He's lost six people already this year, twice the number for the same time last year, and is already over his ammo budget. It's getting worse, not better.

Selfridge says he will order more men and weapons on the next starship, and cut back on the scientific package. They just have to make it to then. He orders Quaritch to clearcut a wider safety zone around the new construction.

CUT TO the clearcutting operation, out at the edge of the safety zone. Massive tractors and bulldozers are ripping into the treeline, toppling the huge trees. Now we see why the equipment is so big... the trees are enormous. The dozers have plasma cutters which rip into the trees, slashing through their gargantuan bases in a spray of fierce light and burning wood-shrapnel.

The larger trees are blasted with high explosives, raining kindling down for hundreds of yards. The tractor drivers are safe in armored cages, and Scorpion gunships prowl over the tree-line, looking for large predators which might be approaching.

ANGLE FROM INSIDE THE RAINFOREST, as the tractors relentlessly approach. It is the POV of somebody or something watching.

REVERSE, tight on a pair of eyes. The catlike eyes of one of the humanoid PANDORANS, FILLING FRAME.

A GLIMPSE of figures moving through the foliage, their skin-markings acting as almost perfect camouflage. We can barely see them. Just an impression of graceful, lithe forms. Then nothing.

A MASSIVE METAL FOOT crashes down into frame.

CUT WIDER to see that it belongs to Miles Quaritch wearing a POWERSUIT. This is a robotic walking machine, bipedal, about 4 meters tall. Though massive, it is gyroscopically balanced and quite agile, able to duplicate most human motion. It is heavily armored, and armed with a huge rotary cannon, a GAU 90, built into one forearm. Quaritch uses a psionic link to control the machine.

Under his bubble canopy, the Colonel scans the gloom of the forest. He glances up as two Scorpions fly overhead. One opens fire one something, its tracers streaming down into the trees. The Scorpion pilot tells Quaritch that a pack of VIPERWOLVES are heading his way.

Quaritch scans among the trees, seeing vague infrared shapes moving on his screens. Ahead, in the gloom, he sees black shapes squirting from shadow to shadow like blobs of living ink. They seem to dart across the ground, then move through the trees from limb to limb... sometimes seeming doglike, other times more like monkeys.

Quaritch opens fire with the GAU 90. It hogs a horizontal swath through the forest, splintering everything in its path into wood chips. Trees crash to earth, and flapping things called STINGBATS rise into the sky with shrill calls. We hear a horrible yelping whine, which goes on and on, getting more distant... Satisfied, Quaritch crashes forward through the bush, scanning.

A one-meter stingbat smacks into his canopy, its tail-stinger screeching on the glass. He crushes it, with one hydraulic hand, almost unconsciously, like someone swatting a mosquito.

A shrieking BANSHEERAY hurtles at him from above the trees. It is a small one, less than a three meter wingspan. Shaped like a manta ray, it swoops through the trees on translucent wing membranes. We get a glimpse of glassy fangs unfolding from its mouth like cat-claws, then the cannon blows it into chunks. Quaritch's canopy is showered with blue Pandoran blood.

He passes a large plantform called PHALANXIA which fires nettle-like projectiles at him. They ricochet off the armor, leaving drops of glistening venom. The Pandoran fauna and flora clearly share the philosophy of us versus them. This is one nasty place.

Behind Quaritch two troopers in powersuits follow him into the bush ahead of the wall-like blades of the bulldozers. Quaritch blasts something else. We see that he enjoys his work. Takes a personal interest that things are done right.

IN THE UTILIDOR Rob Parrish is walking with Carter Selfridge. Parrish is complaining that Quaritch and SECFOR are going too far. Now they want to burn large sections of the forest, to clear it of predators. How can he be expected not to report that?! Selfridge tells him that he should just do what he always does... shut up and take the money.

IN THE COMMISSARY Josh is eating with some of the other controllers. You can see definite territories staked out by the various groups. The SECFOR troopers stay on their side of the room, and don't mingle with the civilians much. And the scientists have their own area. Within that, the controllers have a little corner reserved for them, but whether they are the elite, or the pariahs, is not clear. A little of both, actually.

The controllers are a scruffy, smelly lot. They generally spend as many hours a day as they are allowed to (up to 16) under the link, and as their stint goes on, they get less and less interested in personal hygiene. They are like junkies, with unkempt hair and beards, bad skin and poor appetites.

