Author's Note: There is reference (flashbacks) to some disturbing violence related to the destruction of Home Tree – bad things happening to small children, etc. It's pretty much canon but canon glossed over a lot. No gloss here. If that's going to be triggering for you, might want to skip this one.
Disclaimer: 'Avatar' and all its associated characters and concepts belong to James Cameron and various other folks associated with him; if you recognize anything here, I don't own it. This is a work of fan fiction; no profit is being made, no copyright infringement is intended.
Parker Selfridge is not an evil man. He knows this. He'd attended school with some real sons of bitches, assholes with entitlement complexes who'd think nothing of slipping a little something in a girl's drink, firing some poor blue-collar schmuck because they didn't like how he looked, passing on a few tidbits of interesting information that just happened to make their competitor crash and burn. Economically, anyway. Not literally. Literal crashing and burning is a new experience for Parker.
Still, point is, he's not a bad guy. He's not.
But he's damned well not getting into any fucking cryo tube with the realtime footage of that fucking tree going down running on constant replay behind his eyelids. He doesn't care that you don't dream in cryo, that nobody in the whole history of fucking ever, has ever dreamed in cryo – there's a first for everything. He's been first a few times himself. First guy to make CEO before thirty in the history of RDA. First one of his family to go offworld.
And he just lost the first human/Na'vi war. First fucking human/extraterrestrial war. Did that thing with those big bug things count? Parker thinks it doesn't, they weren't really sentient, so that's not really a war. Not like this. Parker thinks this was a first.
There's X amount of food and sanitary supplies stocked on the ship, X number of people who can stay awake – the number who can go into cry is a heck of a lot more flexible, which is a damned good thing, or they'd all starve and start eating each other a few light years out from earth. His crew is not best pleased that he wants to stay awake. It means one of them has to go under instead, and apparently every one of them is fucking vital to their not all dying in their sleep or some such shit, but Parker doesn't really care. Whatever it is these guys do, he's sure he can do it.
They don't seem to believe him.
Finally, one guy asks, "If I spend the trip on ice, do I still get paid?"
His comrades and peers are glowering at him, but Parker just starts laughing hysterically. Finally, something he gets – something that makes sense. He knows how this guy's brain works. Bets he's not a bad guy, really, he's just looking out for the bottom line and taking the path of least resistance and that's just smart, that's good business sense.
"Tell you what," Parker tells his new best friend, hand on his shoulder, "Whatever you were going to get paid, consider it doubled."
The guy looks doubtful, but he just shrugs. "What?" he calls, irate, over Parker's shoulder, to his scowling coworkers. "Are we gonna knock him over the head? Tie him up and stuff him in a tube? If he says he's not going under, I'm not gonna be the guy who makes him."
See? Parker knew he was a good guy. Parker considers himself an excellent judge of character.
The Na'vi and their human co-conspirators, fucking traitors, disabled every single long-range communication device on board the entire fucking ship before they sent them on their way. The ride home is going to be long, and silent.
Six days into the trip one of the med techs slams Parker into a bulkhead with sufficient force that Parker thinks it probably would have cracked his skull if they hadn't been in zero-G.
"If you don't start pulling your own weight, we're going to have an accident with an airlock. I don't give a rat's ass what your pay grade is, I'm sick of hauling your dead weight around," the tech tells him.
Parker just nods. It's sensible, in that situation – he'll make sure the man's fired and blacklisted once they're back on Earth, but for now, he'll play along.
Seven and a half days into the trip, the crew as a whole – including his erstwhile attacker – decide they've changed their minds, and they don't actually want Parker touching a damned thing.
By three weeks in, the amusement of trying to play golf in zero-G has worn off, he's read every book, magazine, instruction manual and warning sign on board (so what that some of them were personal effects theoretically stowed away; if it's on this ship, it's company property). Parker is bored. Parker is starting to think that the decision not to go into cryo may have been an error. There's nothing left to do but think.
Parker starts writing letters. The first letter is to his superiors, explaining in painstaking detail exactly what went wrong, and when, and why, and how – and he never actually gets around to writing anything else, though he'd thought to write to his family, maybe some friends from his fraternity days. That first letter reaches the length of a small novella quickly. He's attempting to be honest, as much as he can, but Parker's not going to hang himself over this. He made mistakes, but they were legitimate, honest mistakes, and he thinks the company can learn from them. Included with his report are suggestions on how to re-approach Pandora in the future. Parker was the man on the ground here, his insights are going to be valuable. Every major advance in human history has had setbacks, but it hasn't held them back in the long run. Every failure is a learning experience, and oh has Parker learned. They're going to need him.
There's a single mental image that he can't get out of his head, though all he has of it is a few grainy pixels and an uncertain impression of what they'd probably been.
Something blue, running into the flames.
Into them. What the hell do you do that for? I mean, we're not talking firefighter rushing into burning building shit here, we're not talking any hope of rescuing jack shit, we're talking running into a fucking fireball. Why would you do that?
That doesn't go into Parker's report.
