Tsu’tey hadn’t realised how much he had missed the jungle until he was walking through the trees again. The weeks coped up in the sky people’s avatar compound had been driving him crazy by the end. Too many unnatural electric clicks and whirring sounds.While they had tried to replicate the forest inside, their results had been unnatural and sterile without the insects and animals to give it movement.
A loud crack snapped him back to reality. “Sorry,” Norm lifting his food off the twig he had trodden on while following him.
“You make too much noise,” Tsu’tey said. He had promised Norm that he would teach him the ways of the people but after seeing how he handled himself out here it was clear what a massive task he’d set for himself.
“I’m doing my best,” Norm said, lugging his backpack.
“I said you wouldn’t need those things,” Tsu’tey pointed at the large backpack and rifle norm was carrying. “They make you clumsy.”
“No offense, but I want to keep this body intact,” Norm said.
“If you could see you wouldn’t need them to survive,” Tsu’tey replied. A properly trained warrior could survive in the jungle for months with just a knife.
“I thought that’s why we were out here? To train me,” Norm said.
“Fine!” Tsu’tey said in frustration, suddenly stopping in a clearing. “Your training begins now.”
“Really? We aren’t going to rejoin the clan first?” Norm asked.
“And allow others to distract you? Being one of the people is about more than existing in a clan, it is about your place in the world and your ability to overcome it. So many lessons are learned alone in the jungle,” Tsu’tey explained. Norm looked somewhat disappointed. Tsu’tey knew full well that Norm was more interested in inter-clan relationships than actual hunting skills, viewing his training more as a way in, like Jake. But he would make a warrior of them him come what may. “Now, I will teach you the ways of the warrior, in the ways of the people. You will not simply learn, you will begin to see. Do you swear to this pact, Norm Spellman?” he said.
“I do. So what is the first thing we’re doing?” Norm asked, casually accepting the oath. “You’ve already shown me how to ride.”
“Not so fast,” Tsu’tey said. “I taught you to ride in a moment of crisis. I would not let a child who can barely crawl ride a pa’li. And you did fall off.”
“What do you mean crawl?” Norm said insulted.
“The way you move through the world. You’re slow and noisy, I could hear you a mile away. You make elementary mistakes like that twig makes there.” he waved behind them. “Let use see how well you can traverse the world without someone to guide you. Make your way to that tree,” he pointed at a giant kelutral in the distance.
“Alone?” Norm said concerned.
“You should be safe. You have that weapon after all.” Tsu’tey gestured at Norm’s rifle. “Anyway, you sky people have driven so many animals from this area.”
“Fine, but don’t lose that dog tag, or we’ll get shot at when we return,” Norm warned. Tsu’tey touched the sky person tags around his neck. They’d insisted he wear them unless their soulless weapons would kill him. How he failed to understand.
“I won’t. Wait 60 breaths before following me.” He said before leaping into the jungle.
To give Norm at least some chance he stuck to the ground despite the ample branches that could take him to the treetops on a faster route. After a while he reached the base of the tree and sat down to wait. He cracked a mild smile when after 60 breathes Norm did not appear from the jungle, clearly he would be here for a while. It was only later with Norm still not arrived that Tsu’tey grew concerned. He had not lost a student before, nor would the other sky people be pleased if one of their numbers died under his watch. He gave him a little longer before going off to look for him.
This time he went high into the tree tops, leaping from branch to branch letting his senses guide him towards where the jungle was disturbed. He found Norm hacking his way through a thick patch of undergrowth that a child would simply detour around about two thirds from where they had started. An almost acceptable performance for a first attempt Tsu’tey admitted, at least given how inefficiently he was moving, but being a Omaticaya warrior was about being more than satisfactory. He dropped down behind Norm and made the howl of a nantang. Norm instantly froze in terror before struggling to ready his rifle. “No need, it’s just me,” Tsu’tey said, stepping into the open.
“Jesus. Don’t scare me like that,” Norm said lowering the weapon.
“My name is not Jesus,” Tsu’tey point out.
“It’s an expression,” Norm explained. “Anyway, why’d you do that?”
“To see how you would react” Tsu’tey replied. It was true, mostly. “It is clear you do not know how to read the jungle. You would have known that was not a hunting howl.”
“Hey, we were told to always be ready in case of animal attack,” Norm explained.
“But neither did you sense my approach. I could have shot you and you would never had known,” Tsu’tey said.
“Well I was concentrating on getting to the tree as soon as possible,” Norm pointed at the tree hanging over them. “We’re all supposed to be allies now. But I take it I took too long?”
“Correct. As I said, slow and clumsy. You attempt to hack your way through the jungle rather than flowing with it,” Tsu’tey pointed to the path Norm had cut.
“You mean take a detour? I tried that and got lost for 5 minutes.”
“Then we must hone your internal navigation skills,” Tsu’tey mentally added the skill to the growing list. “And you must lose that backpack, it is slowing you down.”
“Okay, if you keep ragging on it, you try it.” Norm said pulling off the backpack.
“Fine,” Tsu’tey said grabbing the item. “What do you have in this thing?” he asked after feeling the weight.
