The Dohani War
by Martin Kerharo
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 6: Connection
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.
Before it causes problems
Before it tears you apart
Let loose, let loose
You gotta reach out — reach out and touch someone.
— The B-52’s, Communicate
I had never felt so bad. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was alive. What I was feeling tipped the balance definitely towards hell. Every part of my body was sending me flashes of intolerable pain. I thought nostalgically of room C-64; never again would I think those storage crates were uncomfortable.
Finally I heard a voice that made me realize I was not yet in the hereafter.
“He’s awake,” Eliza said. Somebody else spoke, but I didn’t hear what was said. “Yes, but he must be in great pain. I can’t give him any more pain medication; it would turn him into a zombie for good.”
Damn, I thought, I’m suffering like this even when I’m stuffed with painkillers? I tried to talk but kept my eyes closed. “Throw in all you have, doc. I’ll risk it.” I didn’t recognize my own voice. It seemed to come from very far away.
“Out of the question, Lieutenant,” she answered. “I’ve managed to bring you around, and I don’t want to have gone to all that trouble for nothing. And in this infirmary, I’m in charge.”
I felt her smile without seeing it.
I tried to move my left arm. I had a strange sensation. I felt my left arm but could not move it. I was overcome with fear. “Am I paralyzed?”
“No, not at all,” Eliza answered reassuringly. “You’re safe and sound. No side effects expected.”
“But I can’t move my arm!” I wailed. Her examination must have missed something.
She laughed again.
Dammit, what was so funny when I might be paralyzed?
“Lieutenant, you can’t move your arm because... something is on it.”
I couldn’t stand it anymore. I forced my eyes open. Light exploded in my skull. I had my very own fireworks display going off right in my brain. Nothing could justify so much pain, not even living. I gritted my teeth and turned my head — very slowly — to the left.
She was asleep next to me. I gazed at her, stupefied. Her head was nestled on my shoulder and my arm was pinned under her.
“But... what’s she doing here?” I asked when I had recovered from my surprise.
Eliza bent over me. “She hasn’t let go of you since... your accident,” she explained. “In fact, we couldn’t even approach you. She was howling unbearably all the time, and when we got too close, she would growl. You wouldn’t believe the rage she was in. I finally persuaded the Master Sergeant to let me approach alone.”
Eliza sighed and then moved to my side. “Here, I’ll try to free your arm.” She gently slipped her hand under Jane, who grumbled in her sleep but did not wake up.
Liz winked at me. “She still seems to be only half asleep. I’ve already done this several times. She always manages to keep you under her as if she wants to be sure you can’t escape.”
Finally she got my arm loose. I didn’t know where to put it. I had to put it around Jane; there was no other place on the bed next to her. She snuggled up even closer to me.
Eliza continued. “I went toward her and kept talking, the way you always did.” Eliza frowned. “I really thought she might attack me, but I kept on and finally got close enough to listen to your heartbeat and breathing. I think she understood I’m a doctor.”
Eliza smiled. “But after that, there was no way to get rid of her. She followed us all through the Station to the infirmary. The Security Master Sergeant began snarling about tying her up and neutralizing her, but I called the Station commander.”
I was finding out that Doctor Eliza Doyle was as nice as could be but was not one to let people walk all over her.
“I explained to him that if he continued to use even deadlier force than Jane against his own men, and if he continued to prevent me from doing my job, I’d pay him a visit he’d never forget.” She rolled her eyes upwards.
“Impressive!” I said.
“Anyway, Intelligence is on our side. By the way, Captain Tacoma has told me to tell you congratulations, you’ve done a super job and keep it up.”
A super job? Getting gassed?
“In short,” Eliza continued, “Jane hasn’t moved from your side since you were brought in. I’ve had to bring her food. And circumstances might have been easier.” She pointed to a bed two places over, at my right.
I carefully turned my head and saw Charts smiling broadly. The right side of his chest was in a regeneration sling. It was hooked up to all sorts of machines that were humming and blinking.
“Welcome aboard, Lieutenant,” he said. “Glad to see you’ve stopped playing Sleeping Beauty. And your Princess Charming hasn’t even tried to kiss you.”
I scowled at the idea. Here I was, stuck with the biggest pain in the butt in the regiment. Or the whole damn Army. Wonderful. Just wonderful.
“Jane didn’t try to do anything to Sergeant Charts,” Eliza said. “Obviously she attacked him only because he tried to hold her.”
I closed my eyes. “That’s what I’ve been knocking myself out trying to make everybody understand!” I groaned. Ouch. That was a very bad idea: the fireworks exploded in a final bouquet in my head.
I calmed down, breathing deeply several times. “So, where are we now?” I asked.
Eliza glanced at Charts. “The same as before. The orders haven’t changed. We try to tame Jane and communicate with her.”
She looked down at the sleeping girl. And then she stood up and wandered around the room. “Actually she does not understand. Not only our words, our non-verbal communication, too. And it’s a big mistake to burst out laughing in her presence. It puts her on the defensive. She doesn’t know what it means. I suppose the Dohani have no sense of humor.”
