Christopher stood there on one end of the shuttle not knowing quite what to do next. The news came like a blow on the head. He was feeling rather drowsy with despair.
They would not be going home after all. Twenty years… And who knows if there was still enough fluid around to collect. Then the eviction. The future seemed utterly gloomy. How long would he be able to keep his relative good luck regarding MNU?
"Why does he keep looking at me like that?" asked Wikus all of a sudden. Oliver was holding his arm parallel to the man's so as to compare. He looked amused. He still hadn't understood.
"He likes you" Christopher clicked unable to understand how that could be true. But it was.
"We're the same!" Oliver exclaimed joyfully at the man.
"Get the fuck off, we're not the same" the man snapped at the young one making Christopher quite annoyed. "We're not the fucking same."
And with that he laid his unfocused eyes on the shuttle wall opposite him, seeing things that were not there.
Christopher looked down on the human, thinking of the last time they had met, before any of this had happened. It seemed long ago that he had been looking forward to going back home.
The man was most certainly not the nicest of his kind. If it wasn't because Christopher knew better, he would give him away to the MNU right away. But the prawn had seen, on his first weeks on this planet, the softer, more generous side of this race. Had they not given them food and shelter instead of killing them all? Had they not provided a home once they knew they would never be able to leave, granted that home was not as cozy or as welcoming as one could hope? Maybe this human could still prove his worth. And gazing at the human's new arm he got the feeling the human would at least give it a try, since now he had no choice but to adapt, like he himself, along with all his people, had had to learn to adapt once on a strange new world. Christopher understood the man, because he knew well what it was like to be trapped in a world in which you don't seem to belong.
"What are you going to do?" he asked finally after a short while of watching the human whisper under his breath to himself and gazing at his prawn hand from time to time. The human seemed so lost in thought and self pitying that it took him a moment to answer.
"I don't know" he replied simply and most honestly.
The prawn was silent again. The air was so thick with disappointment it could be cut with a knife. For another few moments they kept silent, slowly getting used to each other's presence. Oliver, on the other hand, seemed very stimulated with the situation. He had sat down next to the human and was respectfully keeping quiet in a reverent kind of way.
Then Wikus noted sadly "I have a wife. She's my angel."
Christopher didn't know the word angel, but the way Wikus had said it translated for him.
"Well" he replied "you're never seeing her again."
"Hey, fuck you, prawn! You hear? Fuck you!"
"We both lose something. I shouldn't have to pity you."
"You pity me, then, eh prawn? You feel sorry for me, that's rich."
Wikus looked around himself and then up towards the trap door in the ceiling, as if looking for a way out, or perhaps wondering at last whether he was already spending too much time as an intruder in Christopher's home.
Christopher sensed this and pondered for a moment. He would not kick him out when he had nowhere to go, but he would not keep him here against his will. He no longer had any business with him, the fluid was lost. But the human was alone. He decided to let him chose.
He said nothing as he climbed up the ladder to his home, leaving Wikus still sitting on the shuttle's floor, looking lost. Oliver climbed after him.
"Is he staying?" the boy asked with a hint of hope.
Christopher didn't dare give a definite reply.
"Why do you like him so much?"
Oliver shrugged inconclusively as he helped his father move the table back to the center of the room. After a short time during which Christopher finished turning off the pirated computers and putting away other useful trash, a sound of feet on steel told them the human was climbing the ladder.
Wikus appeared through the trap door and looked around at Christopher, who was silently awaiting the human's next move frozen in the middle of an action. Wikus merely sighed and headed for the door.
"Do you have somewhere to go?" Christopher asked all of a sudden.
Wikus looked surprised, and he hesitated. After a moment's thought he scratched his thigh at a loss for a better reply.
After it was apparent that Wikus would not give a satisfying answer, Christopher plunged on.
"If you must, you may stay here tonight. The shack is small, but we have a couch. You can sleep there."
The human wavered for a bit longer and pointed at the couch with his human hand as if he were about to make a casual comment on the weather. Then he nodded, looking at Christopher with a sort of relief.
"Yes, that's… very good, nice couch there" he mumbled as he sat on the ancient piece of tattered furniture. "Ok… So where do you sleep then, you have a bed, you have a prawn bed?"