“At least you’re not hauling science equipment. This just has some survival equipment in it,” Norm said. Tsu’tey struggled with the unnatural straps as the backpack hung loose. “Here, let me help you,” he added, pulling on the buckles tight.
“Thanks,” Tsu’tey muttered, annoyed at being humbled by Norm. “Follow me,” he said, moving off and feeling the unusual weight on his back.
Despite the extra weight Tsu’tey still easily kept ahead of Norm, so perhaps the backpack wasn’t the issue. “You need to lose that sky person clothing,” Tsu’tey said as Norm untangled himself from a spiney bush. “A simple loincloth is all you need,” he patted his own.
“No offense, but let’s take this one step at a time,” Norm looked uncomfortable.
“Jake accepted the loincloth easily,” Tsu’tey pointed out.
“But I’m not Jake.”
“It will come in time,” Tsu’tey realised he was pushing too quickly. Norm was not a warrior after all, he had to take this in stages.
Finally they reached the base of the great kelutral tree they’d been aiming for. “So what happens now?” Norm asking pausing for breath.
“We climb,” Tsu’tey pointed into the darkness between the tree roots. “You need to master climbing as well as running through the forest. This will be a good starting point.”
The giant kelutral tree was a relic, even by the standards of its kind. However it was long past its prime. While it endured and was still strong, it’s strength was fading, time starting to take its toll on its roots. Within a few centuries, Ewya could claim it and move the cycle of the forests on. Tsu’tey found himself strangely melancholy as they walked beneath it to access the interior. It reminded him too much of Hometree. As they reached the central chamber, he could almost see the firepit and the Toruk totem in his mind. Then the images of its destruction flowed up, the smell of burning wood, the flames, the screams.
“Is there a problem?” Norm asked. Tsu'tey realised he had paused in thought.
“No. I am fine,” he lied suppressing those thoughts. A warrior must be strong.
“Still an incredible place. I’m surprised another clan didn’t set up,” Norm starred up through the trunk.
“It is unsuitable. No good source of freshwater, and the jungle is too thick to easily travel on a pa’li,” Tsu’tey explained. “Plus, it is too close to your base.”
The climb up the trunk was tricky. The interior spokes were unevenly spread out, leaving only a single navigable route up. While it was still a pretty easy climb for Tsu’tey, Norm sweated trying to keep up. “Do you not climb your great buildings like this?” Tsu’tey asked, leaping up several spokes at once .
“Usually I take the lift. And stairs are easier than this,” Norm replied as he carefully stepped from one to another.
Tsu’tey heard a crack. He turned and barely saw the wood flex before it gave way beneath Norm. Norm fell forward, surprised, arms flailing uncontrollably. Reacting on instinct, Tsu’tey turned to grab him. His rifle tumbled free to the ground below. Tsu’tey snatched at Norm before he disappeared completely.
“Fuck! Fuck!” Norm screamed as he hung in mid air.
“Don’t worry! I have got you!” Tsu’tey said, keeping one of his palms grasped around Norm’s arm. “Give me your other hand.”
He didn’t know how long he could resist, the muscles in his shoulders screamed with excruciating pain. Meanwhile, Norm could barely life his other hand up for Tsu’tey. Tsu’tey tried to pull Norm up, but his current position made it impossible. “Swing yourself to the wall,” he said.
“Push yourself with your feet.”
Following the instruction, Norm started to swing himself towards the central spine while Tsu’tey took the strain. After gaining some impulse, Norm could brace himself against the wood, and Tsu’tey was able to haul him up enough for him to get a grip on the step.
“Oh god,” was all Norm said as he finally hauled himself to safety.
“Well, that was unexpected,” Tsu’tey commented, looking down the trunk. He realised this wasn’t the moment to criticise Norm’s reaction. The falling wood broke several spokes below them, which would make climbing down harder later. Not impossible for him, but a certainty for Norm.
“So... what do we do now?” Norm asked.
“We continue climbing,” Tsu’tey said, this time going behind Norm, it would give him time to think.
After finishing the climb, with Tsu’tey going behind Norm this time they reached an opening that exited onto a major branch. “Okay, you can wait here,”Tsu’tey said putting Norm’s backpack down. “I will go back down and get help. You’ve got food and a weapon,” he pointed at the machete on Norm’s hip.
“I’ve got a better plan,” Norm reached into the bag and pulled down a black and yellow object. “After Jake got lost, Grace insisted we all carry a radio.”
“You really think that will help us?” Tsu’tey asked. Grace had taught them the concept of radio, a form of communication via invisible light. Jake had given Neytiri one of them just before the final battle. But they only had a limited range due to something to do with magmatism. Grace had explained it with a piece of floating rock.
“Not this one. Its hooked into the orbital network. Now if we can just get a signal...” he said, but his voice stopped as he turned around.
Tsu’tey looked over as well at the visa below them. The rolling tree tops, the flowing river and the flight of birds just breaking through the canopy. The only thing spoiling the perfect image was the sight of the sky people’s base in the distance. A dark smugde in a sea of green belching out foul noxious gases. “You should have seen the view from Hometree,” he commented as he also considered the view.
