Important notice to rights owners: I respect and enjoy these worlds. If you object to any of my work within a world you legally control, please contact me and I will remove it.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be Na’vi, to be part of Pandora, to experience Eywa the way the Na’vi do? Words can take you inside Jake’s head in a way movies can’t. This is powerful stuff, and I’m almost as proud of it as I am of The Gnoll Credo.
by J. Stanton
Jake sat on the ashen earth near the Tree of Souls, head in his hands, the faint smell of charred polymers mixing with smoke and a burned-meat smell he didn’t want to think about—
—but he couldn’t stop himself. I’ve thrown away my human body and my humanity and joined a different species on a different world, for fuck’s sake—and here I am again, sitting on a smoking, torn-up battlefield smelling burnt machinery and dead people, and I know we actually won this time but that doesn’t make it smell any better or make me feel any better about all my dead comrades.
In fact, he felt worse, because this time he wasn’t just another grunt. He was Olo’eyctan, their leader, and he had led his people right into the business end of mortars and chainguns and powered exoskeletons, and he didn’t even know most of them but they had given their lives willingly at his command for what was, in retrospect, a suicidal charge that was only saved by something he still didn’t understand, at all.
And now I get to clean up the mess, he thought, for I am their leader. He looked up and laughed bitterly, surveying his domain. No one can clean this up, ever. Hell, I’d need an entire platoon with metal detectors, a cargo lifter, and about three years just to fix it so we don’t cut our feet open on metal shards every day.
Neytiri had come up behind him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Jake.”
He tried to explain—but everything he had wanted to say tried to get out of his mouth at once and all he could do was exhale, shaking his head.
“Jake, you are Na’vi now.”
He nodded. “Yes, I am. You gave me that gift.” He sprang to his feet, shaking off her gentle touch, sweeping his arm around him to encompass the destruction. “And I give you this!” he yelled. “Thank you for making me one of you! Thank you for saving my life and letting me be the fucking hero,” and he pantomimed signing a card, “signed, Jake Sully!”
“No, Jake.” Neytiri shook her head. “You are Na’vi now.”
“I KNOW THAT!” he roared. “That’s why I own this! All of it!” Every fatherless child and childless mother, every dead ikran and direhorse and, worst of all, the huge, dead bulk of Hometree that he knew would smolder for months, its smoke spiraling up into a vacant, pitiless blue sky.
“STOP!” Neytiri screeched, face twisted in pain.
Neytiri set her jaw and grabbed his arm. “Come. Now.”
And since he knew from experience that it would be useless to resist, he followed her, jogging briskly to keep up with her light, effortless stride.
She took him to the Tree of Souls, where they had first bonded, and which so many had died to save. It didn’t look nearly as impressive in the daytime, he thought; just another big tree with translucent white branches that hung like Christmas tinsel.
“Jake. You are Na’vi now,” she said, very seriously.
He shook his head. “You keep saying that, like it’s supposed to mean something.”
“I don’t have the words. Let me show you.” She carefully unbound her queue and joined in tsayhalu to the Tree of Souls, just as they had before—then gently took his queue and bound it to the same hanging, faintly luminescent branch, just above hers.
The deep, sacred connection slowly built inside him, first to Eywa and then Neytiri, and he felt like a young schoolchild being called up in front of the entire classroom for a particularly humiliating discipline which he knew he deserved a thousand times over, and the shame burned so hotly in him that he flinched—
—but the pain he expected didn’t come, and soon he felt Neytiri’s presence through the link, saying what she couldn’t say in words.
He could see Neytiri right there, next to him – but he was also experiencing her through tsayhalu, and she was so much more than just a beautiful blue woman, more than his mate, even. And somehow he could also feel the size and weight of Pandora beneath him, and he understood just how large Pandora was and how tiny a part of it they both were, and just how many Na’vi there were and even how many Hometrees there were, some of them unoccupied by Na’vi and ready to accept his tribe, and he felt totally insignificant amidst the throb and pulse of life covering the land and the sea and soaring through the air and water, all connected somehow in a way he didn’t understand at all.
