The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 5: End
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.
Gently pull the sheets over my eyes.
— Casey Desmond, I’m Gonna Die
Five minutes later, Charts left us and went away to rest while Eliza stood watch.
I tried to free my hand by gently pulling on Jane’s fingers. I might as well have tried to break a statue’s grip. I did not succeed.
“This is really annoying,” Eliza said. “She’s acting as if you belonged to her. How can she be made to realize she mustn’t act like that?”
I tried to find a more comfortable position. How could Jane sleep on those sharp and bumpy metal surfaces?
“We don’t even know how to communicate with her,” I answered. “She hasn’t said a word since we found her. As far as we know, she doesn’t know how to speak.”
Eliza nodded pensively.
I tried another approach and caressed Jane’s fingers. Maybe a little gentleness would release the vise? It was no use; she did not react. I was still stuck next to her.
I decided to be patient with my discomfort and thought about the recent events. Jane stopped running away; she approached and even touched me. She knew which doors were locked just by putting her hand close to them. She had fallen asleep next to me as if it were the most natural thing to do. She considered me... as what? A pet animal? Not as a friend, in any case.
She did not communicate. She made decisions automatically, like a computer. The only flaw in that theory was the way she acted with me. She should have tried to knock us all out and run away, maybe call for help. Or maybe she had finally realized she could not escape from the Station.
She must have been exhausted to fall asleep so easily. Or else it was another modification of hers, one that allowed her to fall asleep instantly, anywhere.
Eliza had sat down on a storage crate. We waited.
“How did you come to this Station?” I asked.
“As I said,” she answered, “I’m a volunteer. But I didn’t enlist in the Army; that’s not really my thing. I wanted to be useful and do something important. At the beginning I was going into research more than anything else.” She paused.
“One day, an Army recruiter came to the hospital on Tanaka, where I was working. He was trying to enlist doctors and nurses. He persuaded me I could really help the Army. He said I didn’t have to enlist, that they were ready to hire civilians for some positions, especially in medicine. Finally I was assigned here.” She shrugged.
“Fortunately we see very little combat, but it is a big station, and there’s always something to do. And I’m autonomous: I have my own infirmary and do as I see fit. It’s really a stroke of good luck.”
Jane stirred next to me but still did not let go of my wrist.
Eliza smiled. “You two are cute, you know?”
I shot her a scowl in response.
An hour went by. I was hurting all over. I tried moving and changing position, but I was getting more and more uncomfortable.
Jane stirred again. Then she began to moan, and that startled both Eliza and me. But Jane did not wake up and continued to move. I realized she was dreaming; in fact she was having a nightmare.
She began to moan again and I glanced questioningly at Eliza, who only shrugged. “She’ll probably calm down,” she said. “It’s just that—”
She did not finish. Jane’s groans became a howl and she sat up suddenly, shrinking back against the storage crates and looking at us with a terrified expression. She was panting, panic-stricken. I noticed she had finally let go of my hand. She had backed up against the crates as much as she could, as if to melt into them and put as much distance as possible between herself and us.
Our communicators vibrated. A worried voice asked, “What’s happening in C-64? We heard a yell.”
Eliza explained the situation.
I raised my hand toward Jane, who looked at it as though it were a poisonous snake. I withdrew my hand and remembered that my voice might calm her. “It’s okay, Jane,” I said quickly. “It was only a bad dream.”
She looked at my face; her eyes were still terrified. I continued speaking, just to let her hear the sound of my voice. “Calm down, you’re safe here. We’re still in the storage room, sitting on these uncomfortable metal boxes. You’ve squeezed my hand so much I can’t feel it anymore, but it will be okay.”
I began to feel a painful tingling in my hand, but I tried to keep smiling. It was probably no use; she did not know how to read human facial expressions.
Then she relaxed. Her posture became less tense, and she slid down the side of the storage crate and sat down again. Her eyes kept looking into mine, and I suddenly realized I did not like to see her so frightened.
A bond had been made between us. At the outset, I had just been doing my job and following orders. I had been ordered to watch Jane and bring her under control. But she was attracted to me. The mission seemed interesting, and I enjoyed being special, having some kind of magic that left everybody perplexed. But now the bond was working both ways, and I felt tormented to see her suffer.
My realization left me speechless for a short while. Eliza brought be back into the moment: “Dexter, keep talking to her!”
I continued to speak soothingly. Jane quickly became calm again, and her breathing returned to normal. Her face showed the new expression she had had earlier, in the corridor: neither neutral, nor cold, nor astonished, as she most often seemed when looking at me. I finally realized what it was: serenity, the expression of someone who feels safe.
Jane came up close to me and stood calmly and quietly for a moment without touching me. Then she closed her eyes and I heard her breathe deeply. She was inhaling my scent once again.
“Pheromones,” said Eliza. “If her sense of smell is more acute than ours, which would not be surprising, that would make it easier to find out what hasn’t helped and what she’s sensitive to.”
Was that what was attracting her? And yet the first time we met — if “met” was the right word — I had been wearing full combat gear and had been standing five meters from her. It was my voice that had stopped her at that crucial moment.