“Perhaps I should have,” Norm said before fiddling with the device. “Come on. Connect! Hello, Control, this is Norm calling. Over.”
“This is Control,” a voice finally came through on the other end. “Norm! We were wondering how your trip beyond the wire was going.”
“Hello Metzger,” Norm seemed slightly hostile to this unseen voice. “Is Max there?”
“Max was just called away a few minutes ago, afraid it’s just me in control right now. Is there a situation? ”
“Afraid so. We’re stuck up a tree,”
“Stuck up a tree? You lot not being chased by a thanator again?” Metzger appeared to joke.
“No,” Norm snapped in annoyance, “One of the big ones. A branch collapsed and we can’t get down safely.”
“And you need an evac team to get you off?”
“Okay, your GPS coordinates are logged. Will try to organise a team to get you but it’s going to take some time we’re short staffed as it is. Command out.”
“That is it?” Tsu’tey asked. “We just wait?”
“Yep. At least we know help is coming. Plus we’ll see when they take off,” Norm pointed to the distant base as he put the radio away.
“Good. We will use this time to train your combat skills,” Tsu’tey said, dropping into a series of combat stretches.
“What?” Norm said.
“Being a warrior is not just navigating the jungle and archery. It also involves struggle and combat, both against beast and Na’vi,” Tsu’tey explained.
“Is this really the place to do this?” Norm looked down at the branch.
“Combat never takes place where you want it. You must be ready to fight anywhere. If we are careful we will be fine. Now come at me!”
Unsure of himself, Norm put up his fists and shuffled forward. Tsu’tey kept his hands open. Seeing the opening Norm took the bait and lashed out. Tsu’tey shifted around the thrust and grabbed the arm while smashing into Norm’s shoulder with the other.
He resisted finishing the manoeuvrer and smashing Norm to the floor. “You were overeager,” he said letting go of him. “If you had read me at all you would have seen that I was deliberately leaving myself open.”
“You know I don’t have any experience of fighting,” Norm pointed out as he struggled to his feet.
“Did you not fight with your brothers?”
“I’m an only child. Even at school it was pretty much all cyberbullying on social media.” Tsu’tey looked confused at the strange sky people words Norm had said.
“Forget it,” he decided, refusing to get distracted. “Again.”
This time Norm waited, trying to find an opening. It was only when Tsu’tey shifted to the side that he pounced and tried to punch under Tsu’tey’s guard. It was a good strategy but he put far too much momentum into it, allowing Tsu’tey to sidestep the attack. Norm carrying on past, stumbling as he lost control. He stopped at the edge of the branch.
He froze as if transfixed by the ground far below, wobbling uncertainly. Fearful that was was going to lose his balance, Tsu’tey grabbed his hand and tugged him back. “I hope I did not have to save your life twice,” he said , snapping Norm out of his paralysis.
“Thanks,” he muttered.
“That’s the second time you’ve frozen up here.” Tsu’tey probed him. “Is something wrong?”
“Well it’s just that I don’t like heights,” Norm explained. “I always keep imagining that I’m going to fall off.”
“You don’t like heights?” The statement made no sense to Tsu’tey. “But you come from another star and I’ve seen you in one of your flying machines.”
“One, I was in cryo when I was in space. Two, it’s not the height that gets me, it’s more the edge.” he tried to explain when an ikran screech sounded.
They looked up to see an ikran circling the tree above them. Seeing them it turned to come land next to them. Norm leapt back while Tsu’tey just stood there. There was enough room for the ikran to land and he recognised the beast’s markings and knew who the rider was.
“So I heard you two had gotten yourself in trouble,” Jake Sully said dismounting from his mount.
“Nothing I couldn’t have dealt with,” Tsu’tey said coldly.
“I’m sure you could’ve,” Jake said. “But I suspected with Norm you’d need some help. How is the training going?” he asked Norm.
“Not what I expected,” Norm admitted. “Tsu’tey certainly isn’t Neytiri, no offense. You didn’t nearly die on your first day.”
“Maybe not during the training,” Jake admitted, looking concerned at Norm for a second. “Metzger told me the details. A branch broke or something.”
“One of the steps up the central spine” Tsu’tey said taking Jake to point at the stop where it had happened. “Why were you at the sky people base?” It wasn’t proper for a Olo'eyktan to be away from the clan for too long, especially to visit sky people even if they were now their allies.
“Wanted to grab a laptop and a better radio. That way we can keep in contact. Better than having to fly in every time we want to talk about something,” Jake explained pointing to a duffel bag lashed to his saddle. “But while I was with Max getting it out of storage, Metzger came and told us about you two and I realised that I was much better placed to help. No way they could have landed a Sampson in here,” he gestured around at the branch.
“So now that you’re here. How are you going to get us down?” Norm asked
“Who said anything about getting down?” Jake said “We fly out,” he slapped the side of his ikran’s neck that gave a friendly hiss.
“All of us?” Norm asked a little taken aback at the prospect.
