Tom could feel the morning sun shining through the viewport windows in the small outpost on his skin. His body ached from days of inactivity, all of Doctor Patel’s warnings having evidently been in vain. Sitting at the small workstation, the camera inactive before him, Tom chewed on a ration bar, his eyes unfocused as he reviewed the activities of the prior night.
They had mated, that much he could recall with vivid detail. But Neytiri had also bonded with him, their queues entwined, unleashing a rush of emotions that had threatened to blow his mind beyond all worldly proportions. He understood now how a Na’vi would mate with only one partner for life, to be that close to another soul was truly breathtaking. Only the passions of the moment and will to spare Neytiri his pain had saved him from letting the concern that gnawed at him pass through the link. Leaving his sleeping avatar curled around Neytiri he had pulled himself back to his human reality, already feeling the deep regret in the pit of his stomach for being so far away from her.
A soft beeping began emanating from the computer before him, its tone drawing Toms attention from the world outside his window. Quaritch was attempting to open a comm channel with him, his last report having been… he couldn’t even remember when. Accepting the request Tom took one last look at the world beyond his metal coffin.
Neytiri pulled Thoms arm over her form, feeling his powerful arms and rhythmic breathing against her skin, the soft grass enveloping them both. Around them, the sounds of Eywa permeated through the jungle, a million different life-forces, all calling out together. She had never felt like this, not once in all the times Tsu’tey had courted with her.
As they lay together the first tremblings of the ground alerted Neytiri to an approaching danger. It seemed as if the very soil beneath her were vibrating, a beast of gigantic proportions marching towards them. Moments later the first sounds of crashing trees reached her ears. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that it was the Sky People’s doing, whatever it was that was coming for them. Prodding Thom sharply in the arm she elicited no response, his mind having left the body in his slumbering moments. Her motions became increasingly panicked as the sound of the metal beasts drew nearer, the visible tops towering over the lower canopy even now.
Using every ounce of body weight she had she attempted to drag Thom away but the muscular hybrid form proved too much for her and she acceded after only a few metres. Straddling his chest she angrily beat at him, tears welling in her eyes as the many-toothed mouth of the great beast began to tower over them, desecrating the Tree of Voices before them.
“Please Thom!” she pleaded, prepared to lay down and stay with him if only to share another moment with her dreamwalker. “Please come back to me.”
“I don’t care what kind of BS excuses you have son, I want good hard intel and so far you’ve been less use than an ice-cube maker in the Arctic!”
Tom felt his anger rise but knew he had to keep a steady head. Everything, the fate of the Na’vi, Hometree and his own life, depended on keeping Quaritch in the dark for as long as possible. He wasn’t a brilliant strategic leader, but it didn’t take one to realise that putting a thousand natives armed with nothing more than bows and arrows against a well-equipped military force was at best suicide and at worst genocidal madness.
They needed the element of surprise. And Quaritch was not making things easy.
“I can’t get anywhere near the Hometree without one of the locals picking up my scent and sniffing me out. They get very defensive Colonel, I’d rather play it slow than hung if you catch my drift.”
“You don’t get me what I need, you’ll be swinging from the arm of my AMP suit,” Quaritch said, his face expanding to fill the display. “Our diggers are already beginning to clear Sector 11, all you…”
“Sector 11?” Tom cut in, worry edging into his voice.
“That’s right, why?” Quaritch asked, instantly scrutinising the young scientist on his screen. Tom felt his gaze falter, lump rising in his throat. The Tree of Voices was in Sector 11, Neytiri, god he had left her there all alone, let alone his own avatar body in the process.
“It’s a very sacred place to the Na’vi, if you destroy that there’ll be no hope of any diplomatic relations!” Tom started angrily, sliding across in his chair to begin the link pod’s warmup cycle.
“New orders from the Top, we are moving these people away from that damn tree whether they co-operate or not,” Quaritch said, a relishing glint in his eye.
“Please, just let me try and talk to them,” Tom said, fiddling with more of the controls.
“What are you doing?!” Quaritch spat, trying to watch Tom in the peripheries of the cameras vision. “Are you getting ready to link?”
“I parked my avatar in the path your jarheads are about to demolish,” he said quickly, kicking the chair away and not hiding his actions anymore.
“Well then you had better be quick, because native or half-native we are not going to stop this operation for anything anymore. Quaritch out.”
“I got that much,” Tom said, killing the comm channel and nearly diving into his pod. Slamming the lid shut he waited for the light bridge to end and reality to return to him.
Neytiri could feel the life breathing back into Thom’s body, felt his mind rejoin her on the forest floor. Thom stood quickly, staring at the machine before running in the opposite direction as if he already knew to expect them. He pulled her behind him quickly, slipping through the thick vegetation and seeking shelter.
“Thom, what is happening?” she asked tearfully, trying to draw his gaze away from the giant machines. He looked crestfallen for a moment, his eyes welling up alongside hers.
“I’m sorry Neytiri, I’m so sorry,” he finally admitted, turning haunted eyes towards her. “This is all my fault.”
