INSIDE THE BASE they hold the arrival briefing. Station supervisor CARTER SELFRIDGE welcomes them to Pandora and Hell's Gate, then quickly lays down the rules of survival here. He says the local ecosystem is a minefield of toxic plants, lethal stinging insects, and large venomous carnivores. Everyone must be armed at all times when outside the structure, and firearms training and drilling are scheduled for all base personnel. All forays outside the perimeter must be accompanied by one or more SECFOR troopers, and must be authorized by his office, and scheduled with the head of security.
He tells them the stiff penalties for any violation of the base security rules, as well as for the use of illegal drugs, fighting, misuse of firearms and so on. There is a frontier town mentality, as well as an overwhelming sense of us against them. Us being the humans, and them being anything that draws breath on Pandora.
It's not all grim here, he says. As of today you will never get another cold or flu. We don't get them here. Pandora has somehow reacted to the introduction of our viruses by creating a countervirus for each which wipes them out. In fact, the Consortium has the patents on these counterviruses, and when the FDA approves them, everybody on Earth will be buying them. That's the sort of thing we're looking for here. So please stay alert to the commercial possibilities of your research.
Selfridge is a smart, forceful, charismatic man who is utterly focused on the success of the operation on Pandora. His calm, almost breezy style belies an absolute ruthlessness in the pursuit of his goals. Like his historical prototypes, the governors of Spanish and English colonies in the Americas, his mission is to overcome all obstacles to gain a foothold in the new world, and more importantly, show a return on the staggering investment.
Selfridge introduces ROB PARRISH, the BIOETHICS OFFICER. He works for the Environmental Protection Department of the ICA, and is therefore usually called the "EP guy". On the dying home planet the environmental parties have grown strong as the Earth has grown weak, so these officers are sent to make sure that the new worlds are not ravaged by the economic imperative of the megacorporations.
Rob looks the very image of a studious, concerned "green" activists, with his beard and birkenstocks. In fact, the EP guys are all bent, deeply on the take and making a killing by turning in token reports of infractions while turning a blind eye to the greater violations.
Josh notices a woman using a stereocam to record the meeting. She pans the crowd of new faces like a documentary film-maker. Selfridge introduces her as MARCIA DE LOS SANTOS, the FREEMEDIA OFFICER. It is her job to send home the inspiring footage used for corporate advertising and recruiting, though technically she is keeping a full and impartial record of the operation at Hell's Gate. Selfridge heavily edits her downlinks to Earth, claiming the "expense" of data transmission, but really it is ironfisted censorship.
Selfridge introduces COLONEL MILES QUARITCH, the SECFOR commander. Quaritch is a humorless man, thicknecked and barrel-chested, with one side of his face twisted by the scars from an encounter with some Pandoran predator. He hates Pandora, but loves the fight. Quaritch epitomizes the antipathy between humans and the world they have come to conquer.
Quaritch adjourns the briefing, to the chagrin of DR. BRANTLEY GIESE, the base XENOANTHROPOLOGIST and the head of the Avatar Program. He scrambles to the front of the room as the meeting breaks up, calling for the new controllers to report to him in SCIMOD. Quaritch sneers as he pushes past Giese, and we see that there is no love lost between these two.
Quaritch stops next to Josh and says he read Josh was marines. Josh confirms it, and Quaritch wants to know if he was wounded in combat.
Fell out a window, drunk, at a base party, Josh tells him. Quaritch is a little put off by Josh's attitude, but tells him that when he is done wasting his time with Giese and his meat puppets, he can use him in SECFOR. The ops center and the armory are understaffed.
ON HIS WAY TO SCIMOD Josh gets a look at the base from the inside. There are six primary modules, laid out along a central trunk called the UTILIDOR, through which all foot traffic, and all utility lines and conduits run. This has two levels, the subterranean one being narrower and primarily an access-way for maintenance.
CONMOD is the control module, containing communications, administration, flight control, dispatch, and SECFOR command.
HABMOD is the quarters, and also contains the laundry, food services, gym, and recreation areas. Josh finds his room and throws his bag on the bunk.
In the upper Utilidor, Josh bumps into NORM CHEESEMAN, a spindly guy who is one of the new controllers Josh recognizes from the ship. Norm pushes Josh down the corridor as they look for SCIMOD.
They pass GENMOD (power) and STORMOD (storage), as well as the vehicle maintenance module, called simply the GARAGE. They reach SCIMOD which is a multistory building, full of labs and arcane equipment. None of it means anything to Josh.