“It is rare for three to ride on a single ikran,” Tsu’tey also warned.
“You can take my word. I know she can handle it,” Jake said, the ikran giving a quick snap in agreement. “You’ve never flown on an ikran before, have you?” Jake asked Norm who had jumped at the reaction.
“No,” Norm said stepping back a bit.
“You’ll love it,” Jake said ignoring Norm’s reaction. “Wait until you have your own.”
“Sure,” Norm agreed though his face said otherwise.
Jake’s Ikran came out of the dive just above the treetops and barreled across the landscape. “Hell yeah, baby!” Jake whooped as they shot over the branches flashing by. “Never gets old.”
“You certainly love to fly,” Tsu’tey commented, sitting just behind him. The flight was simply reminding him that his own ikran lay dead on the battlefield, one wing blown off.
“I dreamed of it,” Jake admitted. “You doing alright Norm?”
“Yeah,” Norm replied just as they crested a valley and Jake put her into another shallow dive. Not the sharp dive with the pull up at the last second that Tsu’tey had seen him do. Norm’s fingers dug sharply into Tsu’tey’s waist.
Finally the sky people’s base appeared below them, after a single pass to burn off speed Jake landed the Ikran on the airfield near the avatar compound. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” Jake asked, leaping off as one of the remaining mechanics approached them. Jake made a recognition signal to let them know who they were.
“Certainly an experience,” Norm said letting go and sliding down the Ikran’s rear.
“A good flight. You managed the extra weight well,” Tsu’tey said. He didn’t want to think how Norm had reacted if Jake had been able to truly go free.
“Well if it’s okay with you two I should probably take a break,” Norm said. “My body is probably bursting for a piss.” Tsu’tey nodded in acceptance. There would be no more lessons today.
“You need to cut down on your in-take before you go into the link unit. Grace told me that one early on,” Jake said as Norm headed toward the avatar compound.
“Don’t have much experience of being in the link long term,” he replied.
After watching Norm disappear Jake turned to Tsu’tey. “I suppose we should have a little chat.”
“About what?” Tsu’tey asked.
“Your place in the clan,” Jake replied.
“If you wish me to return?” Tsu’tey said. It was not unheard of for people to become clanless after a non smooth transition of power.
“Of course I want you back,” Jake said surprised at the suggestion. “Look, I know there is a lot of bad blood between us, but you are the clan’s best hunter and I need someone people can look up to as leader of the hunt.”
“There are other warriors just as respected,” Tsu’tey said, acting uninterested.
“But none with the training to be a Olo'eyktan,” Jake pointed out. “There is so much about being a clan leader that I don’t know. while Neytiri and Mo’at are giving me advice. I would feel better with some actual experience by my side.” Tsu’tey considered the offer, it would restore much of his status and pride. Then again it would underline the fact that Jake had taken his mate and his destiny.
“How did Norm’s first day of training go?” Jake asked before he could reply.
“He will never be a warrior.” Tsu’tey stated. “He is like all the other dream walkers before you. A weak child that can barely walk through the jungle. He seems to have too much sky person in him,” he let out his pent up emotions from the day’s experiences.
“I seem to remember you and Neytiri said the same about me,” Jake pointed out.
“You were already a warrior. Even I could see that,” Tsu’tey countered. “Perhaps in a few years he could be a weaver,” he used an insult hunters often made in secret towards those that decided to dedicate themselves to the clan as artisans instead of hunters.
“I think you’re wrong about Norm,” Jake said, totally missing the insult. “Sure, he’s a civilian, but I’ve seen that he’s got the fire deep down there. You just need the right attitude to bring it out in him.”
“How do you mean?” Tsu’tey asked. The best way a Na’vi learned was through struggle and perseverance to overcome.
“Old trick I learned at boot camp. I’m sure here you can’t run away from training, but where we come from someone like Norm can always just quit if you push him too hard, like trekking through the jungle alone or fist fights.”
“He took the oath to do the training,” Tsu’tey pointed out.
“I doubt he sees it like that. Anyway, you need a bit of carrot and stick.”
“You suggest I beat Norm?” Tsu’tey said, he knew the sky people could be brutal sometimes but not to their own.
“What? No! Fine, yovo fruit and stick,” Jake tried to adapt the expression. “You give him just enough of stuff that he finds interesting or fun that he is willing to do the stuff he isn’t.”
“But what interests him yet helps his training?” Tsu’tey asked.
“That is yours to find out,” Jake replied. “But here’s the deal, if you can train Norm up enough for him to become one of the people, you can be leader of the hunt?”
“I accept your offer,” Tsu’tey said.
A figure approached them from the main base which resolved itself into human Norm. “Sorry I took so long,” he wheezed as he reached to them. “Had to take such a long shit after I got off the bed,”
“Yeah, doing it long term was brutal on the body. You think you can handle it?” Jake asked.
“I think so. What have you two just been chatting about?” Norm replied.
“Talking about your training,” Jake said. “Tsu’tey thinks you have promise. We were just swapping training advice.
