexpected losses of link connectivity which made it the perfect base within a base. Without pause Grace began the lockdown procedure, severing any links with the Hells Gate base computers and ensuring that nothing else would be coming in or out without ripping a big hole in the side of the labs.

“Doctor Rotherham was not happy about us re-purposing his samples,” Max explained, walking quickly between the pods and starting their precycle checks. “But he supports our cause. By the time they put the fire out in the refinery it’ll be too late. All the scientists have taken refuge in the living quarters, we’re going to coral everyone there when it’s all over.”

“And the Na’vi, did you manage to get word to them?” Tom asked quickly, heading to the first pod he had used when he arrived so very long ago. So much had changed in between.

Norm slipped into his own pod quickly, avoiding his questioning gaze. Grace stood by him, her own pod spinning up ready. “We sent your message to one of the science teams out near the Na’vi Hometree but we don’t have any way of knowing if they managed to pass it on before Quaritch pulled the plug on all active links. I’m sorry Tom, but they might be on their own.”

“With an armada about to level their home? We’d better get started then,” Tom said angrily, pulling his pod lid shut. His avatar had been brought back to the med lab for repairs, the arm wrapped in bandages and still feeling stiff as Tom retook control. Quickly unlocking the airlock door, Tom passed through to the grassy quad area outside where he met up with Grace and Norm, heading towards him in their own avatars.

“You know what you have to do?” Tom asked, getting a quick nod from both. As they split up, each heading to their respective objectives, Tom couldn’t but help wonder if what they were trying to do would have even the slightest chance of succeeding. Not that it mattered anymore, time had run out and this would be the only chance they had.

—-

Neytiri could see the metal beasts in the distance, their fiery engines sending waves of smaller birds fluttering up from the trees as they tore through the heavens. Never before had she seen so many at once except in the Sky People’s home, yet now they rode for her own home, passing high above as she led her Ikran low over the treetops. Behind her her fellow warriors watched the great beasts and she felt their desire to follow them, protect their families but now was not the time. They had to cut off the beasts head, not its claws. It was a race, one with goals at opposite ends.

One of the dreamwalkers had come tumbling into their village only a few hours ago, exhaustion driving the poor hybrid to the ground as he called for the one called Neytiri. At once she had been summoned, listening to the strange message the hybrid passed on. Before they could learn more he collapsed amongst them, eyes rolling backwards as if suddenly taken by sleep.

A decision was reached quickly; Neytiri had taken every warrior she could, even Tsu’tey following her command. If what the dreamwalker had spoken was true Hometree would need their help to save it. And her mate would need her help to survive what he had planned for himself.

“I am coming Tom,” she whispered, urging her Ikran on faster still.

—-

“Oh man, oh man,” Norm kept repeating, following Grace closely. “This is never going to work,” he pleaded quietly.

“If you have something better to do,” Grace said quickly, turning to face him as they scaled the building stealthily, “then please go and do it, but if you want to save the Na’vi just shut up and follow me.”

Norm hung still for a moment, the sudden outburst startling him. He had always known Doctor Augustine was a determined woman but he’d never had the misfortune to cross her until now. Picking up the pace he followed her as they scaled the tower, the avatar bodies making light work of their progress.

—-

Tom moved swiftly between buildings, trying to hide his ten foot tall blue body as much as possible. It seemed as if all military personnel were off-base and those that were left were dealing with the refinery fire, assisting in any way they could to dampen the flames.

Ahead lay the machines that gave the facility its life; power, oxygen, water all churned out by one fusion reactor nestled safely within the compound. The reactor itself was perfectly safe, even from attack, with no risk of a runaway reaction or radiation affecting the main compound were it to be damaged. But its fuel source, tonnes upon tonnes of processed fuel-grade unobtanium lying stockpiled from the bases own refinery, that was another matter entirely. Kept under lock and key the entire system was automated, to remove the risk of human interference.

Picking up a lone guard stationed outside the huge double doors Tom felt his neck crumble between his fingers, not meaning to have killed the man and hating himself for causing such a crime. Bracing himself against the doors he thumbed his throat mike.

