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Davis, Jerry - Long Curved Blade, A

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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."

     "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

     killed!"

     "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,

     now."

     "Cromwell, stuff yourself."

     "Alright, I'm going to go get Leo." Cromwell stormed out of

     the room.

     "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."

     "What?"

     "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

     barbecued.

     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."

     "Okay."

     "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?"

     "What?"

     "Y'want me t'run past you?"

     "No. I want you to tell me what this is all about. I don't

     understand."

     "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

     marrying her."

     "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."

     "Oh, great."

     "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

     on you."

     "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

     creature's thrusts.

     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

     killed it.

     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

     legs.

     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.

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