“They are coming,” one of the young Na’vi scouts announced, bringing his Ikran to rest before them just outside the ops centre. “Many Sky People, they fly from the East. I do not think they could have reached Hometree before returning though.”
“What do we do Thomsully?” Neytiri asked, standing before him like all the others but showing obvious relief at the news, if only temporarily. Tom found it a very odd situation to be in, surrounded by over two dozen Na’vi, hybrid or natural born, all looking to him for guidance. He had asked for this though, needing their help and there was no way he was going to let them all down now.
“This is a fight we can’t win,” Grace said softly beside him, “you know that.”
“We don’t need to,” Tom said back, loud enough for the rest to hear. “When Quaritch returns what is he going to find? A facility unable to produce any unobtanium, a smouldering reactor and a civilian staff who are terrified out of their minds. It’ll take at least two weeks to get a message to Sol, then a minimum of six years for the parts needed to replace the damage we’ve caused to arrive. In the meantime the oxygen scrubbers will fail running on auxiliary power, the mining machines will have to be suspended indefinitely without more fuel and the general population would just as soon take a breath of fresh air than risk going back out into the jungle after what we’ve shown the Na’vi is capable of today. No, we only need to do one thing to get every human off this planet and Selfridge already gave us the key.”
“His authorisation code,” Norm whispered, looking up at Tom. “You’re going to blow the base?!”
“Bingo,” Tom said simply.
“I don’t understand,” Neytiri said, stepping closer to the group of avatars. “Why did you call for our aid if you intended to destroy this place without our aid?”
“Because you’re our only chance of getting our avatar asses out of here,” Tom explained. “When Quaritch learns what we’re doing he’s going to do everything in his power to take out this control room and stop the countdown. We’ll have to hold off any assault until the last moment before making our own escape. The shuttle has enough room for all base personnel and we can move all those corralled here already into it with plenty of time to spare. Any marine who decides to stay and fight will be doing so of their own accord. When we’re done, Neytiri and the others can take our avatars while we jump back to the medlab and get out.”
“Very clever,” Norm said quietly, amazed at his friends ingenuity.
“How long do we have,” Tom asked the Na’vi scout whose eyes had not left the horizon.
“They fly over the great river now, we have fifteen minutes before they descend.”
“Then we’ve got to get started. Neytiri, take half the warriors and begin moving everyone to the shuttle then come back here. The rest stay with me, we need to barricade this room as much as possible before getting something with a bit more kick than these pea shooters,” he commanded, holding one of the human rifles between his fingers.
A chorus of cheers arose as the group split, rushing to make ready for the inevitable conflict. Tom motioned subtly to the assembled avatars and led them across to Selfridge’s office.
“This is the last chance you’ll have to leave Pandora,” Tom stated matter-of-factly. “Once we start fighting you won’t be able to make it to the shuttle and if you stay, well the power will go out eventually along with everything else. If either of you want to leave now I understand, I’ve already told Max to follow with the other staff as soon as he’s done. We can get out of the pods ourselves fine when the time comes.”
“What, and miss all the fun?” Norm half joked though Tom could see him tremble slightly.
“I’m not going to abandon these people now,” Grace said swiftly, “we bought this trouble on them, it’s only right we share their fate.”
“Thank you,” Tom said, looking deep in their eyes and seeing his own strength reflected in them. “The first thing we have to do is take down this ceiling, my back is already hurting.”
Grinning the three stepped out to help the other Na’vi, upending desks and other office sections to make simple barricades. This would be where the war for a planet would be fought, not in the skies or in the deep jungles, but in a tiny human facility that was nothing more than a pimple upon Pandora’s surface.
“Base appears deserted sir,” the pilot reported, gently arcing the huge Dragon gunship around Hells Gate for another pass. Only the twin plumes of smoke from the refinery and reactor showed anything amiss. The usual hustle and bustle of personnel dashing between buildings, the artificial light produced by a thousand bulbs, all were absent and it made Quaritch even more concerned.
“Scan for thermals,” he ordered quickly, turning to watch the gunner bring up a black and white overlay of the facility on his HUD.
“All areas appear cold except for the ops tower and med labs. It looks like the reactor fuel stores went critical, still reading extreme heat. Wait, what the hell,” the man exclaimed, punching in commands to centre the camera optics on the orbital shuttle. “Detecting exhaust plumes from the Valkyrie sir, she’s powering up.”
“What the hell. Get me whoever’s in the cockpit on a comm channel now!” he ordered.
“Channel open sir.”
“This is Quaritch to whoever is in control of the Valkyrie, explain yourself now or we will open fire!”
A slight hiss of static came over the line as the pilot responded, trying to clear his voice from the tension he felt. “This is Evans sir, we’ve been ordered to prepare for an immediate evacuation. We have all base personnel on board and are just awaiting any remaindered evacuees.”