Jane sighed in a very human way, a sigh of happiness that made Liz and me smile. Then she opened her eyes again. She got down off the crate and stretched like a cat — and more: she tensed all her limbs, one by one, twisting them as far as she could. We could hear her joints popping. It was very impressive. She seemed to be calm and not to want to sleep anymore for the moment. What did she want to do?
She took a few steps toward the door, and I thought she had forgotten me. That would have given me some respite, and I really did want to take a break. But she suddenly turned around, seemed to remember I existed, and came towards me.
Expecting her to grab me by the hand again, I put my hands behind my back. She was already raising her arm toward me but stopped when she saw I was hiding my hands. She stared at me. Her look became cold again.
This time I was determined not to be pushed around. I did not think she would do just anything in order to lead me on a leash like a little dog — or whatever she had in mind.
She tried to move around me and grab my hands, but I swung around to face her. She tried going the other way, but I blocked her. She grumbled. She was obviously annoyed. But I was relieved that she had not attacked me. By all appearances I was right: she did not quite consider me a pet animal.
I did not know how long she could keep on like this. She could be patient and motionless for hours, but only when she could do nothing else. Would she finally attack?
I decided to take the initiative. I stood up. I kept my hands firmly behind my back and went to stand a few meters from her. And then I waited.
She came up to me and again tried to grab my wrist.
Eliza forgot the security rules and laughed out loud, but her laugh was cut short and she turned pale when Jane threw a dangerously cold look at her.
Jane turned her attention to me again. But I had backed up against a pile of crates, where she could not trap me. She looked at me but did not grumble. Very carefully I slipped backwards toward the door. Jane followed me.
The door was ajar. The unspoken agreement was not to leave it wide open, which might have upset Jane, but not to close it either, in case somebody might need to enter in a hurry. Or to leave in an emergency.
I pushed the door open with my shoulder. Jane followed, step by step. As I was going out, she had the chance to grab me, and she reached out to do so. I thought I was already a prisoner, but to my great surprise she stopped. Had she changed her mind? Or had she decided to go her own way, now that the coast was clear?
I backed slowly into the corridor. I must have looked funny, sidling along the wall with my hands behind my back. I did not want to take any risks, and as long as Charts was not present, my reputation was not in much danger.
And just at that moment I heard a stifled laugh. Charts had just appeared at the corner of the corridor. “Are you playing tag, Lieutenant, or hide and seek?” he asked with a snort.
“You’re not the one who’s just spent an hour all cooped up and cramped in a storage room,” I retorted with a sigh.
Jane was still following me. She was not trying to seize my hand anymore. I continued to back up. And I tripped over a cable lying on the floor.
“Watch out!” said Charts.
He couldn’t have told me earlier? He must have been too busy making fun of me. I fell backwards. My back would not appreciate it.
Suddenly my fall was broken. Jane was holding me up. With her superhuman speed, she had moved behind me and was now supporting me. She stood me up again with equally unnerving ease. But she had taken the opportunity to lock my wrist in her hand. I had lost.
“Ha, you are clumsy, Lieutenant,” said Charts with false compassion.
“That’s enough,” Eliza muttered.
I saw she was looking at us both disapprovingly. I felt that was unfair; Charts had started it.
I looked back at Jane and saw she was looking at me with a new expression on her face. It was undecipherable, but it was different from all the others she had had so far. She did not move, although I thought she would have immediately dragged me off toward her next destination.
“Let me go, Jane,” I said. “I won’t run away.” Anyway, she was faster than I. I shook my arm, to free it from her grip.
She looked down at my hand with the same expression. Uncertain? Then she looked up with the same cold air, and I thought everything was going to start all over again. But she grumbled and let go of my hand.
“She’s communicating, Dexter!” Eliza exclaimed excitedly.
Indeed, one might think her grumbling was a warning. “I’ll let you go, but I’m keeping an eye on you.”
I smiled at her and said, “Thank you, Jane.” On impulse, I took her hand. It was risky; she might view it as an attack.
She stepped back slightly and looked down at her hand. She turned it over and then back again. And then she raised both our hands to her face. She looked flustered. I had scored a point.
She again raised my hand to her face and closed her eyes. I understood: she was inhaling my scent. When she opened her eyes, she had a serene look.
I had a talent. Headquarters had done well to choose me for this mission.
A moment passed, and I began to feel uncomfortable under her insistent gaze. She was devouring me with her scarlet eyes, and it was a little frightening. I imagined she could devour me literally, if she wanted to.
Finally she turned and set off along the corridor. I hurried to keep up with her. Her hand was not crushing mine this time. Had she understood that I would follow her, since I had given her my hand freely? Anyway, it was less humiliating than being dragged around by someone who was forty centimeters shorter than I.
As we advanced, I wondered where we were going. We seemed to be headed back for the cafeteria. I heard Eliza alert Control that we were moving. She asked them not to lock any doors, because the situation was calm.
After a few minutes we did arrive at the cafeteria. But it was crowded, with at least thirty people in it. And I had not foreseen their reaction. The result was disaster.