A Pale Blue Light
Neytiri felt Hu'we, her new ikran, hesitate as they approached the base. They had been there a few times since she had bonded with him, but Hu'we was still a little skittish of the wide open expanse of the base.
She guided the ikran to follow Jake, who was flying on their left. As she looked at him he grinned wide and gestured to the base. A door had opened there and two small figures came out onto the tarmac, awaiting them with hands shading their eyes.
The ikran raised the dust with their backwinged landing, and Hu'we screeched in protest at having to land on the hot smooth surface. As soon as she had dismounted, she released him to go settle in one of the wooden structures.
"Welcome," Francine greeted them warmly. She had adopted the Na'vi way of greeting, with a hand over the heart, simply because the height difference made it the most practical. Neytiri returned the greeting in the same style. Jake however did not care, and leant down to shake her hand.
"It's good to see you both," said Norm. "Getting used to your body?"
It had been fifty-three days since the last humans left in the shuttle. Fifteen days since the ceremony. Fourteen nights of having Jake next to her, breathing softly, sometimes turning over to drape an arm over her.
Ten days since he had felt well enough to talk to anyone.
The ceremony had been a success, but it had been more taxing than either of them had anticipated, and in more ways than one. Dealing with his human body afterward had been very emotional. Norm and Max had come to the ceremony to support Jake, and she had been glad of it; they had helped to bury his human body, giving the ceremony a human air that she knew Jake had appreciated.
"Ah, getting there," Jake said. "How are you? Avatar body on its feet yet?"
"Yeah! Since last week. Has lost a ton of muscle mass though, I'm spending a lot of time on the obstacle course."
"When you're well enough, will you come visit our new Hometree?" she asked. He had asked if that would be allowed at some point.
After having explored seven of the enormous trees in the weeks after the humans had left, the Omaticaya had finally settled on one to the North of the base, at an hour's flying away.
His eyes lit up. "That'd be great! I promise not to stick needles into it," he grinned. Then he indicated the necklace she wore. "I believe we may congratulate you?"
"Ah yes!" Jake grinned. He made a motion as if he was presenting her. "Olo'eyktan Neytiri. The ceremony was last week."
Neytiri smiled at his pleasure in saying that. He had made it clear he had no wish to be Olo'eyktan, and had managed to withdraw himself from consideration for the role of leader simply by staying in the background and leaving it to her to do most of decision making for the Na'vi. She hadn't even really noticed until she'd found herself implicitly introduced as the leader of the Na'vi to the crew of the shuttle.
The situation had caused a few discussions within the clan, of course, because who would follow Mo'at as Tsahik? But Mo'at had made it clear there were several in the clan she would be happy to take on as apprentice, and since Neytiri had effectively led the people from the moment the battle was over, nobody had argued her suitability.
"Congratulations; I am sure the clan could do no better," Francine said. Neytiri puzzled over that a moment; it could either be a compliment to her, or an insult to the clan. From context however it was clear that it was well meant, so she smiled and thanked the other woman.
"Let's go to the garden," Norm said, leading the way. "We put down some seats, and there's lots of fruit at the moment if you're hungry."
The four of them were walking toward the green area of the base when someone yelled
"HEY MISTER SMURF!!"
Everybody looked around to see Trudy stride toward them, clad in a greasy coverall. Her hair had begun to grow out into an interesting spiky style. She was wiping her hands on a rag as she came, then passed it to Max, who was accompanying her, also in coveralls.
"Trudy!" Jake laughed. He sank to one knee so they could embrace.
The last time they had been on the base, when Neytiri had come to collect Jake to bring him to the Tree of Souls for the ceremony, the pilot had still been recovering, only just re learning to walk.
"Sorry I couldn't be at your funeral," she said to Jake, tone half serious.
"It's okay. You were busy remembering how your legs worked," Jake deadpanned. They grinned at each other.
"It is very good to see you are well," Neytiri said. And to Max, "And you also. I did not know you also healed machines."
"I, ah - Trudy was showing me which replacement parts she needs," he said, and she caught his glance toward Jake and Trudy's fond embrace.
"Besides, you don't become a scientist if you're not interested in how stuff works - Samsons are pretty interesting."
"Makes a change from the white coat, doesn't it?" Trudy grinned as she let go of Jake.
Someone had put a circle of chairs and a large table in what was now called 'the garden', and from the few empty cups on the table Neytiri concluded it was in regular use. She and Jake settled down on the ground while the humans chose chairs, bringing everybody to a comfortable height for talking.
"How've you been?" Trudy asked eagerly.
"Busy!" Jake laughed. "Still settling into the new hometree, mostly. I've spent the last few days digging the roasting pit. How have things been here?"
"We've been going through the buildings, sealing off the spaces we won't be using anymore," Max said. "Found lots of interesting stuff stashed away that we can use, too."
