At District 10, they organize.
The leaving ship had lit a fuse in every Poleepkwa who’d seen it and with the second generation of the Burg-born it raced burning beneath their shells and reached the bomb inside. Jenny Adams scampers up his trashill as he's looking for flat thin metal for his flowers and kicks a Tab can out from under him by means of hello.
"Why you not coming to meetings?" she clicks, looming.
She's a rude bint, but her parents must have loved her and fed her rotting cow until she burst because she's got a half a foot and 40 pounds on him. He sighs, the way this pushes air through his mouth makes a sad burbly 'brrrbt' sound. He doesn't need his fookin' idiocy. He's just doing the time, time that feels like it’s got forever to stretch into before the calendar catches up to the hope that Christopher didn’t just fly off with the little wonderbrat and leave him in the shit. Time, that’s settled into a routine. A sentence that’s almost mild now that it's no longer demarcated into fits of stark panic at having a second set of knees and back spines that collect pebbles between them if he sleeps without a blanket ( a hundred times worse than a hangnail).
She launches into the recruiting shpiel. He's heard snatches of it from around the corners of the shack row. Wikus doesn't talk to anyone who doesn't talk to him first, avoids groups until they're all well into the neutral zone of the food stalls. Before it was the knees-locking terror of being found out, he couldn't stomach checking himself over to see if there's any difference left to tag him but now the fear's pared down to the basics of ‘two can take one and steal his cat food.'
Now familiarity has begun to cling to him like layers of dust, it is the same dust that covers the rest of them and some conversations have begun to reluctantly engulf even him.
"…and if you think your [ma/pa/non-ident parent] spun your cradle so you could chew on rubber then you have lost your pride as a Poleepkwa and the ancestors who live in the stars cry for you to reclaim it!"
"Piss off." Wikus tells her.
He’s scurrying around, doing little things that seem meaningless to soothe himself through another day, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing new there - almost a seamless emotional transfer from his Human life. Everything happening, the goddamn nightmare week of needles, bullets, and noise hadn’t suddenly cured him of being afraid. Maybe it burned out the smaller capillaries and left only the raw larger aortas of worry. Not starving or getting shot again or getting spotted by the Nigerians would be nice – this is small shit.
Wikus unbends his neck. The crack and the minute satisfaction of the stretch is, shockingly, the same. Jenny’s eyes are yellow-green and red, like the flag and her dramatically spray-painted brown hide is pretty clean - less scars than he’s used to, than he’s got. Two of the feelers on her head are still thin and curled forward like a kid’s.
“I’m not going, cause your meetings are shit. Cause you and your mates are gonna get killed. Oh yeah, those smelly hippies with cameras are watching the gates now so they can’t cart you off and dissect you. For now. Until they get bored and leave. Fookin’ Prawns are a popular cause again, but humans are fickle and the Mayor’ll still send in the gunboys if you get a mob together chanting shit. You’re [closest known expletive] doin it wrong.”
Jenny’s mouth-tentacles are hanging limp like someone cut the nerve. What you’d call a jaw-to-the-floor on a normal girl. A sly look kindles in the subtly shifting plates of her face. It’s the same look his little niece had when he’d done the first sum in her worksheet as an example right before she’d blinked at him imploringly and said “But Uncle Wikus, you’re so good at maths, why don’t you do the other five?”
“An’ don’t even start, I can’t tell you the right way. I don’t know the right way to do anything.”
The only thing he knows is that he shouldn’t be in charge of anything bigger than a goddamn paper clip ever again.
Eventually, she goes. A couple other shapes he’s seen here and there in the evening haze disappear with her. There’s plenty of the pile left and he starts sifting again, his head drooping towards the ground, his spine re-curling slowly. The other pop can he’d rescued had crumpled in his claw as he gestured for emphasis. The good thin sides are crushed and ripped so it can’t hold the shape of the rose. Still, it seems ungrateful to just drop it so he takes it home. Maybe his little fits of language will become more frequent and he can negotiate a shift with the smelting-pots.
That week, when he's getting back from the place where he goes to leave the best of his makings (because OCD as a coping mechanism is a fookin’ art form among the Poleepkwa. This little ritual will keep him alive to his wife. It must. Conviction is his only shield against the next two and a half years) he sees Jenny talking to a group of humans. She's bent over so she can look the batch of reporters and tourists in the face. Less threatening that way, establishing empathy with her big, pretty eyes. She’s holding a clipboard. It looks like they’re listening.
Turning sharply, he skulks towards a different entry checkpoint. He's seen firsthand the evils a clipboard can carry out but the scurrying vindictive part ( and he's a lot ‘scurrying vindictive part’ now ) is pleased. The MNU is going broke - hogtied in red tape and picked apart by scandal investigations.
‘Have a shot of this, you bastards’ he thinks.
‘Maybe it’ll work. Two and a half years gives ‘em some time. Maybe Christopher won’t blow us all to hell when he comes back.’
A scrap of silver plastic ribbon catches the sun where it’s caught in a tire track. A nice strip for his latest basket. He picks it out of the cracked mud with his left foot, transfers it between the two remaining claws on the matching hand (the third is a small grooved stump, re-growing slowly) and then into a pocket of his ragged coveralls. The movement is smooth, natural.