Storm over Pandora - Those Left Behind...

Started by Lehrrap Uniltìranyu, June 29, 2010, 11:34:47 PM

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Sengtsil Tribal Territory Boundary
[Sawtute Concept]

It was awe-inspiring.

That was the only way Arik could imagine it. Awe. After the Hallelujah Mountains --Iknamaya-- he thought he could no longer be in awe of much. Been there, done that, he thought.

But floating mountains, covered in a twisted lattice of ice; freezing water droplets dancing in sunlight while reflecting rainbows... and all of them floating serenly and silently in the mists of steam generated by the hot springs below...

So even the cynical Arik can be hit over the head by Eywa's beauty, Tseylian thought to herself. She fought to keep her expression neutral at first, but realized that her student wasn't paying any attention to her anyway, and she smiled.

Arik's Uniltirantokx body had come to a stop, his eyes gazing upwards, his jaw literally slackening at the sight. He was broken from his reverie by a chortling laugh from Ray'iun.
<<So, he does have a heart for beauty,>> the Sengtsil warrior said.

<<He has his moments,>> Tseylian admitted quietly, not wanting to interrupt Arik's re-evaluation of his place in the world.

<<How is your student doing otherwise?>> Ray'iun asked, keeping things businesslike as best he could. Tseylian frowned, and started to consider another stream of criticisms, but suddenly sighed and relaxed.
<<In truth, he is doing well in just about everything except ninavi,>> she said. <<He botches the blessings. He mixes up his words. He gets frustrated and speaks in his other tongues. But he moves well in the forest, he hunts well...>> she looked at him, and said, <<Maybe he can yet See.>>

"It's beautiful," Arik said. "Look, a ring of ice, like a halo, floats around the edges of the islands. What would cause that? Thermal updrafts from the hot springs?"

Tseylian sighed, and Ray'iun shook his head, refusing to chuckle. Arik looked at her as Ray'iun pressed on. He had no idea of the conversation that had just taken place between her and Ray'iun.
"Tseylian," he said, his tone serious, "It is so beautiful here. Aside from the cold... it is like..." he fumbled for words, and indicated the floating mountains. "A place where angels dance."

"Annn-jellls?" Tseylian tried the word out.
Arik looked sad. "I don't know how to describe it," he said. "Um, mystical beings. Not powerful enough to be gods themselves, but... leaders. And supposed to be beautiful."

Someday you will explain this in our terms, Tseylian thought. She found herself curious to hear more about these 'annjellz'.
Arik smiled, and looked at the mountains again. "Wait'll I tell sissy about this. Ma tsmuke," he said, indicated the mountains. "She will be fascinated." He was excited, and speaking fast. She wasn't sure if he was referring to his own tsmuke or if he wa sreferring to her, Tseylian, as his tsmuke. She gave him a curious look at the assumed familiarity, but said nothing baout it.

"Haa!" they were interrupted. Nef'Tys came by with Jax in tow; they were little more than vague, ghostlike shapes until they were within 50 meters. It was fascinating and disorienting at once. "Ah-rik!" Nef'Tys exclaimed, "Hot water! With no fire!" she said. Her eyes were wide with amazement and her Cheshire grin infectious.

"Little scouting ahead again?" Arik asked.
"It's amazing up there," Jax said. "The fog is so thick you can't see ten feet sometimes, but it will provide us 100% cover from air observation."
Arik nodded. "Good. And I'm going to gamble that the hot springs will make thermal vision scopes useless as well."

The pongo Sengtsil drew ahead, and Arik's pace slowed as he waited for Aniuket to catch up. Tseylian stayed nearby as well, partially so as not to lose her student in the mists of Eywa's Breath but also because her eagerness to return was tempered by a dreadful knowledge of what likely lay ahead. The forced distance with Ray'iun did not help.

"Aniuket," Arik said. "Oel ngati kameie," he greeted.
"I see you," she replied in Inglisi. Her expression was one of relief. She went to the edge of a nearby hot spring and tested the water, and decided it was acceptable. She unwrapped her feet from the leathers and dunked them in. "ooohhhh," she groaned.

Arik sat next to the pool, but didn't dunk his feet. Aniuket was not the only one; many of the Omatikaya were taking advantage of the heated pool. The chill had come as a shock to them, and they were clutching at the cloaks that had been distributed. Arik wondered how they were going to hold up on the rest of the journey, and by the looks of the Sengtsil, they were wondering much the same. The Avatar bodies --and Oscar and Jax, inhabiting permanent residency-- were physically affected by the cold but it wasn't such a shock to their sense of right and wrong. Even with extreme climate change, Earth still had seasons, even if snow was now "naturally" grey brown and rain more acid than water. But the jungle-dwelling Omatikaya people had no experience with such extremes.

Every so often, loud shrieks could be heard echoing form the mountains that hovered above them. They sounded like Ikrans. One of the Omatikaya asked one of the Sengtsil about it, and a rapid exchange of ninavi followed. Arik leaned over to Aniuket, who whispered to him: "Ikran here make noise; the..." she made a bouncing motion with her hand, " make... ah," she expressed frustration. She leaned over and tapped the water, making ripples, which she indicated. "Make like these patterns in the water, but with the sound."