"Yeah, like fabric supplies so we can make our own clothes and shit," Trudy said.
"Grace mentioned that there used to be a sewing workshop here," Norm said. "But apparently it was easier to just ship a ton of clothes in every size in from earth."
"Yeah, we found those too," Trudy grinned. "If you need six hundred pairs of combat trousers..."
"Well actually, a pair of cargo shorts..." Everybody started at him. "What? Pockets are handy. I miss pockets."
"What's the clan going to say about that?"
Neytiri smiled. After his deeds during the battle, most of the Na'vi were quite willing to accept Jake, strange quirks and all. Some were more open than others, but few expected him to abandon his human roots completely. He had proven his loyalty and his worth.
"I don't know, maybe they'll say 'Hey, pockets, what a good idea'?" Jake said with a grin.
"Well, we should have things like that around the place, I can go dig for you if you like," Norm said.
"Actually, that reminds me, said Francine. "We've got some people here who like to do ancient crafts - like spinning thread and knitting clothes from it. We've been gathering..." she looked around for a moment and then jumped up to pick something off the grass nearby. "This stuff. Do you know where we could find more?"
She held out the little bit of pale green fluff, and Neytiri accepted it, rubbing it between her fingers and then smelling.
"These are spores from the Eyaya plant."
"Are those rare?"
"They are not - in fact, they're very common, only right now they look different from the one here. It must be ready early because it's out in the sun."
"So we'll be able to find more of the material?"
"In about ten days you will find it everywhere – in your food, in the air – literally everywhere."
"Oh that's going to be fun for the choppers," Trudy said. "Be a bitch to keep the filters clear. Might have to just ground 'em for the duration."
Max nodded thoughtfully.
"That kind of pushes up the idea of the mining tests, but... how long does the fluff season last?"
"Perhaps a week," Neytiri said. "Though it will be in the air a few days more."
"Ah well, we'll just gather as much of the stuff as we can, and you'll be able to knit until your hands fall off," he grinned at Francine.
"What is knitting?"
"It's a way to make thread into fabric," said Francine. She got up. "I'll grab an example from inside to show you."
"Actually, wait a sec, Fran - I'm just going in to grab my camera," Trudy said. "I gotta get a photo of Mr Smurf sitting here like he's come to our garden party."
She snickered, cuffed Jake on the arm in passing, and jogged off toward the building. Neytiri noticed Max's lingering glance.
"Hah, leaking a few photos like that to the Earth media could really set Selfridge up for a nice return home," Jake mused. "Pretty much put him in an established situation..."
"It's an idea," Max said. "We've been thinking about a documentary as well. You've seen the stuff they have made in the past - terrified camera crew surrounded by SecOps people don't really get very interesting shots."
"Yeah, I remember. It was impressive enough when I'd never seen it here, but now..."
"I figure if we made a decent docu about the new situation, showing stuff like this moment here... maybe even film it as a combined Na'vi-Human crew..."
"We have the contacts to distribute it, back on earth," Norm said. "It could win awards, no question."
"What could?" Trudy returned, handing Francine a fabric bag and then walking around the company to take photos.
"A documentary about the new situation, filmed together with the Na'vi," Max answered, smiling.
"That'd be cool. Hey Jake, can we bolt a camera to your shoulder when you go flying sometime? That'd be awesome footage," Trudy said, still making photos.
"Sure, sounds like fun. I figure we've got one shot at prepping the situation on Earth for when Selfridge gets there. If he's welcomed off the spaceship like a hero, he'll never speak a word about what went down here."
"..and the RDA will make sure none of the crew do, either," Trudy added under her breath.
While Trudy, Norm and Jake talked about what they would want to film, Francine showed her the 'knitting'. It looked quite complicated, but she had to admit the result felt pleasant to the skin.
"Do your people not wear fabrics at all?"
"Not as clothing - we do make nets out of cord. Material such as this," she fingered the knitting, "would only soak in the rain and take a long time to dry. It is not practical to us."
"Ah, I didn't think of that..."
"Why do you do it? Tru'dee said that there are fabric supplies on the base."
"I enjoy it," Francine shrugged. "Knitting is relaxing. And it's satisfying to make something useful out of things I have found in nature."
She must have seen the look on Neytiri's face, because she blushed a little.
"That's a really weird thing to say, isn't it? To you? You and your people make everything out of things you find in nature."
"We are so used that things are made in factories and that food comes from shops or from the mess hall, that just doing something simple like this feels quite special."
Neytiri stroked the healer's handiwork. It was very soft to her fingers. She liked that the other woman seemed to find joy in making something of things produced by the forest - for so long the humans had kept themselves completely separate from Pandora, bringing everything that they needed from space.
"There is a fruit that is covered in a layer of tough fibre - we use it to make mats. I will save some for you to see."
"Oh, I'd like that!"
