I am stepping out of my home fandom for the first time. This is just a darker little one-shot, inspired by a conversation that I overheard while leaving the theater after seeing Avatar. A father and son were saying that they wished the humans had won the battle. So I took that and came up with this. I've tried to stay accurate in detail and characterizations for this universe, but I welcome your constructive comments. This is a bit of a jump for me. Enjoy!
None of these characters belong to me. Everything belongs to the great mind of James Cameron.
Even from the confines of his cell, Jake could smell the dying planet. He could smell Earth.
Death didn't smell like rot and decay.
Death smelled liked exhaust fumes that seeped in through the creaky ventilation, a sign of the polluted air that hung like a dirty sheet over every town and city. Death smelled like acidic cleaning chemicals from the sterilized floor. And death smelled like processed food, his uneaten breakfast of egg beaters and undercooked bacon. The odors permeated his nostrils, making his stomach turn.
Jake tried to remember the scents of lushness--of Pandoran vegetation and untainted air…of life. He clung to those memories, attempting to force them into his dreams, praying to wake up in his strong, sleek Na'vi body. Of course, that never happened. He didn't even know what had happened to the avatar.
As the humans gained the upper hand during the battle, a team of mercenaries had launched a ground invasion and discovered the interface pod. After someone pushed the button, he'd awoken in his human body, and his Na'vi self was lost in the chaos. Maybe the body was still rotting in the torched forests of Pandora over six years later. Or maybe the troops had destroyed it long ago.
To his slight surprise, they hadn't executed him right there. He was probably lucky that Quaritch hadn't found him first, if you could call being alive in a prison cell lucky. Jake had been dragged away on his knees, one mercenary holding the transparent breathing mask against his mouth to keep him alive. Despite his physical weakness, Jake had fought and attempted to escape, futile as it was. More calloused hands grabbed him by the arms and useless legs. Something sharp stung his arm, and he barely had time to glance down and see the syringe. Then everything went black, the screams of both the humans and the natives fading into the darkened silence.
For several months, he was kept on a holding cell in Pandora, given no knowledge of what was occurring on the outside or of who was winning the war. Sometimes it seemed like humans were ahead, and other times it appeared that the Na'vi had a fighting chance. Maybe it would be continuously back and forth for years and years, just like the wars on Earth. As they prepared to send him back to his home planet, Jake's mind had frantically wandered to Neytiri. Even if he was forgetting the scents and sights of Pandora, he could still see her face clearly in his mind, those dazzling green eyes and that secretive smile that often played across her mouth. He could still see her soul. His Neytiri.
Was she still fighting after all these years? Or was she with Eywa now? The latter thought crushed his heart, but at least he could believe she was at peace. Then again, if all the vegetation had been destroyed, could Eywa even survive? He was unsure of this, and his simple human brain couldn't come up with the solution, leaving him with even more despair.
Now, six years later on Earth, he was a prisoner…a traitor to humankind. He continued to wonder why they hadn't just killed him. Or at least paraded him around in front of the panicking masses. For months, he had fought against his outcast status on Pandora. As soon as he'd been accepted into their culture, had finally understood and found a cause worth fighting for, it had been ripped away from him. Now he was a likely pariah, and Pandora seemed like a beautiful dream now that he was surrounded by four ugly white walls.
On the twentieth day of his captivity on Earth, several men in military garb finally entered his cell. They roughly began rolling his wheelchair toward the exit, but he didn't put up a fight. What was he going to do? Run to a spaceship and fly back to Pandora all by himself? He did like to fantasize about it, though….
He was taken to a concrete room with nothing but a short rectangular table and one chair. Except for two guards with rifles by the door, he was alone. Several minutes later, a pair of soft, even footsteps made him look up—and straight into the face of Parker Selfridge. The man still looked every bit the beady-eyed weasel. Although Jake was surprised to the twerp there, he kept his mouth in a straight line, keeping his gaze to the side.
"It's good to see you again, Jake."
"Can't say the same." His voice was rough; he hadn't talked more than a handful of times over the last six years.
"How are they treating you?" Parker asked, also seemingly emotionless as he slid into the chair and leaned forward.
"Can't complain. Three hots and a cot."
"Yeah, I think I'd take prison over that hell of a place. That's why I decided to leave, too. It wasn't right for me…all that firework shock and awe, being woken up at three in the morning by explosions. I'm more of your boring number cruncher." He gave a short, irritating laugh.
"Yeah." Jake sneered. "You'd rather not have to witness the massacre. Better to turn the other way and close your eyes, right? And then when the genocide questions start popping up, you can claim ignorance."
