I don't own Avatar, it's awesomeness, or any of James Cameron's brain children, sadly. This is my first fan fiction, please be gentle with me...
Norm took a long hard stare into the misted mirror in his wet room. With hands that shook slightly he neatly piled some shaving foam into his palm, rubbing it over what was now quite a substantial beard. Shaving was so much hassle when you had nobody to impress.. Every couple of months had been sufficient, if the fancy had taken him.
But now things were different. The craft had been spotted four hours ago, entering Pandora's orbit. Its predicted trajectory placed it for landing at Hell's Gate. It was small, no freighter. The anthropologist drew a sharp breath as he nicked himself with the razor blade. Best to hope it wasn't an RDA scouting mission. It had been five years almost to the day since Parker had left. Plenty of time for him to send a message back to Earth and get a new fleet ready.
Norm rinsed his face, pressing a towel to the cut on his jaw line. As he studied himself in the mirror he noted his hair was well past his ears now. Snatching up a pair of nail scissors from his personal hygiene pack he began to hack at it, cropping it as neatly as he could, so that the overall finish was rather windswept but shorter and tidier.
It was hard to remember the last time he had met a new face. He supposed it would have been Jake. Go figure that the guy in the wheelchair would end up turning his whole life upside down. Sure, at the time, staying on Pandora had seemed like the smartest move, rather than face the wrath of the RDA and his colleagues back on Earth. But steadily, over the weeks and months, it became clear to he and Max that life here as what would eventually be the only human presence in the compound wouldn't be a cakewalk either. The first thing to crop up was maintenance. Trying to run a power grid with two guys who had no engineering experience was damned difficult, and many nights were spent sleeping in Exopacs and sweltering heat, with no source of light but the emergency glowsticks they raided from the elevator lockers that were there in case the things jammed.
Then there was the issue of food. After four months the protein packs were gone, and although the Na'vi would bring them fresh kills from time to time, the meat was often bitter to human taste and didn't keep for long. There were gardens with a well stocked fruit supply but a high fibre, low protein diet led to many... complications.
Finally, the isolation. The other humans, one by one, had been brought into the Omaticaya clan and transferred by the grace of Eywa. As the only ones without an Avatar, and God, did Norm feel it since the death of his own, he and Max were eventually left in the compound alone, with infrequent visits from the Na'vi. It was hardly their fault though, he knew. They had so much to rebuild since Quaritch burned their homes, their history.
All in all it led to a less then easy life. It seemed unending, monotonous, and Pandora had slowly begun to feel highly over-rated.
But now. Now... Human contact. Hopefully civilised. As Norm headed out onto the tarmac to stand with Max, the shuttle from the ship burning through the layers of the moon's atmosphere, he could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. As the still smoking shuttle touched down on the ground, he ran a hand through his hair, his whole body shaking with nerves. And as the door lowered he felt his face break into an enormous smile. Just three people emerged, two men, each in their late fifties, clothed in Khaki's and carrying an enormous white crate each, and a woman in denim shorts and a tank top, with what was unmistakably a cryo storage unit in each hand. Norm found himself bolting across the tarmac, stopping just short of the trio, and held out a calloused hand.
"Norm Spellman! You have no idea how glad I am to see you!" The woman put her cryo units on the ground and took Norm's hand in both of her own, shaking firmly, and shouting over the noise of the shuttle's cooling fans;
"Norm! Wonderful!" He was surprised to hear a smart English accent. "Where's mister Patel? I have something for both of you!" The anthropologist waved Max over, who shook each of the newcomer's hands in turn, his face like that of an excited child. The woman picked up her cryo units afterwards, tilting her head.
"Where is your link lab? I've got unloading to do." With a raised eyebrow Norm mumbled in return;
"I can show you. But, who are you?"
"Lydia Granger. These are my colleagues, Bill Cohen and Xavier Mendas. Please, if we could get into the lab, this really can't wait." The woman climbed back into the shuttle and shouted over her shoulder,
"Bill, I need you to shut down the brakes on all units! Roll out three first. " The shorter of the two men, with pepper grey hair and a broad nose, passed his crate to a stunned Max, then lumbered into the cockpit of the shuttle, and a few moments later there the sound of a high pressure gas release and a twelve foot long object rolled out, covered with a metallic tarp. Lydia ran alongside it, a small computer screen linked to the cargo in the palm of her hand. She whisked her fingers across the screen and turned it over once, and nodded.
