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.
by J. Stanton
“Jake, man,” Norm said, shaking his head, “I don’t even know you anymore.”
Jake shrugged. It was true; he hardly knew Norm anymore, either. But he knew he had to talk, because Norm was human and that’s how it was, with humans.
“We weren’t close. I barely knew you anyway.”
“It’s more than that, Jake. Or less, I’m not sure which. You’re…” Norm blew out a breath. “Even when I still had my avatar, I was still Norm, just nine feet tall and blue. I mean, it was beautiful to go out on Pandora without a mask, and I loved being able to run so fast, jump so high, but…” He spread his hands, helplessly. “You found something I never did, and I’m jealous, because I wanted it so badly. And now I can never have it, because mine is dead and there won’t ever be any more Avatars.”
Jake tried to explain. “I found Neytiri. Well, she found me.”
“But what the hell did she tell you?” Norm asked, practically pleading. “I know I can’t ever go back, but I at least want to understand. I spent years studying this crap before I got here, I’ve done nothing but study it since I got here, I probably understand more about it than anyone alive now that Grace is dead, and it’s so beautiful to me that I picked up a gun and shot fellow humans, just like you did, and it didn’t do me any damn good at all.” With that, Norm buried his head in his hands.
“Norm.” Jake put his hand on Norm’s shoulder. He felt bad, because Norm’s pain echoed within him and resonated with some of the pieces of Jake-the-human that were still floating around inside him, and he knew that he couldn’t really do anything because he had never understood Norm even when he was human, but…what the hell. He would try, because he knew that Norm could never have what he had, and he wanted to do what he could for him.
“Norm.” He pulled Norm’s chin up, forcing him to look into his eyes. “I think I can explain. Will it help you? Or will it just make you feel worse?”
“I’m a scientist, Jake. It’s all I have. Can I turn on this recorder?”
Jake shrugged. Norm tapped a few keys, sat back down, and grinned. “Talk to me, Jake. Tell me how you turned into a Na’vi.”
Jake chuckled. “It wasn’t what I did, it was what I didn’t do. At least at first.”
Norm gave him a funny look.
“I mean, after I got chased by the thanator and fell into the waterfall and couldn’t find anyone and night started to fall, I was absolutely sure I was going to die, because I might be a jarhead but I read enough of the survival manual to know what came out at night was much worse than anything I had seen that day. But I’m a Marine, and Marines don’t give up, ever, so I made that torch and tried to find a tree I could climb. You know this, I told you.”
Norm nodded. “Go on.”
“Anyway, once Neytiri found me fighting those viperwolves, she started right in with how stupid I was.” Jake smiled, remembering. “The thing was, I’m a Marine. I’m used to being yelled at and called every name in the book. Except usually it’s scary old dudes like Quaritch doing the yelling, and even though she had a tail and funny ears Neytiri was absolutely the hottest woman I had seen, ever, and she had just kicked ass on a pack of beasts that most definitely would have killed me, using nothing but a big longbow and her feet. Right then she could have told me two plus two was eight hundred and I would have nodded and gone ‘Duhhhh…okay.’”
Norm laughed. “Dude, I’m still 100% human and even I think she’s hot.”
“I guess I was lucky because all those little white glowing spores came and landed on me, and that’s a big sacred sign to us, which is why she took me home instead of just leaving me there to die, so maybe Eywa selected me and that’s your answer, right there. But I think there’s more, because there are about a million other things I could have fucked up.”
“Yeah. Every night you would tell us a taller and taller story. We would all try to guess what sort of batshit craziness you’d got up to that day, before you came out of the link.”
Jake thought a moment. “You know most of the rest, and I won’t tell it again, but it all goes back to when I first met her and realized that she had forgotten more about Pandora than I’d ever know, and so did the other Na’vi, so I would just watch and listen to them and do everything their way.” He smiled. “I think that’s why you and Grace and the other lab coats never found what I did. You always wanted to understand everything your way, always drilling the Na’vi with questions we can’t answer, because we don’t understand it your way either. I think you finally figured that out, toward the end, but by then everything was totally fucked and we were all just trying not to die.”
