May 24, 2168
Dear Mom and Dad,
I just can’t believe I’m here!! Yesterday the robots on the ISV woke us from cryosleep. After a quick shower and a shave—I don’t mind telling you I got a little foul after six and a half years in a pod!—I went off in search of my cabin so I could behold the majesty of Pandora. It took me a little while to find my room, which is definitely one of the smallest ones on the ship. The RDA officers and the engineers and the defense contractors and the skel-suit polishers get much bigger ones. But hey, I didn’t choose xenomarine biology—it chose me!
Anyway, once I found my cabin, I crouched on the hard steel floor in order to peek out the very small porthole. But Pandora is incredible! The water is so brilliantly blue from up here. It made me think about growing up with you two in Wellington, watching news reports about Pandora on the holotelly. I still remember what you said, Dad: “Someday, son, you’ll go to college in the United States, shed your New Zealand accent entirely, and travel to that beautiful place, to help humans understand the glory of life on another world.”
I met the guy in the cabin next to mine, a xenobotanist named Larry. We can hear each other through the walls! He mentioned something about a fire that burned down this huge tree, which seems like a real bummer. Happily, humans haven’t spent much time on Pandora’s oceans, so it sounds like I’ll have a lot of freedom to explore and learn. Before we left Earth, everyone was talking about unobtanium—I guess I’ll have to be on the lookout for some of that.
Tomorrow we go down to the surface! I’m so excited. I’ll send you another letter from there.
June 15, 2168
Dear Mom and Dad,
Holy Eywa (Pandora word)! This place is more amazing than I ever dreamed. While I’m a little nervous about the impact that humans are having on the natural environment here, I have to admit it’s pretty remarkable seeing all that we’ve been able to accomplish. We settled down on the moon’s surface in a big shuttle. Larry hated that part, where we instantly incinerated over 600 hectares of forest with our reverse thrusters. “Larry,” I told him, “it’s a big jungle!” But he was inconsolable.
Our base, Bridgehead, is enormous, and they’re just starting to build all the armories, refineries, prisons, mining platforms, and gun emplacements necessary to fulfill our mission here, which I’ve been assured is one of peace and tolerance for all living things. Along with all my textbooks and instruments, the shuttle delivered a cool new boat. It’s called the SeaDragon. I asked if we could call it the SeaScientist, but I was outvoted. It can travel 130 knots and can even lift off and skim the waves. It’s also equipped with harpoons, machine guns, and hundreds of depth charges, which are for self-defense only. I’m taking it out on the ocean for the first time tomorrow. I can’t wait.
This is funny: No one cares about unobtanium anymore! It turns out it’s unobtainable, which no one could have predicted. All the RDA guys are really on me to find some other insanely rare and valuable material that will make everyone rich. I was like, “I just got here, guys! No one’s even explored the ocean yet! Get Larry to find you some magic weeds!” They laughed at that—I think they like me.
June 28, 2168
Dear Mom and Dad,
Wow. That’s all I have to say. Wow.
As we flew across the cobalt-blue water in the SeaDragon, all I could think was how lucky I was. Lucky to live in a time in which human beings get to experience life on other worlds. Lucky to land this position as my first job after getting my Ph.D. Lucky that the RDA was willing to take a chance on me even though I failed my oral exams seventeen times. I choked up, I admit it. Our captain, an Aussie named Mick, was like, “What’re you crying about, you baby?” He’s a hard man, a man of the sea, and he enjoys gently ribbing his crew.
But that moment, touching as it was, was nothing compared to our sighting of the first pod of tulkun. It’s impossible to describe these enormous, peaceful creatures, which in their quiet majesty and deep, spiritual intelligence are like nothing I’ve ever seen, although if pressed I would say they’re basically whales. They’ve got four eyes, though.
They surfaced alongside the SeaDragon, playful and curious about this steel intruder in their waters. Captain Mick offered to perform a few experiments to see how they would respond to assorted stimuli, like him insulting them over the loudspeakers (“You’re a bunch of fat wankers!”) or shooting them with rifles. Serene and composed, the tulkun did not respond. Once Captain Mick tired of his experiments, I had the opportunity to observe their social structure and communication, which again are fully alien, unlike that of any creature on Earth, although if I had to compare them to one animal, sure, it would be whales.
After an hour or so, Captain Mick joined me on the deck to watch a mother tulkun frolic with her calf. I could tell that underneath his crusty exterior he, too, was moved. “You reckon those fuckers taste like tuna?” he asked.
Then we returned to Bridgehead, where in my closet-sized chamber I was lulled to sleep by the steady explosions caused by our attempts to communicate peacefully with the Na’vi (the mean blue guys).
Feb. 3, 2169
Mom! Dad! I’m famous!!
I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written, but by the time you get this letter, you’ll know what’s been keeping me so busy. I have made a discovery that will change the world—nay, the universe. Drink deep of my genius, and glimpse immortality itself!!!
Sorry, I know I’m being what my Wellington classmates would have called a “tall poppy.” I just can’t help it! I’m very excited.
A few months ago, I was out in the SeaDragon, listening once again to Captain Mick declare that we’d learn a lot more about tulkun if we just killed one of them. “What are ya, a baby?” he asked, and though I am not a baby, I was coming to see the wisdom of his argument. For did Charles Darwin merely observe the iguanas and finches of the Galápagos Islands when he was developing his theory of evolution? No, he shot a bunch of them and stuffed them and brought them back to England. Though the theory of evolution has since been disproven, erased from the literature like the Galápagos from the map, the scientific method remains sound. Our 22nd-century scanning equipment may be sensitive enough to map the interior of any living creature down to the micrometer from hundreds of miles away, a real scientist—one who is not a baby—must get his hands a little dirty.
