The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 2: Battle
Some centuries in the future, humanity is locked in an interstellar war with the Dohani, a technologically advanced species of fearsome, reptilian-like appearance. The war has ground to a stalemate, but a resolution is impossible: humans and the Dohani find each other incomprehensible and have no way to communicate.
Lieutenant Dexter Zimski leads a commando squad in a raid on a Dohani base. They return with a bizarre captive, one who looks for all the world like a 16-year old human girl. But the resemblance is only superficial. The question is not “Who is she?” but “What is she?” Human? Dohani? Neither? Both?
If humans can talk to her, they may be able to talk to the Dohani. But one thing is certain: communication is not going to be easy. No, not easy at all.
Never get in my way or you’re gettin’ rolled over|
Like a rover, ’cuz my fist’s a bulldozer
— Hush, Fired Up
We returned to the Phoebus, an Eagle-class cruiser of the Space Navy’s Third Fleet. The vessel was squat, like an animal crouching, ready to pounce on its prey. Its hull was studded with protuberances, antennas, and all sorts of cannons pointed outwards to space. It was surrounded by the other vessels of its squadron, and they looked like toys in comparison.
Our shuttle glided toward one of the cruiser’s docking ports. The blinking lights of glowing buoys showed the way. We entered a bay leading to the dock, and doors closed behind us automatically as we passed through them. The entire squadron would depart as soon as the two shuttles were in place and would not even wait for them to be secured. The Dohani had to be taken by surprise before they could repair their generator or organize a defence.
Finally the shuttle slowed and touched down. Gravity became normal, and the pilot lowered the ramp. We heard announcements ringing throughout the cruiser: “Jump in five seconds. All hands to battle stations.”
A moment later the cruiser shook and I felt my stomach churn briefly. We had just made a very short jump through hyperspace, as close as we could come to the enemy’s asteroid.
More announcements were made, but for me and my team, the battle was over. It was up to others to make the most of the advantage we had given them.
I got up from my seat and followed the men out of the shuttle. The portable airlock was set down with some difficulty ten metres farther away, beyond the landing zone. It was a lot heavier now on account of the Phoebus’ artificial gravity.
“What will we do with it, Lieutenant?” asked Charts.
I leaned over to look at the prisoner — or the escapee. I wasn’t sure what to call her. She still did not seem to have regained consciousness. “Let’s get her out of there and shackle her. Hands and feet.”
Charts nodded and went to fetch the necessary equipment. When he returned, I asked two dock technicians to stand on each side of the airlock and open it. And I told the rest of our men — except M’go, who was already on his way to the infirmary — to circle the airlock opening. I ordered them to load their dart guns with human tranquilizer; a Dohani dose might kill the girl. You never know.
What happened next showed me that I really did not know very much.
The techs opened the airlock. Charts bent down and picked up the girl. He put her on the deck and began to handcuff her.
Everything happened very fast. Even faster than the first time.
The girl opened her eyes. That was when I understood why they had seemed strange in the dim light of the Dohani bunk room: they were bright red and non-human. A demon’s eyes. And exactly the same colour as the Dohanis’ eyes.
She leaped up and effortlessly sent Charts staggering backwards. She jumped on his falling body and he curled into a ball. She landed on another man, who was raising his dart gun. It went off with a dull pop and shot a dart uselessly toward the ceiling. The girl gave him a wicked head-butt and broke his nose. He crumpled to the deck.
Others fired darts. She dodged them all. The darts were well aimed, to no effect. I saw her bend her body to avoid the darts just as they were about to hit her, as if she could sense their trajectories without even seeing them. Most of the darts splintered against a bulkhead; one of them hit a man and sent him staggering backwards.
Dodging darts did not slow her down. She whirled with a leg thrust that swept another man off his feet. He crashed to the deck.
I tried to aim at her, but she was moving too fast.
I heard noises behind me: reinforcements from another commando squad that had been waiting to take a shuttle to the Dohani station. I was beginning to think we were outnumbered. She knocked down another man, and I realized we could not get enough reinforcements.
