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AVATAR: PAGE 16






A direhorse mounted rider leaps a fallen log, staying with the herd. A moment later he is hit by a zigzagging sturmbeest, and knocked into some brush. His mount tumbles and he is thrown clear. He scrambles up and runs like hell as the river of sturmbeest bears down on him. He makes it out of the path by inches, the enormous hooves thundering past him. Josh and Zuleika fly among the trees in a hairy display of aerobatics. Trudy Chacon, in the Samson, tries to keep up with him and can't make the tight turns. Marcia is cussing her out, trying to get a good shot of Josh.

He homes in on a single animal, flying up behind it, closer and closer, poised for a strike. He hurls the spear and it misses the mark, sticking harmlessly in the thickly armored shoulder. He switches to his bow for another shot when he is knocked clean off the back of his ray by a tree branch. He tumbles to the ground and gets up running. His ray shrieks and flaps away.

A sturmbeest is charging toward him like a living Kenworth. Zuleika swoops down, and hurls her spear... missing the plexus. It sticks in the beast's shoulder. The sturmbeest roars and bucks, shaking off the spear, just as it passes Josh. Then it wheels in a rage, stopping in a cloud of dust. It lowers its head and charges Josh.

Josh dives for the fallen spear as the sturmbeest thunders toward him. He plants the blunt end of the spear in the ground, and angles the sharp end up toward the thing's muscular chest. He leaps aside at the last microsecond. The spear is driven deep into the sturmbeest's chest, piercing its heart. Josh is knocked aside by its armored shoulder, and kicked by one of the legs as the beast collapses. It crashes to the ground and skids to a stop in a cloud of dust.Josh staggers to his feet, shaken. Two direhorse riders pull up to a stop at Josh's kill, whooping and waving their herding spears.

N'deh, one of the riders, salutes Josh with a formal gesture of honor. Josh runs up an incline to a rocky outcropping. Zuleika swoops in to an expert landing with her bansheeray, and Josh jumps on behind her. With a powerful take-off stroke the ray leaps into the air. Zuleika grins and whoops, ecstatic that Josh is not only alive but has killed a sturmbeest. He has the heart of a mighty hunter. Who knew? Tsu Te, flying above, sees this and isn't nearly so happy.

BACK AT THE VILLAGE, that night, the festival of the hunt is in full swing... a feast with music, dancing and lots of sturmbeest steaks. The huge bonfires illuminate the happy faces of the clan members. The music and dance are surprisingly sophisticated for a technically primitive culture. Expressive and emotional, the sinuous movements are a celebration of the body, a celebration of life, movement, breath.

We see an epic "song" which is a complex performance by several members of the group which involves dance, rhythmic ethnic music, chanting and singing, and incredibly agile "hand-dancing" where the long, tendril- like fingers of the singers weave a poetic narrative of their own, on harmony or counterpoint to the other elements of the dance. Rapid controlled shifts of the dancers' bioluminescent spots add to the magical beauty of the performance.

When the song ends, a new beat begins and a dozen people rush in to dance in a circle. Zuleika grabs Josh's hand and pulls him into the circle of dancers. He is a little clumsy but game to try, and he puts some variations on their classic forms that are definitely inspired by MTV. We see him shedding civilization and inhibition, letting himself go and dancing wild and free with the Na'vi people. Grace watches him with approval.

She slips her hand into N'deh's, and he puts his arm around her. We realize that they are much closer than we thought. Josh and Zuleika flow amongst the dancers, but they are looking only at each other. A couple of the young girls watching from outside the circle are giggling and talking about Josh and Zuleika. The Matriarch follows their look, and sees that the connection is being made. She and the Patriarch confer.

They are not sure if it is a good or a bad thing that their daughter and the alien seem to be coming together. Mato'a is against the Matriarch's idea of teaching Josh too much of their knowledge. He thinks it is wrong to trust the aliens. It will only bring sorrow. The Na'vi see us as emotionally disturbed children, smart but out of control... violent, intolerant, uncentered. Mo'at's instinct is to trust this one. IN THE FOREST Zuleika leads Josh along a moonlit path. The sound of the festival is distant. She is taking him to her special place. They pass along the base of a waterfall and come to a basin, or pond, completely surrounded by the luminous weeping willows.

Zuleika dives from a rock, swimming across the pond, which glows from beneath. Josh swims with her, and they pass over beautiful glowing anemenoids, in a fantastic variety of pastel colors. Josh and Zuleika, swimming slowly under the surface, seem to float in some cosmic dance above a luminous garden of waving, hypnotic shapes. Tiny purple fish swim around them, darting away and swirling back. Zuleika emerges from the water at the edge of a small glade.

Josh joins her and she leads him by the hand to the center of the stand of willows. It is an exquisitely beautiful spot. Surrounding them are patterns of glowing pastels, blues and cyans, slashes of purple, and brilliant accents of scarlet. Underfoot, a rolling bed of moss glows faintly. It reacts to their footsteps with expanding rings of light. A flock of fanlizards flick into spinning flight, like a blizzard of brightly colored frisbees.

The willows stir, responding to the presence of Josh and Zuleika. She holds up her hands and speaks softly, in the Na'vi language. The tendrils sway as if in a soft breeze, and seem to caress her. Josh puts out his hands and the tendrils play over his fingers, his palms, his forearms. He feels something... a faint tingling, barely there. Some willathewisps circle around them, some alighting on their shoulders and arms.

