This Young Prawn of Mine
Lenny Roman heard the ruckus long before he actually saw what was happening.
His particular neighbourhood of Meadowlands East wasn't known as a magnet for trouble but over the last few days problems had still been brewing in his patch.
Lenny called it 'his' patch because frankly he didn't trust the Metro police or any other law enforcement agency to come to his aid when he needed them. So one day Lenny said to his friend Bill 'fuck them and let's do it ourselves!'
And so they did.
Any crime, be it drug dealing, car jacking or just dumping the bodies of unfortunate murder victims, resulted in a fusillade of gunfire from the shotguns and assault rifles both men carried in their caravans. They would then brazenly dump the bodies/vehicles/stolen goods outside the local police station in an attempt to send a message of 'don't fuck with us' to the city. Both the police and criminal fraternity soon realised that the two men living in mobile homes on the outskirts of Johannesburg MEANT business and were not to be trifled with.
'We are doing them a fucking favour!' Lenny would often say.
Meadowlands could actually be considered safer now than any other point in the last twenty years. People began to flock back to the open spaces and scrubland which made up the area, with Lenny and Bill keeping a vigilant eye out of course! The two of them could often be glimpsed walking across the scrub, rifles in hand and in military combat gear, like some rare and elusive animals. Neither of them had actually served in the military nor were they (in the eyes of many) insane or psychopathic. They were two men who liked to live in a world which had at least a semblance of law and order, albeit on their own terms.
An 'eye for an eye' was both their daily buzzword and mantra for living.
But something strange began to happen in Meadowlands East around the middle of October one year. It was high summer and the city was baking hot. When Bill had returned from many of his final 'perimeter patrols' (as he liked to call them) he noticed an odd glow from deeper into the bush land, which always went out before he could get close enough. Later examination during the day revealed evidence of small campfires scattered around, together with animal bones and carcasses.
'Someone is up there lighting fires at night' Lenny said one night to Bill, in a grave tone of voice.
'Could it be a hobo perhaps?' replied Bill.
'Not likely' Lenny mused, cleaning his shot gun 'all the down-and-outs stay in the city where it is safer…'
Both men burst out laughing. How could Johannesburg city be safer than Meadowlands East?
When the trouble came it shocked the hell out of both men and would change their lives forever. It seemed the owner of the campfires, a big ugly brute about seven feet tall and scaly, had been living around Meadowlands East for some weeks. He had then been tracked down by some of his pals and accosted by them.
'There is a bunch of fucking prawns up there!' Bill had rushed home and said to Lenny.
Bemused, Lenny had picked up his favourite R4 assault rifle and a shotgun then headed out. In the time that had passed some humans had followed the gang of prawns and now went tooth and nail with the aliens, kicking the shit out of the original campfire alien while taking on the others. Lenny fired a shot in the air and the humans scarpered. They knew the reputation of these two vigilante types too well to hang around. But the prawns didn't flinch.
'Right fuck off or I am calling MNU!'
Lenny seemed to have forgotten his own mantra about doing things for himself. But he knew that MNU were supposed to be guarding these things in a massive slum not to far from Meadowlands, called District 9.
'I mean it…'
One of the group members detached from the main body of aliens and leapt on the injured campfire owner, attacking him all over again.
Lenny fired a burst from his R4, hitting the assailant and causing it to cry out.
'Yeah that will fucking learn you!" shouted Bill.
One of the aliens carried a strange looking gun, which when fired lit up the night like a shooting star.
Lenny felt warm liquid splash onto his face and the right side of his body. Turning to ask Bill what happened he was shocked to see Bill had disappeared and that the warm liquid was his blood and gore!
'Oh my God what have you done?' Lenny bellowed, going on the rampage.
He shot at all of the aliens and succeeded in wounding or scattering them all off his patch.
Only the campfire owner, clutching his arm, remained left. The two of them stared at each other for what seemed like eternity.