"It was a mess," Parker agreed with a shrug. "Did it have to be that way? I don't know. Maybe Quaritch screwed some things up beyond all repair. Doesn't matter now. It's taken time, but we're winning. The newspapers have stopped calling it a quagmire. The shareholders are happy. Humankind is happy. Now we just have to make you happy, Jake."
"What the hell do you want with me?"
"What makes you think we want anything?"
"You know, you're not quite as stupid as you first seemed. Might as well stop beating around the bush. They originally kept you alive because they thought you might still have some valuable knowledge if the war got worse, locations we might attack or battle strategy. And because a couple of bleeding hearts thought you had the right to some type of trial."
Jake snorted. "That's civil of you."
"That wasn't my doing. I thought you'd be less trouble dead. Until...." He leaned in. "It's a funny thing about unobtanium. The more you study it, the more you know."
Jake grimaced at the mere mention of the word. Unobtanium had started this disaster. No, that was like blaming a gun for murder…or a car for a traffic accident. Humans had started this disaster.
"Those humanoids back on Pandora…they can make it more powerful; they can manipulate it just by running their hands across it. Hell, just by staring at it. As you well know, unobtanium has become one of the main energy sources on Earth, but it's a slow process to make the stuff usable. But once those creatures get involved—Bam!" He smashed his fist into his palm. "The power multiplies. Grace was right about some of the biological crap—the links between all the creatures and their environment." Parker shook his head in what looked like a moment of brief regret. "It's really too bad she had to get personally involved. She could have done a lot for us."
"She'd rather be dead than help you with this," said Jake. "Let's cut the crap. What do you want from me?"
"We've never been able to get a living humanoid back here. We've obtained the occasional corpse for study but never a living one. They're hard to catch…alive."
"Wait, wait, wait." Jake crudely laughed. "You want me to go back in the Avatar so I can help you exploit the resources of a world you just decimated?" He shook his head. "You should have shot me, man. Would have saved a lot of time and money."
"Now there goes that tiny brain of yours jumping to conclusions," said Parker. "You think you're the only one who can run around in an avatar? Other scientists have tried; it hasn't worked. They can't manipulate the unobtanium. Would you be any better because you lived with those savages and got into their heads a bit? Maybe, but I sure wouldn't bet my billions of dollars on it. I need better odds. I need a real humanoid."
"What are you getting at?"
"Their numbers are dwindling, and we don't know how many are left. They plan surprise attacks every so often. We bring out the big guns. What's left crawl back into their holes. According to the generals, it's gone on like that for the past six years. Some have suggested bringing out the nukes, but that idea was sacked due to contamination issues. It's possible that, once we get the place civilized, we might bring people up there to help with the overpopulation issues back here. Colonization."
He flinched. "You're sick bastards, you know that? Remember all those alien invader movies from over a century ago? Independence Day? War of the Worlds? You know why they've quit making those now? Because it's too real. Except we're the monsters. We're the scary invaders destroying everything in our path!"
"We attempted negotiations with those savages," said Parker. "We tried for years to reason with them."
"It was their home. They didn't owe you anything."
"Survival of the fittest. It's not just an Earth thing, kiddo." He rolled his eyes. "Look. This argument isn't going anywhere. It doesn't matter now. You'll help us. I know you will."
"Do what you want with me; I'm not going to help you do anything. I hope the entire supply of unobtanium explodes in your face."
Parker didn't even blink at the threat. "You'll help her help us."
Parker made a quick 'go ahead' gesture with his hand. A light flashed on, and Jake realized they were beside a window that had previously been darkened. He'd known that the conversation was being monitored, not caring who heard him at this point. He had no secret plan.
What he didn't know was who was in the room adjacent to his.
His eyes focused, and he froze in horror. Jake choked, an angry scream threatening to emerge from the back of his throat. His heart constricted.
"You'll help us," repeated Parker, leaning in. "She was quite a fighter until she found out that we had you. You told us that we have nothing that they wanted, and so it was useless to negotiate with them. And you were right, Jake. Until now."
Jake just continued to stare with his mouth half agape, hands clenching at his sides as he tried to blink away the nightmare.
"This can all go very smoothly for everyone," Parker continued. "No bombs and bright lights. No dramatics or martyrs or tough talk. That shit is what always drove me insane with Quaritch. Just simple, painless negotiations, and everybody is happy." He stood and began to walk toward the door, victory glimmering in his eyes. "I'll give you some time to think about it."
Jake said nothing, still transfixed by the image in front of him.
