Sk-7. Crab Communication
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The greatest struggle of first contact, naturally, was the language barrier. It was hard enough for different cultures on Earth to communicate with each other on first encounter, and that only involved language variations among one species that all arose from the same evolutionary ancestor. When encountering a species from another world entirely, it was even odds as to whether enough commomality existed to allow communication in the first place.

Even so, Sveta was optimistic. She’d already managed to establish baseline communication with the crabs via pictographs. That, along with their biological forms arising from carcinization, indicated they were similar enough to humans that mutual understanding was possible, moreso than if they were something exotic like beings of sentient gas clouds or living gravitational anomalies. Furthermore, they clearly communicated through auditory means, if their shell-rapping was anything to go by, accompanied by changing the colors of their carapace. Sveta figured, with her hyperprocessors that were thousands of times more powerful than the human brain, she could suss out the crab language sooner or later.

The lack of a common frame of reference to use as a starting point was a problem though. Sveta wasn’t joking when she wished fora crab Rosetta Stone.

Presently, the conversation went something like this: Sveta would display a pictogram of something, such as a cube, and one of the crabs (typically the slightly shorter one) would rap out the accompanying word in their language. Sveta would echo that rapping back, then move on to the next pictogram. It was, all in all, a tedious process.

Especially so for Sveta’s pilot, Hunter Kretzer. The adrenaline of the battle had long since burned off, and he had nothing to do but sit in a corner of the crab’s ice cave and twiddle his thumbs. This was made doubly uncomfortable by the larger crab settling down next to him and staring.

Well, Hunter couldn’t blame him. After all, for the crab, Hunter was the first biological human they’d ever seen. Still, the pair of eyestalks peering made him ever-so-slightly self-aware, and he crawled inside his skin.

“Hello,” Hunter gingerly said to the crab.

“Rap tap tap taptaptap brrt click clonk drrr!” the crab rapped back.

“Boy, you said it,” Hunter replied, and went back to twiddling his thumbs.

Eventually the crab lost interest and went to do something else, and Hunter passed the time by scrolling up a cinema from Sveta’s database on the HUD screen of his Inertia Suit helmet. He was halfway through Samhain 5: The Skeleton War when Sveta let out a shriek of joy.

“Hunter!” she cried out. “They have computers!” She was pointing to a strange holographic display, shaped like a sphere and seeming to be made of floating water.

“Yeah?” Hunter replied, reluctantly freezing the cinema. He did try to mask his boredom, not that it mattered much since Sveta kept constant track of his vital signs through his Inertia Suit. She was polite enough to not comment.

“Yeah! I just need to figure out how to interface with this thing, and… oh, I see! Same binary framework as the pictograph transmission, basic machine code. Time to analyze the OS. Oh yeah, now we’re cooking with gas! Is this their BIOS? No, not quite. Let’s see how…” Sveta hyperfocused, rambling on and on as she did some sort of wireless computer thing, while Hunter and the two crabs stared at her in bewilderment.

“Taptap rrrrrap click click donk rap tap rrrrrrap?” the smaller crab asked, their carapace flashing green.

Hunter nodded. “Yeah, she’s always like that.”

“Brrrrrrrrrt,” the crab replied, flashing orange.

“Ohohoho! OHOHOHOHOHO!” Sveta cackled, planting her hands on her hips. “They have a basal reader in here!”

Hunter tilted his head. “A what?”

“A book to teach children how to read. One moment. I just downloaded the crab equivalent of an encyclopedia into my brain. Collating data.” Sveta’s eyes unfocused as her hyperprocessors went to work, quickly progressing in proficiency in the crab’s language. In two seconds, she’d gone from toddler to college graduate, metaphorically speaking, and she grinned in triumph as she turned to the crabs.

She opened her mouth, and a series of perfectly replicated clicks and clacks emitted from it. “Hello there!” she said in fluent Crab. “To repeat what I said when we first met… we come in peace!”


The crabs were, needless to say, stunned at how quickly Sveta mastered their language. Apparently speedrunning first contact hadn’t been on their agenda for the day. Sveta, for her part, set up a live audio translation feed via Hunter’s helmet so he could talk to the crabs as well.

“You downloaded our ENTIRE computer network?” the smaller crab asked in shock, their carapace flashing a light shade of purple. “How did you even interface with it?”

“We were exchanging pictograms for hours, remember?” Sveta answered matter-of-factly. “The binary protocols you used to encode those are like the ones your computer networks use, giving me a baseline to work with. As for my speed, I’m a computer myself… a digital lifeform known as an artificial intelligence. Hence, learning your language was as simple as interfacing with your own computer and figuring it out from there. I am designated Sveta, by the way.”

