Wikus watched the skies for three long years--when he wasn't watching his back. If it wasn't the Nigerians with their obscene idea that alien flesh would give them supernatural powers, or the other prawns who would quite happily tear another of their kind limb from limb over a tin of cat food, then it was the government-sanctioned humans. In some ways they were worse because Wikus saw a reflection of himself in their arrogant attitude. When he was in charge, he had looked down on the prawns, aborting their eggs before they could hatch and destroying the incubators with no thought that these were the potential offspring of living, sentient creatures.
Of course, the fact that he had only ever met one prawn with an above average IQ was probably part of the human problem. Three years in the new ghetto of District 10 had given him an insight that he suspected few humans had been privileged to see. He knew now why the majority of the prawns were mentally retarded. They were bred that way; bred to be workers, but here on Earth, no one had put them to work so they did nothing.
He thought of Christopher often, aware that Christopher had not been part of the working class of prawns. He had been a technician or an officer of some sort, or perhaps one of the leadership caste, able to fix and pilot both the small craft and the mothership. His child had been smart too, which made Wikus wonder if it was all to do with genetics.
During that first year, as he watched the worker prawns wandering around aimlessly, he had wondered why Christopher had not taken control and got them working. For a time he had been tempted to do it himself but then he realized that it would only draw attention, and perhaps that was why Christopher had laid low. Better to keep his head down and work silently on a solution rather than show that he was smarter than most humans, organize an army--even if only of workers--and become a real threat to the paranoid humans. Wikus admitted, reluctantly, that he would have been uneasy if he had discovered one prawn holding the others in thrall while he was working for the Multi-National United (MNU), especially now he had seen what could be accomplished with just one of the prawns' alien energy weapons.
For the first time he realized how hard it must have been for Christopher, working alone for two decades and then seeing all his hard work almost destroyed by one human--him. Wikus was certain that at first, Christopher had kept him alive purely because Wikus knew what had happened to the tube of that strange, viscous liquid, but he could have abandoned or killed him the moment they retrieved it from MNU headquarters. Instead, Christopher had promised to come back, not just for his people but for him too.
The tents in District 10 were no longer the pristine canvases that had awaited the relocated population of prawns from District 9. Now they were torn and shabby, and once more the prawns were sifting through the detritus of human society for the cast off metals and items that could be used to provide a roof over their heads. For Wikus, home had become a tent as close to the outside edge of the district as was possible, though without being so close that it made him too visible to the surveillance cameras that surrounded the district. He spent most of his waking hours on the dump, sifting through the trash and creating silly little items--metal flowers and ornate boxes, sometimes animals--that he sold for the cash to buy cat food. During the first two years he would sneak into the suburbs of Johannesburg often and leave small gifts on his wife's doorstep, but a year back he had realized that she had moved on without him. He had seen her with a new man, kissing him with all the passion that she had once reserved for him alone. It took a month or two for him to realize that he did not care, that the pain he felt was not loss but a sense of betrayal, and yet he could hardly expect her to wait for him when everyone presumed he was dead.
Since then, all he had thought about was Christopher, wondering how many light years he had covered and if he was now making his way back into the solar system. Without access to a television or radio, he could not keep abreast of current affairs but none of the humans seemed any more nervous or panicked than usual.
Days turned into more months and yet Wikus had not lost hope.
As he sifted through the pile of trash dumped on the outskirts of the district, he was entranced by a perfect piece of metal, aware from its texture that it was nothing from Earth. It held a pearlescent sheen that captivated him, and he turned it first one way and then another as it caught the sun's rays. Only gradually did he notice the increased signs of movement and he looked around in concern, aware that he had stopped paying close attention to his surroundings, leaving himself vulnerable to attack. Other prawns were standing up but he remained crouched amid the trash until a dark shadow slowly blotted out the sunshine. He glanced upwards, confused as he had not heard any of the MNU helicopters, and he slowly stood up as he saw the huge mothership sliding into the atmosphere right over the top of District 10.
Eagerly, he made his way to the wide open area at the center of the district but the sheer number of prawns who had the same idea meant he was caught at the back and with little way of pushing through that wouldn't result in injury. The small command craft had landed but he couldn't see above the heads of the crowd. Following the actions of a few others, he climbed up onto one of the small piles of trash dotted around, hoping it would give him a better view. The command ship opened and Wikus was surprised when three prawns exited, each one wearing coverings that had to denote some kind of uniform but from this distance he could not tell if one of them was Christopher. The sound of helicopters warned of the imminent arrival of the MNU and Wikus hoped that this wasn't going to dissolve into an interstellar war between the prawns and humans. He wished there was a working television or radio within easy reach, desperate to know what was going to happen next.
