Author's Note: This is a concept I've been tossing around for awhile now. It's not related to my previous Avatar fics, this is a distinctly separate continuity from them. Consider it a sort of exploration of the darker side of humanity, and another possible future for Pandora, post-movie. In this version, Norm's Avatar remains dead, though Trudy survives. Yes, I know, I abuse tropes sometimes, but it is what it is. Her character is important to the story, so I ask that you roll with it. Please, enjoy, and by all means, send me your thoughts.
13 years after ISV Venture Star flees Pandora
Chapter 1 – End of the Beginning
There was once a dream that was Earth, that her people knew instinctively. It was a sort of optimism for the future that no amount of death could ever truly erase. It was the child gazing up at the stars in wonder, it was the scientist's obsessive joy at another mystery revealed, it was the very discovery of Pandora, in all its alien majesty. Like all dreams, it was a thing old Terra had to awaken from, to terrible reality.
Emptiness surrounded Trudy Chacon, a lingering reminder that burned in her mind each day of just how far away from her old home she truly was. It had seemed so simple of a decision then, as she lay in the med-lab after that terrible battle, charred and barely alive. Who would ever want to return 'home' to a place that could barely even support its own population anymore? It wasn't that she was any kind of naturist. In all truth, she loved the comforting familiarity of Hell's Gate. Yet there was something to be said, looking out the window each morning to a lush, virgin world instead of another battle-zone, another bloody brush war threatening to take her life and her sanity. Still, she missed Earth sometimes, even the shitholes she had been raised in. Jake was right, humans just simply didn't belong here, no matter how breathtaking Pandora truly was. Still, it was her new home, she would make the best of it.
Her hands reached for the hatchway into Ops, the door groaning in protest. Familiar though it was, Hell's Gate didn't have much life left in it anymore. Corrosion had set in through lack of proper maintenance, and though the plant life didn't seem particularly concerned with overrunning the base too soon, it was obvious that the inexorable process would takeover eventually. Maybe this Eywa Jake always spoke of was responsible for that, giving the humans left behind a chance to adapt. Then again, maybe it was all just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, she supposed she would never know. Trudy had long ago given up on trying to figure this world out.
"You're up early." It was Norm, standing watch over the holographic console. She smiled weakly at him in reply, letting his hand brush hers for a moment. Perhaps it was rather pointless to have any real relationships on this rock, the tiny human colony was ultimately doomed and everyone knew it. It felt right with him, though. He looked past the physical and emotional scars a lifetime of combat had left on her and that had to be worth something. Certainly, no one else had seen her as anything more than a marine badass or a walking pair of tits. The scientist was refreshing and new, even after more than a decade together.
"Yeah. Couldn't sleep for shit." She answered after a moment, checking out the latest satellite data streams. At first, a few company ships had shown up, launched before word of their little revolt had made it back to Earth. But those vessels had been refueled and sent away before they could cause serious trouble. Some of the Avatar drivers stayed behind, some of the other colonists took advantage of the opportunity to leave, the net difference had been negligible. It had been more than eight years since an ISV had last come calling, though, and at least five since a transmission of any kind had come through from Earth. It hadn't been looking good even then, RDA's collapse had started a serious war back on old Terra, with the mars and lunar colonies joining in some kind of interplanetary cold war. Maybe such a thing was inevitable, but part of Trudy still wanted to hold on to hope for her former home. But she had never been very good at being an optimist. Earth was fucked a long time ago, she thought.
"Anything happening?" She added, trying to break the silence.
"Does it ever?" Norm teased, kissing her gently in reply. Someone had to stay up here and monitor the old satellites in orbit and keep an eye on the comm relays, no matter how boring. Humanity would be back eventually, and it would do some good to be prepared for their arrival. As if answering the thoughts rolling around in her sleep-deprived mind, a warning light began to beep on the center console.
"Looks like I spoke too soon." Norm rolled his eyes as they both checked the satellite monitor. There was definitely something out there, a large ship of unusual design registering for a brief moment before the satellite was once again out of range. Shit, so much for boredom, Trudy thought.
I guess we'll have to tell Jake about this." Norm suggested. That was usually his answer for any kind of serious trouble, but it had a certain validity to it. Jake had taken the mantle of leadership among the Omaticaya only with great reservation. Everyone knew he just wanted to be left alone with his mate and his offspring, but that was the very reason people kept expecting it out of him. And if anyone was going to make something like an important decision, it was well that he was a marine. It always helped to have a little realism backing your decisions, after all. Whatever else the Corps may have instilled in its men and women, that value definitely stuck.
"Yeah. Wonderful fucking morning. More Company pukes come to play." Trudy complained, but at least she would have an excuse to fly today, and that was worth something. Sometimes she wondered what it might be like, to soar through the clouds like the Na'vi did on their banshees, to really feel the wind on your face like that. But her dependable Samson was certainly nothing to complain about.
'Frankenstein,' as she had named the craft, was exactly what the designation might imply. Many airframes had been raided for parts to keep her chopper going, but it was loving relationship, of sorts. Every rattle and vibration was distinctly hers, there was probably even a decent amount of her blood and sweat buried in the metal of this bird. Norm might have won her heart somewhere along the way, but such a thing could never replace the love she felt for the skies. For his part, the scientist kissed her cheek and more or less got the hell out of her way. That was another reason they got along so well.