“I am Engineer-32459, or E-59 for short.” the larger crab said.

“And I am Astronomer-8966, shortened to A-66,” the smaller crab added. “What do Svetas do?”

Hunter shot her a quizzical look, and she switched back to speaking in Russian for a moment. “According to the information I downloaded, they don’t have personal names. Instead they identify themselves based on what they do. So, Engineer-32459 is the 32,459th currently active member of the Engineer’s Guild, and ditto for Astronomer-8966.”

“What happens if they change careers?” Hunter asked.

“Then they change names,” Sveta replied, before switching back to speaking Crab. “Our designations are different from yours, more abstract, and we bear them for longer periods of time. That said, my namesake is an old battle rifle known as the SVT-40, or Sveta for short, that was widespread during the Great Patriotic War. As I myself am a weapon,” she jerked a thumb to the Gravity Frame standing outside the cave’s entrance, “the designation seemed appropriate, even if I fight Sarcophage instead of Nazis.”

“So your name means weapon,” the larger E-59 said, flashing green, “yet you have no number?”

Sveta nodded. “Correct. I have a secondary designation, Levesque, which is taken from the woman I married, but no number. As I said, our designations are more abstract than yours.” She pronounced ‘Levesque’ as a human might, not yet having a direct translation method for proper names with more abstract meanings, which seemed to confuse the crabs slightly.

“And Hunter?” A66 asked, peering down at the pilot. “They are named for their prowess at killing edible prey animals?”

Hunter shrugged. “Not really. My parents just thought it sounded cool.”

The crabs exchanged a look that neither Hunter nor Sveta could decode. “I see,” A-66 said. “There are many differences between our species, confusing us greatly. However, there are many similarities as well.”

Sveta nodded. “The biggest similarity being that we have a common enemy. I’m hoping that means we can find a common ground.” She flashed her most winsome smile, which the crabs obviously failed to understand. “A-Anyway, shall we talk?”


The conversations that followed were, by-and-large, extremely tedious… but Hunter, Sveta, A-66 and E-59 found them riveting. Hunter and Sveta took turns explaining different things about Earth, her cultures and peoples, the USSE, the devastating war against the Sarcophage and the wide variety of powerful weapons humanity had developed to fight them. A-66 and E-59, in turn, explained their own culture and history, culminating in their complete rout by the Sarcophage and current dire predicament.

“It would seem your species is used to waging war,” E-59 said warily, carapace mottling to a darkened blue.

Sveta nodded. “It’s a relatively common trait of humanity, yes, and not something that we’re proud of, either. Even with the world united under one government, conflict persists. Some philosophers think warmaking may be an intransigent component of human nature.”

E-59’s carapace darkened further. “Then how does that make you better than the Enemy?”

“E-59!” yelped A-66, flashing purple. “That’s rude! You can’t just ask them that!”

Sveta held up her hand. “It’s quite alright, they asked a fair question. For starters, let’s acknowledge the obvious. Unlike the Enemy, we’re here talking to you instead of trying to destroy you. We are also here at your request, because of the message you sent us. You desire our strength to help save your world, correct?”

A-66’s own carapace darkened as well. “We… As a species, Sveta, we are not like you. We haven’t fought a war in centuries, since the Last Great Battle between the Guilds and the Journeyclaws. We do not make weapons like you do. A generation ago, we would have taken pride in that fact… but our lack of weapons is the reason the Enemy crushed us with no contest. All our pacifism was for naught.”

Sveta shook her head emphatically. “Don’t say that! You achieved something here that humanity has dreamed of for millennia: true world peace! You can’t measure the value of your society against the skewed barometer of the Sarcophage. They’re like a natural disaster, an earthquake or tsunami. Your values are in no way diminished by the devastation they wrought.”

A-66 seemed to droop. “That’s very kind of you to say, but we’re the ones asking you for help. By any objective measure of our two societies, you have succeeded due to your propensity for violence, and we have failed because of our propensity for peace. In much the same way a building without gel foundations crumbles in an oceanquake, a society without martial strength crumbles before the Enemy.”

There was an awkward silence after that, a profoundly glum one. Sveta desperately searched for a way to break it, then hit upon an idea. Everyone looked at her, startled, as she slammed her fist into her hand and broke out into a huge grin.

“My crab friends, let me phrase it this way. Our species are vastly different, in ethics and values as well as in biology. Those differences have lead humans to be more successful in war, albeit at great cost, but that’s not the sole measure of worth. Crab societies have also developed technologies we humans could never have dreamt of!”

A-66 regarded Sveta skeptically. “Like what?”

