"...That is Tsa'helu, the bond. Feel her. Feel her heartbeat, her breath. Feel her strong legs..."
Note: The names, terms, and phrases herein come either from the cast list, directly from Na'vi language's creator, Dr. Paul Frommer, from the book "The Art of Avatar", or my own heavy-handed attempts at transcribing from the movie itself. As soon as I get my hands on more official sources, I will be back to correct any mistakes and/or misuses.
I'm not going to lie, I hated Jake Sully. Hated him more than I thought possible.
It just wasn't fair. From the moment I flicked on the holovid as a five year old and saw the reports hailing the discovery of Pandora and the Na'vi, I knew what I wanted to do. Knew it with all the conviction only a naive child can muster. I was going to grow up to be a Na'vi.
My parents soon cured me of that illusion but they couldn't destroy my dream of going to Pandora. Nothing could. Instead, they pointed me in the right direction. A perfect record all through school. Grades, attendance, behavior. Not once, all the way through high school, did I fail a test or miss a day of class.
And then, the summer before I entered the Lunar Institute of Science and Technology, the AVTR program was announced and my dream of becoming a Na'vi returned with a vengeance. I became a fanatic, obsessed. I studied every waking hour of every day. And when I wasn't studying, I was concentrating on my health. A strict regimen of exercise combined with an even stricter diet supplemented by a scientifically researched combination of vitamins and minerals ensured I was in perfect physical condition for the AVTR program.
I graduated valedictorian of my class of 5,743 students at humanity's premiere scientific university, with dual Bachelors in Anthropology and Biology in only three years. My Masters degrees followed, one in Linguistic Studies with a focus on Na'vi and one in Xenobiology. I finished my education off with a two hundred page thesis on Pandoran Ecology as part of my Ph.D in Pandoran Xenobiology.
Of course, all the while I was making connections with anyone even remotely related with RDA and particularly with the AVTR program. I submitted textbook thick applications complete with my very impressive resume to no less than seven RDA employees who I knew could get it on the Director's desk. And that was in addition to the official application I submitted, in person, to the AVTR Office at RDA corporate headquarters.
And despite all that, the day I received notification that I had been accepted into the AVTR program I nearly passed out from the shock.
Of course, it didn't end there. I soon found out I was only accepted as a potential candidate. Despite my perfect record, my perfect physical condition, I still had to go through a nerve wracking fifteen months while they ran me through a whole battery of painful tests to determine if I was even viable as a 'driver'. Every needle-prick was more than worth it.
When they told me I would have my own Avatar I did pass out from the shock. I still count it as the happiest memory of my life.
And then the training started. My Ph.D wasn't enough. I had to go through a whole new series of classes, making sure I knew everything there was to know about every identified element of Pandoran wildlife, plant and animal. The slightest mistake on a test, for any of my class of five, and the lesson began all over again for each of us.
The lessons didn't stop there. After they had finally deemed us competent, they began the Na'vi training. Language, culture, customs and traditions, even how to cook a traditional Na'vi meal, something I have zero talent for. To this day, I believe they passed me only so I'd stop burning the expensive Pandoran exports they were bringing in.
It was hell. I lived, ate, and slept Pandora for three full years. There were no days off, no free time. The only time I got to relax was the five hours between the moment my head fell forward onto my notes and when I woke up to start it all anew.
But I didn't mind, I really didn't. Because I knew all of it would find me behind the wheel – so to speak – of one of those beautiful, blue creatures I'd seen on the holovids as a child. And when I graduated from learning from books to running virtual simulations using the same neural link-ups I'd use in reality, any lingering doubts I'd had were swept away. If the simulation was this amazing, god only knows how incredible the real thing would actually be.
And then the day finally came to leave. I had 'graduated' from the program; my personal avatar, my new body, had been born. They wouldn't let me see it before we left, the necessary conditions for its growth too fragile for any outside exposure, so they were keeping it off-limits from everyone but the medical personnel who would be tending to it for the next six years while the rest of the shuttle to Pandora slept in cryo. That didn't bother me in the slightest. I still packed all my most important belongings, gave away the rest, sold the house, and then stepped onto the spacecraft knowing full well I would never see my old friends or family ever again.
And then I learned that Tom Sully had died, the brilliant scientist I had trained with for years gunned down in a common mugging. To this day, I still wonder if the fact that my first thought was whether or not this would postpone the voyage makes me a terrible person. Fact is though, Tom and I weren't all that close. We were connected through the shared trials we had gone through, but for both of us, the AVTR program was our whole life. I respected him for his dedication, his passion, as he had respected me for mine, but that was it.
