Chapter 1

Fading Light

President Harvey Lee Citad watched the daily reports scroll by on the bottom of his computer screen. The usual had happened while he had slept. Some hippies were protesting the new deforesting bill that would make room for more farming superstructures by cutting into the last national parks. The North Koreans were threatening to destroy everybody again with their nukes. The President couldn't help but smile, as he knew as well as the rest of his cabinet did that they didn't even have refined Uranium anymore thanks to the Neo-Korean war ten years ago.

He was an older man, in his late forties, already twice as old as the international life expectancy. Despite this, he had managed to hide the most adverse effects of aging in the 22nd century. His hair was still mostly its natural black, with only a few straggling white hairs to indicate his age. His eyes burned with an undulled fire that most people couldn't stand to glare at. He sat strait upright, years of military training keeping his posture correct even after leaving. His face was wide and welcoming, his large chin and open features had helped him win the sympathy from the public, even as their lifespans dwindled and terrorism rose.

Something was crawling along the bottom that caught his eye, though. In flashing red letters was an urgent privet message from RDA, the industrial firm/interstellar space farers. President Citad sighed and opened up a channel to the CEO.

"Before you ask, no, you can't bring nukes on the next shuttle to your little garden box." He said.

The CEO, Charles Kensite, looked sleepless and disheveled. "I haven't called to ask about that. Christ, we've been trying to contact you for the past eight hours! Why didn't anybody wake you up?"

Harvey sniffed. "Probably because they know you're just calling to complain about the regulations pertaining to you're little ferry business."

"This isn't a time to joke. Look, our colony on Pandora, you know how they never use the Interstellar Comm. unless it's an emergency?"

"Because it costs about a hundred thousand dollars just to turn on?"

"Exactly. We just got a message from them. It had two parts. One, a message: 'Colony lost'." The message appeared in green text below the CEO, "Two, something that took up most of the data package, a list of names, with a title; Dead." A large text file scrolled past the screen, "They're all names of security personnel. According to it, more than seventy percent of the colony was killed."

"So, you've lost the colony because of some sort of massacre? What happened to them?"

"We've also got some bad news for you. Colonel Quaritch was one of the people listed as deceased. I know you and him served together in Nigeria. Quaritch was the best man we had on Pandora. He took on a viperwolf on his first day and survived to stay behind. We even offered to fix his scars, but he said he liked them."

"What if your people are lying?"

"The sheer cost of operating our IC means practical jokes out of the question. But we can't be sure until the normal radio broadcasts reach us."

"Good, when can you receive the first transmissions?"

"In… three years, at the best."

The President cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, what are you doing about the problem?"

"We've halted every ship heading to the planet, and we are ordering ships currently on route to turn around and head back. We may need your government's support on this. You know I wouldn't contact you if it weren't an emergency."

"In three years, I will not be President. There won't be another. You know that the UN representative is going to be the new executive. You can convince him to go to war with the blue monkeys."

Charles gulped. "This is going to be a bad quarter."

The old President chuckled, "Maybe, in three years. Until then, you've got nothing but time to prepare for whatever those broadcasts will tell you. Personally, I think that your security's overreacting. That's what you get for hiring nonunion." He cut the transmission. "Heh, those poor bastards think that their alien problem is a big deal." He sighed, returning to his work for a few minutes before getting up from his desk.

The guard at his desk looked at him as he exited the room. "Sir? He asked curiously.

"I'm going for a walk in thirty minutes, the usual route. Have my security sweep the area." The president needed to think.

The guard saluted. "Yes, sir!" Before radioing orders to the Secret Service.

Mr. Citad went to his dresser, and tried on multiple suits before settling on a fashionable rubber trench coat that all the punks in the Underground were wearing. His personal stylist agreed the choice was acceptable, to appeal to the "in crowd" were her instructions. It made Harvey feel like packaged meat.

As he stepped into the elevator, his guards were wearing their usual gas masks, but there was something different. They had one for him.

"Regulations, sir." One of them said as he handed him it.

"I'm going to breath the same air as the people on the streets are, thank you very much." Harvey said, pushing the mask aside.

The guard looked at the other guards for support. He sighed, before continuing, "Sir, do you remember Senator Farver?"

"Yes, he's bedridden due to complications with his surgery, why?"

"This is supposed to be kept on the down low, but the complications, they were lung cancer. We just found out today. The smog problem has finally started entering almost daily warnings. Going outside is no longer recommended for anything other than five minute trips."

Harvey reluctantly put the plastic piece over his head. It hissed as he opened the air flow, and felt a rush of rubber scented air blow over his face. He looked over at the guard. "How long will this be a problem?" he asked.

"I don't know." The man replied as he pushed the button that started the elevator's descent.

As he exited from the White House High Rise, Harvey looked around the peaceful garden entrance that surrounded the government building. He began to walk out, towards a glass airlock that stood between the world of the rich and the rest of Humanity. He checked his gas mask as he entered the large transparent box. The world outside was covered in a thick fog of chemicals. Suited businesspeople hurriedly walked past him, simple masks or handkerchiefs covering their faces.

He signaled the guard to open the front door when the room had finished exchanging the purified air for the tainted atmosphere outside. When Harvey turned the corner around his High Rise, Secret Service keeping close, he was swarmed by reporters from the various internet blogs and news crews that waited outside his mansion all day and night. He ignored their endless waterfall of questions, and silenced them with a simple wave of his hand. He pointed to a journalist at random.

The young woman nervously spat out through her own mask, "Mr. President, , we're wondering what your opinions are about the incorporation of the last of the national parks?"

"We need the extra space for farmlands, and most of the wildlife had already gone extinct there years before. It was the best we can do given the circumstances." The president answered before pointing to another journalist, this one with TV cameras.