“Like your FTL communications technology, for example,” Sveta continued, gesturing enthusiastically. “Even our most brilliant scientist, inventor of AI and warp drive alike, was never able to unlock the secrets to sending comm signals faster-than-light. The best stopgap she came up with was quantum entanglement, which requires a central switchboard of entangled molecules and becomes entirely ineffective at distances over a half-lightyear. You solved a technological problem we never could!”

“So?” A-66 groused. “Our FTL telescopes did us little good against the Enemy. It’s a meaningless achievement.”

Surprisingly, it was Hunter who spoke next, albeit in a soft murmur. “Sum of its parts…”

Everyone turned to face him quizzically. “Pardon?” A-66 asked.

Hunter blushed slightly. “Sorry, didn’t meant to interrupt. I just remembered something my friend Lyle told me… a quote from Aristotle, one of Earth’s great philosophers. ‘A whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’”

Sveta very much wanted to point out that quote was not directly attributable to Aristotle, but decided not to ruin the moment. Instead she looked on Hunter proudly, watching the nervous, shy pilot peek out of his shell.

“I think that applies here,” Hunter continued slowly. “Humans built big robots and spaceships, and crabs built FTL comm arrays and telescopes that can observe distant star systems in real-time. We each created something the other could not. On Earth, we’ve learned to embrace the diversity of our many different peoples, even ones that used to hate each other, because united we are stronger. Now, for the first time, we have an opportunity to unite with an alien species. We have our differences, but together we can be greater than either one of us alone. Together, we can kick the Sarcophage’s ass all the way back to the galactic core!”

E-59, who had been strangely silent for most of the conversation, pattered over to Hunter. Their shell brightened to an icy-white blue, and they extended one of their fineclaws to the pilot. Hunter shrank back a bit, but looked the larger crab square in the eyestalk and extended his own hand to touch the point of the claw.

“I like you, little trench worm,” E-59 clicked and boomed. “Sveta is hyperactive and eloquent, but you are grounded and forthright. As an Engineer, I find your practical perspective refreshing.”

“I… I d-don’t…” Hunter stammered, unsure of how to take the compliment.

“Well done indeed,” Sveta transmitted directly into Hunter’s helmet so only he could hear. “Lyle would be proud.” That last remark prompted a huge grin, which Sveta observed with smug satisfaction.

“My pilot’s insight is spot-on,” Sveta said to the crabs with a nod. “The Radiolaria Galactica, our mothership, will be here in four days. We plan to completely purge this star system of Sarcophage, then discuss plans for an alliance between our two species.”

A-66 flashed ice-blue. “I look forward to it. May this meeting be the first step in a long and prosperous partnership.” They took a step forwards, extending their own fineclaws, then puzzled as neither Sveta nor Hunter reacted. They both seemed strangely distant, their mouths twisted downwards in frowns. A dazzle of red lights flicked around in Hunter’s helmet as his eyes darted back and forth, tracking something the crabs couldn’t see.

“Is something the matter?” A-66 asked, their carapace darkening with worry.”

“Yeah,” Sveta said, her voice wavering. “We may not have four days. I just picked up something very, very bad on my sensors.”

“What is it?” E-56 asked, carapace turning dark blue-black.

Sveta pointed to the cave entrance. “Better if you see for yourselves.”


The sky was gone.

In place of its usual comforting red glow was a wall of pulsating flesh, composed of Sarcophage swarms incalculable in number. Not even Red Origin, the sun of Crabworld, could penetrate the oncoming surge of undulating monstrosities. The crabs were speechless, whereas Sveta and Hunter both wore looks of grim determination.

“Looks like a surge,” Sveta said, her eyes flicking back and forth as she accessed sensor data. “Not quite Great Surge levels, but still far more than a single Gravity Frame can handle.”

“We’d better get up there.” Hunter added, striding towards Sveta’s cockpit.

“Wait!” E-56 cried out. “Why is this happening?”

“Likely a combination of your use of the FTL telescope and our arrival via warp jump,” Sveta explained. “Based on our observations of their behavior, we theorized the Sarcophage target any usage of faster-than-light technology.”

“You have to flee, then!” A-66 urged. “We have no desire to lure you to your deaths! With your warp drive, you can escape and…”

Hunter pivoted on his heel and marched straight over to A-66, folding his arms over his chest “Run from the Sarcophage? NEVER. These motherfuckers destroyed Mars, nearly annihilated Earth, killed BILLIONS. I’ll be in a shallow grave before I let them destroy another innocent world.”

Sveta shrugged. “What my pilot said. We have a lot of suffering and blood to repay them for, and now we’re adding yours to the list.”