Over the next few days, he tried so many times to reach the command ship but the crowd was too dense, and then it lifted off, returning to the mothership. The news filtered through quickly that they were going home, except some were not so keen on the idea. For those born during the past twenty-three years, Earth was home. And then there was him. Christopher had promised to come back for him; had said they would work on reversing the process that had transformed his human DNA to that of the prawn.
By now there was over two and half million prawns, too many for one mothership to transport, and though he carried on with his attempt to reach the prawn leaders, too many others had the same idea. He noticed that whole sections of District 10 were slowly emptying as huge transport craft detached from the mothership, landed somewhere and returned to the mothership hours later. Wikus clicked frantically in dismay when the mothership began to pull away from Earth's atmosphere.
No! He had waited over three years. Christopher had promised to come back for him. He had promised...but there was nothing Wikus could do but watch as the mothership moved away. He sank down and, for the first time, he felt despair nibbling at the edge of the hope that had sustained him over these long years.
Three days later, the sky darkened again as the mothership returned and he overheard two of the prawns speaking, easily translating the clicks.
"More ships wait on the edge of the solar system. The humans say only one may come at a time but they want us all gone."
More ships. Christopher had promised to return for his people and he had kept that promise at least. Over the next week, Wikus noticed the numbers of prawns thining considerably, leaving whole sections like ghost towns. Those still waiting to be picked up trawled through the empty sections--and then the strange call came out in his section. He watched as the prawns became orderly for the first time; watched as they gathered up their belongings and offspring and headed for the center of the district. Not knowing what else to do, he followed them, hoping that this time he would be successful in locating Christopher.
Once more the sheer number of prawns made it seem impossible but instead of the jostling from earlier times, they stood waiting patiently in lines radiating out from the center like spokes on a bicycle wheel. Confused and uncertain, Wikus wandered between the spokes unmolested, making his way almost to the center. A loud series of clicks had the prawns standing between him and the command ship shuffling to each side, creating a path.
Wikus froze as a single prawn stepped into the cleared path and stopped, looking straight at him.
Wikus tilted his head from side to side and shuffled forward a few steps.
"Christopher?" He clicked in return.
Suddenly Christopher was right in front of him, clicking away but Wikus was too stunned to translate the sounds. His arm was caught and he was pulled forward, away from the transport craft that had just landed and towards the command ship. Two others greeted them, clicking away but Wikus felt overwhelmed. They fell silent when Christopher snapped off a series of sharp clicks. He felt the movement as the command craft lifted off.
Christopher clicked at him, "I have been searching for you since we returned. I started to believe you were dead."
"I waited." After years living among the prawns, Wikus knew from Christopher's expression that he had waited in vain.
"I am sorry. I could not find a way to return you to human form."
"I'm...stuck like this?"
Wikus felt behind him and slumped into a seat. For three years he had stayed alive, focusing on becoming human once more and now he did not know what to do. He was a human within a prawn body--so he belonged to neither race, and yet when all the prawns left Earth then he would be truly alone if he stayed behind.
"Come with me to the stars, Wikus." Christopher held out a claw. "Let me be your family."
From three years living among the prawns, he knew that they had a far different concept of family to the one used by humans. All the prawns he had seen had only a single gender, yet they mated together for species diversity with two or more providing the genetic material that resulted in an egg. He knew that Family was a mated pair and their offspring, and he wondered if the prawn who had hidden the tube that had caused his mutation, and who had been killed by the MNU, had been Christopher's mate and the co-parent of Christopher's child. He also wondered if prawns gave off a pheromone to entice a mate because he could feel a strange reaction in his prawn physiology, one that drew him towards Christopher.
Christopher ran the tip of one claw across a fleshy part between the hard segments of his body, and he shivered with something that could only be described as pleasure.
"Family," Christopher repeated.
During those three years as a prawn, he had still seen himself as a male with a preference for females, but then he'd had hope of becoming human again. A peace stole across him for the first time in all those long years, and with it came acceptance that he truly was no longer human, and that male and female had no meaning anymore.
"Family," he clicked softly...and reached back.