She stopped in front of my bed. “I think she’s going to keep sticking to you. You’re the only person she trusts. Anyway, she’s extremely attached to you.”
I thought about what Eliza had just said. “And yet she allowed you to come to me. She trusts you, too, Eliza.”
She shrugged. “She let me approach you because she had no choice. The Dohani must have doctors, like us. She must have guessed I was going to treat you, and she couldn’t do it, herself. If you hadn’t really been in danger, I bet nobody could have come near you.”
I considered what she had said. I was far from sure that Jane was so distrustful of Eliza, but I hadn’t been there when it happened. Or, rather, I had been there, but unconscious and dying. And Jane had not even woken up a few moments ago when Eliza lifted her to free my arm. That was a good sign.
“And Jane? Any idea how she would be immune to the gas?” I asked.
Eliza crossed her arms. She was visibly troubled by the mystery of Jane’s physiology. “I suppose we should have expected she would be. She reacts only to massive doses of tranquilizers. She must be resistant to all kinds of poisons. Dohani genetic technology. What’s really incredible is that they’ve managed to apply it to a human being.”
Eliza looked at Jane again. “I’m sure she’s actually human. The way she acts with you shows it. She has an affinity for you. There’d be no reason that would happen if she were entirely synthetic.”
I had never doubted it. “Do you think there might be others like her?” I asked.
“You know as much as I do,” Eliza answered. “This is the first time we’ve met a human fighting with the Dohani. Unless, of course, other ‘meetings’ have been kept secret. That would be understandable. Knowing that the other side might have human beings — in fact, human children — would be a serious blow to soldiers’ morale.”
I did not share her point of view. History showed that knowing human beings were on the other side had never diminished man’s impulse to make war.
“I’ll let you rest,” said Eliza. “Try to sleep. You’ll be here for two or three more days.”
I sighed. She smiled and left the infirmary.
I turned to Charts. “And how are you doing?”
Charts frowned. “She really hit me, the little bitch did. She broke a rib in the most painful place possible. For a while I thought I’d never be able to breathe again. Not serious, the doc says. And she thinks Jane knows a lot about human anatomy if she can aim so accurately.”
“And,” I asked acidly, “you never expected for a single moment what was going to happen?”
He didn’t say anything for a while, his face grim. I had evidently hit the mark. He knew he could not stop Jane, but as a warrior he refused to believe a sixteen-year old girl, one-fourth his weight, could knock him out. For once he would be the target of gibes in the corridors. But he had asked for it.
“Okay,” I added, “I assume you acted on reflex. But you must not underestimate her.”
“When are you getting out?” I asked.
“Tomorrow. The bone is knitting okay. The doc said to be careful for a month, but I shouldn’t be bothered too much.”
“We’re lucky to have Eliza,” I said. “She’s really a first-rate doctor.”
Fortunately, Charts was pulling through well. If Jane ever really clobbered somebody, or worse, she was obviously going to spend the rest of her captivity locked up and filled with sedatives, whether or not headquarters ordered it.
“I have good news,” Charts said. “We’ve recovered the Phoebus.”
That was unexpected. “What happened?”
“We sent two cruisers and a lot of smaller ships. And cannibalized several combat groups. Once in place, no need to fire a shot. The Dohani were out of there.”
I was astonished. “But I thought their engines were out of commission.”
“They left without their ships. They evacuated their asteroid base and their ships by using all their escape pods. Even so, they boarded the Phoebus and destroyed the engines and all the weapons, for good measure. Nobody was hurt. They also sabotaged their own ships. But that’s all.”
I thought about it. “So... all they recovered, then, was their personnel.”
“Yes.” Charts nodded. “Unless they had a secret super-weapon on the asteroid, something high-tech they were working on, and they really did not want us to get our hands on it.” He smiled, thinking how likely his scenario must be.
“No, it’s not logical,” I answered. “That base is on the front lines. Would they be so stupid they would put a secret weapon on a base we might capture someday? And we saw the base. There was nothing special on it.”
“Oh yeah, Lieutenant? I see something special taking a nap, right beside you.”
I shuddered. Jane. Something really unusual.
After a while I said, “I’m going to try to sleep.”
“Sweet dreams, Lieutenant,” Charts replied.
I closed my eyes and tried to clear my mind. But I was hurting too badly to do more than drowse and wander between waking and sleeping, all the while confusing dreams and reality.
I replayed in my head the film of the last few days: discovering Jane in the Dohani base we had infiltrated; her unplanned “kidnapping” with Dohanis pursuing us; the battle with Jane in the Phoebus’ docking bay — a dozen soldiers against one Fury who managed to dodge all their blows and knock them out one by one until she heard the sound of my voice and turned towards me and everything stopped; three-fourths of the men out of action and trying to gather their wits while the rest surrounded Jane and could not understand why she had stopped fighting. And Jane looking at me with her red eyes wide open, astonished, fascinated.
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