The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 4: Fascination
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.
I’m full of amazement|
’Bout what I’ve become
Changes inside me
Since you’ve come around
— Sepiamusic, Fall Into Me
She was in a corner of the cafeteria, curled up under a table, apparently asleep. All the tables around her were unoccupied. As usual, her clothes were dirty and torn, but for once she was quiet; for once she looked like a child.
There were only a few people in the cafeteria. The others must have carefully withdrawn to a less dangerous place. Who could have believed, seeing her like that, curled up like a cat in a quiet corner, that she was a fearsome warrior? Or at least that she had been one. I hoped she was beginning to feel less stressed and that things were getting better, since she seemed at last to have fallen asleep of her own accord.
Charts was standing beside me. He crossed his arms and sighed. “What do we do now?” he asked. “Shall we bring her a teddy bear?” His idiotic remark was greeted by some laughter.
“Quiet!” I muttered impatiently.
Eliza frowned. “Do you really think it would take so little to waken her, Lieutenant? The mess hall is not really the quietest place on the station.”
“Right,” I said grudgingly.
After a moment, Charts asked, “What do we do now? If she naps for hours, that’s going to bother people who want to eat.”
“We wait,” I answered. “This is the first time she’s slept without being shot full of tranquilizers or being knocked over the head. The restaurant is off limits for the moment. The others can use the dispensing machines in the corridors.”
Charts thought over my answer.
I went to sit down and added, “We’ll take turns watching her. Go get some rest. I’ll stay here.”
“Good idea,” Eliza murmured.
They headed for the exit.
I studied Jane. Such calm. I felt I’d spent days chasing her, trying to keep her from hurting somebody or being targeted herself. I rested my chin on my arm and tried to take advantage of this respite to consider the situation. But my thoughts soon began to wander.
* * *
I was drowsing between sleeping and waking when a change brought me back to full awareness. I did not know what had changed, but my soldier’s instinct warned me that I was threatened.
I opened my eyes. A few centimeters in front of me, a pair of wide red eyes were looking at me.
Startled, I jumped back and slid the chair across the floor with an awful screech.
Jane’s eyes veiled and took on a neutral, cold look as if she were not really there. She threw herself at me. The chair tottered and I was caught between the chair that was squeezing my back and Jane, who seemed to have decided to do away with me. She pinned me to the floor and before I could defend myself she blocked my arms with one hand. Then, as quickly as ever, she swung around me and began to strangle me with her other arm. It had taken less than a second.
“No, Jane!” I tried to say, but I could only make a stifled gurgle. She was crushing my throat, and I could not get loose. I felt my arms were locked in a vise.
Things were not going well.
Fortunately I heard footsteps hurrying towards me. Eliza and Charts had been alerted by the noise of our fall. Charts seized Jane’s arms and with an almost superhuman effort made her let go. She switched targets and attacked him.
“Eliza, hurry!” he yelled, trying to overcome Jane.
I tried to catch my breath and turned toward Eliza. I saw she was clumsily trying to load a tranquilizer cartridge into a medical dart gun. “Good,” I croaked. “It’s my fault. I jumped and that frightened her.”
I had hardly said the last word when I had a coughing fit. My throat was burning.
“Liz!” Charts yelled again. He kept on struggling with Jane. She still had her arms pinned, but she was trying to make Charts fall by kicking him in the legs as hard as she could. She kept at it, trying to throw off balance a man twice her weight. It would have been funny if she hadn’t almost succeeded. Charts would have had an easier time overcoming an adult tiger than this Fury. She was uttering blood-curdling growls of rage. There was nothing human about her anymore; her red eyes were still cold.
I had to do something, and fast, before Eliza gave her a dose of tranquilizer that would put her out for ten hours. But Jane was moving so fast that Eliza would have trouble aiming, and that gave me a little time...
I got up and went toward the struggling pair. Charts was behind Jane, and she was facing me. She wasn’t looking at me, but I was sure she knew exactly where everybody was in the room.