But that didn’t matter—because he knew he was part of Pandora and what he had done was part of Pandora and he was merely one tiny agent of something unimaginably large, and he knew that he had been part of it ever since he decided being a Na’vi was more important to him than being human.
And he started to laugh, because all his unspoken questions about free will were answered in a way that would have been brutally depressing if he had still been human, because humans too were tiny agents of an unimaginably large system they could neither control nor understand—except they had no way to experience that, no way to feel the warm embrace of an entire world, no way to know that any pain and suffering you endured was both inevitable and insignificant.
He also knew this: yes, even if he and his Na’vi had failed, Eywa would have rejected the human presence in another way, so the result might not have mattered to Pandora—
—but it mattered to the Na’vi, and especially to his tribe, because he was Olo’eyctan now and he was responsible for them and to them, and though the planet might not care if they were gone, he certainly did. And that was good and that was right, because anything that got too nonchalant about surviving and reproducing generally got killed and eaten by something less Zen about the business of life, even on Pandora.
He looked at Neytiri, meaning to thank her, but since they were linked she had already understood and accepted his gratitude—and he felt hers in return, because she had experienced Pandora through new eyes, through a consciousness that saw with childlike wonder what she had always taken for granted. <Like a fish in water>, she thought.
Smiling, Jake broke the link.
“I understand humans now,” Neytiri said, as they walked back to camp.
Jake looked at her, surprised.
“An entire planet full of Na’vi with their queues cut off.” She shuddered. “No connection to your mate, to each other, to anything. Trying to understand, solve everything with words.” She shook her head. “So lonely! Makes my heart hurt.”
Jake nodded, slowly. Humans were always writing words, painting pictures, playing music, making movies, telling stories, hugging and kissing and fucking, trying to connect to each other with sound and vision and touch through queues that weren’t there. And sometimes if we practice for years, if we spend our entire lives trying, we can become skilled enough to create one beautiful moment that connects us to someone else for a brief instant, like a jolt of electricity, and that brilliant spark of recognition leaves us breathless.
And I willingly gave it all up, Jake thought, because all of it put together isn’t worth one second of what I have been given here on Pandora, with Neytiri. And he laughed because he realized that even carrying the weight of all his dead comrades on his shoulders for the rest of his life, however long that would be—that he was, literally, the luckiest human to have ever lived.
“Neytiri. Do you think we can explain to everyone about the fish in water?”
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Because we are going to be living rough, and we are going to be carrying around a lot of corpses of our friends and family, and I need to honor that because I’m responsible. But I need to do it without making everyone feel like I did before.”
“We know already, Jake. We see you,” she entreated him. “You walk like all the dead of Pandora are on your shoulders.”
“And I need you all to tell me it’s okay to let them go,” Jake said.
Neytiri smiled at him. “Then gather us and ask,” and she paused for the briefest instant, “Olo’eyctan.”
Am I really leading these people—or am I just figuring out what everyone was going to do anyway, and doing that? Jake thought. And then he remembered what he had felt just minutes earlier, linked to Eywa and Neytiri, and he laughed because Jake the Na’vi didn’t care but Jake the human still needed permission to let go, like a wayward child asking forgiveness from his parents. So he whooped a big, strong call to his tribe, calling them to him, and he smiled because he finally knew exactly what he was going to say.
“I am stupid sometimes,” Jake began, “like a child.”
There was a ripple of laughter.
“Neytiri is smart in the ways I am stupid, and I listen to her. But today we both learned something important because I am like a child.”
That got him many questioning looks.
“You’ve always known Eywa, and through tsayhalu, known her and all her creatures, including ourselves.” He paused. “Humans don’t have that. We never did. Neytiri told me ‘I understand now. An entire planet of Na’vi with their queues cut off.’”
