The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 3: Flight
I immediately called the Captain. “I thought everything was locked down,” I shouted. “She’s gotten away!”
“Just a minute, Lieutenant, we’re reviewing the video of the corridor where you are now, to see where she went.” He seemed annoyed. And well he might be; Jane was probably capable of turning the station into a pile of junk whirling crazily in space...
“Oh, she found a removable panel leading to a maintenance corridor. How did she find it so fast? Go to section 12 in the corridor.”
Yes, the panel was there. She had put it back in place just as before, so we would not know where she had gone. Clever.
I took off the panel. The passageway was too narrow for my combat uniform, of course. I began to take it off.
“I’ll go,” I said to the others. “Stay here.”
Charts moved forward. “But Lieutenant...” he began.
I shut him up with a glare.
I kept my earphone to stay in contact with the control room. “I’m going into the passageway,” I told Tacoma.
“Go straight ahead and then left,” he said. “According to the instruments, that is where she went.”
Even without combat armor I found the passageway narrow. I advanced slowly, scratching my hands on the walls.
“She’s still moving,” the Captain added.
I tripped over something, a little metal disc. She had finally gotten rid of her medical probes.
I continued ahead, following Tacoma’s directions.
“She’s stopped on level 3. Turn right and go down the ladder.”
“She’s started again. She must have heard you.”
Good. I had an advantage.
“Jane!” I called. “Jane, it’s me, Dexter. You have nothing to be afraid of.” I didn’t move.
“She’s stopped,” exclaimed Tacoma. “No... she’s going back to her previous position.”
I continued along the narrow corridor. I finally reached her hiding place. “I’ve found her,” I said into the mouthpiece.
She was crouching in a cubbyhole just big enough for her. The hospital gown was in shreds and she was covered with dust. I must not have been in any better shape. But she did not have any scratches.
She stared at me with her red eyes in the half-light. Her gaze no longer had that pitiless, cold look; she had regained her expression of surprise. She was completely motionless, as before.
“Everything is okay, Jane. Don’t be afraid.” The Captain told me where the nearest exit was, and I headed for it, all the while talking to Jane and gesturing to her, hoping she would follow. If she decided to take up residence in this place, I guessed the coming days would be very uncomfortable for me.
In the corridor, Charts and the other members of our escort were waiting for us. Jane had followed me. She came out into the corridor and I tensed, fearing she would want to flee again when she saw the men, but she remained calm, standing two meters from me. She seemed to want to keep at a safe distance from everyone, myself included, even though she had wanted to come close enough to touch me, in the docking bay. But since then she had never come closer to me than two meters. A little strange, like everything else.
“Bah,” Charts exclaimed when he saw us come out of the maintenance passageway. “They could clean these corridors now and then. You’re disgusting. With all due respect, Lieutenant.”
I shot him a scowl. “And whose fault is that? The next time you chase her away, you’ll do the frog-marching through these tunnels for me.”
He seemed to take the threat seriously and kept quiet.
“Listen, all of you,” I said. “You must not frighten her. No quick motions, no laughing, no shouting. Talk in a low voice. Do not approach her. Treat her as though she were a wild animal. She won’t attack you if you haven’t made any threatening motions and if you respect her territory.”
The men nodded. It remained to be seen whether they would follow my instructions.
“And now, to the showers.”
We returned to the quarantine zone, the soldiers leading the way. I followed them, and Jane brought up the rear, always exactly two meters away. She looked at me with her surprised expression, turning her head every so often to examine the corridor, the equipment hanging on the walls, and the doors. Nobody was there; the way had been cleared for us.
When we arrived at the quarantine cell, I realized I would have to show her how to use the small washroom. It contained a shower and a small washbasin.
I thought for a moment but did not see any other solution than to take another risk. But so far she had not attacked me or the other men; she had been satisfied to run away. Had she really been calmed? Tamed?
I went through the airlock and entered the quarantine cell alone. Then I motioned to Jane to follow me. Charts and the others did not like this idea at all. It would take them forever to get into the cell if anything went wrong.
The airlock finished its cycle and Jane entered the cell. I was alone with her and at her mercy.
She did not take the opportunity to attack me. She stood waiting and looking at me from a distance of two meters, as usual.
I heaved a sigh of relief and opened the door of the washroom. I pulled the shower curtain aside, turned the spigot, and pure water came out. Or, rather, water that had been recycled several thousand times, but it was better not to think about that.
“Jane, you see, it’s a shower. You can wash in it.”
Of course it was useless for me to talk to her; she gave no sign she understood anything we said. Maybe she could learn our language just by listening to it? I continued talking to her.
I wet my hand and moved it over my face. Then I stepped back to give her room.
She understood. She took off what remained of her hospital gown and, all naked, stepped into the washroom. I looked away immediately. I had seen others, in the Army, but she was only sixteen! I suddenly noticed that the men on the other side of the window had not missed a thing.
“Hey, a little modesty here,” I called to them. “This isn’t a burlesque.”
Jane did not seem to have any concept of privacy; it probably meant nothing to the Dohani. They were obviously not mammals; they seemed to be oviparous, and their genital organs were internal. They had no reason to hide their bodies and seemed rarely to wear clothing.
I went back out into the cell. Jane was washing up. She took a long time. Maybe she was not in the habit of saving water. Or she liked to shower. Finally the water stopped running. She had figured out by herself how to use the spigot. She came out of the washroom, still naked, dripping wet, with a towel in her hand. I looked away and checked to see that the others were doing the same.
Still, I had to admit she was rather... pretty.
