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."