The riot continued: darts flew and blows struck as she whirled around us. She danced from one opponent to the other with a kind of deadly grace.
Finally a dart hit her. We did have the advantage of numbers, and her luck had to run out sooner or later. Whew, I thought. We would finally be able to calm her.
But no, she did not even slow down. The tranquilizer had no effect on her. Another dart hit her, with no results. And yet she was moving so fast that the drug should have been moving very quickly through her bloodstream.
The men began to spread out. I saw technicians standing off to the side, by a wall-mounted control panel, astonished at the strange combat they were witnessing.
“Lock the exits!” I shouted to the technicians. Then I yelled at my men, “Retreat! Regroup! Break off! We’ll never take her in single combat.”
She was too strong in hand to hand fighting. We would have to try something else, from a distance — even firearms, if we had to.
I was relieved when the men obeyed. Or maybe they’d had enough of being beaten up by a girl a head shorter than they.
But at that moment everything stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The girl came to a standstill.
She stood looking towards me. No, she was looking at me, staring wide-eyed, with an incredulous expression. Her arms hung at her sides.
For a moment, nobody moved. We were thunderstruck by what was happening. Then I heard dart guns firing. Three darts hit her. She did not even flinch and did not try to avoid them. She stood as though hypnotized, staring intensely at me. What had happened to her?
Then she moved again, slowly. She took a step towards me, and that drew more darts.
Finally she staggered and fell on her knees. She was still looking at me. She put her hands on the deck and began to crawl towards me. Her face was down, but I could tell she was grimacing with the effort she had to make. Some soldiers raised their dart guns, but I waved them off. “She’s had enough. Look, she’s not standing anymore.”
Just as I was saying those words, she suddenly looked up at me again with the same expression of utter surprise. She began crawling again and advanced one more metre before collapsing. I thought she would finally lose consciousness, but I heard her give a kind of groan and she propped herself up on her elbows. She crawled toward me, a centimetre at a time. I was frozen where I stood. I watched what she was doing without understanding a thing.
Now she was close. Too close. Two men quickly drew their sidearms and pointed them at the creature’s temples, to protect me. She would not touch an officer if they could prevent it.
She stopped and groaned. She raised her head slowly — she had probably realized she must not make any sudden movements — and stared at me again. She still had the same look of surprise on her face, as if she were looking at something astonishing, the most incredible thing she had ever seen.
She looked at me like that for a minute or two, struggling with all her strength to remain conscious. Finally her eyes closed and she fell back down. The sedatives had finally taken effect.
Nobody moved. We could not understand what had just happened.
I shook myself. “The shackles,” I snapped at Charts.
He had had the good luck not to be knocked out by the girl. He hurried to secure her.
I pointed to the men on the floor. “Take care of them,” I ordered the troops. “Take the wounded to the infirmary.”
I turned to Charts. “We’re going to the infirmary too, on the double. So much tranquilizer might kill her.”
Charts fetched a stretcher from the docking bay wall. There were several of them; accidents were frequent. We put her on it. She was out cold. Her mouth was slightly open and she seemed to be breathing normally, but I was not sure of anything. She had already taken us by surprise once.
The corridors were crowded on account of the offensive already under way. As we were making our way to the infirmary on Level 6, I composed a report on what had just transpired and sent it to Major Alynov, my immediate superior officer and the one in charge of special forces missions. He already had the audio-visual readouts from our spacesuits, which were studded with microphones and cameras. I did not contact him directly; he was certainly too busy for that.
The people we met often had to stand against the walls to let us by in the narrow passageways. Their jaws dropped when they saw what we were carrying: a handcuffed girl aboard a cruiser going into battle.
The infirmary was overcrowded, of course. The fighting was getting heavier, and the wounded kept coming in. Nothing very serious, fortunately. I was able to requisition a doctor to look at our prisoner.
He turned to me after taking care of someone else. “What is it?” he asked.
I pointed to the stretcher, which we had placed on the floor. The doctor leaned over the girl.
“She took several type K tranquilizer darts,” I said. “Five or six.”
