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AVATAR: PAGE 19






Josh picks up an automatic weapon from a fallen trooper who is stuck full of arrows. He spins and rakes it across the ranks of the advancing SECFOR troopers. They scatter like pigeons. Nobody's ever shot back at them before. Josh empties the rifle, buying the group enough time to reach the treeline. He sees several Scorpions rising like black, angry hornets from the compound. Half a dozen powersuits are charging toward him. Josh grabs a couple of grenades from the fallen troopers as rounds stitch toward him. He turns and sprints for the trees.

WHAT FOLLOWS is a hairball, all-stops-pulled chase through the forest as the rolling thunder of war machines relentlessly pursues the Na'vi and the renegade avatar. The gunships roar into the forest, the ballsier pilots searching below the canopy. They maneuver their thundering ships between the huge trunks. The trees are so big you can actually fly through them between the canopy and the forest floor. And the powersuits crash through the underbrush at a full run, fanning out through the jungle. When one of the gunships spots a running Na'vi on the down-looking infrared, the pilot tells the powersuit troopers and they converge.

The forest is riddled by fire from the GAU 90 cannons. Josh and the hunters duck behind the mighty trunks, which shelter them from the hellacious fire. Then they run on, zigzagging. Josh runs from a powersuit which pounds through the forest behind him. He leaps and rolls, dodging behind trees as the cannon rips up the foliage. Zuleika runs along beneath a fallen treetrunk while a gunship tries to hit her with its cannon. It fires rockets and she dives into a pond as the jungle explodes. She surfaces amid burning debris as the gunship flies on. The powersuit chasing Josh is catching up. It follows him into a narrow rocky cleft. It turns out to be a cul-de- sac, and Josh is trapped. The powersuit closes in for the kill.

Then tons of rock come crashing down, smashing it into junk. Josh whoops and waves to the Na'vi hunters poised above. They wave back. And then twenty mounted Na'vi charge into the battle, the hooves of their direhorses thundering. With a shriek, two dozen bansheerays flash down out of the sky, Na'vi on their backs. The horsemen scoop up the rescued Na'vi and gallop off into the woods. The gunships dive to give chase, dodging and weaving through the trunks. Josh, running from a powersuit, leads it between a stand of trees.

Hidden hunters hit it with their bolos. The powersuit goes down and the hunters set upon it, four of them pinning it. Josh runs up and trips the rescue-release on the canopy. He rips the lid open. The trooper screams as the toxic air whooshes in. Josh pulls him out like a ragdoll, tossing him away with one hand. He and the hunters lift the heavy arm, aiming the GAU 90 at an approaching gunship. Josh reaches into the cockpit of the powersuit and hits the fire control button. The GAU 90 roars. Its solid tongue of tracers rips into the Scorpion which cants over, plummets to the ground and explodes.

Striding through the jungle in his hydraulic seven league boots, Quaritch goes apeshit. What the hell is going on? He watches as another Scorpion is riddled from below. On fire, it banks over him, careening into the jungle. Quaritch wheels at the sound of hooves in time to blast a direhorse and rider. He pivots, firing at a running Na'vi. The hunter disappears in a gout of earth and foliage.

Tsu Te runs along a horizontal bough. A gunship moves slowly through the woods below, looking for a victim. Tsu Te leaps. Lands on the back of the thing. He runs along its spine, clutching a rock about the size of a football. When he reaches the turbofan intakes, he hurls it down into the turbine blades full force. There is a clattering shriek, and the turbine blows apart, sending shrapnel outward through the sides of the fuselage.

The gunship tilts and heads for the ground. Tsu Te leaps for a liana and swings to safety. The ship explodes below him. Two bansheerays swoop in behind a gunship. The first rider drops a thirty pound rock, which hits the Scorpion squarely. The pilot hears the clunk, and looks around. The second rider guides his ray over the center of the ship. Zuleika is riding behind him on the ray's back. She rolls off onto the gunship, then runs to the rock and picks it up... pounding it down into the turbine.

The turbine explodes. Zuleika runs as the gunship goes out of control. She dives out into space... and a third bansheeray plucks her out of the air with its claws. A trooper in a powersuit hears hooves and turns, His eyes widen as he sees-- Two direhorses, with a heavy log slung between them like a battering ram. At a full gallop the riders guide the log right into the canopy of the powersuit, shattering it. The suit flips onto its back, and doesn't move.

Tsu Te pulls out his bullroarer and starts to swing it. The sound wails through the forest like a siren. The Na'vi retreat as one, disappearing into the forest. PUSH IN ON QUARITCH calling to his men. The gunships aren't answering. The suits aren't answering. He sees burning wreckage on his right, and a powersuit lying still on his left. The forest is silent, except for the usual hoots and screeches. What the fuck is happening? They just got their asses kicked by bows and arrows!? Night is falling, and the forest is dark and deep around him. He swears and rakes the jungle with his gatling gun until the ammo paniards are empty.

