*Disclaimer: I do not own Pandora and I make no profit from writing fanfiction based on the "Avatar" film.
Katherine Hart was one of the few select humans allowed on Pandora, after the events that led the Na'vi and humans to war. She originally came to Pandora to work with Grace Augustine but when she arrived, she learned that Grace passed away, most of the human colony and militia were driven out and the Avatar program was all but dead. Norm Spellman filled her in on the details and he vouched for her and a few select members of her team to the Na'vi, allowing her to stay on Pandora to conduct her studies.
Her team had brought four avatars and drivers with them. Unfortunately, one of the drivers never woke up from cryogenics. Something went wrong with his capsule during the trip and he suffocated in his sleep. If the death of Sebastian Thomas wasn't bad enough, the avatar he was meant to drive also suffered abnormalities during the journey. It never reached full maturity and unlike the other avatars waiting in their incubation tanks, Sebastian's was stunted. Rather than the average nine-foot plus stature it was meant to achieve, the avatar had only matured to seven feet tall.
Katherine had been on Pandora for three days, so far. The remaining team had only moved the avatars from the ship this morning before fueling up and leaving to return to Earth. She stood with Doctor Roy Jacobs in the avatar room, debating with him over what should be done with Sebastian's stunted avatar.
"He looks fully mature," she said thoughtfully as she walked the length of the incubation tank. " He has adult features and his queue is completely grown. He just hasn't reached full Na'vi height. "
Dr. Jacobs nodded. " True, but without a DNA match for a driver, this avatar is useless. We can't do anything with it and it costs resources to keep it under life support. We should pull the plug and dispose of it. "
Katherine sighed. Her colleague was right, she knew. It was a terrible shame to let the avatar die, though. Perhaps it wasn't sentient but it was still a life form. She placed her palm flat on the glass of the incubation tank and stared regretfully at the alien features of the engineered Na'vi. She'd grown used to their feline-like characteristics and she found them rather beautiful. Sebastian was an attractive man with piercing gray eyes and blond hair. His avatar inherited his sculpted bone structure. If Sebastian had been born a native of Pandora instead of Earth, this was how she imagined he might have looked.
"I know it sounds bad," soothed Dr. Jacobs, "but he won't feel anything. You know these avatars are completely un-sentient on their own. "
"Still, it's a shame," she answered. " Our exploration possibilities are so limited as it is, without losing one of the avatars. "
"The Na'vi have strict rules concerning our work anyhow. "The middle-aged doctor shrugged. "We missed out on a lot by arriving late, but you're lucky Grace recommended you. "
Katherine smirked. She was very much aware of how fortunate she was to have this opportunity. She and Norm were the youngest members of the science team.
"I wish I could have had the chance to work with her," Katherine murmured.
Norm Spellman came in through the security doors at that moment. His avatar was lying on one of the examination tables, waiting for his next drive. " Looking good," he said as he glanced down at his avatar. " I wasn't sure they'd get him patched up enough. " He pulled the hospital gown aside carefully; shooting an uncomfortable glance Katherine's way as he tried to ensure he wouldn't accidentally flash her with his avatar as he looked it over.
She chuckled and dutifully turned her back, understanding that his discomfort stemmed from the fact that this was his other body. While not a driver herself, she understood that he spent half of his time in the avatar body and he probably considered it no different from dropping his pants in front of her.
"They did a good job," Norm said in a relieved tone after checking the gunshot injuries the doctors had patched up. " I'll take a test run after lunch. " He covered the avatar back up and turned to face Katherine and Dr. Jacobs. His eyes settled on the stunted avatar in the tank and he frowned, his mild features curious.
"So what happened to this one? Too much time in Earth gravity to grow to his full size? "
"We're not sure," answered Dr. Jacobs. " Sebastian Thomas didn't have any siblings, much less a twin brother. We won't have the luck your team had with Jake Sully. Where is Max Patel, by the way? We could use his input about this. "
Norm glanced at the digital clock on the wall. " He should be getting back from his rounds any minute. You guys haven't spoken with him about this yet? "
"We only got the avatars transported from the ship today," answered Katherine. " We haven't seen Max yet. "
"Well maybe you should wait for him to have a look at this guy before you do anything," suggested Norm as he studied the floating avatar. He looked around at the other three they'd brought with them. " The rest of them look normal. Maybe this one just needs more incubation time. "
Katherine felt oddly relieved by the suggestion. She looked at the almost human-sized avatar in the tank and watched his ears and fingers twitch gently. It was only reflexive but still, she wasn't in a rush to put him down.
