A LONG CURVED BLADE
й 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 ннн well, that was no secret. It was Cromwell, the weatherman.
Doug listened, feeling sick and hopeless ннн 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 careнннн”
“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 ннн
every piece meticulously carved from wood ннн 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 obsidianнtipped 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 multiнlegged, twelveнeyed creature with a large brain and quick reflexes. The colonist’s name for the creature was a perversion of the English word “scythe” ннн two of its forelegs were scytheнshaped 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.