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Brachyura

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Valentine Divergence story universe


Let's get the important things out of the way first. At the moment the world changed, the people in the area I was in were initially almost unchanged. Since very few people were driving vehicles, and those who were doing so were traveling slowly nobody was killed.

All our hair, on our heads, everywhere else did immediately fall out. It just fell away; beards, head hair, body hair. We were left completely smooth.

Those of us near to the main village at the time heard the crashing of a passenger aircraft into the sea many miles away, and that was our queue that something had happened. Those working in the hills were just stunned at how smooth their skin had become.

My skin was the smoothest substance I'd ever felt - since my fingers were also smooth it was as if I had been coated in some kind of plastic. Along with Tom and Mary I was at the factory working my shift, and all of us just looked at each other and stared. Mary's long red hair was plaited that day, and her whole plait fell to the floor, her eyebrows and eyelashes cascaded from her face like rain and landed in her lap. And so it was for all of us. Naturally the work we were doing was immediately forgotten. We did all feel the urge to remove our clothing - it simply felt right to do so, and were unashamedly stepped out of our garments, leaving the body hair in our clothes.

On that first day none of us had changed physical appearance particularly, we just had smooth skin and no clothing.

I did not feel the draw of the sea very strongly on that day. None of us in the factory did, but those who were close to the sea felt it very strongly. Randolph was on a boat in the harbour, and was first to enter the water - he took his clothes off, drove his boat back to the dock, tied it up, entered the blue and clear ocean, and ducked under.

We all knew what to do when any kind of crisis happened - with only 12 people living on the island we knew to go to the island hall. After a couple of hours we'd stopped what we were doing and all had gathered there. All our experiences were the same, and we sat around in the sun outside the hall, broke out the emergency tea and sat about in the sun. We were worried about Randolph and were about to send out a search party when he walked up the beach and we were shocked to see what had happened to him.

"What happened to you?" Katy asked. It really doesn't matter what Katy, or indeed any of us did, or how old we were, the change was so profound over the next few days that we became all but unrecognisable.

He told us about that happened when he went for a swim.

The water felt differently wonderful, it was like swimming in liquid silk, and he had been in it for 90 minutes just lost in his own thoughts. He spent most of the time lying on his back on the sand, water lapping over him, looking up at the sky and not really noticing the changes that were happening. By the time he felt ready to get out of the water, things had become different. On that first day, and for all of us immediately after our first session in the water two main changes happened - our fingers fused together, and our toes fused together. It did not hurt, it just was inconvenient to pick anything up and hold it.

The eleven of us looked Randolph over, and he was fine with letting us feel his skin. He did look odd without his hair. His hands felt like they were in mittens, the skin of his fingers had grown together.

Beth was the first to suggest that the rest of us went to the beach, and so we did, and all experienced the silky satin feeling of the water. Whatever was happening to our bodies seemed to be accepted by our minds, because it was not traumatic - we just laid back and enjoyed it.

--

"Mary, I feel stiff" is what I wanted to say, but my jaws and lips were very stiff to operate.

I had just woken up, the glimmer of the early morning sun painted a hue in the East and I raised my head with great difficulty to see the view from our bedroom window.

"Oh, so do I" she mumbled barely making sense.

Movement was difficult, and I was able only with great effort to reach over and press the light switch on the bedside lamp.

Every movement was hard. My limbs had changed overnight. The lamplight fell on changed hands. My thumb was bigger and more pointed, and my fingers larger and no longer articulate - from wrist to fingertip the movement was frozen in the unmistakable shape of a crab claw. Both my arms were longer, about the length that my legs used to be. It was the same for Mary. With a lot of effort I sat up, in a cascade of white powder.