I didn't actually learn about the twin brother Jake until after I had woken up from cryo. A dime-a-dozen jarhead, a marine – and a handicapped marine, at that – was being streamlined into the program simply because of a freak accident of birth. Oh, I didn't like it even then, but I went along with it. He wouldn't last long. It took Tom and I years of training to prepare for this mission. This Jake would come along, play pretend for a session or two before realizing just how out of his league he really was and dropping out.
But he didn't. Despite his ignorance, despite the obvious disdain of his coworkers – both military and AVTR – Corporal Jake Sully refused to quit. And then this nobody goes out and pisses off a Thanator – which everybody with half a brain cell knows is one of the worst jungle predators on Pandora – nearly killing us and himself in the process.
And then he gets rewarded for it!
And not just any reward. No... the Omaticaya actually invite him into Hometree, accept him as one of their own when every avatar who'd come before him had tried and failed! Him. This worthless accident of fate had just been given the chance I'd dreamed of for as long as I could remember.
How I hated Jake then. Hated him with every part of my being. Looking back on it, I am ashamed to see just how childish I had acted towards him, all the petty insults and snide comments I made. Nothing like the refined scholar I like to think of myself as. But there is not a part of me that would even attempt to change the sentiment I felt. It really just wasn't fair.
But then I watched him begin to fall in love with Pandora the way I had and it became harder to hate him. He worked as hard as I once had, forgoing sleep just to get those few more hours inside the link, studying with Grace or I anytime Neytiri's duties called her away. After a while, seeing the bitter disappointment and regret I felt every time I 'woke up' reflected on his face day after day, and knowing his pain was even greater as each time he lost his legs anew, I eventually came to forgive him. It wasn't his fault I just wasn't what the Na'vi were looking for.
In retrospect, we should have known that from the start. The Na'vi are above all else, a practical people, respecting the strength to survive in the harsh wilds that is their home over anything else. Jake had that strength, the rest of us science geeks did not. It really was as simple as that.
So day by day, Grace and I gathered our samples, studied the jungle, while Jake was allowed to become one of the Omaticaya themselves. I even helped, quizzing him over the language, over the wildlife he'd encountered while the rest of the People slept. I eventually grew to like him in a way I had never liked Tom, or even Grace. I couldn't even bring myself to grow mad at him when he risked everything to mate with Neytiri, with their Chief's daughter.
In fact, if I recall correctly I actually gave him a high-five.
And now, as my avatar awaits me amongst the horse-riding Na'vi of Pandora's plains, preparing to attack my own technologically superior race in a last ditch effort to defend the people I've come to love more than my own, I thank Eywa that Jake is here. I spent months thinking myself better than him for all my education, for all those endless hours of training and simulations, but in the face of this encroaching army I realize just how pointless it all was. Pandora didn't need another scientist. Pandora needed a leader, a warrior, someone who could lead it out of the very darkness my presence had threatened it with.
Pandora needed its Tar'ruk'makto. Which meant Pandora needed Jake.
And because Pandora needed him, I needed him.
This will be my final record. I honestly don't expect to survive the day. Jake's the marine, the hunter, not me. I'm just a nerdy kid with a useless Ph.D. I've never killed, I'm not strong or brave; I barely even know the butt of a gun from its barrel, much less how to ride a horse. Even now, miles away from any danger, I can't stop shivering.
But if that is what it takes, I will gladly give my life for Pandora, for Eywa, for the Na'vi. For Jake. For my Tar'ruk'makto. Because even if Pandora and the Na'vi don't want me, they are still my whole world. I have sacrificed everything – my family, my friends, my entire life back on Terra – for this planet, for these people. If by my death I can do one little thing for them, then I will count mine a life well lived.
And perhaps in the afterlife I will hear the words I have wanted so long to hear: "Oel ngati kameie tsmúkan."
"I see you, brother."
Norm Spellman signing off. May Eywa be with us all.
I've always been jealous of Neytiri. Almost from the very day she left the womb ten seconds before me, I've been jealous of her.
Is it really any surprise? Me, Pey'lal, the daughter of a simple weaver and a hunter who had barely earned his bow. Her, the daughter of Eytukan and Mo'at, a woman who would one day become Tsahik while I sit in the shadows and sew loincloths.
I've tried – Eywa knows I've tried – so hard to prove myself to the People, to prove I'm just as good as her. I've thrown myself completely into every single thing I've done. When Neytiri began her training as a huntress at the age of six, I broke all tradition, disregarding the fact that I was expected to follow in my mother's footsteps, and all but left my family behind to become a daughter of the forest.
That was the first and last day I've thanked the Sky People for landing on our world, the new threat allowing me to muscle my way into the program through sheer stubbornness.
