In the Name of Science
Chapter 1: Grace's Conundrum
Disclaimer: We don't own Avatar.
A/N: Hi, this is a fic co-written by Essence of Gold and myself. We have done one other for Avatar, 'Ways to Annoy the Na'vi,' which is posted on her account. Anyway, we call dibs on the first fic of this pairing, and one of the first alternate pairing fics on the fandom – though I think some people have already beaten us to it with Jake/Tsu'tey. Ah, the thrill of a young fandom! It's something I haven't experienced before. Anyway, the bunny is Essence's, but most of this first chapter is mine, and I seem to have already twisted it out of its original humour guise into something more serious...as well as causing it to mutate from a oneshot into a chapter fic...but this, for those of you who don't know me, is what I do best.
She liked plants more than people.
'Well, it's partly true. At least when the plants are annoying the heck out of you, you know it's not personal.'
Grace was feeling frazzled. Sure, the new recruit had survived his first day. In fact, he'd managed to get in with the People by some fluke, and though his head was as empty as a jar he seemed eager enough to learn. But if he provoked the Na'vi into slaughtering his avatar, she would be the one with hell to pay.
'Rule number one of leadership,' she said out loud, 'everything is your fault.'
She had been feeling like taking a daisy cutter to the entire jungle for the past few days – this new research about the chemical links in their roots was proving stickier than she'd anticipated – but right now the slow sway of the trees was proving soothing. So what if they wouldn't tell her what the heck they were up to? Like she'd said, it was nothing personal. A light breeze rustled the canopy far above her head, letting shafts of light peep through. Her phosphorescent spots shimmered whenever the motion of the leaves plunged them into shadow; a beauty she'd never known in her human form. Sitting alone in the forest was nine kinds of dangerous, but what did she care? It was peaceful.
'How the HELL do those tree roots link up!' she yelled, leaping to her feet. 'Dammit, it's almost like they're nerve cells or something! That's the closest comparison we've got, but it's just...' She leaned on a tree, clenching her fists against the bark. 'And every time I settle down to study a section of forest, the fffffff...ricking mining idiots chop it down!'
There was a log leaning against the tree, slanting diagonally down to the ground. Grace sighed wearily, spun away from the tree on her heel and flopped down on it, slumping wearily against the trunk.
'Video log is not cutting it,' she muttered, rubbing her knuckles into her eyes. 'Ranting out loud to myself like this. Good thing there's no-one here to listen.' She dropped her hands and peered up into the canopy. 'Well, apart from the Na'vi.' They're probably watching us right now, she'd told Jake, and she was certain that it was true – well, as certain as she could be, given how rarely she saw them. They're getting more wary, she thought. Stupid trigger-happy marines, screwing up relations. The frustrating thing was that the Na'vi could probably answer all her questions about the trees – they could give her the information she needed for her studies, even if they didn't have a full scientific understanding. And thanks to Colonel Quaritch and the mining corporation, the only one who had any hope of working with the people was the benign but bumbling Jake.
'I don't think I can stand to sit and watch while he screws it up,' she said wearily. 'Gotta talk to these people.' She straightened up on her log, glancing around once more. 'Na'vi?' she called. 'Anyone? Like I said to Dreamwalker Jake yesterday, I'm pretty sure you're watching, and it's worth a try. Do you fancy coming down and answering a few questions about your trees?'
There was a moment's silence, during which her cry rang emptily in her ears. Then a Na'vi male thumped to the ground not three feet in front of her.
'GAH!' Grace yelled, jumping in surprise and tumbling off her log. She landed on her back with a muffled 'oof', her ankles still hooked over the log above her head. From this undignified position, she saw the Na'vi man smile.
It was not a nice smile. It was the kind of smile that said: 'show one sign of weakness and I will eat you.'
Fortunately, Grace did a fairly good line in those herself – but usually to soldiers and stubborn mining giants, not giant blue warriors armed to the teeth with toxic arrows. She unhooked her legs and picked herself up, sticking her chin out as she looked the newcomer in the eye.
'Thanks,' she said dryly.
He stared at her silently.
'Uh...why are you showing yourself?' she continued, a little of her composure trickling away under his maybe-about-to-turn-murderous stare.
One corner of his mouth twisted up. 'You called, Dreamwalker. So I come.' There was a pause. 'That surprises you? Why? You have never tried calling before.'