He does express that the fallen remains of the tree would likely have proven a significant obstacle to mining for months to come, incurring a great deal of expense in its demolition and removal, and that he had concerns as to what the underground root structure would have meant once they actually got into the ground. Should a similar situation arise in the future, Parker believes a more delicate approach might prove, in the long run, more economically advantageous. Tunnels, Parker thinks, tunnels – the root structure could actually work to their advantage. Natural supports.
Of course, the relocation of the natives would still be unavoidable.
Unless, of course, they could be hired on as workers. Parker's willing to bet, if they could just figure out what the damned blue monkeys fucking wanted, they'd have been able to work something out. Some of them had to have some sense. There had to be at least a few good guys in there, guys with some potential, who'd see the advantage of reliable income, employment, as opposed to scrounging in the fucking forest.
Then again, who the fuck knows, really – bunch of goddamned blue treehuggers. Who knows how people like that think.
Still, incendiaries were a mistake. Parker makes that very clear.
At a little over a year into their flight, Parker deletes his entire report in one press of a button and goes back to playing golf. The rest of the crew still isn't speaking to him except in vague generalities that might be called pleasantries if there were anything pleasant about this, but there's not.
Parker puts up with it – doesn't rant, doesn't rave, doesn't throw some upper-management privileged tantrum even though he feels one is entirely justified, because really, what's the point?
He starts keeping score of how many surfaces he can get the golf ball to ricochet off before it stops if he just rolls it, by hand, with no particular excess of force. He feels a sense of achievement that makes him a bit nervous when he hits thirty-seven – breaking his former record by a solid eight points. It is not good, Parker thinks, that this is getting him so excited.
When Parker made the decision not to go into cryo for fear of dreams, he'd sort of forgotten that, up and walking or not, he was still going to be sleeping about one third of the trip away.
In Parker's dreams, there is nothing vague or distant or pixilated at all about what he saw. In the haze of smoke between the twisting columns of the Omatikaya's Home Tree stands a small, blue figure, not running, just standing there, arms limp at his (her?) sides and wailing. Too frightened to do anything but sob.
Then there's flame. Then there's that other wash of blue, thin and lithe and beautiful, they were beautiful, weren't they? Can he really blame Sully, wanting a piece of that? Long dark queue and shorter braids whipping out behind her, trailing beads that glinted red.
She runs right into the flames where her child was a moment ago, inside Parker's head, every single fucking night. It never fades; if anything, he thinks it's getting clearer.
Sometime after the two year mark, Parker starts asking, then demanding, then begging to be put into cryo after all.
They won't do it; they say it's too risky, can't prep properly in zero-G. He could die.
Parker laughs at that. They don't look at him any differently for it, which is what makes him notice the way they've been looking at him all along.
Like he's a crazy person. Well, fuck them. Who are they? Fucking lab coats are no different than some dipshit on an assembly line – so they know how bodies work, how to put shit together and take it apart and make it tick – so what? They're not decision-makers. They don't have his vision. It is important, damn it, that Parker be of sound mind and body upon his return to Earth. The company needs him. They need what' he's learned.
Parker starts re-writing his report – then ten pages in, scraps it and starts over, deciding he's not going to leave anything out. They want to use it to hang him, fine. Let them. Parker's better than that; Parker's going to save them even if he's not getting thanked for it, Parker understands loyalty. He's a good guy. They're lucky to have a guy like him, willing to sacrifice his peace of mind to make sure they have the information they're going to need. He's not in it for the thanks.
When Parker re-reads his first draft to make sure there are no embarrassing grammatical errors, he discovers that he's warned against the use of incendiaries eighteen times, described the fiscal insanity of knocking down enormous trees fourteen times, and delivered a scathing critique of the decision to hire independent contractors for security seven times.
He has not described the woman running back into the flames for her child even once, though it's all he remembers writing about. Parker thinks he was always getting to it, that the entire two hundred and fifty-seven thousand word document he's created was all just an exercise in trying to get to a point.
Parker's not sure what point that was, but he knows that when he sits down and tries to describe the thing he sees, over and over and fucking over, this one thing that he needs every goddamned one of those smug bastards in their board rooms sitting in their ergonomically correct chairs to fucking understand . . he can't do it.
He doesn't understand. He just doesn't get it. It's like looking at some sort of abstract painting - his eyes are processing all the parts but they're not forming a whole that makes sense. Parker remembers that Na'vi child disappearing in a wash of brilliant orange, and all he can think is, what just happened? I don't understand.
Parker finds that one of the techs – the guy who slammed him into the bulkhead, he thinks, though he's not sure; the nametag says Caceres, A., but he didn't bother to note the guy's name before – has been reading his report while Parker slept. He catches the guy at it one morning (if you can call it morning, when there's nothing around but never-ending black and time has ceased to mean anything).
Caceres, A. looks up at Parker, and Parker looks at Caceres, and the explosion that had been about to spew forth from Parker's lips – violation of privacy and intellectual property and classified – just dies. He has nothing to say to the way that man is looking at him, nothing at all. This isn't the crazy-man look. This is something terrifyingly like pity.
Caceres vacates Parker's chair and goes on about whatever the hell it is the techs do all day, monitoring all the hundreds of frozen souls all around them. Parker sits down and tries again to get to the point. He thinks, this time, he should address what went wrong at the school. Yes, the closing of the school – that was part of it, wasn't it?