Lenny had never known what to make of the aliens that had settled in his city many years back. Some people hated them, others adored them. Sure they had committed crimes or eaten people, but how could they be any worse than the human scum of the city? The only thing that had pissed him and Bill off was their fucking space ship playing havoc with their amateur radio hobby, fucking up and distorting the signal. Lenny looked down at the puddle that had been his friend, dear old Bill, and then back at the alien. Did he feel pity for this guy or did he want to kill him like others in this city did? No, it seemed the alien was some kind of victim too.
'Please don't hurt me' it said or rather clicked.
Lenny looked down to the gun he was carrying.
'Um…no it's ok I won't use it…'
The alien waved his hand in front of his face, still afraid.
'Are you hurt there?' asked Lenny.
'A little, just my arm'
'What is your name?'
The alien looked at him, possibly with suspicion in his eyes?
'Here they call me Thomas so that is my name'
'Ok Thomas up you get, let's have a look at that arm of yours'
Lenny helped the alien to his feet and then gasped as he towered over him when fully erect. For the first time in many years Lenny was scared as he had heard many stories of these things simply ripping grown men apart.
'Are you taking me back?'
'Back to where son?'
'That hell hole, District 9'
'Absolutely not as I have little or no faith in law enforcement agencies, let alone those corporate fuckers at MNU! Come along with me and we will patch you up at my place'
'Patching up? My shell is intact but I think my arm is misaligned'
Lenny examined the insect like appendage in the light of his mobile home. Even though it was thin as a stick, he knew their arms wielded incredible strength. As he worked, he noticed the two secondary arms which poked out of the torso of Thomas both waggling like feelers. They reminded Lenny of the mouthparts found on a crab.
'Well I don't have a sling but I think I have a bandage for your wounds…'
'My arm is starting to heal already, it doesn't actually take us long to recover from any superficial damage'
Thomas pointed to areas of previously broken shell plating, all grown over in lighter colours like an exoskeleton.
'Did you pick them up by accident?' said Lenny, stupidly.
'No they are the result of boots, fists, rifles, clubs and guard dogs' Thomas replied, his clicking language seeming to drip with contempt.
'They like to beat down on you do they, like tonight?'
'Yes, the thugs employed to oversee our encampment take great delight in destroying us or making our lives unbearable'
Lenny thought about this.
'So you don't have much faith in human beings then?' he said.
'Actually I do have faith because I know there is a bigger world out there, beyond the barbed wire and watchtowers. That's why I came out here…'
Thomas stood up and regarded the big battered map pinned to the wall of Lenny's home.
'I know we are here, on the southern tip of this continent. I found an old globe in the trash heaps and I study it every day'
Thomas rested his claw on South Africa.
'Despite what they tell us about there being nothing else beyond this city, I know differently. Then there is the fact that MNU hate to think we can learn but some of us do. I can read and write'
Lenny scratched his beard.
'You know I haven't even been out of this city and I am allowed to go!'
Thomas turned to sit back down.
'That is why I had to get out, so I could explore this world of yours…of ours'
'Wasn't a good idea in retrospect though was it?'
'Yes it was the right thing to do because we are here and you have taken me in, despite what I am'
'Whoa hold on a second, I don't have anything against you…people' Lenny said, all too defensively.
Thomas became suspicious then.
'So what are you going to do with me? I am not going back to that place'
'I won't turn you in, don't worry. I am not another ignorant human being!'
Thomas brightened up then and all of the night's problems would try to be forgotten.
Lenny felt thirsty and went to the fridge for a beer.
'Uh do you drink beer Thomas?
'What is beer?'
'Ah well just a substance we humans drink too much of! Makes you tipsy, you know drunk'
'Like cat food?' Thomas asked, like a curious child. Lenny didn't think of him as much beyond his adolescent years.
Lenny remembered the old grey cat that used to come around his place up until recently, often taking a shit right outside his doorstep. Lenny felt the old bastard was almost always waiting for him to step in it! He used to feed this moggy with cut price cat food and if he remembered correctly…There! Right at the back of his cupboard there was a musty old can of the brown stuff, well past it's sell by date.
'You want this?'
Thomas almost leapt from his chair, eyes wide with excitement and twisted the top of the can off like a beer bottle.
He then tipped the contents down his throat all in one go.