She tells him that the willathewisps are the seeds of the willows and that they are an important part of the soul of the forest. They have accepted Josh, and that is why the Matriarch gave him a chance. Josh is not like the other aliens. Except for Grace, who is as close to a Na'vi as any alien has ever been. But even with her years here, she still holds back. She has never thrown herself completely into the forest, into their life, the way he has.

Josh has embraced the animistic forest, which is alive with invisible dynamic forces, spirits. Things which he doesn't understand, but accepts, in a way a scientist could not without taking it apart and finding out how it worked. He deeply respects these primal people who are in touch with forces we no longer see and feel. Josh puts his hands on Zuleika's shoulders and turns her around, to face him. He tells her that he thinks he is starting to see. She smiles. Closes her eyes and opens them. Yes.





He puts his face close to hers. She rubs her cheek against his. They kiss. She pulls him down until they are kneeling, facing each other in the sacred glade. Zuleika unbinds her queue, letting her hair tendrils float freely in a glossy mane. Like the willows they seem to stir gently in a breeze that isn't there. Her supple fingers slowly, lovingly, unbind Josh's queue and his hair flows out around his shoulders. They come together in another lingering kiss.

With its own life, their hair floats together, intertwining with gentle undulations. Josh rocks with the power of the direct contact between his nervous system and hers. It is how the Na'vi make love (or a part of it), and it is the ultimate intimacy. He falls into the infinite pool of her. They sink down on the bed of moss, and ripples of light spread out under them.

DAWN BREAKS in the sacred glade. Shafts of orange morning light, like a Maxfied Parrish painting. Josh and Zuleika asleep in each others arms. And a roar of engines which wakens them. They move back into concealment as the splintering, crackling sound of the forest being crushed under enormous treads gets louder. In hiding, they watch as the blade of a gigantic bulldozer becomes a dark wall behind the sheltering ring of willows. The willows begin to fall before the blade, to be ground under the treads. The bulldozer pushes inexorably into the glade, splintering the trees, plowing the earth before it.

Josh and Zuleika reel back, stunned by the destruction they are witnessing. Josh runs out into the path of the bulldozer, waving his arms. The bulldozer is unmanned... driven by remote control from back at the base. A metal juggernaut version of the avatars.

BACK AT HELL'S GATE, in the control room of the tractors, the operator sees a Na'vi in front of his machine. He asks for direction from his supervisor. Selfridge, who is directing the clearing operation, is walking by the guy's workstation at that moment. He tells him to push on. The native will move. They have to learn to get out of the way. Some things are just inevitable. Josh gives up trying to stop the unmanned tractor. It grinds past the tiny figures of Zuleika and Josh, obliterating the sacred site, leaving only mud and wood splinters in the morning sunlight. Zuleika's eyes stream tears, watching the willows die.

HUMAN JOSH AND GRACE are on the video-link to Parrish. They are furious that the clearcutting has destroyed another sacred site of the Na'vi, just when they were making real progress with them. Parrish is obviously disturbed by this, torn by his conscience, but he offers some pathetic blandishments, and hangs up. Grace swears. Goddamn weasel. Totally on the take. He is Selfridge's lapdog.

Giese calls then to tell them that they are being recalled. A ship will be sent to pick them up. It's over. Selfridge is giving up on the avatar program. The construction is too important to the economic survival of the whole colony. Blah. Blah. Josh says he's not coming in. They need to stay and help the Na'vi, somehow. Get them to move... or at least understand what is happening. They won't understand. Josh snaps off the transmitter and goes right to the link chair. Grace says they should go in. Talk to Selfridge. Try to get him to see reason. Josh ignores her and pulls the helmet down.

IN THE VILLAGE, Zuleika has been waiting for Josh to wake up. He rises, and in his eyes she sees that something terrible is happening, and his pain. He goes to Mo'at and Mato'a, to try to explain to them that the aliens mean harm to the forest. He says he was sent here to get their trust, but that the humans don't care about them. It is a lie. They don't see. They will never see.

The Tsumongwi must move far away. Tsu Te charges forward, screaming at Josh. He is crazed by the loss of the glade, the horror of what is being done by Josh's people. He says the aliens are insane people, that they are a poison. And Josh is one of them, even though he wears the disguise of a Na'vi body. Crying and screaming at him, he yells at Josh to go. Josh refuses. He says he loves Zuleika, and he is going to stay somehow.

Grace grabs his arm. She hisses in his ear that he is crazy. How can he stay? They're pulling the plug back at base. He's just making things worse. Josh shrugs her off. Says he's staying. Tsu Te challenges him to a fight. Mato'a yells for the weapons to be brought, and Mo'at is silent. Her disappointment and anger obvious. The Na'vi never kill each other, but they will fight, and the fights can be brutal. The weapons are long staves, thick and solid, made from some very dense wood. Josh and Tsu Te square off.

Tsu Te leaps at him with a sharp cry and Josh parries with his staff. The staves clack off each other as the two combatants leap and duck. Tsu Te sweeps Josh off his feet with a roundhouse hit to the ankles, but Josh rolls out and catches Tsu Te in the belly with the blunt end of the stick.



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