"....for now, let's concentrate on the ways the base here is changing, okay?" she heard Jake say, and turned her attention back to the other conversation. "I think it may take a while before most of the people are comfortable with a samson flying around hometree."
Neytiri nodded. The sound still made her restless, too.
"Perhaps it would be good if the first time you visit us, you land some distance away," she said.
"Can do. Shall I assist from our side?" Jake suggested. She smiled, knowing he would be glad to have a specific role to play within the clan. His new position as full member of the clan in peacetime would take some adjusting.
"Cool!" Trudy said. "I'm gonna start playing around with the equipment this week, maybe make some flying shots while I still can, you know, before the fluffpocalypse starts."
"The radiation storms will begin in a week or two," Max said. ",when we pass through the belts of Polyphemus," he gestured up at Nawn'sempul. "We will have to stay inside of course, but we should set up camera equipment - the sky always looks amazing."
"Oh, I heard about that," Norm said. It's supposed to be--"
"Tsap'alute," Neytiri interrupted him, having repeated the word a few times in her head. Apologies."Fluff WHAT?"
[a year later...] .
She heard the excited shouts at the same time as the deep roar of the airship came into range.
"Neytiri! Tru'dee is coming!" the little boy came pelting up to her, pointing at the small dot in the sky. She thanked him with a smile, amused that a sound that had inspired nothing but dread and anger a year ago, should be such a welcome sound now.
As the humans on the base had settled into the new arrangement, the bond between the two peoples had developed. Cautiously at first, but after Darrell had convinced some of the teenagers of the clan to teach him how to play on the leaves of the Pamtseowll plant, the amount of contact had grown steadily. She'd had her misgivings at first, especially when some of the young Na'vi had started to wear trousers like Jake, but the novelty of clothing had worn off soon, and it had comforted her to see the humans also adopt things from her people.
Some of the kids had assisted Trudy in her filming projects, and been repaid with a flying tour in the airship. Since the Na'vi did not generally get to see Pandora from the air until they became taronyu and had their own ikran, this had been special indeed. Ever since then, Trudy and her airship, which she had painted blue, had become a welcome sight especially among the younger clan members.
"We will continue the lesson tomorrow," she told the two teenagers that she had been teaching how to select the right wood for a bow.
Striding out into the clearing underneath hometree, she watched the airship approach.
"I wonder if the communication system with earth is finally back up?" Jake came out from inside their home to stand with her. "I know they've been pretty anxious to get it going again after the storms."
"Mm. At least this year they have someone who can repair it..."
He laid his hand on her back, between her shoulder blades, and she leant into him a little, loving that solid, familiar touch.
"Yeah, last year was... not ideal."
After the space vessel with the humans had left, leaving behind a skeleton crew of scientists and base staff, it had been a struggle to do all the technical things on the base that were necessary for the humans to work. Keeping the communication system working was one of them.
The first spaceship that had arrived after the big change had brought supplies and the people needed to keep the base functioning.
The airship set down a few hundred metres from the base of hometree, and they watched together as Trudy, Max and Norm approached, Norm in his avatar body. It made Neytiri smile to see him in shorts and bare feet at last. A Na'vi body wearing those odd long trousers and heavy boots had been very strange.
Neytiri smiled inwardly as the three humans greeted the clan members they encountered on their way up. In the process of filming the humans had worked closely with the clan, and they'd each made an effort to learn names. That had lead the way to being welcome in the Omaticaya's new home. Many of the clan were still somewhat wary of the humans, but these particular people had become personal friends of the clan, and that was different.
"Hey guys! Finally safe to come outside again?" Jake grinned. The humans had had to stay inside during the radiation storms.
"Thank God for that!" Trudy laughed. "I was getting cabin fever."
They greeted one another warmly, and Neytiri noticed that Trudy seemed very excited about something.
"We got the comms system back up," Max said. "And there was some pretty cool news..."
"We won! Our film won!" Trudy grinned wide. "There's a really big award ceremony for films and our film won best documentary!"
"That's great! You worked very hard on it," Neytiri smiled at the other woman's enthusiasm.
"What's even better is the attention we've created for Pandora as an ecosystem," Norm said. "There is serious talk of declaring the entire planet a protected area, like a reserve."
Jake's eyes went wide.
"Really? That's amazing!"
"Reserve?" Neytiri asked.
"It would mean that control of what is allowed here would be in government hands, and not up to a company," Max said. "That puts the RDA effectively out of the game. They would never be able to come back here to take back control."
"Or at least not for a really long time," Trudy said.
"We gotta celebrate this," Jake grinned. "Come on - I've got new brewing experiments ready for tasting."
"We will try your experiments. For science!"
"Yeah, scientific interest. Exactly. There is much to learn."
"You do realise I gotta fly us back, right?"
"What? We've got beds for you here..."
Neytiri followed her husband and their friends into the base of hometree, and smiled to herself.
Thanks for joining me on this ride!