“Evacuees!” Quaritch nearly shouted, “who the hell gave any order to evacuate?!”
“Administrator Selfridge sir,” the pilot answered back hurriedly. “It was all Sully, he blew the reactor and took control of central ops. They’ve set a self-destruct timer, him and the other avatars. They’re going to blow the base after we leave sir.”
“My ass they’re going to blow it,” Quaritch snarled. ” Get me squad leaders,” he spoke quickly to the radio man before giving out his final orders. “All units, converge on the ops tower. I want it cleared with extreme prejudice and I want it done yesterday.
Tom could feel himself sweating in his Na’vi body, the tension palpable in the room. They had each done the best they could, the makeshift barricade composed of desks, ceiling panels, chairs; anything and everything they could salvage to put a bit of cover between themselves and the attackers providing what meagre protection it could.
Like all RDA facilities the control room was designed to be a point of last retreat, with a single point of ingress. Behind them heavy shutters covered the holes where windows had once been, plunging the room into darkness. Their Na’vi eyes could see much better in the darkness than human ones but Tom had no doubt the marines would find some way of levelling that advantage
The assembled warriors each held a large chain gun typically mounted to a Samson, even the native Na’vi who had been given a very hasty lesson on how to operate one. As they crouched ready Tom knew he needed to rally them forwards lest they forget the reason they stood here now.
“Remember, we fight for everyone who calls this planet home,” Tom shouted as the first noises began to reach them from below, heavy boots and men shouting in harsh tones. “Today, we fight for Eywa and her People. If we fail then everything we have done is for nothing and the Sky People will not stop in their actions.”
Looking at the small console behind him, the last surviving one in the room, Tom watched the numbers slowly trickle down, icy terror filling his chest. As it ticked over the fifteen minute mark the computer began an automated message, warning all personnel to get to a minimum safe distance. Tom knew it was a fine line, they needed to give the humans enough time to realise they had to leave but also make sure they themselves could get clear before the allotted time arrived.
“May Eywa be with us,” Tom whispered silently to himself, hefting the gun higher.
“Breaching the outer doors now sir,” Lieutenant Harry Chao radioed in. “Proceeding up northern staircase.”
Chao and his men proceeded swiftly upwards, much more accustomed to moving through an urban environment than those damned jungles. Covering each other they made it to the central floor and immediately split up to cover all vantage points. The heavy door to the central control room stood before them, securely sealed by the looks of it. Shaped charges wouldn’t even make a dent in the thing, so Chao ordered one of his men to break out a torch and begin cutting through it. Slow work but like all hostage situations, they had time on their sides.
“Warning, this is an automated message. Base self-destruct protocols have been enacted, t-minus fifteen minutes, repeat, one-five minutes. All personnel are advised to retreat to minimum safe distance. Failsafe override will expire in ten minutes, repeat, one-zero minutes.”
“Shit,” Chao said aloud, thumbing his throat mike he opened a direct channel to the Colonel. “Sir, how should we proceed?”
Quaritch came back instantly, his voice burning through Chao’s earpiece. “You heard the lady, you have ten minutes to get in there and put those savages down. I suggest you don’t waste any time.”
Cutting off the link Chao tapped the marine before the door on the shoulder. “Cut faster or we’re all screwed,” he said in what he hoped was an encouraging voice.
Norm felt the weapon slip slightly in his greasy palms, sweat beading on his forehead already. Beside him the Na’vi warriors looked perfectly at ease, as if this were a normal situation. Yeah, because they face the most heavily armed military force in the galaxy while taking refuge in a tiny room every day.
As the door before them all began to glow, first red then yellow before burning bright white, he felt his legs began to shake and dropped to one knee to better support himself. Neytiri quickly moved beside him, placing a soft hand upon his shoulder.
“For my people, I thank you dreamwalker,” she said softly into his ear. If her words were meant to comfort him it only made him more sure about how they all foresaw this ending but he merely nodded in thanks before turning back to face the door. As the last bolt was cut the world went dark once more as the flame was extinguished.
“Get ready everyone,” Tom whispered.
What happened next felt like a tidal wave of pain against Norm’s senses; he watched a tiny capsule sail through a small gap between the steel doors, watched it tumble upon the ground before realising what it was. As he turned his face away the flashbang grenade exploded, an intense flash of light followed by a deafening boom obliterating his coordination in a heartbeat.
Without even waiting the marines had begun pulling the doors open, firing through to provide cover. Norm felt his finger tighten on the heavy weapon in his hands, the fierce recoil pummelling the stock into his shoulder with such force he felt it bruise already. Turning forwards he began to squint at his targets, trying to control in which direction his wild shots were flying.