"Echos," Arik nodded. Aniuket, Nef'Tys, and some of the other Na'vi looked at him. "Echoes," he said again. "Echo...echo...echo..." he said, making his voice fainter each time.
"Ehhhhko," Nef'Tys experimented.
"It is like so," Tseylian confirmed, nodding towards Arik. So, like bats, Arik thought, and he could see that Jax was thinking much the same thing. Apparently, neither of them wanted to try to explain "bats" to the Na'vi, so they left it unsaid. Arik admired the simple beauty of it, and thought of how Tseylian's white Ikran would blend in readily with the local conditions.

"How many days has it been?" Arik asked, looking to Jax and Oscar.
Jax's eyes blinked rapidly as he seeme dot search for something not readily visible. "As... as a matter of fact, I've actually lost count," he admitted. "We've been traveling for weeks. The attack on EF-N was..."
"Almost a mooncycle," Nef'Tys said.

Arik thought about it, and it had to be about that. They'd long ago ran out of their nikt'chey they 'd packed while back at Kelutral; they'd been getting by on local game and plants that the Sengtsil had been showing them. The refueling site was probably rebuilt and restocked by now, meaning that they'd reached overhead cover in the nick of time. Arik kept cool and neutral, not looking at Jax as these thoughts went through his head. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know how much information Jax had been passing off to Sheppard. He did, however, glance over at Nef'Tys instead. She was the wild card.

Jax had gone into the forest on several occasions. Nef'Tys had gone with him. Jax had to be passing information on to Sheppard while away from the group, and while he was adapting well enough to the forests, there was no way in hell he was going to be able to give Nef'Tys the slip. And even if he could --once or twice, if he was lucky, not several times-- how would he be able to find her again, afterwards? Somehow, he was in contact with Shepard and Nef'Tys probably knew about it, and she had decided to accept that. What does that mean? Arik wondered.

"We will camp here to night," Sek'Mut said after consulting with Ray'iun. The ground around the hot spring was warm, and a good spot to camp. As the pongo unrolled their bedrolls, Arik wondered what unexpected surprises lay in wait for them.

Pongo Sengtsil now in Sengtsil territory.
Hot springs make thick mists that render air observation impossible.
Jungle Omatikaya having a hard time adapting to the cold, but hanging in there.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***


"Well, I have to pee," Liz said with a hiss. "Look the other way!"
Blake turned and looked the other way, even though the "other way" was staring inches away from a metal wall. He could hear liquid trickle into the oversize water bottle Liz was using-- the water bottle that, a few hours earlier, had provided the very water that was now being expelled. Ahh, recycling, Blake thought to himself.

Blake and Liz had been cramped up in the cargo container for several hours. They were eating the snacks and drinking the water that Julia had provided them so they could hurry along and get the hell way from her quiet place back at Hell's Gate. Blake ran his tongue over the crumbled and chewed bits of protein bar that clung to his teeth, and it occurred to him, momentarily, that Julia might have poisoned them. But he chased the thought from his mind, since according to Julia, Warren Childs, and Colonel Quaritch, the Avatars had been killed a long time ago. To have them turn up, freshly dead in a cargo container, would have been to blow her cover. So, what, maybe a 90% chance she realized that and we're safe? Blake contemplated. Make it 80%, he thought. She hasn't exactly been a model of efficient forethought.

Next to him, Liz straightened and put her pants back on. He heard the bottle cap screw back on, and the bottle placed somewhere in the corner of the container. He wondered what would be made of a bottle of Avatar pee that got discovered later.

"Ready to get back at this?" Blake asked.
"Let's go," Liz muttered. They worked a lid back and forth, trying to wear out the latch or the hinges, whichever came first. Not all the cargo containers used by the RDA were top-notch-- Blake was thankful, for a bit, about the cost-cutting measures that kept worn out old boxes around for use. Plus, whatever was headed up north wasn't expected to be brought back. The containers were in poor shape, and easily jimmied.

"Interesting," Liz said as the lid popped open. Inside were Avatar-sized, or rather, Na'vi-sized, clothes. "Parkas. Pants. Boots. Insulated shirts."
"is there a big Avatar program up north?" Blake idly wondered. "Grace never mentioned it."

"I don't think there is an Avatar mission up north," Liz contemplated. "I wonder if these are gifts for the Na'vi themselves."
"Na'vi don't want this crap," Blake muttered, as if Dr. Childs was a fool for making the offer.
Liz shrugged. "A tribe living in a hostile environment probably already wears some sort of protective layers," she said, her voice wandering as she tried to put the pieces together in her own mind. "Wearing clothing won't be so alien to them. Offering rugged clothing that is probably lighter, thinner, and more comfortable isn't a big stretch, really."
"Hm," Blake grunted, supposing it was possible but still unconvinced. Anything he was about to say was lost as the drone of the engines suddenly changed, dramatically, in pitch. The deck beneath their feet began to angle in another direction, as well, the direction that Blake had designated "forward".

"Well, wherever we're going, we're getting ready to land there," he said.
"Let's put this on," Liz said, grabbing a fistful of material. "If this is what the local Na'vi cognoscenti are wearing, then we better look like them."

"We'll have to move out of the damn container before they open it up, too," Blake said. "And ditch that bottle of pee."