His tentacles fluttered as if he had taken a hit of an illicit substance, perhaps to these guys it was?
'That hit the spot eh?' Lenny exclaimed when Thomas had calmed down.
'Yes it is a very common thing for my kind to derive an almost narcotic pleasure from simple cans of cat food, so it is very addictive to some of us'
'Christ like heroin or speed?'
'That is correct. It causes a lot of problems in the district and is sold to us by Nigerians at inflated prices, often in exchange for our own technology or even offspring'
Lenny spluttered into his beer.
'You sell your kids for a load of meat offal?'
'Not quite fully fledged younglings, but eggs instead'
'Oh right, that's okay then' Lenny responded sarcastically.
Thomas cocked his head accusingly.
'I have not taken part in that sort of practice. It is the way some of us choose to live our lives, but not me. I have employment'
'What do they make you do?'
'I am a cleaner'
'You are a cleaner?'
'Yes like a janitor, cleaning up the MNU barracks'
'Do they pay you?'
'Find rand a week'
For the second time that night Lenny Roman spluttered in surprise.
'You get paid five fucking rand? That is plain slave labour!'
Thomas was taken aback.
'I am not a slave; we are bred to be workers'
'Bred as in dogs? Come off it you are being exploited'
'I wouldn't expect you to understand anyway' Thomas said.
Lenny flared angrily then.
'Look these goddamn corporate assholes are using you as cheap labour just because their precious fucking human workers don't want to get dirty!'
Silence reigned for awhile, Lenny sipped his beer and Thomas flicked his long antenna back and forth, studying Lenny.
'You seem to dislike your own kind I can sense it in your thoughts'
'Well some of us have the ability to read minds. Humans are the easiest as I only have to sit near one and images flood my mind'
'Oh right well...'
'I see a woman and two children, male and female'
Lenny chuckled sadly.
'Yeah I hate humans, especially criminal ones! The woman you see is my wife Chrissy and the girl is my daughter is my daughter Cheryl, both killed by a drunk driver'
'I am sorry I...'
'The boy is my son Alphonse who was stabbed by a mugger in Johannesburg after getting off a bus in the wrong part of town'
Thomas lowered his head, examining his claws which he laid flat on the table in front of him.
'It sucks losing someone important...like Billy'
Lenny seemed to cry out and reach for his dead friend while talking.
'Was he your companion?'
'Yeah he was, so what the fuck was that thing that got him?'
Thomas thought back to the weapons training he had received from the elders some years before.
'An arc displacer, very lethal to all living matter'
'Don't I fucking know it' replied Lenny.
'I was told they were the only offensive weapons on the ship' said Thomas.
'You mean there is worse shit than that?'
'Regrettably yes there is'
'Fuck me man, well offensive or not my buddy is in pieces because of one'
Lenny then stood up and went to Bill's curtained off section of the caravan; it was still as cluttered as the moment they had left it...how long ago now?
Thomas joined him, crouching down to fit in the room, those hefty mouth mandibles working away like mad. Lenny took this as a sign that they were thinking. This time it appeared that Thomas was gazing at the wall.
'That poster there, was your friend a resistance campaigner?'
Lenny could see a small leaflet which had the image of a white human hand clasping a red alien claw.
"SUPPORT NON HUMAN RIGHTS" it exclaimed.
'Not that I know of, I guess...'
'You don't know do you?'
'He might have been...damn it he is dead now anyway so what does it matter?'
Thomas looked sad as he knew he had touched a human nerve.
'I too have experienced loss' he offered in a conciliatory gesture.
'Here or back home?' Lenny said.
Thomas was surprised.
'This IS my home as I was born here, in the slum, hatching with my brother'
'And you're other family members?'
'To us the concept of 'mother' and 'father' are the same being, like a hermaphrodite. My parent was killed at work, falling into a machine press at a car parts factory'
It was the turn of Lenny to be sorry now.
'You sound like you are not convinced about the accident so that must be even harder'
'I am not convinced, the factory was run by MNU and my parent had suffered many problems from his human supervisor. Bullying, harassment and having no holidays'
'So you think he was...murdered?'
