The Interstellar Vehicle Prometheus had been decelerating for the better part of a month, its immense bulk slowing from nearly the speed of light to a relatively moderate five gees. With giant engines pointing towards the gas giant Polythemus, the ship arrived in system travelling in reverse, fusion engines hurling out streams of plasma twenty miles long and a million times brighter than the local stars to counter its initial acceleration. The primary pair of stars in this sytem, Alpha Centauri A and B, slowly orbited each other, their size and lifespan very similar to Earth’s own, hence the discovery of a life-supporting planet. Further out a runty red-dwarf that was barely visible against the inky blackness patrolled the outer edges of the system.
The ISV Prometheus was an awe inspiring sight to behold, one of only ten such vessels in existence. At over a mile long it took more energy for a one way voyage than humanity used in a single year a century ago, most of the vast bulk taken up by the combination of propulsion systems and fuel reserves, the latter of which had been nearly depleted. It made no sense to lug extra fuel for a return journey, not when it could be strip-mined and processed from the destination. It cost more than a million dollars to transport just one pound of material the 4.5 lightyears between systems; there wasn’t an accountant alive who wouldn’t balk at the thought of sending anything more than the absolute bare essentials. And thus, the entire reason for the Avatar program had been dreamt up.
Transporting the required workforce necessary to operate a mining facility would cost more than the RDA could ever hope to make back in a financially viable period, not to mention the risks to such laborers of working in an atmosphere that seared lungs and caused death within mere minutes. Instead one bright spark had pointed out that early surveys had found sapient humanoid creatures, using rudimentary tools and language to eek out an existence. Like all creatures they could be taught, put to work not only mining the lands but building the factories themselves. And in return they would be offered technology far beyond their own, medicines and TVs. It would be a win-win situation!
The only downside was how to go about training such primitives. Early expeditions had been… unsuccessful in establishing contact. As the natives watched the newcomers arrive they grew suspicious, distrustful. Asking a six foot human to train an eight foot blue monkey was tantamount to suicide. And thus, with the aid of existing psionic technologies and a few radical breakthroughs in genetic sequencing and slicing, the first artificially created Na’vi had been born, or more correctly grown.
Onboard the Prometheus the four man flight crew went about their final checks for the last stages of their mission. The constant thrum throughout the ship faded to leave only eerie silence as the antimatter engines were cycled down, the last embers of plasma dissipating behind the mirror shield. The quartet worked mechanically, faces haggard after the long journey and isolation it entailed, beginning the delicate process of defrosting the two hundred souls aboard. The first dozen were regulars, additional staff who drew the lucky straws and got to sleep this trip out. As such they were accustomed to the rigours of waking from a temporarily induced state of hibernation, quickly stretching tired muscles before rubbing down and getting to work.
Josh Sully lay frozen in his own hibernaculum, his skin a bloodless blue-white as his heart beat just once every four minutes. Suspended in liquid, it was as close to being in the womb as most people would ever again experience. Tubes snaked off in the soft glow, the constant mix of nutrients and drugs keeping his body in a coma-like state without thought or dreams. His head rested within the spiderweb-like framework of a psionic link interface, the complex coils picking up the tiniest fluctuations in brain activity while inducing their own changes. Most people referred to the device simply as the link, able to separate body and mind as if they were two separate entities. It let marines control huge walking machines with just their thoughts, let children enter a whole new world in video games and was still finding more applications everyday. But nothing like this.
For the entire duration of the voyage Josh had been sharing his mind with that of his soon-to-be avatar that slept only a few metres from him. Paired closer even than twins they had communed at a level deeper than humanly possible, Josh’s mind stamping its complex pattern into the cerebral cortex of the alien body. Even as he rested, a micro-tick of his own foot translated across the link, blue digits mimicking his own. They were two bodies borne of one mind.
