Author's note: Here are two teaser chapters from what will eventually be a novella-length fanfic. The first chapter is unusually OC-centric, but don't worry – the second chapter returns the spotlight to the movie characters, where it will remain.

Na'vi-language dialogue will appear in {curly brackets.}

1. The Envoy

- Present day, year 2168 -

"This is a really risky situation, chief."

Desoto barely acknowledges the woman covering his right flank. "Of course it is," he answers, without looking at her. His polished shoes clank briskly as he strides along the dusty utilidor, eyes fixed straight ahead.

The woman scowls and clenches the empty hand that would normally be gripping her side arm. "We're walking right into the belly of the beast," she says darkly, keeping pace with him. Her eyes scan the dingy interior of Hell's Gate, as though expecting Na'vi warriors to spring from its shadowy recesses. "They've got every tactical advantage on us if shit goes down."

Desoto sighs. "Must you lecture me about 'tactical advantage?' You forget to whom you are speaking." He spares a brief glance at his senior guard. The scowl distorts her delicate features, which themselves contrast with her shaved head and combat fatigues. "This is the closest thing to neutral territory we could negotiate, Sukhera. Be glad it is a human facility, at the least. I won't need to talk through an Exopack, which helps very much." He shifts his gaze ahead once more and quickens his pace. "We couldn't realistically expect them to meet us in the ship. Not when meeting us for the first time."

"Then why'd you ask?" asks Gallagher in his deep baritone, speaking up from Desoto's opposite flank.

He snorts impatiently. "Because otherwise they insist on meeting us in the middle of the woods somewhere, surrounded by archers. You want something, you let the other party meet you in the middle – reciprocal concessions." Desoto allows a note of irritation into his voice. "You people don't know the first thing about negotiations."

Gallagher chuckles. "Yeah, well. That's not what we were picked for." He grins and flexes his enormous shoulders.

"Exactly," Desoto mutters. "You have your job; I have mine. Yours does not require you to talk." He gives both of them a pointed look.

Gallagher shrugs, and Sukhera presses her lips into an angry line. They get the message, however, and the three of them traverse the remaining corridors in silence.

The way to the commissary is quite easy to follow, and not merely because they've all memorized the layout of Hell's Gate in advance. The natives have erected some fairly sturdy fencing in the last two days, forming a narrow corridor that shunts them along the proper route like a cattle chute, just barely wide enough for three to walk abreast. It was the first thing they saw when they disembarked – that fence—all curved spikes and gnarled webbing and lashed poles. It surrounds the expansive shuttle pad completely – except for the south end, where a small opening gives way to this corridor, which snakes across the tarmac and through the ground floor of CONMOD.

Desoto makes a mental note to grab a holo of that corridor entrance before this is over. A chink in the armor, he thinks. Very evocative. It'll make a nice cover image for his next memoir.

The fenced corridor escorts them along the utilidor and into the ground floor of HABMOD 2, where it pushes stubbornly past blocked staircases and deposits them in front of the elevator. The elevator is pitch dark inside and looks like it hasn't been serviced in the fourteen years since the base evacuated. It appears that a leap of faith is demanded of them. Sukhera glares at the expectant metal maw with open resentment.

Yeah, yeah, Desoto thinks.

He leads the way inside and punches a button for the sixth floor. A faint "ding" echoes down the elevator shaft as the doors rasp shut like a pair of mechanical jaws. Whoever's waiting will have ample warning of their arrival. Desoto shuts his eyes, opens them, and can't see a difference.

The elevator shudders its way to the destination, where it stops with a sudden, unsteadying lurch. The doors open with a rumble, and Desoto blinks into the late-morning sunlight streaming in through the commissary windows, allowing his eyes to readjust to the light.

That's when he sees them.

Three towering blue silhouettes stand silently at the far end of the commissary, backlit against the windows. A wide expanse of barren floor separates them from the humans; the stainless steel tables have evidently been removed. The resulting effect makes the room feel much larger than it did in Desoto's imagination, and much emptier.

Sukhera and Gallagher take up their positions on his flanks, and the three of them cross the open space together. Their footsteps echo in the silence as they walk. It seems to take a long time.

The three Na'vi watch them approach with alert, calculating eyes. Desoto studies them in turn, taking them in from head to toe. Their typically sparse dress is made sparser by the fact that, as agreed, they are wearing no knives across their chests or bows across their backs. Their only adornments are a necklace here, an arm band there, a few feathers obscuring their toes. The male in the center is further adorned by an intricately woven collar of corded plant fiber and beaded leather. Three enormous black thanator claws are strapped prominently across the front, supporting a feathered chest mantle between them.

Olo'Eyktan, thinks Desoto. Clan leader. The Na'vi is flanked by a somewhat broader male and a battle-scarred female. The two stand on either side of their leader with their arms crossed over their chests—stern and forbidding. Bodyguards. Desoto feels a brief tickle of amusement. Fair enough.

"Welcome, Sky Person," says the Olo'Eyktan, in a thick accent. He doesn't look welcoming at all. "Why have you returned?"

Well, here goes.