Grace relaxed a little. He seemed in a talking mood at least.
'Why did you call, Dreamwalker?' His voice grew lower, his eyes narrowing slightly.
'I want to ask you about the trees,' she replied. She felt her avatar muscles bunching, prepared to run as his scowl deepened.
'What do you want to know?' he asked with a smile that was more than half snarl. 'How best to cut them down? Or how to mix arrow-poisons like the People?'
'Neither,' Grace said steadily. He seemed taken aback by her answer. Clearly he had thought that his guesses were right, and that she would be shamed into silence. She took a breath and then went for the plunge. 'Actually I want to know about the links between the roots and how they are used by your People.'
He gaped at her, his coiled-up stance going slack with shock. Either he hadn't been expecting the sky people to notice the connection at all, or he was amazed that she'd dared to ask. Grace had to admit that the last part of her statement had been pure bluff. She had no proof that the Na'vi found any use for the connection. But her guess seemed to be near the mark, because the man didn't attempt to deny it. He pulled himself together and smiled again.
'I am sorry, Dreamwalker,' he said, not sounding sorry at all. 'This I don't tell you. Sky people know the secrets of the Na'vi, and it makes us weak. No, I don't tell you. You must search, and maybe you will find out. Or maybe not.' He grinned more broadly, the threat plain in his tone. Whatever the secret, it was closely guarded.
Grace sat back down on the log and pulled up a knee, propping her elbow on it and resting her chin in her hand.
'I think,' she said, slowly and distinctly, 'that the trees communicate. Have you learned that word, hunter? It means, put simply, to talk.'
She peeked at him out of the corner of her eye. His smirk was still in place, but she thought she saw him start.
She slipped into Na'vi. 'The members of the body can talk.' She raised a hand, flourishing it slowly in front of her face. 'From my fingers down to my toes, I am connected, and it's all controlled from up here.' She tapped the side of her head. She knew that it was dangerous to push him this way, but she was feeling reckless. 'So maybe all the trees talk, and are all controlled from somewhere. But where, that is my question. And how...' She couldn't keep the frustration out of her tone now. It came seeping in, showing how mercilessly this question had plagued her since she first discovered the links in the roots. 'How do the people tap into it?'
'What do you mean, Dreamwalker?' the man asked, also in Na'vi.
Grace made a huffy noise. 'Don't play the innocent with me!' she barked. 'I've seen how you connect to your horses and your Ikran. You must do the same thing with the tree network, but how? I can't see any way for you to plug yourselves straight into the ground!' She lapsed back into English, slamming her fist against the trunk of the tree.
'And why are you wanting to know all this, Dreamwalker?' the man asked. Grace jumped. She realised that in the last few seconds she had almost forgotten him, too caught up in her thirst for knowledge.
'Unless all sky people dream walk, they cannot hear the tree-voices like the People. Maybe your false bodies cannot. Maybe only true Na'vi. One of your kind has been set to train among us, but we think he will fail. He will not be able to bond with the ikran. He cannot bond with the trees, so why do you want to know? '
'I want to know it,' she answered, emphasising each word with a gesture of her hand in mid-air, 'because I am curious. Maybe you are right. Maybe our avatar bodies cannot hear the trees...but until you told me so, I did not know that the trees spoke. I only knew that the trees were connected. Now, I want to know how they speak. You've only given me more questions, hunter.'
'Why do you ask these questions?' His voice was little more than a whisper now. 'The bonds are no use for a sky peoples' weapon, you know.'
'No use,' Grace echoed, with a brief chuckle. She leaned back against the tree, closing her eyes. 'Hell, don't I know it. I got enough people telling me so. No, I know it's no use to me. I'm just curious.'
There was a silence, she didn't know how long. Her eyes were still shut. Her mind strayed over the strangeness of it all, not just the small problem of the connections but the larger problems: the project, the planet, the distance from Earth and the whole sorry mess they were steering themselves into. I want out, she thought, and then a faint rustle caused her to open her eyes. The Na'vi male had stood.
'Yes, you are curious,' he said softly. 'That is why I come.'
He turned and began to walk away.
'No, wait! Grace stumbled after him, suddenly frantic without quite knowing why. 'Wait, that's not all I wanted to ask about! I have questions...'
