“The Sheila Wulf Chitinoid Sessions” is NOT about problems with space crabs. I just wanted to play with the mistake we make about assuming that other life (and people) have to be the same as us, looking and behaving like something familiar to us instead of something alien. And if we can have tools and tricks to help us communicate with them, why can’t they?
Here’s the Blurb
The things you run into in space…
Fresh from the University, Sheila Wulf thinks she’s made her mark when she discovers an alien species, but her fifteen minutes of xenopological fame seems to be wasted on a tribe of uncooperative crabs. Could anything be worse? Try working for her. Read it to see what I mean…
And Here’s This Week’s Excerpt
Sheila Wulf stood there in her designer pressure suit, her grav-boots planted wide and her arms crossed. I was thinking: I’ve been out here too long, she almost looks good to me. If the suit wasn’t so bulky. If she wasn’t my boss. If she wasn’t Sheila…
“How could something like that just fall off?” she asked.
How can a university education leave someone so ignorant?
I had my glove gripping the hole where the stabilizer was supposed to be, just in case my grav-boots failed. I know most pilots don’t care about floating around, but it’s not one of my favorite things – even with the suit’s built-in microburst propulsion to rescue me from being lost in space.
“It didn’t fall off,” I said. “It would have drifted, and things don’t drift off that fast on their own.”
“Exactly!” Sheila said, as though I’d just made her point. “So where is it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Steven, you didn’t take it, did you?”
“Of course not,” Steven answered from inside the ship.
“And we know you didn’t do it, or you wouldn’t be making such a stink,” I said, and then voiced the only other possibility. “It must have been your crabs.”
“That’s stupid – what would they do with it? And they’re not crabs; they’re Chitinoids,” Sheila said over the radio as she stomped back to the airlock; I swear she left the grav on just so she could do that. “You damn well better find it!”
“I didn’t want to be on this godforsaken rock,” I muttered to no one in particular.
Who was I going to complain to? I knew it wouldn’t matter what I said to Sheila. She was paying for this expedition, which is to say her daddy was; quite a graduation present. Besides, I was just a space jock, hired to pilot her ship; no reason to listen to me. She was bound and determined to make a name for herself in xenopology, but if it was me, I wouldn’t have chosen the Chitinoids as a subject. Sure, she got lucky and discovered the primitives right off, but who on Earth, or anywhere else, cares what those chittering imitations of terrestrial crabs had to say – even if you could trust that the universal translator was getting all the clicks right. I mean really…
“Don’t let her get to you, mate,” Steven said over our private channel. “She’s just frustrated that the Chitinoids aren’t panning out.”
I’d figured it would only be a matter of time before she realized how useless her project was and want to go look for something that might have fifteen seconds of fame in it. The fact that the stabilizer disappeared at the same time she decided to bail was beyond my control; if I’d stayed at the ship like I’d wanted, I’d have caught whoever took it. Instead, I was stuck recording her ridiculous interview sessions for posterity.
“You know, it’s not my fault she can’t do anything with her crabs,” I said.
“Hey, that’s my fiancé you’re talking about, there,” he said trying to sound serious, but I could hear the grin he was wearing.
Just because he was shacking up with her didn’t mean he was stupid enough to marry her. I think she hired him because, deep-down, she knew she really wasn’t good enough to do the kind of credible study she’d need to make a name for herself. She needed Steven’s xeno talents. He needed the job – the sex was a bonus. Of course, he might have been getting attached to Daddy’s money and thinking it might not be such a bad idea.
“Your fiancé? Don’t you go crazy on me, too.”
“Isn’t love just that way?”
“Don’t make me sick. I’m going to look for the stabilizer just in case, but I need you to get on the sector, locate me the nearest spare, and find out how soon they can get it out here. If she wants off, we better find out how long she’s going to be yelling.”
“Will do – Ahhh, there you are, Love,” Steven said, and I could hear Sheila start in about me.
“My, you’re tense,” Steven said. “I know just the thing…”
I shut down my receiver; I didn’t want to hear anything more from either of them. The ship was too small for privacy, so I was going to be out here a while. I swept my helmet lamp around on the ground under the ship. It would have been nice to find some footprints, but this was a fairly small rock, and at two centi-g’s, it would take longer than we’d been there for what little dust there was to settle after our landing.
I secured a line to our landing gear and walked away from the ship until I reached six meters out and could see enough dust again for prints. There were marks from our boots heading back and forth to the crabs’ castle, and some crab scrapes by the smaller tunnel opening they’d used when they came to check us out as we first landed.
I remember how bizarre it was, the way they made these articulated bridges out of their own bodies when they wanted to travel above the surface; that’s how they kept from floating off when they were outside; Steven said Earth ants did something similar. If you hadn’t known that it was a bunch of mind-linked crabs, you would have thought it was the coppery tentacle of some creature hiding below the surface.
No need to rush things. I took my time walking the perimeter, but I didn’t see any more signs. I’d already run through the videos from our couple of ship-mounted cameras, but they showed nothing. Whoever or whatever took it had managed to stay out of the frame.
I made my way back to the ship. Mounting pins had been known to fail, but not while just sitting there. We landed with them intact, and the stabilizer feedback was normal at shutdown.
I was staring at the hole when I noticed a royal blue wisp floating near the opening. It looked like a tiny bit of that seaweed-ish sort of stuff we’d seen the crabs eating. Sheila thought it might be a plant, but she’d never been able to get a sample: no sooner would we spot a strand in the castle than the crabs would scurry to the spot ahead of us to suck it up. Sometimes you’d see a blue wisp seeming to ooze from a crab, like it was a meal trying to escape out of the ridges in their shells, but they’d syphon those up pretty fast, too.
A light finally started flashing on my dashboard; Steven wanted to talk. I opened my link.
“Find anything out there, mate?”
“Nothing helpful,” I said. “I still think the crabs are the most likely culprits.”
“Yeah, but why?”
“How would I know what goes on in those things’ heads? All I know is: it’s gone. What did you find out about a replacement?”
“Maggie says she can swing by with one.”
“Surprised she has one,” I said.
“She doesn’t have one, exactly, but she knows where to get one.”
Maggie was a rock-hopper – a tough, grizzled old merchant who served the “local” miners, construction workers, and colonists. It was amazing how many things she had in that wagon of hers; you could even get a hot sandwich if you wanted. The stabilizer would have been cheaper if she already had one wasting away in her inventory, and she’d probably charge a premium for it as a special order, but what did I care? It wasn’t my money.
“When can we have it?”
“Ten days,” Steven said.
That wasn’t bad, considering how far out we were; I would have said so if I’d had a chance.
“Ten days!” Sheila shouted. “Oh. My. God.”
I wished I’d known she was on the line – I’d assumed it was just Steven. It would have been nice to have a chance to paint it in a better light before…
“No way I’m hanging around here for another ten days!”
“You, know, Miss Wulf, this isn’t your father’s estate,” I said. “Amazon doesn’t make it out here.”
“Well, we’re not waiting for her,” Sheila huffed. “We’re going back to the castle.”
“I thought you didn’t want to do that anymore, Love,” Steven said.
“Well, flyboy thinks they took it, and maybe he’s right,” she said. “We might as well go and find out.”
So – just what ARE those crabs up to? “The Sheila Wulf Chitinoid Sessions” is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
It’s also included in the collection Even More Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND:
Which is itself included in the mega-collection The First Three ‘Things I Could Get OUT OF MY MIND’:
Smashwords (for 50%-off with coupon code RAE50): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/712373?ref=NoTimeToThink
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