Beside him the others were doing the same, all looking shaken. The first wave of marines piled in, rolling into what little cover they could find. As they fired back Norm felt the bullets whiz past his head, causing him to duck ever so slightly. Beside him one of the Na’vi took a round to the head, instantly collapsing against the desk he leant on. Norm felt bile rise in his throat but turned back to face the threat quickly, unwilling to dwell on the events. As the gunfire died down Norm felt as if his arms were still reverberating, the barrel radiating so much heat he thought it would catch fire.
Taking a quick moment to assess the situation it was clear several Na’vi had been wounded or killed. Norm ran his hands over his own body and was amazed to find he was still in good working order. Tom had been nicked on the arm, but they were otherwise unharmed.
A new voice spoke loudly from the corridor outside, not daring to step into sight. “Come out now and you won’t be hurt,” it ordered loudly.
Tom fired a single burst through the doorway, the collective response to such a ploy it seemed.
“Ten minutes until base self-destruct,” the computer announced, choosing an opportune time to chime in. “All personnel are advised to evacuate to safe minimum distance. Failsafe override will expire in five minutes.”
“You better get your people out of here and onto that shuttle,” Tom shouted loudly over the ringing in his ears, “or you’re going to be stuck here waiting until the next shuttle can arrive. How long do you think you can hold your breath?”
It seemed something was going on outside with several marines rushing past the door quickly, their footsteps echoing down the staircase. Hopefully their message was getting through to some.
Chao watched the cowards turn and run, pressing his face against the wall and feeling the decision tear through his own heart. Thumbing his throat mike he licked his lips nervously.
“Sir, they have the control centre well fortified, initial assault has failed. We won’t be able to take it in time,” Chao reported honestly. “I also have several men who have abandoned their posts. Advise a tactical withdrawal sir.”
The response from the Colonel took longer this time but eventually he came back on the line, voice confirming his worst fears.
“Lieutenant, you finish this job or I’ll shoot you myself as you come out of those doors.”
It took Chao even less time to make up his own mind. “Fuck you sir,” he said quickly, leading his men back the way they had come, making haste towards the Valkyrie as its engines began their final cycles before take off.
Tom watched the men disappearing past the door until it seemed they were all alone once again.
“Did it work?” Grace asked cautiously, rising from her perch behind a large filing cabinet.
“I think so,” Tom said, moving to scan the corridor and finding no sign of life. “They’ve gone,” he finally said happily. The warriors cheered for their quick victory but Tom knew they had to move now or be lost themselves.
“Neytiri, you’ll have to take our avatars when we disconnect,” Tom explained quickly, “fly as quickly as you can for the Hometree.”
“And you Thomsully?” she asked nervously.
“We’re going by land,” he said simply, before lying down on the floor and letting his mind go blank. “See you there,” he mumbled before unlinking. Grace and Norm did the same, all three jumping out of their pods as quickly as possible back in the medlab once more.
“You do have a plan right?” Grace asked nervously, grabbing the small bags they had prepared earlier with their few assorted possessions within.
“‘Course I do,” Tom said, donning an exopack and running out towards the avatar side of the medlab. Waiting for the other two he cautiously pushed open the main airlock door, checking to ensure they were alone. Running quickly he pulled a thick tarpaulin off of a Ground Assault Vehicle, more commonly known as a Swan. The six-wheeled vehicle would be their ride out of Hells Gate.
“Everyone in,” he said quickly.
Quaritch raced into the ordinance bay of the Dragon, climbing into his AMP suit and feeding his hands into the mechanical waldo gloves. Everyone else was abandoning this planet, giving up because of a few bloody minded scientists and a tribe of spear-wielding monkeys. Orders were useless in a situation like this, self-preservation had taken over.
Half of his forces were already running for the shuttle and the rest would follow when they saw. But not him. The first day on Pandora, as a Thanator tried to take a bite out of his face, Quaritch knew this planet would be his grave eventually. Opening the bay doors he dropped out quickly, determined to eliminate the cause of all this trouble before it was too late.
Striding towards the control tower he suddenly turned his head, the external microphones picking up engine noises. Following the sound he saw a small Swan racing around the corner towards him, heading for the main gates just beyond. Raising his hands he let loose a stream of .50-cal rounds, tearing into the vehicle.
Tom watched the Na’vi take flight above them, three unconscious bodies slumped over the Ikrans backs followed by four Ikran who bore no riders of their own. He felt a lump rise in his throat uncomfortably and returned his gaze back to the large gates that now stood open before them. Without warning a marine in an AMP suit stepped into view, Quaritch’s sneering face visible behind the plastic shell. Raising the heavy gun he let loose a stream of automatic fire.
Metal slugs tore through the thin vehicles windscreen, sending them swerving to one side. Beside him Tom felt Grace cry out in pain, but kept his foot pressed down hard on the accelerator, dodging the lone enemy and racing for the gate. Behind them their attacker gave pursuit, the powerful suit easily matching their own speed.
Norm reached forwards hurriedly, pulling away Grace’s clothes to reveal a gaping wound in her side.
“This is really going to ruin my day,” she said softly.