CRAB-SHELL by T A Ciccarone

Being bonded to a Crab-shell was a choice that Margaux Delacroix didn’t know she was making when she read the old science fiction story at thirteen. The girl did know that she would one day explore deep space.

The tale told of a group of space travelers that needed no ships or atomic drives. They wore suits that encased their bodies as they traveled freely in space, exploring the galaxy. The invention of the Crab-Shell made the scenario a reality. Margaux felt special when she signed the contract to be one of the twenty-four elite interstellar explorers. The grueling work paid off as she became the top pick from the Space Force Academy, where she enjoyed the distinctions of number one in her class and best all-time cadet.

There were drawbacks. The Crabs, as they were referred to by the medical techs, would never interface with another human directly, except the medical team that did the scraping. They would never eat; the Crab-shell supplied all nutrients as it gathered atoms in the deep of space and processed them into nourishment. The user would never breathe open air again, never procreate, and never change their mind, thus abandoning the shell. Communication was in the form of a downloaded data-stream. Every seven years they were called back to Enceladus Alpha Base, where they would be anesthetized into a heart-stopping coma for the two-day ordeal of scraping maintenance. This procedure ensured the Crab’s survival and another tour of duty.

Margaux agreed to be a Crab on her twenty-first birthday and often weighed her choice’s rashness. How could she have known? She now lay in the sterile surgical chamber, about to undergo her thirty-second scraping, and she desperately wanted to, needed to, speak to someone face to face. Margaux Delacroix, the last remaining Crab, was 245 years old.

Margaux wanted to see the galaxy and seen it she had. The development of Trans-Dimensional Warp Technology was at the basis of the shell’s assembly. It allowed instantaneous, faster than light-speed teleportation of living objects of a certain mass that coincidentally was about the maximum size and weight of a small female.

Margaux had seen sights which, up to that time, were previously

only imaged in the deep space ultraviolet and infra-red photos. In her long life, Margaux had seen space breams migrating off the shores of Orion, exo-planets a hundred times the size of Jupiter and the Eagle nebula star estuaries in the great pillars of creation. All this beauty paled as she thought about her imprisonment in this unending dreadfulness. It was the black holes that fascinated her the most. They seemed to beckon her, offering a blessed peace.

The assistants attending the scraping were not the average medical assemblage. All the techs had to be of a certain ilk with surgical training of the highest caliber. The assistants also had to control their gag reflex completely. Sure, the smell of the body that inhabited the Crab-shell was fetid and smelled like offal; they would never actually breathe the odor due to the chamber ventilators, but the sight of the interface between the shell and the body was disturbing in a fundamentally human way.

Margaux’s entire derma, save her face, had atrophied as her body interfaced with a million connecting tendrils that bonded the Crab-shell. The scraping would have to be performed meticulously. Any deviations from the stringent protocol would result in a cascading sepsis infection and a waste of the two trillion credit Crab-Shell cost. The Crab could never return to space, and the remaining existence would be comprised of unimaginable agony as it lived out its life in an embryonic cocoon.

The USF, which embodied the seven outpost consortium in Earth’s solar system, saw these drawbacks as minor obstacles when weighed against the Crabs’ data. What was a handful of individuals when compared to the future of Humankind?

The Crabs discovered a myriad of sentient alien species and a thousand more planets that harbored life. Where Humanity would migrate, as they ranged through the galaxy like a fungus, was no longer in doubt. The reconnaissance dictated that Humanity could go everywhere, which altered USF’s plans for the distant future. USF was poised to develop a Large-Mass Interdimensional Transportation Drive, and data collected by the Crabs would point the way to these new worlds.

Red Bowen, the senior surgeon team leader, finished stimulating the Crab-shell tendrils and the connections interfaced perfectly. He couldn’t help but notice that the face in the chamber portal had no doubt been beautiful before her confinement in the shell. Red felt old as he stared through the chamber’s Visi-portal at the perfect face of Margaux Delacroix and sighed. This scraping was the third and probably be the last he would perform on Margaux.

Red had never agreed with the Crab-shell program, even though it began long before he’d been born. What kind of life could this be with no sensory stimulation other than through the faceplate? This was the first time that a Crab would respond verbally rather than using the data stream. Red had developed the medical protocol for Margaux, personally, and felt as if he knew her. He harbored no small degree of curiosity about what Margaux would say. The team eased her out of the induced deep coma.

The faceplate was poised to be sealed. Margaux would be allowed twelve seconds to speak. It wasn’t much, but perhaps it would be enough. Margaux Delacroix opened her eyes and stared up at Red Bowen, uttering a single phrase. The twelve seconds had eroded all too quickly as the faceplate came down, sealing the shell for another seven years. The Crab-shell was transported to deep space to resume the mission.

Red Bowen lay in bed that night and thought about the phrase that the woman, who had once been more human and less machine, uttered. It was only two words, but Red could not get them out of his head as they reverberated.

She said, imploring, “Kill me.”

About the Author: T. A. Ciccarone is an American author, avid poetry and non-fiction and science fiction reader, and a multifaceted individual who brings a plethora of professional experiences to his creative endeavors. He has worked as an entrepreneur and owned several businesses. He has been a fishmonger, poet, memoir writer, chef-restaurateur, auctioneer, fencing instructor, painter, antique dealer, moonshiner, media announcer, and stand-up comic, to name a few.

Ciccarone, a father of four, lives in Southern Connecticut, with his wife of 46 years, Mary Anne and Sunday, his Yorkshire terrier.

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