"Everything looks good." Looking up at Norm, she wiped the screen of her Exopac. "Your link lab, please? I've got two more to follow. Mister Patel, if you could assist my colleagues, please." Looking slightly shocked Max nodded, glancing at Norm before he climbed into the shuttle with the second man, who was tall, bronzed, with Hispanic features and silvery streaks through his dark hair. With a touch of the screen she was holding, Granger's cargo began to roll forward, and she looked expectantly at Norm. The anthropologist nodded, and lugged Mendas' crate from the ground, swaying slightly under its weight. Shuffling along he mumbled,
"This way," trying not to stare at whatever it was the woman was rolling. As they entered the compound and took a lift up to the lab, an awkward silence hung between them. It had been such a long time since Norm had seen another human being aside from Max, and now they were here, there was nothing he could find to say. As they rolled into the lab, Granger pushed her cargo into one of the old Avatar pod docking points, and he felt his breath catch in his throat. She turned to face him and with a smile pulled off her mask, a flurry of red hair falling down her back as she did. Norm felt himself flush as he looked upon a pair of large blue eyes, pale skin with a dusting of freckles and a small, pink mouth that parted to reveal large, white teeth when she smiled as she was now.
"It's been a long time since you've spoken to anyone, hasn't it?" Norm felt his face flush deeper, and nodded, tugging off his own mask and gesturing to the covered object.
"Is that what I think it is?" Granger nodded, pulling back the tarp enough to dock the computer onto the end of what was now unmistakeably an Avatar pod. Norm felt a shiver go up his spine. He remembered the first time he had seen his Avatar. It was like seeing one of the Hindu gods that they had been named after, floating peacefully in an ethereal blue light. Rubbing his eyes, he sat down on the railing that ran in a circle at the centre of the lab.
"I'm sorry, but, who are you people? We've not had any contact with Earth since the Na'vi ran off Parker and now this.. It's making me nervous." Granger chuckled, pulling over a dusty chair and climbing on top of it and up onto the pod, starting to undo the tarp.
"I'm not with the RDA if that's what you're worried about. I'm out here as a professional. Doctor Augustine left quite a legacy on Earth, she had her followers. I was part of the Avatar program, due to take over when you came back from your rotation. The project is being maintained now by private investors. There are many people who still believe in the work Grace was doing. My company being one of them. They've sponsored my placement out here, along with Bill's, Xavier's, and our cargo."
Norm raised an eyebrow, tilting his head.
"Which company is that?"
"B.F.R.D.N. Biochemical Facility for the Research and Development of the Neurosciences. I'm an MD. I'm here to treat the Na'vi and research the ability of their queues. Scientists back home are hoping it might offer clues as to the treatment of certain neurological disorders, such as Autism. " Norm blinked a few times, taking this in.
"What about the RDA? There's an energy crisis on Earth, what are they doing in regards to Pandora? I can't see them staying away long..." Granger shook her head with a small sigh.
"They're looking into deposits on the secondary and tertiary moons. They're not as plentiful but it should buy the Na'vi time.. I don't know what happens after that.." The doctor let out another sigh, scooching along the pod to undo more of the tarp's strapping. As she did she looked up again with a bright smile. "Hey, you should have a look in that storage unit. I've got something in there for you and mister Patel." Obediently Norm unclipped the unit, a hiss of cool air escaping it. Pushing off the lid he felt himself let out an involuntary gasp.
"Holy moly, chicken!" Granger laughed, slipping off of the pod.
"We've brought fertilised embryos with us to give us a sustainable source of protein. There's more goodies in the other lockers." Norm looked up from the unit, beaming at the woman.
"This is manna from heaven!" Granger chuckled, then turned to the pod, taking a corner of the tarp.
"I can top that, if you want." The anthropologist nodded eagerly, clipping the lid back onto the unit. The woman grinned and with a flourish pulled the tarpaulin off of the pod. Norm felt his jaw drop and jumped up, pressing against the glass.
"Oh my God.." Norm could feel his eyes welling up as he looked upon the Avatar inside, the high forehead and smooth line of the jaw unmistakable.
"Your DNA was still on file. After we heard about the accident and you two being left here, building you Avatars became top priority. Max's will be docking next." Granger put a hand on his shoulder with a gentle smile.
"I'm gonna be free again," he whispered, running his fingers over the glass.
"That was the general idea." Granger patted him on the back, turning to leave the lab. "I've got to dock the others. Stay here if you want, get acquainted. Xavier will have dinner ready for you in the mess in an hour."
* * *
That night Norm and Max sat down to what without doubt was the greatest meal of their lives. As they wolfed down a plateful of chilli, with real beef in it and baked potatoes, God what luxury, Granger and her two colleagues talked excitedly at them about Pandora. It turned out Bill and Xavier were there to supervise the linkings and train up Max. The doctor herself was planning to take her Avatar out to the Omaticaya's new settlement and offer medicine in exchange for education. It all sounded so simple when she put it like that.
"But you know them, right, Norm? I mean, they let you visit the Tree of Souls." Norm lifted his head, swallowing a mouthful of potato with some difficulty.
"Yeah. Jake's their boy though."
"Well, I'm going to be decanting the blues tonight. We can link up tomorrow, providing you pass your physical." Norm's eyes widened, blurting through a mouthful;