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The Dohani War

by Martin Kerharo

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Chapter 7: Images
The Dohani War: synopsis

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 know what I’m doing may be dumb
I know I should not be staring at the sun
But the thought of you leads me to temptation
— Leigh Nash, Ocean Size Love

It was not easy.

An hour after Jane had broken the medical monitor — Eliza installed another one and plugged me into it while giving Jane a stern look to try to make her understand she had better not break this one — technicians arrived, led by Chief Engineer Kenoshi. They brought a cartful of computers and gauges, which they set up in the infirmary under Eliza’s watchful and suspicious but resigned gaze. Jane scarcely looked at them; they weren’t interesting. She continued to observe me quietly, something she never seemed to tire of doing.

I urged Jane to go and see the technicians and use the equipment. Of course she refused to budge from her place beside me on the bed.

One of the technicians became overenthusiastic; he had the bad idea to come and take her hand and lead her away with him. She immediately went into combat mode.

“Jane, no!” I called out.

But in a flash she had grabbed the tech’s hand and yanked him forward. She was beginning to strangle him, but I managed to calm her by holding her arms and talking to her gently.

From then on, needless to say, everybody kept well away from Jane. To get around the difficulty, they brought a computer up to the right-hand side of the bed, opposite Jane. She finally deigned to take an interest in the machine.

Jane moved over and sat down at the computer. She put her hands on it and began to concentrate, turning her head to listen to the song of the microprocessor, which she alone could hear.

It seemed to me that she proceeded more quickly than she had with the medical monitor. Images began to form on the screen, but instead of lines they were made up of points, or rather clouds of points. She made them dance and change color. It was hypnotic. But it did not last. The screen suddenly went dark and a burning odor wafted through the room.

“Terrific,” grumbled Charts, snorting in disgust. He had awakened when the technicians entered the room.

“Yes, it’s very good!” exclaimed Kenoshi. “We recorded a lot of signals!”

I thought for a moment they would stop there and go study what they had recorded. But they talked it over and decided to sacrifice another machine.

Jane again willingly took part in the game. This time she went even faster. She succeeded in drawing a circle on the screen in only thirty seconds, but the image had only just appeared when the machine gave up the ghost with the burning odor I suspected I would be smelling often in the days to come.

Jane grumbled and came back to me.

The technicians looked perplexed. “That’s funny, we thought she’d be able to control her signal better and stop burning out the computers, but it’s just getting worse.”

They decided to sacrifice a third machine, just to make sure. An image appeared almost immediately, a more complicated one this time. But we all recognized it. It was the Dohani insignia, the one on their spaceships and uniforms.

Everybody shuddered.

The computer stopped working immediately. Jane had “played” with it for only a few seconds. Things were obviously getting worse.

I turned to Kenoshi and asked, “Don’t you have anything sturdier?”

He gave me an embarrassed smile. “Those were our toughest machines. Otherwise, there are military computers, but I doubt the commander is ready to sacrifice one of them.”

Kenoshi and his technicians left to study the data they had acquired.

* * *

The next day, Charts left the infirmary, which meant that Jane and I were alone together most of the time. Charts never went far away; he was still assigned to protect me. But he must have understood that I was no longer in much danger. Indeed, Jane certainly made a better bodyguard than he. And at least she was nice to look at.

The technicians returned. They seemed tired. I was feeling better and better, but they looked like they had stayed up all night. I found out that was precisely what they had done; they had spent the night analyzing their data.

They also brought a present: a large military computer complete with its housing, no less. It could withstand nuclear electromagnetic pulses, all sorts of software viruses, corrosive gases and acids and other little things I would rather not know about. In general, when a computer gets that kind of treatment, the personnel who have to be near it are getting the same thing.

But could this computer stand up to Jane?

I found out later that the technicians were connected to a whole network of colleagues, some of whom were high up in the military or political hierarchy. They had apparently had no trouble in having an order issued to Colonel Thomson to give them one of his computers — yesterday, if not sooner. Somebody had realized how useful it could be to us to communicate with the Dohani. Not only for Jane and myself but for all of humanity.

I hoped Jane had not thought about that; she might have scruples about betraying her former comrades in arms.

I asked them how far along they were in decoding Jane’s signals.

“They’re unbelievably complex,” Kenoshi told me. “We don’t understand a thing. The recordings are full of what appears to be noise, and the quantity of information transmitted is very low.”

Kenoshi frowned. “But when we analyzed the noise itself, we discovered it was another signal, a much more complex one. Every element contained a lot of noise of its own, at a higher frequency. And of course this noise was actually another signal.”

Kenoshi sighed and slumped. “At the moment, the dominant theory is that it’s a fractal signal with an enormous number of levels. We also think that Jane’s neural implant emits the signal. It’s actually much more like a kind of radio than a computer. But we can’t tell where it gets its power; it’s very small.” He spread his arms wide in a helpless gesture.