She dried off on the mattress, two meters away from me.
We had forgotten a detail. A change of clothes. I called Eliza and asked her to bring another nightshirt. Meanwhile, Jane had come out of the cell and rejoined me. Naked, of course. The situation was getting increasingly uncomfortable. I tried to look away as well as I could and saw that the men were glancing at her out of the corner of their eye. I scolded them again, but they continued anyway.
Eiza arrived with a suit of light clothing: a yellow top and black pants. When she saw a naked girl standing among five men, she began to yell at us: “You should be ashamed of yourselves! She’s just a child!”
“But Eliza...” I began.
I saw that Jane had changed her position. She was ready to leap again. Eliza’s tone had frightened or angered her.
“Quiet!” I muttered imperiously. “Don’t make a move, or she’ll run.” For once, everybody obeyed me. We didn’t move. Jane didn’t, either. Minutes passed endlessly. I was already seeing myself pursuing her again through the maintenance tunnels.
Finally Jane relaxed. I sighed.
“Eliza,” I said, “please put the clothes on the bench.”
Jane went and took the clothing after Eliza had stepped away. She gave them her habitual sniff and then slipped into them easily. Now we could look at her again. She was looking at me; her surprised expression had returned.
“My turn,” I said. “Watch her, I’m going to take a shower.” I went out of the quarantine zone.
Jane followed me, of course. I hadn’t thought about that. She did not want to be far from me.
“You can use the shower in the cell,” said Eliza. “I’ll bring your things.”
I sighed and went back. Never a dull moment.
I went into the washroom and closed the door. I undressed and began to take a quick shower. Jane was in the cell, too, but her rule of two meters of safe distance would keep her out of the washroom. At least that’s what I thought.
I heard a noise and turned around suddenly. Jane was right in the washroom. She had drawn aside the shower curtain and was scrutinizing me in detail with her red eyes. A lack of modesty works both ways.
I blushed up to my ears. I was sure Charts and the others were rolling on the floor, laughing.
I put out my hand toward the shower curtain and Jane immediately pulled back. Unnerved, I pulled the curtain back sharply. I might provoke her by making sudden gestures, but now I didn’t feel much like pampering her anymore. I rinsed and turned off the water. Jane came back into the cell, probably guessing I was going to come out of the shower. She still wanted to keep to her two-meter rule and stuck to it when it suited her. Grrr....
I dressed and came back out of the washroom. I threw a dark look at Jane, but she replied only with her usual surprised expression, her red eyes not troubled in the slightest.
* * *
We took other walks. There were other incidents. Jane could not stand sudden movements or certain noises. Every time she would run away; she never attacked us, she preferred to flee, and we would pursue her. It became more difficult to catch her, because she seemed to have located the surveillance devices and other cameras and avoided them. We were in permanent contact with the station’s control centre, and we tried to seal all the access panels and air duct grills, but she always managed to find a way through the wall.
We spent hours looking for her. Every time I finally found her trembling and terrorized. I would calm her and go take a shower. But now I locked the washroom door to keep her out, and she tried to come in every time.
She reduced a lot of clothing to rags, but oddly she never damaged her skin. And my hands were covered with scrapes. And I had even taken to carrying a pair of work gloves with me all the time.
She had not slept for several days. Eliza thought that Jane did not need to sleep at all. And yet we had found her in a Dohani sleeping chamber...
I slept on the bench opposite the cell. It had finally been decided I would stay with her around the clock.
The first night, she took the mattress out of the cell and put it on the floor two meters from me. And then she watched me sleep. I was told she stayed motionless for hours, waiting for me to wake up. She seemed able to sit without moving indefinitely, as if her muscles and joints locked into place. She did not seem to tire or to need to change position regularly.
I talked to her a lot, but there was no improvement in communication; she never tried to say a word. And she seemed to have this permanent surprised expression on her face when she looked at me.
It was not really an unpleasant situation; it was more relaxing than trying to infiltrate enemy bases. Except when I had to crawl through tubes too narrow for me. But life is change, and change finally came.
But first, something strange happened, strange and very disturbing. The Phoebus had been captured shortly after we arrived at Station S-804. The Dohani had managed to retake the asteroid where we had found Jane.
That was impossible. In such a short time they could never have sent a vessel large enough to overcome the Phoebus unless they had one, by chance, in the neighbourhood; and even then they would have had to know that humans had attacked the asteroid base.
But they had sent three cruisers. And to do it, they had sacrificed their vessels by pushing their engines far beyond their limits and wearing them out prematurely. The three spaceships could no longer move; they were trapped in orbit until a maintenance ship could come and repair them.
Up against these three ships, the Phoebus did not stand a chance. It surrendered immediately, with its combat group, and sent message probes telling what had happened. I was shown pictures at a time when Jane was not nearby, for obvious reasons.
Many people I knew had been captured. I would probably never see them again. Charts and I had had the incredible good luck to leave the Phoebus just before the attack.
It made no sense. The base was not worth the sacrifice of so many spaceships. That was why it had been so easy to take; it did not have the strength to withstand the Phoebus’ combat group.
And now the Dohanis were trapped: we knew where they were, and they could not escape. We had only to send three cruisers — or maybe only two; with their thrusters dead, the Dohani ships would have seriously limited maneuvering capacity. We could retake the base and capture three of their ships while having lost only one. It was a major error in strategy. But the Dohani never made errors in strategy. They never fell into our traps, they avoided putting all their eggs in one basket, and they never took unnecessary risks.
What was so precious on that asteroid that the Dohani had been ready to sacrifice so much?