Chapter 3: Old Wounds
by Duo Radon
“It’s time to get ready for bed now....”
“One more time! Please?”
“Fine. Last time.”
Yeen patiently outstretched his arms and waited while his little son hunkered on the edge of the top bunk, calculating an ideal leap. At last he sprung, pitching himself across the cabin and into his father’s reliable arms, giggling madly. Yeen clasped the child’s legs snugly, hanging him upside down, and carried him to the lavatory.
“Bath time now.”
“Agaaaaain!” Joji squealed, flailing his arms in a bout of playful resistance, but to no avail. It seemed poleepkwan children, much like human ones, were intricately perceptive to changes in the moods of their adult family members. The anxiety that had lifted from human and drone this evening had filled the boy with extra enthusiasm, making the task of settling him for sleep more difficult than usual.
Wikus watched father and son debate the nighttime ritual with a great degree of amusement as he lounged in his own bunk. Boots and vest had been removed and set neatly aside. Blissfully he lolled propped up by a cushion, his back against the wall and bare feet hanging over the side of the bed. Wikus had no desire to sleep, but the heavy meal and soft pelts were beginning to win him over and he yawned widely.
Joji obviously had no aspiration for bed either. He emerged from the steam shower moments later and immediately clambered into the bottom bed, announcing that he was “going to sleep with Wikus tonight.” Yeen had no sooner begun to reason with the child before he hopped out again, retrieved his own doll from the top bunk, and began flying him around the room like a ship. It took half an hour of discussion, a snack and two stories before Joji would consent to be put to bed. Like a toy with tapped batteries, he promptly fell asleep as soon as the bunk’s lights were dimmed.
Yeen closed the sliding wall above and flopped into the bottom bed with the kind of sigh only a parent could know. Beside him, Wikus responded with poorly concealed mirth.
“You find this funny?” Yeen asked in mock irritation.
“Yes. Yes I do.”
“Perhaps tomorrow you’d like to give it a try.”
“Hey, I didn’t say I could do it better, I just said it was funny!” Wikus grinned.
“Ah, maybe so,” Yeen relented, and began gathering parts of the blankets around him. He pulled them over his lap, careful to cover the dual row of spikes that ran up his outer thigh. Wikus gladly accepted the invitation and turned to lie down, resting his head on the fur-cushioned leg. A pair of miniature arms fiddled in their recesses above his head while a full sized hand brushed hair from his face with remarkable softness. Both creatures rested quietly for several minutes, enjoying each other’s company.
“What do you think of your clothes?” Yeen queried eventually, “Will they work for you?”
“Oh, yeah, they’re great! Thanks, Chris-....Yeen. Sorry...”
“You can call me Christopher if you like, it doesn’t upset me,” Yeen offered tenderly, “I’ll send the order down for more sets.....you’d prefer different colors, correct?”
“Sure, color’s good. The gloves, though, it’s a little harder to get menus ‘n stuff to respond through the fabric....”
“I thought that might be the case. We can just cut the ends of the fingers off.”
“Yeah.” The issue brought another question to mind. “Any word from Doc?”
“No, nothing yet. They’ll figure it out, I’m certain,” Yeen assured him.
Wikus was somewhat less confident, but he had little choice than to trust and wait. He became aware of the poleepkwa staring at his face with a curious air and raised his brow in inquiry.
“I’ve been wanting to ask, why leave this?” Yeen responded, dragging a finger along Wikus’s upper lip, causing a fit of sniffing and twitching.
“It *hshff*...it’s called a ‘mustache’. It’s just a style choice....doesn’t really do anything.”
“’Style’? You mean you like the way it looks?”
“I thought maybe it kept nose mucus out of your mouth...”
Wikus interrupted the quiet with a mild burst of laughter. “Yeah, I guess it does that, too. Hey, I’ve got one for you....what was in that bottle you gave me?”
“You didn’t drink it, did you?”
“Good. It cleans your teeth. Take one mouthful every week, rinse it around your mouth for a minute or two, then spit it all out into the sink. Please don’t swallow it...”
“You have a brush, for your hair....” Yeen explained, perplexed.
“No, I mean, a little one, for my teeth....you don’t brush your teeth?”
Yeen looked positively stymied. “I....no...you do?”
“Well, yeah; we put some paste on a little mini-brush, on a stick, and, you know,” Wikus mimed oral hygiene.
“I see. How does that clean between your teeth?”
“Well, it doesn’t....then....we take a waxy string and drag it between each....one.”
“And you enjoy this?” Yeen asked incredulously.
“No, actually, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Most people just skip it and...let their teeth go bad. Look, it sounds stupid when you have to explain it like this,” Wikus defended.
“Okay, that’s fine,” Yeen soothed him, chuckling softly.
Wikus wasn’t upset over the confusion, but the recount of human behavior did get him thinking on his old home again, on family and friends and the events that separated him from them. The human’s face turned suddenly dismal, and Yeen feared he’d accidentally offended him in some way.
“It’s okay,” he repeated intently.
“No, not that, it’s....” Wikus pressed his fingers against his eyes, attempting to collect himself, “I just....”
“You miss your home,” Yeen said quietly.
Yeen caressed the human’s face more earnestly, hoping it would offer him some reassurance. “That’s to be expected. You’ve left everything familiar behind, and under terrible circumstances. It’s okay to be sad.”
Wikus rolled onto his side so he could avoid making eye contact with the drone. He knew Yeen was sincere in his consolation, but he just wasn’t in the mood to hear the obvious explained to him. Rubbing at his face again, he could feel warm tears flooding his eyes in spite of his willingness to hold them back.