“But… what if you die?” A-66 fretted.

“Then we die,” Hunter said. “We’re soldiers. Dying to protect you from annihilation would be an honor.”

“That said,” Sveta added, “I have no plans to let either myself or my pilot die today. May I access your FTL telescope, please?”


Far on the outskirts of the star system, beyond the bow shock of Red Origin (aka Barnard’s Star), the FTL space telescope buzzed to life. With a single smooth motion of its flywheels, it aimed its prow straight at Earth and unleashed a distress signal. The pulsing tachyon-like particles zipped in and out of reality as they skipped along towards their destination… a point immediately behind Earth’s moon.

Sveta managed to repeat the distress signal fourteen times before the telescope was unceremoniously impaled by a red-glowing spine.

“The Sarcophage destroyed the telescope,” Sveta announced. She’d left her Telepresence Doll behind to keep an open line of communication with E-56 and A-22 while her main Gravity Frame body prepared to blast towards the Sarcophage swarm with Hunter aboard.

“Did your people receive the transmission?” A-66 asked.

“Dunno. If they did, and they launch immediately, it will still take them two days to reach us at their top speed,” Sveta answered. “That’s how long we have to hold out.”

“…Is that even possible?!” E-56 exclaimed, flashing purple.

“Well…” Sveta mused while tapping her chin, “the newest generation of Foxbat Gravity Frames are incredibly advanced. In addition to the warp drive, I’ve got energy shields, dozens of battleship-class positron weapons and 100 embarked Strike Fins. That said, a two-day battle will definitely take a toll on Hunter; I’ll have to use stims to keep him awake. We’ll do our damndest to hold out and keep your world safe until the Radiolaria gets here.”

A-66 and E-59’s carapaces both darkened to a deep shade of blue, interspersed with streaks of purple. “We cannot thank you enough for trying to save our world,” E-59 clicked softly. “I am not personally religious, but I shall pray for your success regardless.”

“If you do choose to pray, please direct it towards a certain blue-skinned Goddess who loves puns,” Sveta said, ignoring the bluish error codes flashing at the fringes of her vision. “She might be gracious enough to tweak things in our favor.”

The crabs looked at each other in confusion, while Sveta simply wore a fraught, knowing smile.


The Sarcophage swarm massed just outside Crabworld’s atmosphere, coalescing and preparing to descend in force; it was a smaller grouping than any of the Great Surges directed at Earth, only because they were facing a far weaker enemy. Despite this, if they succeeded it would end the crab species once and for all.

With Hunter’s determination-steadied hands at her controls, Sveta blasted upwards towards the swarm, barely noticing as the hydrogen-helium atmosphere of Crabworld fell away. Simultaneously, she displayed a battle plan on her holoscreen.

“Our best bet is to warp past them, then attack from behind in a series of hit-and-run raids designed to draw their attention. We have no chance of defeating them in direct battle, so we need to engage asymmetrically and hopefully maneuver them away from Crabworld. We can make regular warp jumps to keep them focused on us and escape any hairy situations.”

Hunter nodded. “Roger that.”

Sveta focused on her pilot for a moment. There was none of his earlier apprehension; he had already popped his battle cherry, so to speak, so the second time was less intimidating than the first. Still, she felt it was her role to provide some reassurance.

“Hunter, we will survive this,” Sveta said. “I didn’t expect your trial-by-fire to be against a whole surge, but you’ve trained long and hard… and I’ve got your back. We just have to hold out for two days.”

Hunter nodded wordlessly.

“I pray for your glory in battle, my pilot,” Sveta intoned ceremonially. Hunter responded by twisting up her throttle. Her gravity fins glowed bright purple as they accelerated towards the swarm, with the fate of Crabworld heavy on their shoulders.

There was a flash of purple light as they completed their first warp jump. A moment later, the Sarcophage swarm was illuminated from behind by bright blue flashes of positron fire. E-59 and A-66 watched this spectacular light show with wide eyes, hoping their potential saviors could hold out against the relentless swarm.

And boom, we're back!

Apologies for the two-month hiatus, my dear readers. I didn't mean to go so long between chapters, but my meatspace job has been a real nightmare these past two months. Thankfully, the worst is behind me so I'm hoping to redouble on writing for the rest of the year.

That said, I wasn't completely idle. In addition to adding another chapter to my ongoing fantasy story Lesbian Demon Lord, I also added four chapters to its side story The Demonic Guide to Self-Improvement. Check them out if you haven't already! And if you like my writing, why not join my Discord server? It's full to the brim with cute queer folks who discuss everything from gacha games to trans fiction in a cozy, demon-themed environment!