“Yes, potential,” Tsu’tey muttered, slightly stunned at the deception but not risking an open confrontation.
“Really? I thought I did pretty poorly,” Norm said.
“Hey, no one’s first day is perfect,” Jake said. “And every tomorrow is a new day.”
“When did you turn into a philosopher?” Norm asked. “Oh by the way, Metzger asked me to ask again about the retrieval operation.”
“I’ll speak to Mo’at again, but I’m afraid the answer is still likely to be no. No humans anywhere near the tree of souls.” Jake explained.
“What I told him, but he keeps on pushing for it,” Norm replied. “You ready to leave?”
“Pretty much,” Jake said rechecking his cargo. “Will keep in touch!” he shouted as his ikran flapped into the air and flew away.
Tsu’tey tossed and turned on the alien bed in the Avatar compound. The harsh flood lights of the base were shining through one of the blinds. He would have preferred to sleep on the ground outside but the sky people would not allow it. Kept setting off the security system they said. He looked over the rows of dream walkers asleep but unnaturally still. The sooner he could leave this place the better. He looked over at Norm’s body as well. Better for him as well. Allowing him to return to the sky people’s base meant he could not hone the mindset to see. It would always be a dream to him.
Tsu’tey leaned forward to look at Norm’s face. Despite their alien features their faces had always fascinated him in how they shaped their own but failed. The face twitched suddenly. Tsu’tey jumped back. “Hope I didn’t wake you?” Norm said awakening.
“No,” he replied as if nothing had happened. “Why are you in this body at this time?” he asked. The dream walkers usually disconnected during the night.
“It’s just that we’re having a film night. Thought you might be interested,” Norm replied.
“A film? Why would I want to see that?” Tsu’tey knew what a film was, Grace had shown them moving images of the talking animal called a rabbit.
“Just thought you might want to see it,” Norm said. “If I’m going to be learning about your culture you might as well learn something about mine. But if you’re not interested...” he made to go to sleep again.
“Wait,” Tsu’tey stopped him. “I will take your offer.” He was bored spending his time wandering the compound.
Norm took him to one of the giant metal hangers where a crowd of sky people were waiting near a giant white screen. “So our guest has finally showed himself. I feared he was avoiding us,” a bald male commented.
“What would I want with you?” Tsu’tey said, glaring at the man. He recognised his clothing to be the same kind of the sky people warriors. He thought they had all been forced to leave, only to be told they had had kept a few behind. Not enough room they said. Regardless,he had no interest in interacting with the sky people until now, despite their attempts.
“Is it safe for him to be here?” a dark skinned man asked. Tsu’tey always wondered how many shades sky people came in.
“Should be if we keep beyond the red line, Max.” Norm said. It was only then that Tsu’tey noted that the sky people were not wearing their ubiquitous masks and were all stood beyond a further orange and green line. “Overpressure,” Norm said answering the obvious question. “Only lets air out so everyone doesn’t choke.” Tsu’tey noticed the draft though the room.
“You’re going to log off?” Max asked.
“No point. Would have to go from the link room twice,” Norm said.
“Okay, let’s get the party started,” Max said while fiddling with a computer.
Tsu’tey sat on the hard concrete floor as the surreal experience played, mostly in silence. It was about a child in even more impractical clothing than the sky people in front of them that lived in a black and white world. After a storm she was in colour and in a strange world of tiny sky people that sang, green skinned women in black, a man made of straw and another made of metal. It was only when they met another that claimed to be a mighty animal that Tsu’tey decided they were a false illusion. There was no way that being was an animal. “What do you think?” Norm asked as the group collapsed in a field of flowers.
“It makes no sense,” Tsu’tey replied. All stories of the na’vi had a clear morale or teaching. Even the books Grace had thought them to read with had a purpose. This just seemed to exist to entertain. “And it doesn’t look right,” it was off in a way he couldn’t describe, slightly dull.
“Our eyes are slightly different. You can see into the infrared, we can’t.” Norm explained.
The film did not improve as they watched it. The characters confronted a green monster in a green city that was later revealed to be an illusion from another sky person. The trio finally defeated the green female, despite many previous opportunities, though not through combat but instead water for some reason. Tsu’tey was pretty sure sky people did not melt in the rain. Finally the young female sky person after failing to return home on a varumut like contraption was returned to their black and white world by clicking her impossibly practical footwear together. Somehow.
“That is it?” Tsu’tey asked as the sky people sat up.
“It’s a classic,” Norm explained.
“You have weird stories,” Tsu’tey replied.
“I always found it a bit too whimsy.” the bald soldier commented walking towards them, pulling on his mask. “But my suggestion of Aliens was turned down,”
“Not a good choice with Tsu’tey being here, Metzger.” Norm pointed out reproachfully. Tsu’tey realised that he had heard the voice before, on the radio.
“It was just a joke. Anyway, you two leaving? I’m closing up the hanger,” Metzger said, walking over to a machine next to the entrance. Tsu’tey noticed the Na’vi knife strapped to his waist.