"We sleep in the other room."
Wikus nodded yet again for lack of better comment.
"And the, uh…" Wikus hesitated for a moment, wondering if his question would make any sense. "The toilet?"
"The latrine's outside in the back. Cover with dirt when you're finished."
Christopher sat down to the table with some upgraded hardware and started toying with it. Oliver sat next to him, never taking his curious eyes off the human.
"So all this" Wikus pointed at all the computer screens "for nothing, then, eh? Twenty years of collecting that stuff… Are you like a scientist?"
"Some sort, yes."
"If people knew what that fluid is… They all still wonder why you don't just go."
"We're only here because we had no choice. My people have no purpose in life in this place. This isn't our home. Nobody wants us here."
"Well…" Wikus began what he thought would be a funny comeback "if you left I'd be out of a job. Take that as my best compliment."
Christopher looked miserable after that. So much so that he was sorry he even said that.
"So what, say you could leave" he said trying to break the uncomfortable silence. "Then you would come back and declare war on us humans, huh?"
Christopher stared at his hands for a moment.
"I wouldn't want to."
Wikus thought he had sounded honest, and yet…
"And the rest of you? The rest of the prawns?"
Christopher continued to stare at his hands, and this time there was no reply.
"Oh…" Wikus murmured. "So we would be pretty fucked there, wouldn't we?"
"I just want my people out of here."
Wikus considered the thought for a moment.
"That's very nice" he said nonchalantly. "So you prawns, you're a very strange race. Biologically, I mean."
Christopher saw that as an attempt to put on a conversation, so he listened politely.
"You have these-these shells, these exoskeletons. They're pretty tough, though a bit… Well, they seem uncomfortable to me."
"You're shell is on the inside. You can see it move through a layer of meat. It's disturbing."
Wikus raised his eyebrows. He had obviously never thought of it that way.
"Well… You're all slimy."
"You sweat too."
"You're wet" added little Oliver, reaching for one of his sleeves. Wikus pulled his arm out of the youngster's reach.
"Your arm is like mine" Oliver pointed at the man's arm and then at his own.
Wikus said nothing. It was a rather worrying thought.
"The transformation will be an improvement. You look better already" said Christopher.
"You're joking. Yeah, that's humor there, eh? A sign of intelligence, very nice."
"Yes, I am joking. You look like road kill."
"That I do. " he added without so much as a hint of hilarity in his voice. In fact he looked on the verge of tears again. Christopher sighed as he reached up towards one of the shelves.
"Here" he clicked, holding out the can to the human. "Cat food. It's the best I have to eat here."
Oliver stood up cheerfully.
"Cat food! Can I have some?"
"No" he replied firmly still holding the can in mid air. "You know I don't like us eating too much of this."
Wikus frowned, but took the can from the prawn's hand.
"Are you sure? I mean… It's expensive, isn't it? You prawns pay good price for this."
"Yes. But I don't need it that badly."
"First step is acceptance, you know?" Wikus chuckled as he opened the can and started feasting viciously on the slimy chunks of meat, careful enough not to pull any more teeth out.
"It's food" Christopher added matter-of-factly.
Wikus huffed, persistent in his incredulity.
"Car tires are food" he said.
Christopher seemed to consider a reply, but it never came. Little Oliver was watching Wikus eat with a sort of resigned longing in his eyes.
"Don't you have any more?" Wikus asked Christopher.
"Haven't you had enough?" replied Christopher a little annoyed.
"No, I mean for… for the boy, here. He looks hungry, eh, little fellah?"
"There's not any for him tonight" he clicked at his son.
The little prawn sighed and submissively leaned his little tentacled head on his arms.
Wikus took one look at the almost empty can and then at Oliver before picking up a piece and tossing it to the young one. At first he thought the father would complain considering his expression, but he heard no more than the delighted clicks of Oliver, who nibbled on the chunk of meat like a mouse so as to make it last longer.
"You like that better than the sweetie, eh?"
"Yes" he clicked gleefully, apparently taking no notice of the slightly resentful tone.
Christopher gazed at the human, thinking perhaps he had been right about him after all. Now if he could only get that arm on every other human on Earth…