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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

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Chapter 6: Connection

part 2

I opened my eyes again and thought I was still dreaming, because I still saw Jane’s eyes open in surprise. But no, my pain made me realize it was my miserable reality. Jane’s face was ten centimeters from mine. This time I was not startled; I was getting used to seeing her so close to me.

“Jane,” I said, and smiled.

She seemed to understand and took on her serene Expression Number 3. She had completely forgotten her rule of two meters distance, with me at least. I wondered if I would be able to take a quiet shower alone again someday.

I continued talking to her. Might she finally be able to understand our language? “How are you this morning? I could be better. That damned gas. Did I sleep a long time? If you can call it sleep.”

I still felt very tired. She kept looking at me, motionless. “Do you think you could try, just a little, to stop running away all the time? Anyway, I have to tell you I won’t be able to run after you for a damn long time now. If you do something dumb and the commander gasses you, don’t count on me to save you.”

But she had never been in danger; she was immune to that stinking poison. She had tried to save me when she realized what those valves were for in the ventilation shaft. It dawned on me that she could have run away and left me there. But she had lifted me out of the conduit and practically dragged me to the other end of the corridor. I could have gotten down by myself, of course, but she knew I was in as much danger as she was, and she saved me.

“Anyway, thank you for trying to help me. I’m sorry I frightened you, but we basic humans are a lot more fragile than you are.”

I was carrying on a monologue. She did not understand a word I was saying. And she did not care; she was interested only in the sound of my voice.

“I’m running out of ideas. I wonder what Charts is doing...” I looked in his direction. He was sleeping. Jane moved over me and again looked me right in the eyes. I lost sight of Charts. Not that there was anything interesting to see.

I looked straight ahead. Jane followed. She did not want to lose me for a second. I sighed. What a strange creature. What did she think of me? I asked her. “Tell me, Jane, what am I to you? A friend? A pet animal? A toy? Why are you so attracted to me? What’s so special about me that my voice could stop you from attacking?”

Silence. A serene, hypnotic red stare. She never blinked.

“And what were you doing among the Dohani? How did they transform you into a war machine? And above all, why? Were they just curious, or did they have a long-term plan?” I kept turning these ideas over in my mind.

“Did they kidnap you in a battle when you were only a child?” I shuddered to think what life would be like for a little human girl raised by the Dohani. “Did they manufacture you? Are you one of a kind, or do you have brothers and sisters?”

There was no way to tell. Maybe she was a recent experiment? Jane appeared to be sixteen years old. She might be the first of a new model, a series of fighters designed by the Dohani and trained specially to kill humans.

Aside from a few physical characteristics, mainly her eyes, Jane could have melted into a human population as a spy for the Dohani. I suddenly realized it was an entirely plausible scenario. What if Jane was exactly where she was supposed to be: on a human space station, to sabotage it? Or worse, to travel to human worlds and organize networks for infiltration?

One detail did not jibe at all with this paranoid version of Jane’s history: she was incapable of communicating with human beings. She knew how to fight us, and that’s where it stopped. She could not take three steps in any human settlement without being spotted immediately.

I was reassured by that reasoning and spoke to her again. “Do you think you’ll be able to speak someday? It’s tiring to talk all alone. In fact, I’ve never really heard the sound of your voice, even though you find mine so irresistible. Don’t you want to try to talk? Say something...”

I remembered an old 2-D film from the days before humanity had colonies in space. I had an idea. I pointed to my chest and said, “Dexter.” Then I pointed to her: “Jane.”

She did not react.

I tried again several times, still with no result. I was going to give up when her expression changed. She moved away from me and then pointed at me. And then she pointed to herself. But she kept her mouth closed.

She was imitating my moves, but spoken language seemed to be beyond her. It was frustrating. I tried again and she imitated me again. At least she was doing something new.

I had another idea. I was thirsty, and there was a glass of water on the table beside the bed. I pointed to it. “Jane, can you bring me that glass of water, please?” I imitated drinking, as if I were holding the glass in my hand, and then I pointed to the glass again. “Jane...”

I stopped. She had pointed to herself. Interesting.

“Jane?” I repeated.

She pointed to herself again. She recognized her name! Of course, with all those times we had run after her, yelling “Jane!” it must have been the word she had most heard in all her life.

I pointed to her again, hoping she would understand she was supposed to say her name. But she did not move. I tried again several times, but without success. She did not see what I was getting at. She still did not know how to speak.

Then I said my own name: “Dexter.” She immediately pointed to me. Victory. She understood that words formed by a defined series of sounds referred to real things. Jane was not as stupid as some people thought. She was not entirely governed by commands residing in her Dohani neural implant. He had a real brain and was able to use it.

I was excited by this unexpected success, and I looked around for something else to name. Charts was snoring peacefully beside us. I brought him into the act. “Charts,” I said, pointing to the sergeant.

Jane looked at him and then back at me.

“Charts,” I repeated.

She appeared to be concentrating. That was the first time I had ever seen that expression on her face.

Maybe she had not heard the name often enough to be able to memorize it? Even so, she pointed to him. Or maybe she really disliked him and was repelled by the idea of having anything to do with him. I couldn’t blame her.

I sat up and painfully took the glass. After I had drunk all the water — I was very grateful to whoever had put it there — I looked Jane in the eyes, pointed to the object, and said “glass.”

Jane’s expression changed completely. She looked surprised.

I repeated the word “glass.” She pointed to it, hesitantly. I could see that something was bothering her. Maybe she could not imagine that objects, too, might have names? But how could any language function otherwise?

