TXT

Davis, Jerry - Long Curved Blade, A

By Alfred Flores,2014-06-11 23:22
19 views 0
Davis, Jerry - Long Curved Blade, A

     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

     front door.

     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

     out there."

     "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

     insects.

     "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."

     "Show me."

     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

     pointing.

     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

     meters."

     "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

     razor sharp.

     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

     sharper.

     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

     underbrush.

     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

     village.

     #

     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?"

     "Yes sir."

     "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!"

     "Yes sir."

     "Have I made myself clear?"

     "Yes sir."

     "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,

     "get out."

     "I want to read you something."

     "Get out."

     "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."

     "Ob