“Max, I’m in position,” he said simply. “Open the doors. Grace, when the power dies you know what to do. Good luck everyone.”

No going back now. As the heavy doors rumbled open Tom rushed in, swinging his small bag from his shoulders and removing a device similar to the one they’d used on the refinery. The process of extracting the unobtanium from its naturally occurring form created a highly volatile waste product and like all volatile liquids, all it needed was a spark. Setting the canister against the tubes that pumped liquid unobtanium into the reactor Tom set the countdown for sixty seconds before making like a bat out of hell.

The main courtyard was still empty so he dashed across as quickly as possible, counting down the seconds in his head. As he hit five he felt the world around him turn into sharp shadow as the primary detonator ignited followed a moment later by a million cubic litres of unobtanium. The shockwave blew out every window in the facility, poisonous atmosphere rushing in. All personnel were required to carry an exopack or be able to get to one inside of twenty seconds but it would be inevitable some would succumb to the noxious gases and for that Tom was truly sorry but it had to be done.

Around him the lights began to fail like dominos until only the med lab shone against the dying rays of sunlight. Klaxons and emergency lights began to flicker into life, a mournful wail passing over the base. Rushing towards the Ops Centre Tom hoped Grace and Norm could complete their task before he got there.

—-

“Don’t move!” Grace shouted, perched on one knee so she could fit inside the Ops Centre control room. The rifle in her hands would normally sit on the side of a Samson but now looked suitably fitting in her avatar hands. Behind her Norm pushed through the small airlock, surveying the assembled humans who were still rushing to don their breathing equipment.

“Norm, the defence grid,” she said quickly, stepping forwards to deter any of the posted marines from getting any ideas.

Standing behind a terrified technician Norm leant in close, letting his canines show for good effect as he spoke to the man. “Turn off the defence grid now,” he commanded, amazed at his own self-confidence.

“I… I don’t have authorisation,” the man’s voice trembled, not daring to meet the blue giants eyes.

“Who does?” Norm pushed quickly, leaning in closer still so that his body passed through the holographic displays.

“Selfridge,” the man shouted nearly hysterically, “only Selfridge has the authorisation to shut it down without Quaritch.”

Grace moved further into the room, head brushing the ceiling of the tall room until she towered over the named man, a look of disbelief plastered over his face behind his exopack.

“Your code Parker,” she said simply.

“The Company is going to cancel every research grant you ever had,” he said noisily, backing away from her towards the opposite side of the room.

“After this, research grants will be the least of my worries,” Grace replied, following him further.

“I think you should give the lady what she wants,” Tom said from behind Selfridge, climbing in through the shattered windows.

The man nearly had a heart attack from the sudden arrival of another avatar, not knowing which way to look. Resigned to his fate he moved quickly towards the workstation, angrily pushing the cowering technician from his chair and typing in commands.

“Don’t forget to call back your dog,” Grace said, standing over his shoulder to ensure he didn’t try anything funny.

As Parker hit the return key Tom watched the sentry guns all along the perimeter pitch down, no longer a threat to the Na’vi riders who could now be seen on the horizon, outlined against the dying sun as it passed behind Polyphemus.

“Now order everyone on base to lay down arms and return to their living quarters,” Tom said, watching the assembled crew already beginning to edge out of the room.

“What the hell do you think is going to happen here?” Selfridge demanded, trying to stand before the avatars. “When Quaritch gets back he is going to exterminate the three of you like bugs!”

“We’ll make it through,” Tom said, moving to stand by the open windows, waving a hand at the approaching flyers. “With a little help from our friends.”

—-

“Colonel Sir, we have an urgent message from Hells Gate. It seems they’ve… well they’ve been overrun by the Na’vi Sir.”

“What?!” Quaritch snarled, turning to face the radio operator in the gigantic Dragon gunship. “Confirm the transmission,” he ordered, standing behind the soldier.

“Confirmed Sir, sent by Administrator Selfridge along with proper distress codes.”

“All units this is Colonel Quaritch, abort mission, I repeat abort mission. We have some house clearing of our own to do first. Pilot, turn us around.”

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