Savior

    The first thing I did was put my bow and knife away. I didn't want to startle this . . . this girl, whoever or whatever she was. I kept thinking back to those few months I'd been at the base with Norm and Grace, thinking about what kinds of experiments they might have had going on while I'd been there. But I was drawing a complete blank. Of course, it didn't help that after a little while of reporting to Quaritch, Grace had moved us up into the mountains at camp. Any information I could have had access to had been hundreds of miles away. Not that I would have wanted to look at any of it. I wasn't what one would call scientific at that point in my "mission."

    Now that I was crawling through the brush closer to the girl I'd seen, I wish I'd looked at it. Surely, there would have been something about this in there – a girl who looked like she was Human and Na'vi. I didn't think it was possible.

    "Hello?" I called in English, since it seemed she knew some. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I swear. My name's Jake. Hello?"

    Twigs and brush crushed under pressure a few meters away, and I glanced at Thomas, gesturing for him to remain silent. He nodded, and we pressed on. I kept my eyes on everything, hoping she hadn't gotten too far ahead of us. The last thing I needed was hunters from another clan finding her. She looked different and probably didn't speak the language. That would prove to be a death sentence for someone like her, like it could have been for me. Just that thought alone urged me forward. Whether this girl was aware of it or not, she was very rare, and if I could keep her from getting killed, that's what I was gonna do.

    "It's okay," I yelled, still using English. "No one's gonna hurt you. You don't have to be afraid of me."

    The bushes moved quickly, and I knew she was running again. I told Thomas silently to remain there, and he crouched to the floor while I moved forward.

I caught a glimmer of the chain around her neck, now realizing that it was a necklace and that she had to have come from somewhere. I followed her for another few meters, figuring she was staying the same amount of space ahead of me and that I'd lose her if I didn't do something. But I didn't want to scare her off. So I had to keep going slow until I was closer.

    "Do you have a name?" I called after her, listening carefully for her footsteps. I couldn't recall instantly whether she'd had any of the normal Na'vi attributes, but whatever I'd been doing had caused her to react. And I couldn't do that again, even though I had no idea what I'd done to set her off.

    "Listen," I said. "I can help you. There are others out there who will hurt you, even kill you. And I can keep them from doing that. My name is Jake," I repeated. "Do you have a name?"

    She stopped moving. I could tell based on the stillness ahead of me. Whether that was a good thing or not, I didn't know yet, but I kept going, holding my hands out so she could see them open and empty and so I could grab her if she tried to run again.

    "It's okay," I told her, seeing her through the brush. "Take it easy. I won't hurt you."

    With one last branch to move aside, she appeared in front of me as she still crouched low to the ground. She was obviously in a defensive mode, since I'd proven undeterred in my pursuit, but she'd stopped trying to get away. I hoped that was good thing. That's when I noticed her long, striped tail whipping behind her as she rocked slightly, and her slightly pointed ears reared back the way mine did when I was faced with an enemy.

    I kept my hands up, hoping it would calm her down. "I'm not gonna hurt you," I said again. "It's okay."

    Her hair wasn't completely black, but somewhere between light-dark brown and to her waist, and I could see now that she was pink down the middle of her body while dark blue stripes hugged her curves from her bare feet to the slopes of her shoulders and neck and the mounds of her cheeks and forehead. And she wasn't completely naked as she wore what I could only think of as a small cloth around her waist.

    "It's okay," I said softly.

    I crouched down in front of her, about to reach for her when she suddenly lunged forward and grabbed me by the neck. I fell back into the bushes, tumbling again and attempting to stop her. I fought gravity, grabbing her by the arms and digging my heels into the dirt to stop our roll until she was on the ground beneath me. She hissed at me, fighting me like she'd done before, and I realized why she was fighting me. I probably sounded safe, but I looked Na'vi. Whatever had happened to her, she obviously hadn't had a good experience with one of the other Clans. But I wasn't your typical clan leader. I had to make her see that.

    "I'm not gonna hurt you," I shouted. "Listen to my voice. I look like them. I know. But listen to me. I'm different. I promise."

    Even though I'd been living with the Omaticaya for ten years, I still sounded like my old self – confident, slightly arrogant but completely trustworthy. I hoped she could hear and feel that. I didn't want to accidently hurt her trying to keep her still.

    While keeping both her arms in one of my hands, I held up my free hand so she could see that I had five fingers like she did. "It's okay. You're gonna be okay."

    This seemed to calm her down for the moment, and I released her slowly, watching her back away almost a meter. I kept my hands in front of me, inching forward until I was less than half a meter from her. She stared at me, her eyes wide with fear, but she didn't move away. I hoped that was a good sign.

    I noticed blood on her arm then, not knowing whether it had happened while we'd been struggling or if it had been there before she'd come across me. But I figured the least I could do was fix her up.