They catch up with the tour, just as Giese is showing the new controllers into the LINK ROOM.
Here we see the veteran controllers in a long row of what look like high-tech dental chairs. They have the link gear over their heads, and are tied into the distant bodies of their respective avatars. They seem to be sleeping, or in a trance state.
It actually resembles REM sleep, with the eyeballs tracking rapidly under the lids, and the fingers twitching occasionally. Technicians monitor the body functions of the controllers, and track the positions of the avatars on screens. Giese shows them how the same implanted chip which allows the remote link to the avatars also gives them a minute by minute position on them out in the bush, or around the base of the mine, wherever they might be.
Giese tells the new arrivals that they will each be assigned to a veteran controller, who will supervise their first link-up with their avatars.
One of the working controllers breaks her link contact, and lifts the hood, climbing wearily out of her chair. It is the end of a long work day, and her body is stiff with disuse.
Giese calls Josh forward and introduces DR. GRACE SHIPLEY, the controller he is assigned to. Grace Shipley is a gruff xenobotanist in her mid forties, somewhat dumpy, and gravel-voiced from too much smoking.
She scowls at Josh, telling him to meet her in her lab at 0800 tomorrow. She ignores Josh's proffered hand, wheeling around to yell at the monitor techs that she needs a goddamn cigarette.
The next morning Josh is waiting in the biology lab at five to eight. One wall of the lab is observation windows, beyond which are large terrariums holding some Pandoran flora and fauna. Josh peers into a chamber filled with fern-like violet plants, unable to see if there is anything else in there.
He moves to the next chamber, which is an aquarium filled with murky water. The window is huge, but he can see nothing in the gloom. He turns as Grace Shipley comes into the lab. With shocking suddenness a dark shape, much bigger than him, materializes out of the murk and slams against the glass. BOOM!! Josh whips around to see the head of a hideous armored fish, its huge jaws snapping shut, clacking razor-sharp teeth against the glass.
GRACE: I see you've met our Dinicthys. She loves to do that.
Grace goes to the glass and looks the big fish in the eye. It swims away.
GRACE: Just a baby, but at the rate she's growing, we're going to have to put her back in the lake by next week.
OVER THE NEXT FEW SCENES it will become clear that Grace is to be Josh's reluctant mentor.
Reluctant, since they are so understaffed that she was really counting on the trained skills of his brother. Josh isn't really qualified for anything on the base except kitchen staff. She needs a real assistant, a scientist. Hell, even an undergrad. She's pissed off at the situation and sees it as just another way the company is screwing the biologists and the Avatar Program. They don't really want to know what's going on here, they just want to strip mine the goddamn place. They'll have it all plowed under before they even know what's out in that bush... and they'll miss the real treasure. The Earth is doomed because its biodiversity has been killed. It may take centuries to die, but it's only a matter of time. Out there are wonders they can't even imagine, and all they do is cut funds, and send her useless assistants.
Josh interrupts her rant and tells her that he didn't come lightyears out into space, didn't get shot up with drugs, inoculated against god-knows-what, and frozen for three years, just to come here and be her punching bag. If she's got a problem with him, tell the base supervisor, otherwise take a pill, lady.
Grace looks at him for a long moment. Finally she cracks a wicked grin.
GRACE: So. A live one, huh?
Having lodged her complaint and put Josh on notice, she takes him to the linkroom for his first session.
JOSH'S FIRST LINK SESSION. In this scene we see Josh go under the link for the first time, and take over control of his avatar body.
We cut to the JOSH/AVATAR in the training compound, an enclosure behind SCIMOD in which the fledgling avatars are taught to function and survive. It looks like a kids' playground, with parallel bars, hanging rings, balls to throw, monkey bars, and various other structures that will be used in his physical patterning. He is watched by techs behind a glass wall.
Josh/Avatar opens his eyes, and looks around with amazed awareness. He blinks, the strange hues of the alien vision flooding his brain.
He moves awkwardly, sitting up. He takes a deep breath and smells the air. His nostrils flare with the flood of new alien smells.
He looks at his hand, staring at it, working the fingers. He looks down and stares at his body, then touches it with one hand. Feels the skin. Smooth. Warm.
A tech tells him over the PA to check his motor control. Try to touch his fingertips together. He does, missing like a drunk at a sobriety checkpoint. He tries again, face screwed up in concentration. His fingertips touch clumsily, shaking slightly.
Can he see, the voice asks. He nods yes. Breathing okay? Yes. Speech check. Try to talk.
Josh/Avatar's throat works, and an inarticulate croak emerges. He tries again, and it sounds like a baby trying to imitate speech. The tech tells him to try crawling.