'Very probably, yes'
'And what happened to your brother?'
'He ran off and joined a gang'
Thomas stared at Lenny.
'He was actually one of the ones that attacked me tonight. That was his gang and he fired the arc gun that...'
'Killed my friend' Lenny muttered.
'He is so out of his mind on cat food he doesn't even recognise me, I am sorry'
'Fuck it' said Lenny 'Let's go get those motherfuckers who trespassed on my land and killed my friend!'
'But how, I can't go back there and you certainly couldn't get anywhere near the place'
Lenny Roman conceded the alien had a point and also that he felt woozy from too much bear.
'Let me show you something' Thomas said, urgently.
Sometime later they had reached a wooded area on the outskirts of Meadowlands. The night was dark and moonless but Thomas implored Lenny not to bring a torch.
'Our night vision is excellent' he had said.
'Where are we?' Lenny puffed after trying to keep up with Thomas.
'This is a hideout for them, the gang of...'
'Criminals, I know'
Cat food cans and rotting meat betrayed the hideout.
'Looks like party central' Lenny sneered.
'What if they return?'
'We kill all of them!'
'With what, your weapons could not stop one of us'
Lenny thought for awhile.
'An arc weapon then, District 9 is awash with that stuff! Take me there, please'
Thomas didn't like the idea of the human coming with him to that place. It irked him as he stoked up the little fire they had built, dropping fresh kindling into the glowing embers.
The human, Lenny, watched him from behind yet another bottle of beer.
'You know my old man used to tell me that if you put enough wood on the fire, it would damn near choke the thing out of oxygen!' Lenny smiled.
'Where I live you need to get as much heat and light as you can quickly, as MNU do not provide either power or lighting during the hours of darkness'
'No way' Lenny replied.
Thomas leaned forward, his insect-like features shown in flickering relief from the firelight.
'That is the truth, but while on the ship my father told us it was worse...much, much worse'
Lenny found an old beer crate and flipped it over to sit on.
'How could it be any worse than this?'
'The stench of death, decay and waste would be everywhere he said. There was no sustenance and above all the darkness, he said, was claustrophobic sending some of his ship mates insane'
'I would say he was lucky to have survived, but Johannesburg being as it is...'
'Then the humans came and broke in, my father thought they were all saved' Thomas spoke quietly, as if reliving the memory himself.
Lenny took a long sip from his bottle.
'Well I am sorry humanity sucks and all I bet your old man wished he had broken down elsewhere right?'
'No he believed in better, just like me...anything was favourable to being on the mother ship'
Thomas didn't answer. It was hard to say if he missed his parent because his kind never had much of an attachment to those who lay the eggs and keep the colony alive. Thomas had certainly never felt that way.
'Man I wish the haters could see this' chortled Lenny.
'See what?' Thomas replied.
'The two of us here like this, you know getting along'
'It is something I guess'
'You guess? If only the other humans would only act this way with the...aliens we would be fine!'
'But some of my people are equally to blame though, they don't help us'
Lenny protested that humans weren't perfect and hated anything vaguely different.
'There was plenty of conflict before you guys came here...human against human'
The two of them sat for hours, talking and rebuilding the fire.
'Would you ever go back if you got the chance, you know to your home world'
Lenny pointed to the mother ship, a vague outline in the sky, then up to the stars.
'I told you this is my home now. Where my ancestors came from is as alien to me as it would be to you. Besides my parent told me that it was hundreds of years ago that the ship left his world'
This took Lenny aback somewhat.
'Nicely put' Lenny conceded 'I hereby make you an honorary citizen of South Africa!'
'Thank you but MNU...'
'Fuck them Thomas, I am the sole representative of humanity right now!'
Thomas made a low keening noise which to Lenny sounded like a purr.
After what seemed like an eternity together, Lenny woke with a start. It was morning and the birds were singing happily. He had fallen asleep next to the fire, which had gone out. Looking up he saw Thomas sitting on the beer crate, watching him with intense amber eyes.
'Hey we fell asleep'
'We did yes but we must go soon'
'Go to District 9?'
'Yes that is right'