District 9: sprawling, acrid smelling and very much a haven for crime.
It played havoc with the sensitive antenna on the head of Thomas, the sights, sounds and smells all overwhelming him.
'Jesus Christ is this place for real!'
'Unfortunately it is yes' Thomas replied sadly.
'Man I haven't seen anything like it and I live only a couple of kilometres away!'
'Well it is not somewhere that is thought of as safe for my kind let alone human beings'
Like a kid at an amusement park, Lenny was enthralled.
'Man it is just so big! And that ship of yours...'
For the first time in his life Lenny could glance up and see the mother ship from up close; a huge dilapidated hulk, ready to fall from the sky.
But it didn't, and year in year out it simply stayed put.
Lenny heard what sounded like harsh wake up calls being broadcast from a public address system in the camp:
'All workers to report to their mustering points in fifteen minutes time, repeat all workers to report to their mustering stations in fifteen minutes time, no exceptions'
'If they do not get out of bed on time they are clubbed or dragged out then put on a bus to somewhere they are never allowed to see' Thomas remarked watching a helicopter fly over.
'Hide quickly' he said.
After a few moments Lenny spoke up:
'How do you mean 'they', don't you get summoned as well?'
'No I am privileged enough to avoid factory or mine duty, I have my janitor's job'
'Yeah because that is so much better for you Thomas...'
'At least I can a quiet life this way'
The two of them observed the goings on in the district for some time. Once the 'useful' prawns had been carted away to work, the less useful or desirable beings would emerge into the sunshine.
It was another warm day in Johannesburg and Lenny was almost content to lie in the long grass with the prawns, forever.
'Do your brother and his cronies have work?' asked Lenny instead.
'No they spend most of the day making trouble for themselves and others, although they might occasionally run some errands for the Nigerians. Mainly debt collection or intimidation...'
'Jesus a right Mary Poppins character he is then!'
'Who is Mary Poppins?' Thomas enquired, confused.
But the conversation was interrupted by a lumbering Hilux passing close to the fence nearby.
'Get down!' hissed Thomas.
The vehicle rumbled on without stopping, the crew looking bored and frustrated.
'They tell us that their working day is not complete without giving one of us a good beating!' Thomas remarked.
'Really, so why don't you fuck them over before they cause you hassle?'
'If only it was as easy as that'
'Well looking at some of the kit that your friends have with them, you could do some real damage to human kind!'
'But you see we are a peaceful race, dedicated to preserving life and that of our colony...our arms that we have are given to us for defensive not offensive reasons'
Thomas sounded like he had said those lines on a number of occasions.
Day passed into night without the duo seeming to notice, hidden as they were in a shallow fox hole near the boundary fence. The workers returned, the patrols continued and the district began to wind down.
'Seems pretty quiet now' whispered Lenny 'maybe we should make a move'
'Do not be fooled' replied Thomas 'this is the time where the district comes to life...with gangs and prostitutes!'
'Oh yeah I nearly forgot...So how do you get your kicks then?'
'My kicks, what does that mean?'
'You know how do you entertain yourself, do you gamble, play games, read books?'
Thomas seemed lost for a moment.
'I have what you call a dictionary, an English dictionary and I have been trying to teach myself the language to help me get a job'
'And is it helping?'
Thomas shook his head.
'No it is such a complex language, the inflections, double meanings...'
An MNU Hilux vehicle again rumbled past their hiding place, probably looking for escapees, in tandem with a helicopter.
'Look I think we should just bolt under the fence and be done with it! How far is your shack from here?'
'Around a kilometre, I am sure we can make it without being molested if we are fast enough'
'Then let's go!'
Lenny regretted his impatience after that. Thomas bolted away, over roof tops and straight through narrow spaces. Lenny had to hide when he saw groups of aliens or MNU troops.
Then Thomas waved at him from the doorway of a battered building which served as his 'home'
'Jesus you could have waited...I am out of breath here!'