"Huh. I think I see what the problem is. "
Katherine sipped her cup of coffee and approached Max, who was bent over a microscope on the counter. "What is it? "
"The DNA mixture isn't balanced right," obliged Max. "Here, see for yourself. They put a little too much human in there. "
When he stepped aside, she looked through the microscope at the sample. "That's a costly mistake. I thought that they had it perfected by now. "
"Well, it's too late to do anything about it," Max sighed. "I guess Dr. Jacobs is right. This one is essentially useless and we're better off cutting the life support. "
Katherine pulled back from the microscope and rubbed her eyes tiredly. "Are you certain he won't feel it? "
Max gave her a sympathetic look. "The avatars don't have any capacity for individual thoughts or feelings. They're blank slates. Don't worry though; it's standard procedure to sedate them when situations lead to this sort of thing. We have no evidence that its necessary but I like to keep things humane, just in case. "
The door opened and Norm's avatar walked in, wearing an exopack specifically designed for Na'vi usage. Katherine stared up at him, a little shocked by how tall he was. Seeing the avatars stretched out on the table or floating in the tanks didn't really give one the proper perspective of how much bigger they were than human beings. Norm's avatar body was clad in brown cargo pants and a black t-shirt. Adding an oddly humorous touch to the outfit was a baseball cap specifically tailored to fit over his head. His long braid dangled over one shoulder as he approached.
"So, what did you find out? " Norm asked. Large amber eyes shifted between the two other scientists and the stunted avatar in the tank.
"They got the mixture wrong when they made it," answered Max. "We can't use it without a driver anyway but I wanted to see what made his growth stop. "
Norm ran his tongue over his teeth in thought and Katherine caught sight of his sharp canines before he spoke again. "That's weird. There hasn't been a mistake like that in avatar production for a long time. Where did Dr. Jacobs go, anyway? "
"He's going over the brain scans," answered Katherine. "Evidently our friend has a decent brain. Too bad that won't help him. "
When both men gave her thoughtful looks, she tried to reassure them. "You don't have to worry about me getting in the way. I'm here to do botany work, not put my nose into Avatar politics. "
Norm smiled at her. "Why not? It never stopped Grace. "He sighed and rubbed his arm, wincing. "They should have linked you to an avatar too. It would have made your job a lot more simple. "
"I was supposed to assist Dr. Augustine. "Katherine's eyes drifted to the doomed avatar. "If we knew the situation here earlier, I probably would have gotten one myself. We've just got to work with what we have. "She smirked up at him. "So I guess that means I'll need to rely on you bringing some samples back, since you can move more freely around this moon. "
Norm grimaced. "So you want me to be your go-to guy until the Omaticaya lift restrictions on you, right? "
"Looks like it," she replied without apology. Noticing that the expression of discomfort hadn't faded from his blue, striped features she gestured at the examination table. "Maybe you should sit down. "
He nodded and turned to walk to the gurney. His tail swung around as he moved and Katherine jumped as it snaked up underneath her lab coat from behind. "Hey! "
Norm turned his head to look at her and she could have sworn he blushed. His cheeks darkened interestingly and he snatched his tail and pressed his lips together. "Excuse me," he apologized, "I'm a little out of synch, since I had to wait a couple of weeks for them to patch up my avatar. "
"It's fine," she said dryly. She combed her chestnut colored hair out of her eyes and shooed him toward the gurney. "Have they looked at you since you linked? "
Norm sank carefully down onto the examination table and shook his head. "I was going to get a checkup after talking to you guys. I'm okay, it's just a little stiffness. "His breath fogged the transparent visor of the mask over his face.
"Don't push yourself," Max advised seriously. "That body took some pretty serious hits in the fight, Norm. "
"I've got it," insisted the anthropologist stubbornly. He twisted gingerly in his seat, working his tightened torso to loosen it up.
