"Chris, come on!" Wikus' desperate cry went unheard and unanswered by Christopher Johnson, who was within his own world, despite the utter chaos that was occurring around him. The shots, the alarms, and the screams had little to matter to him when he was confronted with the sight of a corpse of his own spread out upon a slab for all to see in its mutilated glory. The lifeless body was pulled apart beyond any semblance of reattachment, the exoskeleton having been forcibly pried almost completely off. Bodily fluids had run out of the exposed blood vessels and innards, and dripped onto the floor. The antennae were bent and badly crooked, the head twisted to the side. The gouge wounds on its wrists indicated its struggles on the operating table. The wounds, unfortunately, had effectively disfigured the poor thing beyond recognition.
It was only the instinct of self-preservation that kept him from collapsing before the presented corpse, the sheer agony of this viewing threatening to overwhelm him. His fellow had been stripped like an animal, and tossed aside like trash after such horrendous torture. Christopher didn't consider himself by far as having a secure foothold in terms of the culture of humanity, as well as the staggering amount of subcultures beneath it, but he knew enough to realize that a human would be just as appalled at such a gruesome display of another of its species. The issue, however, was that the human would have had a say. Burying the corpse in the ground would have done too little; too many Poleepkwa lay unceremoniously under the sands of this alien planet, their previous lives of valor and exploration forgotten. Yet this put even that utter disgrace to shame. But what could he do to alleviate the fate of this one? There wasn't time to bear the body of his fellow out of this horrid place, much less to give an imitation of proper rites.
He'd known that he was doing so little with that damned blog of his, but seeing this hammered home how miniscule his efforts had truly been. Even if Christopher could have taken this corpse with him, as was rightful, he knew it was only one of a much greater number. It could have been Oliver, or Sherry, but it had been too many others. Only the MNU was able to keep a strict count of the population of the district, the purpose of the census being, while not unsuspected, was still a grisly one to see. Now more than ever, reconstructing their ship was presented as the ultimate choice for Christopher. The divisions between the Poleepkwa had created among themselves out of poverty, lack of structure, hunger, and fear had seared them too greatly. Added to that was the fact that many of them had been genetically coded as workers/drones. They could never hope to fight back.
No, it wasn't hopeless. He refused this fate. He would not allow himself to become a victim when there was this sliver of a hope to grasp onto. And grasp he did. Whipping around, he dashed back into the fold to help a man he would rather have left for dead, had circumstances not controlled his actions.
Oliver's breath purred out as he dozed against one of the interior walls of the ship's bridge. The little one was curled over onto himself, a habit taken from his upbringing in an unsure environment. The hums of the machines droned softly in the background as the vessel quietly drifted past the planet the humans called Jupiter. Christopher cast a look over his shoulder at his progeny, and gave a shuddering sigh of relief.
At least for now, the humans couldn't follow them into space. How much of a berth in terms of years he would have between himself and them, according to how fast humanity could adapt stolen Poleepkwa technology, he wasn't sure, but it at least looked somewhat hopeful. The amount of years the humans had been given to cage the so-called "prawns," and research their technology had presented little so far. While man was training itself in alien gunnery, the species as a whole was still throwing off its chains that confined it to its mother planet. That was made most evident by the deserted state of the ship, at least in terms of human life. Encryptions within the mainframe of the vessel had effectively blockaded the efforts of man from further exploration into its inner workings. That was, without the use of physical force. The holes cut into the hull were explanatory of that, as well as stripped pieces of flooring, inner wall, and computer parts, effectively disrupting the control he had over a few of the interior rooms.
Scraps of paper littered the floor and other surfaces, as well as abandoned notebooks. Hastily scrawled onto the pages in repeating inscriptions were designs of the symbols of his people's written language, with lines linking them to what appeared to be rather rough translations to three differing human languages on the same page each. Numbers bordered the pages at intervals, indicating the attempt to break a more universal code. Lack of patience on the part of the humans brought their efforts to a standstill on the ship, the researchers having abandoned the vessel for a time to work on more practical, ballistic-related projects. Their chance to study the mother ship had slipped from their grasp, and it would not return.
The hull breaches were remedied by locking down the affected areas before attempting to leave the atmosphere of Earth. A leak was prevented, but a repair was still necessary. If anything, it had made a routing of the asteroid belt that had formed a protective barrier after the red planet have a lower margin of error to be absorbed. Thankfully, the on-board navigation system had taken care of the craft's precious cargo. The swaying motions of the ship had effectively lulled Oliver to sleep.