Everyone winced, with a collective intake of breath.
“No way to touch each other, understand each other, understand Eywa. All we have are words and music and pictures. That’s why we talk so much and so loud, like maybe if we shout loudly enough someone will finally hear and understand us.”
“But you are Na’vi now, Jake. You left that behind.”
“Not yet. I need your help. You have seen me carrying the dead of this war on my shoulders.” There were several nods. “That is the human way. No tsayhalu. No one understands you, no one can share your joy or pain. Ever. So you save it all inside, or you make yourself into something that can’t feel it—and that is why humans are what they are, do what they do.”
He paused to let that sink in.
“Neytiri told me something else. ‘Like a fish in water.’ You don’t know what it’s like to not have tsayhalu, what it’s like to be human. To you, it’s just how things are, like water to a fish.”
He scowled, wanting to get this right. “Sure, it’s part of you, it’s part of your life, but you don’t see it like I do. I’ve been human most of my life. I’ve only been Na’vi for four months. Less.”
A long pause.
“Eywa is new to me. I see her like a child, and she is so beautiful that I threw away my body and betrayed my entire species just so I could be with her and Neytiri and you. And I would do it again,” he growled, trying not to cry, “because she is so beautiful, and because I can be a tiny, insignificant part of her, and because that is the most important thing ever, and I hope you can see her through my eyes, even a little.
“Anyway. I carry the weight of all our dead mates and children and ikrans and direhorses, and of Hometree. You have seen this.” They nodded. “But I can’t carry that weight and lead you, too. So I entered tsayhalu with Neytiri and with Eywa, together, and now Jake-the-Na’vi understands what has happened and doesn’t need to carry it himself anymore, because the shock of it will ripple through Eywa for generations and it will never be forgotten, ever.” He blew out a breath. “But I’m still part human, and Jake-the-human can’t let go of his responsibility just because he wrapped his hair around a tree, and he needs to hear that from you, that he can let it go.”
“And then,” he continued, surprising himself because he thought he was done and hadn’t planned this part at all, “I can finally let Jake-the-human go, because he has done so much for us and he is very tired and he wants to go away and let me be a Na’vi.”
He wasn’t sure anyone understood him—but he kept going, because this was for Jake-the-human and that’s how humans do things.
“Jake-the-human was Toruk Makto.”
That got their attention, he thought.
He nodded. “Yes. Jake-the-human was the hero. He’s the one who understood what none of the other humans did, not even the other Avatar drivers. Maybe it’s because he knew he was stupid and let Neytiri teach him, I don’t know – but he’s the one who betrayed his own commander and his own species and joined you and rode Toruk into battle against his own people, and their machines. And so many of us died because of that, because Jake-the-human led tribes whose names he can’t even remember into battle and they followed him and died willingly for all the Na’vi, for Eywa, for Pandora.” He was crying now; big, fast tears. “And Jake-the-Na’vi understands everything already, but Jake-the-human needs to know that he did the right thing—or if it was the wrong thing, that you forgive him for being stupid.”
Suddenly out of words, he stopped, looked helplessly over the crowd—his people, he thought sardonically—and, knowing nothing else to do, turned to go.
“Jake. Stay.” And as Neytiri caught his arm, he saw that they were all gathering around him, surrounding him in big, concentric circles, just as they had when he had passed the last test and finally become a warrior. Now they all reached out to him, the inner circle placing their hands on his shoulders and each circle placing their hands on the next circle’s shoulders and the entire tribe was linked together, touching him, for a long moment.
Then Neytiri spoke softly:
“We forgive you, Jake-the-human. Rest easy. You are Na’vi now.”
And as the weight of uncountable deaths rose from his shoulders, Jake closed his eyes and gave his human self a final salute. You did good, kid. Rest easy.
He opened his eyes a Na’vi.
Continue reading Part II.
Back to the index.