IN THE MOUNTAIN STRONGHOLD the Na'vi are gathered. There are several hundred of them. All the nearby clans have come to join the battle. It is full night, and the stars blaze overhead. Polyphemis stares down at them with his one bloody eye. Torches, as well as a galaxy of bioluminescence, light the gathering. Josh, Zuleika and Tsu Te stand before the gathered clans... the alien warrior, the daughter of the Patriarch, and the Patriarch's successor. Josh speaks to the assembly, and Zuleika translates for him into the Na'vi language.

He tells them they are not just fighting for this part of the forest, or these few trees, but for the very future of their world. He says the history of the aliens they call the sky people is one of blood. For as long as can be remembered, they take what is not theirs. They take the land and hunting grounds of other people, and kill them, or put them in places they cannot live. They call this progress, and it has led them down a path to sickness and death.





Their world, their forest, is a dying place. A poisoned place. They have killed their mother. And they will do the same here. They must be driven away. When they come again they will come with all their force, and we must be ready. We must fight, to our last breath, or they will rape and kill our mother as they did their own. Josh hears a familiar voice behind him.

GRACE: Nice speech, kid.

Josh spins around, seeing Grace's avatar stepping up behind him. She is bright-eyed and as alive as he ever saw her. He is dumbfounded. She walks up to him, grinning.

JOSH: Grace! Grace... It's you!

GRACE: Of course it's me. Moron.

Finally, he whoops and picks her up, spinning her around.

JOSH: Is it going to hurt my brain if you tell me how...?

Grace says she's not sure exactly how it works. Scientifically that is. But the short version is that under certain circumstances, the Na'vi can do this thing... call it a soul transfer. When I was dying, the trees stored... well, they stored my mind, my emotions, my memories... me. Then they downloaded it all to this body. No more turning into a pumpkin. I get to be Cinderella all the time, now. Josh is lost. The trees stored you? Grace laughs, and puts her arm around him. Josh, she says, this may take a bit of explaining.

Back home we called it Gaia. A single being made up of all that's living on the whole planet. The only problem is, back home it's a myth. There is no Gaia. If she ever lived, she's been long dead. But it's not a myth here. On Pandora there is only one entity. The forest is its brain. Like a vast neural net, with every tree being a single brain cell, or dendrite. And all the roots co-mingling... those are the synapses.

One vast sentience, covering all the land. And everything that walks and breaths and lives within it is a part of it. It is like a government, which keeps everything in balance. That's why the Na'vi don't kill, or make war. No ownership, no territory. They are given all they need... a place to live, a part in the great pageant of life here.

Is she intelligent, this Gaia? This Mother Forest? Sort of. But she's almost more like a kind of bio-internet. The willows are access points, the Well of Souls and other places like it around the planet are like big servers, storage centers. A place of memories. The Gaia mind can be accessed from anywhere. It can be used to communicate over long distances. That's how the clan knew Zuleika had found you. She accessed the willows.

And that's why the Na'vi only have one language all over the planet, with regional dialects of course, just for fun. But more than a network, she has a will. An ego. She guides, she shapes... she protects. Sometimes she sacrifices something she loves for the greater good. And sometimes she is very strict. Gaia does not take sides. Gaia will not necessarily save you... her role is to protect all life, and the balance of life... and to protect that balance, death is necessary. She is, quite literally, Mother Nature.

And it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature. But she can be petitioned... by a process surprisingly like prayer. Gaia listens, and reacts as she sees fit, sometimes in your favor... sometimes not. But you have to really get her attention if you want her to do something big... it takes a lot of people plugging in and petitioning... they cannot forceably will Gaia to do anything, and Gaia does not answer directly. But she listens.

Since the Na'vi are the highest form of ambulatory life, they are valued for their input, and have a special relationship with Gaia. In the case of this infection of aliens, they are the best source of insight into what is going on, because they can communicate directly with the aliens.

Gaia knows instinctively that the humans are a disease, an organism from outside. This is a new thing for her, unprecedented, and there are no guidelines for what to do. The first and most obvious thing to do is fight the infection, try to contain it. So she sent attacking flora and fauna to surround the alien infection and keep it from spreading. Gaia was functioning like an immune system, sending antibodies to the infection site. Gaia was doing chemotherapy and we were the tumor.

That's why Hell's Gate was under constant attack... a bio- barrage of predators and poisonous plants which was an ecological cartoon. We just thought we'd landed at a particularly bad spot. And that's why, once we got deep into the forest, we saw a balanced ecosystem. But we could never have seen the mindless attacks as a coordinated, systematic effort. Like the slinth following the titanothere through the fence... when did a slinth and a titanothere ever work together? They're mortal enemies. But when Gaia speaks, people listen. At least if you're born on Pandora.

We didn't see it. We literally couldn't see the forest for the trees. Josh reels from these revelations. But more amazingly, he knows them to be true, and the explanation fits so well he's amazed he didn't see it already. At some level he already sensed it. He asks if Gaia can be made aware of the severity of the threat... the fact that the current infection is nothing compared to what's coming. If the Navaho and the Sioux had known what was coming for them, they never would have made those treaties. They would have fought to the last man.

Zuleika tells her mother that Josh wants to speak to Gaia... to tell her about the aliens. Mo'at looks at Josh a long time. She knows he is here for a reason. And this must be it. She closes her eyes. And opens them.



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