“I knew we had to do something differently, but I never knew what that was,” said Norm. “I know how to take samples, run analyses, trace chemical interactions, reverse-engineer biological processes.”
“Maybe that’s important,” Jake agreed, “but it won’t make you understand what I do.”
“Obviously not,” Norm shrugged. “I still don’t.”
“Anyway, I just accepted that I’m a dumb jarhead and I didn’t know shit about shit, and especially I didn’t know shit about anything on Pandora, so I just said ‘Teach me your way,’ and they did.”
“But when did you understand?” Norm implored him. “What was it that finally got you to where you are?”
“It wasn’t one thing, Norm. I can’t tell you ‘Here’s what it’s like’ and have you understand.” Jake smiled, remembering. “It’s learning to shoot a longbow, learning to jump between trees without tripping over your tail, learning to ride a direhorse and falling so many times I was spitting up mud coming out of the link. It’s learning to kill your prey cleanly and give it the respect it deserves for feeding your body so you can live another day or two. It’s catching an ikran and having to learn to fly it in about six seconds, before you hit the ground.” He chuckled. “It’s being told you’re stupid six hundred times every day by the hottest woman on two planets, and knowing she’s right, and working your ass off so maybe tomorrow she’ll only say it five hundred times.” He paused, face growing hard. “And it’s being right there when Hometree falls. Not watching it on a monitor from Hell’s Gate. Being right there as people you know and love burn and scream and die, and the terrible noise of something that big and old and beautiful burning and falling and dying, and knowing that even though I had a blue skin on, right then, that I was responsible just as surely as Quaritch and his Marines, because I was one of them too.”
He blew out a big breath. “I’m tired of talking, Norm, and if you don’t understand now, you never will. There wasn’t any magic. I lived like the Na’vi do, and I did it for long enough, and I did it well enough that they accepted me as one of them, and now I am.”
Norm shook his head. “I’m sorry, Jake. But this helped me a lot, it really did.” He smiled sadly. “I couldn’t have done all the crazy shit you did. Maybe it’s because you’re a Marine, maybe you really are the chosen of Eywa, but I don’t think I would have had the nerve.”
Jake nodded. “Nerve and skill. If we take you up to where the ikran live and you can’t catch one, you don’t get to ride one. Ever.” He paused. “Every day we run and climb around, hundreds of feet up. Every few days we hunt beasts that could kill us with a single kick. It’s amazing more of us don’t die, and it’s not because Pandora isn’t as dangerous to the Na’vi as it is to humans. It’s because we’re really damn good at living here, and that’s because anyone who isn’t, dies.”
Norm smiled sadly. “Man, you really are a Na’vi now. Just accepting that kind of casual brutality. Humans freak out when someone stubs their toe.”
“Still do, sometimes,” Jake said, laughing. “Lots of ways to do it, when you’re barefoot. But you’re forgetting something.”
“We have Eywa, and she’s real. If I am trampled on tomorrow’s hunt and it takes all day for me to die in pain, it would still all be worth it, to know her and be part of her.” Jake stood and held out a hand, palm forward, silencing Norm with the gesture. “And I won’t explain her to you, because it will make you very, very sad and I am tired of talking.”
Norm sighed, and stood. “Hey, Jake.”
That didn’t seem to require a response, so Jake said nothing.
“Thanks, man. I…” He whistled softly. “I think I understand, now.”
Something resonated with an echo of Jake-the-human, and Jake said, “You’re a great scientist, Norm. So was my brother. I was nothing. Let me be a Na’vi.”
Norm’s jaw dropped, and he started to laugh, shaking his head, and Jake felt good because even without Eywa’s help or the bond of tsayhalu he had managed to understand Norm, a little, and maybe even return some of that understanding to him.
“Is it always like that?” Norm asked him, still laughing.
“If I do it right,” he replied.
“Thanks for showing me, Jake,” Norm said, very seriously, and gave Jake a big, awkward hug.
Jake walked outdoors and called for his ikran, already thinking about tomorrow’s hunt.
Continue to Part IV.
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