A LONG CURVED BLADE
? 1994 by Jerry J. Davis
Previously Published in Leopards Realm Magazine
Laying in his two-person bunk with a pillow over his head,
Douglass could still hear the sounds of lovemaking drifting
through the frictionless air ducts. These air ducts were perfect
for carrying sound, and thanks to them nothing that went on in the
capsule was private. The woman who was moaning was his wife. The
man ??? well, that was no secret. It was Cromwell, the weatherman.
Doug listened, feeling sick and hopeless ??? then another
sound caught his attention. A distant warbling cry, a chorus of
voices. Then a woman's voice was sobbing over the communications
system. Her voice rang through the metal of the capsule. "It was a
skike, another damn skike," she was saying. "It killed a boy."
Doug rolled off his bunk and wriggled into his jungle gear,
stepped into his boots, and grabbed his rifle. He pushed through
his door and hurried out into the circular hall, heading for the
Leo Calderon, the expedition leader, was sealing off the
capsule as Doug came trotting up. He looked at the dirty jungle
clothes and the gun in Doug's hand and said, "No, you're not going
"Who else is out? Selene is out there!"
"Selene and Lipton are safe in the village. There's no need
for you going out."
"It killed a child."
"I don't care????"
"Goddamn it, it killed a little kid!" Doug shoved past the
older man and pulled the quick release lever. The doors slammed
open and he leapt out into the dirt and leaves, the million
"Douglass, come back here!"
Doug trotted down the path, flipping his rifle on and
glancing at its scanner.
"Douglass! That's an order!" Leo was shouting. "You come back
here now!" His voice grew distant, then faded out altogether. Doug
didn't notice, he just kept running. The village was right ahead,
he could see it through spiral leaves and odd horizontal limbs.
There was a wooden gate with an elaborate mechanical latch ???
every piece meticulously carved from wood ??? he let himself in
and ran toward Lipton, who was holding a rifle but was so pressed
by the colonists that he could only point it straight up.
"Where's your wife?" Doug yelled.
"Over there by the body," Lipton yelled back. "She saw it
happen, the boy was protecting her."
Doug pushed his way through another crowd and found Selene on
the ground hugging her knees and crying. In front of her was the
gory mess that had been a colonist boy, about 11 standard years
old. Doug recognized him, he remembered giving the child a candy
bar, and was then chewed out by Cromwell, Leo, and his own wife
for "introducing alien food into their diet" and "interfering"
with their studies.
"The attack was here?" Doug asked. "Inside?"
Several of the colonists nodded. One, who was called Jahk,
pointed to planetary west and said, "Th'skike it dug right through
th'floor fence 'n right there."
He trotted with several men to the hole where the skike had
entered and then exited after the kill. The colonists had covered
the ground of their village with a tight crisscrossing of wood
everywhere inside the fence, and the skike had dug up underneath
and broke its way through. It was a big one, bigger than the one
that usually haunted this area. Doug set his rifle to scan the
tunnel, and followed its path to the edge of the fence and beyond.
"It's a short tunnel," he told Jahk. "It ends right out there."
"Th'other end we'll go 'n we'll wait there," Jahk said. He
was armed with a beautifully crafted crossbow with deadly
obsidian?tipped arrows. Doug followed him and the other colonists
through a gate and out to the hole, where they stood with weapons
Doug was fiddling with the knobs on his scanner. "It's not in
there," he said. He took a few steps to the edge of the jungle,
scanning. "Out there," he said, his voice hushed. "About thirty
"You c'n see it?" Jahk asked him.
"My machine can. It's out there, not moving."
"It listens s'nd smells us," Jahk said. "Th'skike is safen 'n
'n 'n th'jungle."
"It thinks it's safe." Rifle forward, Doug pushed his way
into the foliage. "I'm going to kill the thing. This time I am
going to kill it." He ducked his head under a branch, moving
forward, the tart scent of sap burning his nostrils. The colonists
were right behind him, following close.
