Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Killer 1-7 - David Drake and Karl Edward Wagner

""You've got some sort of wild man!" Lycon blurted with first glance.

"Nonsense!" Vonones snorted. "Look at the tiny scales, those talons! There may be a race somewhere with blue skin, but this thing's no more human than a mandrill is. The Numidians called it a lizard-ape in their tongue—a sauropithecus."

After that first startled impression, Lycon had to agree. The thing seemed far less human than any large ape, which it somewhat resembled. Probably those hairless limbs had made him think it was a man—that and the aura of malign intelligence its stare conveyed. But the collector had never seen anything like it, not in twenty years of professional hunting along the fringes of the known world.

Lizard-ape, or sauropithecus to render the word into Latin, seemed as good a name as any for the beast. Lycon could not even decide whether it was mammal or reptile, nor even guess its sex. It was scaled and exuded an acrid reptilian scent, but its movements and poise were feline. Ape-like, it walked erect in a forward crouch, and its long forelimbs seemed adapted for gripping and climbing. It would be about man-height if it straightened fully, and Lycon estimated its lean weight close to that of a big leopard. Its face was cat-like, low-browed and triangular of jaw. A wedge-shaped, earless skull thrust forward upon a snaky neck, and it had no more nostrils than a lizard did. Its eyes looked straight forward with human intensity, but were slit-pupiled and showed a swift nictitating membrane.

"This came from the Aures Mountains?" Lycon questioned wonderingly.

"It did. There was a big lot of gazelles and elephants that one of my agents jobbed from the Numidians. This thing came with them, and all I know about it is what Dama wrote me when he sent the shipment: that a band of Numidians saw a hilltop explode and found this animal when they went to see what had happened."

"A hilltop exploded!"

The dealer shrugged. "That's all he wrote."

Lycon studied the cage in silence.

"Why did you weld the cage shut instead of putting a chain and lock on it?"

"That's the way it came," Vonones explained. "I'll have to knock the door loose and put a proper lock on it before sending it off tomorrow, or those idiots at Rome will wreck a good cage trying to smash it open, and never a denarius for the damage. I guess the Numidians just didn't have a lock—I'm a little surprised they even had an iron cage."

Lycon frowned, uncomfortable at the way the beast stared back at him. "It's its eyes," he reflected. "I wish all my crew looked that bright.""

4 out of 5