Suddenly I wondered how the Dohani communicated. I had no idea. No one had ever heard them speak, although everyone thought they must be able to. As far as anyone knew, they coordinated with each other by radios in their combat gear, but nobody knew any more than that.

And if they did not speak at all, how had Jane communicated with them, when she was with them? Maybe she couldn’t. But that seemed surprising. How could they have taught her to fight and use her equipment?

Jane did not know how to speak. We thought it might be due to the shock of being “kidnapped,” or being afraid of us, or her manner of speaking was very different from ours, but she had not made the slightest sound except for groans and growls... that sort of thing. In fact, she had done exactly like all the Dohanis we had captured. They had never attempted any contact, despite everything scientists thought of and tried.

Besides, when they were captured, the Dohani often went into hibernation. They slowed their metabolism, lowered their body temperature, and went to sleep. Some had been sleeping in our prisons for ten years. Jane seemed not to have inherited that option, or at least she preferred to stay awake.

The very concept of oral language seemed to puzzle Jane.

I decided to try again with something else. Some paper napkins were on the same table as the glass of water. I took one and pointed to it, saying “napkin.”

Jane opened her eyes as wide as saucers; she was even more astounded than before. I was going to repeat the word and have her point to the napkin, herself, but she quickly leaned over me and put her hand on my mouth. She did not want me to speak. So much for my irresistible voice.

I was stumped. Why did she not want to learn? Didn’t she see the value of communicating? How could I explain what she was doing?

Jane withdrew her hand and looked at me intensely, again appearing to concentrate. She frowned for a moment and then groaned. I understood her frustration. She did want to tell me something! But she couldn’t. We were both missing something.

She began looking around her. Then she suddenly stood up and moved away from me to a distance of more than fifty centimeters for the first time in several days. She went over to the monitor that displayed my vital signs. She looked around at me as if to make sure I was watching her. She turned back to the monitor and put her hands on each side of the machine. She looked at it with the same expression of concentration as when she had been trying to learn words.

She leaned her head first to one side, then to the other, as if she were trying to listen to a very faint sound, an almost inaudible echo from beyond the horizon. That went on for several minutes. She kept looking over at me to make sure I was still watching her, and I was. I had no idea what she was doing, but there was no chance I would lose interest in whatever it was.

Suddenly something happened. I did not see it immediately, because it was very subtle at the beginning. The image on the monitor was changing.

The lines changed shape, separated from each other and then came back together again. They rounded and formed knots. And the process sped up, becoming a kind of psychedelic stroboscope. I could hardly believe my eyes; Jane was directly controlling the image on the screen.

The monitor suddenly wailed plaintively and went blank.

Oops. Jane had just damaged some medical equipment. She growled, furious that her toy was broken, and she let go of the now useless equipment. She came back to me, her expression calm and relaxed, and she lay down beside me with her head on my shoulder.

At that moment, Eliza came in, all worried, and hurried over to my bed. “Dexter, is everything all right? The monitor just sent me some very strange signals.”

“I’m fine,” I said. In fact, with all that had been going on I had almost forgotten my pains. “Jane broke the monitor.”

Eliza looked in surprise at the girl. “What? Does she know how much a thing like that costs? No, of course she doesn’t know. But what came over her?”

I smiled, trying to calm her down. “Eliza, she can do something really amazing: she can modify the images on the monitor. She changed them every which way until the thing blew up.”

Liz took a step back. “She changed the images?” She looked at the dark monitor and thought for a few seconds. “It’s not just the screen display she changed. She directly affected the microprocessor. Otherwise I would not have gotten crazy signals on my own monitor, in the office.”

I looked at Jane. I was impressed. I thought she had just affected the display by interfering with the video signal, but there was more to it than that. She was able to control a computer by interfacing with it directly.

“This is all very nice,” said Eliza, “but what good is it? Aside from sabotaging computers, that is.”

I interrupted. “I know what it’s for.” I felt a triumphant smile coming over my face. Eliza was intrigued.

“It’s for communicating,” I said.

She cocked her head attentively. “For communicating? By computer?”

“No,” I answered. “We’ve always supposed that the Dohani could speak but that they had a very strange language, one that prevented them from communicating with us. But the fact is, they don’t speak. Like Jane.”

When Jane heard her name, she pointed to herself.

Eliza gasped. “She recognized her name?”

“Yes, but she finds this means of communication too primitive. She doesn’t even want to hear of it, if I can put it that way.”

Liz looked bewildered.

“I taught her my name, and Charts’. When I taught her the word ‘glass’, she began to think it was bizarre. When I tried to teach her the word ‘napkin’, she refused to go along with it. She manipulated the images on the monitor — and messed it up by accident — to show me what real communication is.”

“Wow,” Eliza exclaimed, “that certainly does explain a lot of things.” She thought a moment. “We have to work on this,” she declared. “Give her other computers. Record the signals she gives off. Try to decode them. That will keep the cryptographers busy!”

I nodded. A whole language to discover and learn — by computer. But that also meant something else: Jane would probably never speak. Her brain must not even be able to function in that way.

“I’m going to contact Tacoma,” Liz said, “and I’ll explain what you’ve discovered. He’ll probably want to put a team to work on it right away.” She went out.

I turned to Jane. “Well, we can say we’ve made a lot of progress,” I said, smiling broadly. “I just hope you won’t break all the computers one after another. You’ll be accused of sabotage, for sure!”

She continued to look at me, again serene, completely indifferent to what was going on around her.

Proceed to Chapter 7...

Copyright © 2012 by Martin Kerharo
translation © 2013 by Donald Webb

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