There's a crazy guy bussing the table named HEGNER. Moving slow and vacant-eyed, he's obviously doped up on something prescribed by the base psychtech. Grace tells them that Hegner used to be head of Xenobiology until his avatar got killed... ripped apart by a SLINTH. The slinth is a large predator, fast as a cheetah, that spears its prey with its head, which is like a venomous lance. The prey wobbles off and collapses, alive and conscious but unable to move because of the neurotoxin. The slinth eats it alive. Hegner felt himself die, and he hasn't been right since. Added to the trauma is the loss... the loss of his other life, the one lived in his avatar body.

Like many of the controllers, he came to see it as his real life, with his human life taking on the feeling of a boring dream.

Grace tells Josh that they are going out to her worksite tomorrow, and he'll be meeting a local, named N'DEH, who is her guide. Giese says N'deh is one of the few who will still work with them, after what those SECFOR jarheads did.

Apparently there was an incident, a year ago, between the nearby aboriginal people and some SECFOR troopers who were trying to clear them out of the construction site for the new deuterium plant. It seems the site was sacred ground to the TSUMONGWI.

Josh says he thought they were called the NA'VI. Giese says that's right, the whole Pandoran race is called the Na'vi. They are all Na'vi, all around the planet, because they all seem to have the same root language. It translates, approximately, as "The Seeing People".

Their word for Pandora is NA'AT, "The People's Mother". Curiously, it is the same word they have for forest. So to them, the forest is the world. Which is nearly right, since there are no deserts or veldts, and all the landmasses are uniformly covered with forest, right up to the permanent polar ice.

The local clan is called the Tsumongwi, "The Blue Flute Clan". Anyway, Giese and his avatar group were having some success with the local clan, teaching them some English, and how to use some of our power tools. Their own technology is neolithic... bows and spears, clay pots, animal skins, that sort of thing. No written language.

They were helping to build a school in the forest, near their home villages, when SECFOR pissed in the soup.

The clan patriarch has protested against the "Sky People"... us... clearing the trees at one of their sacred sites. They have never liked us cutting down the trees anywhere, and it was all I could do to get Selfridge to stop his safety zone at the size it is... he was just heading for the horizon with it. They mourn the spirit of a tree when it dies. It's quite touching.

Anyway, when the tractors showed up at the sacred site, which was just a clearing in the woods, the Na'vi attacked. They attacked the tractors, not the men. Set the tires on fire. Shot a few poison darts at the engines.

Quaritch ordered his men to fire into the forest, knowing the Na'vi were there. Show them who's boss. Five Na'vi were killed. Since then we haven't seen hide nor hair of them around here. They will meet with us in the forest, sometimes, but never here. And things are very strained. N'deh has been invaluable, and there are a couple of others. It's almost like they drew straws to see who would get the shit-detail of dealing with us hairy sky people. And N'deh drew short.

AT DUSK, OUT IN THE COMPOUND, the tractors are returning from the construction site. Troopers keep a loose guard cordon between the gravel road through the rainforest and the compound fence. A couple of Powersuits stride among them, dwarfing the troopers and the civilian construction workers in their masks and hardhats.

The twin suns of Alpha Centauri A and B are fat red disks just above the treeline. Stingbats, bansheerays and other flyers are silhouetted against the orange sky.

Josh/Avatar, inside the compound, walks to the fence and watches the machines returning. Behind him they are loading up a VTOL utility vehicle about the size of a Huey helicopter. It is an AEROSPATIALE SA-2 SAMSON. The Samsons are armed only with a door gun, and are the prime-movers of air operations here. They are used by the scientists to reach their remote worksites, and by the construction and mining teams to move personnel and supplies. Hell's Gate operates ten of these workhorses, and they are under civilian command.

Josh looks up. Silhouetted against the twin suns, sitting on top of a cargo container nearby, is a real honest-to-God alien... a Na'vi. He looks like the avatars, of course, but the difference is in the details. He is wearing a beaded loincloth of animal skin, and has a leather tube slung across his back. He is squatting, still as a statue, holding what looks like a long spear, which stands upright against the sky. Josh sees that it is actually a bundle of long fishing arrows, with the unstrung bow held alongside them.

The Na'vi turns his head all the way around, like an owl's, and the eyes bore into Josh.

JOSH/AVATAR: N'deh?

The Na'vi rises, then steps off the container, dropping to the ground like some kind of liquid, and almost silently. He regards Josh with curiosity, coming quite close to him. He walks around him, looking him up and down. Sniffs him slowly.