Max nodded. "If you say so. Well, we shouldn't put this off. Would you get ready to power down the incubator while I get the sedative? "
"I can do that," agreed Norm. He shot a faintly regretful look at the avatar they were about to euthanize and he stood up.
Katherine moved out of his way as Norm walked to the control panel and began pushing buttons. She couldn't contain a sigh as she looked into the tank. She stared at the avatar with ambiguous hazel eyes and silently apologized to it, even though it wouldn't have understood her even if it could have heard her. Max approached with a syringe full of yellow liquid and he opened up the umbilical cap to prepare for injection.
Katherine wondered how the avatar would react when the medication was distributed. She guessed it wouldn't do anything but she'd never witnessed a cut-off before and she mentally braced herself. He couldn't feel anything. She had to remember that. She knew Max and Norm well enough to respect their experience and knowledge of the avatars. She watched Sebastian Thomas' avatar quietly as Max started to push the needle into the umbilical reservoir. She frowned severely when she thought she saw him turn his head.
"Wait," Katherine demanded, holding a hand out palm-up to Max.
He paused and looked at her with puzzled, dark eyes. "What's the problem? "
"I just. . . thought I saw something," she answered, staring intensely at the avatar. "Movement. Not just reflexive motion, either. "
Norm and Max exchanged a quiet look between the two of them before the latter answered her. "Katherine, maybe you should leave the room while we do this. You know avatars can't function without drivers. "
"I know that," she argued, "but I still saw something. "
"Your mind's playing tricks on you," insisted Norm. "Look, you're just getting yourself worked up. "
She was about to open her mouth to argue with him when the door slid open and Dr. Jacobs hurried in, holding up a flat-screen holographic.
"Don't cut the cord yet," he insisted breathlessly, "there is a lot more going on with this avatar than we thought! "
Max pulled the needle out of the access point and stared at the older scientist. "What's up? "
"Look at these brain scans," announced Dr. Jacobs as he thrust the image screen at Max. "They aren't dark, as they should be. We've got activity as if the avatar is linked to its driver. "
Max, Katherine and Norm gathered around as Jacobs flicked through the scans one at a time. Sure enough, the images were lit up in several places, indicating activity that only a live brain would have had.
"Whoa, that can't be right," breathed Norm, looking from the image to the avatar he'd just been ready to cut off from life support. "The only parts that should be lit up are the ones that control vital organs! It. . . kind of looks like he's dreaming. "
It didn't escape Katherine's notice that Norm referred to the avatar as a "he" instead of an "it". She could see the doubt and uncertainty in his eyes. She looked at the undersized avatar and moved closer to the tank, watching him intensely. Her eyes widened when she saw movement under his eyelids. Norm was right; he was showing signs of REM sleep.
"Unbelievable," Max muttered as he came up beside her and evidently noticed it too. "They must have screwed up more than just the DNA mix. This guy isn't an empty shell, he's alive. "
They studied him for several days before finally coming to an alternate decision, after he continued showing signs of increased awareness. Shutting down the incubation tank was out of the question, since the being inside of it was for all intents and purposes alive. The problem was they had no way of knowing if he was as mature as he was going to get. Removing him from the tank might kill him. Leaving him in there in a state of sentience could do the same thing. The tanks were designed to work like a mother's womb, nurturing the avatars from an embryonic stage to maturity. The umbilical cord provided nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen dioxide and xenon. The liquid inside the tanks balanced out the gravitational force to allow proper growth. Premature removal was risky at best, but if the avatar's lungs were mature, it could drown in the tank if left in for too long.
"I think we should take him out," Norm suggested. "I can put him back in fast if he starts crashing. "
"But your injuries are still healing," reminded Jacobs.
"He's not full-grown," argued Norm. "And Na'vi aren't as heavy as you might think. I should be able to handle it. "
The scientists looked at one another, inwardly debating the situation.
"We've got to do something soon," Max pointed out with a glance at the avatar. He froze. "Uh. . . he's looking at us. "
The others turned to follow his gaze and Norm jumped a little. "Maybe it's just another reflex. "
"I don't think so," countered Katherine as she stood up. The avatar's amber gaze followed her as she approached. There was confusion and panic in those eyes. The pupils were dilating tellingly and the avatar pressed his hands against the glass and began to move about restlessly.