The beast heard them coming and retreated. Doug watched it
with the scanner, creeping forward, breathing shallow. This was
the skike's environment, the skike's territory. Even with his
energy weapon and his motion scanner Doug knew he was at a
disadvantage here. This beast weighed at least one standard ton, a
multi?legged, twelve?eyed creature with a large brain and quick
reflexes. The colonist's name for the creature was a perversion of
the English word "scythe" ??? two of its forelegs were
scythe?shaped blades a good 1.2 meters long, double edged and
Doug reached a clearing and stopped. The colonists behind him
stopped and spread out, weapons drawn and ready. The beast was a
mere 20 meters ahead, invisible in the foliage. Doug braced
himself against a frame tree to keep his aim steady, peering
through the screen at the curtain of leaves and branches in front
of them. The skike was there, just beyond. The bolt from the
energy weapon could burn right through to it, but if Doug didn't
hit its brain it would be a wasted shot. As he watched, it began
to circle to the right, trying to get behind them. He could hear
it in the warm, heavy air; the rustling of leaves, twigs snapping.
The scanner showed it as a vague blob on the screen, growing
Doug realized why it was circling. It wanted to cut them off
from the village. "Back," he said between his teeth, "back off!"
They moved back the way they'd come, and all the while Doug was
aware that the thing could leap through the hanging foliage and
slice him to pieces without him firing a shot. The colonists,
spooked, turned and ran.
Hearing them, the skike moved faster.
Doug was walking backwards, his gun pointing toward the
beast. If the damn thing would step into a clearing, he thought,
that would be the end. I'll murder it. Instead, the foliage grew
thicker. Doug could only see a few meters before broad spiral
leaves obscured his vision. Damn it, he thought, this is not good.
He sidestepped to the left, circling around. The skike was 15
meters away now, passing him. It can leap this far, he thought.
And just as he was thinking that, he stepped on a dry fallen limb
and it snapped. Not too loud of a snap, but just enough. The skike
stopped, listening. Doug scrambled backwards, panicking. He
stumbled into a clearing and turned and ran. He could hear the
skike moving behind him. It was coming fast, he could hear the
crashing and scraping as it moved recklessly through the
Doug turned and dropped, raising his rifle. He could see it,
it was light brown like the color of the tree trunks, looking like
a bundle of thick branches moving, raising and lowering, and two
shiny black blades raised on thick, strong arms, raised to strike.
Doug fired the rifle, blasting off one of the thing's legs. The
skike went rolling and scrambling around the clearing, slashing at
the air. In his panic Doug fired two more times, missing the
creature entirely, and when the creature stopped and Doug could
get a bead on the mass of black eyes, he pulled the trigger and
the gun did nothing. A red light came on, telling him to wait
fifteen seconds for the capacitors to recharge.
The beast raised its blades and came toward him.
Doug let out a cry and turned and ran.
He heard crashing behind him, the sound of the beast
pursuing, but it fell behind. The wound was slowing it down. There
was a beep as the rifle was ready to fire again, and Doug slid to
a stop and turned around, rifle raised. The skike was nowhere in
sight. The scanner had it 40 meters away and fading as it
retreated into the deep jungle. Doug considered following it, but
his nerves were shot. He couldn't bring himself to do it.
Feeling bitter, he turned and made his way back to the
It was only when Douglass arrived back at the capsule did he
realize how much trouble he was in. Leo Calderon, biologist,
anthropologist, was also the expedition commander. He was general,
king, judge and jury, and god as far as the expedition was
concerned. Douglass had disobeyed a direct order in leaving the
capsule after Leo had sealed it off.
Doug's wife, Janet, was standing beside Cromwell Flack as Leo
ranted and raved and stripped Doug of all rank and privilege.