Rain fell from the thundering clouds, cleansing the forest, renewing the balance of life. Eywa was everywhere in Neytiri's mind, renewing her spirit just as the water gave life to the plants and animals around her. Something within her always enjoyed such moments, even when the rest of the clan huddled underneath the branches of Hometree, safe from the downpour. Perhaps it was as Mo'at teased often, she was just a little insane, the habits of her mate rubbing off on her.
There was a certain truth to that, tsa'haylu ensured that many thoughts and habits were shared, even when they were not fully connected. There was even a certain amount of sharing within memories, such that in her dreams, she sometimes saw the outlines of Earth, the great metal Sky World so far away. Perhaps that was why she enjoyed the forest so much more, even, than typical Omaticaya. Part of her knew, through her lifemate, exactly what it was like to live without it.
"Thought I would find you out here." Jake was behind her, silently watching. Over the years his ability to meld with the forest had improved greatly, such that on rare occasions, he was actually able to surprise her. Yet somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew him as her skxawng. Much of his mind was still inwardly different, somehow, but that didn't scare her. Part of Neytiri had always enjoyed the unknown, the mystery of a different way of life. In that, she and Jake were very much alike. Ignoring the thoughts swirling around in her mind, she reached out for his face, bringing their lips together gently.
The moment was broken by the foreign sounds of a metal bird in the distance. Over the years, Neytiri had grown more used to the contraption Trudy flew around, but she was never entirely at peace with it. Of course she held a great deal of respect for the Sky Warrior who flew the metal beast with such skill, but the machine itself was anathema to her. Perhaps it was Jake's memories of Earth with provoked this in her, or maybe it was simply the inability to forget that final, deadly battle over the Tree of Souls.
"Something is going on, she's never here this early." Jake scratched his chin briefly in a very human gesture of deep thought. Somehow, Neytiri found his odd mannerisms attractive in some mysterious way, and she knew that he felt the same about her.
"Maybe the Sky People return." Neytiri pointed out the obvious. It had been many years, but all knew humanity would be back, though hopefully in peace. Her dreams of the Sky World came back to her then, the suffering of an entire planet at war with itself. They were visions of a people annihilating each other with weapons of such unimaginable power, Neytiri had difficulty even wrapping her mind around it. Compared to what they had fought on her world before, the humans were incomparably mighty in the arts of war.
"Knock on wood." Jake answered, his expression turning to one of worry.
Many years had passed since Jake had wandered these halls. More often, the scientists and the avatars would just go visit him rather than the reverse. Some had even joined the tribe over the years, bonding with their own artificial bodies out of regard for simplicity. Others maintained a more cautious outlook on such things, keeping Hell's Gate up and running, continuing research most knew they would never get the opportunity to send home.
"Ouch." Jake bumped his head rather hard against the hatch doorway. He hadn't even used a door in ages, and for a moment it was almost foreign to him. Part of him would always remain human, in the back of his mind, but more often he found himself thinking more like one of the Na'vi, more like his lifemate. At first her mind had seemed so different, so natural and untamed, but either she had mellowed with age, or he had simply become more wild. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
Trudy was already at her station, frowning at the data streaming down from the satellite network RDA had installed decades ago. Something about that always made Jake nervous. There was an old saying among Earth military strategists. "He who controls the orbitals, controls the world." It was certainly a valid point. Anytime humanity really felt compelled enough to do it, they could show up with an unbeatable force, station it in orbit, and do whatever they felt like. Political considerations had prevented such a space-borne military presence before, but on Earth, the political winds were notoriously unreliable things.
"Definitely a starship. Nothing like I've seen before." Trudy reported, studying the display.
"Basic design is similar to RDA ships. Engines out front, with tow-cable spar, some kind of central structure, and a rear engine mount. It looks like they went with two engines instead of a high-energy laser mirror on the rear." Norm studied the data. Starship design wasn't exactly a specialty of his, but physics was a thing any mathematically inclined scientist could pick up with a decent amount of effort. The design made sense from that perspective, at least.
"Fuckers came a long way just to head home." Trudy cursed.
"That center section has detached from the engines and the cable structure, looks like a parasite ship." Norm reported. That was certainly unique, ISVs had been notoriously fragile vessels. None had ever had any kind of parasite ship, save for the drop shuttles. Whatever this thing was, it was absolutely massive by comparison.
"We should probably talk to them." Jake pointed out, the English words beginning to flow naturally again. Once, he had compared language to field stripping a weapon, but that became habit eventually. Trying to switch between languages was certainly a lot more difficult, especially since his mate thought in Na'vi. That trait had rubbed off on him somewhat through the bond, and his mind was now a jumbled mess of English and Na'vi words that actually took some effort to work out into understandable speech. Before he could assemble some kind of a greeting, the people up there beat him to it.
"...Montana calling Extrasolar Colony Zero-One. Repeat, this is the battleship Montana calling anyone on Pandora. Anyone read down there?" It took Jake a moment to process that new information. A certain fear crept its way up his spine, not for himself, but for all Na'vi, for his mate, for his home. The ex-marine had always known this day would come, despite trying so hard to deny it.
"Montana. What are your intentions?" Trudy's expression was one of barely restrained anger.
"We're not hostile." Came the simple, but entirely unbelievable reply.
"Then why bring a battleship?" Jake asked promptly. Certainly that was strange enough. When he had left Earth, weapons were more or less banned in space. No one had even considered anything like a space battleship, they were the subjects of B-rate holo-band flicks and sci-fi novels. The sheer idiocy of space combat had been proven by disastrous wars long before he had been born. In orbit, a large enough rock could become a weapon of mass destruction if wielded properly.
"It's all we had left." A strangely sorrowful voice replied over the radio. "Earth... is gone."