Striding through the jungle in his hydraulic seven league boots, Quaritch goes apeshit. What the hell is going on? He watches as another Scorpion is riddled from below. On fire, it banks over him, careening into the jungle.
Quaritch wheels at the sound of hooves in time to blast a direhorse and rider. He pivots, firing at a running Na'vi. The hunter disappears in a gout of earth and foliage.
Tsu Te runs along a horizontal bough. A gunship moves slowly through the woods below, looking for a victim. Tsu Te leaps. Lands on the back of the thing. He runs along its spine, clutching a rock about the size of a football. When he reaches the turbofan intakes, he hurls it down into the turbine blades full force. There is a clattering shriek, and the turbine blows apart, sending shrapnel outward through the sides of the fuselage. The gunship tilts and heads for the ground. Tsu Te leaps for a liana and swings to safety. The ship explodes below him.
Two bansheerays swoop in behind a gunship. The first rider drops a thirty pound rock, which hits the Scorpion squarely. The pilot hears the clunk, and looks around.
The second rider guides his ray over the center of the ship. Zuleika is riding behind him on the ray's back. She rolls off onto the gunship, then runs to the rock and picks it up... pounding it down into the turbine. The turbine explodes. Zuleika runs as the gunship goes out of control. She dives out into space... and a third bansheeray plucks her out of the air with its claws.
A trooper in a powersuit hears hooves and turns, His eyes widen as he sees-- Two direhorses, with a heavy log slung between them like a battering ram. At a full gallop the riders guide the log right into the canopy of the powersuit, shattering it. The suit flips onto its back, and doesn't move.
Tsu Te pulls out his bullroarer and starts to swing it. The sound wails through the forest like a siren. The Na'vi retreat as one, disappearing into the forest.
PUSH IN ON QUARITCH calling to his men. The gunships aren't answering. The suits aren't answering. He sees burning wreckage on his right, and a powersuit lying still on his left. The forest is silent, except for the usual hoots and screeches. What the fuck is happening? They just got their asses kicked by bows and arrows!? Night is falling, and the forest is dark and deep around him.
He swears and rakes the jungle with his gatling gun until the ammo paniards are empty.
IN THE MOUNTAIN STRONGHOLD the Na'vi are gathered. There are several hundred of them. All the nearby clans have come to join the battle. It is full night, and the stars blaze overhead. Polyphemis stares down at them with his one bloody eye. Torches, as well as a galaxy of bioluminescence, light the gathering.
Josh, Zuleika and Tsu Te stand before the gathered clans... the alien warrior, the daughter of the Patriarch, and the Patriarch's successor. Josh speaks to the assembly, and Zuleika translates for him into the Na'vi language.
He tells them they are not just fighting for this part of the forest, or these few trees, but for the very future of their world. He says the history of the aliens they call the sky people is one of blood. For as long as can be remembered, they take what is not theirs. They take the land and hunting grounds of other people, and kill them, or put them in places they cannot live. They call this progress, and it has led them down a path to sickness and death. Their world, their forest, is a dying place. A poisoned place. They have killed their mother. And they will do the same here. They must be driven away.
When they come again they will come with all their force, and we must be ready. We must fight, to our last breath, or they will rape and kill our mother as they did their own.
Josh hears a familiar voice behind him.
GRACE: Nice speech, kid.
Josh spins around, seeing Grace's avatar stepping up behind him. She is bright-eyed and as alive as he ever saw her. He is dumbfounded. She walks up to him, grinning.
JOSH: Grace! Grace... It's you!
GRACE: Of course it's me. Moron.
Finally, he whoops and picks her up, spinning her around.
JOSH: Is it going to hurt my brain if you tell me how...?
Grace says she's not sure exactly how it works. Scientifically that is. But the short version is that under certain circumstances, the Na'vi can do this thing... call it a soul transfer. When I was dying, the trees stored... well, they stored my mind, my emotions, my memories... me. Then they downloaded it all to this body. No more turning into a pumpkin. I get to be Cinderella all the time, now.
Josh is lost. The trees stored you? Grace laughs, and puts her arm around him. Josh, she says, this may take a bit of explaining.
Back home we called it Gaia. A single being made up of all that's living on the whole planet. The only problem is, back home it's a myth. There is no Gaia. If she ever lived, she's been long dead.