"We have to get this open and let him out," Katherine stated with certainty. She might not have Norm and Max's experience but she could tell the male inside the tank wouldn't last long without breath. "Hurry! He's going to drown! "
Norm and Max moved quickly. While the former started turning the seal lock on the tank, the latter began entering codes to activate the draining process. Norm shook his head and snarled.
"We can't wait for it to drain! You guys make sure there aren't any wires on the floor while I get this thing open! "
Katherine and Jacobs scrambled to check the equipment while Max helped Norm with the seal as best he could. With a grunts and growls of effort, the two of them got the tank open and a flood of clear liquid came out to spill over the floor. Realizing that the avatar they were trying to rescue would need a Pandora atmosphere to breath in, Katherine ran to the exopack storage and pulled out one of the Na'vi breathers. To her surprise, the avatar seemed to be breathing the oxygen just fine after coughing up a bit of water. The men seemed just as baffled as she was and Norm groaned a little as he lifted the soaked, naked avatar and carried him over to one of the gurneys.
Max immediately went to the supply cabinets for towels and a hospital gown while Roy started checking the patient's vitals. The avatar struggled, hissing and spitting with animal fear as Norm fought to hold him down. Between snarls and coughs, he strained against the taller avatar's hold on him. Norm tried speaking to him in both English and Na'vi, trying to assure him that nobody was going to hurt him. Katherine approached as Max dried the liquid from the avatar's body and she added her own soft reassurances to Norm's.
"Can you understand us? It's all right. We're only trying to help you. "
Her adrenaline was pumping from the intensity of the moment and she took a hasty step back as the avatar snapped his teeth at Dr. Jacobs when he pressed the stethoscope on his chest. His dark, damp hair was loose, but for the queue dangling over the side of the gurney. The wet strands clung to his face as he bucked against his captor and Norm cursed in effort to keep him down.
"He might be undersized," grunted Norm, "but he's strong. We're going to have to put him out. "
Dr. Jacobs left off trying to check the heartbeat and went for the medication supplies while Katherine, Norm and Max tried to calm the avatar down and keep him restrained. He worked with practiced efficiency as he measured out the ideal dosage based on approximate weight and height before returning to administer the shot.
"Easy," Katherine soothed as her associate injected the struggling avatar in the thigh for lack of better options. The patient snarled through clenched teeth and panted. His eyes met hers and his struggles began to lessen. She wasn't foolish enough to think he was settling down because of her words. His eyes became unfocused and his lids grew heavy. She stroked his hair and kept murmuring to him as he drifted out of consciousness.
"Are they always so strong when they first wake up? " Katherine asked in shaken surprise when he lay still.
"Well, not exactly," Norm answered between pants. He sat down on the gurney beside the patient's and pulled his hat off, running his fingers through the loosened strands of hair pulled free from his braid in the struggle. "But you've got to remember, we have to synch to our avatar bodies and get used to them when we first wake up. This guy isn't some driver. . . he's using his own body. "
"His Heartbeat and lungs both sound good," announced Dr. Jacobs. "It's a little fast, but after the fight he just put up that's no surprise. Blood pressure is normal, body temperature is a little low but that's to be expected after stasis. He seems to have good muscle tone. Everything's proportioned right, he's just two or three feet too short. "
Max scratched his head. "But he's breathing Earth based gases. Katherine, can you hand that mask over? I want to test something while he's out. "
"You're going to expose him to Pandora air? " She wasn't thrilled with the idea and it showed in her tone.
"We've got to start studying him," Max said. "I'm only going to turn it on long enough to see how his body reacts. This kind of thing has never happened before and the more we understand about him, the better we can take care of him. "
She couldn't refute that logic, so she passed the mask over to him and watched as he placed it over the avatar's face and turned it on. The patient's breath hitched and she tensed, but Max held up a placating hand and reminded her that it took more than a couple of breaths to do harm. The avatar's breathing evened out and Norm's eyebrows went up.