Both of us struggled to a sitting position. At every joint, as we moved, our skin cracked and fell away like talc. It took great effort to move against what felt like a hardening plastercast. It felt like every joint was stiff and we needed to break the crust just to move. All feeling was gone from our - well it was hard to describe it as skin - shell, except at the joints where we could still feel pain. Our faces were also covered in a hard shell, and only by exercising our jaw muscles against the stiffness did we regain full speech. Our eyes and eyelids needed work to open and blink. Having broken the crust we could talk and look about. Our ears were hardening into solid human ears on the sides of our bald heads.

Mary's breastplate followed her female figure pretty exactly, and she said the same way that I was feeling, it was like wearing a body cast.

I moved to the edge of the bed and then the next change became clear - there were no human feet at the end of my legs - my feet had become hard pointed spikes, a vestigial nub showed where my big toe had once been , the rest of my 'foot' was a long thin hard, slightly curved appendage ending in a spike, about three times as long as my foot had been. I worked at the ankle joint and more powder fell away. There was no movement to be made in the long spike.

"Is it even going to be possible to walk on this?" I asked out loud. It was the same with her feet - long sharp spikes.

It turned out not to be possible to walk as a biped. We could get about using our claws and spikes on all fours, and so practiced 'walking' around the room - powder still falling from us where we were using the joints in a new way. Our upright walking knees were not helpful on that first day as they worked in the wrong direction for walking on 'hands' and 'feet', or as we started calling them 'claws' and 'spikes'.

Fixing breakfast was difficult just because movement was awkward - the claws had good feedback to help know how hard something was being held, but manipulating a cereal box, bowl, a plastic milk bottle was difficult. Eventually between us we had food in our bowls and were sitting at our kitchen table, spikes on the floor in as conventional a manner as we could muster. We had not thought through how to eat it, as claws are good for holding things that go directly in the mouth, but are not good at holding cutlery. We figured the easiest way was to hold the bowl and eat from the side. It was a bit messy, but at least we had human teeth and tongue.

We wondered if it were possible to make love - and now, looking back, neither of us have any idea what gave both of us that idea because with all the changes going on it seemed to be a weird thing to think about. Nevertheless we gave it a go, and while it was difficult, and there was a lot of dust produced as exoskeleton was cracked off to make way for skin, it did work. It turned out that only about half of the island had that idea that morning, and that's how we ended up with two slightly different tribes between the twelve of us.

Mary was bothered about the bodycast, and wondered if it were possible to crack it so that spinal movement and twisting were possible. Since she had always been quite flexible, she began working on it and after a while there were cracks appearing in her torso, flecks of shell began to fall away and after an hour of intense workout she had segmented her body armor into four plates; a breastplate and three sections around her waist. I truly wish I had made the effort, but I did not feel such strong willpower at the time so I sat about, flexed what I thought I needed and watched her workout. I now have a solid and rigid bodyshell, and she has a much more flexible torso.

Later in the day we made ourselves slowly to the hall, picking where to put claw and spike carefully. We had agreed the previous day to meet for lunch every day. Mary was having an easier time of it that I was, simply because of the additional torso movement she'd gained. It is impossible to carry anything in the claws while travelling - the claw is used by us as a leg, so we resolved to fashion some kind of bag to carry things in.

Everyone was in the same stage of change - apart from Randolph - he was a couple of hours ahead of us and had already been to the seaside that morning. He had changed colour. His shell was taking on the dark red and brown of a crab, his claws had turned black and his 'skin' at the joints was jet black. He encouraged us to the water and we slowly made our way to the shore and into the sea. The weightlessness was a relief, and the water felt really good. Using the spikes in the sand and pebbles made perfect sense - they are adapted perfectly in the waters of the shore, and Kate was first to catch live seafood which she reported to be delicious. We all began to scavenge for food. I found a sea crab, and while it felt slightly wrong to tear it to pieces and pick out the fresh flesh, the drive to eat it beat my revulsion of eating 'one of my own'. I was changing colour, as were we all. The seafood was delicious.