Captain Mick was delighted, of course, and the whole crew sprang into action, inspired by their love of science. Unfortunately, the first tulkun they caught was not very useful from a research standpoint, due to them completely blowing it up with missiles (turns out the SeaDragon has missiles). But then they caught a second one with a bunch of harpoons. For several weeks afterward I drained the ever-more-pungent tulkun’s glands into whatever bottles and mugs I could cadge from the SeaDragon’s motley crew. One day, reaching for my tea, I accidentally drank deep from a mug of amrita, a viscous, golden fluid located deep in the tulkun’s brain. Well, you could have knocked me over with a Great Leonopteryx’s feather: My aging completely stopped. I was no longer aging. I saw the past and future as one, and understood that my life extended as far as the eye could see in all directions. I was, in a word, immortal.
Anyway, I told Captain Mick, and then General Ardmore called me in. I added a few drops to her coffee, and watched as she brought it to her lips with her mechanical arm. (Apparently this is the only way she drinks coffee.) Her eyes widened, and the next thing you know, we’re shipping my amrita back to Earth to be studied.
But don’t worry, guys. I told General Ardmore that I would only allow this to happen if she gave me her personal guarantee that we would harvest no more than one tulkun a year, and solely for the purpose of learning how to synthesize artificial amrita. She didn’t agree out loud, per se, but I’m pretty sure she’s as committed as me to preserving the natural beauty of Pandora’s oceans.
They threw a big party that night to celebrate my discovery. All the soldier guys were drinking a brand new kind of beer, brewed from a berry Larry discovered called the tumpasuk. Though as you know I’m not much of a drinker, I had quite a few! Larry was there, nursing a tumpasuk beer. He looked quite frazzled—he hadn’t even shaved! (You know how important it is to me to keep a clean face.) I was feeling charitable, so I told him that his delicious discovery surely rivals mine in importance. He stared at me with haunted, red-rimmed eyes, then pointed to my glass. “You’ll need that,” he said. I wonder what he meant?
Dr. Ian Garvin, Discoverer of Amrita
PS I snuck a syringe of amrita into this envelope for you guys to use. If my dog’s still alive, give some to her, OK?
Nov. 24, 2169
Thanks for the shipment of new novelty T-shirts you sent. My old ones were getting pretty ratty. One thing about being immortal is that you really outlive your clothes. Another thing is that the witty slogans on novelty T-shirts no longer amuse you, although I did smile bitterly at the shirt that reads, “I’d Rather Be on Pandora.” It’s ironic, you see, because I wish I was no longer on Pandora.
Long story short, it turned out that General Ardmore was totally lying. In fact, she threatened to shut down my research laboratory unless I went tulkun hunting every week. We’ve now killed dozens of tulkun, extracted their amrita, and dumped their rotting corpses back into the ocean. Sometimes I examine their organs or whatever, but my heart’s not really in it.
Worse yet, it turns out that the tulkun are part of a whole ekosystem (sp?). We didn’t learn anything about this in xenomarine biology school, as far as I can remember, but other creatures depend on them, and the Na’vi (the blue guys) can even talk to them about what’s going on. So now I’m pretty sure that the tulkun don’t like me, on account of all the killing, and they’re probably telling the Na’vi, who already didn’t like humans very much, because of [THIS SECTION REDACTED BY REQUEST OF RDA DEPT. OF PUBLIC INFORMATION].
Anyways, it all sucks. I muddle through, thanks to my tumpasuk beer. I’ve been brewing a lot of my own, and have even worked out something like an IPA. It’s pretty good.
I’d Rather Be on Earth,
PS Thanks for telling me about Dad. I guess he won’t need the amrita you guys will receive in 2175. You didn’t mention anything about the dog, but probably she’s dead too. :(
April ??, 2170 (??)
Beloved Mother, she who brought forth life, sister of Eywa,
I’ve been reading a lot about the Na’vi (the blue guys). They’re very spiritual and cool. Did you know they believe the tulkun are their brothers & sisters? And we’re just killing themn. It super sucks. The whales have their own songs and poetry & stuff. They’re brains are like twenty times the size of a humans’s brain! Because I am immortal, I have access to all knowledge of all time, but still, it’s pretty impressive. I’m trying to be a little more Na’vi about stuff, you know? I’ve never actually talked to a Na’vi person but I like to think that we would get along. I have even got a couple of Na’vi tattoos. This one here on my arm means, like, “the great cycle of life” I think, and then this one on my lower back is more sensual.
Today a bunch of fake Na’vis borded the SeaDragon. I say fake because they were clearly Earth soldiers in Na’vi bodies somehow. I didn’t like it, although I did like when they yelled at Captain Mick, who’s a total jerk. We’re going outon a mission to [REDACTED]. I’m just glad we won’t be doing anything bad to any tulkun for the next couple of weeks..
Mom, being immortal is dumb. If you somehow get this letter before you use the amrita I sent, maybe don’t use the amrita. All I do is drink beer, kill tulkun, and cry. I spend a lot of time alone in my tiny cabin which is the smallest one on the SeaDragon even though I am the chief scientist and also immortal. I don’t like the person I’ve become, and now I have to be this person forever, because I no longer age. As far as I know, a tulkun could crush my boat and catapult my body into the raging sea, and even that wouldn’t kill me. Not that that would ever happen, because another thing about tulkun is that they’re total pacifists. Captain Mick calls them babies, but I think he’s the baby!!
I’ll write you when we get back from this stupid trip into the stupid ocean on this stupid moon that I hate.