During the tirade Doug stood silently and stared into his wife's
eyes. She was a stranger, now. Janet Nerro, with a PhD in Human
Sciences, was willing to do anything to win a place on this
Technica expedition, even willing to convince a lowly technician,
a repairman, into thinking she was in love with him. Lowly as he
was, Technica considered Douglass the best qualified "engineer"
for the expedition and preferred that he be married to maintain
the stability of the team. Any woman scientist being considered
for the expedition would surely lock her place in on the team by
marrying him. Cromwell Flack, the eminent climate expert, was
above all this ??? he was allowed to join the team without
bringing a wife, which upset the balance. Seven team members
instead of eight, and four of them men. Out of all of them,
Douglass was the only one who was not a scientist. He was only
along to keep everything running for the duration.
Six more years, Douglass thought. Six.
". . . you are not to interact with the colonists," Leo was
raging at him, "you are not to speak with them, you are not to
look at them! Do you understand?"
"You are not to go into their village, you are not to go into
the jungle. Until further notice, you are confined to the capsule.
And you no longer have any access to Technica weapons!"
"Have I made myself clear?"
"Do you have any questions?"
"No sir." Actually, he had a lot of them, but didn't have
energy to bring them up.
"You're dismissed, Mr. Dunhill. Go to your cabin."
Doug nodded, but he was still staring into his wife's eyes.
She had no expression at all, she simply stared back. He turned
and walked stiffly out of the commons, out into the circular hall.
He passed the thin metal door to his cabin and went instead to
Cromwell's, letting himself in and closing the door behind
himself. He sat silently on the bed and waited.
Cromwell and Janet didn't show up right away, so Doug took
the opportunity to use Cromwell's data terminal. Cromwell was
going to be furious to find him in here, but Doug couldn't imagine
himself being in more trouble than he was already in. Using the
terminal's screen, he brought up a summery of the expedition.
TECHNICA MISSION #2786?855
FAILURE OF COLONY AT DROXFORD 2
Cromwell and Janet entered the cabin as Doug was reading
through the already familiar text. Cromwell merely made a
disgusted face at finding him in the room. "Douglass," he said,
"I want to read you something."
"Just listen to me. Please."
Cromwell sighed and crossed his arms. Janet stood looking
uncomfortable. She stared into his eyes, though. Either she was
totally without shame, or Doug had married a cyborg. He was
beginning to wonder.
"The duration of the mission is seven years," Doug said,
reading from the data. "The object of study: Native adaptation of
the descendants of failed colony sent off three?hundred?seven
years before. Expedition goal: To determine why the original
colony failed, and find a solution to the problem. Prepare a
preliminary report for Technica recolonization effort." Doug
turned the terminal off. "We've been here for eleven months,
right? So what have we found?"
"I'm not going to waste my time discussing it with you."
"I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to her. She's my wife, I
have a right to talk to her, don't I?"
"This is childish, there is no point to it," Cromwell said.
Doug shrugged. "Janet, please, talk to me."
"Obviously," Janet said, "we've only been here eleven months,
our findings are inconclusive."
"Inconclusive? We're to determine why the original colony
failed, and find a solution to the problem. Well, we know why the
colony failed! The skikes have been killing them off for over
three?hundred years! And it's obvious how to solve the problem . .
. we move the colony to an area where there are no skikes."
"We are not going to move the colonists. I'm not going over
this with you again."
"The longer you wait, the more of them are going to be
"Doug, listen to me. You're not a scientist. You think you
know, but you don't know all the facts. You're jumping to a
conclusion! All evidence must be considered. The colonists must be
studied and their social structure mapped out. Their customs and
their evolutionary adaptations must be analyzed. To do that, they
must remain as they????"
"They have to be killed off one by one so you can determine
exactly why they're dying?"
"This has gone far enough," Cromwell said. "Out of here,
"Cromwell, stuff yourself."
"Alright, I'm going to go get Leo." Cromwell stormed out of
"Doug," Janet said, "maybe you are right. Maybe. But you go
and move them, and we start fresh somewhere else ??? it may happen
all over again with another ten?thousand colonists because we
jumped the gun and we didn't find the truth."
"There is a perfectly habitable island system a thousand
klicks from here with no skike population whatsoever," Doug said.
"They'd have all they need, and no????"
Leo burst into the room. "Douglass!" he yelled.