“Where did you get that?” he asked voice raised, stepping towards him. Metzger looked up as Tsu’tey approached. His hand automatically shifted towards his holster. Tsu’tey tensed to pounce if he drew the weapon. Norm sensing the danger, rushed to get between them. However Metzger paused before shifting to unhook the knife.
“I suppose you want to know about this,” He said, offering the weapon. “Everyone does.”
Tsu’tey snatched the weapon to examine it . Clearly Metzger had taken the weapon from a na’vi he had killed, or just stolen after a gunship attack. Then he realised Metzger had replied to him in near perfect na’vi. The knife in his hand was strange, it was smaller than a normal hunting knife, perhaps one made for a child, but children’s knives were not made like this.
“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“One of you gave it to me,” Metzger explained.
“When did we ever give your kind gifts?” Tsu’tey pointed out suspiciously.
“It was quite a while ago,” Metzger said. “Sure I don’t think our relationship was ever friendly but when we first met you were pretty friendly. Of course that was before we set up the mine.”
“When we first met? How long have you been here?” Tsu’tey asked.
“Metzger is a bit of a legend,” Max explained, walking over. “He’s been here since the start.”
“The very first day,” Metzger corrected.
Tsu’tey looked at Metzger intently, while he did not much about sky people physiology he could see the age in the man’s face, the wrinkles around the eyes and the lines across the forehead. Certainly not as old as Mo’at, but possibly old enough to have been here when the sky people arrived. “You must be somewhat of an elder,” he said handing the knife back to him.
“Hardly! Once the UN handed full control over to RDA we were viewed as more of an annoyance. But I proved to be enough of an asset to be allowed to stay. Saved everyone a lot of money anyway,” Metzger replied walking over to the door controls. “Are you two leaving now? I don’t want another stingbat to get in.”
“We were just going,” Norm said dragging Tsu’tey out of the hanger.
The bow creaked as Norm drew it back. “This thing safe?” he asked, pausing.
“It is still good. Now focus,” Tsu’tey said. The sky people had returned a large amount of Na’vi artefacts to him which included a few bows. While none of them Tsu’tey could recognise, he knew their owners were almost certainly dead. Norm redrew the bow, struggling to hold it even below the required draw. “Hold it,” he ordered, pausing to watch Norm straining to hold the bow. “Release.” The arrow shot into the undergrowth next to the tree they had been using a target.
“Acceptable,” he commented going to retrieve the arrow. “For a first attempt.”
“What do you mean? First attempt?” Norm said. “We’ve been doing this all morning.”
“Which shows how bad you were doing when we started. You are only just getting to where I expected a child to be.” Tsu’tey said.
“My arms are getting tired,” Norm complained.
“Get used to it. It is a sign that you are getting strong. You have at least made good progress for a man who haven’t even fired a bow before.” Tsu’tey pointed out. “And I keep telling you, breath with your lower chest,” He touched Norm’s abs to see if he was doing it right. “With these clothes I can’t see anything,”
“Is my body really that important?” Norm asked, mildly concerned.
“If I can’t see where you are going wrong I can’t tell you to correct it,” Tsu’tey pointed out.
“Perhaps, but I’ll stick with it for the moment.”
“Then you will stick out when we join the clan,” Tsu’tey said.
“You’re heading back? I mean we,” Norm asked.
“Yes. In a couple of days. I am fed up of being with your kind. It will also help your training by forcing you to learn at all times. You will like that.”
“Well, that would be wonderful. But I would point out I’m still going to be logging off and catching up with the rest of the team.”
Tsu’tey scowled at Norm pointing this fact out. “Come, you have practiced enough today,” he said jumping onto a low branch next to the clearing they had been training in. From there he had several branches that would take him up into the canopy.
“Whoa! Wait for me,” Norm said, trying to follow on while also attempting to sling the bow in one hand and carry the arrow in his other.
“Now you try,” Tsu’tey said, he was getting tired of sticking to the ground. It doubled the time to travel even a small distance.
Norm made the jump but slipped when he reached the branch, falling into the bush below with a thud. “How the hell do you make that look so easy?” he asked as he hauling himself back onto the branch.
“You need to grip with your feet,” Tsu’tey explained while flexing his toes. “Those shoes might be good on a flat surface, but here you need to flex.”
“Let me guess? I need to lose them?” Norm asked before Tsu’tey could add the inevitable.
“It would help.”
“No offence, but these boots were specially made and I doubt I can get replacements if I lose them. And isn’t it murder on your feet?”
“I wouldn’t know. I have been barefoot all my life. I remember that Jake disliked it as well for the first few days.”
“I also remember that he wasn’t running through the treetops on the first day.”
“True, you can keep them for the moment but keep yourself steady,” Tsu’tey said, annoyed that Norm had once again outsmarted him.
They walked through the canopy slowly, much too slow for Tsu’tey’s taste but it was good enough to get Norm used to this mode of travel. There was enough large branches that Norm was safe on that they could keep going until they came to a large canyon. “Well we’re not going to cross that,” Norm said scanning along the edge for fallen tree or other crossing point.
“You think so simply,” Tsu’tey said, grasping one of the vines next to them.