'Sorry I forget that I have more stamina than your average human'
'Who are you calling average anyway?'
Lenny chuckled between gasps.
'Don't worry let's just get inside before I am spotted and torn apart!'
Inside the shack it seemed a little sparse, with little in the way of furniture or belongings.
It was if Thomas was poised to leave anytime, which Lenny supposed he might be.
A pungent aroma filled the place, which Lenny recognised as drying offal; intestines, liver, brains...all of it.
'God man you eat that stuff? It's fucking fly blown and disgusting!'
'Yes, it is very nutritious, especially with the fly larvae and...'
'Ok enough! I think I will stick to my vegetable patch or boiled rice if you don't mind!'
'Do you not want some?'
Lenny just looked at him, incredulous.
After turning down an offer of dirty water from a nearby stand pipe, Lenny had to be content with no drink at all.
Helicopters flew above at all hours, always on the lookout...
'Jesus, no wonder you are all so cranky if you can't get any frigging sleep around here!' Lenny remarked.
'Yes our hearing is quite sensitive and those distractions have been known to drive some of us mad, as you say'
Thomas lit a small stove, casting a comforting glow within the shack and creating a strange sensation of intimacy within Lenny.
'Pretty nice place you got here sport' he said.
'It is rudimentary compared to your dwelling but by these standards...'
'Yeah I know, guess they don't want you to live above the poverty line right?'
'So where do these gangsters hang out then?'
'A bad place, full of unspeakable acts of cruelty'
'Not the latrine pits?' quipped Lenny in a bad attempt at humour.
Thomas apparently missed the attempt.
'No the Nigerian gangsters have an establishment here and it often becomes a place of amusement for many of my neighbours. They will be there!'
'So let's go get them!'
'No I must have nourishment first, before any battles'
Lenny thought that was funny; how someone whose ancestors came from light years away thought in exactly the same way as a human, with his stomach! So Lenny had the pleasure of watching those strange mandibles and fleshy tendrils devour everything from cat food leftovers to raw ox liver.
He felt sick to his stomach.
After what seemed like walking for ages, they reached the outer perimeter of the Nigerian compound. At first it was Thomas who walked forward and was instantly mocked by a grinning Nigerian guard. Then Lenny emerged from the shadows, shot gun in hand, and demanded to know where a certain bunch of aliens were.
'Ha ha boy you are working with this thing now eh?' the guard mocked, showing a set of pristine gold teeth.
'Hey boys you want to come see this real quick!'
Another bunch of Nigerians appeared, even more heavily armed. They were followed by a couple of aliens behind, all clicking madly and grasping their own colourful weapons.
In response Lenny felt his own finger tighten on the trigger.
'What the fuck is all this noise man? We try to relax and play poker in here...' a dreadlocked gang member said.
'That is them!' chirruped Thomas.
The aliens snarled in recognition and drew themselves backwards in that universal threatening stance, muttering what sounded like the words kuaka nu sago over and over.
Lenny never knew what happened next but there was a snapping sound, the air around him rippled and became superheated...
The next thing he knew he was lay sprawled on his back looking sideways up at Thomas, who had scooped up the shotgun in his three fingered hands and was awkwardly firing.
'Get up' he said 'trouble coming fast!'
Suddenly the area was illuminated by a 'night sun' helicopter searchlight and a number of white vehicles skidded to a stop close by: MNU.
A harsh loudspeaker voice commanded all present to drop weapons and surrender.
Black clad men began to slowly move forward, weapons levelled.
'Don't do anything stupid' one said.
'What, you mean like helping some alien on a revenge mission against his own sibling in a District 9 gangster shithole?'
He felt a blow to the back of his head and then the world went dark.
Lenny came to with a rocking and swaying motion and thought himself drunk for a moment. Then he realised he was again down on his front but where?
He could see harsh spotlights above him and black clad men next to him but he seemed to be looking through metal wiring of some kind...