Grace walks up and introduces them formally, using N'deh's complete name: N'deh Hermequeftewa. N'deh makes a curious gesture with his hand, touching one finger to his forehead and flicking it gracefully toward Josh. Josh nods.

N'deh is older than Josh. In human terms we would guess him to be in his late thirties. Next to him, we realize that Josh's avatar body is very young... a boy in his teens. Maybe 17.

Grace quietly speaks to N'deh in the Na'vi language, surprising Josh. It is the first time he has heard it spoken. It is musical and lilting, and by the sound of it very complex. Grace seems quite fluent.

By subtitles we understand that she is asking him to help her load the sampling equipment into the Samson.

N'deh closes his eyes for a half second, which we will come to see means the same as our nod of agreement. They walk toward the Aerospatiale together.

Josh hears shots and turns. There is a commotion out on the killing ground. Near the tractors, an enormous animal has burst from the treeline and is charging for the fence. In the dust raised by the giant machines, and with the number of men around, it is difficult for the troopers to get a shot. To make matters worse, the sentry guns have been deactivated in that sector while they bring in the heavy equipment.

Almost twice the size of an elephant, the beast is called a HAMMERHEAD TITANOTHERE, and it is like a six-legged rhinoceros. It has a massive, low-slung head with blunt transverse projections of solid bone which give it the look of a hammerhead shark. It is a herbivore, but like the rhino, elephant and hippopotamus, it can be aggressive and deadly. Troopers fire there rifles at the monstrous silhouette charging through the dust clouds, but the rounds have no effect on the armored head and shoulders.

A trooper in a powersuit strides between the tractors, trying to get a shot with the GAU 90. Suddenly the beast appears out of the dust at a full thundering charge, and the powersuit is knocked down before the cannon can swing to bear. The bull hammerhead smashes the canopy with one foot as it charges right over the powersuit, pulping the trooper inside.

Josh sees the hammerhead close the final distance to the compound fence. It is coming straight toward him. Everyone is firing at once, trying to bring down the twenty ton creature. The ground is shaking in time with its galloping gait.

It hits the outer fence, smashing right through it. A powersuit runs forward, striking a firing position, and opens up with its cannon. The GAU 90 rips into the hammerhead, blowing divots out of its shoulder and head. The creature bellows in pain and rage and keeps on coming. Josh pulls his pistol and adds his firing to the general thunder of guns.

The hammerhead hits the inner fence. In a blaze of high-voltage arcing, it bulldozes through the chain-link. It stumbles, tripping on the wreckage of the fence, then rises and thunders forward again, filling Josh's vision.

BOOM!!! The cannon roars again and the titanothere topples forward, plowing into the ground. It flips and skids, coming to rest in a cloud of dust ten meters from Josh. There is a beat, then...

Over the creature's body flows a cat-like shape, big as a tiger. It hits the ground in a ripple of muscle and bounds straight toward Josh. It is a SLINTH. Its venom-injecting spear-like head is cocked back on its powerful neck, ready to strike. Josh raises the pistol, which CLICKS. Empty.

He faces his death. Suddenly beside him is N'deh, drawing and aiming his bow in one swift move. The two meter long arrow flies straight into the slinth's throat. It coils over itself in agony like a snake. N'deh knocks another arrow and lets fly. The slinth shudders and lies twitching.

N'deh walks forward, stepping on the needle-like head while he removes his arrows.

JOSH/AVATAR: N'deh. Thank you.

N'DEH: Luck. (he holds up an arrow) Fishing points not good for killing slinth.

The high tech troopers stand around with their blasters, looking at the stone-age arrow that killed the beast. N'deh looks at the dead slinth, then at the body of the titanothere which cleared a path for it all the way into the inner compound. His expression is enigmatic.

N'deh takes the blood of the slinth on his finger and draws a line under one eye, then under the other. Honoring the slinth, and its purpose for existence. He starts dragging the carcass to the Samson.

Nearby somebody screams. Several hideous insects, almost a foot across, are leaping from the body of the titanothere and trying to fasten their hook-like legs into some of the troopers. With the host dead, the parasitic WOLF-TICKS are looking for a new ride. A frantic burst of firing breaks out, as the soldiers jump around, trying to kill the fast-moving parasites.

Nasty place.

THAT NIGHT Josh/Avatar stands at the compound fence, looking out at the forest primeval. Tomorrow he is going out there for the first time, and he is scared. There are light moving out there, single flitting ones, and larger patterns indicating big creatures. Some of the trees glow very faintly, or have phosphorescent patterns in their foliage.