The man’s face withdrawn, Yeen began to massage his back and shoulder instead. “It will get easier with time. You’ll always miss your planet, and your Sugati, but eventually you’ll be able to live with it.”
“My what?” Wikus sniffled.
“Your Sugati? Ah, maybe that’s not the right word....” Yeen contemplated. He knew a fair amount about human relationships, but as poleepkwa were asexual beings, nothing in his own experience could be directly paralleled to anything he knew about Earthlings.
“Mm.....what does it mean?” Wikus asked, temporarily distracted, “I’ve never heard that word before.”
“It’s the person you spend the most time with,” Yeen said plainly. It was evident from Wikus’s expression that he’d have to elaborate. Pausing in thought, he pulled at his tentacles absently, staring into space. “A Sugati....is a person you choose to stay with, it’s your dearest friend. Someone you understand very well, that you feel you can’t do without. Someone you share the most of your self with. Does that make sense?”
“I think so. When you said, ‘your Sugati’, you’re talking about my wife?” Wikus found he had some difficulty getting the last word out.
“I assume so. We don’t partner the way you do, so forgive me if I’m being.....presumptuous? I couldn’t recall your term.”
“No, I think.....that’s pretty close,” Wikus assured him. Now curious, he shifted onto his back again, “So, how do you choose one?”
“Well, it’s not as though you look for one, you just sort of fall into a close relationship with someone, usually someone you have a lot in common with.”
“Can you only have one?”
“No, but it’s rarer to find a multitude of people you can connect with on that level. I dare say Joji may have two,” Yeen smiled.
“Yeah, those three are never apart, are they?” Wikus chuckled, “Do you have one?” As soon as he raised the question, he wished he hadn’t. Yeen looked away, his warm face saddening.
“Chris, I’m sorry....”
“No, don’t be. I did have one, yes. His name was Otowek, but you would have known him as Paul. We met in school, when we weren’t much older than Joji is now.”
Wikus could see the black and yellow drone in his mind all too clearly. Paul’s death would never leave his memory or his conscience. The event had marked a turning point in his life, the fulcrum at which his perception of his fellow man had pivoted into frightening territory. The people in which he’d placed so much confidence had proven him to be a fool with one savage act and it had taken a sizable piece of his own self assurance with it. Wikus had never seen anyone die before, not in person. The fact that he, himself, had instigated the execution still made him physically ill.
Yeen had stopped massaging and his three-fingered hand now sat still against the human’s face. Wikus placed his own hand on top of his friend’s, trying to redirect some of the comfort he’d just been receiving. The poleepkwa’s next remark took him quite by surprise.
“I know you didn’t want it to go that far. It wasn’t your fault,” Yeen said softly, “you couldn’t have stopped it.”
“I was the one who started it,” Wikus insisted, his chest tightening.
“No. If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else. Don’t carry this with you,” he said firmly, the words sounding more like a command than a request, “I begged him to be compliant. But Oto never had much in the way of patience. Or common sense. Much like your friend, Brutus.”
Wikus was somewhat relieved to hear a hint of lightheartedness return in that last sentence. “I have no idea how he made it all the way through,” he sighed.
“That,” Yeen laughed, “was your doing, I have no doubt. And you should carry that with you.”
“Yeah, I suppose. I’m glad he’s been assigned to the livestock unit. Processing meat may be his one true love,” Wikus grinned.
“He certainly seems to be enjoying himself.”
“No question. That why he was put there?”
“Well, you don’t get to pick, but the Commander does try to set workers to the tasks they’re best suited for.”
“Huh,” Wikus pondered.
“Well....Took went to Engineering, he’s good with machines...”
“...and Lek, he’s in Navigation....”
“....but what about you? You’re the smartest drone I’ve ever met, how is it you don’t have an assignment?”
“I do. You.”
“Me....what?” Wikus sputtered.
“My job is to take care of you. Until you’re healthy and integrated enough to be able to care for yourself properly, that is. Afterwards I’ll probably be sent to Engineering too.”
Wikus wasn’t at all sure how he felt about that. “They made you my nanny? How in God’s name did you get stuck with that, man?”
“....If ‘nanny’ means caretaker, then yes. And I would have insisted on it if I hadn’t gotten it. Fortunately, I’m the most qualified for the....what?”
Wikus was attempting to interrupt but he was having some difficulty spitting out a proper sentence, his face once again locked in a “you’ve got to be kidding” expression. “It....okay, look....I can admit that I need someone to, I don’t know, keep me from dying. But you don’t think that’s a little below your skills? There’s nothing on this whole stinking ship you’d rather be doing?”
“Of course not,” Yeen answered matter-of-factly.
“Calm yourself, Earth man,” Yeen said gently, easing Wikus’s upper body off of his own so he could replace his leg with a cushion, “it’s late now, and you need to sleep.”
It was more than apparent that the discussion was over, and Wikus decided a continued resistance was pointless. He was starting to feel the fatigue deeply now, anyway, so he gladly accepted Pedro and allowed Yeen to pull the covers over him.
“How about...rain? You like that one, don’t you?”
“Oh, yeah, please...” Wikus yawned.
The drone opened the wall monitor and pulled it nearer to the head of the bed. He chose a display that mimicked a window pane, streaked and pattered with rain. The visual and audio displays were so convincing it felt to Wikus like he was back home in his own bed, dozing off to South Africa’s seasonal storms.
“Sleep well,” Yeen said kindly, making certain his human was comfortable.
“I will,” Wikus replied, drowsy and appreciative, “you, too....”