    "You're hurt," I said, laying my hand over her shoulder. She jumped, inhaling and exhaling quickly. "It's okay. Take it easy. I can help you. Please."

    For a moment, she stopped moving, and I took her stillness to mean she was at least going to let me put a bandage on her. I got a little closer to her, gently sitting her on the ground and touching her other shoulder as a long, light-dark brown braid came into my view. I realized something new about her body. She was more like me than I thought.

    "Thomas," I called, startling her easily but able to calm her again. "It's okay. He's not gonna hurt you. I promise."

    Within moments, my son burst through the brush, ready to defend me, but I stopped him.

    "It's okay," I told him. Softly, I instructed him to find dressings for her wound to keep from alarming her, and even though I could see his reluctance, he did what I told him.

    I kept my eyes on hers as long as I could without having to keep watch on the area. Even though I was pretty sure where we were, I didn't want to risk having another clan find us here. And I had to get her back to Mo'at before too much time passed.

    "My name's Jake," I said a third time, and she looked at me. "Do you have a name?"

    Her ears perked up then, and I figured she probably couldn't understand me either. I laid my hand over my chest.

    "Jake," I said again. "I'm Jake. Who are you?" I asked, gently touching her chest.

    She looked at my fingers, moving her hand to mine and then looking at me again. "I'm Jake," I said gesturing to myself again. "Who are you?"

    Thomas came back with dressings, and she jumped again, releasing my hand and moving her feet under her body. I laid my hands over her shoulders, soothing her softly.

    "It's okay. We're gonna help you," I promised. "Do you have a name?" I asked her.

    She looked at Thomas, seeing his five fingers on each hand and hopefully understanding that he was like me, and she relaxed slightly, allowing me and my son to dress her wound. Once all the blood was cleaned away, I noticed the distinct mark of claws jagged along her skin. I silently wondered what had attacked her and how long it had been since then. The wound looked relatively fresh, and there were only a few things it could be. I also absently wondered how she'd gotten away.

    Together, it took me and Thomas only a few minutes to bandage her arm. She winced softly as I applied the paste that would clean her wound out and seal it, and she lifted her hand to my arm as I wrapped a leaf dressing around her arm to protect it while it healed. I began thinking of the first time I'd met Neytiri, and I remembered why I'd started chasing this girl.

    "Avamelia," she said suddenly, her voice soft as she gazed at me curiously.

    It took me a few seconds to realize she was saying her name, and I leaned closer to her.

    "Can you understand me?" I asked softly.

    Before she could answer me, my own ears picked up on a deep, heavy growl coming from less than six meters away. I knew that growl. I'd heard it before. And I knew where it had come from and why. She'd been bleeding, the way I'd been after encountering a whole pack of them, and they'd all followed her here.

    "Shit," I hissed.

    I used my bearings to locate the animals, feeling and smelling them to the south and softly calling to my son.

    "Thomas, take your bow and move north slowly," I ordered. "If we move too fast, they'll attack."

    He obeyed without speaking, and I looked at her again to see her reacting silently to the animals as well with her eyes and ears wide open. "We'll have to talk later," I said softly, easing forward. "But right now, we need to move. I need you to trust me. Those animals out there are probably here for you, because you smell different. Like I did. I can get you away from here, but you have to trust me. Please?"

    I extended my hands to her again, meaning to stand her up and back her into the brush away from the animals. Either my persuasion skills had improved, or she was completely terrified because she moved forward and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. I was overwhelmed, remaining still as my body adjusted to her weight, but after half a minute, I stood up with her in my arms. I had to get her away from here, and after that, I'd see about getting some answers.

    It was easy enough to move her onto my back, and as soon as she was secure, I turned south to watch the brush in front of me. I could hear Thomas behind making his way north, and she weighed less than he did, so it felt like I was carrying a light backpack. Subconsciously, I paid attention to her arms and legs as they held onto me tightly, and I could honestly only think of the fact that it had been more than a few days since Neytiri and I had really been this close.

    The birds closest to us called loudly, flying from their perches, and I immediately knew that was bad. The first time these things had attacked me, I'd been on my own in the forest after getting separated from Grace and Norm. It had been a stupid move on my part, but if I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have met Neytiri. So I couldn't regret it. The only problem now was that I was towing two kids who were smaller and very likely weaker than me. I couldn't be as careless now as I'd been then.

    The Nantang, or viperwolf as I'd called it once before, advanced on us more quickly than I'd expected, and when the first one emerged from the brush with its teeth bared, I grasped onto my passenger, keeping my knees bent in case I had to run. I knew it wasn't going to be easy to get rid of him, but when three more joined him, I realized how completely outnumbered I was. Even with Thomas on point, I knew one of us was going to get hurt. And that was unacceptable.

