Bruce Schneier and the King of the Crabs

SB: This one's called, "Bruce Schneier and the King of the Crabs." It mostly must have really happened, too - it's how we lost Barbados, or Bermuda, or some island down there anyway.

GP: I don't believe we have that one on file. But it would probably be Barbados, because that's still a restricted zone. I don't know why. I thought it was nuclear, though.

SB: Well, may well be I can shed some light on that. I personally don't think this actually happened to Bruce Schneier, but that's the way it was told to me, and it's still worth telling. Story goes, ol' Bruce Schneier was vacationing on Barbados with his dog once. And they'd go out walking on the beach, as men and dogs often do. Well, that dog was some digging kind of a dog, a terrier maybe, and so it had a great old time, running up and down the beach, and digging up the crabs, and old Bruce Schneier would just laugh and laugh, 'cause the dog had so much fun with it and he loved his dog.

So this happened the same way every day for a couple of days, and some days the dog'd find a crab, and some days it wouldn't. But every time it dug one up, it'd bark and jump and carry on, because that crab would just scuttle back and forth all prickly, and the dog had never seen live seafood before, being a northern dog. And Bruce Schneier, he'd just laugh and plot out how the crab could come up with a better security regimen to prevent the dog from finding its way to the crab in the first place. So everybody was happy, 'cept the crabs. But one day, instead of barking and having fun after it found a crab, the dog yelped and cringed back. Bruce was kind of surprised, because that crab looked just like all the others, and they hadn't managed to hurt the dog. So naturally, being the inquisitive kind of guy he was, he took a closer look. That crab was holding a sharpened stick in its claw, and it had jabbed his dog in the nose!

Amazed, he whipped his cell phone out, to take a picture, but those crabs are quick, and lickety-split, it had dropped its stick, and was gone into the surf, never to be seen again. Old Bruce stepped over to the hole, and picked up the stick, and he had to be amazed again -- because it wasn't a stick, it was a sword, and its hilt was formed to the crab's claw!

Sticking that sword into his pocket, Bruce Schneier walked back to his beachfront hotel, and deep in thought, sat down to a fine midday meal to ponder about the matter. Now, any normal man would simply have said, "Huh, a crab with a sword, how about that?" and maybe used it to win a bar bet. But not ol' Bruce Schneier. No, he realized that tool use in a new species was a security threat to human dominance of the planet, and he was bound and determined to find out how serious that threat was.

Reasoning that metalworking must imply an industrial capability, and knowing that fire would be impossible underwater, but figuring that beach crabs can't travel far from salt water due to their breathing through gills, he deduced that there must be at least one very small forge somewhere along the coastal strip of the island. He considered the possibility that the land crabs were working metal, and simply trading with the coastal crabs, but discounted this theory initially, on the grounds that two species ascending at the same time would be improbable.

So his task was obvious. He simply had to find a crab hole along the coast with smoke coming out of it. But an initial survey after lunch quickly showed him that an exhaustive search would be impractical; even a small island like Barbados has miles of coastline, and crab holes are very small. Any normal mortal would have to admit defeat in a situation like that -- but this was Bruce Schneier. He just transformed the problem into a one-way cipher, and decrypted it on his wristwatch!

And as luck would have it, the exact location of the closest smoker was not too far off, so he ran up the beach to the street, hailed a cab, and was there in minutes. Sure enough, as he walked down towards the beach, he could see a good-sized hole in the bank, maybe four inches across, and above it was a little chimney made of pebbles and beach glass, smoking away like you never saw. Looking around, he saw they were well out of town, so it was quite possible that nobody'd even noticed this very small column of smoke yet.

Well, I can tell you! Bruce and his dog were thoroughly on their guard now, so they took things good and slow, but as anybody who's ever been to a beach knows, you just can't sneak up on crabs. And so as softly as the two crept up on that hole, they heard a metallic scrape behind them -- and turning around, they saw that the way back had been blocked by a swarm of armed crabs!

Undaunted, the two mammals continued to approach the hole, and just as they got there, this colossal crab comes out of the hole, and starts chittering away at Bruce's dog. Well, of course, this being a communication difficulty, it was no great problem for Bruce Schneier. Of course, it was beyond even his ability to decrypt the king crab's language on his wristwatch, but fortunately, he was also carrying his phone. And so it wasn't long before he could chat away with the king of the crabs!

Well, the king was mighty surprised to hear that it was the man who was the smart one. The crabs had always assumed that as four-legged animals -- that is, half a crab -- dogs must be smarter than humans -- who, with only two legs, were only a quarter of a crab. Bruce, nonplussed at the king's use of the word "always", even though clearly it was not the case that the crabs of Barbados had always had the knack of working metal, asked that king right out, just how long their history had extended. Turns out the answer was eight days! Eight days before, the crabs had gained intelligence, and they were already working metal! Bruce knew that this didn't bode well for good old Homo sap. All he could figure is that these crabs had been infected by some kind of intelligence-improvement nano or something, although he surely didn't know exactly how that might have happened. He tried to draw the king out a little on that matter, but his royal highness was having nothing of it -- he said he was sorry to be so rude, but there were preparations for war to be made, as their territory was under attack by the monkey nation up the coast, and as he himself was the kingdom's first and best blacksmith, his time was desperately needed elsewhere.

"Ah," said Bruce, before he rightly thought it through. "Seems some firearms would be more useful than these little swords of yours."

The king, who was already turning away, froze in his tracks. He didn't have to turn back, because the eyes of crabs already look in all directions, but Bruce could tell -- he had gotten the renewed and full attention of his royal highness. And he winced mightily, because that was the one and only time in his life that Bruce Schneier had made a security-related mistake.

In his defense, of course, withholding the knowledge of firearms from the crabs would simply have been security through obscurity. But it was too late for philosophy. The cat was out of the bag. Thinking quickly, Bruce turned on his heel and ran for it, his dog following. Crabs are fast, but they don't naturally go away from the surf, and so it took the crab army a little while to realize which direction their quarry was escaping in, and with eight legs, when crabs mill around in confusion, there's a whole lot of milling involved. Fortunately, that delay was enough, and Bruce made it to safety, and a short cab ride later, he was back in town, and wondering what to do next.

He thought about calling Chuck Norris, but realized it would take even Chuck a day or two to get to Barbados, and if the crabs had only taken eight days to learn metalworking, a day or two was probably too long. So that was out. So he sat down to a fine supper to ponder this new development, and come up with a suitable plan.

But while he was still pondering, he heard the unmistakeable rattle of small-arms fire from the street. Cautiously, he examined the situation outside, and it was then that he realized it was simply too late, because there was house-to-house fighting between monkeys and crabs right there in town. A single slip of the lips had precipitated an arms race of inhuman rapidity in the ascended species. As he watched, both sides were retooling their weapons for greater efficiency and killing power on the fly, responding, no doubt, to distributed command networks. It was clear that both sides were bootstrapping up towards the Singularity right then and there, and there was nothing anybody could do about it.

Well, Bruce Schneier knows a threat when he sees one, and so he and his dog organized the evacuation of the island's human population, because that was the only real solution. I've been told that Bruce himself was the last man off the island, and he himself was rescued by Cory Doctorow in a hot-air balloon, but I don't believe a word of that. Everybody knows hot-air balloons can't be steered.

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