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Avatar: Technique

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Remember the scene in Avatar where Neytiri is teaching Jake to shoot a longbow? I imagine this is how Jake finally figured it out.

by J. Stanton

      Guns are so much easier than bows, Jake thought. Just point, exhale, and shoot. My arms and shoulders and chest are on fire, I’m hungry, and no matter what I do, these fucking arrows are going everywhere but into the target.
      Neytiri smacked him in the stomach, and he straightened. Posture, dammit. You’re a warrior, stand like one. And for what had to be the fortieth time today, she moved his forward arm into a fractionally different position—which must have been important, though he didn’t understand why this time, either.
      Beads of sweat trickled down his face and neck, itching like bugs he knew weren’t there—something about Na’vi body chemistry kept them away. And as he fought the urge to slap at them, Neytiri smacked his elbow again, hard, with a snort of frustration.
      Elbow up, he thought. At least I understand that. And as he loosed his last arrow, he knew right away that it was going to miss not only the tree fungus he was optimistically using for a target—it was going to miss the tree’s trunk entirely, and he was going to have a long walk getting it, and probably some time finding it because of the undergrowth, so he just dropped the bow, right there, and started walking.
      “Idiot! Child!” Neytiri yelled at his back. “You hold your bow like you’re afraid to dirty your hands with it! Like it’s a piece of rotten meat!
      Jake whirled to face her, frustration spilling over. “It’s a piece of wood! What should I do, sleep with it and pretend it’s you?”
     Oh, no, he thought. I’m so tired and stupid from living two lives, never really sleeping, that everything that’s supposed to stay in my head is coming straight out of my mouth.
     But as he closed his eyes and slapped his forehead in dismay, shoulders slumped, he heard Neytiri start to giggle—a sound he had never heard before.
     He looked through his fingers. Her nose and eyes were crinkled with amusement and she was making little snorting noises. And just as he was trying to remember if he had ever heard her laugh, she exploded in a strange whooping and howling—which was, nonetheless, totally recognizable as amusement, at his expense.
     Jake folded his arms and waited for her to finish.
      “Yes! Yes!” she whooped, finally settling down to a solicitous chuckle. “Maybe you grow up someday.”
     I give up, he thought. “I don’t understand, Neytiri.”
      “Hold your bow like you would hold your mate. Now get your arrows.” She shooed him away.
      What the hell does she mean by that? Jake wondered, as he thrashed his way through the faintly luminescent Pandoran undergrowth.

      Neytiri was waiting for him, still grinning. “Jake. Draw your bow.”
      He shrugged, and drew with a grunt. As a Na’vi, he was frighteningly strong—no human could have even strung his bow, much less drawn it—but it was still a major effort.
      “You hold woman like that, she runs away,” Neytiri explained. “Hold child like that, she cries.”
      He let the bow down slowly. “I don’t think I’m as strong as you yet, Neytiri.”
      “Pfah! Sky-people gave you big muscles.” She scowled and punched his arm, hard. “But no brain.”
      And then, just for an instant, she gave him a look of complete trust and adoration that froze him in place—and he knew at that moment that he was absolutely, completely lost, and that he would throw himself into the blades of a cargo lifter if it would save her.
      The moment passed, and Neytiri smirked. “Try again.”
      Jake still held his bow in his right hand, at his side, and one arrow in his left. He brought the bow up to look at it more closely. It was an ugly thing, thick and crudely carved, wrapped and strung with sinew…
      …and, Jake realized, exactly fit for its purpose. It was thick because it needed to propel a huge, heavy arrow, and his hand fit perfectly around its center because he had carved it so, and he nocked the arrow and thought of Neytiri in his arms and rolled his shoulders sideways against the bow’s resistance as he brought his arm up to face the target, smoothly, deliberately. Thinking of her he stood straight and proud and he felt like his head was rising up through the forest canopy, into the sky, and he let the arrow fly—
      —and chunks of fungus spun through the air, its luminescent interior leaving trails like fireworks as his arrow buried itself in the tree trunk with a loud, resonant thunk.
      Neytiri smiled at him. “Now I teach you to hunt.”


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My other Avatar fiction is here.