    I kept going backward for as long as I could without tripping on any limbs or stumps covering the ground, and I caught up to Thomas as he waited by the edge of the river that was between us and the path home.

    "Ma sempul," he said softly, and I took his arm in mine as I set her on her own feet.

    The river was faster-flowing up stream and would probably keep us safe halfway across, until the wolves following us figured out how to get across. I couldn't remember if they could swim or not, but I didn't want to risk it.

    I didn't have time to make a better decision, watching the first wolf emerge less than three meters from where we'd stopped. Hastily, I pushed Thomas into the water, allowing him to get his footing before I followed with my arm secure around her waist. I wasn't sure what to call her just yet, but I was gonna keep her safe until I figured that out.

    Just as I'd feared, halfway into the river, the wolves began their own descent, and I yelled to Thomas.

    "Hurry up," I ordered. "Get hunters from Home. We can't let them near there."

    He swam the way I'd shown him, getting to the other side first and immediately running toward the path Home. With her in my arm, it took me a little longer to get across, the wolves closing in on us quickly. Less than two meters from the edge, one of them snapped at her leg under the water, and I drew my knife, reaching for it and driving my blade deep into his chest. He yelped, falling limp and I threw him downstream as another came for my neck.

    An arrow came out of nowhere, hitting the wolf square in his chest, and I looked back to see her holding my bow in her hands. The other two wolves retreated, and I was left standing there in the water completely confused. I hadn't even realized she'd gotten out of the water, much less knew how to shoot an arrow from less than three meters away. She looked at me solemnly, lowering my bow as I climbed out of the river and handing it to me without looking at me.

    Hunting Calls sliced through the air as another party made their way toward us, and I strapped on my bow, pulling her behind me as six men on Pa'li arrived at our location with Thomas in tow. I nodded to the front man, remembering his name.

    "Ma Tu'San," I acknowledged with a nod. "Oel ngati kameie."

    His expression of disdain did not bode well as he dismounted his Pa'li, pulling out his queue and making his way toward where I was keeping Ava. Her name resounded in my head, and I realized it fit.

    "Faketuan," he spat, glaring over my shoulder at Ava. His brow furrowed angrily even as I tried to keep him calm.

    "Rutxe, ma tsmukan. Rä'ä si. Please," I said in English, hoping he would oblige me.

    He glared, glancing behind him and then replacing his own knife.

    "I must get her back to Mo'at, please."

    He didn't argue, backing away from me, I hoped, to allow me to pull Ava to a horse with Thomas. The others with him all shared his expression. I knew what a sore subject it was even after ten years. I was Olo'eyktan, but to some, I would always be what I'd been before. There were some ways of thinking even I wouldn't be able to change, but I knew that if I could get Mo'at to see how scared Ava was and that she probably didn't know what she was, I could get her the same chance I got. A chance to learn. To be one of the People.

    I lifted her onto the horse before mounting myself, connecting my own queue with the horse's and then pulling Thomas onto the horse behind me. Tu'san took point, urging the others on, and I followed, keeping her in front of me and making sure Thomas was holding on before I sped up with the other hunters. I wasn't sure what would happen when Mo'at saw Ava. I hoped she would at least allow me to find answers for myself before she decided what to do. There was no doubt in my mind what Ava was, but I had to know how. I had to know why, and if Norm could help me, I was going to take Ava to him the first chance I got — whether the other members of the clan liked it or not.

    Our new Hometree, a massive tree almost the same size as the first Hometree had been, became visible less than a few minutes after leaving the river, and I instantly remembered the day we'd found it. It hadn't been easy, convincing Mo'at and quite a few others that we needed a place to stay away from the Tree of Souls. She'd argued we were safe there from the Humans and most other things in the forest, but Neytiri had actually agreed with me. We needed a new home. Especially if she and I were going to be raising a child together.

    I thought somberly about where we'd buried her, thinking I needed to see her and make sure she was okay with this newest development. But I think I'd been with her enough to know what she would want. Ava's origins needed to be known, for the Omaticaya and for Ava.

    Even though I still wasn't sure if Ava could understand me, I tried to reassure her as we arrived at the base of our Home, whispering to her as I lowered from the horse. "Everything's gonna to be okay," I told her. "Mo'at will know what to do. No one's gonna hurt you."

    I grasped onto her hand as I made my way toward the center of the village where Mo'at was currently waiting with Tu'San. When she saw me, I figured she would be suspicious like everyone else as they all watched me guide Ava toward her. She'd been suspicious of me, and I'd looked a lot more like her than Ava did. But the look in her eyes now told me she was just as curious as I was. I hoped it meant she would allow me to take Ava where I needed to find out how her existence was even possible.

    "Jakesully," she said.