She was reclining in what looked like some demented combination of a hospital bed and a psychiatrist couch. Clear tubes were hooked up to her arms, probably monitoring her life signs. There was an odd array of vents in the room, which made him guess they were supplying her with the element combination that made up the Pandoran atmosphere so that she could breathe. Her eyelids were half-closed over weary green eyes, and her head was slightly tilted to the side.
When he'd recovered from his initial shock, he rolled his chair beside the window. The muscles in his arms felt like jelly. She showed no reaction to his approach. "Neytiri," he said in an audible voice. "Neytiri!" Still nothing. "Neytiri!" She couldn't see or hear him. "My Neytiri," he whispered. He pressed his palms to the glass. He smacked it several times. It was useless. The glass was likely some of the toughest in the world, bulletproof at the very least.
Finally, he just pressed his forehead against the coldness. This sight was wrong in every way imaginable…to see her amongst the artificiality of tubes and humming machines and lifelessness. She looked so out of place, his blue sleek beauty amidst heartless unnatural objects. A butterfly on a smokestack. His stomach turned, and he had to make a conscious effort not to vomit.
How had Eywa allowed this to happen?
Eywa wasn't all powerful, he numbly realized. She hadn't saved Grace. And if the humans had destroyed their powerful mother, what could stop them from killing another one? Eywa doesn't take sides….Neytiri had been right.
"We'll let you see her, you know." Parker had returned, standing with his arms behind his back and a smug expression. "Like I said, this can work well for everyone. Besides, if we hadn't pulled her out of there, she would have died a long time ago with the rest of her tribe. We saved her for you. Suppose I won't get a thank you, though."
Some primal part of him wanted to rip the jerk's throat out, but that would be a straight path to nowhere. They might hurt her. So he only said, "Put a plant in her cell."
Parker blinked and appeared momentarily taken off guard. "A p-plant?"
"Yeah, a goddamned plant. One of those green living things that comes out of the ground. Or are those not around anymore? Have we torched all the ones here, too?"
"Trying to explain it to you would be like trying to explain brain surgery to a poodle," he spat. "Just put some plants with her. If you have any from Pandora, get those. If not, get some from Earth."
"I put a plant in there, you're going to help? Seriously? Because if you're jerking me around, I'll send some men into your cell who will make you wish it wasn't just your legs that don't feel anything."
"A plant," he repeated. "A real one. Not that artificial crap."
"All right. Sounds simple enough." He chuckled. "A plant it is. I think we've done enough for today. I'll see you tomorrow, Jake."
Jake was wheeled back to his room. Over the next twenty-four hours, he didn't eat. He didn't sleep. He curled up on his cold cot and tried to think of something…anything. Nothing came to mind, and he ended up lying there and cursing himself. If he'd never agreed to be Quatrich's pathetic little spy in the first place, maybe this never would have happened. Maybe Neytiri would have never met him. Maybe, maybe, maybe. It didn't do any good now.
The next day, he demanded to see her through the glass again. Parker agreed to it.
A small green fern was now in there with her, resting on a little circular table beside her bed. A slender blue finger was stroking one of the narrow leaves. Her eyes were mildly brighter. Jake weakly smiled to himself; he'd know that would be the only way to bring some life to her. No matter how much medicine or how many artificial minerals they pumped into her body, the plant would trump them all.
Parker watched as well. "Nice job," he said. "Best I've seen her looking since she arrived. Probably should have been done earlier, but only another tree hugger would have come up with it, I guess. You're really helping us, Jake. RDA appreciates it. Mankind appreciates it."
"And how long is this going to sustain mankind?" Jake bitterly asked. "Until we find another planet to incinerate, another species to destroy? We'll just go from one place to the next until there's literally nothing left in the universe….That's it, isn't it? That's all we know how to do."
"Why don't you get the fairy tales out of your head and get back to reality? I think that whole avatar thing was like some hallucinogenic…screwed with your mind. Are you listening to yourself? Don't you have any family and friends out there? Are you really wishing extinction on them?"
Jake said nothing, his eyes still focused on Neytiri.
"And Jake?" A pause, and then Parker's voice lowered to a whisper. "Like I said, you cooperate, and everybody wins. The avatar program…it can probably work both ways, you know."
It took Jake several long seconds to understand. He turned and saw that Parker was side-glancing Neytiri, a disturbing glint in his eyes. Launching himself from the wheelchair, Jake dived, hands ready to grab the bastard's throat.
He managed to only grab the edge of Parker's pressed white dress shirt. Several armed soldiers immediately seized him as he tumbled to the ground.
Parker stepped back and dusted himself of. "Just a suggestion, you idiot. No one's going to force anything. Get a grip."