Liz and Blake about to arrive at wherever they are arriving at.

In Libertarianism, there is no Government, so the Bosses are free to exploit the Workers.
In Communism, there is no Government, so the Workers are free to exploit the Bosses.
So in Libertarianism, man exploits man, but in Communism, its the other way around!

Attempted to pee on Viperwolf to test reaction. Please see attached medical file.
WARNING: Attached medical file exceeds gigabyte limit. System failure.


Afternoon/1500 hrs (Sawtute Reckoning)

"It's best to not move," Grace said quietly. Next to her, Na'ama's ears flickered, but whether in nervousness or because of the low buzz of English in her Avartar hearing, there was no way to know. "They'll notice sudden movement. BUt stand here like we belong and their eyes will just go right over you."

"The anonymity of the crowd," Na'ama whispered back. Around them, a couple other Omatikaya glanced in their direction, prompting the two Avatars to quiet down.

Grace and Na'ama were the only two Avatars in the Hometree village. Since the official story was that the Omatikaya had kicked the renegades out after Grace Augustine's death --which had been greatly exaggerated-- the two were now routinely wearing Na'vi clothes. It had taken the mortified Na'ama awhile to get used to the new clothing ("Or lack thereof", she'd muttered)  but the logic of blending in was inescapable. And now, the payoff was evident.

The SecOps personnel from Hell's Gate had made regular sweeps through the area ever since the carefully staged conflict between the Omatikaya and the renegade Avatars. Of course, they were finding that security sweeps were a matter of perspective, since it didn't matter whether they came out in helicopters or approached on land with AMP suits, either way the Na'vi knew about their arrival long, long before. Someone at Hell's Gate had come up with the idea of manufacturing small drones to silently keep watch on the tribe, and perhaps catch an Avatar on film, but the idea had lasted about as long as the first encounter with an Ikran. The flying creatures had learned to give the kunsips a wide berth, but the tiny drones were not so intimidating.

This group of RDA security goons had come over land, hoping to surprise the Omatikaya and see if there were any Avatars hiding among them. "Over Land" was a bit of an exaggeration as well, for they had actually been landed by helicopters a couple kilometers away and then walked through the jungle to emerge at the edge of camp, which was already well prepared for their arrival. There was no surprising the Na'vi on their home turf.

Any and all remaining Avatar or other human presence had, as near as the RDA could tell, been purged.

Of course there was the supply box that actually had been carried over land by Damien Cole, so long ago. The box held a few RDA-issue supplies: a pair of WASP pistols, a couple rifles, some rebreathers and Avatar clothing. It was safely buried. The SecOps personnel, about a dozen of them, looked around the village but all they could see was a tide of tall, blue bodies and expressions ranging from cool disdain to hostility. The SecOps people themselves seemed increasingly uninterested in being there.

"Alright, let's call it in," one of the NCO's said. "Nothing found. Again. Village elders insist the Avatars were kicked out. Again. No Avatars present. Again. Jeezus," he muttered as he called up on the radio his more official report. "Ops, this is Patrol Nine. Village is clear. How copy, over?"
"Good copy on that, Nine. Move on to Site Thirty and begin touch-and-gos."
"Roger, good copy. Nine out." The NCO in charge waved to his security personnel. "Alright, let's go," he said, then almost as if apologizing. "Let's leave these people in peace."

The humans in RDA gear left the area and the Na'vi returned to their daily routines. Na'ama and Grace went to Aniuket's art space to sit. With Aniuket and Arik both gone, the art & painting area was under-utilized except by a handful of kids-- and it was nicely secured from sight under the tree.

"Well, that last part was strange," Grace said.
"They've never shown much concern for leaving us in peace before," Na'ama agreed.
"You know, when they first started making these sweeps, they were very aggressive," Grace reminded her. "And lately it's like they're just going through the motions. Checking the box and getting out of here fast."

Na'ama nodded, thinking about things she'd learned from Arik and from her time in the Israeli army. "I suspect they're getting tired of coming out here, being put in danger, only to find nothing," she surmised. "They really hate coming outside the walls of Hell's Gate. And if their troops are starting to internalize the story that you're dead, and the Omatikaya have nothing to do with us, they're going to start seeing this as a waste of time."

Grace nodded, smiling impishly at the thought. The tribe was safe, Hometree was safe, and they were safe. Grace and Na'ama, and the others back at Iknamaya Base had gone for most of the month without significant contact or challenges from Warren Childs. Would they really be able to wait it out until the Venture Star arrived? No one bothered the Na'vi hunters that dropped off food, and no one seemed to be looking for the Dragon or the alternate worksite. 

"The flip side is," Grace said, once she'd thought about the situation, "While pressure is coming off of us here, it's probably getting harder on our folks up north. And I'm starting to worry that, since we brought you out to Iknamaya Base, we don't have anyone on the inside passing us information any more." The senior scientist looked at Na'ama with a frown. "Even if someone could just tell us the general mood of the people at Hell's Gate, it would help us maintain a sense of what was going on there. What to expect."

"Well, Liz is still there," Na'ama pointed out. "Her and Blake's Avatar were getting ready to make their escape. They're probably already on their way out, by now."