The technicians installed the armored computer near my bed, which they had to move to one side. That upset Eliza even more. She grumbled that her infirmary was “no damn laboratory for mad scientists.” But she stayed with us, fascinated by Jane’s powers.

Jane moved over to the machine. One of the technicians had his hand on the on-off switch in hopes he could shut down the computer just before Jane could blow it up. Good luck, guys.

Jane put her hands on the casing and began to concentrate. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. After ten minutes it became obvious she could not interface with the computer. It was clearly Jane-proof.

But she had more than one card up her sleeve. She grumbled. She raised her hand with her palm towards the computer; she was probing it. She began to move her hand around a few centimeters above each surface of the machine, just as I had seen her do several times before.

I had completely forgotten she could do that. What with the incident with the gas, my stay in the infirmary, and my attempts to establish communication with Jane, I had not told anybody about it. Everybody was surprised by her motions.

“What’s she doing?” Kenoshi asked.

“Oh, right,” I answered, “I forgot to mention that. She can see through things. That’s how she found out what the gas valves were, in the ventilation shaft. And that’s how she can tell whether a door is locked or not. Or if a wall is hollow. She just has to wave her hand over it.”

Kenoshi and his colleagues looked at each other. They activated other measuring devices and moved closer to Jane, still careful to keep a good distance away from her.

Jane got down off the bed and walked in front of the techs, who retreated hurriedly. But Kenoshi moved away slowly. He had assimilated the lesson that Jane did not like sudden movements.

Jane ignored them all. She moved behind the computer and continued to probe it.

The technicians kept watching their machines and adjusted dials from time to time. Suddenly, one of the techs exclaimed, “Sound frequencies; broad spectrum!”

The others leaned over. “Yes, it’s very clear.” They looked at the computer and then at Jane. “It’s almost continuous; short, high-frequency impulses.”

Kenoshi stood up and put his hands in his pockets. A satisfied smile spread over his face. They had solved the mystery of Jane’s “sixth sense.” He declared, “The Dohani are really clever.”

I began to lose patience. “Well, okay already. What have you found?”

Kenoshi looked at me. “Sonar. She emits sonic impulses at various frequencies. Some waves bounce off objects; others go through them. It’s like a sonogram. Not only can she see through walls, she can see what’s inside them.”

I looked at him in bewilderment. “Sonar, like a submarine’s?”

“More like a bat’s,” said the technician who was holding the sonic measuring device. “A bat emits ultrasonic chirps that enable it to catch insects on the wing in total darkness.”

Jane stopped using her sonar; she had examined the computer from all angles. She straightened up and stepped sharply toward the technicians. They pulled back in surprise. She growled again, frighteningly, and took another step forward. Her red eyes were shooting lightning bolts.

The techs fled to the other side of the room and she took two more steps and growled again even louder. I called to her to try to calm her down, but she turned around and quickly came back to me, looking only at my face. The incident was over.

Charts burst into the infirmary. “Any problems?” he asked.

I told him what had just happened. He frowned. To my great surprise he pointed a finger at Jane — who was still four or five meters away — and scolded her: “You have no excuse to frighten your friends. Boy, you sure can be rude, even for a Dohani.”

Jane looked at him in confusion for a second or two. But she did not go into combat mode. She was beginning to act civilized...

Charts decided to remain, just in case. He crossed his arms and leaned against a wall.

Eliza had a thought: “Apparently she’s mad at you for bringing her an armored computer.”

One of the technicians brightened up: “But of course! The armor plate prevents any signal from reaching the microprocessor!”

I sighed. All this for nothing. All they had to do now was take back the computer. The station commander would be delighted to retrieve his equipment intact.

But the technician continued: “No problem. We just have to take off the shield to the maintenance port. That will remove the first layer of armor plating. And then we take off the secondary plating, on one of the processors. Or all of them, I don’t know.”

As it turned out, they did not have the necessary tools. In fact, the screwdrivers and other wrenches were restricted, and Kenoshi had to call his friends in high places and ask for access to the machine.

But this time it did not work. It was made clear to us that it was absolutely out of the question to dismantle a control computer of a human warship in a Dohani’s presence, even if she were half-human.

I was sure they were wrong and that we had nothing to fear from Jane, but I did understand their point of view. If our computer secrets fell into the wrong hands, the enemy would have an advantage.

Moreover, Jane’s ability to interface with with any computer was worrisome. If, as seemed likely, all Dohanis had Jane’s abilities, we really had to protect our machines. Meanwhile, though, Jane had just shown that current protection was sufficient, because she had not been able to get past it.

The techs went away, taking the big computer with them.

Proceed to Chapter 8...

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

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