I took to the woods like an eykan takes to air, outstripping the skill of my assigned mentor in a matter of months. While Neytiri and the others were learning to navigate the upper canopy, I was teaching myself to move quicker than the wind and to step more softly than the rain. While their mentors instructed them on how to hold a bow, I was practicing hitting a target at a hundred paces in the dark. While they stalked the whirl lizards for practice, I hunted viper wolves, well aware that one misstep was all it would take to get me killed.
By the time I was nine, the only thing keeping me from being the best hunter among the Omaticaya was my child's body. There wasn't a single warrior who could contest that with age I would become the greatest among them. I could have taken my final test even then, climbed Iknimaya and claimed my eykan, but the Alu'eytan said I was too young and the Tsahik said I was too foolish.
At the time I just thought they were holding me back so Neytiri could pass first.
I was wrong, though I wouldn't realize that until now years later. And I did take my test first after all. Eytukan had little choice but to allow me to when I returned to Hometree at fifteen, dragging the head of a Thanator behind me. The greatest hunter of the jungle and I had single-handedly stalked and killed him. Few Omaticaya have ever done so and none as young as I. I was chastised severely for it, though at the time I knew not why, but it accomplished what I had hoped for - I had my test.
It was about then that the Sky People began falling from the skies in greater and greater numbers. I found their new camp first, a horde of activity clustered around their giant metal birds, deep in the heart of the forest. The Omaticaya would never have received such quick warning if it hadn't been for me. Nobody else had the guts to range so far alone from the safety of our patrols.
But did I receive so much as a thank you? Of course not. No, in the excitement over our new neighbors' arrival I was quickly pushed aside and forgotten. The Tsahik sat around and wove visions of peace and diplomacy while Neytiri and the others listened and nodded like skxawng. It was only when they realized they had no idea where to find the Sky People that they remembered me.
I led them there, by eykan since few of our 'ambassadors' could have handled the rigorous path I'd blazed through the forest. And when we arrived there, I just disappeared, slipped back into the shadows of the trees. Nobody ever even noticed I was gone. They'd already made it clear they didn't want a hot-headed huntress there anyways.
And so I watched and I waited. I watched as more Sky People came. I watched as they began to eat into my beloved forest like a cancer, tearing through the mighty trees and unyielding rock with frightening ease. I watched as they fought back against the creatures of the woods, wielding 'guns' and 'machines' more powerful than any weapon I had ever seen.
And I knew then how this would end. The Sky People would either destroy the forest, and then the Na'vi, or we would destroy them first.
But then the dreamwalkers came, Grace with her school and medicine and offers of peace and for a time it seemed like a different ending might be possible. She began offering classes to teach us how to interact and speak with the Sky People. Neytiri took them, as she was expected to as the future Tsahik.
I took them too.
I studied English obsessively, just as I had my hunter training. It only took me three months to learn enough of the language to hold a rudimentary conversation with the Sky People. Three months during which I never once slept outside of Hometree. I haven't spent that much time at 'home' since I began my training as a child.
But I barely got a pat on the back and a good girl before Grace turned back to her prized pupil, Neytiri, the future Tsahik. The two of them were so eager then to play nice and make peace that it disgusted me.
I haven't spoken English since.
And I left Hometree again. I returned to the forest, haunted the edge of the Sky People's camp. I watched their movements and tracked their patrols, eavesdropping whenever I could. I was determined to prove Grace wasn't what she seemed.
I never did catch even the barest of hints of treachery regarding Grace but I learned other things. I was the one who discovered the Sky People had killed one of our missing patrols and I was the one who brought retribution to the five wretched vermin who'd murdered them. The skxawng never even saw it coming, all five of them silenced before they could even send off a distress signal. My only regret is that they deserved a much worse death than they received.
It was I who then brought warning of the Sky People's duplicity to the Omaticaya. I who set our warriors on guard and prevented more of them from falling to the Sky People's treachery. Of course, by this point I didn't even expect anything of it. I just sulked in silence as they took my hard won information and cast me to the side.
And then that Jakesully came and they forgot everything I'd said all over again. Like the lives of our dead brothers meant nothing simply because the Sky People had sent a warrior dreamwalker into our camp. And then the Tsahik felt the need to spit on our warriors' graves, to actually teach this dreamwalker our ways, to accept him as one of our own. I knew then the Omaticaya were doomed.
I was right. Jakesully brought our world down around our ears. I was there when Hometree fell, was there when the ashes of my Peoples' lives fell down upon us like rain. I hadn't even called Hometree 'home' in years, preferring a tree branch and a soft blanket of jungle moss to the rough hammocks of Hometree, and yet I still felt its loss as keely as the newly orphaned children around me. I still felt sorrow for every one of our fallen kin as if they had been my own brother or sister, my son or daughter.