Grace made a dismissive Pffft noise. "Liz. The problem with her is, she's as much of a fanatic as Childs is, she just thinks that because she's working for the right side, that excuses her extremism. Environmental Freedom Front are as dangerous as the RDA." She eased back in her lanky Avatar frame and looked up at the leaves of Kelutral. "They'd burn down these trees to keep them from being logged, you know? That's how they think. And that's the only person we have left in Hell's Gate that can let us know what's on people's minds."

Na'ama leaned back as well, and sighed. "Well. Crap," she muttered.

Grace and Na'ama's Avatars hide in plain site at Kelutral.
Wearing Na'vi clothes, they aren't noticed by random RDA Security sweeps.
RDA Security personnel are beginning to get bored and frustrated searching for "Avatars that aren't there".
While the pressure seems to be letting off, they're not out of danger yet, and have no eyes & ears they can rely on inside Hell's Gate.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Iknamaya Base
2200 Hours

"Ohhh, my God," Arik said as he rolled out of his drivepod.
"Welcome back, big brother," Na'ama said. She was freshly showered and dressed. A work rotation had been made at the remote site where people shared duties, which included the washing of clothes in the river behind the shelter. Not only did it keep people in fresh clothes and get them outside from time to time, but it also kept them busy and involved, instead of sitting in the prefab shelters going stir-crazy.

"Hey, sis," he said, blinking and re-orienting himself. He looked at Grace Augustine and some of the others, and his face lit up. "Ohhh, man, you guys are not going to believe the things I've seen...." As dinner was served, Arik told them all about the floating mountains in Sengtsil territory, and the thick vapor from the geothermal hot springs. He was amused that Grace pulled out a notepad and began furiously scribbling notes.

"Worried this is going to be on the test, Doctor Augustine?" Ariel asked with a wink and a grin.
"I never stop being a scientist," Augustine replied a bit too gruffly. Her cigarettes were down to a last pack, which she was making stretch as long as possible. It was as excruciating for everyone else as it was for her.

"How's everybody holding up out there?" Grace finally asked.
"Jax seems to be adapting to his Na'vi life... more or less," Arik said. He hesitated, and looked around, as if conspiring in a movie. His demeanor was suddenly serious.
"What is it?" Grace asked, suddenly wary.
"I think he's... actually, I am pretty much certain that he is in regular contact with the guy that's been hunting us," Arik said. "The guy that shot you," he said, indicating both Grace and Ariel.

"What--?" Ariel exclaimed, "Colluding with him? Knowingly?"
"He says he knows him. Guy named Sheppard, British guy. SAS special forces sniper. He seems to be under the impression the guy started out in Childs's pocket but has been slowly having a change of heart."
"A little late," Grace said gruffly. "Can he trust this... Sheppard?"

"Jax feels that Sheppard has his own reasons for not liking Childs. From what I understand, and this squares with what you said earlier--" he looked at his sister, "--and what we saw from Damien Cole. Not everyone is totally on board with Childs. They're willing to go along to get along at Hell's Gate, but as Childs gets more arrogant, and wants to increase Security operations, they're starting to feel like they're being asked to do more and more dangerous stuff that isn't necessary." He shook his head. "Childs forgets-- these guys came here for the money. Not for mom, the flag, and apple pie. They're not defending their homes or democracy or whatever."

"Their motivation only goes so far," Grace said, eyes narrowing as Trudy Chacon and Esme nodded their agreement to Arik's assessment.

"You think it's possible we could just wait them out?" Trudy asked. "RDA people in Hell's Gate will dump Childs on their own if he pushes them too far, right?"
"RDA Security might be willing," Arik hypothesized, "But Facilities, Maintenance, Admin... They won't take sides. And SecOps needs them, even if they look down on them as pencil-pushers or whatever."

"What it looks like," Grace said, "Is if we don't antagonize RDA Security, they'll lose motivation to antagonize us. We can stay safe and be left alone, more or less." Everyone around the table nodded at the assessment. "However, that also allows Warren Childs to settle in and give the impression that he's got things nailed down here, and there won't be any impetus to remove him."

"Which means we'll be able to stay safe and hide here until we die of old age, basically," Trudy said. "I'm not exactly down with that plan."

"Same here," Grace said. "We need to do something, but we also need to be careful about how we do it, since we don't have the resources for a truly protracted war."
"Or a motivated RDA Security force," Arik said. "The other problem is, once things start happening up north, attention will be re-focused there. The only interesting part about that is that we'll be influencing a Na'vi civil war. RDA Security won't be involved much, if at all."

"Really, there's no easy way out of this, then," Na'ama spoke up. "If we attack SecOps, they get motivated to fight us, and we can't win. The Na'vi may get killed, too. If we do nothing..."

Grace nodded. "We've re-shuffled the deck, but we're still back where we started. Much as I hate to..." Whatever else Dr. Grace Augustine was about to say was interrupted by a change in pitch from the last remaining drivepod. The lid opened, and Blake Goodson sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"Hello, there," Grace said. "There's dinner left, but it's getting cold. Obviously, we didn't want to interrupt a link still in progress."

"Ohh, man," Blake said. "You'll never believe where Liz and I got sent! But I'll tell you what, we got problems. And for the record... it's good to be warm..."