    I bowed my head. "Oel ngati kameie."

    "Where did you find this creature?" she asked in English, gazing at Ava speculatively.

    I sighed softly, glancing at Ava. "I was on the hunt with my son when I found her in the forest," I explained. "I thought I'd seen something that drove me from the others, and I was attacked. I believe she was startled by our presence, and I couldn't risk another clan finding her. We were chased by nantang to the river, and she saved my life by killing one of them before it attacked me."

    Mo'at moved closer to me as I stood in front of Ava. I hadn't realized how protective my stand was until Mo'at pushed me away gently, and I stepped aside, allowing the woman who'd also looked at me when I'd first arrived look at Ava more closely.

    In the midday light, I noticed the spots on Ava's face that greatly resembled the spots on my face and Thomas' face, only they weren't luminescent as ours were. Hers looked more like freckles. Where her stripes intersected with her pink skin, there were spots that were half brown and half glowing. I silently hoped Norm could give me a little insight into all of this. He was a lot smarter than me where things like this were concerned, and he'd take one look at Ava and want to figure it out with me.

    Mo'at surveyed Ava's body the way I'd had to when I'd first seen her, touching her pink skin and then her stripes. She lifted Ava's queue, criticizing it before she also lifted Ava's tail. Ava was strangely calm during her inspection. It looked like she knew what Mo'at was doing, and she looked at me every few seconds to make sure she was right. I only nodded so she would stay calm.

    "She confuses me," Mo'at said finally, standing in front of Ava and taking her by the shoulders to look into her eyes. "I have never seen anything quite like this before."

    "I agree," I said softly. "With your permission, I will take her to Norm. He can find out how this happened."

    Mo'at turned her gaze to mine, appraising me instantly. "You feel attached to this creature," she said obviously.

    The few members of the clan who understood Mo'at all gasped at this revelation, but I couldn't deny it. I hadn't even realized how much it was true in such a short amount of time. But Ava was more like me than she was anyone else in the Clan, and I guess that did connect us in a way none of the others could really understand. I didn't want her to get hurt simply because she didn't know the rules. So I would make her my responsibility. It was the only thing I knew to do.

    "You will do as you wish, Jakesully," Mo'at said to me. "You will learn how this creature was made, and you will bring the information to me. We will reevaluate this situation at that time."

    I bowed my head again. "Irayo."

    "Tomorrow," she added. "You have done much today. Take her to rest now."

    I returned to Ava's side, glancing at Thomas and beckoning him to my side as I pulled Ava up into the spiral that would lead us to where Thomas and I had emerged that morning. The members of the Clan who knew what was going on all murmured disapprovingly. Even though I was their clan leader, I knew a lot of them wouldn't understand this. And I was surprised to realize exactly how much I wasn't really worried what they did or didn't understand about this. All I wanted were answers. I would get them no matter what anyone said.

    As clan leader, I'd been afforded a few things most of the other members didn't necessarily need, and since Neytiri and I had Thomas, we'd also had the same accommodations as any other family within the clan. So we had an alcove which gave us privacy, but we also had a resting mat which looked like a Human trampoline only twice as big. When I showed these things to Ava, the look of recognition on her face was undeniable, and I began wondering how long she'd been in the forest alone. I allowed Thomas onto the mat first, which was suspended by a few dozen ropes on all sides and actually quite sturdy, and I helped Ava to the middle, motioning for her to lay down.

    She fell asleep almost instantly, and I stayed close to her even with Thomas watching me. I wasn't sure why, but I felt like Neytiri would want me to keep Ava safe, and whether Thomas understood that or not, I had to go with what my gut told me. I noticed the look of resentment on his face, and I tried to reassure him.

    "Everything will be okay once I get her to Norm," I told him softly. I knew we were probably the only ones resting now, but I still wanted our conversation to be a private as possible. "I know you don't understand. But I have to help her. Maybe you'll understand when we find out how this happened."

    Thomas folded his arms over his chest stubbornly, and I grudgingly allowed him to go back down to the village for food. I knew he was probably thinking about his mother now, and I didn't want to encourage his jealousy, but I couldn't focus on more than one thing right now. And I had to focus on Ava.

    When he returned with food for the three of us, he sat off to one side of the mat, and I allowed him his distance. Even though he knew my origins because Neytiri and I had made sure he knew where I'd come from, I also knew how heavily influenced he was by the other clan members. He'd heard all the stories about how the aliens had attacked Hometree and tried to destroy Vitraya Ramunong. And he was more distrusting of Norm and most of the other scientists who'd stayed after the rest had left. But I always made sure he understood how Norm would never hurt any of us. So I could always count on him to at least try to tolerate Norm when he visited in his Avatar.

    I hoped he could at least attempt to do the same with Ava.