It was only then that I began to understand the lessons the Tsahik had been trying to teach me all this time. The People may be many but we are above all else One. We are the Na'vi, the children of Eywa, and Eywa binds us all together in a great Tsa'helu that transcends even life itself. And because of Tsa'helu, because we are One, one Omaticaya's sorrow is all the Omaticaya's sorrow. One Omaticaya's triumph is all the Omaticaya's triumph.
Neytiri understood this long before I, and it was for this that she was beloved, not because she was born first, or because she was the better huntress or English-speaker or daughter of the Tsahik. All my life I had been fighting a contest that never even existed. Because we are One, my triumphs are the People's triumphs and therefore Neytiri's triumphs as well. Likewise her triumphs are my triumphs; I am Tsahik because she is Tsahik, and she is the best huntress because I am the best huntress.
To learn you have spent your whole life acting the fool is a harsh awakening indeed.
But I thank Eywa for it. Because now I understand. This unity is both our greatest strength, and our greatest weakness. For together the Na'vi need fear nothing. It is only when we are apart, when people like myself act not for the good of the People but instead for their own selfish pride, that we are weak.
And to my own shame, even Jakesully understood this long before I, returning, despite his mate's condemnations, as Tar'ruk'makto to lead the tribes in battle. To unite the Na'vi as one to face the greatest foe to ever threaten us. I watched him fly down, perched triumphantly atop the Tar'ruk and I knew it was as Neytiri said, 'I was afraid for my people. Now I am not.'
Because with him to guide us, we are One.
That is why I am here, before the Tree of Souls - as I heard the Tar'ruk'makto say - 'talking to a tree.' I was a fool, am a fool. More of a skxawng than Jakesully ever was. It is only now, twenty-one sun cycles after my birth, that I am finally ready to be part of the People. I will proudly follow behind Neytiri and the Tar'ruk'makto when the sun rises in five hours and I will gladly give up my life in their service.
And I will do so without regret. Because if I know that if but one of us lives after tomorrow, if the Tree of Souls still stands, then I have won even if I have fallen. For I am my own brother, my own sister. I am my father, my mother.
I am Jakesully. I am Neytiri.
And it doesn't make much sense to be jealous of yourself, does it?
When I first watched Avatar, I knew I wanted to write a story for it. Something made incredibly difficult by the fact that I wouldn't change a single thing about the movie. I was spell-bound from the moment it began. Everything about it, from the breathtakingly beautiful CG to the story itself was perfect (in my vaunted opinion), truly evoking in me that mythical 'suspension of disbelief' story-tellers love to talk about.
It was when I went to watch it the second time (well-worth it despite the cut-throat movie prices) that this idea struck me. During the scene at the Tree of Voices, where Jake and Neytiri become mates, Neytiri mentions two other women – Ney'nat with the best voice among the Omaticaya, and Pey'lal, one of their better huntresses – as women Jake might take for himself. Those two names sparked the thought processes that eventually led to this.
I'll be trying to write this story as a parallel of sorts to Cameron's masterpiece. Of the 'tree-hugging traitors' – Jake, Grace, Norm, and Trudy – only Jake and Norm were left and only Norm was single. So why not save Norm's avatar and put him on the same path to self-discovery Jake had undertaken, this time with this Pey'lal as his mentor. Then I could continue my journey through Pandora, write my own Na'vi romance, and at the same time play around with the aftermath of the attack.
I can only pray I do half as good a job as Cameron did.
As far as the chapter goes, this will be the only one with a first-person viewpoint. Seeing as how it's just the prologue I felt it justified in twisting it around that way. I'd actually considered posting this up as a one-shot and writing the story separately but eventually decided I needed to keep the two together. While this would work perfectly well as a one-shot, the story would be far weaker without some sort of introduction. So this will serve as a combined recap of the movie and an introduction of sorts to Tsa'helu's two main characters.
Also, I realize there was a good number of Na'vi words in here. Shoving foreign languages in stories where there is no need is one of my pet peeves so I promise to keep it to a minimum, using Na'vi only for names and titles, such as Alu'eytan, meaning 'chief'. This, I feel, adds an extra measure of authenticity to the story, hopefully without making it unbearable or difficult to read. If you have any problems with it, please let me know so I can do what I can to alleviate them.
Thanks. I hope you enjoyed the chapter.
Update: I've received a whole slew of questions about where I'm going with this fic, mostly regarding potential love interests for one or both characters. This will be a Norm/Pey'lal story. It will also be quite long in the making. I fully intend to turn this into a six-digit word story be prepared for some reading.