Avatar drivers and other resistance convene at Iknamaya Base.
As they go over their options, they realize things are complex and delicately balanced.
Arik shares that jax is in contact with Sheppard, and Blake reveals the new location of his and Liz's Avatars-- and how they got there.

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Hell's Gate, Pandora
2200 Hours

Colonel Miles Quaritch stood with his hands folded across his chest as he looked down over the vast expanse of Armor Bay. Another circular latticework was being assembled on the grounds of the Bay, the work made even easier now that the bulk of the inoperable Dragon was out of the way. As far as Director Childs was concerned, the Erebus was a success.

"So," Quaritch said, "Without another Dragon hull to use as a gondola, what are you going to use for this one?"
"Parts from old Samsons and Scorpions," Childs said casually. He was smoking a cigar and sipping his brandy while his plate was cleared away by a minor functionary. "It won't be as big as the Erebus, and may not have the cargo capacity, but I think we can install some sort of external cargo racks instead. Make it able to carry things in a sort of modular arrangement."

Quaritch nodded. It made sense. He looked at the amount of effort going into the second Zeppelin and did a rough calculation of the spare parts they had and how much the fabricators could reasonably be expected to produce. "How many of these were you planning to make, sir?" he asked.

"Well, at least two for now," Childs said. "I'd envisioned a fleet, eventually. But we may have to be content with just the two for awhile."
"We", huh? Colonel Quaritch thought. So this was all "our" idea, now?
"Got a name for it?" the Colonel asked instead.
"Terror," Childs said with a knowing smile. "Erebus and Terror. From the exploration ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror used by Sir James Clark Ross in his exploration of Antarctica, back in 1842," he said.
"Hm," Quaritch grunted. He knew of the Erebus and the Terror, but mostly what he knew of the ships was that they'd gotten stuck in polar ice while searching for the Northwest Passage years later. The crews had been forced to abandon ship, and ended up dying of starvation and disease on barren, godforsaken ice plains over several agonizing months that followed.

Some of them had resorted to cannibalism. I think I'll just keep that part to myself, Quaritch decided. "Well, all the patrols are back in," he said, getting on to business. "Sir, It's beginning to look like the reports are true. There's no sign of the Avatars or other renegades at the Omatikaya camp," he said.
"You honestly think the Na'vi just kicked them out?" Childs asked. "Where would they have gone? Until I see bodies, I don't believe it."

Colonel Quaritch sighed. Warren Childs had a Hollywood notion of warfare and confirmed kills. "Things aren't always cut and dried in counter-insurgency operations," he said. "The Na'vi might have kicked them out, and they may yet be wandering in the jungle somewhere. Or more likely, they've been taken apart by the local wildlife. It's not practical to scour the jungle examining every pile of Viperwolf droppings. It's also possible that the Na'vi simply killed them themselves, and are hiding the fact from us because, enemies or not, killing humans would not go unpunished."

"True," Warren Childs said, arcing his eyebrows at the thought. "So, aside form the ones that we know are operating up north, the rest of them have just been ground up by the Pandoran wildlife?"

"Sir, there's not a lot of other options, really," Quaritch said. "I got this--" he ran his fingers through his hair on the side of his face, where the scars were, "--during a fully-armed patrol, loaded for bear," he said. "A bunch of pencil-necks, even in Avatar bodies, would not last the first night. So I think the Na'vi village itself is in the clear. We should stop antagonizing them with our visits and let them calm down."

"Who cares about them?" Childs shrugged, "Your guys can take care of them if you have to."
Quaritch grit his teeth and forced himself to calm down. "But that's not a good way to handle a counter-insurgency operation," he said. "If we push them too much, they'll start to fight back. And, yes, eventually we'd take them, but it would be a waste of time, effort, and resources and in the long run, I'd lose a few people. People that can't be replaced, and morale would plummet."

"They're Security personnel, Colonel; they follow orders, don't they?"

"If I send them out there to fight a war that isn't necessary," Colonel Quaritch spoke evenly, "...and people die that didn't need to die, it doesn't matter if that whole tree gets burned to the ground," he said. "I will have lost people, fuel, ammunition, and for what? The Avatars aren't there anymore. I don't care where they are. It doesn't matter to us. The only people left that we need to be concerned about are the renegades in the Hallalujeah MOuntains, and the people that wen't north to King Kai'an's territory."

Warren Childs held up his glass and looked through it, swirling the remnants of caramel-colored liquid that remained at the bottom. He thought carefully about the Colonel's words. The renegades at the Hallalujeah Mountains had a fully-loaded Dragon and a handful of people to crew it. Most of them weren't very experienced. They were amateurs playing war. On the other hand, the small group of Avatars and Na'vi that were headed north threatened an operation that Childs had invested a lot of time in. Local Na'vi allies would be useful against any challenges from Earth that might materialize...

But even in the worst of cases, that was almost two years away. And even that wasn't guaranteed.

"Alright," he said, putting down his glass. "We'll leave the Na'vi and their tree fort alone," he said. "We'll send some guys up north to make sure we hold on to Sengtsil territory. That will be our priority for now."

"And Chacon, the Dragon, and the nuts up in the mountains?" Quaritch asked, relieved.

