The clothes that Sister Carrie had left for him still smelt faintly of two-stroke brush cutter fuel and burnt rubber. A pair of faded black Levis were a little too small and made him feel he'd be better suited on a street corner. Finally a worn but clean t-shirt advertised a Coca-Cola logo on the chest.

Downstairs in the tree-shaded yard, Wikus dumped his dirty gear in the zinc tub that served as a laundry. Too late he noticed Pieter leaning against the stolen UN bakkie, sucking insolently on a cigarette. Two butts had already been ground in the dirt near his toes. He did not speak to Wikus, only watched him with his bleached-blue stare.

Sister Carrie welcomed him into the kitchen with a a friendliness so fake it approached hysteria.

"Ah, they fit, oh, I totally didn't have anything for a man, it's usually the women and children I have to cater for."

"It's okay sister, I've lost some weight over the last couple of weeks, yeah?"

"Wikus dear, you were so thin already. You need to eat more."

He made promises to take care of himself, but all the while was aware of the two pairs of eyes, human and alien, watching him.

He didn't want to sit next to Alexander, but was forced to by the combined weight of their stares. Alexander was tasting the air around him, smelling Christopher, scenting the blush of pheromones on his skin.

Annoyed, he turned to Helen. "Why did you bring him here? It's no place for him."

"It's the second phase of Alexander's integration with his people," Helen said icily. "Soon he will establish himself as their Elite, and these humans--" she made a gesture about her, "--they will see where their power is then."

Sister Carrie frowned. "Helen, you aren't talking about... anything violent?"

Helen's face became chipped and flinty since Wikus had seen her last. It was the kind of face you saw on Most Wanted lists on the MNU bulletin walls.

"Twenty years these creatures have suffered. Now we will free them."

Wikus glanced at Alexander. The alien looked as if he couldn't care less about humans or poleepkwa. In fact, he almost looked as if he'd be the kind that would lead an orgy of destruction and suicide merely as a distraction from boredom, then walk away as unmoved as if nothing had happened.

At that moment Joel came in, sweating. He pushed a large cardboard box on the table. "That's the best of the black-market anti-retrovirals, you won't find any of this stuff outside of the US, I'll tell you that."

Wikus looked over the box to where Sister Carrie sat, and saw her conflict. He'd wondered before why she was so invested in Pro-Forma, and knew all of a sudden the Faustian bargains she had made.

Emanuel was attacking a stubborn thicket with the brush cutter, which belched blue smoke like an obstinate dragon. Wikus recognised the young man as an occasional visitor to the deep District, received a nod and a wave which Wikus hesitantly returned.

He wanted to be angry at Sister Carrie, but he knew the pressures she was under. There was not enough money available to NGOs to do more that observe and report.

"Surely you could have found another way to bring them in."

Sister Carrie plucked out a long white box marked with a big-pharma logo and an unfamiliar trade name. "Each of these tablets cost a hundred dollars. US dollars. This is a thousand dollar box right here." She gave Wikus a look, daring him to argue. "You think a slum family could afford even one of these?"

"And where does ProForma get the money for this?"

Now a chink in her armour showed. She sat on the seat, exhausted. "I don't ask them, and they don't tell."

Wikus joined her on the rusting love seat. The afternoon sunlight filtered through the hanging leaves.

From what he had gleaned from Joel and Helen, Pro Forma people had already moved into the District. Wikus didn't know where they were staying. Joel could probably pass as a local if he kept his mouth shut and his Nikon in his bag. Helen hadn't volunteered any more information.

Now that they had gone, Wikus was restless, left worrying about Christopher.

"Are you staying in the compound tonight?" asked Sister Carrie.

"I thought I'd go into the District," he said almost too casually. See Christopher.

"Hmm. Perhaps tomorrow would be best," she advised.

"Why is that?"

"Sunspots. Or something. They're restless tonight. I think the District can sense that Alexander's arrived."

