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
“Six years, Norm.” Jake shook his head. “Six years in that fuckin’ tin can.”
“It’ll seem like a lot less,” Norm said. “You saw me trying out the hibernation drugs. I was under for almost a week and it felt like a few hours.”
“Even six months is going to seem like forever, in there,” said Jake, pointing. “And we don’t even know if they’ll just shoot you out of the sky once they figure out who you are and what you’ve brought back with you.”
Norm laughed. “This isn’t like you, Jake. You’ve had that serene Zen calm ever since you turned into a real Na’vi, and now you’re worrying like my mother. ‘Don’t forget your haaaat, Norm, it’s coooold!’”
Jake scowled. “This is serious, Norm. You’re the only one who knows this stuff, and if you get killed…”
“No, I’m not,” Norm said, smiling. “Not anymore. Maybe I’m the only one who could have figured it out for the first time, but now everyone else here at Hellgate understands it enough to do it again. That’s what science is.”
Jake sighed. “You’re right, Norm.” And he realized that the reason he was so concerned and doubtful was because this was all outside Eywa’s embrace, and all he could do was let Norm do his best.
“Hey, Jake.” Norm got a funny look on his face, and then smiled. “I think I can explain.”
“I never understand, no matter how many times you try,” said Jake. “I’m not a scientist.”
“Not that,” Norm grinned. “Remember when you were riding on the back of your ikran, and the humans were winning and Hometree was dead and burning and everything was fucked, and you looked down and you saw Toruk flying way down below you?”
It took Jake a few seconds, but understanding slowly dawned on him.
“It’s my turn to jump on the dragon, Jake. You did your part. Let me do mine.” And Jake could see the calm confidence in Norm’s eyes, and he thought: that must be what the others saw in me when I was Toruk Makto, and he hugged Norm like a brother and cried with happiness because Norm was meeting his challenge like a true warrior.
“Before you go, come with me to Hometree. We have something to give you.”
“I can’t take one more kilo with me, Jake. You know that.”
“It’ll fit. I promise.”
Norm nodded doubtfully. “Okay, sure. I want to say goodbye to everyone anyway.”
Jake nodded. “See you in a couple days.”
The new Hometree was a long ways away from Hellgate, so Jake had to put Norm behind him on his ikran, who wasn’t happy at all with the extra weight. <Almost there>, he said, <rest soon>, and it was a good thing Norm was skinny because it was a close thing. He would have to apologize to his people for taking some of the feast ahead of time to feed his ikran, but there wasn’t much choice if he wanted to get Norm back afterward.
There had been some initial skepticism, but they all understood what Norm was doing and why it was important, probably the most important thing that had ever happened on Pandora, and Jake was Olo’eyctan and they trusted him, so they prepared the ritual pigments and the feast and welcomed Norm as he vaulted down off Jake’s exhausted ikran.
“What the hell, Jake?” Norm said, voice muffled by his breathing mask. “This looks like an initiation feast.”
“It’s for you, Norm.” Jake said, smiling, and Norm’s mouth opened and closed in surprise a few times, and while he was still trying to figure out what to say Jake addressed the crowd and told them what they already knew, for Norm’s benefit.
“Norm is a warrior of the mind,” he began, speaking Na’vi: Norm understood it just as well as he did. “His strength and skill have been tested and challenged for years, since before he arrived on Pandora, in ways I don’t even begin to understand.
“At any time he could have abandoned those tests, because he was brought here to be just another scientist,” and he used the Human word that all the Na’vi understood. “But those tests were of Eywa, and he chose them freely, and when the battle for Pandora began he chose Eywa again and took up arms against his own species, as I did.
“In doing so, Norm lost his Avatar, his connection to the People. But still he chose Eywa, even though he can never know her as we do,” Jake growled fiercely, “and he has continued to meet her challenges, and if anyone believes he could do the same and Norm is unworthy of our honor, let him speak now.”
During the absolute silence that followed, Jake looked down at Norm, who stood tall and proud, eyes brimming with tears, and he smiled and continued. “And now Norm has accepted the final challenge, which is to leave Pandora with the seeds of life he has changed himself so that they may grow on Earth, and the Earth may someday feel Eywa’s presence.”
A human crowd would have cheered at this point, but the Na’vi were silent; instead, they literally glowed with pride, bioluminescence standing out like constellations.