Childs looked towards the windows overlooking Armor Bay. "We can let them sit for now," he said. "But when we have the opportunity, I want to go in there. Take Erebus and Terror and every gunship we have and root those bastards out. If we can get rid of their base of operations in the Hallelujah Mountains, we shut down their Dragon and their Avatar operations both. Secure both fronts at once."

Colonel Quaritch took in a slow, deep breath, mulling it over in his mind. Warren Childs obviously had no idea how difficult it would be to take on even a single Dragon, even with an air armada, but it could be done. The Zeppelins would be slow and vulnerable; and their best pilot was going to be on the other side, with their most powerful ship. But she was alone-- alone in the cockpit and alone in the air. Even if it costs us both Zeppelins, and I think it will.... ending those guys will be worth it.

"Okay," Colonel Quaritch said. "This is a plan we can work with."

Warren Childs and Colonel Quaritch assess the situation.
The decide that the Omatikaya are no longer an issue.
Childs decides --after some prodding by Quaritch-- that they will prioritize defending the Sengtsil.
Meanwhile, another Zeppelin will be built and used to attack the hidden base in the Hallelujah Mountains.

In Libertarianism, there is no Government, so the Bosses are free to exploit the Workers.
In Communism, there is no Government, so the Workers are free to exploit the Bosses.
So in Libertarianism, man exploits man, but in Communism, its the other way around!

Attempted to pee on Viperwolf to test reaction. Please see attached medical file.
WARNING: Attached medical file exceeds gigabyte limit. System failure.


Iknamaya Base

"What about those up there?" Na'ama asked.
"That's fire control," Esme said. She seemed to regard the console for a bit, and hesitated, but finally decided. "I'll show you those, too, but they don't work here in the vortex. But you will need to know them if we fly out."

Na'ama frowned and looked at the array of controls in front of her. Esme was showing her how to be a useful crewer on the Dragon, and Na'ama wasn't sure how she liked it. She didn't like her time in the Army and wasn't a big fan of guns, but it wasn't so much guns per se that she had a problem with, it was the pointless violence and types of people who seemed to be attracted to guns as universal problem-solvers. They generally create more problems than they solve, she felt.

However, guns and violence seemed to be the norm these days on Pandora/Eywa'evenga. And as much as she hated war and violence as concepts, Warren Childs didn't seem to be open to any other means of persuasion. "I just don't want to be useless here," Na'ama said aloud, more to give voice to her own concerns than to Esme.

"You're doing alright," Esme said, misunderstanding the motivation behind the younger woman's words. "Just think of it as a video game. You're not attacking a person, you're attacking a thing. A helicopter."

Na'ama nodded, not impressed by the notion but uninterested in contesting it. Esme knew that Na'ama had shot someone for the first time just a few months ago, and it had not set well with the woman. Now the flight crew NCO found herself in the unenviable position of trying to turn the woman into an even more efficient killer. But if they needed to fight their way out of the Hallelujah Mountains, they'd need everyone on board to be able to contribute. 

Blake had undergone some training, as had Grace and Ariel. Arik was given some familiarity training but it was largely agreed that he was already familiar enough to use one of the open gun positions on the back of the super-helo... but he was best employed on the ground in his Avatar body.

Esme and Na'ama went back into the main building and took off their breather masks.
"How'd it go, commando girl?" Grace asked sardonically.
"Heh," Na'ama grunted. They opened up some rations to eat before going to bed. Back in the village, their Avatars were already bedded down for the night; "real-life" training was done in the few hours of the evening before their human bodies rested. "Apparently, thinking of it as a video game helps."

Grace thought about it and shrugged. "Makes sense," she said, before sipping at her hot chocolate. Esme and Trudy had trained Grace and Na'ama, whereas earlier they had trained Blake and Ariel. Arik came out of the shower area, dressed in cut-offs and a t-shirt prior to going to bed himself. "Sissy," he said, sitting down next to his sister.
"Stinky," she said in reply, a slightly impish smile on her face.

They finished their meal and talked about the sights they'd seen. It was a good time to compare notes, and it was especially handy that they all could offer insight into the events of the day from a variety of perspectives. Grace and Na'ama told everyone about the Security operations they'd seen, and how the human security goons seemed to be losing their enthusiasm for confronting the Na'vi. Ariel, Trudy and Esme got them caught up on Iknamaya Base events, which amounted to very little aside from occasional contact with the Omatikaya that came through-- some to climb Iknimaya, some simply hunting, some on spiritual quests to the Tree of Souls, and so on.

For his part, Arik told them of the amazing sights in Sengsil territory-- glacial mountains of Unobtanium floating in the air, arcs of ice instead of rock, and more and more steam the closer they got to the hot springs. "It will soon be to the point where we can't see more than a few meters in front of us," he said. "It's already pretty close to that. I can see why the Sengsil are so isolated, and why it was easy for Warren Childs to corrupt them-- a lot of the Omatikaya are getting superstitious about the 'ghost lands', as they call them."

"You won't believe where we ended up," Blake finally said. "Arik... the closer you get, the more you need to watch yourselves..."