Sister Carrie had been here for a long time, a great many years. She was hooked in the undercurrents of the million living creatures at her doorstep, perhaps even more than he was.

"I have to see him."

"You're still...?"

Fucking him? "Yes."

They were quiet. Sister Carrie stared off into a middle distance. She had encouraged their relationship, really. Initially she may have only tried to be kind, lessen the impact of that necessary xenosexual act. Wikus had been dying and in pain, after all.

When he stood up Sister Carrie blurted, "Look, Wikus dear, don't take it personally if he, ah, gives his affections to someone else tonight."

"What do you mean?" Wikus was affronted suddenly, as if Sister Carrie was trying to put him in his place.

"Days like this, the poleepkwa are polyamorous. He most likely will take another partner tonight. One or more of his own. It's instinct. He won't mean it as a slight against you, but that... compulsion is not an intellectual one"

He wanted to tell her she was wrong, but the fact was, he had never lived an entire season with them, let alone twenty years.

When he collected his belongings and headed out into the flame-tinted evening, his concerns were not helped by spotting a pair of poleepkwa rutting behind a dumpster. Even the stupid ones had a degree of secrecy when it came to sex, halfway because it was forbidden by MNU. To see them frottage so openly was an odd sight.

One of them hiss-clicked as Wikus hurried past.

Not long later, he heard the clattering of feet on loose corrugated iron. In the long shadows, Emanuel of the smoky brush cutter and the half-arsed job on the overgrowth jogged to catch up with him.

"Hey, Mr. Wikus," he singsonged flirtatiously. "M-N-U Um-lun-gu. Rhymes, huh?"

Wikus damped down the stab of annoyance. He didn't need a companion.

"You heading into the District, Mr. Wikus?"


"I'll walk with you, yeah."

Well, no thank you, he wanted to say. He was safer on his own than with Emanuel. A black guy and a white guy walking together in the slums was chancing goodwill and an open invitation to get messed with.

Besides that, Emanuel was known for his rapacious appetites towards the women and the men. In any other situation, to have been sexually deviant in their society would have made Emanuel an outcast. But the guy was also rumoured to be a major black market fence on top of his almost sociopathic craziness.

All in all, the perfect person to share and evening stroll with through the most dangerous slum in South Africa.

"So, what's it like? That hand? What's it feel like?"

"Just a hand," grumbled Wikus.

Emanuel looked at him, his eyes dancing. "You're the InDuna's human."

Wikus pressed his mouth together in annoyance. "I'm nobody's human."

"Ah, a free man?" Emanuel nodded, smiled up from almost-fluttering eyes.

Dear God, thought Wikus, he better not be flirting with me.

He wondered about how to turn Emanuel down politely if he got too fresh. There were some men you didn't just brush off.

Thankfully Emanuel was not in too much of a mood for romance, and they walked in silence along the deep District road. Every so often a zebra-painted technical would trundle on by, and one or two militiamen would cat-call out to Emmanuel, elicit a simpering, over effeminate reply. Wikus never felt so fluorescently pale as he did then, and try to fade into the slum shadows.

As the last rays of hot African sun, he spotted Ntozake leaning against a lone power-pole. She was wearing something inappropriate for her age again, with diamante sparkles along the too-low neckline. Some of the diamantes were missing. She couldn't fill the adult bust.

The pair of young men talking with her were both dressed in American clothes ten years out of date. They cradled non-operational poleepkwa weapons in their arms.

Ntozake grinned upon seeing him.

"Umlungu, about time you showed up."

"You shouldn't be talking to them." he snapped. The air buzzed like a high tension electrical wire. Wikus glared at Ntozake's suitors. They saw his hand and withdrew, mumbling half-hearted curses.

"Why can't I talk to my new friends? They're nice."

"That dress is too old for you." Wikus said, pulling her elbow and making her walk between him and a wry-faced Emanuel.