Parker's not sure.
It's not until the proximity sensors start going off letting them know they're entering Earth's solar system, that Parker starts to be afraid.
It's a clarifying sort of thing, fear – Parker is suddenly able to look at nearly five thousand words worth of explanations and excuses and trivial detail, and summarize the whole shebang in three words.
I was wrong.
It's an epiphany, and as epiphanies go, it's sort of pathetic. Parker was not raised with religion, or civic service, or art or science or physical excellence – Parker was dedicated at a young age to the service of the god of achievement. Advancement. The almighty dollar, though of course you never actually said that – you talked about profits and losses and shareholders and leverage and power.
You never said you were conquering another fucking civilization for the sake of a better ergonomic chair. Seats at the opera. Fresh fruit. Wine older than you are. It's not about that. It's about the company – this vast, amorphous, eternally hungry beast that is not made of up of simple men.
But it is, and one of them was Parker, and Parker pressed the button that burned a little girl alive. The company didn't do that, he did. Making the Omatikaya move – that wasn't unavoidable. It wasn't just what had to happen. It wasn't a fucking earthquake or a typhoon or a lightning strike, for fuck's sake, he decided to do it. It took nearly six years to come clear in his head, but it's clear now. It's fucking clear.
And he knows it's not going to be clear to the corporate big-wigs reading his report back on Earth. They haven't spent half a decade floating in the black, and they weren't there, and they're going to think just like he did – like the company is a living thing, a gaping maw, something with the undeniable will of a god. But the thing is, it's not. It's just a bunch of blind fools ready to kill for something that's not even real.
Parker is a good guy – he knows he is. He is. Also he doesn't believe in Hell. He doesn't believe in an afterlife at all. He doesn't think that little girl went anywhere, and neither will he when it's done. What matters is now. What matter is what's going to happen next.
To the Omatikaya and to the company, and with the proximity sensors pinging on past Pluto and the short-range communicators pulling up readouts saying they're even now searching for a signal, Parker can think of only one thing he can do for his people now. All of them.
He can go noisily insane.
"I did this," he tells Caceres, handing him a data chip – backup, just in case. He knows how company minds work. "Do you understand? You tell them, all of them, that I did this. Me, not the company. Not the company. I went insane. Do you understand?"
Caceres looks unsettled and uncertain, and behind him the monitor blinks to life – signal acquired.
Parker Selfridge becomes the devil of the hour; crowds pelt him with trash and rotten food and sometimes feces when he's escorted between the many, many hearings he has to attend, where he represents himself as poorly as possible. If any of his superiors understand what he's doing, none of them ever give him any indication. Parker makes sure they have the perfect out – they weren't negligent. It wasn't their fault that they lost billions of dollars' of investors' money, and earned them all that bad press besides. It wasn't the company; it was Parker Selfridge.
But they can't very well demonize him without admitting the heinousness of his actions – can't sit him in front of a war crimes tribunal without acknowledging the Na'vi as a briefly-conquered nation, a people. There's talk of making reparations.
Parker ends up in a facility for the criminally insane, it having been determined that something – perhaps the stress, perhaps something physiological triggered by the alien environment – had caused him to go, to put it bluntly, completely batshit. Just look at the report he wrote.
The worlds – both of them – go on without Parker Selfridge, who never plays golf again, as a golf club definitely falls into the category of potential weapon. He does develop a remarkable proficiency at Nerf Ping-pong, and has a never-to-be-consummated relationship with a schizophrenic woman named Elizabeth who takes the notion that he is the devil quite literally. Despite this, and the being locked into separate rooms at night, Parker thinks they get on better than a lot of married people he'd met – once upon a time. She's seven years his elder and significantly overweight – no trophy wife – but she looks in his eyes and tells him it's okay, she understands, who does God think he is, anyway? Maybe it's proof of his own not-so-feigned insanity, but Parker wants badly to believe her.
When Parker is sixty-seven years old, interstellar real-time communication becomes a reality, and Parker receives a call.
"It's the Archangel Michael," Elizabeth whispers excitedly. "Oh, this is good! He's your brother, you remember?"
"Yes," says Parker, and squeezes her hand, and lets himself be lead away to a private room to receive the only call he's ever had in thirty-two years.
It's Jake Sully, of course, his blue face lined with age. "I see you," he greets Parker in stilted English, with a sort of cautious formality, as if he doesn't know quite what to expect. Parker doesn't return the greeting.
They stare at each other. And stare. And stare. There's enough of Parker's old self left to think that all this not talking has got to be incredibly expensive.
"I'm sorry," Parker finally says.
"I believe you," Sully responds – voice thick with the accent of his new world. (To Parker it's still new – to Parker the world stopped spinning thirty-two years ago.) "Are you treated well?" Sully asks.
"Fine and dandy," says Parker, and hits the disconnect button. The nurse comes rushing over, fretting, telling him he shouldn't have done that, establishing the call is the expensive part, yadda yadda whatever.
"I'd like to sleep now," Parker tells her.