The graceful form of the avatar lay curled peacefully within the amniotic fluid of its own larger cylindrical chamber, legs and arms pulled towards its chest as if in a womb. The skin glimmered a beautiful blue, electric almost like a robin’s egg with bands of deep ultramarine running across. A faint pattern of bioluminescent dots crisscrossed the skin, almost like an artistic tattoo upon the entire surface. The body could obviously be considered humanlike were it not for the tell tale features, the narrow waist rising to surprisingly large shoulders, a neck that could rotate almost 180 degrees much like an owls, and the ever undulating tail that played over the rest of the body curiously.
A constant electrical charge stimulated the never used muscles, forcing the body to develop as it would in a more natural environment. Hands clenched and unclenched rhythmically, the three fingers curving smoothly without joints to further enhance the alien qualities whilst an opposable thumb elevated them from the realm of interesting but ultimately useless specimens to a viable workforce.
As the ship entered a stable orbit the many pods began to purge their liquid contents, pumping in air as lungs drew deep breaths for the first time in over half a decade. Josh opened groggy eyes, feeling the sticky residue cloying against his skin as the chamber slid outward on silent drawers. Pulling himself from the chamber he floated hand over hand towards his sleeping partner, manoeuvring almost as well as those around him despite his inert legs that trailed in the air behind him.
“He got big,” Josh said, placing a palm against the glass cylinder carefully, taking in the form before him.
As he watched it stretched, extending to its full height and dwarfing his own in the process. Rolling onto its side Josh got his first good look at its face, the features easily reminiscent of his own despite the alien proportions and causing him to take a breath at the similarities. Tracing a pattern of light dots down its chest he almost didn’t notice the tech who drifted over beside him, a pad held in one hand while he steadied himself with the other.
“Perfect development,” he said, looking between the pair. “All readouts within norms. Ready to see yourself be born?” he asked with a knowing grin.
Josh felt uncomfortable in the plastic suit, even more so after having tried to put it on in null-gee with no lower body motor control. Not that he’d want to take it off now. As he floated into the sterile chamber through the airlock, his fellow technician pointed to a red light above the entryway.
“Welcome to Pandoran atmo,” he explained, “bit of everything really; methane, CO2, ammonia. Hell, even a little hydrogen cyanide.”
The pair sealed the door behind themsleves and looked at the amino tank that dominated the room as they entered. Several other techs drifted about, checking readouts or preparing equipment for the new born that tossed impatiently within the glass cocoon, almost as if it wanted to be free itself.
“It’s good you’re here,” the tech said as they moved closer, “helps the bond if you’re the first thing it sees or some such.”
Josh merely nodded dully, unsure of what he was supposed to do. He watched uselessly as they used a flexible collar to extract the avatar from the tank, retaining as much of the amniotic fluid as possible in the absence of gravity. It emerged slowly, as if it were a baby being born in a literal sense, feet kicking as they entered a colder, alien world. The feeble kicks became stronger, an infant fighting to preserve the last few moments of its prior situation. The assembled group gripped it, extricating it the last few feet.
“A little help,” one of the technicians called, startling Josh out of his stupor and forcing him to act. It was nothing they hadn’t seen before, a controller staring at their avatar as if they were father and son. Normally existing fathers were the best, they knew what to expect. As much as one could anyway.
Josh held on tightly, feeling the power beneath the skin as the technicians began suctioning its mouth. As the avatar coughed Josh felt his own breath catch, watching this magical creature come to life before him. Without warning it began wailing, a deep note that seemed to echo throughout his very core and sounded unnaturally similar to a human infants. Its fists clenched, face contorted at the terror and pain of the outer world as it thrashed wildly against those who held it. A hand shot out, gripping Josh’s forearm in a vice like grip, pulling him closer as it opened its near golden eyes and stared deeply into his own. Josh saw only himself the gaze, the realisation passing between the pair in an instant before the newborn quietened, trembling hand unwilling to release his own as it found comfort in familiarity. The technicians went to work quickly, wiping it down as the pair became oblivious to everything around them.
“Congratulations. it’s a boy,” one of the techs said as Josh finally extricated his arm, the blue fingers chasing after his own.
Glancing down along the avatar’s body, Josh felt his amazement growing with each passing moment. He’d never had a child, but he doubted it could feel anything like this. This was his birth.