"You sound just like my Father did," she announced with a laugh, and then her face fell, as the rest of her brain had just realised what her teenage mouth had said. But self-pity was an emotion scorned if you lived a hard life, and she deflected with, "Big poleepkwa celebration tonight." She gave him a challenging look, and even in the fading light he could see that touch of perversity in her. "InDuna can lie with whomever he chooses tonight."

"That doesn't mean you can. Come on. You're supposed to be looking after Junior."

"But it's not dark yet"

Yet the light had already gone to that state the Bedouins used to use, when you couldn't tell the difference between a black or grey hair, that liminal twilight time. The garbage bins were already burning in advance of the night, and a noxious smoke rose from behind the shanty-huts, pillars of black in the fading day.

Emanuel looked her up and down, and Wikus was thankful it was only theatrical - she was nowhere near Emanuel's type.

"You getting you-self a man tonight, pretty lady?"

"No, she's going to bed," Wikus snapped.

"Shame," Emanuel sniffed the night air. "You can smell it tonight."

It was not just the strange night-time pheromones in the air, making him feel like this. Ntozake was wrong in one way. In love he had never had things easy, right up to the time with Tania. Like many men who have found romance difficult, who have had to struggle and fumble through ambivalent dates, and fumbled devotions that are rebuffed, from seeing objects of affection swept out from under him by better looking, nicer, more sociable men, he had developed an almost poisonous, despairing jealousy.

The thought of Christopher with someone else, with Ntozake, with anyone, was almost too much to bear.

He balled his fists in the too-tight pockets and moved on with his teeth grinding.

Slum nights were dark nights. Emanuel disappeared like a cat into the shadows. Ntozake would have gone with him if Wikus didn't keep a firm grip on her elbow.

Christopher's shack was deserted. Wikus lit the rusted lamp next to the door.

"What are we going to do now?"

"We're going to wait until Christopher comes back."

Wikus made a show of cooking Ntozake up a can of what turned out to be Mexican-flavoured beans, while he gave in to his alien urges and swallowed a can of cat food. Then he grabbed one of the stack of paperbacks Christopher was using to shore up a computer server tower, and began to read it fiercely.

Outside the warbling had increased now, that cicada trill on a summer veldt. Wikus rubbed his mouth with his prawn hand, on edge. He didn't want to go outside looking for Christopher. To go outside searching would mean that he didn't trust Christopher to come back to him. They'd worked things out, hadn't they? All their problems were behind them.

Wikus had said that he'd loved him.

If he went outside, went looking, he would have conceded to jealousy. Wikus new that game. When in competition with another man, he had never won.

"Aren't they so loud?" said Ntozake, finishing off her meal. "Are they all mating at once?"

"I don't know."

"Oh," she continued, with the triumph of one who has discovered a weakness, I'm certain he will come back tonight. But he will have his pick of the others first. Someone new yes? A nice virgin poleepkwa, of his own kind who will not give him so much grief?"

Wikus threw down the book.

"For Christ's sake's Ntozake, do you make it your life's work to make me feel bad?"

She looked down her nose at him haughtily, hard enough to do when he was taller than her.

"You think things come easy for you all the time, stupid white man? You don't know that some things aren't just yours for the taking, you have to fight for them."

"Oh? All right then. All right."

The sad brown jacket of his first days here was still slung across the back of a chair. Wikus pulled it on against the night and slammed the door on the way out.

The slum street was dark. All the activity was happening about half a kilometer away. A few desultory gunshots rang out. A group of humans cheered, urging on a fight.

It was not often the two species converged, but the poleepkwa were attracted to the fires and the warmth. As he moved closer he saw them massing in a corner, their bodies angular and even more frightful by the glow of the fire-pit, shifting nightmares giving off pheromones that thrilled and alarmed him.

He would have gone closer, but a monstrous figure stood in his way, a black and red-striped prawn, his exoskeleton so fused with blades and broken glass that every touch meant death for a human.