He rolls to his stomach. Pushing up with his arms, he gets his knees under him. He is unsteady as a newborn antelope, his arms and body shaking as muscles clench and nerves fire spasmodically. He crawls clumsily, like a baby, to a plastic chair nearby. Josh/Avatar gets one hand on the chair and tries to pull himself up. After a lot of effort, he is almost standing... hunched over like an ancient man.
Finally, he is standing on shaking legs. He lets go of the chair. Swaying, he stands free. He grins, baring slightly pointy teeth.
Then falls right on his ass. Hearing laughter, he looks up.
A statuesque female avatar walks up, standing over him. The first female he has seen. She is magnificent, with powerful panther thighs, a flat muscular stomach and small but firm athlete's breasts. She is wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and in human years would be about 25. Her face looks somewhat familiar... Josh manages to croak out his first sentence.
JOSH/AVATAR: Whooo... are... yu-you?
FEMALE AVATAR: Who do you think, dumbshit? How quickly they forget.
The voice is very recognizable. It is Grace. Now that we know, we see her face in the alien features. She grins at him, and cocks one hip.
GRACE/AVATAR: Ain't I a babe?
Grace/Avatar helps him to his feet, and supports his weight while he tries to walk, just like a mom holding a baby's hands. She faces him, holding his hands, and steps backward. Josh, the toddler, takes his first steps. She slowly lets go of his fingers, letting him balance himself. He takes another step.
Josh stares down in amazement at his feet. His face holds a childlike wonder.
JOSH/AVATAR: I'm walking.
GRACE/AVATAR: You sure are, kid.
Josh's eyes fill with tears. Grace sees one running down the blue skin of his cheek.
GRACE/AVATAR: Yup, looks like everything's working just fine.
CUT TO Josh being interviewed by Marcia de Los Santos, the Freemedia Officer. Josh is explaining how his training is going. He's walking fine, and has started running and climbing exercises. His coordination is already equal to a human five year old. She asks him a question she has asked all of them... what it's like to wake up in another body. Josh tries to tell her, but he can't. Just that it is a wonder. And in his case, a great gift. He says the air smells like cinnamon.
JOSH, under the link. In CU we see his eyes tracking, like he is dreaming.
JOSH/AVATAR runs to catch a ball thrown by one of the other trainee avatars, Norm Cheeseman. We barely recognize skinny Norm, since his avatar body, like all of them, is powerfully muscled.
Josh/Avatar taking a drink of some green liquid, which spills down his chin. By his expression it obviously tastes great.
Norm/Avatar showing off to the techs, using the window like a mirror to shoot bodybuilder poses.
Josh doing a running cartwheel, jumping up and catching the monkey bars, and pulling himself rapidly across hand-over-hand.
Grace/Avatar, taking a picture of him with an instamatic camera as he eats an unfamiliar Pandoran fruit, getting the juice all over himself.
Josh/Avatar drawing and firing a large pistol, blowing big holes in paper targets.
Josh/Avatar lies down to sleep for the night on a futon in the training compound. Some of the other avatars are already asleep nearby. We can see their bioluminescent spot patterns glowing in the dark.
Josh/Avatar stares up at the alien sky, seeing mighty Polyphemis rise against the stars. His catlike eyes are wide with the wonder of this new world. He hears the chatters and shrieks from the forest, that black wall out beyond the compound. The sentry guns fire and there is a piercing scream, shortlived. Soon he will be out there. His eyes close, as sleep takes him.
The human Josh opens his eyes in the linkroom a moment later. He climbs stiffly from his chair, pushing himself across to his wheelchair. He sits rubbing his temples with fatigue. Even in the lesser gravity of Pandora, his human body feels like a deadweight after his exhilarating hours in the other body. Grace, looking tired and rumpled, climbs out of her seat nearby. She looks down at her doughy body.
GRACE: At midnight I always turn back into a pumpkin. Come on, let me buy you a drink.
IN SELFRIDGE'S OFFICE, Quaritch is complaining that he doesn't have enough men to escort all the scientific sorties, cover the mine, the base and also the new construction. Selfridge tells him he will cut the escorts on the scientific teams back to one man per sortie. Quaritch nods, but says that the number of major predator attacks on the perimeter has steadily increased, and there have been five major breaches of the outer fence this year. One of his men was killed by a SLINGER last Tuesday, and two are on medical report because of HELLFIRE WASPS. One of his gunships was attacked by a LEONOPTERYX near the deuterium plant, and almost crashed.