Jake hung there panting, angry at himself for losing control. But the thought of Neytiri being stuck in one these…these disgusting, polluted human bodies enraged him. She should be back on Pandora, riding the Ikran over the Floating Mountains…hunting as the wind swept through her hair…free. Not like this. Never human.
"I think we've done enough for today," said Parker. "Maybe a couple of days in solitary confinement will get you thinking."
In solitude, Jake fantasized about saving them both. He fantasized about jumping out of the wheelchair, smashing into her chamber, destroying all who attempted to stop him, and carrying her away. Never mind the small details of his paralysis or her being unable to breath the air here. Never mind anything.
But, of course, there would be no miracle.
"So," said Parker after several days had passed. "You ready to calm down and cooperate?"
Jake kept his eyes lowered. "I want to see her. I want to be with her in there."
"I don't know if you've earned that."
"How am I supposed to help her help you if I can't see her?" He felt like adding an insult to the end of the sentence, but it wouldn't do him any good now.
"Fine. I'll give you thirty minutes. If anything screwy happens, though, that'll be it. We'll find another way, and it'll be less pleasant. I'm trying to be a nice guy, Jake, but you're making it difficult."
Jake said nothing, resolved as they wheeled him to her cell and handed him a breathing mask. She didn't open her eyes at first, and he almost thought she was dead. "Neytiri," he said.
Her eyes opened, and she stared directly at him. He wondered if she didn't recognize him. After all, she'd never seen him in this body. He'd always been somewhat embarrassed of it, his weakness.
And then, after she had stared into his eyes for several seconds, she said, "Jake Sully."
"Neytiri." He rolled closer to her, placing a hand on her arm. It was strangely warm, as though she'd been sitting beneath the sun. "I'm so…." Sorry didn't cut it. Nothing in his language cut it. He wondered if there was a stronger word in the Na'vi language for what he wanted to say. Something to the effect of: I wish the whole human race had blown itself up a long time ago so we never hurt you. Something like that except prettier.
He bent forward and buried her face into her slender shoulder, only repeating her name.
"It misses its mother," she murmured. He looked up and saw that she was talking to the plant. And then she said, "I miss my mother."
He wasn't sure at first whether she was referring to her actual mother, Mo'at, or Eywa. Then, he remembered that it didn't matter. They were one and the same to her.
She leaned against him so that they sat at the same height, their heads touching. "We are in…the sky people's world now?"
"Yes," he bitterly whispered. "We're on Earth. This is where I'm from. I'd like to tell you it's not all like this, but…I'm a bad liar."
"Why?" she asked.
"Why are we here? Why, Jake? Pelun?"
He swallowed. "Because you can…it doesn't matter."
She turned her head to look at him. "You bring me here?" Her tone had a flicker of accusation.
"No! No, Neytiri! I would never….You shouldn't be here!" He stared at the snake-like tubes. "You don't belong here. Just…just like humans didn't belong on Pandora." He looked away.
A hand touched his cheek. "You belong," she said. "We go back, and you will stay."
He closed his eyes, unable to tell her that it all might be destroyed by now.
"Not everything dead here," she murmured, touching the plant again. "It wants to live."
"Yeah. Not everything."
He glanced at the plant and then back at her. Three creatures fighting to survive. Somewhere, humans were struggling to live on. And now the Pandorans were fighting for their lives as well.
One of the concepts that had been drilled into Jake's mind throughout his military training was that communism and collectivism were too weak to survive. Individualism and self-reliance and capitalism thrived, they'd said. After all, the Soviet Union had fallen over a hundred and fifty years ago, but the good old U S of A was alive and kicking. That proved it.
What if they were right? Pandora was built on a link between all living things; the Omaticaya lived in one tree, never desiring material possessions. Generosity was abundant; all things were shared and nothing was owned. But it had been too weak to withstand the power of human greed.
Then again, Earth was destroying itself piece by greedy piece. It was a slower death but a death nonetheless. No, they hadn't been right.
Somewhere, maybe there was a happy medium, but Jake had no idea where or what that was. At this point, he didn't care.
Trying to save either world seemed hopeless. Maybe he was losing some of his old self to think that. Maybe some of that earthling cynicism had returned to him. At this moment, though, the only thing on his mind was keeping her alive. Her and that godforsaken fern.
"Are you hurt anywhere?" he asked, examining her body for injuries.
"I am weaker," she said. "But Eywa will heal me."
He swallowed, knowing that he would be forced to leave her soon. "Hold on," he told her. "Please just hold on."
"It means…stay alive. For me."
"You hold on, Jake. Hold on, and we will go back home. Kelku."
"Yeah." He closed his eyes. "Home."