"Go away," the creature said.

"I have to see Christopher." Wikus tried to keep the notes of panic from his voice.

"Go away, human," the creature said again, brandishing a jagged forearm. He slapped Wikus' hand aside.

Torn up with despair, Wikus skirted the outside of the gathering, knowing that the InDuna was at the centre, that he was being courted by his own kind. Wikus was filled with a breathless anxiety. He'd come so far with Christopher, crossed moral terrains that no human should cross in loving him, and here he was again, on the outer. He should have expected this, he berated himself,. Hadn't this been the pattern existed always in his life. An object of affection surrounded by a phalanx of stronger, more popular men.

The complex smell of barbecued meat distracted him, and his stomach panged.

Not so far away someone had organized a makeshift grill over a fire, and was roasting a pig over it. Road kill or not, Wikus approached, hungry.

When they saw him, the men laughed uproariously.

"Have you been abandoned, lover?" said one fellow, easing a white trilby hat over his forehead in a manner too studied and flamboyant to be casual. He was dressed in an incongruous green suit, better suited to an American speakeasy of the 1920s than a South African slum.

Wikus stared at him. Even here he felt gauche and underdressed!

"No flavour in white meat," dead-panned an unseen voice.

The other men laughed at Wikus again, and Wikus could have been fifteen years old for all he felt, undesirable and ugly. He was about to yell something unwise, but held his tongue, for as if on cue Emanuel came out of the darkness, carrying more meat marinating in a plastic shopping bag.

"What is wrong with white meat, Amin?" he asked the unseen man. "I have not seen you turn down either when it has been offered."

More raucous laughter.

Emanuel found a hank of something still on the bone, and offered the hot, greasy jumble to Wikus, who devoured it as messily, the juices running over his chin and down his fingers.

The men went to find their entertainment with the plastic-pail drummers and the two unsteady looking prostitutes who lolled alongside them.

Emanuel watched Wikus eat, nodding in approval at this display of appetite.

"You like, huh Mr. Wikus?"

"Yes, thank-you."

The firelight was in Emanuel's eyes. They flickered in warning and promise, but Wikus was much to despondent to notice. Barely a hundred metres away the poleepkwa gathering shifted and knotted and shifted again. They were singing now, a love song to an unseen leader.

"Where is the girl?"

"In bed if she has any sense," Wikus grumbled.

Emanuel nodded sagely, as if he were a father of wild young girls rather than the one who led them astray.

Wikus pulled off his jacket and washed his face and arms in a nearby drum of rainwater.

He was about to put the jacket back on, when Emanuel said, "Don't."

Wikus paused. "It's cold."

"Not with this."

Emanuel pulled out what had seemed to be an odd bulge under his shirt, and turned out to be a bottle. When Wikus took it, the bottle was warm from Emanuel's body-heat.

"Drink with me. Good African medicine."

"More like good bathtub vodka to me."

Emanuel laughed.

The drummers were louder now. Someone had brought a cassette player with oversized speakers, all attached to a car battery. The entire contraption was only made mobile through the addition of a stolen shopping cart. Raucous American music blared from the speaker-cones.

A curious mood overtook Wikus, and he swallowed the liquid almost as an act of rebellion. The stuff burned his way into his belly, and he pulled away, coughing.

Emanuel left Wikus alone with the bottle, moving over towards where the prostitutes were dancing like a pair of kelp strands at the bottom of the ocean, and just as sentient. He joined them, coquettishly groping the buttocks a man with an M-16. A slum soldier, one of the technical drivers, came to observe the fuss. He was in no mood for romance either, slapped Emanuel away - not hard - but enough to mean business.

There was enough firelight, enough shifts in the lanky poleepkwa shadows to see who they gave obeisance to. Their InDuna, Christopher. They would never have so openly acknowledged him, but tonight the District was unforgiving, there were no strangers or traitors. For MNU to have come here would have been suicidal.