“Oh... please don’t tell me you’re going to do what I think your going to do.” Norm said aghast.
“What is the problem? We’re higher than the other side and there is a lot of soft undergrowth over there,” Tsu’tey said, hauling up the vine.
“Apart from the fall.”
“Nonsense, there it a lot of foliage down there to break your fall,” Tsu’tey pointed, handing Norm the prepared vine and preparing another for himself. “Just jump and let the swing carry you to the over side.” Norm looked at him concerned. “Is the height too much?” Tsu’tey asked.
“No, it’s more I’m worried about breaking my neck...” Norm said.
“Don’t think, just do.” Tsu’tey said tensing his body. “We go together?”
“Okay,” Norm said unsurely.
“Go!” Tsu’tey said, jumping forward off the branch and over the canyon. The vine jerked as it went taut and swung him out across the space. The other side rushed up beneath him. Letting go, Tsu’tey rolled forward to come to a stop. “How was that?” He asked Norm looking over to find him missing. Turning around he saw Norm still on the other side of the canyon, clearly frozen in terror. “You can do it!” Tsu’tey shouted over to him. It would take forever to find a way back over and get back to him.“I can’t. I’m sorry,” Norm said, moving to drop the vine.
Then he slipped. He fell forward off the branch and hurtled towards the ground, screaming. Thankfully he was still grasping the vine which began to swing out. He doesn’t have enough energy to swing all the way, Tsu’tey realised. He moved to grab the vine as it moved past, barely coming over to the other side. Norm hit the ground hard. “Oh god!” he wheezed, getting up.
“I think that is the third time I have saved you.” Tsu’tey said.
“I’m sorry, but when you jumped like that I just couldn’t do it...” Norm said.
“But you made the jump. Even if it was not entirely by choice.” Tsu’tey reassured him.
“You may have a point about the shoes. Do you know which way back to the base?” Norm said looking around the forest totally lost.
“Of course. I used to hunt these lands,” Tsu’tey said pointing the right direction.
They walked through the jungle, Norm actually able to keep up with Tsu’tey for the most part. “So may I ask, if you can hunt talioang, why do you spend so much of your time hunting yerik?” Norm asked.
“A talioang herd can only take so many kills before it is too depleted. Meanwhile there is always another yerik. Their hide is also easier to work,” Tsu’tey explained.
“Interesting, do you prefer to target an entire yerik herd or target solo animals?”
“You are overthinking the hunt. Once you start hunting yourself you will realise such questions are unnecessary.”
Tsu’tey suddenly recognised the trees they were walking through. He stopped suddenly, realising what they were heading towards. “We shouldn’t have come this way,” he said turning away hurriedly.
“Hey, I think we’re at the school house,” Norm said, spotting the buildings through the trees up ahead.
“That is the problem,” Tsu’tey replied, mentally cursing. No chance of avoiding it.
“Come on, if I remember correctly the base is on the other side,” Norm said.
“No!” Tsu’tey snapped at him. “I will not go there.”
“Why?” Norm asked before the reason hit him. “Oh, this is bringing back painful memories, right.”
“Yes,” Tsu’tey said, of course he had bad memories of that place. He could barely even look at the buildings.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Norm said.
“No.” Tsu’tey fought to keep the memories from flooding back. What right did he have to ask about this?
“I understand. Maybe we can just detour around,” Norm said beginning to change direction, but it was too late. The images poured into his head. Sylwanin standing in the doorway facing the sky people soldiers. Dr Augstine, mother moving to stand between then. She could protect them. Then they shot her.
“They killed her!” Tsu’tey suddenly screamed beating his fist into a tree in rage. “She was just standing there and they blew her apart! They killed my love...” he sobbed. All he could remember despite the flying bullets was the spray of blood as she hit the floor. “Your kind!” he shot a dark look at Norm. He was still ultimately a sky person in a false body. They had destroyed hometree, they had tried to destroy the tree of souls. Who knew what further evil they could do.
“Hey! You can’t blame me, I wasn’t even here!” Norm said jumping back in fear at Tsu’tey’s reaction, snapping him out of his rage.
“Sorry,” Tsu’tey apologised. Suddenly regretful for comparing Norm with the sky people warriors. Norm had fought with them in the final battle, nearly sacrificing one of his bodies for it.
“Who was she?” Norm asked, trying to make sense of Tsu’tey’s outburst.
“Sylwanin, my one true love,” Tsu’tey replied wiping the tears from his eyes. It was not proper for a high ranking warrior to be so openly emotional.
“I thought you were to be mated to Neytiri?”
“Sometimes your duty to the clan must come before duty to your heart,” Tsu’tey muttered, regaining his composure.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” was all that Norm could said.
“I still talk to her, but it is not the same,” Tsu’tey said. While their brief conversations via the tree of voices were therapeutic, all they did was remind him that she was dead.
“Sure,” Norm looked at Tsu’tey with concern, clearly not understanding what he meant.
“Have you lost anyone you loved?” Tsu’tey asked Norm. Had Norm experienced a similar loss?
“Well there was Trudy. Our pilot,” Norm said.