The man read from a queue card, "Mr. President, Channel 4,532 news, how do you respond to the protests in downtown LA regarding the heavy smog there?"

"We are facing tough times, but I like to remember that, as a species, we are doing better than ever before. We travel the stars as an interstellar empire, and still, some people only look at the short term. With the last of the oil being used up, the citizens of this great nation, along with the collective nations of this planet will have to find alternative sources of power. Thankfully, we have made great strides in that direction. I promise the people of Los Angeles, you will not suffer forever. All I ask is a little time to fix the problem. One more question, um, you!" He always liked to point towards the back when finishing up press conferences.

"Regarding the planet of Pandora." The young man started, "Oh, sorry, forgot, , how many of the Na'vi could be smuggled over here before the planet denizens noticed their absence? We wish to document Human-Na'vi 'relations'."

The President looked at the reporter. "How old are you?" He asked.

"Eighteen, why?" He asked.

"Get a real job son." Harvey said, walking into the street to avoid the noisy crowd of reporters filling the cracked sidewalk. He quickly jumped back on after nearly avoiding a speeding car. His Secret Servicemen reminded him to look both ways before doing that again.

As he finished up his walk, Harvey looked at his security. "We're making a quick detour, gentlemen."

"Sir, we haven't searched the area ahead!" His guard warned.

"Then you'd best be on your toes."

As they walked out, away from the government center, Republic City's true appearance began to take shape. Old stone walls were plated with rusty steel, the sidewalk was worn down until it was level with the street. Harvey saw a maskless, homeless man cough up blood and hold up a Styrofoam cup before him.

"Spurr change?" The bearded man barely wheezed.

Harvey gave him a twenty and continued walking. Across the street, teenagers dressed similar to him from the Underground ventured to the surface through an old subway tunnel. One of them was carrying a cheap rail gun. His security nervously got closer to the President as he made another seemingly random turn.

After a few blocks, the President arrived at his destination. An old brick building stood out against the neon and steel buildings around it. Harvey opened the rotting wooden door, much to the confusion of his security force.

"Sir, if you wanted to go here, why didn't you just send for the motorcade?"

"I'd rather not attract attention to this visit. Stay outside, please."

Thinking it was something different entirely, the security chief ordered his men to circle around the block, to ensure there were no, "witnesses." It suited Harvey just fine, he'd rather people thought he was having an affair than being an actual human being.

He knocked once before hearing a happy female voice invite him in. Inside, a tired looking woman was busy mixing something in the cramped kitchen. The President noted the cleanliness of the place, he almost felt bad bringing his muddy walking shoes into the simple apartment.

He knocked on the door. When the woman looked over, Harvey said, "Darthey. It's good to see you again. Where's Mikey?" He hugged the woman.

"At school, it's good to see you again, Harvey. Been a long time since we last saw you."

"How's your husband?"

"RDA is still sending his checks, and it makes for pretty comfortable living."

"You could get a bigger place. I hear that being on Pandora for any length of time is incredibly lucrative."

"I've thought about it, but I like the neighborhood. It's a good place to grow up in." She said sarcastically, looking out the window. A Magnalift train silently sped by below. It kicked up a swath of dust that had settled on the tracks. Thousands of people walked below, and Harvey could almost make out his security detail. "If I think about it, we're better off than most. Look," She pointed to a small device by the door, "I just bought this mini-purifier. We can breath easy with it. It's so much better to work without a mask on."

"I'm sure." The President said, he had spent so much time in his White House sweet that he had forgotten about the air pollution. He turned around, towards her, "Listen, you know that me and your husband go way back. Call this returning him a favor. I just received word from RDA. They've lost the colony" He waited for his words to sink in, before continuing, "And I need you to see this." He handed her his data pad, with the list he had seen earlier on it.

"What does this mean?" Ms. Quaritch asked.

"I'm sorry to say this, but your husband was probably killed in action. I wanted you to hear it from me, not some idiot in a monkey-suit." Harvey sat down on the new couch that sat parallel to the large flat-screen TV set that took up a whole side of the room.

When he looked up, he saw that Darthey was holding back tears. Harvey got up and held her. "I know how you feel, but you have to hold it in. I've just lost one of the only friends I ever had, but I can't let the world know about that. The media won't ever let me shake off this weakness. And you can't tell anybody, or else the whole secret's out."

"Why did you tell me? I'd have been happier. Think of Mike! What will he do?"

"I know knowing hurts, but listen, we can't let our ignorance protect us. Each little truth we learn shatters the bubble we make around the world, and it makes us sad. But you know, and now that you do, you also have time to adjust to the facts. Until the death notice comes, you have time. Time to make amends, time to prepare, and time," He looked out at the window, "To forget."

"I'll never forget Miles!" Darthey cried.

"But you'll remember him better, and you'll only remember the good times. They say time makes fools of us all. Now that you know the future, you are prepared. And I'm sorry."

Suddenly, the door burst open, then quickly shut behind it. A small child ran into the kitchen screaming, "Mom I'm home!" Through his tiny gas mask. He looked at the President. "Hey, who are you?"

"An old friend." He said, quickly hugging Dorothy and hurrying out the door. "I know you're sad," He said as he put on his gas mask, "But it's still your choice. Do what you will with that knowledge."

"Mom, what was that all about?" Mike asked, "Hey, are you crying?"

Dorothy swallowed her tears. "Mommy's just got something stuck in her eye. Come on, let's go watch TV."

"All right!" Miles said, happily putting on his 3d glasses as he sat down on the couch.

"Are you sure?" Jake asked Neytiri, "It's that soon?"

"We are favored by Eywa. It's only natural that she would want us to have a child. I can feel him inside me, it won't be long now…" Jake kissed her slowly, the Pandoran trees their only witnesses.