We also did not notice as we moved about in the shallows that the joints in our legs were rearranging. When we came out of the sea later that day our legs moved correctly for our bodies. Yes we had firmly lost bipedal movement, and now moved on four limbs. Four limbs, the front strong with large claws, the back fully articulated hips and now reverse knees, ankles and long spikes for feet. It was possible to lie with our chests to the ground with all four limbs upwards, with our knees and elbows high above our backs and then raise our bodies by straightening all four limbs at the same time to leave our heads at about our original height. And we retained the torso shape of humans - there was no hiding that we were originally human, our eyes framed by black and hairless skin, our mouths and lips black, with human teeth and tongue, as if we were wearing a close fitting head helmet. Our necks a series of hooped shell and black flexible skin. Those who had worked hard had segmented torsos, more like a lobster, while some like myself had a single breastplate and back, something like a turtle. It was obvious who had and had not made love - the difference in both sexes was obvious. None of us tested our skeletons to see what would happen if we broke the shell, but we did have a sensation if a lot of stress was put on a shell - at one point Katy got a spike caught in a rock crevice and reported that she could tell that there was stress in the limb.

Those couples who had 'human' sex on that first day became a different species to those who did not. We were able to continue to enjoy face to face - as it were - lovemaking with recognisably human organs, and it turned out that there are many more and different ways of approaching a satisfying position for both of us. Those who did not see what would happen on that first morning discovered in time that they reproduced the way that sea crabs reproduce, which is quite differently. We were comfortable on our backs, sides or fronts, but walked front downwards due to the reverse knees. Only by holding onto something is it possible to stand 'upright' - we are creatures who are most comfortable on all fours.

Our colouring continued to change, we all became darker that evening, and our shells continued to harden and strengthen. The cracked edges where we had worked against the hardening shell rounded and smoothed to accommodate movement. Having made our way back to our house, Mary again did her exercises and continued to work on her flexibility - inventing completely different, non human exercises to maintain a supple body. I followed her lead, but it was too late for my bodyshell, it had hardened beyond my, indeed our ability to break it.

The next morning, and for a couple more mornings after that we woke up feeling stiff again, and had to repeat talking, movements, exercises and lovemaiking to break the shell - the powder now sloughing from us a dark brown - every day a little less. Our skin was leathery and thick at the joints, and whatever was going on underneath the joint was a hybrid of our original joints and the exoskeleton. No longer thinking of it as walking, traveling on land became more instinctive, and it did become easier to move sideways than forwards and backwards. Each day in those few days we would meet as a cast at lunchtime and forage together for live food around the island - we were faster moving in the water, and one of us snatched a passing morsel of fish on the third day which was shared between us. By the third day the changes had finished. No additional limbs were grown, no tails erupted from our rears and the flexibility remained.

We all very much still liked living in our houses, sleeping on our beds, and we adapted our homes to suit our new situation. We transitioned to eating exclusively from the sea, and spent time arranging ourselves to benefit from our slightly divergent talents. We are all much longer than before if we lie down and stretch out, and I think I'm not so warm bodied as before. We made bags for carrying things, and could tie a bundle under our torsos fairly easily.

Tom had always exercised more than I had, and as a crab was much stronger, flexible and had much more patience than me. He naturally became head hunter of the cast. His ability to stay stationary for long periods of time made him an extraordinary catcher of larger prey, and he became our cast leader. Mary was fast - our fastest and could react incredibly quickly, catching fast prey sometimes apparently instinctively. Beth was small and slight and could hold her breath for longer than the rest of us, which allowed her to forage in deeper water than the rest of us.

Randolph was able to take his boat out into the bay, soon the diesel was going to run out and there was no more to have, so he anchored it a way off shore and we used his ropes to make a ropeway that hung in the water from the quay to the boat that we could pull ourselves along, allowing us a deeper platform and a net for catching food.

The idyllic lifestyle was something we got quite used to, and we realised that we had turned in on ourselves and our lives had reduced to a happy and comfortable survival until a raiding party from our new neighbours intruded on our lives...

Info icon.pngBrachyura
Author:Sdw