But it's not a myth here. On Pandora there is only one entity. The forest is its brain. Like a vast neural net, with every tree being a single brain cell, or dendrite. And all the roots co-mingling... those are the synapses. One vast sentience, covering all the land. And everything that walks and breaths and lives within it is a part of it. It is like a government, which keeps everything in balance. That's why the Na'vi don't kill, or make war. No ownership, no territory. They are given all they need... a place to live, a part in the great pageant of life here.
Is she intelligent, this Gaia? This Mother Forest? Sort of. But she's almost more like a kind of bio-internet. The willows are access points, the Well of Souls and other places like it around the planet are like big servers, storage centers. A place of memories. The Gaia mind can be accessed from anywhere. It can be used to communicate over long distances. That's how the clan knew Zuleika had found you. She accessed the willows. And that's why the Na'vi only have one language all over the planet, with regional dialects of course, just for fun.
But more than a network, she has a will. An ego. She guides, she shapes... she protects. Sometimes she sacrifices something she loves for the greater good. And sometimes she is very strict. Gaia does not take sides. Gaia will not necessarily save you... her role is to protect all life, and the balance of life... and to protect that balance, death is necessary. She is, quite literally, Mother Nature. And it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature.
But she can be petitioned... by a process surprisingly like prayer. Gaia listens, and reacts as she sees fit, sometimes in your favor... sometimes not. But you have to really get her attention if you want her to do something big... it takes a lot of people plugging in and petitioning... they cannot forceably will Gaia to do anything, and Gaia does not answer directly. But she listens.
Since the Na'vi are the highest form of ambulatory life, they are valued for their input, and have a special relationship with Gaia. In the case of this infection of aliens, they are the best source of insight into what is going on, because they can communicate directly with the aliens.
Gaia knows instinctively that the humans are a disease, an organism from outside. This is a new thing for her, unprecedented, and there are no guidelines for what to do. The first and most obvious thing to do is fight the infection, try to contain it. So she sent attacking flora and fauna to surround the alien infection and keep it from spreading. Gaia was functioning like an immune system, sending antibodies to the infection site. Gaia was doing chemotherapy and we were the tumor.
That's why Hell's Gate was under constant attack... a bio-barrage of predators and poisonous plants which was an ecological cartoon. We just thought we'd landed at a particularly bad spot. And that's why, once we got deep into the forest, we saw a balanced ecosystem.
But we could never have seen the mindless attacks as a coordinated, systematic effort. Like the slinth following the titanothere through the fence... when did a slinth and a titanothere ever work together? They're mortal enemies. But when Gaia speaks, people listen. At least if you're born on Pandora.
We didn't see it. We literally couldn't see the forest for the trees.
Josh reels from these revelations. But more amazingly, he knows them to be true, and the explanation fits so well he's amazed he didn't see it already. At some level he already sensed it.
He asks if Gaia can be made aware of the severity of the threat... the fact that the current infection is nothing compared to what's coming. If the Navaho and the Sioux had known what was coming for them, they never would have made those treaties. They would have fought to the last man.
Zuleika tells her mother that Josh wants to speak to Gaia... to tell her about the aliens. Mo'at looks at Josh a long time. She knows he is here for a reason. And this must be it. She closes her eyes. And opens them.
THE WELL OF SOULS. All the clans are gathered, filling the place, and spilling out into the forest surrounding it. They sit cross legged, in concentric circles... like growth rings in a tree. From the great convoluted brain of twisted roots beneath them, silken tendrils reach up, seeking the ends of the long queues hanging down the backs of the Na'vi. Josh sits with Mo'at under the central willow. The entire congregation is chanting slowly, and somebody is beating a drum in a steady rhythm.
Soon they are all connected and plugged into the Gaia mind. Josh feels it... like falling into a vast radiant sea.
He starts to talk.
AT HELL'S GATE there is a total mobilization. Selfridge and Quaritch have gone to a state of full emergency martial law. The shuttles have been called down from the starship in orbit, and are being used as troop carriers. The Samsons are being fitted with cannons, and all Scorpions are fully loaded... maximum weapons payload. They cannot wait for an attack by an organized enemy, led by a renegade controller who is giving them inside information. They must take the fight to the rebels, and route them in their mountain stronghold.
They were caught by surprise last time, but they won't underestimate the enemy this time. Quaritch is determined to blast the forest to kindling, if necessary, to reclaim the planet.