He half-turned. 'Many questions. Like child, know nothing, want to know everything. But why?' His brow furrowed. He was staring at the ground now, and seemed to be talking more to himself than to her. 'Why? Leave now, but maybe come back.'
And then he melted into the jungle before her eyes, leaving her to gaze, dumbfounded, at the place where he had stood.
* * *
'Tsu'Tey – I knew it,' Grace muttered, hunched over her laptop. As soon as she'd got back to base she'd run a search on all the known Na'vi on the RDA database, inputting height, gender and markings to bring up a list of possible names. Finally she had found a photograph she recognised, distant and blurry – hiding cameras where the Na'vi wouldn't find them was well nigh impossible – but unmistakably the male she had talked to in the jungle. Next in line to the chief, no less, and dangerous by all accounts. She remembered telling Jake about had he been doing talking to her? Underneath the picture were printed the words: Tsu'tey (Tsoo-tay), Male. Father: Eytukan, clan leader. Mother: Mo'at, clan mage/priestess. HOSTILE.
'Hostile,' Grace murmured, shaking her head. 'A hostile hostile. What a distinction.' She pressed a button, sending the information to the printer. It was against policy to waste paper on non-essential printouts, but right now she didn't care. Reading off the screen did her head in.
She whipped the printout off the copier just as Jake wheeled himself into the room. She noticed how he flinched at her sudden movement, like he was expecting her to lay straight into him. She felt a pang of remorse, but looking at the paper she thought she saw a way to make it up to him. The RDA were better informed about the more eminent members of the Na'vi tribe, those who had negotiated with them in the early days, but even so the information on Tsu'tey was pitifully sparse. She would ask Jake if he'd found out anything more, and hopefully the conversation would help to put him more at ease.
'Never thought I'd find myself asking a Marines grunt for scientific info,' she muttered to herself. 'Jake?'
He had been just about to wheel himself through the door, but hearing her call he spun himself round to face her. 'Yeah?'
Abruptly Grace felt at ease. With this plain-speaking soldier she could cut straight to the point.
'I encountered an indigenous in the forest today,' she said, waving her printout under his nose. 'I've been looking him up on the database but there isn't much. I wondered if you would know any more about him.'
Jake came wheeling back towards her. 'Well, I've only been in their village for a day, you know, but I'll take a look.'
'His name is Tsu'tey,' she said, walking to meet him with the paper held out. 'In case that means nothing to you, I have his photo.'
Jake's eyebrows went up, and the corners of his mouth went down. 'Tsu'tey?' he repeated ponderously. 'You told me he was next in line to their leader, right?'
Grace nodded in approval. 'Yes, I did, but that's about the extent of my knowledge. Anything to add?' She handed him the paper.
His reaction was nothing short of comical. 'Oh my God!' he exclaimed, nearly dropping the sheet in shock. 'That Tsu'tey?'
Grace found herself fighting back laughter as she answered. 'Yes, that Tsu'tey. Do you know him?'
'The guy's a complete psycho!' Jake declared emphatically. 'He was there when his sister Neytiri brought me in. Some of them seemed ready to listen to me, but he was all for hacking me up and roasting me for the banshees! And you say you met this guy? And he didn't kill you on sight? And you survived?'
Well, she seemed to have put him at ease, at any rate.
'Shocking as it may seem to you, jarhead, it is possible to survive out there without military training. Not all of us have your knack for stirring the natives into a homicidal rage within three seconds of opening our mouths.'
'Huh,' Jake said. 'I still say you were lucky.'
'Maybe so.' Grace smiled faintly, recalling the Na'vi's words. You are curious. That is why I come. 'Maybe so. You hungry, jarhead?'
'Is this going to become like a thing with you?' Jake asked.
'I'm afraid you sealed your doom with the "Jarhead clan" bluff,' Grace replied, moving behind him and taking the handles of his chair. 'Come on, let's get some dinner.'
Raising her voice to call Norm, she wheeled Jake out of the room, her eyes trained on the picture in his lap. Hmmm, Tsu'Tey. An unusual name. Tomorrow she would look up its meaning in Na'vi.
A/N: So how did you like it? Surprising? OOC? Completely unfollowable? My excuse for Grace's characterisation in this chapter is that I think that her fierceness is just a defence concealing a deeper and more thoughtful personality...your opinions, anyone?
True and Essence