{I See you, Olo'Eyktan of the Omaticaya,} he replies in fluent, respectful Na'vi. He touches his hand to his own forehead in the traditional gesture of greeting. {My name is Dharmesh Lee Desoto, and I would be pleased to speak with you in your native tongue. With me are Kylie Sukhera and Eric Gallagher. May I know the name by which you are called?}

The Na'vi eyes him. {I am Ralteyo of the Rongloa line, son of Tei'uk. What have you come to say?}

{I have come on behalf of my people to acknowledge our wrongdoing. We wish you to know that your sorrow is our sorrow and that we desire nothing but peace between your world and ours.} He pauses for effect, then continues: {You suffered great evil at the hands of those who came before us. It is with great anguish that we condemn their actions, and it is with great shame that we must recognize their guilt as our own. Our greatest hope is that we may someday prove to you our true nature as a compassionate people, and that you will allow the crimes of the few to be overshadowed by the goodness of many.}

Ralteyo regards Desoto for a long, solemn moment. {Your apology is acknowledged. Perhaps – one day – it will be accepted.}

{Of course. We expect no more. That you are willing to speak to us at all is more than some of us dared to hope.}

The wariness has yet to leave the native's eyes. {You have traveled a long way to deliver a simple message,} he says carefully.

{It was the only way we could be sure you would hear it.} Desoto meets Ralteyo's gaze with practiced sincerity. {We have also brought gifts with us, should you choose to accept them.}

{There must be more that you want.}

{You See well, Ralteyo son of Tei'uk.} He smiles. {There were a number of our own kind who remained here. We wish to bring them home.}

Ralteyo tenses, very subtly, and exchanges a quick glance with his guards. {They will not wish to go with you,} he says.

{We believe that some of them will,} Desoto counters smoothly.

The Olo'Eyktan gives him a cold look. {We will ask them for you and inform you of their response.}

{With your consent,} Desoto presses, {we would very much like to speak to them directly.}

There's a long pause. The Olo'Eyktan locks eyes with one of his guards in silent communication. So paranoid, these people, Desoto thinks. Not that I can blame them.

Ralteyo finally breaks eye contact with his guard and addresses Desoto once more. {We do not consent,} he says.

Desoto nods, unfazed. He hadn't expected this to be easy. {There was one among them... Jake Sully. Would you deliver a message to him?}

{He's dead.}

Desoto blinks in surprise. "Oh." Godammit.He bows his head respectfully. {Your sorrow is my sorrow. When did this happen?}

{Fourteen years ago.}

{May I ask how?}

{It is not your business.}

Desoto hesitates, then yields. {Of course. Please excuse my impertinence.} Ralteyo gives a terse nod.

Desoto draws a deep breath. {I believe we may conclude this meeting for now. We thank you again for speaking with us. We will remain a short time in case you wish to meet with us again.} Ralteyo gives him a wary look, and he speaks to reassure him. {We will remain in our ship and not venture away except by your permission.}

Desoto steps forward – away from the protection of his own guards – and offers the alien his hand. It is the only human gesture he has made during the entire meeting.

{In good will,} he says.

Ralteyo hesitates, then reaches to shake his hand. Reciprocal concessions.

The next thing Ralteyo feels is a strange pinch as the needle mounted on Desoto's ring penetrates his palm. The alien blinks, perplexed.

The next thing Desoto feels is a fierce backhand blow from the guard at Ralteyo's side. {Coward!} the guard snarls, fangs bared, as Desoto goes sprawling.

The next few seconds are a blur of overhasty action.

A pistol has appeared in Sukhera's hand out of nowhere. {This is a weapon,} she shouts in warning, stepping back and drawing a bead on the Na'vi guard. {Stand down!}

The striped hand darts out before Sukhera has time to put distance between them. The guard grabs her wrist and forces her aim toward the ground. Sukhera locks both hands around her weapon as he attempts to disarm her, but the Na'vi strips the magazine out of the pistol grip with his free hand and tosses it across the room – much more deftly than should be possible for someone who only shoots with arrows.

Nose bleeding, Desoto watches the female Na'vi take Gallagher out with a blow-dart that had been cleverly integrated into her native clothing. Why does nobody come unarmed to these things like I ask them to? he thinks wearily. The seven-foot soldier hits the ground before he has time to draw what is undoubtedly a forbidden weapon of his own.

There's a deafening bang as Sukhera's pistol discharges the single round remaining in its chamber. It's unclear who pulled the trigger, but the bullet buries itself harmlessly in the wall. Sukhera snarls in frustration and sweeps her arm free of the wrist grab, angling for an attack with the butt of her now-disabled handgun. Unfortunately, her opponent's height gives him easy leverage, and he forces her to the floor. He leans on her carotid with expert precision – a blood choke – and she goes out like a light. Then he crosses to Gallagher's side. A brief search turns up a heavy-duty Wasp.

Desoto stares up the autorevolver's barrel as the ten-foot alien stops in front of him, towering overhead. The SN-11 looks like a squirt gun in his over-sized blue hand.

...his five-fingered blue hand.

"So yeah," says Jake Sully, taking the safety off. "That was pretty dumb of you."

Author's note: Surprise. ;-)

This fic does in fact take place in the movie universe, not the FSTL universe. I couldn't leave Sully out of the action forever.

It is unclear from the canon whether the Na'vi are able to breathe the humans' air. I've decided that, while they might prefer their "normal" air, humans' air is not dangerous to them. This decision is based on a number of scientific and story-telling considerations. If this bothers anyone, let me know, and maybe I will elaborate in a future author's note.

Don't forget to review!