“Hold on Grace,” Tom said, the Swan fishtailing wildly over the loose dirt track. Behind them the shuttle had begun its ascent, the engine noise rising above their own crashes through vegetation to drown out everything else.
“He’s gaining,” Norm shouted from the rear seats, pivoting to watch Quaritch chase after them in the AMP suit.
“Is there anything back there you can use?” Tom asked, turning sharply to avoid a rather large tree. The wide tyres spun for a moment, kicking loose dirt up behind them before gaining traction and pulling them all forwards again with a violent jerk. Quaritch merely leapt after them, one giant clawed hand denting the offending tree as he pushed on towards them.
“I don’t know,” Norm said, frantically digging through every nook and cranny in the small vehicle. “Wait!” he exclaimed, pulling out a chain of metal cylinders each of which bore a multitude of warnings and labels plastered along their sides. “Survey charges,” he remarked, unhooking the first one and priming the top. “How long do I set the fuse for?” he asked nervously.
“Try ten seconds,” Tom said, glancing behind him at their pursuer and making a rough guess. Norm threw the canister behind them, watching it tumble to the ground before exploding in a blinding flash of light. The mechanical monster behind them jumped through the flames a moment later, unharmed by the explosion.
“Shit, too short,” Norm shouted, already priming the next one.
Neytiri heard the explosion from above, her Ikran’s eyes picking out the fleeing vehicle amongst the trees. Jakes unconscious avatar form lay slumped behind her, but she knew what was needed. Calling another rider alongside she told them of her intentions.
“Come on,” Tom urged, his foot flat against the accelerator. He could feel the small vehicle beginning to buck more and more, trembling from the sheer abuse of been driven over such harsh terrains at speeds it was never meant to handle.
Behind them Quaritch barrelled through another explosion, the impacts knocking him back a bit each time now. In the distance Tom could make out a gap in the trees, the great lake that ran towards the Na’vi’s Hometree carving a wide path through the jungle.
Devoid of all occupants, Hells Gate carried out its final task with the utmost gusto. Placed at the top of the tallest tower, a thermobaric warhead, the most powerful non-nuclear weapon of human design, began its final countdown. The blast wave was small at first, expanding rapidly before shrinking back in on itself with an implosion before it expanded once more, obliterating Hells Gate as it sucked in all available oxygen until nothing was left. Designed to level anything and everything of value it tore through the ops centre, med labs and other structures in milliseconds, levelling the great walls that had once protected the compound. Secondary explosions from the stockpile of armour and weaponry sent another shockwave outwards a moment later, the force ripping into the now unprotected jungle.
Tom felt the ground begin to shake around them and glanced back quickly to see a wall of debris bearing down on them. Beside him Grace had turned deathly quiet, her hands resting against her chest as a slow trickle of blood pooled around her.
“Hold on Norm,” he told his friend, bracing himself for the inevitable impact to come. As the Swan was swept up Tom felt the world spin around him, ground becoming sky becoming a cloud of dirt through which no light shone. The Swan danced across the ground, slamming into a tree and coming to a violent halt that left both men shaken. Around them the jungle groaned ominously, the blast having levelled hundreds of square miles of forest.
Norm fell awkwardly from the back seat, the small car perched precariously against the bowl a large tree. The air smelt of death, the forests burning around them. It was a horrifying sight, as if a great flaming scythe had swept over the land and destroyed everything of beauty in one fell swoop. He hoped none of the Na’vi had watched, he doubted they could survive such a sight, seeing their home defiled so spitefully.
“Tom,” Norm said urgently, rushing to his friends side in the car. “Tom, come on, we have to move,” he said hurriedly, gripping his arm and lifting him bodily from the vehicle with a strength he didn’t know he had. Returning to the car he found Doctor Augustine motionless, a peaceful look upon her face, and decided to leave her be for the moment.
As if rising from the grave the path of destruction behind them began trembling, great logs rolling to the side as a monster rose from the very bowels of hell. Quaritch stood in his AMP suit, left arm hanging limply by his side, intermittent spurts of hydraulic fluid leaking from the joints. He pulled a heavy foot free from the ground, shaking loose the debris collected on it.
“Oh shit,” Norm moaned, dashing to Tom’s side. “Come on!” he shouted through his exopacks visor as loud as he could.
The metal beast stood on both legs now, Quaritch snatching his heavy gun from the ground and finding the ammo feed slot bent beyond repair. Ripping the large ceramic blade from its base he held the deadly weapon in his good hand, deftly controlling the robotic fingers from within his protective cocoon.
“What… what happened?” Tom asked sluggishly, sitting up and slowly taking in the scene around them. Norm hefted him to his feet as quick as he could, holding the man by his shoulders for support.
“Grace is dead and we’ll be too if we don’t get out of here,” Norm said, pointing towards Quaritch as he tried to pull Tom in the opposite direction towards the glistening water in the distance. “We have to get to the river.”
“No,” Tom said firmly, pulling himself away from Norm to stand on his own two feet. “Those things are aquatic, we’d never outrun it, even if we swam.”
Beside him Norm groaned, looking for anyway to escape their predicament but finding none and not liking the eventual results that entailed.
“You go,” Tom said, turning to his friend. “I’ll distract him long enough for you to make a get away. Follow the river bank, it’ll take you to the Omaticaya. Tell them… Tell them I’m sorry for all of this.”
“No,” Norm pleaded, tugging at Tom’s arm. “Come on, we can both make it.”
“I have to stay,” Tom said quietly, pulling out his own small hunting knife from his pack and collecting another item that lay discarded on the ground, Norm watching what he was doing and wondering if what Tom had planned could even work. “You have to go on Norm, make sure the Na’vi are prepared for when the RDA comes back.”
“Thank you,” Norm said solemnly, wrapping his arms around Tom before he could react. “Good luck friend.”
And with that Tom found himself alone, facing a monster with metal claws and a human face. He stepped forwards quickly, Quaritch mimicking his moves.
“Hey Sully, how’s it feel to betray your own race?” Quaritch questioned angrily over his suits external speakers.
“I’m doing this because of my sense of humanity you bastard. You should have left when you had the chance,” Tom replied, keeping his distance from the knife-wielding psychopath. “It’s over, it’s all over now.”
“Nothing is over while I’m breathing!” Quaritch shouted back, lunging forwards with knife outstretched.
Tom rolled quickly, feeling the sharp sting of earth on his already battered and bruised body. The knife barely missed him, cleaving the air in two with its force. Quaritch didn’t miss a beat, twisting the blade and making another pass. Tom moved in closer to the Colonel, using the suits own bulk against him.
“You are really starting to piss me off!” the Colonel shouted, chasing Tom as he dove between his legs. Spinning quickly he caught Tom as he attempted to dash off, grabbing the scientist around the chest and squeezing tightly. “I can snap you like a twig!” he spat.
Tom grinned wildly, causing Quaritch to reassess the situation to ensure he wasn’t been duped. A beeping filtered into the cockpit, the rising crescendo of a countdown, and it took him a moment to realise it was coming from the external microphones. Looking down he saw the telltale blinking of a small explosive charge, wedged between his lower joints and ticking down rapidly.
Quaritch let Tom fall, using his working arm to try and remove the explosive. As he stood Tom didn’t try to run, he knew he’d never clear the blast in time and what was the point? He couldn’t live here, without an exopack he’d be dead in four minutes anway. As the beeping reached a steady hum Tom felt himself rising, watching his body fly backwards from the force of the explosion, a warm sensation seeping through his chest as he accepted his fate. As Quaritch’s last angry snarl mixed with the sound of the explosion Tom felt his eyes close, knowing he had done all he could.