“No, you couldn’t have known,” she said, placing a gentle, comforting hand against his cheek. As he turned his gaze away she felt her hand fall short, the realisation of his confession seeping into her very soul.
“But… but, all of our ancestors, everything, you did nothing to stop them? You lead them to our home, our most sacred grounds?!”
“Please, I didn’t know, I thought we had more time, I was going to tell you!”
“When?! When you had got everything you wanted from us, from me!” she said in self-disgust. It wasn’t a question and the statement drove a dagger deep into Tom’s chest.
“It’s not like that,” Tom said quickly, pleading in his voice.
“Go,” Neytiri whispered, pushing Toms seeking hands away. “Go and never return,” she nearly screamed at him, turning and running back towards the Hometree herself, not once glancing back at the destruction behind her.
Tom felt the anger rise within him, a power unlike anything that had ever coursed within his veins filling his very being with the desire to stop those who had taken from him what he had so valiantly earned. Grabbing a rock the size of a mans head he leapt from the bushes, mounting the digger in deft strides before pummelling the cameras on top until his arm hung weakly by his side. The assembled military escort opened fire, their rounds tearing up the air at the manic monkey astride the digger. One clipped the alien in a shoulder, sending it tumbling to the ground.
The dozen men sprinted quickly to the front of the digger, its progress halted from the Ops Centre a hundred miles away. The blue alien lay immobile on the ground, its blood gently seeping onto the tilled soil. The leader stepped forwards, placing the muzzle of his rifle to its forehead.
“Wait!” one of the others called out, kneeling beside the large form and lifting one of its hands up for a closer inspection. “It’s got four fingers, not three,” he said quickly.
“So?” the leader spat impatiently, obviously wanting to end the things life as quickly as possible.
“It’s an Avatar, not a Na’vi,” the soldier explained quickly. “If we shoot this thing the Company’ll take it out of our paychecks for the rest of our lives.”
“Why the hell would a human be trying to smash one of our diggers?” another soldier piped in quickly, scratching at the seal of the exopack around his face.
“Who knows and who cares,” the leader finally said. “Drag it into the digger bay, we’ll radio it back to Hells Gate and let the Colonel sort it out.”
Neytiri crashed noisily through the brush, bursting into a group of women sitting before the main entrance to the Hometree. She didn’t even pause to apologise, just kept on running until her legs burnt and her lungs could not draw in any more breath. Collapsing against the central spiral she wailed for all to hear.
Her mother arrived first, the wisened spiritual leader cradling her child to her chest as only a parent can do so in times of distress.
“Tell me,” she said soothingly, rocking backwards and forwards.
Neytiri moaned, not daring to open her eyes lest she begin crying again. “It is gone sa’nok! The faketuan have destroyed the Tree of Voices.”
Those that had gathered around them drew away at the news, muttering amongst themselves as to the veracity of the claim. Neytiri continued unabashed, letting the dark feelings flow through her all at once.
“They came and tore the roots from the very ground. It lay silent,” she choked.
“Come now my child,” her mother tried consoling. “Why, why would the Sky People do such a thing?”
“Thomsully,” Neytiri whispered, looking up into her mothers eyes. “He is the cause of all this. He lead them to our sacred grounds.”
“I knew it!” Tsu’tey erupted from the front of the crowd, bow held high in his hand to demand attention. “Those traitorous vermin, they are no better than nantang! Eytukan was right, we should never have trusted the dreamwalker.”
Neytiri clung tighter to her mother, unable to refute the words he said and feeling all the worse because of it.
“We must not let this act go unpunished,” Tsu’tey shouted, taking position amongst the people as most respected warrior. “We must show the Sky People that we are Eywa’s children, not them!”
Cheers erupted throughout the masses, the rhythmic drumming of a cry for war.
“He lives in the Thundering Rocks,” a voice piped up, the small child who had stood before Tom on his first night. “The dreamwalker told me, he lives alone from the other Sky People amongst the floating rocks.”
Tsu’tey smiled wickedly, assembling his most trusted compatriots at the forefront of the crowd. “We shall fly for the mountains at once and rid our world of this demon when he is most vulnerable!”
The crowd cheered as they raced for the high branches and their Ikrans. Neytiri felt her world crumble around her as she watched them go with the full support of her people-to-be. They would kill her life partner, because of the guilt he felt for his own kinds actions. No, it could not be allowed. Pulling herself from her mother, she hurried after them.
“Go,” her mother whispered, “Be with your mate.”
Tom felt his body pulled back into the inadequate form he called a human body, the shared neural link causing pain to blossom across his shoulder as if it had been pierced by a bullet itself. Kicking open the pod lid he rolled out angrily, hammering his fist down on the computers keyboard. Words flickered across, too fast for his disorientated mind to read or comprehend.
“Lockdown… on approach… security override…”
They knew then, they knew he had turned against them and they were coming to get him. Sitting down on his bunk Tom pulled out an unused standard-issue pistol, checking it still had a full magazine. Between Gods and Demons drawing close to him he didn’t fancy his chances of survival.
Cocking the weapon he took one last look at the world beyond his little metal coffin.
“I’m sorry Neytiri,” he whispered.