I saw out of the corner of my eye that Eliza had finally managed to load the dart gun. I waved to her not to shoot and tried to get Jane’s attention. I hoped Jane would understand my gesture; I had only a few seconds before she would free herself from Charts. As furious as she was, she might do serious damage. And then the only solution would be to put her to sleep.
“Jane. Jane, look at me.” I was trying to keep my voice calm. It wasn’t working; she didn’t hear me.
“Shoot her, dammit!” growled Charts.
“Jane,” I repeated. I went up to her.
She must have sensed my presence; she turned to look at me.
“Jane.” I knew she did not understand me, but I had to keep talking to her. “Calm down. Everything is okay.”
She struggled less. Her expression changed. I was getting through to her once again.
“It’s okay. Nobody wants to hurt you.” I kept talking to her, just to let her hear the sound of my voice.
She stopped struggling completely. Charts continued to hold her, but she didn’t even seem to be aware of it. Once again, Jane was looking at me with wide eyes, as though she were looking at something strange and incomprehensible. It was the same expression as when she had been looking at me a minute earlier, when I woke up.
“Let her go, Charts,” I said in the same soothing tone.
Charts scowled. He obviously would have preferred that Eliza put Jane to sleep, now that Jane was an easy target. But Eliza had lowered her dart gun when Jane became calm again.
Finally he let go of Jane’s arms, and they fell limply to her sides. In an instant she had changed from an untameable monster to a hypnotized doll. Her eyes were still fixed on me. I dared not look away.
I heard Eliza check the dart gun, no doubt to unload the cartridge she had had such trouble chambering. Charts glanced at her disapprovingly; he did not think the crisis was over, but Eliza realized that the psychotic episode was finished.
Until the next time, of course.
For a minute there was no more sound. Charts moved out of my field of view. He couldn’t take the waiting anymore and whispered, “Tell us if we bother you; we don’t want to cause any trouble.”
Jane suddenly turned toward him, and I thought she was going to attack him again. But she whirled toward the exit and ran into the corridor at a speed only she could achieve. It was hard to get used to that.
“Here we go again,” Charts sighed.
We ran after her. I grabbed my communicator and sent out a general emergency call. “This is Lieutenant Zimski. The survivor is moving from the cafeteria area into the station.” My own voice, amplified, seem to come from all directions. “Avoid the corridors and do not get in her way.”
We turned a corner of the corridor and I almost bumped into Jane. She had stopped, as though waiting for us.
She had been acting strangely for some hours. That is, strange for her. First, she had fallen asleep. Then she had come close to me and looked at me. And now she had stopped running, even though we had long since learned that once Jane started running she did not stop until she found a hiding place sufficiently inaccessible to us. And she always did that. I would never have believed that the station had so many hidden nooks and crannies. But it was a science base, not a prison.
Actually she was not waiting. She was not paying any attention to us. She was looking at the ceiling with her strange eyes, as though enthralled.
I looked up and saw what fascinated her: it was one of the loudspeakers installed in every corridor and room of the station. I suddenly realized she had heard my voice and that it had calmed her again.
“Incredible,” mumured Eliza, behind me.
“Yes,” I said, “maybe we won’t have to chase her again, for once.”
Jane immediately turned toward me, surprised. How could she move about on a battleground, knowing where every enemy was located, and yet be surprised when I came up to her?
Once again she had a look of total incomprehension. Her red eyes were open wide and staring at me. She had completely forgotten she was running away.
I smiled. “Everything is okay, Jane.”
She started just a little; a shadow passed over her eyes, but it lasted only a fraction of a second.
“Maybe you should go up to her,” murmured Eliza. “She seems to be more confident now.”
Charts grumbled doubtfully.
But before I could make the slightest movement, Jane approached me. She took two steps towards me, her eyes still fixed on mine. Once again she was only a few centimeters from me.
And that, too, was not normal for Jane. So far she had never approached anybody and had kept her customary two meters distance. She must still think of us as the enemy. And yet she was standing there, looking up at me, because she was definitely shorter than I.
Slowly I knelt with one knee on the floor, to put myself at the same height as she. She did not run away; she simply followed me with her red gaze.