Blake's Tale

"Let's go," Liz whispered as the cargo container finally stopped moving and rested on firm ground. The clump-clump-clump of the AMP suit faded as the driver went to go unload the next squat metal container from the hold of the Zeppelin. The two Avatars tried to be quiet, but each turn of the latch inside made the rusty catch squeal, so they waited.

"We may actually be better off waiting until the AMP suit comes back," Blake argued. "The sound of the suit will cover up the sound of this squeaky-ass door catch."
"Here he comes," Liz said. As the clumping and whirring and hydraulics of the AMP suit filled the area with ambient noise, they unlatched the door, gritting their teeth at the squeak they made. But the worst of it was over, and as the AMP suit driver placed another cargo container on the ground nearby, they cracked the doors open a bit to look outside.

It was blindingly bright outside, and cold. Blake turned his head away, blinking his eyes as he tried to overcome the after-image burned into his vision. "Come on," Liz hissed and she pushed the door open.
"Wait, dammit," he said. He grabbed an armload of supplies from the container they'd opened and stuffed them into her arms. "Put on these boots and parkas," he said. "We're not exactly dressed for the Arctic, okay? We won't last long in our RDA-issue tropical shorts." He then grabbed her used bottle from the corner and thrust that into her arms, too, giving her a frown as he did so. They waited until the AMP suit brought yet another cargo container by and then they made a break for it.

There was an alpine tree line nearby and they ran for it as quickly as they could. Blake felt a shock of freezing cold cascade over him as he brushed past a snow-covered tree and the white, powdery stuff fall all over him, draping his head, neck, and shoulders in frozen water. "Ggghh--!" he struggled to contain his cry of shock.

They reached a fallen log and sat down on it, pulling on their boots and insulated parkas. Liz re-discovered her pee bottle and with an annoyed grimace, threw it under a nearby tree. Blake stared at her in angry shock.
"Seriously, miss Environmentalist?" he muttered.
"Shut up," Liz said. "We can retrieve litter later. Right now we need to find a place to camp, get food, eat, stay warm, and find some damn guns."

Blake realized how unprepared they truly were. It would have been bad enough being dropped into the tropical parts of Pandora, but at least there they would have been warm. They could maybe stretch their supplies to last a couple days at most but without a dependable supply of food, and no shelter, they were going to have a hard time of it.
"We are soooo humped," he muttered, looking around the winter wonderland.

Liz glared but said nothing. It was evident that she, too, estimated their chances as fairly low. "We can't go back," she said. "Let's see if we can blend in with the locals."
"Are you crazy?" Blake said. "We don't know their social norms, their dialect, and most important of all, we don't know why they are trading with the RDA. Or if they are really trading with Warren Childs separately. They obviously have a relationship that's been established a lot longer than the last few months, when he took over." Liz took a deep breath and gazed at the camp, really taking a look at it and assessing the situation. Liz was a militant environmental activist --what some called a terrorist-- and not an anthropologist. Other people scouted and assessed targets, she took the targets out based on the assessment. Fortunately, despite her aggressive bravado, she was also smart enough to listen to experts, and she could see that Blake was right.

Humans in breather masks and RDA arctic gear mixed freely with tall Na'vi in their own furs and "seal"-skins. Blake observed and noted a few things.

"Spears are more common here," he said. "Look, not a lot of bows." He looked around, and realized what it was that was different about the place. He thought it was snowing or perhaps a blizzard that had limited their visibility, but he realized there was no wind or cloud cover. "Fog," he said. Liz looked around, too, her ears swiveling in almost comic fashion as she noticed it.
"Lots of it," she said. A lot of the people they were watching faded to grey outlines fairly quickly. She held her hands up in front of her face as if aiming an imaginary rifle, then nodded. "Visibility stops at about 200 meters," she said.
"You had to pretend you were sighting it on a rifle?" Blake asked with a smirk.
"That's how I learned to estimate distances, college boy," she groused.

Blake shook his head. "We can probably walk around the outer periphery of the village and get by as just shadows," he said. "So we may be able to steal some food or clothing, perhaps a spear or something. I doubt they take them inside."

"I don't know how to use a spear, do you?" Liz challenged.
"No, but it's better than a snowball," Blake said. Liz shrugged. She had no counter-argument.

They watched some more as the vast bulk of the Erebus dominated their immediate vision. In particular, a man was seen with a clipboard and a holstered pistol was walking around, issuing orders and pointing to things and people. He had on RDA pants and boots but his parka had something else draped over it-- a fur-lined vest of what appeared to be local Na'vi make. On his belt, opposite his pistol, was a knife of some sort. For a Na'vi it would have been a small utility blade; on the man it was practically a short sword.

"There's the local RDA boss-man," Liz said.
"Uh-huh," Blake agreed. He was noticing something else going on. He nudged Liz.

"Check it out," he said, "Dogsleds."
"Dog sleds?" she asked. "Do they have dogs?"
"Some sort of nantang I think," Blake said. "But bigger, covered in... hair? Feathers? They seem slower and less aggressive than nantangs back in the tropics, though."

Liz looked and dismissed the dogsleds as unimportant. It seemed to be some sort of social or cultural thing that fascinated an anthropologist, but had little meaning to her mission... which she was still trying to figure out. He nudged her again.
"I don't care about their dogsleds and wood carvings and camel-hair basket-weaving or whatever," she said.
"You'll care about this," Blake said. "Guns. Big guns."