“Norm may succeed and he may fail, for not even Eywa knows the future. But he is meeting his challenge as a warrior must, and we will send him into the future as a warrior. Kamakto fa Eywa, Tsamsiyu.”
And his tribe echoed the ritual greeting, for they knew what Norm had been doing for so long, locked away inside Hellgate, and how much more he had done than they had even thought possible, and Jake could see the respect in their eyes, and he was happy because Norm deserved it, ten times over.
“I have one final request,” Jake said, smiling because it was really an order and everyone knew it. “Tradition says that the ceremony takes place inside Hometree. Norm is not of Hometree. He is of the sky people, and his task lies in the sky, and we will initiate him here, under the sky. Prepare him here.”
Norm was so choked up he couldn’t even speak. Jake nodded to him and held up a hand. “This is your time, Norm. Let them take care of you. I’ll be back for the ceremony.”
Smiling, Jake went to feed his exhausted ikran.
Jake expected Norm to look silly painted up like a Na’vi warrior—but what do you know? he thought. He’s got no muscles, but no fat on him either, and now that he’s actually standing tall and proud instead of slouching around like he always does, that skinny bastard looks more like a Na’vi than I ever did when I was human. Apparently Norm had held his breath long enough for them to take off the breathing mask and paint the ritual designs on his face. They had even decorated the mask, and the total effect was actually a bit scary, like some half-aquatic predator. And Jake was proud of him, because Norm’s eyes were dry and his face showed the calm pride of someone who knows they deserve their honor—but who also knows he could throw it away instantly with a stupid word or misplaced action.
Finally it was time. The entire tribe all gathered around Norm in concentric circles, the inner circle placing their hands on his shoulders and back and chest and each circle placing their hands on the next circle’s shoulders, and Jake stood in front of Norm with his hands on Norm’s shoulders, and the entire tribe was linked together, touching him, for a long moment as Norm glowed with fierce pride and Jake’s heart swelled inside his chest with happiness for him—
—and Jake saw an Atokarina’ slowly, casually wafting its way downwards, towards Norm, and he was sure everyone but Norm saw it too because no one moved, or even breathed—
—and just as it touched down, feather-light, on top of Norm’s head, he saw another, slowly drifting in from another direction—
—and Jake saw more of them as points of light reflected from Norm’s breathing mask and he couldn’t help but look up, and as he did, he gasped, because the Atokarina’ were everywhere, easily a hundred of them, more than anyone had ever seen at once, even Jake when he first got lost in the forest and tried to follow Neytiri, and everyone looked up and around as the seeds all slowly pulsed and drifted inwards, towards the center of the circle, towards Norm, and Norm took a couple quick, deep breaths and pulled off his breathing mask and held his arms up as the woodsprites landed on his outstretched arms and even on the mask he held in one upraised hand, and he threw his head back and laughed silently, eyes brimming with tears, as they landed on his forehead and face too and Norm was lit up like a Christmas tree and laughing and crying soundlessly at the same time and the only motion in that long timeless moment was the seeds of the Great Tree as their soft light told everyone all they needed to know.
The Atokarina’ dispersed as one, like a dandelion blown gently by a child, and everyone finally remembered to breathe, including Norm, who somehow managed to get his mask back on without breaking any contact with Jake or anyone else, and Jake intoned,
“You are now a son of the Omaticaya. You are one of the People.”
And no one can doubt it, Jake thought.
“I sure hope this tub holds together,” Jake said. “The inside looks like it’s made with tree bark and duct tape.”
“It is, sort of,” Norm said, with pride. “The life system is just Earth-adapted Pandora plants. Once I realized that keeping me alive in the ship and keeping the plants alive on Earth were the same problem, I could focus entirely on that. The hard part of spaceships is bonding things together and making them airtight no matter what, but that’s what life does. It gets itself into all the cracks and crevices.” Norm smiled. “There was plenty of navigation equipment in the scouts, plenty of unobtainium around for the drive, and solid fuels are just chemistry.”
Jake laughed. “For you, sure. I just hope you don’t go batshit on the trip. Six years is a long time, even if it’s a subjective six months.”
“That’s the dragon I’ve got to ride, Jake.”
“You are one of the People,” Jake said in Na’vi, and they clasped hands like warriors. “Go with Eywa.”
“I am, Jake. I’m bringing her home.”
Jake nodded as Norm climbed the ladder to the hatch.
“T minus about five,” he called out. “Get your butt clear. I advise several klicks, just in case I blow up right here on the pad. There’s a lot of bad chemicals in this thing.”