"They'd have no need to fear!" Douglass said to his wife.
Leo and Cromwell grabbed Doug by the arms and half?dragged
half?carried him to his cabin, tossed him in, and locked the door
from the outside.
For the next three and a half weeks Douglass was incarcerated
in his cabin. He was allowed to go from the cabin to the bathroom,
but that was it. When he was pulled out to fix something, he was
to fix it and then return to the cabin. Lipton and his wife Selene
would spend a few hours a day with him, and his wife would
occasionally visit. Janet would tell him the situation was
unfortunate, and assure him it would end soon as long as he
continued to cooperate. Lipton and his wife openly detested Doug's
treatment and would daily make protests to Leo for it to end. Leo
remained stubborn because he wanted his word to be law, and
because he thought Doug should be taught a lesson.
One night in the middle of the third week a large delegation
of colonists carrying torches came from the village. Doug watched
from his view port, wondering what it was all about. All the
scientists were out to meet them, and after a few minutes Lipton
opened Doug's cabin door and stood smiling at him. "You're out, my
friend," he said. "You're free."
"Oh, what, Leo wants me to fix something? That's great. Tell
Leo that he can take whatever broken thing it is and stick it up
his butt, because I'm on strike."
"No, the colonists have come for you. They've made you part
of their tribe."
"After that day you went chasing that skike into the jungle,
they decided you were a member of their tribe. Selene and I kinda
leaked the news that you were being locked up out here, and
they've come to get you."
Doug grabbed his jungle gear and followed Lipton outside. The
leader of the colonists, Kinjon, was prominent among the
delegation; two warrior women stood one to either side of him
holding flaming torches. He held out his arms and embraced Doug,
and called him brother. "Y'r th'bravest g'damn man of r'people,"
he said, with some significance. "C'm on w'us."
Doug shrugged, and wordlessly followed.
The delegation returned to the village, where two huge bon
fires lit the area in orange, flickering light. Naked men and
women did a thrusting, gyrating dance to high, warbling flute
music. The scientists followed, everyone but Cromwell using one
instrument or another to record the event. To Doug, the whole
thing smacked of a fertility right.
They sat in a circle around the two bonfires and watched the
dancers flirting with the flames. It was nerve-racking for Doug to
watch, he was sure someone's hair was going to catch on fire ???
or worse. The heat was making him sweat. He felt like he was being
Someone knelt down beside him. It was Jahk, one of the
warriors who'd followed him out after the skike. "Y'r new w'us, I
got'ta 'splain things t'you."
"Th'girl straight 'cross fr'm you is Shrew. She's c'm t'age,
'n this's her's. You been chosen, you'n her first. Your s'posed
t'go b'tween th'fires 'n claim'n her."On the other side of the
circle, obscured by the shimmering of hot air, was a very young
girl dressed in a loose gown of woven web straw. It had an almost
silver look to it.
"Jahk, run that by me again. I don't think I understand."
"Run past you?"
"Y'want me t'run past you?"
"No. I want you to tell me what this is all about. I don't
"Shrew's c'm t'age she's s'posed t'get preggers. Th'people
need y'r children 'cause y'r smart'n brave."
Selene must have seen the look of panic in his eyes. She
knelt down on the other side of him and said into his ear, "This
is their version of a 'coming out' party, Doug. You're not
"She's so young!"
"This is their society. They're in a race with death. They
keep all their women pregnant, and their children grow up faster."
"Yeah, but she's so young."
"You d'n like her?" Jahk asked.
"Well, yes, I mean I like her fine, but, it's just that????"
"Go through with it, Doug," Selene said. "There's nothing
wrong about it. You'll be honoring them and you'll be helping us.
We'll need your experience for the records, in fact your uploaded
memories will become an important part of our report."
"This is science, Doug. I'll go over and explain to Shrew
that you're nervous about all this ??? maybe she'll make it easier
"What are you going to tell her?"
"I'll tell her you're a virgin." Selene stood and walked
around the fires to the young native girl.