He immediately sat up and realised he was in a tiny cage inside a prisoner transport vehicle and the black clad men were MNU guards.
'Ah he is awake now' a young female said in clipped Afrikaans.
'Thank fuck for that, I thought dipshit here had brained him for sure!' an older white man said.
They all had a good chuckle at that.
Lenny examined the space that he was in; it was fairly large by human standards, smelled faintly of vinegar and had odd shaped shackles lying on the floor.
Then it clicked in his mind, this must be one of their fabled transport vehicles especially designed to ship unruly aliens from place to place in solitary 'comfort'.
He noted the lack of CCTV inside the vehicle and the ease by which his guards had access to lethal weaponry.
'Shoot first, and never ask any questions later, that way nobody will ever know' he muttered aloud.
'What's that you say?' a third man with a faintly Zimbabwean dialect piped up.
Lenny supposed it was entirely feasible that a multinational conglomerate like MNU would recruit personnel from outside South Africa to work here. After all, who wouldn't want to have 'WORKED AS A PRIVATE SECURITY OFFICER IN AN ALIEN HOLDING ZONE' on his or her CV?
'I said could I have a drink please?' Lenny asked.
'No can do my man, besides we are coming up on our hotel now anyway' the Zimbabwean guy replied.
Hotel what did they mean hotel? Lenny was confused.
But in moments the truck drew to a halt and as the doors were thrown open to admit the night air, he realised 'hotel' was just another in-joke by his captors.
He was led at gunpoint out of the truck and into an unloading area. The compound was harshly lit with tall Klieg lights, blotting out the night sky and next to these at even intervals stood watchtowers equipped with heavy machine guns and a trigger happy guard.
Lenny wondered how many of Thomas' kind had flipped their lid's in this place and simply been mown down before ever stepping foot inside.
He didn't feel any fear, simply curiosity.
'Walk the prisoner forward' a voice commanded from a hidden loudspeaker.
Lenny felt a gun in his back.
'Slowly man, real slowly or this gets tragic'
He simply laughed.
The building itself was low slung and made of concrete, in complete contrast to the nearby shacks. It reminded Lenny of a bunker and this was confirmed as a set of heavy steel doors opened with a buzz to admit them. A number of corridors, all saturated with CCTV coverage and then a ride downwards in a large elevator.
As the lift came to a halt and the doors slid apart, Lenny was assaulted by the noise and the smell in this area.
It sounded to him like a zoo, but with amped up aliens replacing the tigers and monkeys. Some of them kicked at the bars or heavy doors holding them in.
Others simply sat, looking on in fear and amazement.
Many more were hostile towards him, reaching out to grab his t-shirt or spitting black bile his way.
He realised then that he was the only human prisoner in the block and prayed that the laughing guards would not leave him alone in a cell with some hostile alien to rip apart.
'It isn't too often we get a human down here' the older man said.
'I had noticed' chided Lenny.
'Well it sends these things nuts, talk about jail bait!' his female captor added.
This led to another round of chortling and Lenny wished he could punch them all to silence.
As he slowed to peer in each cell for Thomas, the gun barrel again pressed into his back. He whirled around to face the guard.
'DON'T YOU FUCKING TOUCH ME AGAIN, I DID TWENTY YEARS IN THE ARMY COLLEGE BOY AND I COULD RIP YOUR HEAD OFF SO DON'T MAKE ME ANGRY!
'In there' the female guard said.
They had arrived at an empty cell and Lenny was roughly shoved in. The door clanged shut behind him, leaving the muffled sounds of alien talk, screams and other assorted noise.
His cell was small, with nary a single comfort for the occupant: no bed, no sink and not even a latrine bucket.
Someone, human or alien, had simply shit and pissed in the corner of the room, leaving a black mess. Odd scrawls and etchings could be seen on the walls.
It struck Lenny that this was a holding cell for something, but what? Was it torture, execution or simple interrogation?
And what would they do to Thomas?