“You’ll be fine,” Jake said, feeling very certain of it.
“Go anyway,” Norm laughed, and slammed the hatch.
Jake jogged back to his ikran and wheeled it into the sky, wanting to watch from the air. I get to ride an ikran, he thought, but Norm gets to ride Eywa between worlds. And he deserves it, he thought with pride. He deserves every moment of happiness we gave him, and if he survives this trip, he deserves every moment of happiness it brings him to come home bearing the most precious gift in the Universe. And if he plants seeds of Eywa upon the Earth and they grow and thrive, then may he live to finally both know and understand the peace and happiness she brings.
A ball of light appeared under the ship and grew brighter and brighter until Jake had to squint, and the ship slowly, slowly rose from the pad on a shimmering pillar of smoky fire, absolutely beautiful and utterly silent—
—and just as Jake was wondering about that, the roar of the engines slammed into him and his ikran, shaking them like prey in the jaws of a thanator, and both of them screamed their highest, loudest battle screams of joy and triumph because Norm was really doing it, holy shit, he’s riding that dragon all the way up into the sky, and the roar slowly diminished as the dragon pierced the sky and kept going, and Jake watched its trail as it vanished into the immense, unfathomable distances beyond Pandora, and he cried tears of joy because they had all done everything they could, and it worked. All the rare plants they had gathered and farmed and harvested because Norm said they were the only source of some compound he absolutely needed, all the years of pushing his tribe to do things they didn’t understand because he absolutely knew Norm was doing Eywa’s will, even Neytiri growing tired and frustrated and snapping at him, and goddammit, we did it. We did it, and it’s done, and the rest is all up to Norm but he is a goddamn warrior and if it can be done he will do it and I know that more than I know anything else.
There was a tiny trail of smoke spiraling down in the distance, into the sea, but he wasn’t worried because he knew that was just the booster stage, cut loose, and he knew that because after a short pause he could see the vapor trail continue beyond it, and Norm was on his way back home.
He returned to a celebration already in progress: most of the tribe had climbed Hometree to watch and had seen the ship leave the atmosphere, its vapor trail still hanging ragged in the air as it slowly dissipated, and he tossed some meat to his ikran and let it go, and everyone laughed and hugged and danced around and people were chanting and drumming and he could see some of them were already a little bit fucked up, and he was happy because they could all rest for a while and worry about nothing but putting food in their stomachs.
Neytiri found him, eyes shining. “Jake, I am so happy. You were right. This is the will of Eywa. Everyone can feel it.” And she danced a little dance, right there, with a hint of sexiness. “I think some children will be made tonight, yes?”
His face fell, and he felt like he had been punched in the stomach. “I don’t know if we can, Neytiri.”
She laughed and pulled him to her. “If a planet can make a child, so can Jake Sully. It is time,” and she nipped his ear, “right now.”
Well, then, Jake thought. With an evil grin, he tossed Neytiri over his shoulder like a caveman and carried her away, over her intentionally ineffectual protests, deep up inside Hometree.
“This is our home,” he said, licking her ear.
She nodded, and arched her back.
“This will be our child’s home,” he said, nuzzling her neck.
She nodded, and hissed with pleasure.
“And I will live in it until I die,” he said, biting her shoulder, “because I am done with humans and spaceships and you are right, Neytiri, it is time to make a child,” and they had both unsheathed their queues and were holding them expectantly, “right now,” Jake growled as they connected in tsayhalu and melted into each other and there was nothing to do but create the life they both so desperately wanted, and it took a long, long time and several tries—but by the time they exhausted each other he was absolutely sure that he had given Neytiri a child because a single Atokarina’ had somehow ended up all the way up inside Hometree and landed on her stomach, pulsing faintly before wafting away on an invisible breeze.
Neytiri smiled. “See? I told you it was time.”
“I see you,” Jake said, sated and grinning, too exhausted to roll over and actually do it.
Neytiri snorted and rolled on top of him, but Jake gave her such a deep, profound look of joy and gratitude that she couldn’t stay angry. I bonded with a child, she thought, and we needed a man-child to be stupid in the right way, as he said to me once, for it was Eywa’s will—
—but today he has grown up, and I will miss the man-child, but soon I will have a real child to raise and a man to help raise him, and that is much better.
“I see you,” she said, staring straight into his eyes, feeling the new life quicken within her.
Live in freedom, live in beauty.