Grace quietly speaks to N'deh in the Na'vi language, surprising Josh. It is the first time he has heard it spoken. It is musical and lilting, and by the sound of it very complex. Grace seems quite fluent. By subtitles we understand that she is asking him to help her load the sampling equipment into the Samson. N'deh closes his eyes for a half second, which we will come to see means the same as our nod of agreement. They walk toward the Aerospatiale together. Josh hears shots and turns. There is a commotion out on the killing ground. Near the tractors, an enormous animal has burst from the treeline and is charging for the fence.
In the dust raised by the giant machines, and with the number of men around, it is difficult for the troopers to get a shot. To make matters worse, the sentry guns have been deactivated in that sector while they bring in the heavy equipment. Almost twice the size of an elephant, the beast is called a HAMMERHEAD TITANOTHERE, and it is like a six-legged rhinoceros. It has a massive, low-slung head with blunt transverse projections of solid bone which give it the look of a hammerhead shark. It is a herbivore, but like the rhino, elephant and hippopotamus, it can be aggressive and deadly.
Troopers fire there rifles at the monstrous silhouette charging through the dust clouds, but the rounds have no effect on the armored head and shoulders. A trooper in a powersuit strides between the tractors, trying to get a shot with the GAU 90. Suddenly the beast appears out of the dust at a full thundering charge, and the powersuit is knocked down before the cannon can swing to bear. The bull hammerhead smashes the canopy with one foot as it charges right over the powersuit, pulping the trooper inside.
Josh sees the hammerhead close the final distance to the compound fence. It is coming straight toward him. Everyone is firing at once, trying to bring down the twenty ton creature. The ground is shaking in time with its galloping gait. It hits the outer fence, smashing right through it. A powersuit runs forward, striking a firing position, and opens up with its cannon. The GAU 90 rips into the hammerhead, blowing divots out of its shoulder and head. The creature bellows in pain and rage and keeps on coming. Josh pulls his pistol and adds his firing to the general thunder of guns.
The hammerhead hits the inner fence. In a blaze of high- voltage arcing, it bulldozes through the chain-link. It stumbles, tripping on the wreckage of the fence, then rises and thunders forward again, filling Josh's vision. BOOM!!! The cannon roars again and the titanothere topples forward, plowing into the ground. It flips and skids, coming to rest in a cloud of dust ten meters from Josh. There is a beat, then... Over the creature's body flows a cat-like shape, big as a tiger. It hits the ground in a ripple of muscle and bounds straight toward Josh.
It is a SLINTH. Its venom-injecting spear-like head is cocked back on its powerful neck, ready to strike. Josh raises the pistol, which CLICKS. Empty. He faces his death. Suddenly beside him is N'deh, drawing and aiming his bow in one swift move. The two meter long arrow flies straight into the slinth's throat. It coils over itself in agony like a snake. N'deh knocks another arrow and lets fly. The slinth shudders and lies twitching. N'deh walks forward, stepping on the needle-like head while he removes his arrows.
JOSH/AVATAR: N'deh. Thank you.
N'DEH: Luck. (he holds up an arrow) Fishing points not good for killing slinth.
The high tech troopers stand around with their blasters, looking at the stone-age arrow that killed the beast. N'deh looks at the dead slinth, then at the body of the titanothere which cleared a path for it all the way into the inner compound. His expression is enigmatic. N'deh takes the blood of the slinth on his finger and draws a line under one eye, then under the other. Honoring the slinth, and its purpose for existence. He starts dragging the carcass to the Samson.
Nearby somebody screams. Several hideous insects, almost a foot across, are leaping from the body of the titanothere and trying to fasten their hook-like legs into some of the troopers. With the host dead, the parasitic WOLF-TICKS are looking for a new ride. A frantic burst of firing breaks out, as the soldiers jump around, trying to kill the fast-moving parasites. Nasty place.
THAT NIGHT Josh/Avatar stands at the compound fence, looking out at the forest primeval. Tomorrow he is going out there for the first time, and he is scared. There are light moving out there, single flitting ones, and larger patterns indicating big creatures. Some of the trees glow very faintly, or have phosphorescent patterns in their foliage. Josh sees eyes, low to the ground, moving just behind the treeline. Several pairs. And then an unearthly wailing cry. Viperwolves. Christ, what am I doing here?
IN THE SAMSON, the next day, they thunder over the treetops with a roar of turbofans. Below them the purple rainforest unrolls. The human pilot and the trooper escort sit in a sealed front cabin, while Josh/Avatar, Grace/Avatar and N'deh ride in the back compartment with the side doors open. They land at Grace's direction, in a grassy meadow. They get out as the pilot shuts down the turbines. Their escort, CORPORAL LYLE WAINFLEET, steps out wearing mask, helmet, armor and rebreather. He is carrying an almighty big automatic rifle. Josh is wearing shorts and a T- shirt. Grace insists that he go barefoot, so his baby- blue feeties will toughen up with thick callouses like hers.
Josh stares at the wall of trees surrounding them. Up close, the trees are enormous, as big as sequoias at the base, and even taller because the gravity on Pandora is less than Earth. Lesser trees, the size of mature oaks, are like underbrush in between the colossi. Lyle is like a birddog on point, hyperalert, scanning the gloom beyond the meadow. A flock of stingbats crosses far above them. He tracks them with the rifle, but they ignore the strangers.
GRACE: Lyle, stay with the ship.
LYLE: I'm supposed to escort you.
GRACE: Lyle, you're supposed to escort my party. The ship is part of my party. And we need it to get back, so if you don't want to walk thirty klicks through the bush...
LYLE: I'll stay with the ship.
Grace hates the troopers clomping through the woods with her. They disrupt the animals, and smash the plants, and make too much noise. And they tend to attract the larger predators, to whom they appear to be injured or defective animals. They grab the cases of equipment and N'deh leads them into the trees. Josh stares all around like a tourist in hell... rubbernecking and fascinated, but scared shitless. Josh expects every dappled shadow to hide a razor-fanged predator, but their entry into the forest is uneventful. Josh is jumpy and on guard. Swatting at insects. Soon he has gathered quite a cloud of buzzing attackers.
Grace uses a machete to hack open the bole of a low, cycad-like plant. She takes the viscous sap from the inside and starts briskly rubbing it all over her exposed skin. She recommends that he do the same, unless he wants his bones picked clean by every insect in the forest. He quickly complies. The insects move off, like magic. Grace explains that the Na'vi use plant extracts for all sorts of things... to relieve pain, purify water, reduce fever, limit or improve fertility, promote wound healing, counteract stings and poisons, attract useful insects, kill external and internal parasites, prevent sunburn, and repel or attract larger animals.
As a xenobotanist, her work has been vastly accelerated with their guidance as they help her see the greater relationship between things in the forest. Josh gazes around him in wonder as they move deeper into the primeval gloom. The bark of the giant trees is alien, like big hexagonal fishscales. Moss covers the lower parts of the trunks, and lainas and other vine-like structures lace around them, and hang between them like fallen power lines.
The roots of the greater trees are like mangroves, and they form clusters of pillars, each thick as a normal tree trunk, which join far above their heads into a single massive trunk. These root-trunks actually wind around each other, forming a kind of braided cylinder, which then rises a hundred feet above the ground before it forms branches.
They move on. Grace starts giving him survival pointers. How to avoid the things that bite and sting and suck. Phalanxia, the deadly projectile plant, shows up bright as a neon sign in the ultraviolet-sensitive avatar vision. No problem. Give it a wide berth. She shows him the nests of Hellfire Wasps... the wasps don't like the sap they have rubbed on, but don't push your luck by coming near the nest.