“Yes, she fought with us,” Tsu’tey commented. He had spent little time with the sky person female before the battle beyond her explaining to a group of warriors the best way to destroy gunships. “She fought well. Was she your mate?”
“What! No. It wasn’t that serious, I think,” Norm explained. “It was more a fling. At least I thought it was.” He stopped to think. What kind of people would not pair for life? Tsu’tey considered. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” Norm suggested making to move off. “It’s clear coming this way was a mistake,”
“Yes. Lets.” Tsu’tey agreed. This was something he didn’t want to dwell on much. He dropped into a quick run, seeking to outrun the bad memories.
“Hold up!” Norm struggling to keep up.
“Then run faster!” Tsu’tey called back as they raced through the trees.
Tsu’tey was glad to be leaving the sky people’s base to return to Omaticaya. Their insensate questions and attempts to interact with him were becoming a distraction. He was less pleased however that his return would be via a sky people flying machine. “You’re alright?” Norm asked as he loaded another bag into the small cabin at the back of the machine.
“I am not used to being in one of your metal machines,” he pointed out. “I would prefer to ride with Jake.” he pointed to where Jake was talking to some of the other dream walkers. Norm had convinced Jake to let them travel to the clan, just for the day.
“It’s a new experience. You never know, you might enjoy it.” Norm said.
“It feels good to be finally getting to do some real work,” a male avatar said as he climbed into the machine.
“Hey, at least we’ve all been working,” A female avatar replied, Sarah, Tsu’tey though her name was.
“You can at least go into the jungle and trip over specimens. I came here to study material science, spent the last year working as a common builder,” the male said before looking over to Tsu’tey. “Apologies. Greetings. Name’s Ilram. Good to actually meet one of you,” he added in Na’vi, holding out his hand.
“Greetings,” Tsu’tey replied after a moment looking at the hand.
“We’ve already met,” Sarah said, smiling at him.
“I hope this will be the start of a new period of co-operation and learning,” Ilram commented.
“Perhaps.” Tsu’tey muttered. These dream walkers were all the same, only really interested in gaining knowledge. At least Norm was willing to learn, perhaps to one day see.
“Everyone set?” Jake said leaning his head into the cabin.
“I think we’re all set,” Norm said checking the bags.
“Why do we need all this stuff? I thought we agreed to travel light.” Tsu’tey complained.
“Most of this stuff is science equipment. Got a long list of stuff the rest of the science team wants me to run,” Norm explained.
“I hope this will not interfere with your training.” Tsu’tey warned.
“Don’t worry, it’s still the main reason I’m coming.”
The familiar sky person sized figure of Metzger approached them. “Any word on my proposal?” he asked coming up to Jake.
“Afraid Mo’at wasn’t particularly supportive,” Jake replied apologetically. Metzger looked at the ground, disappointed. “I should have expected it. There is only so far how much things change,” he said beginning to turn away.
“Wait,” Tsu’tey called out, squeezing himself free of the machine and approaching him. “You have said before that you want to visit the tree of souls. Why?” Metzger looked up at Tsu’tey.
“I don’t want to visit the tree. Its more the battlefield around it. I want to collect the bodies of the dead. Or at least catalogue them.”
“Why?” Tsu’tey asked. While Na’vi warriors always made sure to recover and bury their dead and those of their enemies, it seemed the sky people abandon their dead many times. While there were some exceptions it always struck him as dishonourable and showcased their brutality.
“Do you know how many men I’ve seen lost beyond the wire and have never been able to go back for?” Metzger asked pointing to the perimeter fence behind them. “It’s so dangerous we don’t even try. We lost hundreds in that battle, and I want to do the right even at least once.”
Tsu’tey look at Metzger. He didn’t know much about the man and while he was a soldier, the knife on his belt showed that at some point he had had the respect of the Na’vi, and his goal was just. “I will see what I can do,” Tsu’tey said. Perhaps that restating the case with the voice of a warrior might help.
“Thank you.” Metzger said as Tsu’tey returned to the flying machine.
“Alright, we’re all set and ready to go?” Their pilot at the front cabin asked the group which sounded in agreement.
“You know the plan?” Jake asked.
“Already briefed, follow you to the location, no logging or tracking.” The pilot replied. Jake thumbed up and ran towards his Ikran. Tsu’tey was startled when the entire craft started shaking as its engines flared to life.
“Suppose this is your first time hearing one of these from the inside?” Norm asked, shouting to be heard as the rotors started spinning.
“Yes,” Tsu’tey replied hiding his nervousness as the machine lifted into the sky.
“Yeah these antiques shook me when I first took one. I saw these flying at an air show once.” Ilram commented.
“I don’t think it’s quite like that,” Norm pointed out. No it was not, Tsu’tey thought. There was nothing natural about being stuck in a metal box propelled by lethal spinning blades that he had no control over or could even see where it was going. He mentally hoped the trip would be short. He concentrated on the landscape outside the machine as they flew over the jungle, though he hated to admit it, it was kind of nice to see the world from the air without having to concentrate on flying.