Wikus stood up, unsteady, still trying to catch a glimpse of Christopher. Sour jealousy was already fermenting in his stomach. The air was raw and alive, human and alien emotions running hot. Not so far away the same slum soldier shot a man dead as casually as if he had said hello. Inquisitive heads tipped up towards the shot, but there was no panic, no condemnation. They were all hooked into the same strange and violent channel.

Before he could move over towards the poleepkwa encampment, Emanuel's cool, thin fingers seized his arm.

"They'll kill you."

"I have to see him."

There. He'd blurted it out. If it had only been a rumour before, a malicious story made up by the locals who saw this mutant white man living so close to the poleepkwa, now it was fact. Emanuel goggled for a moment at Wikus, then settled into a languid, knowing smile.

"Why don't you stay here," the smile grew broad, inviting. "Stay. Have fun with your own kind."

There were two Emanuels now, and Wikus found the young man taking his hips in strong callused hands, leaning into Wikus' own unsteady weight. No face-to-face intimacy though. Emanuel assumed the stance of the aggressor, sliding behind Wikus as fluidly as water across stone. Hard hands holding him close. He was aware of the warmth behind him of another body, was startled a little that it was not hard like Christopher's, did not occupy the same space.

The music had swelled in his senses now. More had been in that drink than mere bathtub alcohol. Wikus thought stupidly of black magic and all those colonial fairytales. Emanuel was murmuring in his ear.

"How far gone are you? What parts of you have changed?"

Emanuel stroked the length of Wikus' monstrous arm, sliding over his shoulder and the section of his back almost entirely given over to the Change. Even with the barrier of this cotton Wikus shivered. A human touch.

Emanuel laughed at Wikus' response, rocked his pelvis into Wikus' behind and there was no hiding the burgeoning erection, Emanuel's arousal. The music took on space and form, surrounded him like a heartbeat.

"What else has changed? What else?"

Emanuel's hand slid over his crotch, squeezed him even though he was still soft. Wikus barely felt him. His attention was on the aliens, the glimpses of Christopher, glimpses of creature's posturing themselves before him.

I've been so alone.

Wikus stared at the rites, grinding his teeth in agitation. Did it mean nothing, all the time they'd been together, all the times Christopher had offered affection and had been rebuffed by stupid, stupid Wikus?

And then Wikus had confessed to love and it was over, over.

A young prawn in final molt dropped to his knees, and there was no mistaking the sexual displays of the spread legs, the silvery sheen oozing from the groin.

Christopher had been with others of his kind. Christopher knew that they could give him what Wikus could notn

Burning up with jealousy, Wikus responded to the press of Emanuel's hand, allow Emanuel to pull up his t-shirt and discard it, so his pale body was exposed to the firelight. Emanuel made an appreciative sound, hands palming both the exoskeletal patches and the soft hair on Wikus' chest.

A furious desire began to slow burn through Wikus, an exquisite sickness.

Through the drugged haze Wikus could see Christopher now, glaring through the crowd and at him with murderous indignation, and Wikus stared back, equally challenging. The old Boer obstinacy rose in him. Wikus writhed under Emanuel's touches, wanted to taunt Christopher with this indiscretion.

There was no escaping Christopher's attention, and he moved his body in the shifting, intimate firelight, the awareness of being watched and wanted as exciting as a touch.

Emanuel laughed in Wikus' ear. "Ah, he looks at me now, the Prawn InDuna. He wishes to kill me for touching his property."

"I'm not his property," growled Wikus, throwing his arms behind his head so the movement made his exoskeletal patches ache against each other, a terrible and erotic sensation, a perversion like nothing other, wanted Christopher to look, wanted him to know this.

"He should know better," said Emanuel. "Human flesh is forbidden to them. He will have his own kind tonight, as will you."