The doctor looked up sharply. “Five or six? Are you joking? Don’t you know that more than three is a fatal dose? Put her on the table; I want to examine her properly. But if what you say is true, it’s probably too late.”
Charts helped me lift the girl and we put her on the table the doctor had pointed to.
The doctor leaned over her, intrigued. “She’s just a kid. Handcuffed? A stowaway, I presume. The patient’s name?”
Charts and I looked at each other. “Uh, I have no idea,” I said. “But she’s not a stowaway. We’ve just captured her.”
Charts grinned ironically. “She didn’t really give us the time to ask her name. Her conversation is rather... striking.”
The doctor did not look up. “Okay, she’s Jane Doe, then. About sixteen years old, no signs of trauma. Oh, yes, a slight redness at the base of the cranium. Did you hit her on the head as well as fill her full of darts?”
Jane Doe. One name was as good as another until we found out her real name.
I tried to explain. “We found her on the Dohani station.”
The doctor measured her heartbeat with his pocket scanner. “Cardiac rate stable but rather slow. On the Dohani station? Really?”
“Well,” I continued, “I know it’s rather odd, but...”
At that moment the doctor lifted one of the girl’s eyelids and jumped back. He had seen her red eyes. “Son of a bitch! What is that?!”
I looked toward the ceiling. “That’s what I was trying to explain. We found her among the Dohani, and she attacked us. She has superhuman strength and agility. And she is resistant to ketamine. It took a massive dose to stop her.”
The doctor regained his composure and and moved to examine her again. “She has the same eyes as the Dohani,” he said. “A kind of hybrid? I wonder what proportions of human and Dohani DNA she has in her genes.”
He took another scanner and ran it over her body. It displayed an image on a monitor beside the table. The girl’s skeleton began to appear on the screen.
“Everything is abnormal in her,” he said. “Look at her bones: they’re too opaque. They must contain a very dense substance.”
Suddenly he went closer to the monitor and turned some dials to show an enlargement of the girl’s skull. “Unbelievable!” he exclaimed. “Look at that!”
I was no specialist in anatomy, but I saw in the centre of her brain a dark object about eight centimetres long, and it certainly was not natural. It made a kind of irregular five-pointed star.
“A Dohani neural implant!” said the doctor. “This... person... is equipped like a true Dohani, with all the features in the catalogue.”
“Okay. How is she doing, though?”
“To the extent that I can diagnose such an unusual individual, she seems to be perfectly okay. The coma is caused by the ketamine, her reactions are normal, but it’s impossible to say how long she’ll stay in that condition.”
I was relieved, though I did not know why. After all she had put us through, I should have wished she would stay as she was.
“If she’s as dangerous as you say,” the doctor continued, “I would just as soon you not leave her in the infirmary, especially on a day like today.”
“We’ll take her to the brig,” I answered. “That’s safer. Thank you, doctor.”
He nodded and went to see other patients. I turned to Charts. “Let’s take her to a cell. Then it’s out of our hands.”
“Yes, sir. I hope we can rest a little. I’m beat.”
We put Jane on the stretcher. “Me too,” I said. “This was not a very uneventful mission.” We set out for the internment area.
“It began okay, though,” Charts added. “It went without a hitch until we got to the sleeping quarters of those damned monsters.”
It took us a full twenty minutes to reach the brig. The corridors were still filled with people running from one place to another on the ship and getting in our way.
At the entrance, I explained the situation to the guard. “We’ll put her in cell 4,” he said. “It’s been empty for quite a while.”
We followed him into the detention centre. It smelled of sweat, urine and detergent, like all prisons, each odour worse than the others. We went through two armoured doors and entered a corridor lined with cells. The guard unlocked one of the doors, and we put Jane on the bed.
“Do we take off the shackles?” asked Charts.
“Not possible,” I said. “Once she’s awake, we won’t be able to put them back on her again. And we can’t tell her to be reasonable or anything. If she’s really a Dohani, we can’t talk to her.”
We left the brig, and we each went to our quarters to rest.
* * *