Johnson rested his hand heavily upon the solid portion of the panel, pressing his weight down it tiredly. It felt far too quiet and open in the ship, the empty vastness echoing back at him. Oliver heard it; he could tell by the young one's stirring in his sleep at intervals. He was used to living in close, as well as filthy, quarters. While the ship was far from utter sterilization, it was still a stark contrast for him. The floor was rather cool, but it was refreshing in contrast to the South African heat.
The coolness was the one thing that kept father and son from shedding the otherwise unneeded rags they wore. The sensation of the floor on the pads of his feet was causing Christopher to shiver. But for the child's father, it was a different sort of loneliness altogether. As the ship quietly steered them past Io toward its charted course, he truly felt the solitude of his surroundings press down upon him. Back on Earth, the years had stretched on, with the prospect of escape appearing more and more baseless with each passing day in the sand, even for him, but on the mother ship, time sped in reverse, the ghosts of past manifesting themselves around him. The shadows pressed heavily upon him, the writhing bodies of his compatriots reduced to starving and exhausted masses as they lay upon that clean-looking floor. Their usual lively chatter had been reduced to soft and pained squeals and clicks. The glory of the Poleepkwa.
The smell of ammonia and peroxide, having long since been laid by the humans, remained if only slightly, much to the discomfort of Christopher. While he wasn't adverse to the elements, it was rather odd to experience. It was a far cry from the past, when bodily fluids and odors had, quite frankly, drowned the interior atmosphere of the vessel in an awful musk, the bodies of their carriers silhouetted in its low lights. Jonhnson, for as greatly as he had been repulsed by the piss hole he had been forced to call home in District 9, knew it could not have held a candle to that compressed series of rooms. With resources being finite on board the ship, hygiene had become less of a priority. The strangling toxicity of the organic-made atmosphere had caused a few to faint before growing more accustomed to it.
Then there was the debauchery, sweet to some, and painful to others. With little in terms of diversion and personal space, and much in terms of misery, it was simple to resort to a more carnal type of entertainment. The odorous musk of excreted bodily fluids was replaced with a much different sort. For as vastly as he refuted and despised the lowly way the humans thought of his very species, Christopher could admit to himself that when they were first discovered by the humans, tired, starving, and utterly raw, he had felt a shame matched only by the day an MNU officer had stamped that dreadful mark on the side of his head. And his young one lay innocently asleep upon on this ship. It wasn't that Oliver was unaware of its horrific origins; he wouldn't know due to the fact that he hadn't been alive during that period of time.
Noticing that Oliver's neck was slightly twisted around in a manner that would become discomforting, Christopher headed over, and carefully adjusted his son's head by gently pushing it back across the floor. He pined for his second lost child as the ship cleared the orbit of the largest planet in the Solar System, taking him further and further from her. He wouldn't be gone long, but three years was still a stretch of time for her and the utterly clueless Wikus to endure. If he could find her, of course. Savior to-be of his race, and he couldn't keep track of his own child. His own stupidity never ceased to amaze him.
Christopher remembered the day of Sherry's disappearance well, with details such as the blinding sun's rays, and the bright sparking of circuitry as he had continued his repairs on the decimated engine (miraculously, as thought to himself, resisting the urge to ram his head into the nearest wall at how utterly pointless it felt) standing out. It was difficult to see an end to this when his crew and their descendants had been reduced to bottom crawlers and prostitutes. Sherry and Oliver had attentively been assisting him, although not without getting into petty arguments with each other.
"Ow! She pushed me!"
"Well, if you weren't crowding me— "
Christopher cut off their bickering with a snarl. "Enough! I need the two of you to go and pick up a part I need from Paul. That should be easy enough!" Taken aback by the angered tone in his voice, Sherry and Oliver said nothing as they dropped their tools to obey him. A glint of silver shone as the wrench Sherry had been holding was cast down to dirt floor, followed by her hurried footsteps after her brother.
For a moment, there was a relieved peace. He needed that part, and his friend would certainly take good care of the children. A sharp spark exploded from the machine, causing him to back up for fear of himself catching flame. It fell harmlessly to the floor. Perhaps peace wasn't the right word, he thought to himself as he continued his work. Time stretched slowly onward, and worry began to build up in him. They should have returned by now.
The horrifying sounds of terrified squeals, threatening yells, and the pounding of boots and bludgeoning weapons against wooden barricades began to fill the air above. The opened circuit was abandoned in Christopher's haste, a mistake that cost him a few weeks' worth of work, in retrospect.