Their eyes met. Wikus saw lust sparkling in Emanuel's hooded eyes. They had so much more in common than Wikus and Christopher, a billion years of shared evolution and DNA. Emanuel took Wikus' wrist, began to lead him off towards the row of abandoned huts, slumped in the near-dark..

The action was enough. Christopher rose to his full height and abandoned his people, crossed the dividing line between human and alien.

"Wikus," grated Christopher in threat, the only word in human he could speak.

Rifles were shouldered. Prawns and humans stayed apart, and there was no mistaking the threat in Christopher.

"Ah-" murmured Emanuel, dropping Wikus' wrist and conceding defeat. No human could stand up to a poleepkwa in rage.

"I told you to stay in the Compound," Christopher clicked harshly. "I told you to wait."

"You told me no such thing," Wikus hissed back, the intoxicant and days of thwarted sexual arousal reaching their peak. "You only said you would be back soon."

Christopher stepped forward, made a buzz-saw sound at Emanuel. The young man held up his hands.

The humans who had been ready to shoot Christopher now began to look at each other uneasily, A simple domestic argument would have been entertainment, here was something morally atrocious. Hardened warriors suddenly took an interest in their games and conversations.

"You should have told me," demanded Wikus. "Should have told me you were doing to have activities with your fooking-" paused, not knowing the word for a hermaphrodite that covered whores and sluts.

But Christopher was refusing to be contrite. "You make me suffer! You make me hurt, waiting for you, needing and not having!" Christopher said, spitting out the click-syllables like gunshots. "My blood is poison, wanting and not having, all the time!"

"But I told you, this morning! I told you!"

"You give and take away!"

The alien had never been so honest with him, had never allowed Wikus so much information, all at once.

Wikus fell to his knees as Christopher towered over him, mouthparts writing furiously, frustration making him shake. "InDuna," Wikus said, parodying the creatures who had knelt before Christopher, offering themselves to him.

Christopher stared at him, before some unfamiliar words. He snatched up Wikus by his arm.

"You mock me?"

"Give me a fooking chance, Christopher."

Christopher began to yank him away from the human firelight, propelled him towards a shack fresh-painted with language-glyphs. Wikus stumbled along, trying to keep his feet on the ground.

The glass and metal poleepkwa sidled up to Christopher, growled something that Wikus could only catch in snatches: "Human" and "forbidden."

Christopher swore and shoved the interferer aside. Wikus found himself pushed into the shack, the door shut and bolted.

Even through the fug of intoxication Wikus stared at the surroundings. The shack had been cleared out of everything recognizable as human-made. Clean white sand had been spread out at least a foot deep. Small flares lit the rim. It was tropical hot, the sand warmer than blood.

Christopher let him go. Wikus looked around. It dawned on him with a lurch of nausea, he reason for this place. An alien world recreated in miniature, the hot desert world of Christopher's home recreated here. They had meant for Christopher to fuck one of his own kind here. Meant it, while Wikus was waiting and pining back at the Compound.

With wary eyes, Christopher watched him.

"So now you know."

"Fook you." Wikus said, old hurts rising up. Old memories, of women he had thought were his, turning up on the arm of another man. All those moments, slicing him open, laying him bare.

"You have a mate too, who you will go back to once you are... cured. I am merely a placeholder."

"Fook you!" Wikus balled his fists, in a mood for violence now, to hit and hurt.

Christopher approached him. Wikus threw a feeble punch human hand that Christopher only caught in his own.

"You don't have to stay. We've collected nearly enough fluid. It won't be long now before you can go home."

Wikus said again, broken, "Fook you, fook you, fook you creature..."

Christopher was reverently quiet, tickling like an engine winding down, breath held. His hands were gentle on Wikus' skin and Wikus still murmured curses between sobs, fortifications destroyed, defenseless and afraid, afraid both of Christopher staying and Christopher leaving and Wikus wanted him so badly it was a pain like no other.