"So he can breathe in both atmospheres? "
"Something tells me someone did a little playing around when they started growing this avatar," Max said with a frown. "There are too many alterations for it all to be just a coincidence. What's the name of the scientist that was assigned to growing him? "
"Dr. Collins," answered Katherine after thinking for a moment. "Bishop Collins. He left on the transport ship back to Earth this morning, after we finished moving the avatars into the bio lab. "
"I'm going to try and pull up his research files," Max said with a frown. "We should get some staff ready and have the other drivers link to theirs for tests, too. I don't know all of the people on the Earth team and none of our people were there when these guys were made. When our shorty here wakes up, I want to do more testing on him. . . if we can get him to cooperate. For now just get some blood, saliva and hair samples from him while he's out. "He took the mask off of the unconscious avatar and the breath caught again as the being re-adjusted to the chemical balance in the air.
"I don't know how cooperative he's going to be," Norm said doubtfully as Max prepared to leave the avatar room. "He was pretty feral. He might operate on an animal level of intelligence at best. "
"He woke up for the first time inside of a tank, surrounded by strangers," argued Katherine. "I don't know about you but I'd be pretty damned spooked in that situation, myself. "
"His brain scans looked healthy," Max reminded them. "If this is the first time he's ever been awake then his mind is in an infant stage. With any luck, he'll start adjusting and learning fast. We'll probably have to teach him how to walk and talk, among other things. "
"Other things? " Norm repeated with an uncomfortable grimace.
"Instincts are going to help but someone's going to have to show this guy where to go to the bathroom, how to eat, how to clean himself up. . . that sort of thing. "Max glanced at the patient before continuing: "Like I said, I need to know what was done when this guy was made. "
Norm sighed. "Great. "
Katherine checked in on the "faulty" avatar often while she was helping the small team work with the new drivers and their avatars. She was anxious to get outside the compound and start collecting samples for research. According to Dr. Augustine's files, it was estimated that only half of the plant life on Pandora had been analyzed and studied before Grace passed away. She couldn't leave the compound yet however, and the avatar drivers needed some time to get used to their pseudo Na'vi bodies before they could be of use. The colony had a handful of choppers for air transport but they were grounded now, until a meeting could be conducted with the Omaticaya Na'vi in the region.
Jake Sully led the clan with his mate, Neytiri. Katherine and her colleagues who were allowed to stay were filled in on that, too. She didn't completely understand how the Na'vi managed to transfer his consciousness completely into his avatar but she suspected she'd learn more about it later. As she understood it, he would be coming to meet the new people on the base by the end of the week. Until then, restrictions were heavy.
Beginning to feel stir crazy, she decided to take a walk outside and visit the garden and activity areas. She was just walking past the examination room where they were keeping the sentient avatar when she saw him moving out the corner of her eye. She stopped and looked in through the reinforced glass window, watching him stir. One of her fellow lab staff members was walking by and she caught her by the arm.
"Go and tell Dr. Patel or Dr. Jacobs," Katherine instructed, "the patient is waking up. We'll probably need people in here in case his restraints don't hold, too. "
Unfortunately, they were forced to sedate him again. This time they avoided putting him completely down, so that further tests could be run. They gave him enough medication to keep him docile and Dr. Jacobs began to examine his reflexes while Katherine spoke softly to the avatar to ease his anxiety. Two orderlies stood by in case further restraint was needed. Max was still busy looking through the data banks but he called the examination room to see how it was going.
"I found some hidden files," explained Max. "I'm working on decrypting them now. I don't know what this Collins guy was up to but it wasn't protocol. Just keep trying to communicate with the avatar and run what tests you can. "
"Can do," Katherine promised. She heard a threatening hiss behind her and she turned to see the patient glaring up at Jacobs with his ears laid back. Even under the influence of the sedative, he wasn't cooperative. "I'd better get back to work," Katherine told Max. "I'll let you know if we find anything significant. "
"Katherine, I need you over here," Roy called. "Damn! "He yanked his hand away as his patient's teeth snapped at it again.
Katherine hurried over to the table and resumed talking to the avatar. She doubted that he could understand a word she said but he seemed to calm down a little.
"Looks like you've got a way with him," commented Roy as the patient gazed up at her and listened to her voice.