The district above had fallen to sheer chaos, with the MNU footmen violently herding away various Poleepkwa. Some were shoved aside or to the ground as the soldiers broke into their dwellings and searched for contraband, or dragged off their comrades, who were thrashing against their gloved hands. Raids like this were becoming more and more commonplace as time drew on, replacing the more staggered vanishings of neighbors.
Christopher felt utterly helpless as he took off in the opposite direction for Paul's dwelling. Nothing could be done now. The helmet of an MNU soldier shone as it swung around, sending Johnson into a full sprint, the shanties flying past him in a flurry. Pulling one arm into himself, he shoved by other Poleepkwa, and stumbled over debris and strewn belongings as he searched out his family.
Paul's yellow coloration stood out well, despite the fact that he was kneeling in the shadow of an abandoned dwelling, with Oliver cowering behind him. A slash wound cut deeply into Paul's one arm, and his one eye appeared to be swollen, a gash beneath it. He was panting hard. Scooping his son into his arms, Christopher demanded, "Where's Sherry?" Paul looked down in shame as Oliver buried his head in his parent's shoulder, and wound his arms tightly about his neck.
Growling in frustration, Johnson whipped around a few times, while still possessively holding his young one close to him. His amber eyes frantically scanned over the area, only to land on nothing but piles of wood, and cloth stirred by the wind. Anger rose in him as he turned back to his friend, who continued to refuse to look at him. Having no hand free with which to hit him, Christopher hissed, "You're useless."
He had come to eat those words, he mused in the present day, given the fact that Paul had bent over backwards to make up for losing Sherry. While the Poleepkwa wasn't gifted by any means with technology, he still tirelessly worked alongside Christopher and his son to get the engine running again, along with maintaining his previous office of a junkman that salvaged needed parts. Even so, Christopher had held off on forgiving him for misplacing Sherry. He wasn't self-centered enough to believe that Paul had attempted to drive off Wikus' relocation group for his sake; no, he had been fighting on behalf of the survival of the Earth-dwelling Poleepkwa itself.
It was a cause worthy enough to keep Oliver and Sherry's heritage a secret from the children. For as revolted as Christopher had been by the devolution of his ship's inhabitants into the practical husks they were upon arrival to Earth, he wasn't immune to becoming like them. Paul was one of the truest friends he had made in his life, defending the lost ship's captain from a mutiny of starving crew members.
While the officer in charge of the ship had not been the culprit, the answer wasn't so simple. The crew of the mother ship had ranked in the hundreds, with the majority of them being workers and miners sent to colonize a new planet for mainly the purpose of its resources. However, that plan had been effectively tarnished upon their entrance to the Milky Way Galaxy. While not unexplored by other Poleepkwa fleets, an entrance into an uncharted system of the galaxy had come quite close to proving deadly.
A brush with an openly hostile fleet of an unknown and uncommunicative species had nearly caused the destruction of the mining ship. The gunnery of the secondary species' rather large and imposing ships had caused the captain and higher-ranking members of the solitary mother ship to force it into overdrive to escape. As such, however, the fuel resources were exhausted once they were out of range, leaving the ship to drift slowly toward a course its auto-pilot had dictated: a planet, any planet, that could support the life of its passengers, and one that was rich in their desired resources.
Christopher had his suspicions about the mining mission before, but now they had been brought to the forefront. The broods his people were spurned forth from were not always of common parentage, rather the fertile queens that inhabited the planet were the parental units in charge. As such, however, they tended to be in competition with one another, and the turmoil tended to lead to political struggles. Could the mining operation have only been that, to fulfill a great need for a diminishing resource? Possibly, and the alternative was something that was not an attractive subject to think on.
Johnson, despite the fear that had gripped him at the small mob as they had neared him, their eyes burning with fear, in such close quarters, couldn't also help but feel fondness for his defender. While the more level-headed crew members had formed a protective semi-circle around him, Paul had gone the extra step by standing directly before him, and growling repeatedly, "Let him speak!"
It was little wonder, then, that the two had come together in the "festivities" when all had seemed lost. Despair had overwhelmed the captain, and his guardian was there once again to assist him. Granted, it had been rather unorthodox assistance, but it had been what it was, nonetheless. It had also been a stretch of time he had coveted to return to him, a glance into a period when he and his mate had been named something of much greater meaning than the empty English monikers of Christopher and Paul. The other writhing masses were utterly forgotten when their antennae had twined together, their hands had gripped each other, and the chirps and squeaks of pleasure had emanated from them.
