To Prove the Existence

The air tastes wrong and feels thick and gooey on my skin. Like the atmosphere inside the entire station has been replaced with melted rotting cheese. I cough, and pain roils my entire body. There’s not much time left for me. For anyone. We’re all choking to death on air spoiled by a chemical leaching from the asteroid and into the station via the mineshafts, a chain reaction hopping from molecule to molecule, converting oxygen into this poison. With no more flicker-crabs to cleanse it like they’d been doing from the moment oxygen was first pumped into the mining station. Happily chowing down on the air that the chemical in the asteroid rock ruined, transforming it back to breathable oxygen. No one understood or even believed. No one except me.

People never see the flicker-crabs, is why. Twenty years some of the miners and support staff have lived and worked here in this Kuiper Belt company town. Probably they sensed the flicker-crabs’ presence, imagined they heard skittering legs tinkle across metal flooring, carapaces clink between grates. And yet whenever they turned around, the flicker-crabs would slip out of sight. Always behind you, or just beyond your peripheral vision, a fraction of a millimeter into every roving security camera’s blind spot.

People don’t see me much either. Born on the station to a mom who worked a remote excavator in one of the mineshafts, and a dad in HR. Not a lot of time for little Andreas. I didn’t mind, though. So what if I was the first one to the nursery, the last one picked up at night? I didn’t care that I wasn’t seen, I only wanted to be listened to. But no one did. Even when I saw the flicker-crabs for the first time at just four years old.

That’s right: For all the years humanity searched the sky for radio signals, analyzed Martian dirt, it was a kid on an asteroid-mining station who discovered the existence of extraterrestrial life. I’d been lying on the floor, staring straight ahead, ignored, when something flickered past, so fast I wasn’t convinced I actually saw anything. I waited. Another flicker, and I couldn’t suppress a startle. Nothing crossed my field of vision after that, but I was certain of what I’d seen. Something barely large enough to be visible to the naked eye, like a louse or mite. Or the tiny crabs that lived in the aquaculture tanks, consuming algae so its unchecked growth wouldn’t suffocate the fish. That was what the flickering little alien reminded me of most. Hence the nomenclature.

No one believed me, of course. Not then and not when I got older, finished mandatory schooling and leapt into studying biology and chemistry, searching for evidence of the flicker crabs’ existence in earnest. Maybe you can focus your research on the Easter Bunny next, colleagues laughed. Maybe you can discover how Santa’s reindeer fly. By then I was used to not being believed. No one believed me when I realized that the rusty streaks on the asteroid rock mom brought home for me one day when I was six were really alien hieroglyphics. No one believed me when I discovered that the solar arrays weren’t operating at peak efficiency because the maintenance techs only half-fixed problems so they could go back out later and collect overtime pay. No one believed me when I witnessed Mr. Tsiu sneak into a vacant apartment with his teenage daughter’s best friend. Proof. Everyone demands proof. Like something doesn’t exist until they can see it, touch it.

Well, they can do that now. Extraterrestrial bodies lie scattered around me as I slump to the floor. Shimmering like snowflakes, steepled carapaces reflecting and refracting light. The flicker-crabs don’t merely shift out of sight; their bodies provide natural stealth, the opposite of drawing the eye. If they weren’t all dead, no one would have ever seen them. No one would have ever believed me.

The gas was only supposed to knock them out, immobilize them so I could capture a couple, examine them, prove their existence. The accompanying acclaim was a secondary concern. But I hadn’t sussed out the flicker-crabs’ biology as well as I’d believed. The gas was too strong. Of course I didn’t mean to exterminate them all. To poison the air. To kill everyone in the station. All I wanted was for people to believe me.

I guess now they do.

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