"I can't imagine why," she answered, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Shh, it's okay," she finished, addressing patient.
Dr. Jacobs shrugged. "He's a mass of basic instincts right now. Having a pretty female cooing over him probably helps. "
Katherine looked up with a frown. "I don't suppose you've noticed I'm the wrong species? "
"I wouldn't be so sure. "Roy grinned. "The Na'vi are a lot like us when it comes to the basics and he isn't exactly a typical avatar. Besides, I don't think he knows the difference between a Na'vi woman and a human, right now. "
"I could have done without that observation," she grumbled. The avatar strained again and she turned her attention back to him. "Easy now. You only have to put up with this for a little while longer. You're okay. "
He settled again, swallowing and breathing heavily. Roy finished checking the reflexes and he hesitated as he looked at the instrument tray. "I think we should rule out drawing more blood for now. It would be safer for everyone to do it while he's unconscious or when we can make him understand it's for his own good. "
"That's probably a smart choice," she agreed dryly, noticing that one of the patient's wrist restraints was already ripped from his earlier struggles.
Sebastian's avatar was more cooperative the next day—at least with Katherine. She started by offering him food and attempting to show him how to use a spoon in the morning. She didn't know how he would react to her taking a bite of his food so she demonstrated how to use the spoon without actually putting it in her mouth.
"There, now you try it," she encouraged, gently taking his right hand and guiding him to grip the spoon handle.
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at her.
"Go ahead," she told him.
He sniffed at the food and frowned. It then occurred to her that avoiding taking a bite might not have been the way to go. Maybe he thought she was trying to poison him.
"Here," she sighed, trying to take the spoon from him. She moved too fast and he recoiled away from her. "It's okay," she murmured, smiling gently. "Trust me, you could probably twist my head off in two seconds flat. I'm not a threat to you. "
She didn't know why she kept bothering trying to explain to him, other than the faint suspicion that he might understand her words on some level. He was definitely more lucid this morning. She coaxed with her hands, urging him to give her the bowl. He slowly handed it over and she spooned up a bite of the oatmeal and put it into her mouth. She chewed and swallowed it, making "Mmm" noises to ensure him that it was tasty. She considered getting a fresh spoon for him but that might just convince him she had some nefarious reason for refusing to share eating utensils. Instead, she wiped the spoon off with one of the napkins before offering the bowl to him again.
"Now, will you try it? "
He took the bowl from her awkwardly and he mimicked her earlier action, scooping up a mouthful of the food. He watched her as he brought the spoon to his lips and slipped it into his mouth. His face immediately took on a sour expression and he gave her an accusing look. Katherine impulsively began to ask him what was wrong but she got her answer when he spit the oatmeal out and grimaced like a sullen child, laying his ears back flat against his head.
"No, don't spit it. . . oh, here. "Thankful that she's had the foresight to bring a napkin, she wiped at his chin and lips to clean away the dribbling oatmeal. "I guess that means you aren't an oatmeal lover. "
He allowed her to finish wiping his face and he kept looking at her with that insulted, disgusted expression on his face. Katherine sighed but she felt a grin trying to surface and she ducked her head to hide it as she reached for the cup of water she'd left on the tray. She offered it to him and helped him bring it to his lips, watching his throat work as he swallowed thirstily.
"Better? " She asked when he finished drinking his fill and sighed. Apparently it was, because the scowl had faded from his lips and he looked at the bowl before handing it back to her.
The door opened and Norm came in. He was in his avatar body again and he was wearing a pair of jogging pants and a muscle shirt. He yawned and avoided coming closer for the moment, looking between Katherine and the patient.
"No more restraints, huh? "
"As long as he behaves," she agreed. "They're monitoring him and if he starts having a conniption again, they'll have to restrain and sedate him. "
"Has he tried to walk yet? "Norm took a careful step closer and his tail swished.
The patient saw the movement and he stared, looking Norm up and down curiously. He slowly reached down and under the sheets covering him to the waist, drawing his own tail out and holding it up. He also reached for the long braid hanging from the base of his skull and he gave Norm a curious look, his ears moving forward slightly with interest.