Sobbing, he sunk to the sand, pulling Christopher with him and he wanted to give Christopher what Christopher so badly wanted, yanked open the button-fly of his jeans, tried to struggle out of the constricting denim, only to have it snag at catch at the ankles.

Too much of a hurry to wriggle free, Wikus let his knees fall apart anyway and his own alien necessity was in the air, a thick scent he could taste, savage and repellant and exciting all at the same time. "Ah fook, now, now."

Did he have to ask? Christopher's damp, urgent mouth was all over Wikus, sliding and tickling between his neck and chest, inking out damp trails of desire and worship. Then the mouth dropped lower, over the swell of the human parts, tasting his arousal, his sex. The complex mouth flowered upon the delicate, sensitive opening, and Wikus gasped. The nerves of his pelvis, his centre of sexual desire had moved there, and Christopher found the place by instinct.

For all that Wikus felt, for all that he loved Christopher, the sight and sensation was almost too much to take in all at once. The that inhuman face between his legs, the roil of mouthparts over his pale belly, the tentacles twisting in the dark fur of his pubic hair, overwhelming.

His human conditioning was so strong, he had to close his eyes and look aside, collect himself.

Christopher took the reaction the wrong way. A flare of indignant anger, that after all this time Wikus still treated him with revulsion. The mood changed, soft hands became hard, trapping Wikus' wrists to the sand. Christopher squatted between Wikus' denim-trapped legs, the way prawns did when they coupled, stabbed into him in insolence and anger, his thing still chitinous and rough.

Harsh susurration of stolen pleasure, eyes screwed shut, damp tendrils flicking spit and Christopher gorged on the forbidden human body, fucked it, took what he craved.

Wikus sobbed with Christopher's sharp entry, didn't know why. It was more than pain, more than Christopher mounting him too early, so impersonally, and for little more than relief. This thing that Wikus hated and needed. This thing that Christopher was too weak to resist.

The hot sand rasped at Wikus' back, sloughing off the dead skin.

They were in a battle now - each trying to prove one thing to the other. Wikus sucked at the air, would have either screamed or orgasmed then and there if he'd not restrained himself, did what he did. His new muscles clenched in readiness, his stomach fluttered, but it was Christopher who made shrill, desperate sounds, his gills sucking in great gouts of air, his flanks sweating slick and secondary limbs drawn up, tight and trembling.

Christopher's eyes opened into unfocused slits as all his will went into the sexual act, his mouthparts flecking bitter salt. Their eyes locked at last. Christopher's organ swelled, his thrusts became short and tight, the poison dart flicking out each time he went deep. Wikus moaned Christopher's name, if only to fill his own mouth with words and not cries. More frightening than the change in him physically was this yearning need for this creature, in him and over him. He pulled free of the restraining grip, clung to Christopher's narrow waist, gave himself the illusion of control, heard the dull thump of Christopher's pelvis slapping into the back of his thighs, wondered if bruises would be left, was caught by the sound of the raucous human music, that incessant drumming.

Wikus stiffened, arched his back. His body was not his own. Black pearl spilt across his stomach, evidence of his own orgasm, and he was so transported he could barely put image and sensation together.

Christopher froze, his pelvis jerking as if in spasm, then the feeling of being consumed by starsparks, that hot whatever-the-fuck, and Wikus had missed that feeling so much he took Christopher like an addict takes a hit, takes and overdoses, crashes and burns.

"Oh God, oh fooking Jesus..."

Hot alien hands gripping his shoulders hard, Christopher's cricket-call in his ear like an entreaty, Christopher's exoskeleton leaking at the seams from the brutal pleasure-response of his own body.

Christopher was not yet saited. He darted his roughening organ into Wikus and brought himself to climax once more. Wikus shuddered, and Christopher pulled out with a buzz-saw grunt, bringing a layer of raw skin with him. He collapsed beside Wikus, gills flaring.