Jahk was incredulous. "Y'never stuck it down?"
The flute music was growing wilder and more intricate, and
the dancing females, most of whom were pregnant, started coming up
to Doug and shaking and gyrating in his face. The men were
treating the young girl across the way with the same attentions.
Then they pulled away and parted, making an erotic pathway between
the two of them. The fires were roaring like a monster.
Shrew stood up, her dress shimmering. Jahk pulled Douglass to
his feet and gave him a shove toward her. As Doug was taking his
first step, he saw something very large and fast move behind
Shrew, and the crowd began making panicked motions. It was a
skike. Doug saw it raising its blade?like forelegs up and pausing,
and, before he could react, it brought them down in sharp,
spasmodic motions. The flute music was replaced by screaming. He
saw Selene pushing Shrew away and then go down under one of the
He heard someone screaming his name. Doug turned and saw his
wife holding his rifle. She threw it at him and he caught it.
Doug walked between the two fires, the rifle raised. People
were in his way, colonist warriors firing point?blank at the skike
with their crossbows. The arrows would either glance away or sink
in only enough to anger the creature. "Move!" Doug shouted. "Move
out of the way!" They parted before him and he had a clear shot.
His rifle blazed. Several of the creature's legs and part of its
torso exploded, and it rolled over twice and scrambled off away
from the fires. He fired at it again, hitting it in the back. It
let out a long piercing shriek, but kept crawling. Doug walked
along behind it, waiting for the capacitors in his rifle to
recharge. Several of the colonists, including Jahk, followed
respectfully behind him.
"It'n burrow! It'n burrow, right there!" one called out.
Doug looked ahead to where the skike was heading. A dark hole
in the earth. He walked to the side of the creature, which was
mostly dead, and aimed at the mass of black eyes. The gun was
recharged and ready to fire. He let loose with one more shot and
A motion caught his eye. There was movement at the mouth of
the hole. As he was turning a tangled shadow of legs erupted from
the hole, springing toward him. Doug shot it dead center, blasting
a large hole through its most vital area. It reeled, balanced for
a moment on hind legs; the skike towered above him, then fell over
on its back and lay there with quivering legs. "I killed you!"
Doug yelled at the thing. "Do you understand me? I killed you! I
killed you!" He kicked one of its more energetically quivering
Beyond the two dead beasts, one more emerged from the hole.
It seemed to size up the situation, studying its two dead
companions, then backed down into the earth. It kicked dirt after
itself, blocking the entrance.
Doug walked up to the hole and looked down. The dirt still
moved as the creature below packed it tight. He turned and looked
at the colonists, who were staring at Doug with open awe.
Jesus, he thought. He stepped back from the hole, and moved
away from the dead skikes. He was breaking out in a cold sweat,
and he was shaking. The others! He'd seen Selene go down, and
Lipton and Cathy. Doug turned back toward the bon fires and the
panicked colonists and broke into a run.
The two men kneeled and prayed. They had done all they could
do for her, maybe saved her life. They didn't know for sure; they
wouldn't know for years.
Lipton was crying. His wife, Selene, was now in hibernation
until Technica came back to pick them up. Leo and Cathy, the
leader and his wife, were both dead. Cromwell and Janet were in
another part of the capsule hyper-waving the news to Technica. It
was just the four of them now.
"Can't we do anything else?" Lipton was mumbling. "Can't we
do something more?"
Doug didn't know what to say to the man. The only MD on the
expedition was Selene. Doug certainly wasn't a doctor. "We have to
trust the automed," he told him. "This is the best chance Selene
has. We have her in stasis, her mind is still intact, her body can
be repaired once we're back in civilization. But for now, this is
the safest thing we can do."
Lipton was rocking back and forth, his arms crossed in front
of his chest. "I can't just leave her frozen for six years,"
he said, his voice cracking. "I just can't."
"It won't be six years to her," Doug said.
Lipton nodded wordlessly, and continued rocking. He's in
shock, Doug thought. He needs some sort of anti?shock injection.