"Yeah, that's right," Norm said with a little nod. He held up his tail and presented it to the smaller avatar. "I'm like you. Well, kind of. "
To Katherine, he whispered: "I thought it was worth a try to see if he'd get along better with me in my avatar form. He was out of it yesterday but it looks like he's starting to figure things out, now. "
"That's sensible. He hasn't gotten out of the bed, but he's only been awake for a little while," answered Katherine. She gestured at the forgotten bowl of oatmeal. "I tried to feed him but he spit it back out. "She noticed that Norm was carrying a piece of native fruit from the gardens outside and she looked at it curiously. She hadn't had a look at the food trees outside yet but she knew they weren't edible to humans without first being processed.
"Here," Norm offered, handing the fruit to her rather than the patient. "He likes you so you try giving this to him. He might stomach it better than oatmeal. "
The fruit fit in one of Norm's larger Na'vi hands but Katherine had to take it in both of hers. It was roughly the size of a cantaloupe and its skin was purple and bumpy. It gave a little when she squeezed it and she offered it to the patient.
"How is he supposed to get his mouth around that? " she asked.
"The skin's pretty soft," Norm assured her. "He'll probably drip some, though. "
The smaller avatar examined the fruit in his hands for a moment before slowly raising it to his lips. His tawny gaze slid to Katherine in a way that suggested he might decide to spit it out directly on her, if it turned out to be a disappointment like the oatmeal. Katherine scooted her chair back as a precaution and smiled at him as he bit down. Some of the juice dribbled over the skin and down his neck but he evidently liked the fruit. He began to eat with a sharp appetite and Katherine exchanged a grin with Norm.
"I was going to eat that myself but I can pick another one. "Norm explained.
"Have you heard anything from Max about the files he found? "Katherine impulsively dabbed the juice from the patient's face as he ate and he glanced at her sidelong without pausing in his meal.
"As a matter of fact, yes. He wants to talk to us in an hour. It sounds like whatever he found is a big deal. "
She gazed at Norm thoughtfully, wondering what had been done to the unusual avatar munching on the fruit beside her. "Do you think it's good news or bad news? "
Norm sighed and brushed back a few loose wisps of black hair from his forehead. "By the sound of his voice, I don't think it's good news. "He looked at his shorter counterpart on the bed and gave a brief nod. "Maybe we should name him. "
Katherine nodded with agreement and when Norm just stared at her expectantly, she raised an eyebrow. "What? You want me to name him? I'm the botanist here. I don't even know what I'm doing nursing this guy. . . this isn't my specialty. "
"Nobody forced you to look after him. "Norm's mouth twitched.
She sighed. No, nobody ordered her to take care of the avatar. Her fascination with the Na'vi people and her compassion for him were responsible for her volunteering. She shrugged and considered the patient. He was just finishing up with the piece of fruit and he began licking the juice off his fingers.
"Well, his driver's name was Sebastian. If things hadn't gone sour that's what we would be calling him anyway, right? "
"Yeah, I guess. It's not very creative but it will do. "
She smirked and dabbed at Sebastian's face again with the napkin. "I happen to like the name and he was a decent guy. "
It was then that she noticed the avatar was staring at her with a puzzled look on his face. She paused in her action and considered the expression carefully. "Sebastian? Is that name okay with you? "
His lips parted and his brows furrowed. To Katherine, it appeared as though he was trying to recall something. Norm evidently got the same impression because he spoke her growing suspicion out loud.
"Do you recognize that name? "
He lowered his eyes and frowned uncertainly. Katherine couldn't be sure whether he was considering the question or whether he simply couldn't comprehend it. She felt like they were onto something but she couldn't imagine what. Maybe his driver did somehow link with him before his death but if so, what could have been accomplished? Linking with an immature avatar was like slipping into a coma, from what she understood.
"Sebastian Thomas didn't die by accident. "
Everyone stared at Max as he handed out small holographic screens with his report uploaded into them.
"You're sure about this? " Ramona Adams stared at the lit up text on the screen she held and a frown creased her brows.