Still panting with exhaustion, Wikus reached out to stroke the soft skin under Christopher's eye. There was not the language in him to articulate what he felt right now. He was vaguely aware of the door opening, food and water being delivered. Something half-raw, pilfered from the humans' barbecue.

"I'll get," he said, and stood up on shaky knees. Christopher caught him before he could fall over. The slime of their intercourse stained his thighs. Christopher clicked in consternation.

"Ach, you're bleeding."

Wikus looked down where they had lain. There was only the vague sense of colour information in the low light, but he could smell the iron in the blood. Not so much though.

"I hadn't realised. I'm still numb down there," Wikus said, feeling bashful and shy in a post-coitus that didn't involve silences or one of them leaving.

Christopher squeezed his eyes shut, his brow-plates furrowing, his gesture of self-criticism. "I was too rough with you. I didn't think. I was concerned only with my own pleasure." His fist punched the sand.

"But it was good." Wikus reached for Christopher, stroking the damp folds of his neck. "It was."

"It was wrong of me to hurt you just so that I could..." Evasive eyes. Wrong, but Christopher had wanted it. Wanted that act in mindless desire and gratification. Wikus wondered if an alien could dream and long for sex the way a human could, if Christopher had imagined taking him in fierce desire, not just as a medical aid.

"You weren't to have known." Wikus was at a loss at how to convince Christopher. If it had been a human, he would have kissed the doubt from him. Wikus mouthed under the fronds of Christopher's labrum instead, to one of the lower mouthparts, smooth mucus membranes, hard bone, his tongue and lips moving though the salty complexity. Arousal was stirring in his belly. His kisses became urgent. "Ah Christopher, I liked it, I liked it a lot. I want you again like that, I don't care."

Wikus sat back on his haunches, his bruised cloaca throbbing in a fierce beat. He spread his knees so that Christopher could see, stroked himself there with his prawn hand. A distant pain lurked on the edges, but he was still drunk from African aphrodisiac and prawn poison.

"But you might want another." His low voice surprised him. He did not know seduction, only pleading.

"Wikus, I don't want to hurt you."

"Touch me then, just touch me, just a little, eh?."

Christopher stared, both at the hand at the wet welcome of that new opening, bright and flushed from fucking, at Wikus' face. Wikus thought about every dirty movie he had ever seen, where loose women squirmed with false licentiousness, and never understood it until now, this glorious experience of being looked upon and desired to the point of lost control, to have another living thing want him so much that he was the powerful one.

Christopher surrendered, snatched him up, slid his hand between Wikus' legs, held him open. Everything was so new, the position, the emotion, the fragile moment. Just like on the very first time, Wikus helped him find the right place, his fingers brushing over the meat of Christopher's organ, holding him steady as he guided Christopher home.

Christopher's head tossed back in silent triumph as he sheathed himself into Wikus. And Wikus clung, rolled his hips clumsily, let him lose himself in that perfect poison. Despite his numb core he could feel each rivulet of sweat coursing down his bare skin, the contraction of his thighs, the pulse of Christopher's lovemaking, rough alien hands in the small of his back...

Then it was over.

Wikus wondered where his body had gone. Cast away somewhere, torn off like a rag of flesh he no longer needed. Christopher laid him down on the sand, gentle again.

There was a gap in the roof. The lamps had burned low. Wikus could see a scatter of stars through it.

"One of those your planet, hey?" Wikus drawled, a drunken joy leaping through him.

"No," said Christopher.

"But it's nice to think of though. I always used to think it when I was little, that there was something up there, looking down. Maybe you, eh?"

"Maybe," said Christopher and then he lay next to Wikus. "Things will be different in the morning."

"They won't be." Wikus wanted to put all his intensity in the words, but they came out a murmur. Comedowns, fading endorphins and the aftermath of sex made him weary.

One by one the lamps extinguished, and he let the hot sand embrace him, fell asleep to the deep ocean sound of Christopher's breath.



[To be continued...]