When reality had ensued, however, the captain had faced these new human life forms emaciated, exhausted, and pregnant. It was an utter mockery, and as such, the humans hadn't much of a care to listen to what he had to say. His defender remained at his side during the encounter, but the only strength he had been able to exert was his hand on his shoulder during the interviews. With a crippling inability to put up a resistance against the humans, Christopher was left with little alternative than to become a parent to his brood. Paul, thankfully, had enough sense in his head to salvage the engine component, and bring it to him.
"They're quite handsome," Paul praised as he looked upon the two eggs in Christopher's shanty home. They pulsed a soft orange as they incubated side by side, their tentacles linked to the corpse of a goat.
Johnson sighed. "I fear for what will happen to them. We were foolish."
Paul leaned against the side of the doorway. "Yes, we were, but that can't be helped."
The "mother" waved his arm dismissively. "They will have no future if that engine component isn't fixed," a regretful tone entered his voice, "That must take precedence even over this."
"Perhaps one of us will have to change his priorities, then," Paul suggested, "I'll do it." Christopher glanced at him. "If we remain in a family unit, our larger number would attract more attention. I'll do my best to protect you, but it would easier if I lived on my own, and the humans assumed you were a single parent."
"A weakness," Johnson agreed, "Only if you are certain— "
Paul cut him off by gripping his shoulder, and affectionately nuzzling the crook of his mate's neck. "Yes. Come on, we've known each other for years. I think I can trust you with our kids."
Christopher made a slight rumbling noise in his throat at his attentions before gently pushing him off. "The engine will have to remain here, you understand that?"
Paul nodded his head. "Moving it would attract suspicion. Besides, I'm not exactly cut out for engineering. But if you need anything, I can bring it to you."
Christopher touched the side of his face, turning his head toward him. "Don't think you won't be seeing them. If we want to keep this charade up, they can't know what you are. Even so, that doesn't mean the children can't visit you." Paul said nothing, and pulled his hand off of his face before turning to look back at the eggs. "As they grow older, I will desire their assistance more often," Christopher sighed, "But I promise I will allow you to see them as often as possible."
"Then that is enough," he replied simply, rising from the doorway, and taking several steps away from him, "Tell them that I'm a friend."
"I'm very sorry."
"For what? We both hold the blame," he pointed at him, "You're our captain, and you need to do your job. I can swallow my pride on my own time. Once we get off this damn rock, we can talk family matters."
"Then I order you to help me complete a mandatory duty when the time comes," he replied, drawing himself up, "I can choose English names for registration; it doesn't matter what they are to me, but you at least deserve to select their real names."
Paul's oral tentacles rippled at the prospect. "Thank you."
The names he had given them were from a rather romanticized point of view, but that was understandable. While Paul was not a romantic himself, he could at least hold on to an otherwise misguided hope. As such, Oliver's native name signified a star, while Sherry's symbolized victory. But as Christopher murmured his child's native name, and nuzzled him softly in his sleep, he felt no comfort in it. Paul was dead, and closure for Sherry's kidnapping hadn't been found.
He'd tell Oliver the truth after things had settled down a little. Perhaps he would after showing him the beauty of his "mother's" home world, be it the surrounding structures, free of dirt and grime, the towering buildings comprised of durable metals as opposed to flimsy wood, with their monuments and significations of the rich history of Poleepkwa achievements in the fields of science and warfare, or maybe the hive-like sense of community his people held. Rather than diverting themselves into small, aimless units, his people worked together for the aim to uplift their society into a golden age.
But then the fantasy began to lose its luster upon second glance. They were returning to a planet whose empire was running low on resources. The queens that had borne broods of different genetic classes had shorter and shorter lifespans, it seemed, and their influence over the hierarchal structure of the Poleepkwa was diminishing due to battles among themselves for dominance. The final detracting factor involved his son, himself. Oliver had grown up used to a divided world, as opposed to a unified one. His education had been poor in comparison to what was typical of his age.
Christopher caught himself. Of course it wouldn't be easy, but it would be a better life for him than the one he had left. Even so, he had to resist the urge right then and there to clutch his sleeping son to him, and defend him from this galaxy itself. So many unanswered questions loomed before him, but for now, he could take his time. Sitting beside his son, Christopher kept a silent vigil over both him and their vessel's course.