Liz watched as the dog sleds were loaded and began to pull away from the cargo containers. On them were AMP suit cannons. "Holy..." she breathed. "Thirty mike-mikes," she said. Ammo boxes were the 30mm cannons were loaded and the sleds driven away. A few local warriors were lined up and handed M60 machineguns from another nearby container, as well as boots and parkas from the container Liz and Blake had been smuggled up in.

"Jesus, they're handing out guns to the locals?" Liz muttered.
"Only a few," Blake pointed out. "About a dozen. Oh, oh, look..." The RDA man with the Na'vi vest and knife took out a gun that had been polished to a high sheen. It was silvery and had what appeared to be wood-carved handles, stock, and fore-grips on it. He and the dozen gun-armed warriors then walked towards a large, ornate structure that appeared to be some sort of vast tent.

"Hoo, boy," Blake said. "The others are walking right into this."

Iknamaya Base

The people around the table frowned, and Arik took in the news. Grace in particular seemed personally hurt to discover that Na'vi would side with the likes of Warren Childs. 

"We're going to have to wait outside the camp," Arik said. "I wish we knew where you guys were. Your Avatars could link up with ours. But what I'd really like is for you to look around the camp a bit and get some up-to-date information."

"We can't really blend in," Blake argued, "As Avatars, we'll stick out like sore thumbs."
"I need you to try," Arik pleaded. "Tseylian and Ray'iun's information is over a year old, at best. When Ray'iun left Sengsil territory, there were no guns or a permanent human presence at the village. Childs is moving in and making himself comfortable. He's got a deal with the local chief, they're well-armed, and now they know we're coming. I'm sorry," he said. "But we need information."

"Not everyone in the Sengtsil tribe is in favor of this alliance," Grace said. "Tireamokri, Ray'iun and his hunters... there's got to be others in the village who can help you out." She still mostly called the northern Na'vi by her dreamquest name, which she knew her as.

Arik rubbed his temples. "I'll talk to Tseylian," he said, "And Ray'iun. See if there's someone in town that can shelter you. But again, these may be people who have since been corrupted, even if they did once start out as ant-RDA."

"We'll have to take our chances," Blake said. "Liz ain't gonna like this one bit."

Liz and Blake end up at Sengtsil village.
They observe a lot of ties between the locals and RDA.
Arik wants them to stay there and be a source of information, even though it will be very dangerous.
Hopefully they'll be able to get the names of Sengtsil Na'vi that are against the RDA alliance to help them.

In Libertarianism, there is no Government, so the Bosses are free to exploit the Workers.
In Communism, there is no Government, so the Workers are free to exploit the Bosses.
So in Libertarianism, man exploits man, but in Communism, its the other way around!

Attempted to pee on Viperwolf to test reaction. Please see attached medical file.
WARNING: Attached medical file exceeds gigabyte limit. System failure.


Iknimaya Base

Chris was antsy. He felt like sitting around was wasting time, and he had check and re-checked his gear. He could have sworn that his M60 had never looked this pristine since he first used it all those moons ago, but he had cleaned it at least three times. He paced the perimeter slowly, eyes on the beautiful Iknimaya mountains and mind racing with speculations and haunts.

Amidst the turmoil of his thoughts, a single clear one appeared, first subtle but growing in strength until it dominated his thoughts. He turned and weaved his way back into camp, navigating the group to find Sek'mut.

It wasn't long before he located him, talking with a small party of Na'vi warriors. Chris and Sek'mut hadn't ever exchanged more than a few sparse words, so he was slightly apprehensive as to how this conversation would go. Nevertheless, he approached with respect, indicating "Oel ngati kameie" as he gained Sek'mut's attention.
"Ma Sek'mut, ngahu tsatsun pivlltxe oe srak?"

Sek'mut looked at Chris with a mix of surprise and skepticism. The warrior indicated for his companions to give them a moment to speak, and the Na'vi dispersed. Chris sat down across from Sek'mut slowly.

"Pivlltxe ma Chris."

"Nga tute lekem lu, tsamsiyu lu na oe. Omum ngal futa ke tsun hiveyn sì pivey oe. Tafral oer lu tìpawm. Srake nga tsìyun iveyk tìsopit ne Iknimaya?"

Sek'mut stood abruptly, visibly agitated. Chris quickly stood as well to face him.

"Tsaria perawm ngal, oeyä txintìn ke lu. Tsun sivi oe, slä lehrrap oeru lu."

Chris thought about his words carefully. "Oe ke new seykivi kea kemit akelhoan ngar."

There was a pause as Sek'mut pondered the request. Chris didn't want to oust the Omatikaya warrior by putting him at odds with the People. This choice had to be his choice. After a long moment of silence, Sek'mut turned back to Chris and spoke sternly.

"Kìyä ayoeng. Layu sìltsan fpi ayngeyä tirea."

Chris thanked Sek'mut, containing his excitement. He went to find Arik, who he knew had been deemed ready for the Iknimaya trial by Anuiket.


Chris convinces Sek'mut to take those ready for the Iknimaya trials to Iknimaya while they wait for Oscar's return.
Chris seeks Arik to let him know of the news.