SPACE/ALPHA CENTAURI SYSTEM, 2103 AD.
The I.S.V. PROMETHEUS flies backwards through the void, blasting out the fire of the gods like a cosmic blowtorch. Its hybrid fusion/antimatter engines hurl out incandescent plasma a million times brighter than a welding arc, with an exhaust plume twenty miles long which stretches out ahead of it, slowing it as it nears Alpha Centauri.
INTERSTELLAR VEHICLE PROMETHEUS is finishing up a month long deceleration from its peak velocity of over nine tenths the speed of light, still pulling 5 gees. It's a big bastard... half a mile long.
Most of that is engine and fuel, though the fuel tanks are almost empty. Alpha Centauri is the nearest starsystem to Earth, at 4.5 lightyears away. A lightyear is the distance light travels in a year, and since light travels 186,000 miles a second, this is a long way. To get an idea how far this is, imagine the Earth is a grain of sand in my driveway in Malibu. On that scale the sun is a cantaloupe 50 feet away. And Alpha Centauri is in New York.
I'm pointing this out because it's necessary to understand the kind of energies it takes to get there in any reasonable amount of time. You have to go really fast. Almost as fast as the absolute laws of physics permit. And you have to use more energy to reach that speed (and then slow back down) than all of human civilization is currently using in a year. So the bottom line is... the bottom line. Money. A lot of money.
About a million dollars a pound, to get something from Pandora back to Earth. The object of the game is not to go there and mine coal. You want to find things that don't exist in our solar system at all or are incredibly rare, and then you want to refine and process those raw materials, so that what you send back is the finished product. The least mass for the most buck. So what you want to do is build up an industrial infrastructure on Pandora... you want to tame it. You want to civilize it. And you need workers to do that. Only you can't use humans, because: A) They cost too much to bring. B) They die in 30 seconds without a breathing mask.
So colonization, in the classical sense, won't work. But wait... you have an indigenous population there. They're primitive, but they have brains and hands, and maybe they can be taught to do the things we need done. We can teach them, and give them cool technology to improve their lives, so they can be healthy and smart, and can all have TV, and in return they will be so grateful they'll not only work in our factories, they'll even build them for us. Groovy.
These are the basic principles of interstellar imperialism, circa 2100 A.D.
Ahead of Prometheus we can see the trinary system of Alpha Centauri... three stars orbiting each other. In the middle, close together, are Alpha Centauri A and B, two yellow main-sequence stars very much like our own star. About 900 billion miles away (a mere stone's throw by interstellar standards... a couple of light-months) is the third star, Proxima Centauri, a runty little red-dwarf. Standing on Pandora (as you will soon) you can see two disks of light on the horizon at sunset, but never the third, since Proxima is too far away and just looks like a star.
Inside Prometheus, everybody's asleep except for a four man flightcrew who look very haggard. The rest, a hundred or so passengers, are all in medically induced hibernation. With certain drugs people can be caused to hibernate like bears and other mammals, dozing away the years at low temperature, and with minimal mental activity. We see Josh in his hibernaculum, his skin a bloodless blue-white. To combat the sustained brutal acceleration and deceleration, he is suspended in liquid, like a fetus in the womb. A cold womb of dreamless sleep between worlds.
His head is fitted into a helmet-like device... a PSIONIC LINK INTERFACE which senses and transmits his mental energy, as well as filling his brain with the return signal. This is usually called, simply, the LINK. He is under the link because he is spending the voyage linked to his avatar body which is nearby in its own container. Like two twins in the womb they are communing at a deep level of pre-conscious intimacy, with the results that the avatar's brain has been imprinted with the patterns of Josh's cerebral cortex. The biological equivalent of initializing the hard-drive in a computer.
Josh's AVATAR BODY floats in its plastic womb, curled in a fetal position. The avatar is bigger than a human. It would stand about eight feet tall, if it uncurled. Its skin is blue... two shades of blue in a banded pattern like a snake of lizard (though the skin is smooth, not scaly). An iridescent cyan blue, almost robin's egg, is contrasted with a deep ultramarine which borders on purple. The darker color is almost solid on the back, and down the backs of the legs.
The body is, strangely, almost human in most ways. The waist is narrow and elongated, the shoulders very wide, giving a V shaped upper back. The neck is long (maybe twice as long as an average human, or a little longer than some Vogue models) and, we will see, can turn almost 180 degrees, like an owl. The body overall is more slender, proportionately, then the average human, reminiscent of a Masai or Watusi. The musculature is sharply defined, given no sense of emaciation despite the thin proportions. The avatars in their womb-like environment are at their normal metabolic rate and grow rapidly. Their muscles are constantly electrostimulated, so that they develop normally.
The hands are graceful, with three very long fingers, and one opposed thumb. The fingers curve smoothly, bending without joints. This sounds off-putting, but it is really quite beautiful. The faces are exquisite... with cheekbones high as any Pharoah's and large wise eyes, maybe twice the size of ours. When open they dominate the face, like those of a cat, or a lemur. The mouth is also large, but essentially human, with a faint cat-like bifurcation of the upper lip, and a coloration like permanent deep purple lipstick. The teeth are white, with pronounced canines, upper and lower. These guys are clearly carnivores, or at least omnivores. Did I mention the tail? They have a tail. Long and slightly prehensile, but more like the tail of a panther than a monkey.
A complex pattern of iridescent dots and lines, perfectly symmetrical, runs over the body, almost following the lines of the nervous or circulatory system. These are bioluminescent chromatophores, and they glow in the dark
like fireflies. The alien can communicate with these, and in fact they usually are shifting and changing color to indicate mood and emotion, without conscious control. The body has no hair whatsoever, though there is what looks like a black pony tail, or queue, originating in the back of the head and hanging down almost to the waist. This is not hair, but actually an external part of the nervous system, and more on this later.
ON THE FLIGHT DECK the haggard pilots start the shutdown of the fusion/antimatter engines.
OUTSIDE, the arc-light ceases abruptly. The entire drive module glows cherry red with radiant heat, and the exhaust nozzles are almost white. The ship creaks and groans as it begins to cool. Prometheus drifts against the stars, nearing the surprisingly Earth-like Pandora.
INSIDE, in weightlessness, the passengers begin to emerge from their hibernacula. They look like handmade shit... hungover badly from the hibernation drugs. Josh sits up groggily and looks around. His hair has been cropped back to a brush-cut, and he is cleanshaven. An announcement is telling them what to do and where to go, and that they will soon be entering orbit around Pandora. Josh pulls himself out of his capsule, maneuvering nearly as well as the other passengers in zero-g, even with his inert legs.
Moving hand over hand, Josh floats over to the tank containing his alter ego, the avatar body. He is amazed to see the growth in the three years which have elapsed on the ship. The avatar stretches, catlike, extending to its full height, dwarfing Josh. And as it turns in the amniotic fluid, Josh sees the face of his avatar... and it looks like him. Despite the alien proportions, the features are definitely reminiscent of his. A tech tells him he has time to get some breakfast and still make it back to "see himself born".
THE BIRTH. Technicians in plastic suits and breathing equipment enter a bright sterile chamber through an airlock. Josh, similarly attired, follows them in. They seal the door. One of them tells him that the air is a match for Pandora's... a poisonous brew of ammonia, methane, CO2, oxygen and nitrogen. Even a little hydrogen cyanide. In the center of the chamber is the tank housing Josh's avatar. Josh is nervous and unsure what to do, but they tell him it's always best for the controller to be present at the birth.