"I double and triple checked," answered Max, his gaze sweeping the small team of scientists. "Someone tampered with his cryogenic capsule while he was in stasis and I'm betting it was Dr. Collins. If you skip to the next page, you'll see a summary of things I found in his files. He was using the avatar program to try and create a life form that could adapt to either atmosphere. From what I've dug up so far, he was trying to find a way to permanently lock a driver's conscience into an avatar. "
Norm's eyes flickered and unfocused. "Like what the Na'vi and Eywa did for Jake. "He looked at Katherine, who returned his look and guessed he was thinking of the avatar's behavior when they she named him earlier. "They tried to do the same thing for Grace but she was too weak. "
"But we don't have the technology or the means to do something like that," Ramona pointed out. "Unless Dr. Collins got his hands on a sample from the Tree of Souls before taking the trip here. "
"He couldn't have," Norm said with a shake of his head. "We were the first outsiders ever allowed there and we sure as hell didn't send any samples back to Earth. Even if he did get a sample, he couldn't have done anything with it. He must have figured out a way with the link capsule. "
Max looked between Katherine and Norm and he scratched the beard growth on his jaw. "What's going on, you two? Did something happen with the avatar this morning? "
"We thought he should have a name," explained Katherine readily. "And I thought it made sense to name him after the pilot intended to operate him. When I called him 'Sebastian' he acted a little strange. "
"Strange how? " pressed Dr. Jacobs.
"Like he recognized the name," answered Norm.
Max wore an expression that warred between trepidation and disbelief. "Are you sure about this? "
"We both saw it," confirmed Norm. "He didn't say anything but he acted sort of like a pet hearing its own name. I don't think he understood anything else we said but he knew 'Sebastian' when he heard it. "
"Then Dr. Collin might have pulled it off," Max uttered. He sighed. "If he did, then it was the transference that killed Thomas' human body. Collins might have put him back in his cryo capsule and sabotaged it to cover up what he tried to do. Maybe he didn't think it worked. "
"What if Sebastian and Dr. Collins were in on something with Selfridge and Quaritch? " hypothesized Norm. "They tried to use Jake to get an advantage. Maybe they had something like that planned for this guy, too. Collins obviously put some extra work into this avatar to make it more adaptable, right? "
"I don't think the avatar driver would have been in on it," argued Katherine. Roy nodded in agreement with her as she went on. "I knew Sebastian and so did Dr. Jacobs and Dr. Adams. Granted, we weren't best buddies with him but it was obvious he admired the Na'vi culture and he couldn't wait to learn more about them. "
"Which could indicate a mission just like the one Jake had, before his change of heart," Norm countered.
"I really don't think that's likely in this driver's case," Roy insisted.
"I've got to agree with both of them," Ramona added. "I didn't get a chance to get to know him that well before we deployed, but he seemed like a nice guy. Really cute, too. "
"I don't think his looks are what's important here," Max grumbled. "You've admitted you didn't get to know him all that well. I think we need to keep a close eye on his avatar. There's got to be a reason Dr. Collins tried something so risky and I don't think it was to bring peace and love to the Na'vi. After everything that's happened here, we've got to be extra careful. The Omaticaya tolerate us but one slip up could change their minds. "
"There might be one way," suggested Dr. Jacobs slowly. "Avatars can form a link with each other and the native life on this moon, can't they? Couldn't one of our drivers use that to read his mind? "
"It's not an exact science," Norm sighed. "Trying to force your way into someone's mind like that would take major willpower. Sharing communication isn't the same thing. "
"But you could link to him and see what you find," suggested Max. "Maybe you can pick up on something. "
Norm looked dubious at the thought. "I've only ever formed a bond with a pa'li, Max. I could try Tsahaylu with this guy but I'm not sure what would happen. "
"The drivers we know and trust are with the Omaticaya right now, helping them with the new Hometree. The three newcomer pilots we have here don't have the experience. You're the only one, Norm. "
"I knew you were going to say something like that," complained Norm.
"I'm just asking you to link with him for a few minutes," Max argued.
Norm sighed. "All right, I'll try it. We should give him a couple of days to get used to me first, though. "
-To be continued
Pa'li = Direhorse; a six-legged, native equine animal similar to an earth horse.
Tsahaylu = The neural bond that Na'vi can establish between one another and certain native animals, through use of the fibers hidden in their queue.