The Scorpions are lined up, ready to fly. Behind them a squadron of Samsons, and two Valkyrie shuttles... 30 armored powersuits... 100 regular SECFOR troopers... 100 volunteers from amongst the construction and mining crews. And Quaritch in his Dragon command ship.
AT THE WELL OF SOULS the people wait in silence for Gaia's answer. Then, slowly, the trees around them begin to pulse with a faint radiant energy. The bioluminescence spreads throughout the roots, until they glow like a vast system of fiberoptics. They blaze white hot in the night. The Na'vi respond, their own bioluminescent spots growing brighter, until they are radiant beings in a sea of white light.
WIDE SHOT as the glow spreads through the forest like a vast nervous system. In an aerial shot, it almost looks like a city at night, with arteries of light like freeways. The wave of luminosity spreads to the horizon in all directions.
FROM THE PROMETHEUS in orbit, we see the night side of the planet transformed into a vast reticulated lacework of faint luminosity. The continent... then the whole planet... is united in one vast energy field... terrifying in its scale as Gaia marshals her strength.
AT DAWN THE GUNSHIPS fill the sky like bloated death beetles. They sweep toward the Hallelujah mountains in a thundering wave. The Valkyrie shuttles are the heavy transports of the operation, packed with troops, volunteers, and powersuits. The ships enter the shadow of Mons Veritatis. The Mountain of Truth.
The Valkyries land on Quaritch's order, disgorging their troops into the forest. The powersuits spread out and advance in a cordon, with the armored troopers behind. They scan the forest with infrared. Lyle Wainfleet, walking point in his hydraulic suit, sees movement on his FLIR display, and reports it to Quaritch. Na'vi horsemen, advancing on them through the trees, 200 meters out.
The Na'vi attack, mounted on direhorses. The battle, which historians of two planets will call, in their separate tongues, THE BATTLE OF BIG ROCK-CANDY MOUNTAIN, has begun.
The troopers target the horsemen on infrared, and they fire through the foliage. The direhorses are cut down even before they get within bow range.
Quaritch orders the gunships to rocket the jungle. Advancing in formation, the gunships fire streamers of fire ahead of them. The jungle explodes with fire bursts. The pounding is merciless. Enormous trees topple, and acres of rainforest are left burning.
The troopers advance, firing flamethrowers and GAU 90 gatling guns. The Na'vi are scattered or cut down. It seems a total route when-- Quaritch glances up. Out of the sun come winged shapes. A whole squadron of them. The bansheerays, invisible on radar, dive out of the morning glare like birds of prey.
Leading the dive is one winged shape three times the size of the others. A GREAT LEONOPTERYX, a demon straight from Hell, blazing with scarlet, yellow and black stripes backlit by the morning sun. On its back, reining it by neural link, is Josh.
The rayriders slam into the gunships and Samsons like falcons hitting fat turkeys. The air battle is joined.
The Scorpions are not seriously damaged by the bansheeray strikes. They separate out of formation to pursue individual rayriders, trying to hit them with cannons and rockets.
The Scorpions bank after the rays as they head for cover among the floating mountains, or dive down into the trees. Banking and jinking furiously, the rays use obstacles like the flanks of the floating mountains to slow the gunships, which are faster than they are.
A gunship, in a tight bank, fires its cannon. The rounds rip along a cliff face as the targeted ray swoops across it.
Two rays in full delta dives slam into a Samson, shattering the canopy. The Samson spins out of control.
A Scorpion gunship gets on the tail of a ray. They wank and bank together, threading the needle between two floating islands. The gunship fires an air-to-air missile and the ray vanishes in an explosion.
Another rayrider takes to the sheltering forest, zipping between the treetrunks as a pursuing Scorpion rockets the jungle from above. The ray is hit by flying chunks of wood from an exploding tree, and the rider cartwheels off.
The Scorpion, having scored a hit, pulls around looking for another mark. K-WHAM!! A huge red shape slams down on it, knocking it tumbling. The Great Leonopteryx coils around it, slashing furiously, as the ship tries to right itself. Josh can barely hang on, all his avatar muscles strained to the limit gripping the gyrating creature.
The pilot of the Scorpion sees nothing but the jaws of the king predator of the air slamming into his lexan canopy. Josh releases the gunship moments before they careen into a cliff. The pilot can't recover. His ship hits the face of the floating mountain and skids along it, crippling the lifting turbines. The craft plummets toward the rainforest below, and there is a satisfying fireball.